Friday, March 27, 2015


Today marks the sixth month anniversary of this blog. I decided to share something personal today about the role this blog plays in my life.

In 2003 my right eye was injured in a surgical mishap – the surgeon’s microscope light burned my retina.  Within days I had lost 40% of my vision field.  I went around and around with lawyers for a possible malpractice suit.  I learned that there was a 50/50 chance the doctor would win.  So, I didn’t sue.

Since then, the vision in my right eye has continued to decline.  I now have lost 95% of the vision field.  I am legally blind in my right eye. Here is my field of vision (the dark spots are places I can’t see): 

My left eye is okay but my eyes don’t work well together. I don’t have much depth perception, particularly in low light situations.  My right eye is ultra sensitive to glare causing me to immediately loose focus in both eyes.

Because of the reality of my sight, I am reevaluating my work and purpose in life.  Travel is now difficult.  Hotel staircases scare me. I never drive at night or outside of my immediate area.

At last September’s Public Radio Programming Conference (“PRPC”), I sensed that my impaired vision was forcing me to change my work options.  I’ve been running my own business since 1997.  Most of my work has been consulting clients. But my passion is being a journalist and historian.

At the PRPC my friend Mark Ramsey encouraged me to start blogging. Mark said: There is no one in noncom media with your perspective and experience. Establish yourself on the blogging platform.

So I started this blog the Monday following my return from the PRPC.


As my eyesight dims sound takes on greater importance to me. Audio comes on many platforms and devices.  Radio is just one of them. We all have seen the stats chronicling the decline in radio listening. Who knows how far terrestrial radio will fall.

But terrestrial radio will continue to have a role in the multi-channel world. The reasons are obvious: it is free, it has dependable coverage of wide areas, it doesn't have online tollbooths, it is tough for Big Brother to monitor and it is a cheap easy way to distribute ideas to mass audiences.

Then again, maybe terrestrial radio has had its day. Even if radio’s best days are behind it, the history should be preserved and told. This is the direction I am haeding. I'm here for the stories about the people who make radio and the impact of their work.


I appreciate the encouragement I have received. I know I cover a wide range of subjects. I am a Generalist – I know a bit about all aspects of broadcasting.  I like to share my interests: radio syndication, station management, seeing trends and sometimes pointing out waste, hypocrisy and the arrogance of entitlement.  

When I started blogging I was concerned it would take too much time from my consulting work. This hasn’t turned out to be true.

Another concern was running out of topics or new stuff to cover.  The opposite has happened.  Every day is a turn-on of new people and ideas.  Audio is exploding.

I was also concerned that I wouldn’t like blogging and would eventually quit.  This also has not happened.  My blogging has opened up a new chapter in my life just at the time my eyesight is fading.

I am just getting started with this blog.  Readers will see improvements in layout and audio/video media. I appreciate your comments.  Thank you for being there.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Community noncom KFAI is trying to stay in business.  According to news reports, KFAI is more than $100,000 in the hole and they need money now. MPR News reported that Board president Mary Bensman said they've already taken steps to cut back on staff:

"Our finances have been in decline gradually over the last seven years -- we've made a few changes to address that, but it hasn't been enough change," Bensman said. "The board determined that this is the point at which we really had to draw our line in the sand and figure out how to get financially stable." 

Listening to KFAI has fallen to perhaps its lowest level ever. The most recent Nielsen Audio PPM numbers I could find were from Summer 2014.  KFAI had 100 AQH listeners and 15,600 Weekly Cumulative listeners.  That is hardly a pulse.


KFAI, like many Community noncoms is constrained by too many committees, particularly a committee to determine the station’s programming.  Way back when Community Radio started in the 1970s, stations were advised to make collective decisions regarding a station's most important resource: Its Programming.  Organizations like NFCB are still pushing this flawed idea.

Programming Committees ensure the status quo, make certain people in the “in group” keep control of their schedule turf and mean no one is held accountable. That is the current situation at KFAI. According to the KFAI website, they are searching for new management.  But the Programming Committee remains.

Pacifica is best example of the curse of Program Committees. You’ve no doubt seen the news reports of litigious battles inside Pacifica and the five stations they own.  Despite having awesome signals in New York, LA, Bay Area, DC and Houston, Pacifica has very, very few listeners. Last year they posted an RFP for someone to lease WBAI, New York.

Program Committees are a major part of the Pacifica governance scheme. BAD MOJO! Stations that use The Pacifica Model are doomed to the same fate as Pacifica: Irrelevance.


KFAI provides downloads of Programming Committee meetings. The most recent meeting notes are from October 2014.  Here are some examples of the discussions:

[NAME] spoke of KFAI’s aging demographic (both listeners and programmers) and our failure to devise a way to turn over timeslots and keep programming fresh. He cited his own show, [PROGRAM NAME] as an example. He told the committee his show was “tired,” “stale” and “no different now than it was 12 years ago.” He added, “Why would anyone want to listen to that?”

Citing recently acknowledged financial woes, [NAME] talked about the “existential” situation faced by the station, which was driving changes faster than a one would prefer. He suggested a two-stage schedule, one that quickly addressed money concerns (i.e., “survive”), and followed that with a broader assessment of the kind of station we aspire to be (i.e., “thrive”).

The proposed solution: Ask members of the Programming Committee to come up with hypothetical schedules:

The [PROGRAMMING COMMITTEE] decided to ask each member to work out a schedule grid structure for the next meeting. [NAME] emphasized that this was a “what if” exercise only, and not to be construed as formal committee-sanctioned proposals.

If KFAI is to survive, they need to fire the Programming Committee and stop playing "what if."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


SiriusXM just announced a plan to let people with Sirius receivers who are not currently subscribers, access all SiriusXM channels for two weeks.  To start the promotional period SiriusXM will broadcast a live concert by Miami-based star Pitbull on May 19 at New York’s Apollo Theater.  Access to the concert is FREE for anyone with a non-activated Sirius receiver.

Public radio folks should key an eye on SiriusXM.  They offer many of the same best features of noncom radio: No or very few commercials, excellent audio fidelity, a wide variety of channel choices and a listener base that is familiar with paying for radio.

SiriusXM says it has around 27,000,000 current subscribers.  Its “churn” [turnover of subscribers] is about 20% per year, an improvement from a 40% churn a few years ago.  My guess is that there are 60,000,000 non-activated sets in distribution.


Many of public radio’s gems will be offered free during the promotion:

• Channel 122 – BBC WORLD SERVICE

• Channel 122 – NPR ONE offers Fresh Air, Marketplace, A Prairie Home Companion, Best of Car Talk, Diane Rehm, On Point, Wait, Wait, Radiolab and Snap Judgment.


Note that Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and This American Life are NOT on SiriusXM.  But, a lot of people do pledge for programming that SiriusXM also airs.

SiriusXM subscriptions cost between $15 - $20 per month. This is around the same amount of a typical pledge to a public radio station.


SiriusXM wants to gain new subscribers from terrestrial radio stations, particularly public radio listeners.  Though listening to terrestrial stations is declining, it is still KING OF THE CAR with over 80% of total in-vehicle listening.

SiriusXM wants to get as many new subscribers from folks now listening to FM and AM. Meanwhile, SiriusXM is getting ready to seriously (pun again) compete for online and mobile listeners.

One dark cloud on SiriusXM’s horizon is a big upcoming increase in SoundExchange fees.  The royalties will rise to 20% of SiriusXM’s revenue from music channels in 2020.  This may push SiriusXM increase its news, talk and spoken word programming

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


FM translators continue to bring in big money for sellers of public licenses. Since the FCC allowed some AM stations to have a voice on the FM dial, and then did the same for HD Radio stations, every market has gained new FM stations via translators. AM and HD Radio signals are cheap and easy studio-to-transmitter links.

The highest price I’ve seen paid for an FM translator is $3.5 million.  That amount was almost beat recently in Chicago.  Integrity Radio Communications walked away from the purchase of 100.7 FM – W264BF – in Chicago for $4,600,000.  The reason is unclear.


100.7 FM – W264BF shows what a 10-watt translator can do. W264BF’s antenna broadcasts from Willis Tower, the prime tower site in Chicago:


W264BF is owned by Calvary Radio Network, a 501c3 organization based in Valparaiso, Indiana. Calvary Radio Network is operated by James Motshagen, an entrepreneur pastor with enterprises in Indiana, Florida and California. Motshagen has been involved with several station and translator license sales or purchases in the past several years.

In its most recent (2012) IRS 990 tax filing, Calvary Radio Network’s annual revenue was just over $1 million dollars.  $4.6 million from the sale of W264BF would be godsend (no pun intended).


In the meantime, it is fundraising as usual at Calvary Radio Network. On their website, I saw this appeal for Chicago listeners to Save 100.7:

100.7 FM, W264BF in Chicago, we need your help! In November we completed an upgrade to this station bringing it from 2 watts to 10 watts in a directional pattern. There have been some complaints of interferance [sic] with another station that opposed the upgrade. This will cost a lot in legal fees, however, the down side is we could lose tis station. So far the legal expense have been astronomical to say the least. we are asking those in the Chicago area to help us out. Please prayerfully consider donating to Calvary Radio, please mark Chicago or 100.7 in the memo portion of the check.

Seriously, they want every dollar from the faithful before they sell.

I think it is likely the $4.6 million dollar fell through because somebody is offering Motshagen more money. I bet W264BF sells for more than $5 million.  I’ll let you know what happens.

Monday, March 23, 2015


I’ve been covering the battle for NPR News listeners in Atlanta between WABE and Georgia Public Broadcasting. I saw a new development in a post last week by Jennifer Waits from RadioSurvivor.  (I admire Jennifer’s reporting about college radio.)

Georgia State students involved with WRAS – Save WRAS – have filed an appeal with the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. They are asking the Regents to void an agreement the Regents approved in 2014 with GPB to allow Georgia Public Radio programming to air daily on WRAS.  Under the LMA agreement, GPB controls the programming from 5am to 8pm daily for NPR News programs; WRAS controls the programming from 8pm to 5am for college rock.


The Save WRAS student appeal asserts the GSU Administration circumvented university policies regarding the use of student activity funds to pave the road for GPB’s LMA. The written appeal says GSU knowingly misappropriated student funds for the benefit of an outside organization, GPB.  The students also allege GSU administrators crafted the GPB LMA in secret and misled GSU’s student government in order to purchase a new transmitter and approve an operating budget.

The GSU students trying to Save WRAS filed a 59-page document with the Regents. The students are asking the Regents to sever the GSU/GPB LMA agreement and turn …full use of the WRAS-FM transmitter and terrestrial signal… to GSU’s student government.


I don’t think Save WRAS has any leverage or standing (in the legal sense) to have any impact on the agreement between GPB and GSU.  The licensee of WRAS is Georgia State University.  They have the authority to make an agreement with GPB, change the format and reorganization the station.  There is nothing Save WRAS can do to stop them except rally public outrage.

The possible misuse of student activity funds is another matter.  If the appeal doesn’t work, Save WRAS might consider suing GSU to get the student money back.

Eventually, I think the GSU student government will decide they no longer want activity fees to go to WRAS because of GPB situation.  Then, GSU will let GPB have a full LMA 24/7. This is what I think SHOULD happen. To me, GPB will provide the greatest public service.


I got a chuckle when I saw one unexpected condition in the LMA agreement between GPB and GSU.  It calls for GPB to air LOTS of GSU sports play-by-play:

I was in this situation once myself.  When I was GM of KCSN, Northridge/Los Angeles the station was required to carry live coverage of CSUN Women’s Softball games.  I was riding the board during one of the softball games and had the feeling not a single person on the planet was listening.

So I decided to see if that was true. During a break between innings I went on the air and said:

Usually we ask for your money at KCSN. Today I want to pay one lucky listener back.  If you are listening to KCSN right now, and are the first person to call the station, I will give you twenty dollars.  I’m serious, I’d like to hear from you.

No one called.