Friday, June 10, 2016


89.3 The Current has won worldwide praise for its coverage of the death of Prince and overwhelming response from fans. They also reached a lot of listeners.

Just released Nielsen Audio estimates for May show that The Current broadcast and and streaming audio were heard by an estimated 411,000 weekly cumulative listeners. This is the highest weekly cume ever for The Current. The number of weekly listeners to the broadcast signal was up 26% from April. The station’s streaming audio was up 51%.

According to PD Jim McGuinn, the timing of events was one of the reasons for historic jump in listening:

Jim McGuinn (Photos courtesy of MPR)
The week of Prince’s passing (which occurred on a Thursday around noon – first day of a new ratings week), our cume went from a normal weekly number of around 280k all the way to 490k.  We changed our programming to feature a chronological career retrospective that day, and followed with a Prince A to Z marathon from the Friday at 6p thru Sat at 11p. 

As we reported in May [link], the coverage by The Current was heartfelt, informative and compelling. It is still benefiting the station says McGuinn:

Our web traffic continues at a higher level than before his passing.  Anecdotally we definitely made new friends, with hundreds of contributions in the days that followed his passing, arriving from around the world. 

We surpassed our drive goals in May significantly, with lots of love for the Prince programming [plus] our 893 Essential Album countdown.  It was a unique month, and a testament to following our Programming instincts and responding to audience’s needs in the moment.  Much of the share and cume rolled back towards normal in the weeks that followed.  [Now] we’ll see what the long term ratings [are] in the months to come.

Mike Henry

News of the ratings performance travelled quickly.  Consultant Mike Henry (who has worked with The Current in the past) said The Current’s success is an inspiration to all noncom Triple A stations:

The big takeaway for me is that if non-comm Triple A stations are marketed effectively, then there is a higher audience ceiling available. [Rather than] preaching to the same choir over and over, The Current’s marketing is testimony to the audience potential possible to all pubradio Triple A stations.


Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has three distinct program services: 89.3 The Current, NPR News KNOW and Classical KSJN. Typically The Current has trailed KNOW in listening.  Not in May 2016. For the first time The Current beat KNOW in weekly cumulative listeners, though KNOW had a narrow lead in AQH.

Here is the topline data for all noncom stations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market (changes of more than 10% are highlighted in yellow):

Note the success of Urban Contemporary KMOJ, a gutsy station that is important civic and cultural resource in the market.


WAMU’s May estimated weekly listeners reached the highest number in recent memory.


These data are provided for use by Nielsen Audio subscribers ONLY, in accordance with
RRC's limited license with Nielsen Audio.
Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 6+
Data Copyright Nielsen Audio.
Format designations are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Nielsen Audio has released ratings estimates for a few of the top markets. More markets will be known tomorrow. Three Classical stations are showing notable increases in weekly cumulative listeners. For a format that some think is in decline, real world data tells a different story.

In San Francisco KDFC was up over 45,000 weekly listeners, an 11% increase from one month ago. WQXR, New York had over 25,000 more estimated weekly listeners and one of the best PPM reports in over a year. WFMT, Chicago – a commercial station that walks and talks like a noncom - was up a shopping 18%, adding around 50,000 new weekly listeners.

KUSC, Los Angeles, was down slightly but ts still has the most estimated weekly listeners for any noncommercial station in LA. Commercial WRR, Dallas, was down a bit.  I don’t consider WRTI, Philadelphia to be a Classical station because it airs Jazz for half of it airtime. WRTI would probably do a lot better if they picked one format and stuck to it.

WNYC-FM posted big gains in New York, up almost 100,000 (12%) estimated weekly cumulative listeners from April.

Recently a blog reader asked me why I use weekly cume estimates rather than Average-Quarter-Hour (AQH) info. To me AQH is better suited for commercial stations and ad agencies. Cost per rating point is still the currency for ad buys despite the fact that estimates for 15-minute periods date back to Hooper Ratings in the 1930s when radio was filled with fifteen minute programs.  Nielsen Audio PPM data is far more granular than arbitrary AQH tabulations.

To me weekly cume is the best way to track to noncom stations. A standard rule-of-thumb is that a noncom station’s members should be more or less 10% of total listening. Weekly cume also reflects changes in total persons using radio.

 ALL rated noncom stations in New York were up from April. WBGO and WFUV saw solid gains in weekly listeners.

 Jazz KKJZ continues to do very, very well. KCRW’s estimates may be a “wobble.”

 Steve Robinson at WFMT is probably popping a bottle of champagne now.

KQED remains very strong.  KALW has been up for six consecutive PPM reports.  Thank your lucky stars you aren’t working at commercial KFOG.  A noncom Triple A would be appreciated in the Bay Area.

KERA and KKXT in Dallas continue to add weekly listeners.  In the very competitive CCM race, the Adventists (KJRN) now have more weekly listeners than the folks at the local branch of WAY-FM.

These data are provided for use by Nielsen Audio subscribers ONLY, in accordance with
RRC's limited license with Nielsen Audio.
Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 6+
Data Copyright Nielsen Audio.
Format designations are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Tommy James captured teenage lust in the 1960s with his hit song My Baby Does the Hanky-Panky. If the song was written today it might be My Baby Does the Hanky-Panky While Texting.  

According to research recently released by Coupofy [link] Smartphones have become so central to the lives of U.S. millennials that one in three checks their phone right after love making, 12 percent check before they’re finished, and 35 percent check their phones at least twice an hour during their Time Spent F***ing (“TSF”).
 [Thank you to Tom Benson at Media Confidentiallink – for the story tip.] 

The takeaway for noncommercial media folks is that we MUST be on this platform if we want to be relevant to folks in the millenial age demo.

Coupofy did a survey of 2,000 millennials, chosen from their online database of online and mobile shoppers. I can’t vouch for the quality of this research but it seems to depict reality as I see it.

Other key findings in the Coupofy study include:

• 20% of millennials said they can’t keep track of how often they check their phones during the day, but said it’s definitely more than 10 times an hour.

• 73% of millennials sleep with their Smartphone by the bed.

• 28% of U.S. millennials prefer shopping on their Smartphones rather than on computers.

• More than 68% of millennials consume Smartphone-delivered news through Facebook. Instagram is the primary source of news for 24 percent of high school students.

• 18% of millennials browsing the news first thing in the morning think their Smartphones make them smarter.


Photo: Washington Post
Concern continues to rise about the addictive effect of Smartphone usage. Not only are Smartphones important for sexual hook ups, they define millennial life. In 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits reported [link] 12 percent use their devices when they are in the shower, and more than 50 percent acknowledged they text while driving, even though they know that it is more dangerous than driving drunk.

The study found that 19% millenials check their Smartphones in a church or place of worship, 33% use them while on a dinner date and 35% receive and send text messages while in a movie theater.

Another 2011 study [link] found that 20 percent of American women would give up sex for a week over giving up the ability to check their Facebook page on their Smartphone. 

There are downsides to constant Smartphone use:

 In 2015, a report from BBC News claimed that Smartphones are as addictive as cocaine. According to the report, Smartphone addiction increases apathy towards where and when they connect. Some people escape into their Smartphones and even pretend to be texting to avoid actual contact with people.

Twelve percent of respondents in the study said they believe their Smartphone gets in the way of their personal relationships. Smartphones make it socially acceptable to disregard the existence of everything and everyone else in the world.


The availability of digital pornography is important in the adoption of one media platform over another.  For instance, porn helped establish VHS as the dominant video-cassette format over Beta in the 1980s.  Many people bought VHS decks so they could watch dirty movies in the privacy of their homes.

GRINDR is a popular gay hookup app
Now the same phenomenon is occurring with Smartphones. Apps for dating and hookups are widely popular, particularly with younger users. They are teaching users how to use apps for more than just sex. Digital devices such as Smartphones are increasing used for all aspects of life. 

Porn is a teaching tool for new technology. Public media, particularly public radio, can take advantage of millennial’s digital literacy by being insight-and in-mind in the Smartphone user universe. And we can even keep our clothes on if we want to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


This is an updated version of a column originally posted February 2, 2015.

About 18 months ago I reported on the problematic situation regarding HD Radio at CPB-funded stations and CPB’s role is this situation. I am not blaming CPB. CPB’s plan to add hundreds of HD channels was hatched at a time in the early 2000s when future adaptation of HD technology was unknown. Now the dismal state of HD Radio is known and CPB should become part of the solution.

Source: Jacobs Media

As we now know, consumers have rejected HD Radio. Aside from cheery company-sponsored news releases in Radio World, there is little conversation now about HD. Many stations accepted CPB’S offer to help finance HD channels. Now they are required to keep their HD channels going regardless of the cost and lack of interest by listeners.

Source: Jacobs Media
To the best of my knowledge, every HD channel that appears in Nielsen Audio’s ratings uses an FM translator to repeat the HD channel. Fact of Life: When someone is listening to HD on FM, they are really listening to FM. Feeding FM translators is one thing HD does really, really well. CPB should help stations on the hook for HD create more FM stations via translators


To understand what is going on with HD radio and CPB, follow the money. Even CPB doesn’t know how much money they and stations have invested in HD.

About a decade ago, CPB made it easy for stations to get into HD. A highly respected station manager, who asked me to keep his name confidential, put it this way:

CPB's HD grants were the fastest and easiest $75,000 anyone in public radio ever came by.
 [CPB’s] HD radio campaign was a stimulus for spending money on hardware. CPB temporarily assumed PTFP's role of subsidizing equipment replacement. Many stations justify HD adoption because they replaced aging analog transmitters.

There have been enormous opportunity costs for HD. CPB's millions might have been better sunk into stimulating journalism. Untold staff hours were wasted on HD - logistics, installation, promotion, and programming. 

My guesstimate of the investment in HD Radio by CPB is somewhere north of $23 million. This does not include the ongoing cost to stations. I base my guesstimate on information that is available in public documents:

• A CPB press release said approximately 300 stations participated in CPB’s HD Radio digital conversion. 

• The average cost to establish HD Radio capability was around $130,000 per station. 

• CPB paid $75,000, or 70% of the project cost to entice stations to build HD channels. Minority service stations and hardship cases got more even more money and/or a higher percentage of funding from CPB.

• Lets say CPB spent $75,000 for 200 stations to move into HD Radio; and $85,000 for 100 stations to the same purpose. Assuming these figures are correct, CPB’s investment to stations into the HD Radio business is at least $23,500,000.

To date, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has given member-stations approximately $50 million in HD Radio “upgrade” grants (some of them of the matching variety). [link]

These estimates do not include station investments, licensing fees paid to iBiquity, programming or operating expenses. 


As part of the agreement with CPB for stations to build HD capacity, the stations made a long-term promise to continue operating their HD channels or they had pay back the money.

One station manager described the situation this way:

Pity the poor stations that are still touting their HD service that no one listens to.
 To this day, NPR still exploits station's HD innocence by charging $3,000 / year to run NPR on HD. How many stations flush $3,000 down that rat hole?

Nothing has changed in the year since February 2015. Stations continue to subsidize HD channels that reach virtually no listeners. This is a waste of valuable public service funding.


One of the few benefits of station investment in HD Radio is that it provides a cost-effective way to feed FM translators. We reported on one example in January 2016 [link].

THE MIGHTY 90.9 • The Rock of Duluth
American Public Media’s (APM) 89.3 The Current is expanding its reach with a new Instant FM Station covering the Duluth/Superior metro area. It debuted on February 1, 2016. FM translator W215CG 90.9 repeats The Current from Classical WSCN HD-2 channel.

Now The Current is serving thousands of "music discovery" listeners in the Twin Ports. They are adding additional local programming.

Hello CPB: This is the kind of "HD Recovery" plan CPB should support for frustrated HD station owners across the nation.

Monday, June 6, 2016


My post on Friday 6/3 [link] was accessed by more than 1,500 unique readers, a big day for my very specialized blog. I received lots of comments, which I posted verbatim. Many of the best comments came from folks who worked at NIS, NBC’s failed 24/7 radio news channel. Here are some of the comments and further context.

Retired VP of Programing
WTOP Washington, DC
When Jim Farley talks I listen. I first met Jim in the 1990s when I was Director of News at PRI. Farley was a consultant during the development of the program that became PRI’s The World. Farley was considered as Executive Producer for The World. PRI missed an opportunity when they didn’t choose him for the gig.

Farley was/is the most influential individual in the radio news biz. He began his career in 1966 as a “copy boy” at 1010 WINS, New York, one of the pioneers of 24/7 radio news. When Farley retired from WTOP in 2013, Jim Russell wrote a tribute to him on his blog [link]:

Farley is known for his one-liners that have inadvertently become his legacy. Sayings, such as, “Get it right, then get it first,” have become the mantras of the newsroom.

“It’s what I’ve been preaching: Radio is the medium of the here and now. You’ve got to reach out through the microphone and grab people by the lapel and say, ‘Hey buddy listen to me!’ It’s storytelling. It’s not reporting, it’s storytelling,” Farley says.

Farley was hired by NBC Radio News in 1975 and was part of the team that created NIS. He was there for every minute of NIS’s life. Here are Farley’s comments about my article:

FARLEY: Lots of inaccuracies here. I was there from the beginning to the end. One example: According to Denmark the NIS staff found out they were “toast” WHEN IT CAME OVER THE WIRES. Ugh. Wrong. The announcement was made in the NIS Newsroom by NBC News President Dick Wald.

KEN SAYS: Other folks who were at NIS at the time confirmed that what Farley said is correct. My assertion that the NIS staff heard they were being cancelled from the news wire is an urban legend. I have changed my original post to reflect the truth.

FARLEY: That scoped version of NIS was definitely not afternoon drive. This sounds like overnights. Drivetimes and other weekday hours had dual anchors.

KEN SAYS: I stand by my assertion. The person who made the aircheck told me he taped it on August 11, 1976 around 6:00pm EDT.


I apparently touched several nerves with this person.

ANONYMOUS: The quote [that NIS was one of the] biggest turds in American radio history should really destroy any credibility of the article to start with. Who the hell writes something like that? Compared to what?

As for the sound, it was equal to all network broadcasts at the time, and yes, in just a few years after RKO pushed everyone to jump into satellite broadcasting it would have sounded a hell of a lot better. The idea that going young would have been better is just ignorant.

KEN SAYS: The comment proves that the “generation gap” is still with us. The anonymous assertion that NIS was equal to all network broadcasts at the time demonstrates why NIS sounded like old-AM radio, one of its biggest faults. The creators of NIS probably weren’t aware that NIS didn’t sound like what people expected to hear on FM radio.  In the mid 1970s successful FM stations had a looser, more conversational sound.  To younger radio people like me, NIS sounded like it was designed by and for old farts. At that time, NIS was irrelevant noise to me.

The anonymous person who sent this comment seems to still have grudge because RKO pushed everyone to jump into satellite broadcasting and seems to resent the fact that going young was what established FM as the dominant radio platform.  Roll Over Beethoven!

NIS Staffer & ABC Radio News Writer & Editor

 CHAMBERLAIN: I loved working at NIS (Jim Farley hired me). There was one other technical issue that helped kill it. Just as the net was about to break 100 affiliates - rumor had it that Westinghouse was going to join us - NABET went on strike. Engineering was critical to our operation, and nobody but the engineers knew how to do it. So the quality we delivered to stations was dreadful.


I believe NIS was ahead of its time. The daytime quality if content was outstanding. I was a radio news director of a traditional AM station carrying NBC, but monitored NIS for hours at a time in the Newsroom. The staff quality was high and the presentation excellent. Better signals-and more of them--coupled with marketing money, might have turned the corner. NIS was a well kept secret to most of the nation.

KEN SAYS: It was a “secret” because almost no one listened to it.


I recall hearing NIS on WRC in DC. The need to share the distribution lines with the primary network resulted in this somewhat ridiculous situation: When NBC news sought to broadcast a bulletin, [WRC] would [say] “we interrupt our continuous news coverage to await this special bulletin from NBC News.”


KAYE: NIS was a challenging but amazing experience for me as a journalist. I got to delve into topics in depth in ways no other radio format - including NPR would allow. We produced thirty part series on major public policy issues, case in point, "The Cost of the Campaign Promises" in which we analyzed the economic costs of the campaign pledges made by the candidates. No one did that. We did.

And yes, I was the editor on the morning after election coverage when Dick Wald walked into the newsroom and tapped his clipboard on the producer's turret, saying something like, "Boys and Girls, last night NBC had the best radio coverage of an election since the advent of television. But NBC is getting out of the all-news radio business." And that was how it really went.