Friday, May 20, 2016


This week we are focusing on The State of Triple A Radio as noncommercial station folks, music companies and public radio bigwigs gather in Philadelphia for the 16th Annual NONCOMMvention [link].   

One quick reminder: VuHaus is streaming live from the 16th Annual NONCOMMvention. Today (Friday 5/20) is the final day of the NONCOMMvention. I appreciate the VuHaus coverage – I am getting ready to “attend” The Zombie’s set as I write this post. Check out all the NONCOMMvention videos at [link]. 


Lee Abrams
Anyone who has worked in rock radio has heard tales of Lee Abrams. Back in the 1970s he created the Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio format, a research-driven boilerplate approach that made him and corporate radio owners rich. Abrams is living proof that being smart doesn’t mean having wisdom or good judgment.

AOR was the cookie-cutter system that, in part, brought the end of the brief, legendary era of free-form radio. In many ways “Music Discovery” Triple A stations are similar to progressive rock beacons like WBCN, Boston; KMET, Los Angeles and KSAN, San Francisco.  In fact today’s generation of noncom rock music stations have found success thanks to techniques prescribed by Abrams.

Stations such as WBCN, KMET and KSAN eventually failed because they became bloated, self-indulgent and stupid.  Lee Abrams filled this void with the Superstars format. Stations that employed Superstars played the hits from the Woodstock era and almost zero new releases.  It wasn’t about “Music Discovery”, it was about playing the same familiar tunes over and over.

Lee Abrams in 1978
Of course there is nothing wrong with playing the hits or using music research. But Superstars ignored the human element and downplayed curation and passion. Superstars DJs could only open the mic briefly to read short “liners.”  In 1978 Abrams described DJs who loved and knew the music as "some guy in a basement in Brooklyn, burning incense and playing whatever he pleased."

Abrams and his consulting partner Kent Burkhart, a Top 40 AM consultant. By the early 1980s, Superstars was on 800 stations, all sending checks to Burkhart & Abrams. What a sweet deal.


In 1978, when Superstars was king of the radio hill, Abrams was a celebrity in the radio business.  I remember seeing him at a Radio & Records (R&R) conference.  He was surrounded by a posse of admirers, each trying to learn the recipe for his secret sauce. Heads turned when he walked into the room. In a special edition of R&R Abrams was hailed as one of radio’s Young Doctors – consultants who used Top 40 formatics and music that was proven by research.

In R&R Abrams talked about the origins of his approach:

Though his methodology became more sophisticated over time, it always revolved around learning the tunes that people like and don't mind hearing again and again.  Abrams' early “focus groups” were made up his friends sitting around and talking about music.

By the late 1960s he got serious about selling his system to radio folks. He publishined a mimeographed newsletter called Better Ideas for Better Stations but had little early success. Then in 1971 he got a break from ABC radio:

ABC’s owned and operated FM stations were programming an automated format called Love. It was an attempt to play hippie music without the negatives of the hippie culture.  Love was crashing and Abrams stepped in with an early version of Superstars.

Momentum continued through out the 1970s.  Things peaked in the 1980s. Then came the crash. Many of the programmers who had learned the biz from Abrams used better research methods. The AOR format began to split into several niches. Big tent AOR morphed into Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Soft Rock and many more derivatives.


In 2004, Abrams was hired by Worldspace (which soon became XM) the to start new music channels. In April 2014 Wired magazine published [link] a scathing story about Abrams titled Would You Buy the Future of Radio From This Man? 

 The article, written by Richard Martin began: 

Seven years ago, Lee Abrams found himself in exile. Once the most influential radio guru of his generation, Abrams pioneered systematic audience research and "psychographics," connecting people's lifestyles to their listening habits. He invented a music format called album-oriented rock, or AOR, which in the 1970s shifted the music industry's focus from singles to albums and showed radio execs how to hold listeners and attract advertisers – to make money in the new, boundary-free world of FM.

"It's really a war," Abrams says. "We're out to bring music back to the people. Abrams says. "We're out to bring music back to the people. We have this one opportunity to revolutionize radio, and if we blow it we should all be shot."

But isn't this the guy who blew it the last time?

In the Wired article, Abrams described the concept he sold the corporate bigwigs at XM:

"[Our target audience will] be people who want cerebral music, no games, no BS from the DJs," Abrams explains. "NPR without the elitist attitude, you might say." The young and non-sophisticated listeners, on the other hand, want "groovy, 'ADD' radio," with plenty of games, lively banter, and in-your-face music.”

Abrams still didn’t get it.  To his credit, he was one of people who created the XM brand, helped the merger with Sirius and brought modern radio sensibilities to the satellite broadcaster’s programming.


In 2010 Abrams followed his radio friend Randy Michaels into the senior management of the Chicago Tribune. Michaels is so obnoxious he makes Donald Trump seem mellow. Michaels and Abrams brought a toxic culture to Tribune Media that was described in detail in an article the Columbia Journalism Review [link] titled The Lee Abram’s Experience.

According to the article, things didn’t go well for Abrams:

Abrams and Micheals were soon gone from the Tribune.  Today Abrams is a freelance consultant.  In 2015 Jacobs Media saluted Abrams innovations [link]. Jacobs asked Abrams what was his biggest regret. He said: 

Not buying some of those stations we consulted! And all the drugs and booze in the ‘70s. Of course, the whole business was stoned and it sure was fun, but I could have been more imaginative.

In other words: I got stoned and I missed it.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Tom Teuber
If you mention Tom Teuber’s name to folks in the broadcasting and music industries you will hear stories about the great stations he has programmed such as WMET, Chicago, WCMF, Rochester and especially WMMM, Madison. You will also hear about people he has hired, mentored and stayed in touch with over a forty-plus-year career.

But you might not know what Teuber is doing now. He is the volunteer Program Director at WVMO, a 100-watt noncom LPFM in Monona, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison.

WVMO is an exciting example of a new breed of community radio: consistent, professional sound and a hyper focus on serving the local community.  Rather than dwell on partisan politics and strident opinions like many old-school Pacifica-type stations, WVMO is a music curator and convener that brings people together.


About 9 years ago Tom Teuber had left WMMM and was working as a consultant for clients such as Kurt Hanson’s AccuRadio [link].  He was getting his radio jones fed by doing volunteer airshifts at WSUM, the excellent college station at the University of Wisconsin. Teuber had a long relationship with WSUM – he helped them solve a nasty tower zoning problem that led to WSUM going on the air.

One day he was getting his car serviced and got a call from a frequent listener to him on WMMM: Paul Meyer, an engineer at Wisconsin Public Radio.  Kelly told Teuber that he and several other residents of Monona were planning to file for a new LPFM license.  Meyer  asked Teuber to be involved which he did.

The City of Monona turned out to be a great place to start a new station because they had the money to pay for the lengthy application and construction of the station. The City gets cable access fees in exchange for right-of-ways on Monona’s cable TV systems.  Many municipalities suck up this money but Monona did not. They saved the cable access proceeds and then dedicated some of the funds to build WVMO.

As the application slowly made its way through the FCC, Teuber took an essential role in the planning for what is now WVMO. Through his contacts with highly-skilled broadcasters who choose to live in Madison (and a bit of luck) he helped convene the staff, prepared programming and planned to rollout of WVMO. The station signed on in August 2015.
Will Nimmow, Paul Meyer and Lindsay Wood Davis

While waiting for the FCC to approve the application, Teuber planned the new station with help from other Madison radio veterans such as Meyer, former radio executive and consultant Lindsay Wood Davis and Bob Miller, the mayor of Monona. Miller used to run the ABC-TV affiliate and has an intuitive feel for communications He has an encyclopedic knowledge of how to get things done in a government setting.

Miller helped solve logistics issues such as the tower site (on top of city hall) and space to house the station (a conference room in city hall). Today WVMO’s studio is the first thing a visitor sees when entering Monona City Hall. Miller does on-air play-by-play of Monona Grove High School football games.

When the FCC finally approved the construction permit for the station, WVMO The Voice of Monona went on the air with a paid staff of one person: City of Monona Media coordinator Will Nimmow. Nimmow is also in charge of Monoma’s cable TV access channels and online outreach to city residents.

Teuber credits WVMO's successful application and smooth debut to Lindsay Wood Davis, a Monona resident who is about to be inducted into the aforementioned Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Teuber worked with Davis to craft the station’s brand and recruit volunteers to be part of WMVO. Today the station has nearly 50 volunteers.

“We had no idea when we started doing it for real how the community would respond or if any volunteers would show up,” Teuber says. “We were really pleased with the turnout for our first community meeting. Lots of people came with good ideas.”

WVMO can be heard everywhere in Monona (coverage map on the left) including at the city cop shop. The police chief told Mayor Miller, “The station [is] the hold music on the phone system.”


Rather than having a hodge-podge schedule of volunteer vanity shows, Teuber employed the basics of successful radio stations whether they are noncoms or commercial stations: Consistent programming, local service and plenty of spice from volunteer hosts who know what they are talking about.

Madison is a very competitive radio market with heritage noncommercial stations including NPR News, Classical music and talk on two Wisconsin Public Radio stations, established old-school community station WORT, College Rock WSUM (which I consider the best college station in the nation) and WNWC, a very successful CCM noncom.

Radio folks will recognize WVMO’s program clock: Three breaks per hour whether volunteers are on the air or hours when programming is voice-tracked. The stop sets are very brief and many include quick PSA’s about the city and area.

Jonathan W. Little
One niche not being served was Americana music, a popular on noncom stations nationwide. But WMVO had almost no programming budget, so Teuber asked for a favor from legendary Madison broadcaster Jonathan W. Little who Teuber knew through AccuRadio in Chicago. Little developed a 24/7 Americana format known as The Train [link].

Little agreed to help and donated several hundred Americana tunes from his format library.  This allowed Teuber to provide listeners with a consistent, fulltime professional air sound. Then WMVO added a handful of volunteer hosts with deep knowledge and broadcasting chops.

Bruce Ravid

For example, Teuber recruited Bruce Ravid, a UW graduate with many years of experience at Capitol Records and progressive rock stations in Southern California. Ravid is still living in LA. His three-hour indie rock showcase Go Deep is  on WVMO. 

Teuber doesn’t worry about occasional on-air flubs: We’re a baby and will occasionally spit up on ourselves.


One of the most popular volunteer programs on WVMO came about almost by accident. In the Spring of 2015, Teuber tells about reading about a forthcoming book about Wisconsin's polka culture: 

I tracked down the author, Richard March, and asked if he'd be interested in hosting such a show. Little did I know that for many years he had hosted a show on Wisconsin Public Radio called Down Home Dairyland. Since it was canceled 10 or 15 years ago, it had been missing from the airwaves. Rick agreed to bring it back and a few weeks later, before we were even on the air, he sent me several completed programs all produced and ready to go!

Marsh’s book Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polka is considered a definitive source on Polka music in America. Down Home Dairyland is now heart on small network noncom stations.


In some ways WVMO is Teuber’s return to public radio. He claims to be the first voice on WXXI, Rochester.  At WXXI he did the morning drive shift at WXXI in the days before NPR began Morning Edition. In the 1990s, Teuber produced The Best Game in Town, an entertainment guide. He also was an occasional contributor to The Wild Room featuring Ira Glass and Gary Covino. The Wild Room later morphed into This American Life.

Tom Teuber has been part of lots of great radio. Creating and programming WVMO is among his proudest achivements:

I know I could make a lot more money doing other things, but I am not in this to get rich. I am very comfortable now. This just the next step in my career and I love it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


This week we are focusing on The State of Triple A Radio as noncommercial station folks, music companies and public radio bigwigs gather in Philadelphia for the 16th Annual NONCOMMvention [link].   

REMINDER: VuHaus will be streaming live from the 16th Annual NONCOMMvention Wednesday 5/18 through Friday 5/20. For more information: [link].


Yesterday we published a list of the Top 20 fulltime music, Triple A noncommercial stations, ranked by their estimated weekly cumulative listeners. Today we are taking a different look at the same 20 stations by examining their estimated annual operating budgets.

We have grouped the stations into three groups: Rich, Comfortable and On the Rise. Of course most Triple A noncoms operate with budgets far smaller than these 20 stations.  It is my opinion that one of major barriers keeping more stations from moving into the format is the lack help provided by the Richest stations to potential new stations.  These budgets show that noncom Triple A stations can bring in big bucks or at least be sustainable. But small stations don’t know where to start. 

Additional comments follow each group of stations.

The top four stations (WXPN, KEXP, WFUV and KCMP – 89.3 The Current) have the resources to hire high-quality professional staffs, create new programming and sponsor events for members and other listeners. Make no mistake, these stations have earned their success.

WXPN is the granddaddy of this group. It embraced fulltime Triple A music in the late 1980s and early 1990s with $1 million of seed money from CPB. We will explore this in a future story.

KEXP turned philanthropic dollars into bigger gold. WFUV wandered for years through folk, country and Americana formats. Then they woke up and now have the largest weekly listeners to a noncom Triple A station. 

There are two eras at 89.3 The Current: Before and after the arrival of PD Jim McGuinn. Before Jim arrived KCMP was an aspirational station that was “too hip for the room.” When KCMP started they had a morning show hosted by a couple of pals of Garrison Keillor. The music in the morning then was different from the music during the rest of the day.

Stations 5 – 14 have “average” public radio station budgets.  Most of the stations are CPB-funded. The average CPB-supported station budget is around $2 million. Most of these stations are successful but, as we reported in early April [link] WNKU may be put up for sale because of chronic budget shortages. 

Stations 15 – 20 are hoping to grow, particular the two new Colorado stations KJAC The Colorado Sound and KVOQ OpenAir and KTBG The Bridge. Without a doubt the station that does the best with less is WNRN in Virginia. We need more stations like WNRN!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


This week we are focusing on The State of Triple A Radio as noncommercial station folks, music companies and public radio bigwigs gather in Philadelphia for the 16th Annual NONCOMMvention [link].   

Metrics are an important part of the Triple A noncom story. The public radio system seems to be taking a fresh look at the national impact of the format. Before more stations will jump into Triple A, they need to know that many current stations are sustainable.

We have two topics today:

• The Top 20 Triple A stations ranked by estimated weekly cumulative listeners as measured by Nielsen Audio.

• Carriage of nationally syndicated programs on the Top 20 stations.

I compiled the chart on the left based on the most recent data available. This research is for demonstration purposes only because it uses unorthodox techniques that are necessary to generate the list, including:

• I am using both PPM and Diary market numbers. These two systems of listening assessment have very different methodologies.

• For some station estimates I am combining estimated weekly listeners from multiple stations and (in one case) two audio platforms. Please be aware that there may duplications of listeners from multiple sources.

• There are many more stations airing Triple A music than the ones listed in this report.  I am only using published data from Nielsen Audio.  Some stations don’t subscribe to Nielsen ratings or have so few listeners they don’t show up in the ratings.

• One exception to the above caveats is the inclusion of KCSN which serves a portion of Los Angeles from Northfield. Folks in the media and music industries know that Sky Daniels & company are doing a tremendous job with KCSN.  I was the GM of this station a couple of decades ago and I know the challenges they face. The estimated number of weekly listeners at KCSN was provided to me by a confidential source, not anyone at the station. I feel KCSN is an important part of our corner of the biz, so I decided to include them.

So, please be aware of the limitations of my report.


The programming that seems to work best on Triple A stations is generated locally. Curation, knowledge of the local music scene and direct ties to the artists are best done at home, where the listeners and supporters are.

I don’t have an exact metric showing the decline in carriage of national shows but anecdotally I know this is true.  In fact, I was surprised by the lower number of program “clearances.”  Please keep in mind that the chart below is based on carriage on the Top 20 stations only.  Smaller stations may tend to carry more national programs including some good show not on the list.

This assessment doesn’t mean nationally syndicated programs aren’t valuable. Maybe some of the shows in current syndication are past their expiration date and there are few new programs in the pipeline.

World Café is the one exception to comments above.  It is certainly the only nationally distributed program that comes near to a “must have.”

One note of disclosure: I am paid consultant for American Routes.  Here is the national programs chart:

Monday, May 16, 2016


As you probably know, noncommercial station folks, music companies and public radio bigwigs are gathering this week in Philadelphia for the 16th Annual NONCOMMvention [link].  Noncom Triple A has grown in listeners, number of stations and influence over the years. The buzz on the format has gone from Maybe this will work to It works great if done correctly. Triple A has become a viable format choice because it attracts a younger demo than other noncom formats, the deep relationship its listeners have with the music and demonstrated sustainability. 

I won’t be at the NONCOMM this year but I hope to make contributions to the conference by providing metrics, station profiles and historical context. My focus is the business of noncommercial Triple A radio. Today we begin with the most recent ratings data.


The chart below includes 14 fulltime music stations in PPM markets with sufficient data to compare estimated weekly cumulative listeners in April 2016 with April 2015. Ten of the 14 stations gained weekly listeners and only 4 had fewer weekly listeners. This is good news given the highly competitive market for music listeners.

At stations with more than 100,000 weekly listeners, KUTX, Austin (up 17% and WYEP, Pittsburgh (up 16%) had the biggest one-year gains. The stations with the largest number of weekly listeners are WFUV, New York (323,200), KCMP aka 89.3 The Current, St. Paul (279,700),WXPN, Philadelphia (266,900) and KKXT, Dallas (265,700).

Here is the full PPM market chart: (changes of more than 10% are highlighted in yellow)


The most recent Nielsen Audio ratings data for markets using the Diary method are from Fall 2015.  Below is a chart we published in January. We found data for 15 fulltime music stations. It appears that more stations in Diary markets are subscribing to Nielsen Audio data.  This is a good sign because there are several terrific noncom Triple A stations (WAPS for example) for which we do not have data.

WNRN is a star performer.  It reaches listeners in four Nielsen measured markets. WNRN has become a regional presence. Folks at stations interested in becoming fulltime Triple A stations should study and emulate WNRN.

Here is the full Diary market chart: (changes of more than 10% are highlighted in yellow)


KCRW is one of the fastest growing noncom stations in the nation. Their estimated number of weekly cumulative listeners grew 27% from April 2015 (516,600) to April 2016 (709,200). This is an amazing story.

Because KCRW has a dual format (NPR News and Triple A), it is difficult to say which of the two program streams contribute the most to the increase without seeing hour-by-hour data.