Friday, October 3, 2014


WBIA didn't always suck.  Once it had a major impact on my career and life.  In late summer of 1969 -- a week after Stonewall -- I crashed for awhile with a radio pal of mine who was a grad student at Union Theological Seminary.  His apartment at 106th and Amsterdam had no furniture except an FM radio which was constantly tuned to WBAI.  Bob Fass, Steve Post, Larry Josephson and WBAI changed my entire perception of what radio could be. I am forever grateful.

Here is clip of Bob Dylan on Bob Fass' Radio Unnameable early New Year's morning January 1, 1966:

To learn more about the late, great Bob Fass and check out the film Radio Unnameable at

Thursday, October 2, 2014


I discovered a great post today via Radio Survivor  RadioAnnGal discusses The Problem(s) of Community Radio.

Ann writes: A station I used to work at is in a financial crisis. I don't use that phrase capriciously. Membership has plummeted, the [ratings] indicate that statistically, no one is listening and the… programmers [are] caught up in petty discourse defending the value of their shows and lamenting the lack of a marketing budget to promote the programming.

Sound familiar? What she says applies to many community stations. She continues:

A volunteer comes in to do his or her show playing bluegrass music, then another volunteer comes in to host a half hour public affairs show about Central America, and then another, and another. Each program is its own universe, but unlike the real universe there is no unifying stardust to make sense of the program schedule as a whole. In short, they cannibalize a station's mission by putting their show first.

To me one of the biggest problems is that many community stations use the *toxic* Pacifica governance model, particularly when determining programming.  If you follow Pacifica’s programming system your station may be doomed to Pacifica’s fate: an embarrassment to all of us working in public media.


Let the programmer focus on serving listeners, not on mediating internal turf wars and political purity.  Give the programmer the time and ability to make changes unhindered by committee approval.  Measure the progress over two or three years. Hold the programmer accountable.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


To me, the most valuable session at the recent Public Radio Programming Conference in Portland was CONNECTED CARS by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media, and Larry Rosin of Edison Research.  I drive a 1991 Honda Accord with AM/FM and a cassette deck, so I felt like a cave man when the presentation started.  While I've been cruising in my retro ride, digital has invaded vehicles. The impact on radio listening has started -- connected cars are on the way to becoming the "new normal."

Here is a brief except from the presentation that provides the basics:

Courtesy PRPD/Jacobs Media/Edison Research

The good news for radio is that content still drives listening no matter what the platform. After the "Oh Wow" phase, listeners settle back into channels that are of importance to them.  If you want to learn more about CONNECTED CARS check out the upcoming DASH conference:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


The CBI - College Broadcasters Incorporated - the brightest star in the college radio world, just announced the student participants in this year's NPR workshop via their blog:

This project is a collaboration among the CBI, NPR, NPR member stations KUOW and KPLU in Seattle, Milwaukee Public Radio, Michigan Radio and WGBH in Boston, which will provide six students the opportunity to learn from professional journalists during a week-long program at the CBI National Student Electronic Media Conference (NSEMC) in Seattle, Oct. 20-25.

You can see list and other conference info at:

CBI is where the smart college radio folks hangout.  Keep them on your radar.

Monday, September 29, 2014


This is the first of an ongoing series about the new generation of American community radio stations – stations that seek to connect with listeners rather than talk only to themselves.

In September, while I was in Portland for the Public Radio Programming Conference, I debuted my new programming and management workshop at at in Portland, Oregon. (KRXY-FM) signed on in March 2014. The talk/music ratio on is about 50/50 and the schedule includes progressive talk from Portland’s Thom Hartmann, lots of strains of groovy music and lifestyle programs that reflect the diversity of the city. airs none of the typical community radio “war horses.”

Because this workshop was a beta-test, I decided to center my effort on critiques of air checks of three willing hosts. I played audio clips to demonstrate strengths and weaknesses of the shows. I listened to lots of programming and developed easy improvements that will help everyone involved with station.

CURRENT SITUATION needs to build STATIONALITY – the sense that each program is part of a greater vessel – XRAY-FM.  Enhanced value leads to increased support for the station.  To do this every host needs to be talking periodically about and the need for listener pledges.

One of the participating shows was Popaganda, a fascinating “girl power” weekly magazine that could be This American Life’s youngest cousin.

But, on, you can listen to a half-hour Popaganda without hearing the phrase ‘XRAY FM." Popganda is produced as a podcast, not as a radio program.  It is likely many noncommercial stations are experiencing this same situation.

There are many common traits between podcasting and broadcasting but there are also important differences.  Podcast listening tends to be purposeful and linear; radio listening is most often occasional and random.  On broadcast radio, you have to keep introducing yourself because listeners come and go. On average, people listen to less than ten minutes per tune in.

I also noticed that hosts seldom cross promote other programs, an essential part of STATIONALITY.


I had the feeling that none of the three hosts had ever experienced an air check critique session.  There was a bit of embarrassment at first – the participants were “naked” (so to speak) in front of their peers.  Because my approach is kind and my criticisms are specific, the conversations focused on common sense solutions.

A case in point was Thank You Democracy hosted by Jefferson Smith, one of the founders of   

Jefferson Smith

TYD is a free form talk and interview show that focuses on a wide range of local issues. Jefferson Smith does a solid job hosting the program but he seemed to forget about an essential component: the listeners. 

On one of the clips, Smith was caught flat-footed on-air waiting for a late guest.  I recommended that Smith and his producer (who also was in attendance) build an archive of evergreen segments for such situations.  Key lesson: Always consider what listeners are hearing and ask “would I listen to that?”

I asked Smith for his thoughts about my critique of his work:

"Ken Mills ripped my show with little regard to human life. It was largely deserved, and I appreciated it."
Mission accomplished. Most of my advice at the workshop remains proprietary.   Thank you the staff and management at

I am looking for more stations for workshops.  Please contact me at publicradio (at) hotmail dot com.