Friday, October 16, 2015


On Wednesday 10/14 I heard a fascinating segment on MPR’s Daily Circuit news program about where people hear their favorite music. Program host Tom Weber talked with Fred Jacobs, Jacobs Media, Jim McGuinn, program director of 89.3 The Current and listeners regarding their listening habits. I recommend listening to the whole thirty-minute segment at [link] 

Below is a transcript of a portion of the segment. I have paraphrased some of the comments for clarity and brevity.

TOM WEBER (TW): Today we are going to look at where we get our music. Apple got into the music streaming business with an online radio station called Beats 1. There are two new stations for listeners here in the Twin Cities in the past year: Hot 102.5 and Go 96.3. How are you, the music listeners, adjusting your listening and habits? Are you listening for something new or do you have your or are you looking for your old standbys? How important is a DJ to you?

Fred, there are so many ways to hear music these days, how is online streaming affecting habits?

FRED JACOBS (FJ): It is a “long tail” kind of situation. You think back, even 20 years, and the only place people could enjoy music and discover new music was on the radio. But today there is such an abundance of choices.  Sometimes it is overwhelming.

Jim, I don’t know if there ever was a time when a radio program director like you could count on a certain population to say: I only listen to one station. I don’t know if that time ever existed.

 JIM MCGUINN (JM): The closest time was the 60s and early 70s. Fred used the word abundance. This is the first generation has access to everything that has ever been recorded at all time. Think about that. Its true for television, movies – we have it all at our fingertips. It is overwhelming.  So we need filters. And that could be YouTube. That could be an algorithmic source like Pandora or Spotify.  That could be a website like Pitchfork or Rolling Stone or your friend’s social media.  Or it could be a radio station, which is still a reliable source for a lot of people.

TW: What do you get from one source that is better than the others. Feel free to name names. Lets go to phones.  Here is Matthew from Woodbury:

CALLER: I spend most of my time in my car listening to the radio.  I use NPR to keep me up to date. But streaming is not for me. I don’t listen to much music at home. It is nice to have a pre-set radio. It is the safest thing to use in a vehicle.

TW: There must be a lot of people like the caller, Jim. Music is a thing they just listen in the car.

JM: We all have different degrees of what is called lean forward or lean back experiences that we may engage in at different times. When I say lean forward, that’s what has always been there like putting a 45 rpm on a record player, maybe a CD, a cassette, an MP3 file, an 8-track. That is you taking control of your own listening experience.

Lean back is what you get out of radio or streaming services where you can put it on and kick back and not work so hard at it. I think that is what the caller was getting at – not wanting to work so hard it. That is the function that radio serves.

TW: Fred, is the function – lets talk about radio for a moment – the radio is the venue for passive listening. What do radio stations have to do to stand out?

FJ: Jim just hit on something that is really important. There is something that is still magical about listening to music on the radio and not knowing what is coming up next. What a lot of radio stations are now asking: What jobs are consumers hiring them to do in light of all of this choice in front of them.

We keep circling the idea of curation. DJs who really know their stuff, the local marketplace, bands that are coming to town. That is the bet that Apple is making with Beats1. Hiring knowledgeable, fun DJs. Slacker now is going this route with human beings as well. It may be coming back to personal, human curation, which is very exciting for us in radio.

TW: Up this point, most of what we’ve seen online. like Pandora or Spotify, are just music. Apple comes along this year and realizes that its iTunes model of downloading music is fading and they start a station, that reviewers have pointed out, sounds just like a radio station. Its not like they are reinventing the wheel.

FJ: Zane Lowe at Apple even talked about brainstorming meeting they had when they were conceptualizing Beats1. And he literally said, we have been trying to find another word for radio and we couldn’t do it. When you look at all of these services like Slacker Radio or Pandora Radio of Beats 1 Radio, Sirius/XM, it is the same thing.  It is all radio, its just how it is delivered, how it put together and what role does the consumer play in all of this.

JM: It is interesting that the biggest technology company in the world is using humans to try to make the product feel more authentic – to try to match the attributes that are the strengths of radio which are the ability for curation and setting context. That’s the role that the host plays.

Hear the entire segment at [link].

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Last Monday 10/12 the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) presented this year’s Edward R. Murrow Awards honoring outstanding achievements in electronic journalism. NPR News stations did very, very well, winning 18 out of 25 awards in the Radio category. Commercial news stations won the other seven.

Public radio continues to show its news reporting savvy. In September at the Online News Association ONA) Awards NPR and NPR News stations swept all radio categories.

New Hampshire Public Radio won top Murrow Award honors for its Overall Excellence in a Smaller Market. WCBS won the Larger Market Award. At OMA Awards KBIA, Columbia, Missouri won top honors for General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small Size Staff.  

Two public radio shops also won Murrow Awards for Excellence in Websites: Minnesota Pubic Radio (MPR) in Large Markets and WFIU/WTIU, Bloomington, Indiana in Smaller Markets.

The RTDNA and ONA recognitions demonstrate how NPR News and NPR stations are establishing a unique news presence on multiple platforms. News content is a hot magnet for readers and listeners that will increase the perceived value of public media in society.

Winning NPR News Stations included Hawaii Public Radio, KBIA, WAMU, WGCU, WUNC, WGLT, WNIN, MPR, KUOW, WUWM, WSHU and WCPN. NPR won three Murrow Awards in the Network Radio & Television category. An entry from State of the Re:Union about Transexaul Families also won a Murrow Award.

Scroll down to see the winners in the Radio category. You can see all of the RTDNA winners at [link] and regional Murrow Award winners at [link].


In the Twin Cities MPR continues to establish itself as the news of record for the area. MPR’s digital presence runs rings around websites and mobile media from the two local daily newspapers.  If news happens here, the place to turn is MPR. People support MPR because its content is essential.

Last year MPR aired a documentary and special reports called Betrayed By Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth.

The reporting told how for decades, the archbishops who led the Catholic archdiocese in the Twin Cities maintained that they were doing everything they could to protect children from pedophile priests. MPR broke the news about how three archbishops participated in a cover-up that pitted the finances and power of the church against the victims who dared to come forward and tell their stories. The reports led to a number of resignations at the archdiocese and further investigations.

Betrayed By Silence was reported by Madeleine Baran and produced by Sasha Aslanian with help from Manda Lillie, Meg Martin, Tom Scheck and Laura Yuen. It was edited by Mike Edgerly and mixed by Erik Stromstad and Rob Byers. The project's editor was Chris Worthington. Learn more about Betrayed By Silence at [link].


Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Every day new platforms and devices are introduced, many with great fanfare. Many looked good while in the lab but they were ultimately not embraced by consumers. History has ways of separating winners and losers. There are lessons we can learn from each dud from the past.


In 1955 Chrysler debuted the Highway Hi-Fi, an in-car turntable offered to Imperial buyers for $75 per unit. Ad copy crowed: 

It’s another Chrysler Corporation first! The Highway Hi-Fi record player slides in and out easily and can be operated without taking your eyes off the road.

Columbia Records poured thousands of dollars into developing vinyl records for the Highway Hi-Fi. The records were thick 7-inch discs that played at 16 rpm, providing up to one hour of playing time. Chrysler sold over 18,000 Highway Hi-Fi record players.

Sales were hampered by the fact Columbia only released 42 titles that were compatible with the Highway Hi-Fi. What sunk the Highway Hi-Fi was gravity and common sense: The needles skipped whenever the driver of a hit a pothole or had to stop suddenly.

LESSON: Things that are developed in the lab need real-time testing for obvious flaws. In the 1950s and even today Connected Car manufacturers downplay the “distracted driver.” Research shows that drivers want safety above a media experience.


In the mid 2000s the future looked bright for HD Radio. I did some consulting work for Radiosophy, a tech start-up company located in a Midwest tax haven called Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. The company started in 2007, founded by former Gateway Computer folks. They believed the early hype about HD Radio and put their life savings into manufacturing low-cost HD Radio receivers.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Radiosophy sets were purchased by public radio stations and used as pledge drive premiums to promote new HD channels.

Unfortunately, HD Radio did not catch on with consumers. The founders of Radiosophy lost all of their investment. Today Radiosophy sets are sold online for pennies.

LESSON: Beware of hype. HD Radio’s in-band on-channel digital broadcasting system was cooked up in corporate boardrooms and designed in the lab without ever testing it with consumers. Even today, HD Radio is over hyped and under deliver. However, HD Radio is good for one thing: Feeding FM translators.


In 1980 the FCC selected the Magnavox system and named it the official  standard.  That FCC action didn’t sit well with owners of competing AM Stereo systems who were also expecting approval.  Things turned ugly and lawsuits were filed charging the FCC with unfair corporate influence and “sloppy” research

By 1982 the FCC sought a way out and revoked the 1980 decision. They authorized four different AM Stereo systems. The FCC said at the time: The market should decide. The market said NO! AM Stereo languished and then faded away.

As with HD Radio, car companies were early champions of AM Stereo because they could charge more for the new super-duper AM Stereo sets. By the 1990’s most music programming had moved to FM. 

LESSON: The FCC doesn’t always know best.  They often respond to corporate pressure with eager acceptance. If the FCC endorses something it doesn’t guarantee success.


What’s better than two channels of FM?  Four channel's – FM Quad!

The concept of FM Quad originated at the BBC. In the early 70s, the FCC chose the Dorren Quadraplex System as the standard for FM quadraphonic broadcasting. WIBQ in Detroit was the first station to “go Quad.”

With Quad you could put four speakers around your waterbed and make it a magnet for adventurous dating. But record companies put out very few Quad discs and not many stations adapted the system.

FM Quad played a role in a historic FCC change of policy. The FCC decided to stay out of format change disputes.  The case involved classical station WNCN, New York and its flip to AOR FM Quad WQIV in November 1974.  That is still the FCC policy today. We told the complete story last January [link]

LESSON: Like HD Radio and AM Stereo, FM Quad was cooked up in the lab. Listeners were not at the planning table.  The need for these devices was never properly considered by the FCC.  These are classic marketing blunders sort of like the development of the New Coke. Buyer beware!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Last week it was announced that WNTI 91.9, Hackettstown, New Jersey had been sold to an “undisclosed NPR station.” Monday it was learned that the purchasing station is WXPN, Philadelphia. WXPN programming will debut on WNTI on Thursdays, October 15th at Noon ET.

The deal is another feather in the cap of Public Media Company (PMC) who represented WXPN in the transaction.  WXPN is paying $1,250,000 in cash and $500,000 in underwriting announcements for Centenary College, the current owner of WNTI. The purchase will be finalized when the FCC grants formal approval in 60 to 90 days.

The purchase is being called a “win/win” situation because WNTI will continue to continue a Triple A/Progressive Rock format. The continuity of service was one of the reasons Centenary and WXPN did the deal. WXPN General Manager Roger LaMay said:

“We will extend WXPN's demonstrated commitment to local artists, music and events…to the WNTI community. It will strengthen [WNTI’s] overall operations and…benefit our artists and audiences, and strengthen WXPN's financial sustainability."
According to LaMay, WXPN was not looking to purchase another station until they became aware of the college’s intent to sell WNTI.  Then WXPN and PMC acted quickly to complete the transaction.

As you can see on WNTI’s map, the 91.9 signal covers an area from the Jersey suburbs to eastern Pennsylvania. An estimated one million people live in this area. There is no other Triple A station that reaches most of these people.


WXPN owns WXPH in Harrisburg and it simulcasts WXPN 24/7. Harrisburg has been an important source of new members for WXPN. WXPH, plus repeaters in the Leihigh Valley, Lancaster, York and the exurbs of Baltimore, are cheap to operate. Together, they make WXPN a regional player. WNTI adds considerable heft to regional identity.  This is an important advantage to underwriters and other supporters.


Someone once said the future is determined by those who show up.

That is particularly true for public media.  Noncom radio will succeed only if people and organizations that have the passion for it step up and promote it.  WXPN and Public Media Company are helping build the public media infrastructure.

Congratulations and thanks for a job well done!

Monday, October 12, 2015


Last week when we covered the positive developments at KUSP [link], we talked about Lee Ferraro who is the interim GM in Santa Cruz. We said there is hope for KUSP because Ferraro is a proven noncom entrepreneur. Witness the amazing success of WYEP.

A few years ago I donated to WYEP and I am still on their promotion list. I have been receiving emails from WYEP like the one to the right. These emails are extremely convincing. They convey the essence of WYEP’s personal value to the people who count the most: Listeners.


One of the best aspects of WYEP’s current pledge drive is the promise of “no interruptions.” The message is simple: Pledge your support now because WYEP does not want to stop the music for pledging. Listeners are responding – WYEP is (as of this writing) more than half way to its goal of $150,000.

 Listener support is vital to WYEP because it provides over 42% of WYEP’s operating budget. According WYEP’s 2013 IRS filing, the station has a $2.2 million annual budget. Underwriting revenue and proceeds from station events are also major components of WYEP’s listener-sensitive support.


WYEP’s success happened because of wise management and a game plan to make the station an ever more essential part of life in Pittsburgh. But after WYEP started in 1974 it almost folded. For its first decade WYEP was a Pacifica-style operation much like many NFCB stations are now. By the mid-1980s WYEP was insolvent and went off the air.

Then, new management led by Peter Rosenfeld entered the scene and WYEP signed back on in 1986.  By 1987 the station had new offices and studios and a powerhouse Board with deep ties to the community. Gone were the marginal specialty programs and political rants. WYEP focused on serving a substantial number of listeners by playing, and talking about, the best progressive rock music available.

By 1994 WYEP had a new transmitter and much improved coverage area. More paid on-air hosts were hired. They attracted more and more listeners and supporters. Lee Ferraro began WYEP's GM in 1996. Ferraro left in 2012 and Abbey Goldstein became WYEP's GM.

In 1997 they partnered with World Café and the Andy Warhol Museum to start the WYEP Summer Music Festival. It became an essential event in Pittsburgh.

In 2002 the management and Board of WYEP decided to build a permanent home that also would be a place where community folks could gather. They began a multi-million dollar Capital Campaign called Turn It Up! By 2005 WYEP had raised $3.7 million from foundations and over 1,700 individual supporters. They broke ground for The WYEP Community Broadcast Center at 67 Bedford Square in the heart of the south side of the city. It opened in 2006.


WDUQ was Pittsburgh’s NPR News station for many years.  In addition to news, WDUQ aired blocks of tasty jazz music. But things with the station’s licensee were troubled. WDUQ was owned by Duquesne University, a Catholic school that never embraced the station.

The shit hit the fan in 2007.  WDUQ began airing underwriting messages for Planned Parenthood. According to coverage in The New York Times, one of the messages said: “Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, providing comprehensive sexuality education, including lessons on abstinence. Planned Parenthood: Their mission is prevention.”

The president of Duquesne had a cow. He ordered WDUQ management to stop airing the spots, which they did. But the turmoil opened old wounds and Duquesne decided to sell WDUQ.

WYEP came to the rescue. With the assistance of the Public Media Company (then known as Public Radio Capital), Farraro and his team formed Essential Public Media and bought WDUQ. WESA signed on as Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station.

By 2013, WESA had become, according to its IRS filing, a five million dollar operation. The best part is that WYEP technically owns WESA. Essential Public Media is wholly-owned subsidiary of WYEP. WESA became part of The WYEP Community Broadcast Center.

Community stations everywhere can learn from WYEP’s track record: You don’t have to be stuck with small, insignificant operations like Pacifica. You can choose to be essential.