Friday, May 15, 2015


I welcome your comments and story tips.  If you don’t want to reach me via blogspot, my direct email is


Hi Ken, same commenter here. Thanks for the clarification on the Boston Today bit...sorry to be a nitpicker, though. :)

Second, I can't reveal myself on this. But I have direct access to Nielsen reports for our station's market, and they clearly show a HUGE boost beginning at the same time I happen to know a Voltair was added to the station in question (all on the QT and hush-hush, but I know the dates close enough to show correlation).

This is on more than one station, both public and commercial radio. In one case, the boost is roughly 50%. Some hours are seeing a 400% increase, some more like 0 to 10%. But several hours across the week are seeing 50-60% increase in AQH and, and 20-30% increases in cume. I'm told that this is not atypical for Voltair installation. However, for some customers of Voltair, the increase is nowhere near that dramatic. It entirely depends on the individual station's situation. However, that merely reinforces the problem [with] Nielsen PPM.

KEN: Thank you for this first-hand inside information.  I take what you are saying seriously. Voltair is different from other ratings boosters because it potentially messes with data collection method.  I don’t think the use of Voltair makes Nielsen Audio’s PPM data unreliable.  I’ve been waiting to see reaction from commercial advertising industry – the folks who really, really count at Nielsen. Please keep me informed on what you are seeing.


Wasn't there a big effort for KAZU and KUSP to merge operations a while back? Stop beating each other up and save a lot of operational costs? Whatever happened to there a "cut off nose to spite face" thing going on here?

KEN: I also heard about the merger talks.  According to my sources, KAZU dropped their interest in KUSP because they felt no one at KUSP could make a decision.  Consider this statement from Terry Green that I included in the original post:

Under our bylaws and California law that group of people (key volunteers and employees) would need to approve any organizational merger or assignment of substantial assets of our licensee.

This kind of organizational paralysis is one of the biggest negatives of community radio.  You certainly want to talk with the paid staff and volunteers before making decisions.  But letting them all vote on a decision, as your station is on the edge of bankruptcy, is folly.  I managed a noncom station in California and I’ve never heard of the state law you mention.  Typically, the people responsible for a nonprofit corporation are only the officers of the corporation.


So HD's bringing listeners more stations - more choices to the terrestrial masses. What's your complaint? You didn't think radio was all of a sudden going to try to appeal to anything beyond its lowest common denominator audience just because more channels opened up, did you?

And why would audiences buy HD radios when they can have handheld computers that make phone calls and receive 20,000+ stations? Even satellite radio makes more sense than HD reception-wise.

FM is for lazy folks who haven't made the effort to log in to the good stuff. Wishing for that to change is just tilting at windmills. LPFMs are expensive webstreams that will eventually shed their pricey transmitters and go where the audiences are going. Online.

Thank you for this excellent comment.  I agree with most of what you are saying. Here is the point I am trying to make about broadcast radio:  It is now part of the media mix – multichannel and multiplatform menus -- and it probably will be for quite a while.

The media mix includes any and all of the ways PEOPLE communicate including the earliest methods: Smoke signals and prehistoric cave wall drawings. Platforms ebb and flow but they almost never go away.

Your analysis is all-or-nothing logic. Reality is somewhere in between.  It’s true that radio listening continues to decline around one to two percent per year.  There are still lots of listeners, lazy of not, because they like what radio offers them.

Broadcast audio has some advantages over online and mobile media:

1.            It is free, ubiquitous and often covers large populations and big areas.

2.            It is a real-time medium that can be incredibly immediate, particularly when you really need it.  Radio still works when the power is out or the chord is cut.

3.            Nobody can track listeners of broadcast signals. Radio is a perfect covert medium because it leaves no footprints.

4.            The FM spectrum will not be replaced in the US by digital radio.  HD Radio is failing and no one is talking about an alternative. Norway can shut off its FM because they have a robust digital radio system that isn’t UBOC.


Ira Glass wrote a nice op-ed for Current. I’ll leave the angst about whether Ira has sold out to others. My only concern is that the stations be included in the success of his outside ventures. After all, the stations provide This American Life its weekly audience of a couple of million people.

Ira didn’t mention this in his blurb but he should keep it in mind because the stations have leverage also.  This is comment I received from the manager of one of the biggest NPR stations in the nation:

How ironic that TAL expects free air time for podcast promos. Not that long ago, Torey Malatia [former GM of WBEZ, now an exec at TAL] stripped out the NPR Store promos from Morning Edition on WBEZ. So he will understand when we zap his podcast promos.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Last week we reported how noncom broadcaster the Educational Media Foundation (“EMF”) is working with commercial group owner iHeartMedia to create a new INSTANT FM station in the Twin Cities [LINK]. Here is the way it works: iHeartMedia creates an HD2 station and it is rebroadcast on an FM translator owned by EMF. iHeartMedia leases the translator from EMF for an undisclosed amount. Presto!  A new FM station appears without the cost of filing for a new FM station with the FCC.

A quick search of the FCC database shows five other similar arrangements since January 1, 2015. EMF and iHeartMedia appear to be creating new INSTANT FM stations in Charlotte, Detroit, Cleveland, Albany and Salinas.

Now EMF is moving into LA by purchasing an FM station and several FM translators.


The translators purchased by EMF include K220HC 91.9 FM, licensed to Studio City.  The current transmission site for K220HC is just above Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills just off Mulholland. Tell me how much you pay to lease this FM translator that covers this area:

Prior to the sale, K220HC was owned by Life On the Way Communications.  We featured Life On… back in February [LINK] when they were advertising another translator in Wealthy Phoenix (their words) for $150,000. [Would it be cheaper if its located in Normal Phoenix?]

Life On… appears to be acquiring FM translators for the purpose of selling them.  Whether this is true is difficult to determine because the IRS considers Life On… a church, meaning it doesn’t disclose its financial information.


EMF says its primary business is radio broadcasting in the name of the Lord.  But a big part of their core business appears to be buying, selling and leasing of broadcast frequencies.

Between January 1 and May 8, 2015 EMF spent almost $24,000,000 to acquire new FM licenses and translators. According to filings with the IRS, EMF had revenue over $141,000,000 in 2013. EMF does not disclose how much of the revenue comes from leasing their frequencies.  Their leasing revenue from iHeart Media alone is likely substantial.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


I saw this news item on the site Triple A Radio [LINK]:

Denver AAA veteran Keefer Fulgham (KBCO) will join KUNC Greeley-Ft. Collins-Denver as host starting June 1. Keefer comes from mornings at CPR's Open Air (102.3) Denver.....

I don’t know Keefer Fulgham but I do know the stations and some of the folks who operate them. The rivalry between KUNC and Colorado Public Radio [”CPR”], owner and operator of Open Air KVOQ 102.3 is long and deep.

Open Air recently signed on in Denver.  KUNC is a long time dual format station airing NPR News and Triple A. This competition is worth watching. Music listeners will love it.

[Disclosure: I lived and worked in radio in Colorado from 1985 until 1989. I am a friend of Neil Best and other folks at KUNC, Max Wycisk, CEO of Colorado Public Radio, and consultant Mike Henry.]


We reported on the debut Open Air last January [LINK].  It is one of three stations operated by CPR in Denver, also including KCFR (fulltime NPR News) and KVOD (fulltime classical).

Colorado Public Radio is one of the most successful noncom broadcasters in the nation.  Per their IRS 990, CPR’s 2012 revenue topped $14,000,000.  Max Wycisk has run CPR since it was a University of Denver student station.  Back then, KCFR was known as Colorado Free Radio.  Wysick converted it into a community licensee that now has almost statewide reach. Wycisk also ruffled more than a few feathers along the way.


KUNC had a 2012 budget of almost $3,000,000 – above par for a market of its size.

From the 1970s until 2001 KUNC was owned by the
University of Northern Colorado.  For many of those years KUNC was managed by Bill Hurt (not the actor), a wise and forward thinking fellow who secured an awesome transmission site, built an extensive FM translator network and encouraged excellent programming, particularly news.  Neil Best took over after Hurt retired.

In 2001, the university decided to get out of the radio biz and put KUNC up for sale. That was when CPR almost bought KUNC. 

The negotiations between the university and CPR were kept secret from KUNC’s listeners and management. When GM Neil Best heard about the pending sale to CPR, he took action. Best led an effort to raise $2,000,000 in 20 days. The local organization – Community Radio for Northern Colorado – bought KUNC’s license and CPR got egg on its face. Neil Best is one of my radio heroes.


Currently KUNC airs Morning Edition, ATC and the big public radio weekend shows. They duplicate quite a few hours of NPR programming with KCFR, CPR’s all news station. NPR News does very well on KUNC but the blocks of Triple A music are soft and not improving.

Enter Mike Henry.

Mike operates Paragon Media Strategies [LINK], a Denver-based research and consulting firm that has contributed to the success of 89.3 The Current and KXT in Dallas.  KUNC recently hired Mike Henry to consult KUNC.  He is the perfect choice.

Mike is one of the few commercial media people working in public media who totally “gets” noncom radio. Mike’s clients include a variety of formats and platforms such as NPR, American Public Media [”APM”], CBS News, Sony and ESPN.

As I see it, KUNC has two good choices:

1.          Go fulltime Triple A and stop competing with CPR for NPR News.

2.          Keep doing the NPR News & Triple A dual format.  The key is doing Triple A really, really well. They can emulate KCRW in LA and KPLU in Seattle – combining stellar news and world-class music.

Either way, they can win because this is a unique place and time.


• The Front Range is about more than Denver. It is now a METROPLEX that spans a narrow belt along the Rockies from Ft. Collins on the north to Colorado Springs on the south.

It is all a big hometown.  Being from Fort Collins is as cool as being from Denver.

• The Front Range is a sophisticated, well-informed progressive music market.  Album rock has been huge here since the late 1960s when KFML-AM (run by my old friend Bill Goodhope) began the tradition.  Great AOR stations like KBCO, KTCL, KILO (in the Springs) and several others gave listeners an excellent progressive rock music education.  So, Triple A music is deep in the DNA of listeners.

• Marijuana. Legalization of pot for recreational use is a hot magnet for creative types to move to the Front Range. New entrepreneurs will keep coming from around the world for the bud biz buzz. Artists like the freedom and so do their fans.

• The Front Range is Mike Henry’s home.  The success of KUNC is very important to Mike. He will help KUNC shine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Advertising Age recently trumpeted the news about an appearance by Ira Glass and others at an event called Hearing Is Believing. It was held April 29 in New York at WNYC.

Hearing Is Believing, sponsored by NPR, WNYC and WBEZ, was a show-and-tell gathering to demonstrate to advertisers the significant reach and influence of public radio podcasts.

This type of event is known in the ad biz as an “Upfront.” For decades broadcast TV networks have sponsored Upfront events to promote new fall schedules.  At an Upfront event, ad execs and media buyers are wined and dined while they hang out with the program’s stars.  Typically introductory advertising deals are offered.

Ira Glass was joined on stage by Serial senior producer Julie Snyder, Glynn Washington from Snap Judgment, Jad Abumrad from Radiolab, and Guy Raz from TED Radio Hour. These folks are heavy hitters in the podcast biz space.

Ad Age said this was the key takeaway from the event: HEY BRANDS – RUBLIC RADIO IS READY TO PARTNER WITH YOU!


A major reason for the success of public radio is the power of market forces. Capitalsim spurs creativity and innovation.  There are real winners and losers. Excellence is rewarded, sometimes handsomely.

It was the public side of the partnership that built the NPR System.  Public radio is based on the premise of public space – we are not for sale to highest bidder. Bill Siemering said it best [paraphrasing]: People have to know that the water you provide is pure before they will support you. If you loose that trust, you’ve lost it all.

The best example of the power of the partnership is Ira Glass.  When he started This American Life he was the truest believer in public radio. I remember dubbing the customized pitches that turned pledge drives into driveway moments.  I still have Ira’s cartoon guide for making radio programming. I know his aim is true.

Ira’s work has brought acclaim and golden visibility to public radio.  As a fellow public radio capitalist I salute his moxie and celebrate his success.

But, please Ira, don’t forget the stations. They brought you here and each week they give you a powerful platform.


A couple of months ago [LINK] we posted portions of an essay by consultant Mark Ramsey. He described how This American Life entices public radio station listeners to move away from the stations, to their own (often monetized) podcast platform.

Let me be clear: I am not saying there is anything wrong with this practice.  It is not GOOD or BAD, it just IS.

Let me also be clear: By airing embedded spot announcements during TAL for Serial podcasts, stations encourage listeners to tune away from the station.  Want proof?  Consider this tweet from a Hearing Is Believing attendee:

These are market forces at work. Perhaps the stations should be competitive also: Consider charging for the now freebie podcast announcements.


What follows is a hypothetical scenario. It is for demonstration purposes only. 

Let’s say you are at public radio organization that operates NPR News stations in a large Midwest market and in a major west coast market.

These stations have a combined audience of more than a million weekly listeners.  Both also carry This American Life several times each week. The stations might bring 250,000 weekly listeners to TAL.

What is wrong with a station asking TAL for a cut of the proceeds? Be like Ira: Leverage your assets for your benefit also.

Monday, May 11, 2015


Last week we reported about the battle between WBUR and WGBH for NPR News superiority in Boston [LINK].  It appears a somewhat similar battle in the Monterey Bay (Santa Cruz) may be reaching its final chapter. 

Right now there are two public radio stations competing for the NPR News crown: KUSP and KAZU.


KUSP is licensed to Pataphysical Broadcasting Foundation, a 501c3 community organization. KUSP has been broadcasting since 1972.  They have excellent coverage of this beautiful area:

According to Wikipedia: French writer Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), who defined 'pataphysics as "the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments".[


KAZU is located in Pacific Grove just west of Monterey.  They are licensed to CSU-Monterey Bay. This means KAZU is backed by deep pockets, an advantage in a competing situation. In 2000 KAZU switched it to full-time NPR News. They have excellent local reporting and also cover a nice slice of heaven:


According to published reports, KUSP’s board has approved a letter-of-intent to sell the license to Classical Public Radio Network, the owners of KUSC, Los Angeles, and KDFC, San Francisco. The sale price is thought to be $1,000,000 – a bargain in such a desirable market.

But Terry Green, KUSP’s General Manager, says press reports have prematurely jumped to conclusions. Here is how Green describes the situation:

We have not even begun a serious negotiation of any kind with Classical Public Radio Network (the Northern California operating unit of USC Radio).

A few days ago we received an expression of interest from them about acquiring some (not all) of our broadcasting assets. Our governing board believed it would be wise to get the advice of our key volunteers and employees as to whether we should even consider going into such a negotiation.

Under our bylaws and California law that group of people (key volunteers and employees) would need to approve any organizational merger or assignment of substantial assets of our licensee. If it was clear that the group would not consider any proposal involving CPRN, there'd be no point in opening a discussion with them.

On Monday we had a meeting of the group and they supported the idea of finding out what CPRN has in mind. That clears the way for a discussion to begin -- and that's the key concept, begin a discussion.

So: as of now, no sale of the station, no approval of a sale by our governing board or the larger group that would ratify such a board decision, not even a negotiation having happened yet that might produce a firm offer, and no prediction from us that any of these things will happen, let alone when it will be resolved.

Terry Green has a solid reputation with pubradio folks.  So I take what he says to be the real deal.  I’ve always found Terry to be a very creative pro – maybe he can pull a rabbit out of the hat.


KUSP needs the money – now. According to articles in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the community foundation that owns KUSP is on the verge of bankruptcy.  KUSP owes almost $700,000 to various creditors and is loosing $150,000 - $200,000 a year.

KUSP apparently doesn’t have enough cash to exist until the Fall pledge drive. In the Sentinel, KUSP board treasurer John Morrison summed up the situation this way:

“We’re just about at the point where our debt becomes the value of our license.”


Both KUSP and KAZU air NPR’s Morning Edition and ATC, as well as the most popular NPR and PRX programs  weekend programs.  These programs are expensive for stations, hence KAZU’s deep pockets gives them an advantage.

KUSP tried to distinguish itself with a mix of community radio warhorses like Democracy Now, a daily talk show of questionable value from KALW and lots of eclectic music.  It appears what KUSP is doing is apparently not sustainable.

According the Fall Nielsen Audio report, KAZU has nearly twice the listening and weekly listeners as KUSP:



One sentence in Terry Green’s note caught my eye:

A few days ago we received an expression of interest from them about acquiring some (not all) of our broadcasting assets.

Terry – The license is the ONLY asset that matters. The call letters, equipment and aura are PATAPHYSICAL dreams without a license to broadcast. (See the definition of pataphysical above.)  You are in a great market for Triple A. There are people who can help make it happen.  But, KUSP MUST THINK BIG.

I know you have diehard community radio elders who think it is still 1978.  These critics have two things in common: They don’t have to pay the station’s bills, and, they only know how to think small.  I saw this published advice from one of your critics: 

Downsize. localize, and thrive. This means possibly losing staff, finding a cheaper studio to rent, and losing some beloved NPR programming (it can still be heard on KAZU or online). But it could also mean the return of locally-produced shows

In other words, think small and maybe people will leave us alone in our pataphysical dream. This how you got to where you are now.

Do the opposite – Keep the license and create KUSP 2.0: THE ROCK OF MONTEREY BAY.