Radio show turns to wiki for listener suggestions

The Brian Lehrer Show on public radio giant WNYC has started a wiki to solicit listener ideas for its recently started radio series.

A popular New York radio show is taking reader participation to a new level -- by enlisting them to help produce the show through a wiki.

The Brian Lehrer Show, a public-affairs call-in show on public radio giant WNYC, started a wiki this week to solicit listener ideas for its recently started series, 30 Issues in Thirty Days, a look at top issues in the U.S. presidential campaign.

The show will ask for listener contributions through its wiki for its next six Friday broadcasts. First up, this Friday at 10 a.m. EST, is Lehrer's look at Internet and broadcast regulation.

Listener participation is nothing new for the show, said Lehrer, a long-time host and commentator on radio and television. The program has a call-in format, of course, but Lehrer and his co-workers have also used the Web to take readers' comments and suggestions. When the program's staff was putting together the 30 Issues in Thirty Days series, they asked listeners for suggestions of issues to include. They received more than 200 suggestions, combined and whittled those down to 60 general topics and had listeners vote on which 30 should be featured, he said.

On past shows, Lehrer has asked his listeners to count and report the number of SUVs on their block, spurring a conversation about the use of large vehicles in the city. On another program, he asked callers to tell him the gas prices in their neighborhoods, as a way to map where the lowest and highest prices were.

With more participation, "people feel part of a community in a different way, and also rather than just hearing something ... on the radio, they had an experience," Lehrer said.

By soliciting reader suggestions, the radio program can be more informed, Lehrer said. Listeners involved in issues like Internet regulation may have more expertise than the show's staff and offer suggests Lehrer and his co-workers wouldn't have thought of, he said.

"We think that by involving the audience or the crowd into the production process of the segments, that we're committing an act of democracy," he added.

The advantage of using a wiki is that listeners can offer ideas instead of react to what's already been on the air, Lehrer said. Wikis also offer a collaborative process that can build community, an important goal for the show, he said.

"We have a comments page, too, for every topic we do on every segment," Lehrer said. "The comments page is just anybody posting their opinion."

The show launched its wiki on Monday, and by late Tuesday, several comments had been posted, both on for the Internet regulation show and for other upcoming shows. On the Internet regulation wiki page, posters have identified several potential guests for the show, pointed to an upcoming city council hearing on spectrum use, and pointed to an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) report detailing the Internet policies of the two major presidential candidates in the U.S.

A debate on net neutrality was also brewing on the wiki.

Lehrer said he wasn't aware of the ITIF before the information was posted on the wiki, and the link to its report was a valuable contribution. Several other contributions have been helpful as well, he said.

"Considering that it's been up there one day, I'm very encouraged," he said Tuesday.

Although Lehrer is asking wiki contributors for help producing the show, he doesn't see the role for in-house producers going away soon, he said.

"We can't give up our responsibility over what we put out on the air," Lehrer said. "We have to vet, and ultimately use our professional judgment as to what we put on."

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