Friday, September 22, 2017

PREVIEW: ST. PAUL “SUPER REGIONAL” PUBLIC RADIO CONFERENCE


Next week Tuesday (9/26) though Thursday (9/28) public radio station managers, programmers, network folks and others will gather at the Intercontinental Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul for a Super Regional conference. Super Regional conferences are held periodically for stations in specific regions of the country.

The St. Paul Super Regional [link] is sponsored by Eastern Regional Public Media (ERPM), one of four public radio regional organizations.  

ERPM [link] is the oldest of the regional organizations, pre-dating the creation of CPB and NPR. (Scroll down to read more about the history of ERPM.)


Super Regional’s are becoming a bigger factor the operation of public radio stations. They give station leaders the chance to talk with representatives of CPB, NPR and other public media stakeholders.

The public radio system had a national conference called the Public Radio Conference (PRC) until the late 1990s.  It was discontinued because of escalating costs and perceived conflicts of interest by    NPR who sponsored the PRC and controlled the agenda.

Around 250 people are expected to attend the St. Paul Super Regional.  One of the people attend will be me.

This is the first major public radio conference I have attended since I started this blog in 2014 and began loosing my sight.  I am looking forward to attending and am grateful to ERPN for the invitation. Here a few of the sessions I am looking forward to attending:

TUESDAY 9/26

Jessica Shortall
• 8:15am  Keynote speech: Building Bridges in a Divided Time

Author and commentator Jessica Shortall will talk about the importance of finding common ground with critics of public broadcasting. Shortall is the head of Texas Competes, a coalition of 1,300 employers advocating against anti-LGBT laws. She will share her knowledge of societal trends and the need for objective data. Shortall recommends using facts, mixed with empathy, to build new bridges. 


• 2:30pm Breakout Session: Creating Sustainable Local News in Your Community

Readers if this blog know I have great interest in this topic. Public radio news is evolving and is a defining characteristic that resonates with listeners in markets of all sizes. The increased listening and impact of NPR News, Regional Journalism Collaborations, in-depth reporting and investigative focus is reinforcing the unique role public radio news plays in our society.

To continue this work, local news needs to be sustainable. Station folks will talk about curating the news and convening important community conversations.

• 3:45pm The NPR-Station Compact:  Building a Digital Network

WEDNESDAY 9/27

Jon McTaggart


• 9:00am General Session: The Future of Public Media

American Public Media (APM) CEO Jon McTaggart discusses what his organization is doing now to increase the impact and value of public media. 

McTaggart will share ways to increase the importance of public media and reaching new listeners who might now find public media to be irrelevant.






• 11:00am  Small Station Success Stories: Moving Your Station from Good to Great

Stations in smaller markets are the heart and soul of public media. However, running a station will a smaller budget is increasingly challenging. Sometimes the public radio system seems like the have’s and have nots. A panel of small station managers will talk about their “secret sauce” that helps them outperform other stations.

Mike Oreskes

• 12:30pm  Ethics in Journalism

I can hardly wait for this session. NPR’s Senior VP News and Editorial Director Mike Oreskes shares the spotlight with NPR’s head of Standards and Practices Mark Memmott and NPR’s Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen will discuss ethical standards and building trust with listeners.





• 2:30pm Metrics That Matter: Understanding Our Digital Audiences

THURSDAY 9/29

• 10:00am NPR-Station Compact:  Building a Journalism Network

NPR and station folks will discuss the strategic and tactical steps the network is taking to work collaboratively to build a true news network that enhances news reporting on all levels.

ERPM IS PUBLIC RADIO’S OLDEST ORGANIZATION

EPR MEMBER STATIONS 1961
ERPM debuted as Eastern Public Radio (EPR) in 1958. The organization brought together several “educational” stations more than a decade before CPB and NPR. 

EPR’s charter members were WGBH, WNYC, WFCR (then WEDK) and WAMC.  

EPR managers played a crucial role when Congress was writing Public Broadcasting Act legislation in the late 1960s. 

At that time, Congress thought public broadcasting should only include public television stations. Radio was left out because it seemed so much smaller than TV. Representatives of EPR lobbied successfully for the inclusion of radio in the new system.

ERPM MEMBER STATIONS 2010
EPR was an important player in the development of NPR and public radio’s satellite system. EPR pioneered the radio programming marketplace. 

EPR helped the system adjust when American Public Radio began competing with NPR and CPB funding formulas changed.

EPR nurtured the Public Radio Program Directors association (PRPD) beginning in the mid-1980s with the PD Bees.

EPR merged with another regional group, Southern Public Radio, to form Eastern Regional Public Media.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

RESTRUCTURING DEBT SAVES KCPW BUT NOW CAN THEY COMPETE?



Lauren Colucci with news of the restructuring
Lauren Colucci is General Manager of KCPW located in the very competitive Salt Lake City noncommercial radio market. The 450-watt community station competes with KUER (NPR News), KBYU (Classical) and KRCL (Triple A). Of the four stations, KCPW is number four in almost every metric. However KCPW has the brightest future it has had in years.

KCPW had been struggling to pay off the remaining $1.8 million of a $2.2 million loan that was used to purchase the station in 2008. (We will get to that story later in this post.)
The reason why things look so promising at KCPW now is because of a financial restructuring plan that lifts the burden of long-term debt that threatened to sink the station into bankruptcy. Now Colucci and everyone at KCPW can concentrate on serving listeners, members and the community.

Wasatch Public Media is the current licensee of KCPW. The station had formerly been owned and operated by Community Wireless of Park City until its sale in 2008. Wasatch paid $2.2 million for KCPW. Though the deal seemed to make sense just before the Great Recession, paying the debt took a big bite out of KCPW’s operating budget. Payments to service the loan were roughly $10,000 per month. This was just the interest; the full principal was still due.

When Colucci took the reins in 2014, KCPW’s total secured and unsecured debt with interest had grown to over $3 million. The Board of Directors was hemorrhaging members. The day-to-day operations had long been running at a deficit. Colucci said in an interview with Spark News:

“I seem to like crisis management.”

Although this was the first time Colucci had managed a radio station, she had some non- profit organizational experience. Before moving back to Utah, she worked with arts, conservation and diplomatic organizations doing financial assessments and research among other things. Her experiences took her to both coasts and South America.

Colucci first landed in Salt Lake to attend school at the University of Utah. After spending years away, she returned, eventually landing a part-time producing job at KCPW in 2013. When she was asked to help patch the management transition in 2014 she found herself surrounded by turmoil and frustrated staff members.

With just weeks of operating cash, Colucci went to work on keeping the station afloat while quickly learning the fundamentals of the biz. She and her staff delayed paychecks for the first couple of months before the inevitable layoffs took place. Colucci included herself in those layoffs and continued in her role as a volunteer for the next five months before rejoining as a contractor and then as a staff member once again in 2016.

Marc Hand
It was clear that KPCW had to take care of the long-term debt problem if the station was going to survive. KCPW had a working relationship with Marc Hand, CEO and co-founder of Public Media Company (PMC), a company that specializes in devising plans for public broadcasting organizations to become sustainable.

Hand and his team worked with KCPW to find a solution and initiate a new financing package to pay off the original loan. The keys to making the deal work were: a new loan made by FJC, a foundation in New York; loan guarantees made by two anonymous individuals in Salt Lake City; plus philanthropic funds from local individuals and foundations.

The proposed refinancing was a five-year $420,000 loan that bought out the $1.8 million note and interest.

You read that correctly: $420,000 bought out the $1.8 million long-term debt and interest. That means over $1.7 million was to be forgiven. Incredible!

The lenders said: Yes!

When she heard the news, Colucci said:

“It is a miracle. We are thrilled by what this means for the station’s future. We deeply appreciate the generosity and commitment to keeping local public radio a part of our community. You are heroes all.”


Now the real work begins: Creating success at the number four noncom station in a four station market.

THE MIXED LEGACY OF BLAIR FEULNER

This much we know is true: Blair Feulner founded KPCW in Park City in 1980 and KCPW in Salt Lake City in 1992. Beyond that, the truth depends on who you talk to. Feulner was part visionary and part huckster and his legacy is still debated today.

Blair & Susan Feulner
Blair Feulner and wife Susan Feulner, along with a handful of dedicated volunteers started KPCW in 1980.  The early years were lean and the Feulers spent many, many hours of uncompensated time building KPCW into a much admired community station.

Also in the 1980s and 1990s Feulner was a “license trader.” He spent his time acquiring radio station licenses as cheaply as possible and then selling them for a profit – sometimes a big profit.

During the go-go 1980s big changes were made regarding the ownership of FCC licenses. The Commission had deregulated many aspects of station ownership including the “three-year rule” which required licensees to hold a license for three years before selling. The end of this rule made broadcast licenses more like real estate. 

In the mid 1980s the FCC had approved a plan to increase the number of FM stations called “Docket 80-90.”  Hundreds of new frequencies were opened for new stations, investment money was available from Savings and Loan companies (also deregulated) and the elimination of the three-year ownership rule meant licenses could bought one day and sold the next day.

Blair Feulner took full advantage of the situation. On behalf of Community Wireless, Feulner obtained a new FM license for Salt Lake City in 1992 and built KCPW as a sister station of KPCW.

Then he struck gold.

In 2004, Feuler and Community Wireless bought a failing commercial FM station in Coalville, Utah for $50,000. Coalville is a tourist town 20 miles as-the-crow-flies east of Salt Lake City. However, the station could not put a signal into Salt Lake because of terrain shielding.

Feulner knew a secret about the Coalville FM. Because of its location and frequency, it blocked several big Salt Lake City stations from expanding their coverage. This fact was of tremendous strategic importance.

Feulner leveraged the Coalville license and sold it to one of the commercial broadcasters for $3.6 million. This was an amazing windfall for Community Wireless.  The board was thrilled.

To show their gratitude for the deal, the Community Wireless’ Board of Directors voted to pay the Blair and Susan Feulner $895,000. That became a public relations nightmare.

Word of the transaction and the payment to Feulner traveled quickly in Utah and throughout the public broadcasting industry. There was outrage because Feulner was making big bucks off of a non-profit public enterprise. The deal was completely legal but ethically it stank.

Things got even worse when The Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2005 that Blair Feulner was being paid $150,000 per year and Susan Feulner was being paid $45,000 per year for part-time work.

Members of KPCW and KCPW were outraged and fundraising slumped.

Politicians used the Coalville deal as “proof” that public broadcasting did not need federal support. Feulner spent less and less time at the stations. By 2008 both KPCW and KCPW were operating at a loss. Relations between Feulner and Board grew tense.

Blair Feulner 2008 SLC Weekly
By early 2008, Feulner and Community Wireless were at odds over Feulner’s employment contract. Feulner had been working on applications for several open FM licenses, including Moab and Nephi. The Board told Feulner he could not use Community Wireless money to apply for them.

Feulner was furious. He took his complaints to the press where he was quoted saying:

“I don’t know why you would want to give up on millions of dollars worth of free frequencies.”

By July 2008, the Board felt it had to act. Feulner was fired on July 15, 2008. Around the same time, Community Wireless sold the license for KCPW in Salt Lake to Wasatch Public Media for $2.2 million.

Today Blair and Susan Feulner reportedly live in Park City. KPCW is now considered one of the best small market public radio stations in the nation. KCPW in Salt Lake City did not fare so well, accumulating a substantial operating debt. Then Lauren Colucci became GM in 2014 and she led the station to solvency with the recent financial restructuring plan.

Now the “real work” begins: Turning the #4 station in a four-station noncommercial radio market into a successful public radio station.

MEET KCPW TODAY

Colucci has brought new optimism and vigor to KCPW after completing the financial restructuring plan. Time that went to resolving the historic issues that plagued the station is now available to invest in station development. But KCPW still faces tough odds.

The chart on the left shows the vital stats for all four of Salt Lake City’s CPB-qualified public radio stations.
KCPW has an alternative-to-NPR news format, with some Jazz for spice.

Classical and Triple A music are well established in the market at KBYU and KRCL. KCPW’s main competition is KUER.

Let’s look at how the schedules for the two stations compare. The two charts on the right show programs for the hours when the most people hear radio.

During the weekdays, KUER has what many observers would consider to be the "standard" NPR News station schedule. Radio West, KUER’s local talk and interview show, is considered one of the best of its type in the public radio system. 

Q is a very good choice for 11:00 am. I like that KCPW has the first local play of The Takeaway.

KCPW's local shows are signature programs for the station. Behind the Headlines, a weekly examination of local news with Salt Lake Tribune reporters, is produced in association with the Tribune. Both Sides of the Aisle is a point-counter point look at local issues. The Bottom Line is a close look at business in Utah. In the Hive is a look at the issues and ideas that shape the greater Salt Lake valley.



Saturday 7am – 3pm offers several opportunities for KCPW. Freakonomics is an excellent choice for 8am – 9am.

The Hinckley Institute program is obviously a relationship issue. But, 11am – Noon on Saturday is the prime-est of Saturday prime time, so a stronger program during that hour could stimulate pledging.


CPB BACKS KCUR’S “KANSAS NEWS SERVICE” WITH $500K GRANT • "THE DAILY" KEEPS RISING ON TOP PODCAST CHART


The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) continues to invest in public broadcasting’s local news infrastructure and content creation. News is working for public radio news stations.  Some public news/talk stations have increased their number of weekly cumulative listeners by double-digit amounts in the past three years. Increases in listeners typically means increases station memberships.



CPB is providing approximately $500,000 to KCUR to expand Topeka-based Kansas News Service (KNS). 

The grant is part of $3.3 million CPB has pledged this year to create or improve five Regional Journalism Centers (RJC).

Locations of stations mentioned in this story circled in red

KNS was launched by KCUR in February 2017 with the support of local and regional foundations. 

Participating stations in KNS, in addition to KCUR, are KMUW, Wichita; KANU, Lawrence; and High Plains Public Radio, a regional network serving rural counties, based in Garden City.  

One Kansas CPB-qualified station, KPRS in Pittsburg located in the south-east corner of Kansas, is currently not part of collaborative. Donna Vestal, Director of Content Strategy at KCUR, says KRPS is welcome to join the other stations:

Donna Vestal
“We are certainly encouraging KRPS to be fully involved with the RJC collaboration. All of the content is being made available to them, and we will be discussing ways to share their work.”

Some of the staff for KNS is already in place. The Managing Director is Jim McLean, based at KNS headquarters in Topeka. The Editor is Amy Jeffries, based in Kansas City.

Vestall anticipates that KNS will be adding new reporters and producers in coming months, including a new digital producer at KCUR, an environmental reporter at KMUW and reporter specializing in agriculture and other rural issue sat High Plains.

Vestall added about the new RJC:

"We're incredibly proud of how the Kansas public media stations are working together. And we have a lot of work to do serving all the communities across the state."

THE DAILY RISES TO FIFTH ON AUGUST TOP PODCASTS CHART

The New York Times daily Monday through Friday podcast The Daily continues to move up on Podtrac’s chart of the top ten podcasts. The roughly 20-minute program hosted by Michael Barbaro is number five on the August Podtrac chart, up from 10th in July and 12th in April.

We reviewed The Daily on May 3, 2017. [link]

If you haven’t heard The Daily I urge you to check it out [link]. Each edition contains a long-form story done in ATC-style plus a brief look at headlines for other current stories. The Daily contains lots of first-hand reporting. It is a nice companion to the Times written reporting and seems to be growing in popularity.

As readers of this blog know, I like what Podtrac is doing but I object to the fact that they fail to provide analytic data on their Top Podcast Rankings. Podtrac does provide the supporting numbers for their other monthly chart that shows the top podcast publishers. 

Velvet Beard
I contacted Velvet Beard of Podtrac and asked why they reveal ranking data for one chart but not for the other. She kindly replied:

We publish free audience numbers at the publisher level but do not make those publicly available at the show level. That is a product decision we have made.”

In other words, the information is embargoed because it is proprietary. I urge Podtrac to reconsider this decision because it hurts the company’s credibility. Without metrics, the list seems more like an impressionistic painting than a scoreboard. Podtrac has the data, so please be more transparent.