On a Friday afternoon in November, Denmark’s latest experiment in public broadcasting had only been up and running for two and a half weeks. Radio24syv’s Copenhagen headquarters were busy, but still under-furnished; young-looking radio producers dodged stacks of new chairs, and their voices bounced off of wooden floors and bare walls as they prepared for the next live talk show to go on air.
Perhaps because of the sparse décor, one blown-up photograph on the newsroom wall stood out: a candid picture of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s first female prime minister, who was just elected in October. Reporters’ microphones surrounded Thorning-Schmidt—one from public radio behemoth DR, one from commercial network TV2, and, closest to the then-candidate’s face, one from Radio24syv.
Jørgen Ramskov, Radio24syv’s CEO and editor in chief—who, with his stud earrings, long hair, and deep radio voice, resembled a less excitable Richard Branson—explained that the photo was a bit of a marketing stunt. The Thorning-Schmidt press event occurred over a month before the network went on the air. Every television channel and newspaper that covered Thorning-Schmidt’s remarks also transmitted the image of the microphone with the new logo. And, in a country with only a handful of broadcast media networks, people wanted to know: What was Radio24syv? And was it any good?
They would have to wait until midnight on October 31 to find out. That’s when one of the four national FM channels owned and operated by Denmark’s 86-year-old public service broadcaster, DR (previously Danmarks Radio), officially transferred over to Radio24syv (“Radio 24/seven”).
When Radio24syv was born, so was an entirely new model for public radio: a privately-owned, publicly-funded network, which had all of the public service obligations of DR but none of its traditions, and which would be generously funded for eight years, whether or not it made a dime. As the debate over the approproate funding structures for public broadcasting in the U.S. continues, policymakers and media entrepreneurs here would do well to look across the ocean to bold experiments like this one.
In May 2010, the Danish government announced it would put P2, one of DR’s radio stations, on the market. Media companies were invited to apply for the rights to produce a new station focused on news, current affairs, culture, and political debate. Berlingske Media, a large Danish conglomerate that owns one of the oldest dailies in the world, Berlingske, joined with the advertising company People Group to bid for it, and they won it, uncontested.
Under the new agreement, the combined company, Berlingske People, would invest its own money to building the studios and buy the equipment needed to get up and running. The station would receive 100 million Danish kroner per year—about $17.7 million—guaranteed for eight years. Additional investments will come from Berlingske People, who in exchange can receive a maximum of 5 percent return on their investment each year.
In Radio24syv’s charter, the Danish Radio and Television board spells out the new network’s programming guidelines in painstaking detail. The charter specifies quotas for the types of programming Radio24syv must have, down to the minute. For instance, it requires at least two hours a day of straight news, at least five minutes of news per hour, 20 hours of cultural programming per week, 70 minutes of sports per week, and even 25 minutes of satire daily. The quotas are much stricter than DR’s, but this, says Ramskov, is to ensure that public funds are going to make quality programming, rather than into Radio24syv’s owners’ pockets.
The charter is also very specific about the staff that Radio 24/syv is expected to maintain: 35 staff members total, 30 of whom should be journalists. (DR, by comparison, has about 3,000 employees.) It mandates the use of outside, independent radio production companies in order to stimulate the freelance economy—at least 20 percent of the network’s production budget—as well as the development of a “Radio Camp” training and recruitment program for student journalists. Finally, the charter states that the network should involve its listeners in its programming in every manner possible: phone, text messages, Facebook and other social networks, and “listeners’ meetings, both physical and virtual.”
It is clear that the ultimate goal for the arrangement is to inject competition into the national radio news media. In the 2010 media agreement announcing the change, the ministry of cultural affairs cited the example of Denmark’s big commercial television network, TV2, as proof that it could do just that.