Friday, July 15, 2016


Legendary public radio research guru David Giovannoni once said Programming Creates Audience and the stations discussed today prove he is correct. It is sort of like the premise of the movie Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.

Today we are focusing on noncommercial stations with formats other than the five major noncom sounds: NPR News, Classical, Triple A, Jazz and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). We are profiling two world-class noncoms that offer lessons for anyone in public media: KNIA Radio Campasea in Phoenix and KHNC C-89 in Seattle.

The chart on the left contains Nielsen Audio estimates for 12 stations, comparing their June 2016 weekly cumulative listeners with June 2015.
The formats of some stations are hard to classify.  Maybe the slogan for WOBO, Cincinnati says it best: The Station With Something for Everyone.

KBCS, Bellevue, Washington (in the Seattle/Tacoma market) also has a program schedule that is hard to describe in a single term. I am calling KBCS’s format “Political Talk” because the programming appears to be built around the Thom Hartmann Show. KBCS also carries other political/advocacy programs such as Democracy Now!  But, KBCS has several very tasty cultural programs on their schedule.

Five of the 12 stations on the “Other” list I call “Christian Talk” rather than the older phrase “Christian Teaching.”  “Teaching” comes from the time when stations such as these were primarily sermons.  Now these stations most often air commentary programs from folks like James Dobson and Charles Stanley.

Some of the stations listed as “Urban” air much more than music.  For instance, KMOJ, Minneapolis, has ample local news and public affairs programming.


NPR, PRPD and some stations are spending thousands of dollars on research to learn about the media preferences of young people.  They hope to find ways to tinker with newsmagazines and schedules to appeal to a younger and more diverse audience.

The two stations we are profiling today demonstrate that the answer is simple: If you want to reach younger and more diverse audience, put younger and more diverse people on the air. Let them design programming that interests people like them.  Remember, Programming Creates Audience.


KHNC, known as C-89.5 [link], describes itself as Seattle’s Home for Dance music for over 43 years. C-89.5’s mission is to reach a new generation of listeners with energizing music and public affairs programming. 

It claims to be the most influential high school station in the nation and I believe that is true.

The station is owned by Seattle Public Schools and programming originates from a converted classroom at Nathan Hale High School.  KHNC has a small professional staff but the programming and music are done totally by students.


KHNC was started by Larry Adams, a Nathan Hale High teacher, in 1971.  Over the years the school district upgraded the facilities and continued to tighten the programming. The station became qualified for Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) funding a couple of years ago.

Nielsen Audio estimates demonstrate the staying power of KNHC – they typically have 150,000 to 200,000 weekly listeners. C-89.5. Folks around the world can listen to C-89.5’s streaming audio at [link]

The station focuses on dance-oriented contemporary music with ample doses of Hip-Hop, Rap and Alternative Rock.  C-89.5 is credited as the radio station that started Lady Gaga’s rise to fame.  Gaga said thanks to C-89.5 by staging a concert in the school’s auditorium. I wish I could have been there…

The Village Voice, based in New York, called C-89.5 one of the best dance oriented station in the nation, even better than NYC’s legendary WKTU. 

In the Voice, WKTU program director Andy Shane said about C-89.5: “They're well respected in the industry. When record labels work me on songs, they often mention C-89 as a starting ground for a lot of records that turn into big hits."

C-89.5’s music is monitored by BDS and MediaBase and is one of only eight stations that help determine Billboard’s Dance music chart. That is big-time!

KHNC’s community programming also wins praise. For instance, C-89.5’s Gay Pride coverage [link] was based on listener response to the question What Does Pride Mean to You?

When it comes to reaching young and diverse listeners, C-89.5 walks the walk.


KNAI 88.3FM [link] reaches more Phoenix-area listeners than any other noncommercial station. In fact, KNAI’s estimated weekly listeners in June 2016 was 20th in the nation, ahead of KPBS, 89.3 The Current and WGBH.

Cesar Chavez
KNAI is part of the eight-station Radio Campesina Network. Campesina means peasant in English. It was founded in the 1960s by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers of America.

The station serves recent immigrants between the ages of 18 to 35 from rural Mexico and Central America. The sound is young, hip and involved – a mix various Spanish contemporary music styles presented by the cutest young hosts you’ve ever seen and heard. If I could sum up KNAI in one word, it is “inviting.” KNAI and La Campesina are essential public media.

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