Friday, June 24, 2016


We have been reporting about Classical Music Rising (CMR), a new initiative sponsored by the Station Resource Group (SRG) to help shape the future of classical music radio. CMR recently held a meeting in Seattle with the four founding partner organizations to assess the project so far.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation committed $400,000 to support CMR over an initial two- year period. Participating stations also have provided funding and resources for CMR.

The meeting was the first opportunity for folks from the four founding stations to sit down with Wende Persons, the Managing Director of CMR. Persons began her work with CMR in March. We had a chance to talk with Persons and Tom Thomas, CEO of SRG after the Seattle meeting.

[Key who is speaking: “WP” is Wende Persons; “TT” is Tom Thomas.]

Wende Persons

KEN: What was vibe like at the meeting?

WP: It was very upbeat. I think we have made tremendous progress since the project was announced earlier this year. I feel like a kid in the candy store because I get to work with all of these talented folks. It is nice mix of stations.

KEN: The founding partner stations are some of the biggest and most successful classical stations.  Is CMR only for big market stations?

WP: Not at all. While it is true that the organizing stations are some of the biggest classical broadcasters in the nation, the work we are doing is for all stations regardless of market size. We have added partner stations in multiple sized markets such as KCME in Colorado Springs, KMFA is Austin and Vermont Public Radio.
[Scroll down to see the current list of announced participating stations.]

WP: A number of stations – including big market stations - have spoken with us about their feelings of isolation. That is a major theme we are addressing. This is a chance to focus on classical stations. Classical has gotten a session or two at system meetings but this is a tighter focus. I lot of station people say “I wish we knew how we are doing compared to other stations. What is working for them?”

KEN: Beyond perceived isolation, what other themes emerged at the meetings?

WP: Much of our work is in five key topic areas: (1) Revenue and business models; (2) Determining who is our 21st century audience and how we reach them; (3) The role of digital platforms and experimentation, particularly on-demand services and content; (4) Developing and nurturing talent; and (5) Ways to build awareness and engagement.

They are are intertwined and impact each other.  Tom Thomas calls them “the matrix.” Overall, we are looking at station effectiveness, value and appeal and sustainability.

KEN: This is a big assignment.  What stage in the process is CMR at now?

WP: Right now we asking the questions and we don’t presume we have all the answers. We need to ask them to share their wisdom and experiences. Then,we will take what we learned and plot out CMR’s next steps.

WP: Station folks are telling us they want to share practical things like fundraising practices.  And, there is a lot of interest in what other shops are doing with digital platforms. For instance, Vermont told us they had 7,000 downloads for an on-demand feature recently. I know that is anecdotal but how they did it is important.  Plus, we want to share digital metrics so stations can compare their performance to others.

TT: There are two tracks to measure success.  One is hard data that is fairly familiar to everyone in the public radio system such as ratings and financial performance.

TT: Then there are things that apply to classical stations in particular like metrics and information that increase self-awareness. 

This second area includes assessing the value that classical stations bring to their communities. We are asking questions like: What are our the shared aspirations and responsibilities?  How we can tell if we are making a difference?

WP: Nurturing and developing talent is one of the reasons we are so excited about “second services” such on-demand files and podcasting. Digital platforms are opening new opportunities to develop new talent.

TT: We are working with the CMR stations to define the “value points” that stations deliver individually and collectively to their communities. It has been a while since there has been a high level strategic conversation among classical station leaders about the “value proposition” we offer. We need to start this conversation.  What values do we offer? What tools do we have to deliver what we offer? For instance, we know that engaged local hosts have sensibilities that they share with listeners. Another value is providing a consistent, professional on-air presence. 

KEN: Are there roles for the music biz, the labels, artists, etc?

WP: Yes, they have important roles. They are all part of the ecosystem of the classical music. I spent over nine years working in Polygram’s Classical division, working with programmers, publicists and artists. Classical stations are cultural hubs. We are all dependent on each other to help classical music succeed.

KEN: How important are hosts and the curation they provide?

WP: The curation process is a music discovery process.  The role of the host is vital in building connections with listeners.  There is a segment of the classical audience that some call “monks” (though I hate that term).  We refer to them as “music exclusives.” They are prime potential customers for digital services. 

What I’ve always loved about radio is that it is more than just a music service. There are some jobs that radio does best. The host is a valued companion. They provide the context, information and excitement that are unique attributes of radio.

Learn more about Classical Music Rising at their website [link].


Thursday, June 23, 2016


This summer 106.5 FM is expected to come alive when WPPM-LP begins broadcasting and streaming.  The call letters “WPPM” stand for “People Powered Media.” The station will be known as PhillyCAM Radio [link].

WPPM is a creation of Philadelphia Public Access Corporation – aka  PhillyCAM. It is a non-profit organization that operates public access cable TV channels for areas of Philadelphia served by Comcast. PhillyCAM’s funding comes from cable access fees paid by Comcast subscribers.  According to its IRS 990 filings, PhillyCAM received around $1.1 million in 2014. It began operations in 2009.

In January 2015, PhillyCAM won FCC approval to construct a new station on 106.5 FM. Since then the organization has been working on the essential elements of broadcasting: developing programming, training volunteer producers, establishing operational procedures and fundraising.  Lots of fundraising.

PhillyCAM is currently conducting a crowd-funding campaign via Generosity [link].  As of today, the campaign has brought in $2,382, 12% of a $20,000 goal.
To support the fundraising campaign and build awareness of 106.5 PhillyCAM produced an excellent video about PhillyCAM Radio, its mission and the people behind it:



Gretjen Clausing
PhillyCAM’s cable TV programming is “public access” not public broadcasting. This means they have an open door policy where almost anyone in the community can do a TV show. PhillyCAM calls this an “electronic park” where people can share just about anything that interests them – arts and culture, sports, cooking, religion, education, local issues, national news, health concerns, etc. PhillyCAM also provides training, tools and online platforms for community members.

The Executive Director of PhillyCAM is Gretjen Clausing. She can be reached at


First, it has huge potential because of its location. LPFM stations are not typically found in the downtown of a large city.  WPPM’s transmitter will be broadcasting from Philadelphia’s Center City.  106.5’s 90-watts will provide coverage to folks within a 5 to 10 mile radius. An estimated 800,000 people live, work and play here.  With online and mobile streaming, WPPM can reach a nearly limitless audience.

WPPM is not on the air, so it doesn’t yet have a coverage map.  The slide at right shows the location of its transmitter.  If you know Philadelphia, you can image the potential.

Do the people who run PhillyCAM realize the value of this FCC license? It could be worth A LOT on the open market.  We are talking about six figures, maybe more.

So, what are they going to do with this valuable resource?

PhillyCAM Radio is now in its pre-sign on utopia phase when everything seems possible. The station website promises local news, alt rock, talk shows, comedy, sports, health, theater, sci fi and local government meetings – everybody has their say and (literally) every dog has its day.

In other words, PhillyCAM Radio may be a radio version of cable TV public access programming. This might look feasible on paper but in reality it is a road to nowhere.

I even saw a couple of bloggers speculating that PhillyCAM Radio will be “like Pacifica.” I hope this isn’t true. Those who emulate Pacifica are likely doomed to the same fate as Pacifica: irrelevance, possible bankruptcy and endless expensive and gut-turning litigation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

“I'm waiting for the best of NPR to come out on 8 track.”

No doubt you’ve heard about the June 16th article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) titled Public Radio’s Existential Crisis [link]. Folks in the public radio biz will immediately recognize the issues discussed in the article: retiring heritage hosts, less listening by younger listeners and out of touch management.

But don’t let the repetition of stuff we already know stop you from reading the article. WSJ Entertainment and Media reporter Ellen Gamerman does an excellent job telling the story:

With both its stars and audience aging, NPR is struggling to adapt to the digital age.

Ellen Gamerman
 However Gamerman’s analysis is incomplete.  With the exception of discussing the exit by Garrison Keillor, the article is almost entirely about NPR. She misses an important reality: The best of public radio is happening at local stations. They are the future of the biz. Stations are where the action is now. Case in point: 89.3 The Current’s globally-praised response to the death of Prince on all platforms and the overwhelming response.

Many of NPR problems are byproducts of its antiquated system of governance. NPR’s communal decision-making culture makes it hard for the organization to act quickly.  What is in NPR’s interest is not necessarily in the stations interest. As Gamerman points out, the local stations provide most of NPR’s budget. Execs at NPR are always looking over their shoulders.

Some of Gamerman’s conclusions are based on incorrect information. As examples of NPR’s decline she cites these examples: Jonathan Schwartz, Joe Frank, Lynne Rossetto Kasper and a program called Folksong Festival which she claims is the country’s longest-running radio show with the same host.

I’ve worked in public radio for about 25 years and I have never heard of Folksong Festival. The last time I heard Joe Frank on the radio was in the 1980s.  These hosts and programs are not bell-weathers of public radio.

But Gamerman’s central point is correct. The perception that NPR is “old and in the way” is hard to deny. This narrative is potentially dangerous to public radio because it provides one more reason to cut CPB funding.


I found many of WSJ reader comments to be as enlightening as Gamerman’s story.  Here are some examples:


• Comment from Jay Taylor:

There is an excellent public radio station near me, WXPN, that plays mostly alternative rock from the 80's to the present.  I get to hear the older stuff I like, and also sample newer music that I would probably never seek out on my own.  It has no commercials, and none of the annoying programs spoken of in this article.  My life would be less enjoyable without it.  Google it and check it out.

• Comment from Jim McMenamin:

‘XPN is based at the University of Pennsylvania and is a great music station that not only plays interesting material from lots of time periods but also creates its own syndicated programming.

• Comment from Anonymous:

My local affiliate WFAE got $317,000 out of $4.8 million from CPB - 7%. The rest was individual listeners and corporate sponsors. That's typical.
They spent about $2 million on fundraising and the administrative staff. $2.4 million was for programming. WFAE is big enough it has locally produced programming.


Comment from Fred Stiening:

NPR is only one distributor of Public Radio programming. The other main one is a competitor called American Public Media, which is an entity created by Minnesota Public Broadcasting. MPR experienced a surge in revenue accidentally when Garrison Keillor offered a free wall calendar as a throwaway comic line and was flooded with bags of postcards wanting one. It turned into a huge merchandising business.


• Comment from Andrew Terhune:

Whatever the justification may have been for subsidizing public broadcasting decades ago, can anyone say that this justification is valid in the 21st century? Let it compete in the marketplace.


• Comment from John Williams:

NPR’s Typical Listener:

-Grey haired butch cut Liberal old lady in her 60's, or 70's from Boston, Seattle , NYC or San Francisco , who doesn't like wearing make-up.

-Academic male at Ivy League University.

-Feminized Male from the 1960's

Note to John Williams from Ken: You need to get out more often – your brain is rotting because of all of your listening to Rush Limbaugh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Murray Horowit
I saw the good news in Current last week: Murray Horowitz is returning to public radio as host of WAMU’s Sunday night program The Big Broadcast. The move brings NPR’s former Cultural VP back into a world he created before he was unwisely deposed by NPR management in 2002.

 The Big Broadcast is a perfect fit for Horwitz who has spent most of his career in “show biz” – a term he doesn’t mind. He succeeds longtime program host Ed Walker, who died in 2015. Rob Bamberger served as interim host.  Horwitz began his hosting on June 12.

The Big Broadcast [link] has been a weekly fixture on WAMU since 1964. The program was inspired by the 1932 film The Big Broadcast.  It was highly influential in pre-code Hollywood because of its diverse cast and salty subject matter. The film was banned in many cities.   
WAMU’s version of The Big Broadcast includes audio from radio’s first golden age. Here is a sample of what was heard on Horwitz first program:

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar episode The Callicles Matter from 1956

My Favorite Husband episode Knitting Baby Booties from 1948

Gunsmoke episode Man and Boy from 1957

Great Gildersleeve episode Father's Day Chair from 1942

Dragnet episode "Red Light Bandit” from 1949

The Adventures of Father Brown episode The Three Tools of Death from 1945

Lux Radio Theater episode Sorell and Son from 1940


Horowitz was VP of Cultural Programming at NPR from 1989 to 2002, a time of change in public radio. Horowitz was pushed out when NPR’s management decided to de-emphasize cultural programming in favor of news. What the bean-counters failed to realize is that culture is part of news. It is in the DNA of American life. The results of NPR’s exit from most classical, jazz, blues and Americana programming hurt the network for a while.  Only in recent years has NPR gotten its cultural groove back with NPR Music.

Horwitz is a multi-platform player. He knows cultural programming doesn’t exist in a vacuum, that it is essential to a full life for life-long learners.

After NPR turfed him, Horwitz moved on without anger. One of the shows he green-lighted helped create – Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me - became a big hit. 

After he left NPR Horwitz became Director and COO of the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. The Silver Theatre has become a Washington, DC cultural landmark. In addition to hosting The Big Broadcast, Horwitz now divides his time between his own writing and serving as Director of Special Projects for Washington Performing Arts.

I first got to know Horwitz in the 1990s when I was Director News at American Public Radio (APR), now Public Radio International (PRI) and he was Cultural VP at NPR. At that time the competition between NPR and APR was intense. Folks from the two networks sometime wouldn’t speak to each other.  But none of that bullshit mattered to Horwitz or me.

Whenever we crossed paths at conferences he always greeted me with a smile and asked me about the music I liked and great movies I had seen. Horwitz was and is interested in the common bonds between people – the things that bring us together.

I once asked Horwitz when he knew he had "made it" in show biz.  He said that was during his first job in the early 1970s.

It happened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Horwitz started his performance career in Sioux Falls as a clown with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.

One of a clown’s duties with the Circus was to lead a parade of animals and performers down the main street.   

Horwitz said he almost chicken-out because he was so scared of failing. 

As he led the procession down Phillips Avenue has saw Horwitz Jewelers, a Sioux Falls institution. Seeing it made him feel in his comfort zone. Folks are just folks anywhere.

Monday, June 20, 2016


May 2016 was a pretty good month for Triple A stations in Nielsen Audio PPM markets compared to May 2015.  Of the seventeen stations we track, nine were up in one-year weekly cumulative listener trends. Eight were down from a year ago.

Obviously the biggest gainer was 89.3 The Current powered by their historic coverage of Prince’s death and fan reaction.  We told this story on June 10th  [link].

There were other Triple A stations that gained a sizeable number of estimated listeners including one you might now be familiar with: WSGE in Charlotte. Scroll down to learn more about WSGE.

The stations that gained the most weekly listeners were:

KCMP +33%
WSGE +21%
KUTX +17%
WXPN +15%

The stations with the biggest declines in weekly listeners were WSME, a college rock station in Milwaukee, KVOQ in Denver and WERS and WUMB in Boston.

Here are the results for all of the Triple A PPM market stations:


WSGE-FM [link] has a lot in common with its licensee Gaston College.  Based in the Charlotte exurb of Dallas, North Carolina, both are new kids on the block. But they have accomplished a lot in few years.

Gaston College began as community college with two buildings in 1964. WSGE began in 1980 as a teaching lab. In 1997, Gaston wisely separated the operation of the station from the academic sector and made it a for-real radio station. In 2002 Gaston upgraded the signal to compete in the Charlotte metro. 

Cathis Hall

In 2006 WSGE had its biggest upgrade: Gaston hired Cathis Hall to manage and program WSGE. Hall is a well-known jazz diva who loves all kinds of music.  She focused the format and brought a real sense of purpose to WSGE.  No other station in Charlotte was specializing in Triple A, blues, rockabilly and alt-country.

Tim Greene
Hall turned up WSGE’s volume to 11 a couple of years ago when she hired morning personality Tim Greene. Greene is a proven pro who honed his chops at 100.3 The Beat and Stevie Wonder’s KJLH in Los Angeles. Read more about Greene on WSGE’s Facebook page [link].

One of the things that amaze me the most about WSGE is that it is mainly staffed by volunteers. In many cases that is a recipe for programming chaos and dis-harmony. Hall has turned volunteers into team players the are making WSGE shine.

Here is WSGE's program schedule: