Thursday, August 27, 2015

MORE ON CLASSICAL STATIONS & READER COMMENTS


THE STATE OF CLASSICAL RADIO

Earlier this week [link] we published recent audience data and comments from Tom Thomas from the Station Resource Group (SRG). Tom’s data shows that most of the classical music stations in the top markets are keeping, and in some cases increasing their listener base. Compared to some other noncom formats, classical is doing pretty well. 

Tom said that the recent announced sales of WKCP, Miami, and KUHA, Houston were mainly caused by over-eager financing for the purchases of the stations.

I saw another chart in the SRG report that provides a useful overview the performance of many large market classical stations. This chart shows Nielsen Audio Spring 2015 metro Average Quarter Hour shares:

 Here is listening data for some of blank spots on the SRG chart:

Commercial station WFMT, Chicago had a 1.0 AQH share in the July Nielsen Audio PPM report.  I consider WABE, Atlanta, to be a dual-format station because they still carry 12 or more hours a day of classical music.  WABE had a 2.4 AQH share in July report. WRTI, Philadelphia and WRCJ, Detroit are also dual-format stations.

Noncom WQED, Pittsburgh does not currently buy Nielsen Audio PPM data. According to the most recent data I could find (Fall 2013), WQED had a 0.8 metro share.

I could find no audience data for WRR, Dallas, a station I haven’t paid much attention to since British host John Ravenscroft was playing Beatles tunes back in the 1960s when WRR had a fling with contemporary music.

WRR looks like it is doing very well.  The station’s annual budget is around $2,000,000 and not a dime comes from Dallas taxpayers. Not owing anyone money is the best way to be sustainable. And look at WRR's awesome coverage map:


CONFIDENTIAL FROM A HIGHLY-RESPECTED FORMER PD IN THE BOSTON MARKET

I’ve been finding what you’ve been writing about the Boston market very interesting, though closer to the ground, those of us in the biz see things quite differently. But that’s for another time.
Have you been watching WCRB’s numbers? They are dismal, and getting worse (this started with the frequency swap some number of years ago). I’m wondering how you’re defining success. Hope you don’t mind me asking.
KEN: By success I mean sustainable. I don’t have any inside info on WCRB, so I can’t comment on anything but the numbers. To me WCRB is doing pretty well in recent Nielsen Audio PPM data.  You can see the Spring 2015 data at link.

ANONYMOUS COMMENT REGARDING MY REFERENCE TO WGMS, A FORMER COMMERCIAL CLASSICAL STATION IN WASHINGTON, DC

Correction: The WGMS story is more complicated than a simple format change. WGMS, along with WTOP (then on AM 1500), were owned by Bonneville. Bonneville opted to move WTOP to the FM position previously occupied by WGMS (103.5)--which says more about the demise of AM than of classical music. WGMS couldn't flourish in its new, weaker spot on the FM dial and was eventually sent under. The classical load was then shouldered by WETA which continues to do very well with the format! WGMS still exists in spirit and the call letters themselves are preserved in the Hagerstown, MD repeater of WETA (89.1FM).
KEN: Good point. Bonneville also owned WTOP until they sold it to Hubbard Broadcasting.  Jim Farley was the genius that moved all-news WTOP to FM.  It is now the #1 station in revenue in the nation.

FROM AARON READ REGARDING WPRB AND OTHER COMMERCIAL COLLEGE RADIO STATIONS

One of the things I enjoy the most about writing this blog are the new things I learn.  I learned a lot from this comment from radio guru Aaron Read:

FYI, Ken. WPRB is not unique. WBRU at Brown University is another commercial licensee that's owned by an independent non-profit entity. Ditto for WHRB at Harvard University, WVBR at Cornell University, WYBC AM & FM at Yale, WFRD at Dartmouth (and I believe WDCR was like that at Dartmouth, too, but they handed in the license a few years ago).

I don't know why so many Ivy League school stations were set up that way...a nonprofit, independent-from-the-college entity that holds a commercial radio license...but they did. There's also WPGU-FM at the Univ of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, which is owned by Illini Media Company. I think there's a handful of others out there, but the call letters are escaping me.

There's also a few commercial radio licenses held directly by the parent college, too. I think WFRD at Dartmouth either is or was like that (when they turned in WDCR I think things changed at WFRD as well). And of course WHCR at Howard University.

Also, things are fuzzy about who's the first "college FM radio station." Because what we think of "college radio" as a FORMAT didn't really exist until the late 70's/early 80's, and many ways didn't exist until the early 1990's. The "underground" or "basement" radio that's block-formatted was kind of the norm at a lot of commercial FM radio stations in the 70's and even 80's.

That said, WBUR at Boston University dates back to March of 1950, WOI at Iowa State University started in December of 1949, and WERS at Emerson College beats that by a few months; they went on air in November 1949. I believe these are the first college-owned stations in the non-commercial FM band.

But it's a fuzzy definition; there's several college-based broadcasting facilities that date back to the 1920's. Many didn't "survive" WWII and came back to the air much later (the 1960's, 70's and 80's) in their current form of NCE FM's: WRUC at Union College and 1XE at Tufts University come to mind.

There's also many, many stations that started as AM stations...either licensed or carrier-current...and were quite successful as such at the time (FM really wasn't popular nor commercially viable for most stations until the early 70's) and later added an FM license at the nadir of the FM band (the mid-60's) or during the rise of the NCE band in the early 70's.

ANOTHER INFORMATIVE COMMENT CAME FROM BRIAN SANDERS OF ARIZONA PUBLIC RADIO
I enjoy seeing your posts and enjoyed reading about WPRB.  It reminded me a lot WPGU in Champaign, Illinois which also operates (or at least did when I was there in the ‘70s) as a commercial station operated by a non-profit, Illini Publishing. We had first-class equipment, a mixed format and let jazz geeks like me a chance to play in the FM band.

Thank you for the comments, folks!

ROAD CONGESTION INCREASES THE IMPORTANCE OF IN-VEHICLE LISTENING


Deteriorating roads, cheaper gas and a stronger economy means traffic congestion has increased in many US cities.  A new urban mobility study released by the Texas Transportation Institute [link] estimates that the average U.S. commuter spends an additional 42 hours per year on the road due to road conditions. This extra time and hassle increases commutes and the time available for listening. 

[Scroll down to see the most on congested cities in the nation.]

This matters to radio broadcasters and all audio providers because around half of radio listening occurs on the road.  The competition for listening in vehicles is increasing.  Podcast usage and the increased availability of mobile audio streams threatens terrestrial radio in the place where it is still king: On the road.

According to the report, Americans drove a record number of miles in the last 12 months, surpassing the previous peak set in 2007. In 1982, motorists spent an average of 16 hours a year sitting in traffic jams. By 2010, that time had grown to 38 hours. Now the average is 42 hours.

Washington, D.C., has the worst gridlock in the country, with commuters captive for 82 hours a year stuck in traffic, nearly twice the national average. The other most congestion-plagued cities include Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and San Jose.

Six of the country's 10 most congested stretches of highway are in metro Los Angeles, with two each in Chicago and New York City. The "worst" highway in the country is the Ventura Freeway (US 101) in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.

According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, travel delays due to traffic congestion caused drivers to waste more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and kept travelers stuck in their cars for nearly 7 billion extra hours – 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. The total nationwide price tag: $160 billion, or $960 per commuter.


URBAN MOBILITY SCORECARD
Ranked by Congestion Hours



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

ALMOST PUBLIC RADIO: WPRB, PRINCETON


I received a nice story tip from Kat Kulke, Summer Promotion Director for WPRB in Princeton, NJ. WPRB is now celebrating its 75th anniversary as a college radio station. By the way, story tips are always welcome for SPARK! Email me directly at publicradio@hotmail.com.

WPRB [link] is not only a historic station, it is a one-of-a-kind: a commercial licensee operated by a nonprofit organization.  It has an endowment that pays some of the bills. WPRB is staffed by students and alumni, operates like a community station and is the center of several music scenes in the Princeton area.  Here is WPRB's coverage area:


 WPRB’s 75th is officially being celebrated this fall with a comprehensive exhibit at Princeton University’s Mudd Library this fall.

WPRB’s life and times are documented on a fun (but sometimes incomplete) tribute blog at [link].  The history of WPRB is told by decade beginning with the 1940s.  It features lots of photos, groovy audio cuts and personal stories from WPRB alumni, told in dishing detail.  My only criticism of the history site is that it seems more intended for insiders.  But who knows WPRB better than the folks who made it their college home.  Case in point, the testimonial from a woman who says she Majored in WPRB while at Princeton.


THE BEST COLLEGE ROCK STATION IN THE NATION


WPRB began as WPRU in December 1940 as an AM carrier-current operation.  WPRU became WPRB in 1955 when it began FM broadcasting on 103.3 – likely the first college student station on FM in the nation.

Over the years WPRB has had many program formats: Classical, jazz, middle of the road, underground rock and college rock. During each era, WPRB was (and is) the essence of life at Princeton. In 1984, SPIN magazine named WPRB the best college rock station in the nation.

Here are a few of my favorite images from the WPRB history page.



H. Grant Theis, founder of WPRU/WPRB stayed up all night soldering components in his dorm room.







 





WPRB live club broadcast in the mid 1960s. 











The first album played on WPRB when it changed from middle-of the road music to underground rock in 1967.





WPRB TODAY

Mike Lupecia is in charge of WPRB. He started as a DJ in the 1990s and then moved on to gigs at WFMU and WNYC. Lupecia returned to the station in 2011 as the educational advisor for the station.  Students handle the day-to-day tasks – it is THEIR station.

MIKE LUPECIA


In an interview published in College Media Journal (CMJ) he talked about his love for the station:

 






I’ve been geeking out on radio history ever since I saw Empire of the Air documentary… Radio as a tool for the creative impulse… so much of our reputation is built on unpredictability. Every generation describes WPRB as “a sanctuary” from the rest of campus life. Given the academic demands at Princeton, it makes me incredibly happy that so many people recall WPRB as the one place on campus that not only allowed them to stretch out and be spontaneously creative, but also encouraged it.

WPRB is governed by a group of alumni trustees, as opposed to being a department of the University. The autonomy we’re afforded by being truly independent.

HOW WPRB OPERATES

According to 2013 tax filings, the majority of WPRB’s $625,000 came from the station’s endowment of $3.8 million. Earned income, money not coming from the endowment, was around $160,000.  Expenses for 2013 were around $240,000. So they dipped into the endowment to keep the doors open. This brings up questions about WPRB’s long-term sustainability.

WPRB’s revenue potential is hampered by its commercial status.  The station sells 30-second commercials with so many restrictions it is a wonder that anyone would buy one. WPRB pretends it is a noncom public radio station. They should decide to either be a commercial or noncommercial station because now they have the worst of both business types.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

DID TV SINK KUHA RADIO IN HOUSTON?


Thank you the excellent comments regarding Monday’s column about the pending sale of KUHA. 

CONFIDENTIAL FROM A FORMER KUHF EMPLOYEE:

Blame KUHA’s sale on KUHT-TV.  The [PBS] station is vampire sucking the life out of radio. KUHF-FM keeps the doors open at Houston Public Media. Too bad KUHA didn’t have time to make it because every extra dime goes to keep TV afloat.

FROM TOM THOMAS, CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR STATION RESOURCE GROUP

I think the story in Houston (and Miami) is less about the current state of play for classical music on the FM band and more about the economics and business model of station acquisitions and the competitive strengths of a fully syndicated music service in a major market.
The state of listening to public radio’s classical stations is actually a good news story. Over the past three years public stations fully committed to the classical format during radio prime time have achieved meaningful growth in listening at a time when AQH for other public radio formats has been struggling.
Tom attached slides from a recent SRG presentation that tracks 31 public radio classical stations. This chart shows Average Quarter Hour (AQH) persons for seven rating periods beginning in 2012:

CONFIDENTIAL FROM A BROADCAST STATION BROKER:


The licensee [Houston Public Media] may own KUHA longer than they anticipate unless they want to sell it for a big loss.  The only organization that might pay that kind of money is Educational Media Foundation who bought WKCP in Miami. Houston is not on EMF’s bucket list because locally owned KSBJ owns the Contemporary Christian Music audience there.
FROM WES HORNER FORMER DIRECTOR OF SMITHSONIAN MEDIA:

In my view, this tragic scenario in Houston results from:
- Bad business decisions; to wit, paying too much money for a poor signal, then saddling that same service, rather than the organization as a whole, with the "mortgage."
- Management unwillingness to invest in making important dayparts in the service more listenable. (To my amazement, few classical stations do. Many forget, for some reason, Radio 101 tenets, including dynamic personality; timely, meaningful information; cultivation of a community of interest; and overall, offering a service that listeners will value, based on delivering a feeling of connectedness).
- An astonishing inability to raise money, in a market where there are loads of it poured into other cultural institutions.
SO, I wouldn't be too hasty to interpret from Houston's actions that there is a message there that can be universally applied to other classical terrestrial services. Instead, pay close attention to the ones that are working, and figure out why.



Monday, August 24, 2015

GONE FROM THE FM DIAL: CLASSICAL MUSIC IN HOUSTON


Last week Houston Public Media (HPM) announced that classical music is leaving the FM dial in the nation’s sixth largest market. HPM announced they are selling Classical 91.7 KUHA after acquiring the license only five years ago.

The reason for the pending sale of KUHA is eerily similar to what drove American Public Media (APM) to sell Miami’s WKCP in July [link]: The stations couldn’t pay the mortgage.

INSIDE THE PURCHASE OF 91.7 FM

JOHN PROFFITT

In 2010, KUHF, then managed by John Proffitt [now Executive Director of Pacifica – link] purchased KTRU from Rice University for $9.5 million.  KUHA signed on with classical music in 2011. According to press reports at the time, Proffitt called the deal a “crown to my career.”  Though skeptics thought KUHF paid too much for 91.7, KUHA debuted with considerable fanfare.

To raise the money to buy 91.7 the University of Houston floated bonds.  According to audited financial reports on the HPM website, the University set up a repayment schedule for the new KUHA, much like a home mortgage where the interest is paid back first.  Under these terms, KUHA was required to pay a minimum of around $400,000 per year to service the debt.

Apparently KUHA was not able operate the station and pay the mortgage at the same time.  The University of Houston was on the hook for the bond money, so they decided to cut their losses.

KUHF also announced they will continue classical music on KUHF-HD2 and online once a sale is finalized. For now, KUHA is a lame duck – a sad reminder of what could have been.

A STRATEGY DECISION, NOT A “WE DON’T HAVE THE MONEY” DECISION

KUHF/KUHA General Manager Lisa Shumate tried to put a Happy Face on the defeat:

LISA SHUMATE


We are making this change in recognition of the growing popularity, superior broadcast quality and greater efficiency of…HD radio and digital streaming for our classical music programming.





HD Radio, without the benefit of a simulcast on a FM translator, is a trip to Radio Siberia. But, Shumate continued her spin on a Houston arts blog:

Why would you pay for another transmitter and tower when if you take the time you can tell the public how they can get better sound using (HD Radio) at 88.7?

Shumate said the move was "a strategy decision, not a 'we don't have the money' decision."

In my opinion, Shumate’s explanation is disingenuous bullshit.

ARE WE NEARING THE CLASSICAL FORMAT TIPPING POINT?

Classical music on terrestrial radio has been in decline for many years. This trend reflects the advanced average age of classical music fans, declining attendance at concerts and digital upheaval in the recording industries. There are some very successful classical stations – WCRB in Boston and KQAC in Portland come to mind.  And new generations of listeners are being served online. So, the lights are still on. But they appear to be dimming for classical music on broadcast radio.

Commercial classical radio reached its tipping point a couple of decades 
ago.  KKGO in LA switched to country; WTMI in Miami went disco; WGMS in Washington DC changed to a religious format. Other commercial stations such as KING in Seattle, WQXR in New York and WCRB in Boston became noncommercial outlets because it is cheaper to operate a noncom.

Classical is now a part-time format in Detroit, Philly and Atlanta. It is (or will be soon) gone from the FM dial in Houston and Miami. To be continued…