During a career spanning from 1972 to 2006, David Giovannoni was widely recognized as a prolific researcher, innovative theorist, and catalyst for change in public broadcasting.
In 2001 a major New York Times profile called him “A brilliant analyst of public radio’s audience...quite possibly the most influential figure in shaping the sound of National Public Radio today”. In 2004 the Weekly Standard characterized him as “a large figure in the history of public radio....” And most recently, the Carnegie Reporter cited his research as “the gold standard of public radio.”
His work has long influenced programming, management, and policy decisions at stations, networks, and CPB. In over 200 publications and countless proprietary reports, he and his colleagues helped public broadcasters grow their audience responsibly and sustain their enterprise financially by strengthening public radio's core noncommercial values.
Giovannoni got into radio at college station KUOP-FM in Stockton, California. He formed Audience Research Analysis in 1977 while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. From 1979 to 1986 he served as NPR's director of audience research and program evaluation. In 1989 he created AudiGraphics® — an analytical software system that extracts public service metrics from commercial ratings data. In explaining AudiGraphics' approach he wrote:
We must choose our metrics carefully, because measurement is not a neutral activity. Ultimately, we become what we measure. Public broadcasters realized this when commercial ratings were introduced in the 1970s. At that time there was a real, powerful, and rational fear that ratings would cause us to compromise our values — spur us to program for the largest audience at any cost — encourage us to reach low to reach large.
That didn't happen, because from the beginning we demanded that our metrics be infused with the values of public service. From the same data that advertisers used to buy and sell time, we devised our own metrics that acknowledged our non-profit, public-spirited core values. We defined “public service” as the use of significant programming by significant audiences. We put the significance of the programming first, in terms that rang true to our values; only in that context could we responsibly evaluate the size — the significance — of the audience; and only then could we ensure that our metrics would appropriately guide our programming and policy decisions.
Giovannoni retired from service in 2006 as one of the most honored professionals within the public radio industry.