Friday, September 18, 2015


The British newspaper The Guardian published a report from Los Angeles on September 10th about KPFK and Pacifica Radio. It has particular relevance now given the departure of John Proffit as the Executive Director of Pacifica.

[By the way, John Proffitt is doing fine.  He is respected by his peers and should have no problem finding another gig, if he wants one.]

The Guardian story confirms much of what we have written here about Pacifica. I urge you to read the entire story at [link|.


Guardian reporter Rory Carroll starts his story with this statement:

Feuding and ideological extremism have driven some of the US’s flagship leftwing radio stations to the brink of collapse, according to two veteran broadcasters: “This is the end. They’re running out of road…”
The Guardian notes the arcane governance system used by Pacifica caused much of the dysfunction:

Observers trace the travails to 2001 when a group of rebellious listeners and broadcasters took control and instituted an elaborate governance structure of multiple boards, sub-committees and painstaking elections.

These events happened around the time Steve Yasko was being harassed and humiliated [link] for trying to improve Pacifica's programming. The Guardian’s report summed up the priorities of the people who operate Pacifica:

“They think what goes on in their meetings is more important than what goes out on the air.”

As I’ve said frequently:  Pacifica Radio doesn’t do public service, it does self-service. It is a sandbox for a little clique people who feel entitled to operate it.


The defenders of Pacifica say everything is a conspiracy against them.  They are radio survivalists who hunker in a bunker and drink Lorenzo Milam’s kool-aid [link].  They still say the “Pacifica Model” of governance works. It calls for uber democracy & a committee for every decision. Unfortunately, Pacifica's governance scheme is still being pushed by the nation’s largest community radio organization.

Beware. Those who use the Pacifica Model are doomed to the same shameful fate as Pacifica today. One person who posted a comment on a KPFK listener blog summed it up nicely:

The very simple truth is that this is an institution that long ago ceased to matter to anyone or anything other than itself, which outlived itself and continues to exist, barely, as a refuge for its staffers from the real world, a zombie refuge of sorts – and no one cares, or listens, with good reason.

[Pacifica] came to define itself simply as a voice of political advocacy. Listenership dropped. Its advocacy became more strident. Listenership dropped further. Quack health cures came to be used as fund-raising ‘premiums’ in what was clearly infomercial snake-oil fashion.


Where is a task force from NFCB to propose solutions?  Is this the kind of community radio NFCB CEO Sally Kane supports?

Where is the decisiveness and clarity by blogger Matthew Lasar, the man who literally wrote the book about Pacifica?

Where are the honchos from CPB who enabled this toxic organization by giving them millions of dollars prior to 2012? 

This is the time for people who care about community radio’s future to speak out against this waste of the public’s airwaves and black-eye on progressive causes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Last Monday 9/14 John Proffitt returned to work as the Executive Director of Pacific Radio after three weeks of vacation.  He resigned with an email:

 When I say that Proffitt is today’s Smartest Man in Public Media, I mean he saw Pacifica as it really, really is: the most toxic noncom in the nation.  He wisely didn’t want any  part of that.

I had expected this to happen but not so quickly.  Proffitt stayed four months.  We covered it when he got the job in April [link].  In that column I discussed the deeply litigious and uber politically charged environment he was entering.  I recommended he retain legal counsel because may need it.  Proffitt is a solid manager who excels in reading the tealeaves.


Like all things Pacifica, bloggers are making the news of Proffit’s departure a big deal.  Some are cheering that he is gone and celebrating a turf war victory.

However, one Pacific blogger told what is most likely the truth:

[Pacifica] lost a businessman who seemed to be able to stay calm, speak clearly, observe the fracas and still remain standing, and maybe even briefly offer his help.  Some thought it was not needed.

Did anyone insist he stay to do the work actually needed at Pacifica?  Or just lead him to the door because he did not fit in with those already 'in' who aspire to more power?

He just realized he had stepped deep into a vile snake pit.  


Pacifica: please get out of the radio business.  You are an embarrassment to all of us who work in public media.

Your esteemed history was a long time ago.  Now it is time for you to go.  New people with new ideas are needed in this space.

Cash in the licenses now.  There will certainly be enough money to settle all the debts. It is time for Pacifica to Do the Right Thing.  End the circus and let someone else truly serve the public interest.

Ken Mills.


Reliable data about who listens to podcasts is often hard to find. A new study sponsored by Westwood One (WWO) provides some helpful clarification.  The report – The State of American Podcasting – was prepared for WWO by Edison Research. It was based on the experiences and preference of 500 podcast listeners.

WWO, now owned by Cumulus Media, is a player in the commercial podcast biz. They distribute Dennis Miller, Loveline with Dr. Drew & Adam Carolla and Mr. Disco Duck Rick Dees.

WWO commissioned the study to answer the most frequent questions asked by potential podcast advertisers: How many, how often and how long. Uncertainty about these key metrics, according to a spokesperson for WWO, causes quite a bit of consternation among everyone in the ecosystem.


WWO has not distributed the entire report but released these top-line factoids:

• Podcast listeners' median age is 30, versus 45 for AM/FM radio and 57 for broadcast television networks.

• Podcast listeners are employed, educated and have more kids in the household compared to the total U.S. sample. In fact, 61% of podcast listeners work part or full-time, and 55% have some college education or are college graduates.

• Half of total time spent listening to podcasts occurs on mobile phones, followed by one-third on computers. In contrast, half of total audio consumption time occurs on AM/FM devices.

• Midday and nights are podcasting "primetime." The breakdown of listening is as follows: 29% from 7 p.m. to midnight; 29% from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 20% from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m; and 17% from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

• Personalities and talk shows are the leading content consumed by podcast listeners, taking up 66% of total podcast listening, followed by news podcasts with 22%. The spokesperson for WWO said about podcast listeners: They're interested in people talking. ... This is a medium that lets you follow your passion, whatever that might be." 


It depends on who is doing the counting.  I decided to compare the top 20 podcast lists from Stitchter and iTunes, two charts that get a lot of industry attention.  The charts below are the most recent available from these sources.




The first thing I noticed when I compared the two charts is how different they are.  I can see only six podcasts that are on both charts.  Public media is well represented on both.

Of course there are likely differences in the methodologies, in-tab podcasts and dates when the data was observed. It is also possible there is bias by the companies that publish the charts.  But, there is a need for independent analysis to determine which podcasts are actually the most popular.


I had to know more about Guys We F****d. I checked it out and it is exactly what the name indicates.  Two young women discuss and interview guests about their carnal adventures. You can hear Guys We F****d episodes for free at [link]. 

While I was listening to the program What was it like when you first put your p****s in someone’s b**t, it occurred to me that this is audio pornography. So my question is, what proportion of podcasting listening is to porn?  Pornography is a huge driver of media adaptation.  It has been said that in the 1980s one of the reasons VHS video cassettes beat Beta was because VHS embraced porn and Beta didn’t.  How much podcast listening is to porn?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


[Reader no-doze alert: Today’s column contains plenty of bureaucrats, university governance systems and broadcasters who toil to serve the greater public. Though boring, this is a vital part of noncom media.]

One of the least known and most important noncom trade groups – the University-Station Alliance (“USA”) – recently released a survey of leaders at university licensed stations indicating considerable management turnover in the next few years. Here are the details:

Universities were and still are the backbone of the public radio system. When the CPB-funded system began in the 1970s, many universities upgraded their stations by hiring more fulltime staff and adopting professional broadcasting standards. Today 63% of public radio stations are licensed to universities, schools and state agencies.

USA [link] was founded in 2001 to assist stations and their licensees develop effective plans for governance, station autonomy and public service. This is important because university leaders and boards typically are not broadcasters. In some cases, universities hamper the wise use of the public media outlets they own.


Craig Beeby, former GM on KOSU, Stillwater, is the founding President and Executive Director of USA. According to Beeby, many baby-boomer managers will be exiting and their replacements may not be ready to step up. The USA survey showed that three out of four current managers said that successors are not being trained to take over after they leave:

Beeby says the problem isn’t the lack of people in the management pipeline. The need is for mid-career on-the-job training opportunities for those who want to move up:


BEEBY: There are plenty of capable younger managers out there [but] current managers are not training their successors. How to successfully work within complicated governance systems. [New managers] need this capability.  It is a skill that is difficult to train for and learn. Having worked behind the scenes is critical to success.

Some shops have glass ceilings because current managers have remained in their chairs for a long time. In other situations the current manager has developed an intuitive understanding of how university licensee works.  This context needs to be passed on.


University governance of stations comes in many flavors.  Some university stations exist in far-flung corners of the bureaucracy, typically in semi-independent foundations. These arrangements are typically successful because they allow independent decision-making.

Often university stations are administered by academic departments and “Dean-ships.” This can get ugly.  When I managed KCSN at CSUN in LA it was jointly overseen by two competing departments: Journalism and Radio/TV/Film. There had been years of conflict and hard feelings between the departments that manifested themselves at the most inconvenient times.

From what I’ve seen, the most problematic university-station relationships are at places where development, fundraising and publicity are in charge of stations and other media. I asked Beeby about KUNC GM Neil Best's famous quote:

At a university licensee you are only one new vice president away from oblivion.

Until 2001, KUNC was owned by the University of Northern Colorado. One morning Neil Best came to work and had a major surprise. A new university VP told Best that the station had been sold to Colorado Public Radio. Best was likely out of a job.

In case you don’t know the story, Best organized a community group, nixed the CPR deal and the organization purchased KUNC from the university.  We covered this story in May [link].

I asked Craig Beeby if this risk is prevalent today:

Neil’s comment still echoes today, but, in reality, there are more successes than failures. It is often a more complex than the KUNC situation. Sometimes the best thing that can happen is when a threat to [the station’s] existence occurs.
No university wants it to become common knowledge that they considered “pulling the plug”. Why? Because [in] their review process, they come to understand the public media’s importance.  That is why the USA was created. It is also why you almost never hear the success stories, which are numerous.
So, the current state of university-station relations is dynamic. It always has been and always will be.
For more information about the University Station Alliance, contact Craig Beeby
 at or go to the USA website [link].

Monday, September 14, 2015


Uber media consultant and scholar Mark Ramsey [link] was a featured speaker at the recent Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB) Momentum conference [link]. CMB commissioned Ramsey to study and quantify programming best practices – the “secrets of success” – of the highest rated Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) stations in the nation.

Think of the Christian Music Broadcaserts as the noncom cousin of the Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD).  Momentum is similar to the Public Radio Content Conference (PRCC). This year’s conference was held at the tony Disney Yacht & Beach Club in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

One of the many things I admire about Ramsey is that he takes Christian Radio Broadcasters seriously, as you do I.  Five of the top 20 noncom stations, as measured by the estimated number of weekly listeners, air the CCM format:


Ramsey interviewed the leading managers and programmers to identify the traits and strategies of the most successful CCM stations. Full results of Ramsey research are proprietary and available only to CMB members. CMB allowed Ramsey to publish one summary slide from the presentation:

These are best practices for music driven stations: playing the hits, discovering new artists and getting fans of the music to buy tickets to events. Of course nothing in this system works without content that connects – bankable artists with new releases available for sale to believers.

At this year’s Momentum conference the major market Station on the Year was KSBJ, Houston, the third most listened to noncom station in the nation.


An old friend from the music and concert promotion business told me that dealings between CCM stations and the Christian music industry would make Alan Freed blush. I don’t mean to imply that anything about KBSJ or CCM broadcasters but the opportunities to create revenue from this relationship might be called convenient.

According to KSBJ’s most recent tax filing for 2013, KSBJ had revenue of $8,768,000. [Tax filings for 2013 is the source of all data, rounded to the nearest $1,000.]  Almost all of the station's revenue is attributed to gifts and contributions which were not itemized.

KSBJ reported expenses of $8,007,000 for an annual operating margin of $761,100.  KSBJ’s assets were $25,801,000, substantial for a nonprofit entity.  In 2013 KSBJ spent over $500,000 on political lobbying.

But wait, there is more money: KSBJ also operates a separate 501c3 for its concert business: KSBJ Special Events. This organization reported $1,787,000 in revenue and $1,669,000 in expenses for an annual operating margin of $88,000. KSBJ Special Events reported revenue of $8,376,000 since tax year 2009.

Wait again, there is even more money.  The exclusive ticket vendor for KSBJ Special Events is Ticket Servant, also operated by KSBJ. In 2013 Ticket Servant revenue was $329,800.

The total revenue for KSBJ Radio & Concerts in 2013 was almost $11,000,000. 

The big intangible in all of this is the appeal of hit songs by artists that listeners know and love.  All you need is airplay to make the wheel go 'round.