Thursday, February 23, 2017


Last Friday we featured Podtrac’s PODCAST PUBLISHERS AUDIENCE RANKINGS, one of two monthly charts of top podcasts provided by the company.  In that post we talked about Podtrac’s goal of becoming the go-to provider for podcast metrics, something the industry needs. Podtrac founder and CEO Mark Mccrey replied to our questions but his response left some SPARK! readers wondered about the veracity of the Podtrac data.

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We heard from several producers and a couple of distributors who were surprised when Mccrey told us that counts can change up or down by 20% from month to month.   

“That's a helluva margin of error!” one observer said.

(The January 2017 Podtrac top 20 podcasts, ranked by US Unique Monthly Audience, is on the right.)

It turns out we aren’t the only observer to bring up questions about Podtrac’s data.   

For instance the top podcast chart contains no metrics.  It is just a list of podcasts without any stats to back it up.   

Podtrac doesn’t provide any proof about how the Unique Monthly Audience sizes compare with each other.

We repeatedly asked for more information from Mccery but he never responded to our questions.

The specific criticism of Podtrac seems to be in three key areas: 

1.) Podtrac’s lack of transparency; 

2.) The fact that Podtrac red lines podcasts and publishers who don’t subscribe to Podtrac rankings, and,

3.) Questions about Podtrac’s methodology, particularly their sample sizes. 

One observer told me: “Podtrac’s rankings are specious at best. Their charts look good but they are filled with aspirational notions, not factual data.”

So, are any of the other top podcast charts that are more reliable?

To get the lay of the land we compared the most recent Podtrac Top 10 with the most recent rankings by iTunes, Stitcher and Podcast One. To say there is a lot of variation from company to company is an understatement.

None of the four chart publishers reveal their actual numbers to explain why podcast #1 has a larger audience than podcast #2.  Each company uses its own proprietary analytics and qualification criteria.

No single podcast appears on all four of the lists. This American Life, Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio and The Joe Rogan Experience appear on three of the four Top 10 charts.  Beyond these programs there is very little consensus about which podcasts truly are in the Top 10. I guess you can say that measuring podcast audiences is still in development. For now, buyer beware.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


We’ve written recently about “accidental broadcaster” – licensees who got into the broadcasting business in the 1970s and 1980s when risks were low and money was available. Often these stations are school district licensees. Such is the case in Miami.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools owns WLRN-FM and WLRN-TV, a PBS affiliate. For the past three decades Friends of WLRN, a nonprofit group, has operated the stations with considerable success. Now a power struggle between the district and the nonprofit has erupted over who is responsible for news coverage. If WLRN employees don’t sign the agree, the district said they could face serious but unspecified “consequences.

The Miami Herald reports [link], the district has given Friends of WLRN until March 2nd to submit to a new management agreement that will give the district control of the news product. The district wants to directly employ reporters and editors. People currently doing these jobs will have to reapply to continue working.

The school district said the reason for the change is “student safety.” Currently WLRN news people are not subject to the same background check requirements as district employees. The district’s new agreement will force 19 WLRN reporters and editors to reapply for jobs and become district employees.

This is important, schools district officials say, because student interns work with WLRN employees. Without stringent drug tests and criminal background checks, WLRN staffers could potentially endanger the interns. According to the Miami Herald, the district has suspended the intern program until the proposed plan is completed.

Critics have pointed out that school administrators will have the sole power to hire and fire its journalists. This will put independent news reporting at risk. Observers point out that under the proposed new agreement the school district can also dictate programming and broadcast content. School district officials have downplayed concerns about the plan.

Friends of WLRN defends its track record and warned that the new agreement could turn WLRN into public relations operation. The agreement could also lead to the cancellation of a news partnership with the Miami Herald and cuts in funding from foundations that insist on firm firewalls between licensee management and reporters.

The Miami Herald says in recent months, WLRN has aired stories critical of school district programs.


Classical music fans in the Portland, Maine, area had quite a surprise this past Saturday 2/18 when WBQX a/k/a W-Bach, suddenly changed its format to Country music. 

Since 1991 W-Bach had provided Classical music to listeners in southern and mid coast Maine. A message on the W-Bach website Monday morning said “this site is no longer on the air.”

According to the Bangor Daily News [link], former W-Bach program coordinator Scott Hooper said in an email to listeners a few hours after the change:

“W-BACH died today. I’m sorry that things went this way. We gave it one heck of a ride, and I hoped for a better outcome.”

The Daily News report says it was well known that W-Bach had been having financial difficulties. Binnie Media, licensee of the commercial station, changed the formats of several of its stations at the same time.

WBXQ was one of a handful of commercial Classical music stations in the nation. According to the Daily News, the emergence of Maine Public Broadcasting’s Classical network was a major factor in the decision to end W-Bach.

KEN SAYS: This good news for Maine Public’s fledgling Classical music service. WBQX typically had a 0.5 AQH share, indicating 10,000 – 15,000 weekly cumulative listeners according the Nielsen Audio data. Many of these listeners will likely move to Maine Public’s service.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Media brands usually revolve around the key elements that users like and value the most. There is also high brand loyalty to things that are fun. Fun is what is happening at KVSC, St. Cloud, Minnesota [link]. Every year in February KVSC hosts their signature event Trivia Storm. The annual trivia contest for 2017 just ended this past weekend and, as usual, a good time was had by all.

Trivia Storm is now in it's 38th year. Thanks to KVSC’s streaming audio, teams from around the globe compete to answer approximately 450 mind-stumping questions. The contest runs over 50 consecutive hours starting at 5pm Friday and running through 7pm Sunday.

KVSC GM Jo McMullen-Boyer and Operations Director Jim Gray 
get ready for Trivia Storm (Photo courtesy St. Cloud Times)
According to KVSC’s GM, Jo McMullen-Boyer, players for this year’s contest came from New Zealand, Egypt and Sweden. The winners were locals, however. A St. Cloud team named It Just Doesn’t Matter, won top honors with 12,070 trivia points.  

KVSC’s staff and volunteers begin the prep for Trivia Storm in June and begin assembling Google-proof questions in August. The questions remind me of ones from the board game Trivial Pursuit such as life and times, film and literature, news and history, and, of course, music.

In October, KVSC staff starts selling sponsorships. Trivia Storm has become one of KVSC’s leading fundraising vehicles. KVSC also asks listeners for pledges during the contest. 

As many as 100 volunteers answer participant calls and messages during peak hours. It isn’t unusual for participants to stay awake for the entire 50 hours.


Last Friday we reported on WAJC 88.1 FM, licensed to the town of Newport, which is south and east of St. Paul. KVSC also broadcasts on 88.1 FM.  A SPARK! reader in St. Cloud sent this comment about WAJC and KSVC:

From Anonymous (edited for length and clarity:

"KVSC in St. Cloud regrets the loss of their Twin Cities coverage due to WAJC’s signal. Is WAJC’s presence beneficial? It's quite easy for one small new signal to destroy reliable reception of an existing station, which is what has happened.

[WAJC’s co-founder Jill Martin Rishe] can babble about our signal all she likes, but given it’s close proximity of KVSC, WAJC’s 60dBu signal doesn’t even reach the MSP airport.

Given that WAJC never should've existed, and it took a vibrant station like KVSC and totally shivved them in the back. Whenever KVSC approached them about buying out WAJC, they demanded an outrageously high.” purchase price.

KEN SAYS: So how do you really feel about it? The interference is not intentional by WAJC. The FCC “short spaced” 88.1 FM and the result is interference for two other stations operating on 88.1: KVSC and KRLX, Northfield.  The coverage maps for the three stations tell the story:

KVSC broadcasts with 16,500-watts from a good spot near the campus of St. Cloud State University.  

The station has lots of listeners in the I-94 corridor between St. Cloud and the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. KVSC signed on in the early 1970s.

WAJC broadcasts with 5,520-watts from a short tower near the town of Coates, about 15 miles southeast of St. Paul. WAJC signed on in 2011.

KRLX [link] broadcasts with 100-watts from a short tower on the campus of Carleton College. They are a pretty groovy college station that once used the slogan Life Is Better When You Are On the Bottom. KRLX signed on in 1974.