How RWJF Is Using Radio to Advance a "Culture of Health"

In the 21st century, radio is still thriving, reaching more than 90 percent of people in the United States each week. Baby Boomers tune in the most, averaging 14.5 hours of listening each week. Their favorite format is news/talk. The Pulse, a radio health news show on WHYY Philadelphia, is the ideal medium through which to reach themalong with a great many other listeners. That explains why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has given another grant of $150,000 to the show to fund it over the next 12 months.

The Pulse is also backed by the Sutherland Family Charitable Fund, the pharmaceutical maker AstraZeneca, and the health insurance provider Independence.

WHYY is approaching its 60th anniversary as a public radio station in the nation’s fourth-largest broadcast market. On September 28, 2012, during a bitterly fought Presidential election in which Obamacare was a central issue, The Pulse launched as a health news show for laymen. As WHYY put it, “At this time of consumer confusion driven by federal health reform, people are thirsty for reliable, timely information that explains how they, their health, and their family's health fit into this rapidly changing landscape.”

The show covers stories about trends in public health delivery and medical science and how they affect patients, providers, researchers and families. Although The Pulse focuses on medical innovation at the hundreds of universities, research centers, hospitals and think tanks in the Philadelphia region, segments have been shared across the nationwide NPR network. Another reason for the RWJF support is the station’s multimedia approach. Although the show has a weekly broadcast slot, it’s also available online, offers listeners a free weekly newsletter, creates podcasts and television news segments in partnership with WHYY-TV. The staff actively looks for story ideas via Twitter.

According to RWJF, its support is also intended to “help underwrite partnerships with other regional and national media efforts, such as NJ Spotlight and, and will bolster the ability to do data-driven reports, with data visualizations, that convey complex trends at a glance to audiences.”

In addition to in-depth reporting on health news, The Pulse offers regular segments in several categories:

  • "Patient Files" — Here, people describe how they personally coped with health problems or the vagaries of the health care system.
  • "So, What Do You Do?" — First person accounts of what scientists and health pros do at work.
  • "Pain in the Neck" — Examines why the health care system can be so annoying and what can be done to straighten out the kinks.
  • "Citizen Science" — Looks at how lay people can help scientific advancement.
  • "The Scientist Update" — An editor of a scientific journal reviews cutting-edge research.
  • "Whatever Happened To...?" Provides updates on stories covered earlier.

Check out recent segments here.

Of course, RWJF has been a huge funder of public radio, as we've noted in the past. And its support of The Pulse is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions it's given to NPR at the national level. Additionally, it's supported selected affiliates for health programming, most notably WNYC. 

If you ask us, RWJF's support of health care journalism should attract more scrutiny, given that this funder has a well-known policy agenda.