Tuesday, March 8, 2016


As you probably have heard, Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) has pulled the plug on Michael Feldman’s Whad ‘Ya Know after 31 years.  Some folks seem surprised but industry observers have seen this coming for quite a while.  The reason why WPR cancelled the show was that it had too few “billables.”

Billables is an insider term that means “stations that pay carriage fees.”  In noncom public radio, billables are very, very important.

Promoters of nationally syndicated programs often brag they are on hundreds of stations.  But who and what are these “stations”? Typically many are repeater stations and FM translators that simulcast programming from a Primary station.   

For example: WAMC, Albany has three dozen “repeaters” around New England.  So should WAMC count as one station or three dozen stations?

What matters in noncom syndication is the number of Primary stations – the billables – who receive and pay invoices for a program’s carriage fees.

Noncommercial national programs operate differently than commercial radio.  In commercial radio many national programs are “bartered” with affiliates; stations get the programs free but they are required to carry a specific number of commercials in compensation. 

Noncommercial stations don’t have commercials, so the barter system doesn’t work for them. Noncoms depend on stations paying fees to networks and other distributors.  Many programs distributed by NPR, PRX, APM and PRI require stations to play carriage fees. Stations that pay these fees are called “billables.”


According to a report in Current, Whad ‘Ya Know’s carriage peaked in 2003 at 322 stations. But carriage had dropped to 106 stations as of spring 2015. The 106 stations includes many repeaters and translators who do not pay fees. I heard that Whad ‘Ya Know had only 37 billables – paying customers – as of January 1, 2016.

Every year PRI and other networks provide a price list to stations with carriage fees for the programs they carry. A recent PRI rate sheet indicates stations were paying between $3,756 and $687 per quarter for Whad ‘Ya Know.  Stations with the biggest budgets pay the highest fees.

To determine the estimated amount of revenue the program generates, I take a middle number to balance the highest and lowest fees.  For this exercise I am using $2,094 per quarter – which is “level D” on PRI’s rate sheet. There are lots of stations in this category.

Let’s do the numbers:

$2,094 per quarter equals $8,376 per year. Thirty-seven billables at this amount means the total annual carriage fees for Whad ‘Ya Know are around $310,000. The network, in this case PRI, takes a percentage of these fees and the rest goes to the program’s producers.

The report in Current said Whad ‘Ya Know was on 322 stations in 2003. This means there were roughly 120 billables then. So, Whad ‘Ya Know likely generated around $1,000,000 in carriage fees in 2003.

Considering that Whad ‘Ya Know costs around $700,000 per year (my guess-timate), continuing the program became unsustainable for WPR. So they are cutting their losses and are moving on.


Niala Boodhoo

Illinois Public Media (IPM), based in Urbana, has announced a new weekday Talk & Interview program is The 21st, will begin on March 14, 2016. IPM is making The 21st available to other Illinois public radio stations.  In addition to WILL-AM, The 21st will also debut on WUIS, Springfield.

Veteran journalist and public radio host Niala Boodhoo is the host and executive producer of the new hour-long show will air Monday - Friday at 11 a.m.

According to IPM, The 21st is “21st-century radio for the 21st state.” IPM promises that The 21st will provide listeners “a mix of interviews and conversations [including] farmers, business people, artists, politicians, and residents across Illinois — everything from news to politics to arts, culture and everyday life.

Scott Cameron, formerly senior producer of NPR’s Talk of the Nation (and currently Illinois Public Media’s director of news and public affairs) is a co-executive producer. 

Meanwhile, CPB announced they are awarding IPM $715,600 for the Illinois Newsroom, a new regional journalism center in association with seven other Illinois stations.


  1. And beneath that, the reason Whad Ya Know lost so many stations is that it is old, tired, and uninspired. I don't think it ever was that great, there just wasn't much else to compete for Saturday morning carriage and it takes public radio PDs forever to decide to drop a program. Since WDK launched in the 80's, This American Life, Radiolab, Ted Radio, and lots of other more compelling shows have become available. Most importantly, Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me has come along to not just steal audience, but to create a whole new audience. It is more interesting, funnier, and better produced. Even though WWDTM is not really live, it still has more urgency, spontaneity, and quality audience participation than WKN. Sorry, but listeners voted with their ears long ago.

    Michael Feldman can be a funny and engaging host, but judging from quotes in Wisconsin media stories about the cancellation, he's really in denial about why this show is ending.

  2. WYK also had a similar problem to APHC: it was a profounding station-unfriendly program. It was live from 11am-1pm ET, had no fixed breaks, no newshole, and you couldn't tape-delay it (well, you weren't supposed to). 11am-1pm is PRIME Saturday time and the show demanded you give up two entire hours of it to a show whose humor played only to a limited audience.

    Whereas WWDTM, often records two or even three hours of material, then edits it down to 53 minutes...meaning it can play well to its live audience AND play well to an audience at home, plus it can pick and choose the funniest bits so every show sounds like a top-notch show. It's got a newshole, and fixed breaks (and IIRC it had more total break time per hour than WYK, too) and you can air it whenever you want.

    WYK *did* try and address some of these concerns with the Whad'ya Know Radio Hour but it never really seemed all that well-done to me. Perhaps it was attempting to do the impossible. (shrug)

    FWIW, one thing that WWDTM does better than almost anyone is allow listeners to "play along from home" (kind of like "Jeopardy!"). WWDTM always seemed DESIGNED to maximize that concept, whereas WYK seemed to stumble across it by accident here and there.

    WWDTM also lucked into an excellent host in Peter Sagal, but the show also was smart in that they made the panelists at least...if not more...important than the host. And the panelists are constantly rotating so things stay fresh. That's one thing so many of the old-time hits have problems with: they're too closely identified with their hosts. And old hosts have a harder time attracting young listeners. (not to mention old hosts eventually retire/pass away and that's just bad news for everything involved...witness the hot mess that Car Talk slowly sinks deeper into every week.)

    The interesting thing is that WWDTM is now 18 years old, and technically is in danger of falling victim to the same ailment many shows suffer from: an inability to shift with the times. And yet it sure doesn't seem like it.