Friday, April 8, 2016


This week Kelly Music Research (KMR) published the results of a survey it did with music consumers and whether they will pay for streaming services.  The answer that came back: Probably not!

I have mixed feelings about the KMR study but there are some things of interest to noncom folks. KMR’s methodology is not fully explained. I don’t know much about KMR but I do know their primary business is music testing  for commercial stations.  They do online, callout and auditorium music testing, typically playing a portion of a song and getting the respondent’s opinions. This kind of research is how big commercial stations decide what to play, what not to play and what makes people tune away.

I am assuming that KMR tacked this survey onto regular music tests, so the in-tab is not a random sample.  Respondents were between the ages of 17 and 59.  Since KMR’s clients are commercial radio operators, noncom listeners were not surveyed. Given this caveat, the survey found that only a small percentage of respondents would ever become a paying subscriber of a “streaming radio” service.

The KMR survey also does not ask about the value of curation and other “music discovery” benefits that many noncom music stations offer.

Below are summary charts and verbatim comments from participants. Here a factoids from the KMR research that I found interesting.



Fewer than 8% of survey respondents reported using the payment options of Pandora, Spotify or SoundCloud. Lots of people use these services but fewer than 12% expressed a willingness to pay for it. 

Female, age 36
If i was going to pay for music, i would probably just buy songs/albums from itunes.

Male, age 48
At one time I was willing to pay for music services & did so for about a year & found it to be a waste. I had an additional 50+ stations & still often found nothing I wanted to listen to

If free music from these services were no longer available, few said they would consider paying. Most respondents would move on to another company who will give them what they want…but only if it is free.

Respondents say they are still listening to FM or AM radio but many listen to broadcast radio only in the car. Only 1.6% of the sample says they never listen to terrestrial radio. Among the youngest respondents  (17-34), about 50% listen to radio only  when they are in the car. 
Female, age 55
I will never pay to listen to music. I also like the DJ's. Why put them out of jobs?
 KMR asked respondents if they would pay to hear FM and AM radio. No mention is made of noncommercial, listener-supported stations. Only 9.7% said they would pay to listen to their favorite AM/FM station.  Compare this to 12% who say they’d pay for their favorite stream choice.  

Male, age 25
Free radio still is important.

Female, age 52
I am willing to pay to hear music I like if it is WITHOUT commercials
Sell the benefits of noncommercial radio to listeners because noncoms have advantages over commercial stations. Most ommercial radio broadcasters and music testing folks seem to disregard the value of “trusted guides” as part of listening experience. The fact that most people expect music to be absolutely free to them is not “new” news. Napster, etc. has changed the entire dynamic.  So noncom should promote the unique advantages they offer, particularly the “human touch.”

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Northern Kentucky University (NKU) President Geoffrey Mearns announced earlier this week that the university is exploring the possibility of selling WKKU.  The primary reasons according to Mearns: Financial cuts by the state of Kentucky to the university and the university’s desire to discontinue subsidies to the station.

According to the Cincinnati Business Journal [link] Northern Kentucky University's subsidy to WNKU-FM has averaged $600,000 annually over the last five years. The subsidy rose to $900,000 in 2015. The university’s Board of Regents is preparing to distribute a RFP to brokers for the proposed sale.

Last week, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin announced an immediate 4.5 percent cut to higher education funding across the board. That amounts to $2.2 million for NKU. The university is now considering an end to subsidies to help make up for the state cuts.  A NKU spokesperson said:

 “We have a responsibility to explore whether that subside is one the University can continue to afford, in light of our state funding picture.”

The reason that the subsidies have grown is the need for the university to pay back a $6.75 million loan from 2011. The money was used to purchase of three commercial stations outside of Cincinnati that repeat WNKU’s programming. The additional coverage area did not bring in enough new revenue to service the debt.


 The NPR News, Classical and Triple A trifecta has proven valuable in Minneapolis, Louisville and Denver because each format draws different demographics.

Cincinnati Public Radio (CPR) has expressed interest in WNKU in the past.  About a dozen years ago I was a paid consultant to WNKU when the station was evolving from a dual-format that aired NPR news magazines to a 24/7 Triple A music format. The acquisition of WNKU was not pursued because CPR was in the process of acquiring WVXU.

CPR now owns and operates Classical station WGUC and NPR News on WVXU. CPR also owns WMUB in Oxford, Ohio, which is now a fulltime repeater of WVXU.

CPR can certainly afford WNKU.  According to a financial report on its website, CPR has become a very, very successful organization. In FY 2015, CPR had annual revenue of $8.2 million and its net assets were worth over $25.5 million.

WNKU does not post its financial reports online as required by           CPB. WNKU’s annual revenue is thought to be around $2.6 including the NKU subsidy.  WNKU could certainly benefit from CPR’s fundraising ability. In 2015 CPR brought in $4.6 million from members and over $2.0 from underwriters.



Stitcher, a podcast portal and consulting company, tabulates a weekly chart of the most listened-to podcasts [link].  On the most recent chart, podcasts that originated from public media organizations held 15 of the top 20 spots. NPR had five of the top 20; WNYC and WBEZ each had two of the top 20.

Stitcher is one of several organizations that publish top podcast charts.  There are often discrepancies between the charts because they use different sources for data and measure using different metrics. 

Specific numbers are seldom available so it is difficult to say how much difference there is between #1 and #20.

Despite these limitations, it is clear that public radio and television providers are the industry leaders.  Podcasts succeed for many of the same reasons public media succeeds: They provide content that listeners value and will support.



The Nonprofit Times [link] reports that nonprofit organizations experienced significant hiring growth during the Great Recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonprofit sector hiring accounted for more than 11.4 million jobs between 2007 and 2014.

Depending upon the state or location, nonprofit careers seem to be more plentiful in certain areas than others. The report says nonprofit employment is most popular in New York City area where almost 18% of the workforce is employed by nonprofit.  The lowest percentage of nonprofit employment was in Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Wyoming and Nevada.

The report says nonprofits and other volunteer-based organizations should be ready to hire new employees as the job market continues to improve. While nonprofit salaries tend to be lower than for-profit comapnies, many noncoms offer competitive benefits packages.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


On Tuesday we reported about On Being’s change of national distribution from American Public Media (APM) to PRX.  Today comes news of another major distribution switch: Snap Judgment is moving from PRX to WNYC as of July 1, 2016. On Being’s decision makes sense but the benefit of Snap Judgment’s move to WNYC is not so clear.

About ten years ago, Host & Executive Producer Glynn Washington won the CPB-sponsored Public Radio Talent Quest.  Since then he has assembled a talented production crew. The show is carried on approximately 365 stations.

Snap Judgment [link] is a popular weekly one-hour program, in part because of the “halo” of the NPR brand. Saying “We are from NPR” opened carriage and funding possibilities. Washington benefited from NPR’s credibility and clout.   

Snap Judgment became one of the first national shows to be distributed by PRX, another wise association.  The show brought in respected carriage consultant Steve Martin.  By most accounts, things have been doing very, very well.

According to person close to the program, who spoke off the record, internal costs kept rising above revenue. Washington needed to save on production costs. He began working with WNYC in the summer of 2015.  Now it appears that WNYC has a stake in Snap Judgment

Glynn Washington
Then WNYC became a co-producer of Snap Judgment in August 2015. Dean Cappello, chief content officer at WNYC described the process that led to WNYC’s distribution:

“It is the final step in a transition process that began last summer when co-production of the Snap Judgment weekly radio show and podcast shifted from NPR to WNYC Studios.”

Snap Judgment will become the fifth nationl show distributed by WNYC. Last October, WNYC began self-distributing its own programs: On the Media, Radiolab, The New Yorker Radio Hour and Freakonomics Radio.


I believe in the philosophy “If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.” Snap Judgment wasn’t “broken” and benefited from NPR’s “halo.”  “NPR” is the best-known brand name in noncommercial radio. NPR News has valuable credibility with underwriters and grant makers. Loosing the “N-P-R” sheen may cost Snap Judgment in the long run.



KERA, Dallas is now searching for a Statewide Coordinating Editor to lead the Texas Station Collaborative, an ambitious news partnership of NPR News stations across Texas. KERA is the fiduciary and organizer of the collaboration. The Statewide Coordinating Editor will be based in Dallas and will work with reporters across the state on the statewide newsmagazine Texas Standard.  The Editor will serve as the primary liaison with participating stations and national news programs.

The successful candidate must be a proven public radio editor who’s equally comfortable on digital and social media platforms, a leader who can confidently and smoothly work at a distance with reporters, producers and editors scattered across the state, as well as leaders of national shows and networks. Project-management and communications skills are key. This editor will embrace and propagate best practices in editing, ethics and diversity.​

Livingston Associates is handling the search. More information is at [link]. 


Matthew Lasar
Recently I was taken to task for my opinionated reporting [link] about the state of College Radio and what I believe are continuing threats to its future. Some of the most vocal criticism came from the folks at Radio Survivor. If you haven’t visited the Radio Survivor blog, please check them out at [link].

Radio Survivor asked me to participate in their weekly podcast, which I did.  I very much enjoyed being on the program. There were several points on which the folks from Radio Survivor and I agreed to disagree but I felt the show provided a good overview of the situation.  You can hear the podcast at [link].

Last week Matthew Lasar, one of the founders of Radio Survivor, wrote an op-ed about our College Radio “debate.” Lasar did an excellent job summarizing the agreements and disagreements. Here are Lasar’s thoughts about my analysis:

The usual excellent suspects associated with our Radio Survivor podcast produced an interesting debate program about the “self-imposed smallness” of college radio last week. Popular radio blogger Ken Mills served as the show’s guest critic. He’s a very smart articulate guy with a lot of experience in radio.

“I come from a management background,” Mills told Jennifer Waits, Paul Riismandel, and Eric Klein. “I come from a background where, in the commercial world, if you don’t make your budget you’re out. And in the non-comm world you may get another chance but at some point you’re out. I look at things through that lens.”

So here’s Mills’ bottom line on college radio:

“I think that college radio’s self-imposed smallness is a threat to its future. The key to long term success in any non-profit, non-commercial media in particular, is independent long term sustainability. And I don’t hear anybody in college radio talking about that. It’s kind of the same as it was in the 1970s.

The reason I talk about threats is, they’re coming from all directions, first, universities are cutting, second student fees are getting are getting out of control, and third, the price and cost of getting into the FM spectrum continues to rise, and so the big public radio companies, and particularly the big religious broadcasters such as the Educational Media Foundation are on the hunt for stations that they can sweep up . . . “

At this point Jennifer waits came in with a good question, what do you mean by self-imposed smallness?

“The view more often than not is inward,” Mills replied. “In other words they really don’t broadcast to the larger community, they’re really more concerned with their peer group, people right around them, and if it’s educational sometimes it’s solely training. But there isn’t a lot of thought about audience . . . and there is a direct correlation between audience size and the ability to generate revenue from listeners, whether that be pledging or underwriting or events or whatever.”

As the conversation continued, Mills acknowledged Waits’ observation in an earlier podcast that a whole slew of college sponsored Low Power FM radio stations are coming down the bend. This obviously challenges some perceived specter of a generalized abandonment of radio by universities. At some point the discussion moved onto the lack of ratings for college radio stations. “Why are ratings important?” Paul Riismandel asked.

Mills: “Because the size of an audience is directly correlated to the ability to have more diverse funding, particularly listener funding, and my belief is that college radio has been too dependent for too long on student fees and the largesse of the university’s involved.”

Riismandel pointed out that many college stations can’t afford to subscribe to Nielsen Portable People Meter ratings (not to mention accessing the encoding system needed to participate). “I don’t disagree with you that having a larger more diverse audience means you can bring in more fundraising,” he added, “but not subscribing to ratings doesn’t indicate that a station doesn’t care.”

I’m not going to transcribe the whole show, because I want you to listen to it. But the conversation definitely struck me as one in which everyone was right at least part of the time. I would add to Mills’ list of worries the accelerated abandonment of the humanities at many universities. And I’d also add that too many college and community radio stations spend too much time constructing fictional narratives about “communities,” rather than trying to figure out how to reach broad groups of people who don’t necessarily have much immediate involvement with each other but live in the same place (aka “audiences”).

But ultimately I think that college radio’s problems are political rather than managerial. Colleges aren’t supposed to provide services solely for sale; they’re supposed to teach and offer at least some things that we need but aren’t necessarily willing to buy as individuals. Not a few of the college radio programs I cherish around these San Francisco Bay Area parts are anything but marketable. The question of how to support that sort of fare is a question for everybody, not just for radio station managers, blogger consultants, and us podcasters.

--- Matthew Lasar

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


You’ve probably heard that Krista Tippett’s weekly podcast/program On Being [link] is moving its distribution from American Public Media (APM) to PRX. On Being is one of public media’s finest productions. The program is a perfect fit with PRX, now public radio’s fastest-growing national program syndicator and owner of the podcast portal Radiotopia.

But why is this happening now?  Why should Tippett take the project from APM who lunched, nurtured and promoted On Being since it began as Speaking of Faith in 2003?

The answer, of course, is money.

This is another prime example of how PRX has changed the landscape for public radio national programming.  The old model (still used by APM, NPR and PRI) is that the network charges a membership or affiliation fee for stations to get access to programming and then charges carriage fees too.

Under the PRX model, stations pay a very small fee for membership and then pay carriage fees via PRX’s Sub-Auto automated payment service. The PRX system costs programs pennies on the dollar compared to APM.

From our research, On Being is carried on around 300 stations including maybe 95 billable customers. For a detailed description of “billables” see our recent post about why Whad’Ya Know was cancelled [link]. 

Given APM’s carriage fee rates for On Being, we estimate that the program brought in over $400,000 a year via APM.  Assuming the percentage APM kept for distribution and marketing was substantial, PRX distribution brings more money to Tippett’s bottom line.  This is the same reason This American Life left PRI for PRX in 2014.



Public radio and television stations in Alaska are preparing for major cuts in state support. Last week a House Finance subcommittee proposed zeroing out state operations grants for public broadcasting. The state grants are a lifeline for many Alaska stations, particularly in remote areas.

Alaska is facing an enormous budget deficit due to low prices for oil. Alaskans have provided bi-partisan financial support for public broadcasting since the 1970s.  Last year the state provided approximately $4.3 million dollars down 25% from recent years. State funding is provided for 26 noncommercial public radio and TV stations.

The best-case scenario is a plan offered by Governor Bill Walker that cuts public broadcasting support about 20% for FY 2017.  The worst-case scenario is a proposal from State Representative Lynn Gattis (R-Wasilla) that cuts state support to zero after a couple of years. Gattis’ proposal would leave only $800,000 in FY 2017 for stations to pay for maintenance costs.  so the roughly 25 radio and TV stations can continue to operate, for the time being.

State Representative Lynn Gattis

Gattis’ rationale is that Alaskans don’t need public broadcasting any more because the Internet and cell phones have expanded access to information. Plus Alaska Republicans want to drastically reduce the size of state government and dislike some of the news coverage the stations provide. Gattis explained:

“Personally, before I reach into Alaskans’ pockets to pay for government, this is my attempt at reducing the size of government.”

A spokeswoman for Gaddis said Alaska stations should generate more income themselves and push for additional federal revenue. CPB currently provides around $8.6 million for Alaska stations.

The proposals next move to the full House Finance Committee.


Jody Evans, President of the Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) and Doug Eichten, CEO of Greater Public [link] announced an “institutional partnership” to help public radio stations connect with younger and more diverse audiences. According to the press release:

We know you're aware that research findings are becoming more pointed and the hallway conversations are growing louder. Public media's loyal audiences are aging -- fast -- and we're not keeping pace with audiences aged 50 and younger.  Our listenership is overwhelmingly white, yet the racial demographics of the country are changing rapidly in markets large and small.

From the press release:

We want you to know:  we're on it.  And we're tackling this together.    

Good to know.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Every year, the National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB) recommends historic sound recordings for inclusion in the National Recording Registry, part of the Library of Congress.  Harry Cole of CommLawBlog last week {link] reported that one of this year’s recommendations is causing an ironic stir at the Library: George Carlin’s “seven dirty words” from his album Class Clown.

Carlin’s comedy routine was broadcast on WBAI, New York, in 1973. Due to a listener complaint, the FCC Enforcement Bureau penalized WBAI for broadcasting an “indecent” message. The action led to the 1978 Supreme Court decision FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, in which the Court decided that the FCC could penalize broadcasters for airing “indecent” material.

The Court’s decision still stands today and the FCC continues to use its authority to determine what constitutes “punishable indecency.” The exact rules have never been clear. With a few exceptions, Carlin’s “seven dirty words” cannot be broadcast today.

But, according to the NRPB, the recording is a national treasure because it is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The Library of Congress has yet to decide if Carlin’s “seven dirty words” will be included on the list with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Rumble” by Link Wray.



Wende Persons

Classical music radio continues to invest in its leadership. Last week the Station Resource Group (SRG) announced [link] it has chosen Wende Persons to be the managing editor of Classical Music Rising, SRG’S initiative to craft the future of the format. Persons looks like a wonderful choice.

Now USC Radio Group, the parent organization of KUSC in Los Angeles and KDFC in the Bay Area, is looking for a Content Director. USC is calling the new position the top programming job in classical radio! Both KUSC and KDFC are major noncom Classical giants that serve an estimated 1.3 million listeners each week. USC Radio Group is also a founding partner in SRG’s Classical Music Rising.
The gig includes overseeing content on all platforms including radio, online and in social media.  The job is based in Los Angeles, with lots of travel to San Francisco. More information and application material can be found at {link].  

The position will be based in Los Angeles, with regular travel to San Francisco. Key responsibilities include:

• Oversee station music philosophy for target audience, and management of the Music department. This includes playlist analysis to create strategies and tactics to meet stations goals.

• Create and implement station on air promotions coordinated with web content and social media, etc. This will include managing the Assistant Program Directors in LA and SF.

• Direct the creating, implementation and scheduling of special programming.

• Analyze ratings and other programming and web metrics to measure success and opportunities.


BizWest, a prominent Colorado business journal, recently published a lengthy and fascinating inside look at KUNC and other noncom stations on the Colorado Front Range [link].   

Neil Best, CEO and General Manager of KUNC and KJAC (call letters for The Colorado Sound), said in the article:

“We are doing this on a very tight budget, but we saved by management working on both stations, and on a lot of the startup costs for KJAC because the station already existed.”

Purchasing the 105.5 signal was made possible thanks in large part to a major gift from the Paul and Amy Hach Charitable Foundation, as well as reserve funds from KUNC.

Best described the financial commitment: 

“We have reserves to allow us to get up and get running. I’ll have a much better forecast about what this will cost in three to five months. We want to grow income by at least 5 percent, and our operating expenses will be somewhere in the same range.”

Best said one of the station’s greatest challenges is ever-increasing competition, more podcasts, more streaming services, websites. The competition for eardrums and eyeballs gets more intense every day.

From Left, Ron Bostwick, morning host with the Colorado Sound, Benji McPhail, music director with KUNC, Keefer Fulgham, afternoon music host with KUNC, and Mike Henry, with Paragon Media, cheer in celebration as The Colorado Sound official hits the air waves Feb. 29. – Photo: Joel Blocker / For BizWest