Should NPR Start an Online Dating Site?
Public radio listeners: make babies together!
That was the slogan from Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ during a recent pledge drive. When I posted this plea to my Facebook page, multiple friends responded with this:
Tell NPR to start an online dating site!
Hmm, okay. I decided to play business consultant and find out if this was an idea whose time has come. So I began my investigation by going directly to a man who knows all about the biz: Sam Yagan. He's the founder of OKCupid and the CEO of Match.com, two of the most popular online dating websites in the world.
Yagan says lots of companies are trying to get in on his action, but that shouldn't discourage public radio. "The U.S. market was $2 billion," he says. "Think about it. It’s the most important search of your life.”
Some of the more successful niche sites are J-date for Jews and Shaadi.com for Indians. How would an NPR dating site for ... uh ... NPRites ... stack up?
Yagan, who happens to be a self-identified NPR junkie, says the organization has the advantage of having a dedicated following. But so do other news companies, and they aren't hosting online dating sites. I asked him if it made sense to mix news and love. "I think the NPR brand goes beyond that," Yagan says. "It's much more a lifestyle brand than a pure news brand."
So a global leader in online dating thinks it could work. But what about listeners?
KQED's Forum radio program did a show last week on online dating, and a guy named Johnny called in.
"I’m polyamorous, and being in an open marriage, it can sometimes be really difficult to meet somebody out in the wild," he said. "So online dating has made it really easy to kind of cut through to the people who really think that’s okay.”
Disclaimer: Polyamorous Johnny may not be representative of all public radio listeners. So we put a call out through social media and asked listeners to describe the person they were looking for.
Some of the results:
"Seek female enchantress for potential long-term relationship."
"A geek, that would be really great. I'm rather a geek myself."
"I'm an urban explorer, technologist, artist and scientist. I'm looking for a co-host for my dinner parties."
"Perhaps this will allow for the creation of an uber-race of uber-nerdy Americans who will transform this country into a bastion of sanity."
Yep, lots of people out there are into the idea of mixing love and public radio. And as it turns out, thousands of New Yorkers are too.
Brenda Williams-Butts, director of community engagement for WNYC, says her station has been hosting singles events for years. On-air personalities like RadioLab's Jad Abumrad give sold-out lectures to 20 and 30-somethings. And then there's speed-dating in high-end hotels.
"Speed dating was becoming a big hit in New York City," says Williams-Butts. "So we said let's do speed-dating, that would be kind of fun. So we partnered with New York's Easy Dates."
Okay, time to run this idea up the old flagpole with NPR CEO Gary Knell. I recap the interviews and put the question to him: should NPR start an online dating site for its listeners?
Turns out he likes the idea.
"I think that this is something that has fantastic potential," Knell says. "It's a pretty big group and there's got to be several million who are single. They're hungry for a connection and a community of people who, like them, want to engage in and are curious about the world, which is really complicated, and can be really lonely ... I think it's a very cool idea and we should be talking to Match.com. I'm going to hang up the phone and call them now."
Oh ... and happy Valentine's Day!
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