Friday, February 13, 2015


Tim Emmons was a passionate public radio advocate and mentor. He died in 2012 after a long battle with cancer at the age of 53. In addition to running WNIU & WNIJ in Rockford, Illinois, Tim was an associate of Strategic Programming Partners with Peter Dominowski and Scott Williams. Tim was the driving force behind the Morning Edition Grad School.

Tim Emmons

I didn’t know Tim very well but I worked with him on several projects.  Whenever we got together, we’d talk about a radio station that inspired both of us: MUSICRADIO 89 – WLS.  Whenever I think of WLS, I think of Tim.  Here is a clip of Art Roberts – one of Tim’s favorite WLS hosts:

When Tim passed away, his cohorts at Strategic Programming Partners, started the Tim Emmons Memorial Scholarship, in conjunction with PRPD. The Emmons Scholarship helps aspiring programmers learn more about the craft.
For more information, contact Peter Dominowski at Strategic Programming Partners:

Thursday, February 12, 2015


It seems like I’ve been reporting a lot recently about analog FM translators.  In addition to helping FM stations improve or extend their coverage areas, translators are now “must haves” for AM and HD stations.  There aren’t many open translator frequencies in big markets. So the add for a Phoenix translator – and WEATHLY PHOENIX caught my eye.  
Here is the ad:
Here is the situation:
The translator for sale is K214DN FM 90.7, licensed to Surprise, Arizona. The asking price: $150,000 (cash only please).  Here is the K214DN coverage map: 

According to FCC files, K214DN repeats KTLW-FM, located in Lancaster, California. NCE noncoms can feed translators by satellite – there are lots of translator’s across the US slavishly repeating The Good News from somewhere far away.
KTLW is that kind of operator. Their Worship On the Way Radio Network is one FM station feeding a bunch of translators. According to the network’s website, KTLW feeds translators that cover Burbank, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley areas of Los Angeles, plus Selma, CA, Decatur, IL, Guyman, OK and Ventura, CA.  The Ventura translator is also for sale – the price is $55,000 (cash only please). They apparently need the cash. But it is hard to tell because they do business as a church -- they don’t report their revenue to the IRS. 


When I saw that phrase in the ad for the Surprise, AZ translator I almost got sick to my stomach.  It’s like throwing raw meat on the floor. 

It brings me to the point of the story:


Until the late 1980s, the FCC required each broadcaster to operate a station for a minimum of three years.  Only after that time, could the license be sold (except in cases of severe hardship).  There were two reasons for this FCC rule: Consistency in serving the public interest and cut down trafficking in licenses.  Trafficking licenses means getting a construction permit for a station, getting it on the air as cheaply as possible, then SELL IT for big profit.

The Three Year Rule went away around the same time as the Fairness Doctrine but it didn’t get as much attention.  Maybe it would be worthwhile to consider reinstating a minimum ownership period for stations.  And require local operations.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

ibiquity: “HD Radio has never been healthier”

A well-known and respected contract engineer recommended I speak directly with iBiquity about my core question: Is HD Radio “broadcasting in the public interest” when it seems to have so few users?
I was referred to Rick Greenhut, Director – Business Development at iBiquity Digital Corporation in Columbia, Maryland.  Yesterday I sent Rick an e-mail and let him know about my writing and research about HD Radio.  Rick responded with a very helpful message including this chart about HD Radio’s track record:

Rick pointed out, correctly, that I wasn’t getting the full story about HD Radio by focusing only on noncommercial stations.  He said there is significant listening to commercial HD stations. I reviewed the Nielsen Audio Fall 2014 commercial station reports.  There are, indeed, a few HD stations listed – some with decent sized audiences. But notice, in the chart iBiquity provided, the 5,212,400 claimed weekly cumulative audience includes listening to analog translators.
For example, the most recent Minneapolis/St. Paul PPM report says CBS’s heritage news station WCCO-AM, combined with WCCO-HD2, has almost 300,000 weekly cumulative listeners. What portion of these listeners came from the HD2 station? Not many, I’d guess.
I checked commercial station PPM data for five additional markets I personally know well:
• DENVER: KYGO-HD2 is simulcast on The Mighty K27FK – an analog translator at 103.1FM (map below) with decent coverage of the market.
• WASHINGTON, DC: WAMU-HD2 is simulcast on The 99 Watt Blowtorch (an old radio term) 105.5FM aka W288BS which blankets the District (map below).
• LOS ANGELES: No HD stations are listed.
• BOSTON: No HD stations are listed.
• OMAHA: No HD stations are listed.

So, I guess the answer to the question – What is the portion of the claimed five million weekly listeners is actually listening to HD Radio? – is We just don’t know.
It brings up the question: If a person is listening to an HD station on analog FM, is the person ACTUALLY listening to HD Radio?


Quoting Rick Greenhut from iBiquity:

To answer the second part of your question, the growth in HD Radios in cars has been nothing short of phenomenal in the last 2 years.  ..automakers currently offer over 200 different car models with HD Radio, with almost 100 coming as standard equipment. In most cases, if you get the navigation package (GPS, backup camera etc.), you get HD Radio. It is not offered as a stand-alone option, but rather, part of a popular option package.
While getting HD receivers in cars is crucial, the existence of HD tuners in a popular option package does NOT mean vehicle buyers are listening to HD Radio. This reminds me of hype from the Sales Manager of failing AM station: We have more than a million people in our coverage area!  No shit, but they probably aren’t listening to you.


Quoting Rick Greenhut from iBiquity:

I'm still signing at least one new station every week, and the pace is accelerating, so I can say with some confidence that HD Radio has never been healthier.
So, is this as good as HD Radio gets?  I still have the same core question: Is HD Radio “broadcasting in the public interest” when it seems to have so few users?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Stations in Chart One are ranked by their Weekly Cumulative Rating, a measure of the proportion of the station’s share of all metro radio listening.  Scroll below for my comments and stations with the lowest cume ratings.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+
Data Copyright Arbitron Inc. Courtesy RRC
These data are provided for use by Arbitron subscribers ONLY, in accordance with RRC's limited license with Arbitron Inc. Format classifications are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills.

I love college towns – wisdom and energy is in the air and on the air.  By my count, 15 of the top 20 stations are in places with major universities. 

 Most the lowest performers are in complex, multiple-signal markets, or in areas where the overall education level is lower than average.

So what is up with KWBU in Waco?  They are the only NPR News game in town. Baylor is a great university, so there must be ways to be a bigger factor. Imagine what they could be doing with this signal and Waco’s terrain:

Monday, February 9, 2015


In 2007, I published THE PUBLIC RADIO TALK & INTERVIEW PROGRAM DIRECTORY, a comprehensive listing of station-based talk and interview programs on NPR Stations.  It provided detailed information about local talk programs airing between Morning Edition and All Things Considered  - “between the tent poles,” as they say.

I sold around 400 copies of the TALK & INTERVIEW DIRECTORY. It reflected a promising local investment in local programming by stations.

Recently a client commissioned me to update the TALK & INTERVIEW DIRECTORY with 2015 information.  The report and listings are confidential but my client authorized me to release top-line trends. 

Trend #1: The number of local talk and interview programs has declined 37% since 2007. 

In almost every case, local shows have been replaced by network shows.  The most frequent replacements are WBUR/NPR’s Here and Now or PRI’s The Takeaway.

In 2007, I was tracking 99 local talk and interview programs between ME and ATC.  In 2015, using the same criteria, I found 62 programs.  That is a drop of 37.4% in eight years.  I am not saying this is good or bad – it just is the current reality.

Does it reflect a decline in “localism” – one of terrestrial radio’s key selling points?  It certainly shows that stations have been exiting local talk and interview programs for various reasons:

• Local talk shows often cost stations more than syndicated programming.

• Cancellation of NPR’s Talk of the Nation caused some programmers to question the value of local talk.  Talk of the Nation provided a national model for local programs.

• The buzz from consultants is negative about talk programming. George Bailey of Walrus Research said at a recent PRPD: The worst part of call-in talk programs are the callers.

Trend #2: Stations who have the resources are moving to magazine shows that include interviews but very few listener call-ins.

• About 20 of the 62 programs I tracked in 2014 are well staffed, often there are more people working on digital components than on the broadcast program itself.

• Another 20 or so programs are doing the best they can with limited resources.  These programs have a staff of three or four people including one person doing online postings.

• The rest of the programs seem to exist by sheer will-power and a handful of staff – 3, 2 or even “one-person bands.”

Again, I am not saying this is good or bad – it just is the current reality: There is less local programming at a time when we say more “localism” is needed.

Cover of the 2007 Talk & Interview Program Directoty