Thursday, July 19, 2018


The New York Times’ popular podcast The Daily continues to reach more and more people on two platforms. 

According to Podtrac Analytics, The Daily was the nation’s second most listened-to podcast is June 2018. (The full Podtrac Top 20 list is below.)

Though Podtrac doesn’t publish granular audience numbers for individual podcasts, The Daily is reaching as many as 5 million people as of June 2018.

Circulation is also  growing quickly on public radio stations. 

According to internal information provided by American Public Media (APM) The Daily is now airing on six stations in the top six radio markets and on 23 stations in the top 75 radio markets (see the chart on the left). 

Not bad for a program that began national radio distribution in April.

Spark News has examined APM carriage data and we estimate that The Daily is now being carried on at least 140 stations, including stations in markets outside of the top 75, non-rated markets and repeaters.

APM took chance when then agreed to partner with The Times on a radio version of The Daily

The track record for newspaper content on radio is spotty.  Plus, half hour shows are tough to schedule.

Podtrac Chart -- click to enlarge
Though The Daily was partly inspired by public radio’s news style, at first some observers questioned whether station programmers would agree to carry it.

Now it appears that APM’s gamble is paying off.

Next up for The Daily and APM is an appearance at the PRPD Content Conference August 20 - 23 in Austin. 

Host Michael Barbaro and managing editor Theo Balcomb will speak at the conference. 

PRPD has not yet released the day and time for the session.


Screen shot from WHJJ video
Not that long ago WHJJ-AM was broadcasting sports and music to people living near Providence, Rhode Island. The station is still on the air but it broadcasts from new corporate location. The former WHJJ offices and studios have been vacant for an unknown number of years.

The story was originally reported in Radio Magazine.  You read their article about it here.

Screen shot from WHJJ video
In 2017 RnK All Day [link], a video company that specializes in documenting abandoned buildings and business, made a video tour of the former home of WHJJ.  The result is a creepy and fascinating look at a radio world frozen in time. It looks a place where the rapture has already occurred.

Much of the backstory is unknown.  The current owner of the station is iHeartMedia.  They acquired WHJJ in the 2000’s when iHeart absorbed Capstar.  Capstar acquired WHJJ when another former owner declared bankruptcy.

Watch the video now:

You might call this video What it feels like when a big consolidator takes over your station.  It's sad, but it's true.


In Nashville Classical music WFCL lost 35% of its estimated weekly listeners in June 2018 compared with June 2016.   

The two-year trend was more positive for WMOT, one of two full-time Americana stations in the country.

Quite a few Classical music stations have had disappointing “books” recently.  Next week Spark News will examine all of the Classical music stations in PPM markets.

See what we mean when we say “disappointing books” for Classical music stations. WCPE, one of the first noncommercial Classical stations, had its worst performance in recent memory.

Another format was we look at more deeply is Christian Contemporary Music (CCM).  In the June 2018 Nielsen Audio PPM ratings we’ve seen many CCM stations loosing estimated weekly listeners when compare to previous survey periods.

The ratings news is more upbeat for Classical KBYU in Salt Lake City. Despite the grief about whether Brigham Young University would drop the Classical format, loyal listeners stuck with KBYU and made a lot of noise until BYU relented and decided to keep the format.  Good move.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


American Public Media (APM) has announced that its weekly show Marketplace Weekend will vanish as of the end of July. 

Marketplace Senior VP Deborah Clark said in a press release said APM and Marketplace have more important things to do:

“While difficult, this decision will allow us to increase investment across new platforms, while focusing on our flagship broadcast offerings.”

Bob Potter in the 1990s (second from left) with MPR pals Greg Magnuson, Potter,
Steph Curtis and Patti Rai Rudolph (Image courtesy MPR & Steve Wunwood)
Though the name Marketplace Weekend was used for the last five years or so, the program’s roots go back to Sound Money, a simple but elegant program that started on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) in 1985. 

We worked with Sound Money in the 1990’s, back when American Public Radio (now Public Radio International – PRI) was in charge of marketing and distributing MPR’s nationally syndicated programs.

Sound Money stood out because of its high-value takeaway and folksy host Bob Potter. Potter created the show while he was working as a reporter and staff announcer at MPR. The on-air team included Potter, economist Chris Farrell and financial advisor Erica Whittinger. Karen Tofte produced the program.

Bob Potter (left) with MPR’s Gary Eichten
in the mid 1980s (Image courtesy MPR)

Spark News reached Potter at his home in St. Petersburg, Florida.  He told us about the mission of Sound Money:

“Sound Money was built on the premise that people want honest, straightforward financial advice. 

Our goal was to engender trust with our listeners and answer their questions. 

We provided information for people with all levels of portfolios.  Basically, we tried to put investing in a larger context to help folks make wise choices.”
Potter created Sound Money as a public radio, less stuffy, counterpoint to Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street Week on public television. Sound Money had a terrific track record. At its high point in the mid 1990s, Sound Money was heard on over 200 stations and had 350,000 weekly listeners.

Things changed around the year 2000 when APM acquired Marketplace.  Potter retired from MPR.  Soon Sound Money moved to Los Angeles and was folded into Marketplace. Over subsequent years, the weekly program had several different names, finally settling on Marketplace Weekend about five years ago.

Though the program had success while being produced at Marketplace, it could never replace the personal, intimate feeling of Sound Money.

Potter & business partner Scott Haakenson
Sound Money is still going strong today, but on a different platform. Potter and business partner Scott Haakenson acquired the Sound Money name and image from APM. Potter and Haakenson opened Sound Money Group [link], an investment and consulting firm built on the show’s mission.

When asked about similarities between the radio program and the business, Potter said they both provide credible, honest, straightforward, no nonsense explanations of economic and market trend and provide answers to individual financial concerns. Potter explained the biggest difference:

The radio program had thousands of listeners so we couldn’t provide specific advice to individuals.  Our company provides the same quality information and perspective to one client at a time.

Asked if he misses being on the air, Potter said:

Yes, I miss it everyday. Once you have the bug, there is nothing else quite like it.


According to posts on social media by WXPN General Manager for Programming Bruce Warren, World Cafe [link] is seeking applications for a part-time, temporary Producer to report, edit and produce self-contained pieces about the Latin music world for radio digital distribution.

The gig is open now for a person to work 18 hours a week for up to two years and perhaps longer depending on grant funding. World Cafe wants a person who is proficient in Spanish and experience developing a narrative arc plus an understanding of the standards and practices of public media journalism.

This sounds like a terrific foot-in-the-door at one of public medias most creative shops.  But, don’t hesitate. Send your resume and cover letter to World Cafe Senior Producer, Kimberly Junod, at using the subject line “Latin Roots Producer."  


According to the Nielsen Audio June 2018 Nielsen Audio ratings, WKNO in Memphis is sinking even lower in estimated weekly listeners. 

We named WKNO as our first Weakest Link because of its many-year tradition of under serving the people of Memphis.

Put it this way, we see no indication that WKNO’s management is even trying to improve the performance of their programming.

How bad is WKNO?  According to Nielsen it trails a mainly automated oldies format on WQOX, a suburban station operating from a high school.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Annie Russell
You may have heard that Current pulled the plug on their three-year old podcast The Pub. The reason was simple: It was losing money and there was no hope it would ever become sustainable.

Host Annie Russell laid it on the line in the first minute of the last episode of The Pub:

This is the last episode of The Pub – the podcast for people in public media. We know so many of you tune into the pub regularly and you rely on us.  So, we want to level with you. The podcast didn’t draw enough underwriting support to cover the production costs. In fact, in the few years that Current has produced and distributed the pub has only been able to draw about a quarter of the cost. Unfortunately, the podcast is not sustainable.

Current can’t afford a project that drains money from its core operations. In July 2017 we reported [link] about Current’s need to become self-supporting. To help pay the bills, the publication established a paywall. For most of its 30+ years covering public media, Current’s budget has been subsidized. Though funding from the Wyncote Foundation is continuing, it is not forever.

When The Pub began in early 2015, we were excited about it. In February 2015 [link] we praised the show, calling it a magazine program that is timely and provides a valuable mirror of public media. The Pub provides smart criticism of a business that sometimes takes itself too seriously.

Adam Ragusea
Much of our praise in 2015 focused on host Adam Ragusea, who deserves credit for making The Pub a reality. Ragusea is a smart reporter who likes to go to the source of a story. When The Pub broke news (which it sometimes did), Ragusea interviewed the main players in the story. His style was upbeat and often irreverent.

We tuned into The Pub fairly often back then.  We particularly liked his knowledge about how public radio and TV operated internally. Though we have never met Ragusea in person, whenever we heard his voice on The Pub, he seemed like trusted friend.

After Ragusea left for other opportunities, The Pub seemed to be rudderless and increasingly irrelevant.  You can hear that in the final edition of the show. The Pub was no longer a valuable mirror of public media. Instead, it became a gabfest that sorely needed an edit.

The final episode of The Pub was promoted as “lessons learned.” We anticipated it would include interviews with Julie Drizin, the Executive Director who green-lighted the show, and Mike Janssen, Current’s digital editor who supervised The Pub on a day-to-day basis. That would have been interesting.

Host Annie Russell devoted the entire final show to an interview with a friend whose podcast also failed. The Pub started with lofty goals and by the end, devolved into chit chat.

But don’t blame Russell for the demise for The Pub. If Ragusea had stayed, the fate of The Pub would have been the same. The Pub failed because it wasn’t financially sustainable.

KEN SAYS: The economics of reporting about public broadcasting aren’t encouraging. The number of people working in public broadcasting falls below the critical mass needed to justify advertising buyers. The need for coverage is there but the lack of resources to do the coverage is apparent.

When The Pub began, we thought seriously about also starting a podcast. Then we ran the numbers and saw doing a podcast was a big risk.

Spark News continues because it is a service to the public media community.  We realize it will never become a source of major revenue. Our goal for Spark News is to influence policy. We believe if public radio is to survive and grow, people in the industry must insist on high standards for content and engagement.


Sometimes we smile when we see the latest ratings.  This is true of Nielsen Audio June 2018 PPM results.   

Three fine stations, NPR News/Talk WUWM, Wisconsin Public Radio’s talker WHAD and spunky Triple A WYMS all had outstanding performances.

But wait, there is more. WYMS’s second station, the Milwaukee Music channel made a strong appearance even though it is only available on a HD channel and online streaming. It proves if you have essential content, people will find you.

Controversial KNAI will soon vanish from the noncommercial ratings. 

KNAI's licensee, the Cesar Chavez Foundation, just bought a commercial frequency in Phoenix and KNAI will become a commercial station...which it already was, anyway.

The folks at KANU in Lawrence need to consider ending the dual format.   

Nice to see The Bridge moving up.