Wednesday, November 22, 2017


As God as my witness I thought turkeys could fly! 
Arthur Carlson, GM, WKRP, Cincinnati

Almost anyone who has worked in radio has a story about a station promotion that went off the rails. Perhaps the most famous “splat” was in the classic WKRP episode Turkeys Away. What most people don’t know about Turkeys Away is that it was based on a promotion that actually happened. 

(Scroll down to see the most famous scene from Turkeys Away.)

Hugh Wilson

Hugh Wilson, the creator of WKRP, based the series on people and events that happened at WQXI, a highly rated Top 40 station in Atlanta. Wilson, an advertising agency copy writer, hung around with folks who worked at WQXI.

When Wilson moved to Los Angeles to write for Mary Tyler Moore (MTN) Productions he pitched the idea of the show that became WKRP to Grant Tinker, the head of MTN. 

Tinker bought it and CBS-TV gave it the green light. WKRP debuted in fall 1979.

The WQXI DJs back in the day

Wilson was looking for a Thanksgiving-themed holiday program in 1980. 

He remembered an incident that his friends at WQXI told him about when the station sponsored a turkey giveaway promotion.

WQXI staged the free turkey event at a strip mall in Atlanta. They planned to toss live turkeys off the back of truck and let people in the assembled crowd catch their own holiday bird.

But, it turned out that the turkeys were not live, they were frozen. So, the WQXI DJs decided to throw the frozen turkeys to the crowd instead.

That was a big mistake. The frozen turkeys hit the ground with big splats causing an unbelievable mess. That true story was morphed into WKRP’s Turkeys Away. It became a huge hit and saved WKRP from being cancelled.

Here is the famous scene from Turkeys Away:

If you are a WKRP fan and like trivia check out the trivia contests at [link].

Spark News will return after the Thanksgiving break.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Fact 1: Commercial radio requires paid commercial announcements to stay in business.

Fact 2: People dislike commercials, particularly a bunch of them in a row.

Fact 3: Noncommercial should exploit the lack of commercials, particularly a bunch of them in a row.

Each Monday All Access Media [link] publishes a media research column authored by Carolyn Gilbert and Leigh Jacobs of NuVoodoo Media, a research company that is a big player in commercial radio music formats. Their most recent column (Monday 11/20) is titled The Other Problem(s) with Commercials.

NuVoodoo has recently done a study of listener perceptions of commercial breaks, called “stop-sets” or “commercial clusters” in the biz. Stations will play eight or more spots in a row. These commercial breaks can last five minutes or longer.

Typical truck stop menu copy • Courtesy of NuVoodoo
NuVoodoo compares the results of this practice to an audio version of a truck stop menu cover where local businesses advertise in 2” x 2” blocks.

NuVoodoo asked a sample of 2,979 people between the ages of 14 and 54 to wear a PPM-ish device (or keep a written Diary) and listen a simulated radio program complete with music and commercial stop-sets. Then the respondents were asked basic questions.

Courtesy of NuVoodoo
Question One: Agree or disagree, Most commercials don’t apply to me?

The chart on the left shows that the majority of the respondents agreed with the statement. They don’t feel the commercials were relevant to them.

Courtesy of NuVoodoo
Question Two: Agree or disagree, Most commercials on the radio don’t sound good to you?

The next chart on the left shows that most of the respondents agree with the statement. The majority felt commercials just don’t sound good.

In their conclusion, NuVoodoo said:

As our consumer experience is increasingly connected with digital media, where ads are served up based on individual browsing history and the deep information available via Big Data, we’re coming to expect that ads are always relevant to us and match the quality of what they hear online or via mobile devices.

The Takeaway:

The respondents appear to have become even more negative about their perception of radio spots.. If this is also true of the general public, noncommercial radio has an increasing advantage over commercial radio.

This matters because the minutes per hour dedicated to commercials is not expected to drop. As the chart on the left from Inside Radio in 2015 shows, over 55% of commercial stations have 10 to 14 minutes per hour of commercials. That have to keep airing this number of spots to pay back their debts.

The sound and relevance of commercial radio is increasingly different than on-demand media, podcasts and noncommercial radio.

Monday, November 20, 2017


NPR's Next Generation Radio [link] says 2017 was one of its best years ever. In a report to stakeholders, Next Generation founder and Director Doug Mitchell said the project trained and mentored 57 rising journalists between January and October this year.

Next Generation, a partnership including NPR member stations and US colleges and universities, is a digital first, multimedia project targeting college students and early-career professionals who are interested in in-depth journalism and storytelling. Each student is paired with a mentor for an intensive, on-location "boot-camp."

NPR's Next Generation Radio Class of 2017 • Doug Mitchell on the right
According to Mitchell, each participant is given an assignment to find one person with a great story to tell. The participants then design the approach to the story, do research, conduct interviews and produce the feature.

Each student-mentor team is advised to think “audience first.” This is an important part of the training because Next Generation wants graduates of the program to do relevant and substatial work. Each team must answer questions like “who cares” and “why should people care” before finishing the piece.

Next Generation Radio has had a big impact on public media because it is an incubator for new journalists with diverse backgrounds. Among the graduates are:

• Audie Cornish, Co-Host of All Things Considered;
• Nicole Beemsterboer, Senior Producer for NPR’s Investigation Unit;
• Celeste Headlee, Host and Executive Producer for Georgia Public’s daily news and interview program On Second Thought;
• Lee Hill, Senior Digital, Editor at WNYC;
• Phyllis Fletcher, Managing Editor at Northwest News Network in Seattle;  
• Nancy DeVille, Network Producer for Youth Radio in Oakland; and,
 Ericka Cruz Guevarra, Breaking News Reporter at KOPB, Portland

Doug Mitchell founded Next Generation Radio in association with NPR in 2000. He explains the project in this YouTube video:

According to Mitchell, in 2018 Next Generation Radio is planning on working with these partners:

University of Houston/Houston Public Media (January 8-12)
University of Southern California (March 12-16)
Georgia Public Broadcasting (May 7-11)
University of Nevada, Reno (June 4-8)
WHYY Philadelphia, PA (June 25-29)
KUOW Seattle (Early Career) July 16-20
Oklahoma City/KOSU (July 30-Aug 3)
KUT Austin, TX (Aug 13-17)
Capital Public Radio Sacramento, CA (Oct 15-19)

In his report, Mitchell says the bottom line is:

"What we do is reinforce what they've wanted to do, or, open their eyes to what they could do."


The New York Times weekday podcast The Daily [link] continues to gain new listeners. Hosted by Michael Barbaro, The Daily says of itself: This is how the news should sound. As a frequent listener, I agree.

According to the October Podtrac chart (on the left), The Daily is now the #2 podcast in the US. Last month The Daily was #5 and in July it was #10.

Also gaining ground were NPR’s Up First and How I Built This. iHeartMedia’s Trending Songs/Pop, a weekly countdown show [link], made its debut on the Podtrac chart.