Friday, September 25, 2015


As folks who work in public media prepare to gather in Pittsburgh [link] for the 2015 Public Radio Content Conference (PRCC) it is timely to look at the organization’s impact over the past 28 years.

[Please scroll down to a video history of the PRPD.]

In 2012 the Radio Research Consortium (RRC) published listening trends for CPB-supported stations from 1980 to 2012. As you can see in the chart below from the RRC report, the weekly cumulative public radio audience grew from roughly 5.3 million in 1980 to almost 31.7 million on 2011 – an increase of over 600 percent. Most of this growth happened since PRPD entered the scene in 1987. 

Here is the chart (courtesy of RRC) showing the growth of weekly cumulative audience during the term of each PRPD leader:

There will be updated data at this year’s PRCC.

Craig Oliver
1987 – 1991
 Of course the PRPD isn’t the only factor that stimulated this rapid expansion.  In the 1980s and 90s many new stations signed on and more stations became qualified for CPB funding. NPR focused and expanded its programming under the leadership of Bill Buzenberg, Jay Kernis and many others. American Public Radio (now PRI) added Marketplace and Monitor Radio to the mix.

The massive consolidation of commercial radio, and subsequent budget cuts, made the programming provided by public radio stations more unique and valuable.

Steve Olson
1991 – 1997

The ratings growth parallels major gains in members and private business support.  Many nonprofit organizations measure progress with anecdotes and feel good moments. Public radio has these also. But public radio, virtually alone in noncom media, has RESULTS that you can take to the bank.

Some cynics say that public radio has a sacrificed its mission by using ratings and other assessment tools.  They are missing the point.  In commercial radio, the ratings are used for bulk audience delivery for advertisers.  In listener supported public radio, ratings are used to know the audience. And it helps to know who they are and where they are located.

Marcia Alvar
1997 – 2006


Arthur Cohen
2007 – 2014

Another chart from the 2012 RRC report shows public radio’s appeal in digital media environment. Since 2000 through 2011 public radio’s listening grew while the number of people using radio decline.  Since 2011 public radio’s listening has declined slightly but much less than other radio formats.

This chart shows the percentage of people, age 12+, who were listening to radio during the average 15-minute period during the survey week:

Jody Evans
2015 – present

If you compare this chart with the weekly listening chart above, you will see the good work of the PRPD in action. Today the challenges are more complicated but the fundamentals are the same: compelling content, listener and user trust and the appeal of noncom public service.


In 2005 Marcia Alvar produced this short film that tells the early story of the PRPD:

And here is a 1988 photo of the founders of the PRPD and associates:

Left to right: RRC’s Tom Church, Peter Dominowski, Marcia Alvar, Craig Oliver, Don Otto & Ellen Fraft

Thursday, September 24, 2015


I received a heated comment from Sally Kane, Executive Director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasts (NFCB) regarding our coverage of KPFK and Pacifica.  Kane was particularly enraged by an anonymous comment we published.

I re-read the comment she objected to and deleted it because it seemed too personal and spiteful for publication.  Kane asked me to republish it so that remarks in her comment are in context. Here is the verbatim anonymous comment:

Sally Kane is not going to do anything because she was put in her position as CEO of NFCB by a board that has the same ideas about radio programming and organizational governance as the people that are grinding Pacifica into dust.
NFCB had a true professional when they had Maxie Jackson as CEO, but they abruptly fired him, without explanation. Why? Because he was pushing professionalism and real metrics as routes to success for community radio stations. That sounds too much like NPR and mainstream public radio, and community radio and the NFCB board are going full tilt away from that.
When Jackson was fired, NFCB made the turn that ensured its slow decline. Ginny Berson "retired", but she definitely objected to Jackson's removal and I think she was really resigning in protest. She hasn't retired and is still working as a consultant to non-profits today.
And how is NFCB doing under Sally Kane? It's flagship conference is dead, replaced by regional "convenings". The 5 x 5 Model is just links on the website with no staff support. Sally Kane is running NFCB out of her home (in the middle of nowhere), and the only other staff member is Sally's daughter, who has no professional radio experience.

Here is Sally Kane’s verbatim comment in reply:

NFCB has a completely new board since 2014 recruited from a broad spectrum of accomplished professionals in public media and representing the most diverse board in the public media system. The membership passed completely new bylaws in 2015, eliminating exactly the kind of governance dysfunction that plagues Pacifica.
Our 40th Annual Community Media Conference will be held in Denver June 8-10th of 2016. Regional Summits in lieu of a conference this year were attended by 328 people
(a larger number than our largest conference in the past). A treasure trove of helpful data and feedback was collected and a summary report is in the final draft stages. All of this has been incorporated into strategic planning for the coming year and improved services are being rolled out based on this due diligence and field assessment. The effort was funded as a result of a successful grant request from an entirely new funder to NFCB. 

NFCB has not received any funding from CPB since 2014. A full time Membership Services Coordinator has been hired who has many years of experience in radio and community organizing. Thanks to the talented and hard working Tara Prendergast for her invaluable help with the NFCB retool.
Both Ginny Berson and Maxie Jackson are valued colleagues who have been offering wise counsel and support as NFCB has retooled to meet new demands and move forward. NFCB's membership has grown by 30 stations in the past year alone. The 5x5 model is being used as a powerful station assessment tool and more plans are in in the works for that to be expanded in 2016.
NFCB has two of the 5 Pacifica stations on its membership rolls. There are 180 others from Native, Latino, African American, and Rural communities who do not have time or energy to pour into a situation they did not create and are not responsible for.
NFCB will not be putting together a "task Force" with the valuable resources of its members to distract us from the good work we are doing.
NFCB has an office and "in the middle of nowhere" is frankly a sickening and degrading sentiment that hasn't a single thing to do with anything except contributing to mean spirited, ill informed, pointless blather that "anonymous" aka chicken shit, finds worthy of cluttering this blog with.
How ironic that such a complete lack of professionalism from "anonymous" is publicly circulated while claiming to know anything whatsoever about what a " true professional" is. No doubt both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Berson would be disappointed to be associated with such bile.


Many people in public media believe that NFCB and Pacifica are closely aligned. After all many NFCB stations carry Pacifica programming and appear to have governance structures based on Pacifica’s model. KUSP, Santa Cruz is a prime example.

In her comment, Kane pushed back on the notion that NFCB and Pacifica are close cousins:

NFCB has two of the 5 Pacifica stations on its membership rolls. There are 180 other [NFCB members] …who do not have time or energy to pour into a situation they did not create and are not responsible for. NFCB will not [be putting] …the valuable resources of its members to distract us from the good work we are doing.
Kane seems to be saying “Pacifica is not our problem” and she is correct. It is a positive development that NFCB now is, in Kane’s words, eliminating exactly the kind of governance dysfunction that plagues Pacifica. Kane's comment seems to validate what I have been saying about the toxic affect of Pacifica's governance systems. This welcome news.

I’d like to learn more about NFCB’s new membership criteria and station governance recommendations. If Sally Kane will share the details I will include them in a future post.  Noncom community radio has a much bigger role to play in public media and the national conversation.  NFCB can play a vital role in making community radio and companion media platforms a true public service. Sally Kane hopefully will make this happen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015



Independent, verifiable information regarding KPFK, LA, and Pacifica Radio in general, is hard to come by.  The latest rumor is that KPFK may have to shut its doors as early as October 1st.

An email from KPFK’s management to staff says they will have a “no-premiums-at-all” emergency mini-drive beginning tomorrow, Thursday 9/24 that will continue until they raise $30,000. If they can’t raise that much, immediate bills will not be paid. There appears to be no viable life-line.

In an email, KPFK GM Leslie Radford, describes the dire situation:
I’ve been trying to get loans to cover us so that we can delay the start of fund drive, but those haven’t come through in time. Assuming [the emergency mini-drive] brings in $20K, I will personally guarantee a loan for the balance. 
Radford instructed on-air hosts to pitch “four times an hour” during the mini-drive. Many phones at KPFK are now disconnected. A new interim Business Manager left in disgust after less than a week on the job.

Last Friday [link] I asked why public radio organizations such as NFCB are not getting involved.  I received this candid anonymous comment:

Where are all those people? Watching the trolls destroy Pacifica faster than they could if they intervened.
Good point. This situation looks more and more like a suicide-in-progress. Pacifica may be on its way to bankruptcy and/or liquidation.


I asked a friend of mine who is a media property broker for an outside opinion about the value of Pacifica’s five FCC licenses. The estimates in the chart below are “stick values” which do not include real estate or other assets.

New York
99.5, 4.5kw, 1,362’ HAAT commercial freq
iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Emmis
Los Angeles
90.7, 110kw, 2,831’ HAAT
noncom frequency
Educational Media Foundation (EMF)
94.1, 69kw, 1,329’ HAAT
commercial freq
Entercom, CBS, AMFM
90.1, 100kw,
673’ HAAT
noncom frequency
Local spin off
Washington DC
89.3, 50kw,
410’ HAAT
noncom frequency
American Public Media (APM), EMF

WBAI and KPFA can be converted into commercial stations so they are worth the most money. The only noncom organization that is flush with money is Educational Media Foundation (“K-LOVE”).

EMF recently purchased WKCP, Miami from APM for $21.7 million [link]. The word on the street is that EMF would pay top dollar for KPFK in LA.

EMF would also like to be in Washington DC but LA is a bigger priority for them. For-profit Salem Communications does operate some noncom stations and already owns commercial station WAVA in DC.  These folks want to affect policy so they might go after WPFW’s license.

A few years ago APM made moves to acquire WGTS-FM but I don’t think they are in a buying mood these days.  That could change, however, for access to the nation’s capital.

Classical KUHA in Houston is up for sale and word is no one seems interested in buying it for $8 million, the amount KUHF needs to pay off the mortgage. Reportedly, KPFT is the only Pacifica station with a positive cash flow. So, a local 501c3 might be a good option.


I had mixed emotions when I heard that KUSP’s Board fired longtime GM Terry Green. After all Green did the best he could do to turn the ship around.  He even loaned KUSP $30,000. But maybe he has experienced enough grief already. If he wants another gig he will have no trouble finding one. Green is an honest fellow who is respected by his peers.

I read in Current that Public Media Company (PMC) is advising the KUSP Board about their options. If this is true, I hope KUSP follows PMC’s advice. Also, it appears the KUSP is resisting the flack from the radio survivalists with KUSP Forward. Good move.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Over the years I have attended 21 PRPD conferences and one “PD Bee,” the earliest incarnation of the PRPD.  This year PRPD has a new leader, Jody Evens and the gathering has a new name: the Public Radio Content Conference (“PRCC”). The PRCC will be held next week, Tuesday 9/29 through Thursday 10/1.  Complete information is here [link].

Unfortunately, I am unable to attend this year. I will miss it. The PRPD is one of the ways I mark the changes in my life and work, sort of like adding another ring to the tree of life. To me, the PRPD is the best annual gathering for folks working in public media, particularly public radio.

One of my yearly rituals is preparing a list of Must Attend sessions and events.  This year I will share my list with you.  Also, I bequeath to you my share of food and drink. Enjoy Pittsburgh.


 10:00am – 10:30am Seeing Change As An Opportunity


Former NPR News programming head Eric Nuzum returns home from his new gig as SVP of Original Content Development at Audible to tell us how things are going. Nuzum is an original thinker who sees the symmetry between media platforms, breakout talent, storytelling and a real sense pf purpose. According to the PRCC schedule, he will be talking about his personal mission and the need to connect creative media-makers to significant audiences.

PRPD has brought together public radio’s Crosby, Stills & Nash: Edison Research’s Larry Rosin, RRC’s Dave Sullivan and Jacobs Media’s Fred Jacobs for a super-session of audio usage trends, Nielsen Audio ratings and news about cultural and technical developments than are or will impact public media. Though not mentioned in the schedule, this is likely the time when Jacobs will present the excellent Public Radio Tech Survey 7 which we previewed yesterday. [Scroll down to read it.]


Fred Jacobs brings a first to the PRCC, a live focus group of listeners to Pittsburgh’s three public radio stations: WESA, WQED & WYEP. There is no word about how the event will be staged but I am expecting something very interesting. Kudos to Fred Jacobs for this very valuable event.

From the conference program: Andy was from Pittsburgh. His work ethic was so legendary that Lou Reed and John Cale wrote songs about it.  Andy was much, much more than 15 minutes and Marilyn screens.  This space will inspire, provoke and amuse you.


Streaming video is one of the fastest growing digital platforms. It also is a great companion with public radio music formats. CPB is providing funding for VuHaus, a public media video generator designed to enhance the appeal and usage of Triple A music.  We featured VuHaus in [link].  If I was there, I would ask about sustainability and this important initiative.


Compelling content requires new talent and talent development. No matter what platform, talent is the key variable.

 PRPD prez Jody Evans moderates a discussion featuring John Barth, Chief Content Officer at PRX; Ellen McDonnell, President of Ellen McDonnell Consulting and former NPR Executive Editor for News; Dean Cappello, WNYC’s Executive VP and Chief Content Officer; and, Mary Hockaday, Talent Controller for BBC World Service English.

At Music Discovery (aka Triple A) stations, music and the artists who create it are vital to listeners. Public radio doesn’t have the uber close relations between artists and stations such as those in noncom CCM [link]. Each station does it differently. Bruce Warren (WXPN), Gary Scott (KCRW) and Kyle Smith (WYEP) discuss the changing dynamics of artist relations between stations and the music biz who have separate agendas.

Adam Gopnik

From the conference program: The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik will weave together stories of lies, confusion and general mischief. The Moth and PRX always pull out the stops for these events, so make it a point to show up and thank them for bringing us another year of authentic, original stories.


Step away from the hype and have a real conversation deconstructing lessons learned, missteps and struggles on the path to success.  Moderator Kerri Hoffman leads a discussion of what is real and what is hype concerning podcasts. Panelists include Iris Adler, Content Manager at WBUR; Catherine Burns, Artistic Director for The Moth; and Roxy Todd, producer of Inside Appalachia at West Virginia Public Radio.


Mike Henry deserves major kudos for this valuable session. Among the topics to be covered are staging a revenue-generating event and doing promotions such as local music compilations or concert tie-ins. He discusses best practices with Amy Miller, PD of KXT, Dallas and Ann Alquist, PD at KDHX, St. Louis.


What a shame these two sessions are concurrent. From the conference program: So you’ve decided that investigative reporting should be a part of what your station provides to your community. How do you do it? What do you need to know in order to build your team?  The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, WAMU and NPR will provide guidance from developing talent, stories, editing capacity and audience building into your local newsroom.  


Be sure to take the time to walk through the exhibitors area.  These fine folks help make the PRPD conference possible. See you in '16!