Friday, July 22, 2016



In the Syracuse market WITH-FM had a 69% one-year gain in estimated weekly cumulative weekly listeners.  If you want to know why, give them a listen via their website [link]. WITH-FM is now almost totally music and listeners have responded.

WITH-FM is a relatively new public radio station.  It began in 2010 when a broadcasting partnership was crafted between WXXI in Rochester, and Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY.

Considering WITH-FM’s coverage area (map on the right) many of the new listeners are likely in the Ithaca area.  Nielsen Audio now includes Ithaca in the Syracuse metro area.  No doubt there are also WITH-FM listeners in the western suburbs of Syracuse.  Nice work WITH and WXXI!

Triple A WEXT saw a nice one-year bump compared to a year ago. Chris Wienk is probably also celebrating now because Classical WMHT was also up.  Wienk programs both stations.  Give this guy a pay raise!

WAMC held steady but look at the gains by out-of-market NPR News stations. Part of the reason is the huge geography of the Albany metro area.

All of the Nielsen Audio noncom subscribers in Asheville lost weekly listening. CCM powerhouse WLFJ remains the top noncom station in the market.

 WMRA in Harrisonburg is typically the top noncom station in Charlottesville but apparently they did not subscribe to the Nielsen Audio Spring 2016 book.  Triple A WNRN remains strong in Charlottesville, one several markets they serve.


WXPN’s Exponential Music Festival
(this weekend)

WXPN hosts an amazing lineup of older and new artists for three days of peace, love and music. The diverse schedule ranges from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Ryan Adams and my two current favorite groups Alabama Shakes and Kurt Vile and the Violators. Portions of the festival will be streamed live on VuHaus [link].


More info is at

• FMQB Triple A Conference
August 10-13
Boulder, St. Julien Hotel & Spa

Consider this conference to be the commercial radio cousin of the AAA Noncomm-vention. I attended this conference a few times when it was sponsored by Radio & Records and I’ve enjoyed it. Because it involves commercial station folks, the food, booze and swag are the best available.

More info is at

Public Media Development & Marketing Conference (PMDMC)
August 10-12
Boston, Sheraton Boston

Sponsored by Greater Public, this PMDMC is one of the biggest public media conferences, often attracting more than 1,000 people.  The focus of the PMDMC is following the money: fundraising, pledging, underwriting, major gifts, partnerships and collaborations. RECOMMENDED

More info is at

September 20-25
Nashville, Hutton Hotel

I haven’t attended this conference but I’ve heard it is great time. Get ready for all things Americana.

More info is at

• Public Radio Programmers Conference (“PRPD”)
September 20-22
Phoenix, Hyatt Regency Phoenix

No information is available at this time.  Keep checking for updates.

CMJ Music Marathon
October 13-17
New York City

Five good reasons to attend the CMJ Marathon (courtesy of Sonicbids blog [link}

1. It's one of the world's most important platforms for the discovery of new music

2. This year is the celebration of its 35th anniversary

3. The fest features 1,400+ live performances in 80+ of New York City's greatest nightclubs and theaters

4. You'll perform in front of label executives, industry-leading music bloggers, and high-profile critics

5. Experience an audience of over 120,000 music lovers

Plus my addition: 6. There is a pretty good chance you will get laid.

More info is at

Thursday, July 21, 2016



Mike Savage, GM at WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana sends word that the “testing phase” of Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations (IPRS) regional All Things Considered collaboration has begun. We first reported about this initiative on March 7, 2016 [link]. 

WFYI, Indianapolis and WBAA AM/FM are the founding partners. (WFIU, Bloomington has dropped out of the collaboration.) The plan is for a central ATC host/producer based at WFYI.  The two stations are using fiber-optic connections to assemble regional ATC content. Both stations are “live” during ATC.

WBAA and WFYI are smoothing out the bumps and getting comfortable with the program clocks. The testing is in a “quiet phase” as the collaboration works to make it sound seamless to listeners.  Once the bugs are out, the next step is to add more Indiana station partners.

Funding and support for the Indiana ATC collaboration comes from IPBS and participating stations. No Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) funding is involved at this time. For more information contact Mike Savage at



Wende Persons, Managing Director of Classical Music Rising (CMR) [link], reports in CMR’s excellent newsletter that MPR Classical is having wonderful response to its “A Bridge of Song” outreach. According to Facebook metrics, the project has already reached an estimated 545,000 viewers.
Brian Newhouse

A Bridge of Song is the brainchild of MPR’s Brian Newhouse.  It is sort of a 21st century singing telegram. A “group sing” brings the Minneapolis community together in solace, peace and hope as a response to the recent violence in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas. “A Bridge of Song” streamed live on MPR’s Facebook page [link].

If you are interested in receiving the CMR newsletter contact Wende at


NPR’s Programming and Audience Development VP, Anya Grundmann, has announced that public radio veteran Steve Nelson will join NPR as Director of Programming. Grundman also announced Izzi Smith has been promoted to a new position of Senior Director of Promotion and Audience Development, and N'Jeri Eaton will join NPR in the newly created position of Senior Manager for Program Acquisition.

I love it when NPR hires folks with extensive station experience because they enhance NPR’s understanding of what happens at stations. Nelson is one of the most versatile programmers in the biz.  I’ve been a fan of his work since he was at REV-105, a Minneapolis commercial station that really had a sense of purpose.  There are alumni of REV-105 in many places in the nation.

Press coverage of Nelson usually focuses on his time as the founding PD of 89.3 The Current.  But I feel his work at another MPR/APM station deserves praise.

Nelson was PD of NPR News station KNOW, the flagship of MPR’s regional news network. The station never sounded more friendly and accessible than when Nelson was in charge.  I don’t mean this as a criticism but MPR’s news programming is often so perfect that it sounds “antiseptic.”  Nelson brought out the human touch in MPR’s announcers.  He opened the gateway for on-air listener voices. His promotional spots were fun and informative.

Please let me know if you have story tips for SPARK! I can be reached directly at

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


In the past we have featured noncommercial stations for sale examining them from a business perspective. Today we don’t have a station on the block but rather a format – Bluegrass Country – that is currently on WAMU’s HD2 channel and a translator at 105.5 FM in Washington, DC.

WAMU is trying to find Bluegrass Country [link] a new owner who will pledge to continue the format. Though Bluegrass Country receives high praise for its heritage and uniqueness, it reportedly has been loosing money since it began about ten years ago.  What follows is NOT a discussion of the historical or cultural significance of Bluegrass Country. I am providing a business assessment of “the property” and the likelihood it will be sustainable in the future.


Not all that long ago WAMU and WETA shared NPR's newsmagazines in the DC market. Morning Edition was on WAMU and All Things Considered was on WETA. In afternoon drive WAMU aired bluegrass music.

Format focusing became inevitable and WAMU and WETA came to an agreement around 2000 to discontinue sharing NPR News.  WETA became a full-time Classical music station and WAMU began carrying both ME and ATC. This move displaced bluegrass, causing fans of the music to publically protest. It became a very public black eye for an organization.

WAMU decided to save face by creating a full-time Bluegrass Country service on its then-new HD2 channel. There was great hope for HD Radio at that time but before too long everyone figured out that HD was an over-hyped boondoggle that few people ever use. 

WAMU then crafted an arrangement for Bluegrass Country on HD2 to be repeated on 105.5 FM via a translator owned by a private party. This made Bluegrass Country an FM station with pretty decent coverage (map on the right).  On FM, Bluegrass Country gained some listeners – maybe 20,000 people during a typical week. Many more people have visited the Bluegrass Country website [link].

Fundraising for Bluegrass Country has always been based on the appeal and credibility of its hosts and ethnomusicologists such as Dick Spottswood, Eddie Stubbs, Jerry Gray, Ray Davis, Katy Daley, Lee Michael Demsey and others. As many of these personalities retired or passed away, fundraising became more difficult.  Now WAMU has decided to part company with Bluegrass Country.

If WAMU is unable to find a new owner, the station will end the service as of December 31, 2016.


The following information is from WAMU’s Request for Proposals For the Future of Bluegrass Country, which can be downloaded here 

The RFP describes the assets that WAMU will make available to the new owner of Bluegrass Country (BGC) as part of the deal:

• Intellectual property rights to the name “Bluegrass Country” and any related branding and trademark rights.

• The BGC music library.

No physical assets, equipment, cash receivable or other “tangibles” are being offered to the new owner. The value of the name Bluegrass Country is impossible to assess. No appraisal is available for the value of the music library.

WAMU is keeping the FCC license for the HD channel. They will lease the channel to the new owner for no charge through the end of 2017. Then the new owner will pay an undetermined amount.

The FM translator broadcasting BCG at 105.5 FM is not part of the deal because WAMU does not own it. But, WAMU promises to introduce the new owner to the translator’s owner.  That’s it.

Plus, the new owner will have to pay undetermined Sound Exchange fees, staff and programming costs.


I know WAMU and others associated with Bluegrass Country are proceeding in good faith and have the best of intentions. It is hard to imagine anyone, other than a well-healed bluegrass fan, will pursue this agreement.  Maybe I am wrong.  From a business point of view there is “there” there.

Want to know what could be?  Below is a proposal I made to WAMU’s management in 2011 regarding WAMU’s HD2 channel repeated on FM 105.5. Proprietary information has been redacted.


September 24, 2011

Prepared by Ken Mills

The Situation:

WAMU has a historic opportunity to expand its public radio service in the Washington, DC by establishing a new Triple A music station via the translator at 105.5 FM repeating the HD2 signal.

The Plan:

Ken Mills proposes a plan that to establish this new radio service with a minimum of time and investment by WAMU. The plan includes:

+ Provide proven radio format techniques and coaching that will compliment the music and talent-management skills of Chris Teskey.

+ Work with WAMU management to develop a brand and target audience for “the “new 105-5 FM.”

+ Provide ways to promote “the new 105-5 FM” for minimum cost.

+ Be inclusive and in harmony with current bluegrass hosts and other stakeholders.

The Benefits:

+ Establish a second with a proven format that compliments all-news WAMU.

+ The new Triple A station will be a new source of listening and revenue.

+ Promote expansion of WAMU’s “halo” by expanding public service.

WAMU’s management in 2011 had no interest in this proposal.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


The FCC has cleared the way for a new noncommercial FM signal at 107.9 FM to serve the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles based Social Justice Radio Project (SJRP) was awarded the construction permit.  The call letters will be KSXS-LP.

It has been a long and winding road for 107.9. In 2013 more than a dozen organizations applied for the license. SJRP was one of nine applicants chosen by the FCC to be part of the mutually exclusive decision process under the auspices of the FCC’s Media Bureau.

The Media Bureau denied SJRP’s original application, saying SJRP did not have “reasonable assurance” of a transmitter site.  SJRP then provided a letter from the owner of a private site saying the transmitter could be located on the property. Again the Media Bureau ruled against SJRP saying the private site should have been specified in the initial application.

In June, the full FCC disagreed with the Media Bureau and reinstated SJRP’s application. Then they awarded the Construction Permit to SJRP. The Commission also denied complaints from two broadcasters who claimed 107.9 would interfere with their signals: Univision’s KLVE(FM) at 107.5 in Los Angeles, and Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, licensee of KWVE(FM) at 107.9 in San Clemente.

Now, SJRP can build KSXS.  The map at left shows the projected coverage area.  It is very similar to the area covered by KCSN 88.5 FM based in Northridge. KCSN blankets much of the San Fernando Valley but its signal is spotty “over the hill.” There are probably two million people in KSXS’s coverage area. As we all know, once the FCC approves a signal it can be modified or moved or extended with translators.


If KXSX sounds like what SJRP proposed, I see trouble on the horizon. In its application SJRP promised a utopian programming plan that is far, far from reality. Here are some samples:

(Verbiage in italics is directly from SJRP’s application)

• KSXS will be a fulcrum to advance civic improvement groups [who believe] that education is a fundamental human right that should be open and available to all, regardless of socio-economic status.

• KSXS will serve an audience of 18-35-year-olds who do not generally listen to public radio…

 • Programming content will be provided by academics from institutions such as Princeton, Cal State, Harvard and Claremont, featuring conversations between scholars and laypersons, “the latter serving as a proxy for the typical audience member.

• Programming will include shows like “Know Thy Food” discussing the valuable work of Second Harvest (which provides food to families in need); “El Mundo Hoy” will do the same for Homeboy Industries (which offers job training to ex-gang members attempting to re-integrate with productive society); and “Aviation Week” will highlight The Young Eagles (which teaches disadvantaged children how to fly).

Of course none of the above will never happen because it isn’t suitable for broadcast radio.  Already advocacy shows are lining for a checkerboard schedule. Let’s hope this is not the future of KSXS.


In Richmond everyone had a good “book.” Hometown WCVE was up a bit but look at how much the out-of-towners from WVTF, Roanoke have gained weekly listeners. WVTF's
second program stream Radio IQ (24/7 news) is a growing factor in Richmond. 

Hot Triple A station WNRN continues to add new listeners. WNRN also will appear in at least three or four other markets.

All Nielsen Audio subscribing stations are up in Rochester.  Dual format WRUR keeps moving up. WEOS is operated via a LMA by WXXI.

In Buffalo, co-owned WBFO and WNED also had more weekly listeners in Spring 2016 than Spring 2015.

These data are provided for use by Nielsen subscribers ONLY,
in accordance with RRC's limited license with Nielsen Inc.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+

Data Copyright Nielsen Inc

 Format distinctions are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.

Monday, July 18, 2016


WBAI’s Treasurer R. Paul Martin informed Pacifica’s National Finance Committee (NFC) on July 13th that the once influential organization “endures through pure momentum at this time.”

Martin’s report [which can be downloaded here] paints a grim picture of the financial reality faced by Pacifica and its five owned-and-operated stations.  The situation at WBIA is particularly dire. Most nonprofit organizations would have already closed the doors.

R. Paul Martin
In his 7/13 report, and related June report, Martin describes the situation:

• Revenue for all Pacifica stations and the national organization are down. They lurch from one fund drive to the next by moving money from one account to other accounts. When new money comes in, they pay some bills.  When the money runs our more bills become delinquent.

• It is doubtful if WBAI will be able to make its payroll or pay for other essential services such as rent for the transmitter at the Empire State building, health insurance for employees, payroll and even the phone bill.

[Note from Ken: Ironically, WBAI is a full-power FM station at 99.5 that blankets the nation’s number one media market.]

• Mandatory financial audits are way past due. Audits for FY 2014 and 2015 are not being completed because Pacifica owes the auditors tens of thousands of dollars. The auditors have refused to complete the audits until they are paid. The FY2014 audit was due on June 30, 2015.

• Because of the lack of current audited financial statements, revenue from foundations is drying up. Plus the organization is in violation of State of California corporate rules because of Pacifica’s failure to file.

• Things are so bad, Pacifica’s managers are being asked to solicit no-interest loans to save the organization.

• Pacifica has, according to Martin, no credible strategy to deal with the situation. Current management is in denial.

Mr. Martin seems to be the only adult in the room. Its too bad no one appears to be listening to him. Martin sums it up:

“If every station and unit of Pacifica is in deficit there will be no place to borrow money from. Pacifica and its stations endure through pure momentum at this time. But since all of Pacifica’s financial indicators are trending downward.”

We cannot cut our way into prosperity. In the absence of any tangible plan on the table [Pacifica] is forced into the default option of cost cuts.


Martin reports that KPFK, Los Angeles, will soon be dealing with massive new expenses caused by KPFK’s arbitration loss of disputes with union employees. KPFK will owe back wages and penalties that will make Pacifica’s financial situation even worse.

WPFW in Washington, DC has adopted a “deliberate strategy” of not repaying internal Pacifica loans that were used to keep the station on the air. WPFW has exhausted restricted grant money used to pay basic operating expenses. Martin says WPFW’s failure to make the payments is detrimental to the entire organization.

KPFA, Berkeley, has given notice to its employees union that it is experiencing financial difficulties and layoffs at KPFA are imminent.


Louisville Public Media’s WFPL (NPR News) and WUOL (Classical) were both up in a comparison of Nielsen Audio estimates for Spring 2016 with Spring 2015. Triple A WFPK was down a bit in the one-year trends. By the way, Louisville Public Media is looking for a new President and General Manager.  See more about the gig at [link].  

Apparently WWNO in New Orleans did not subscribe to Nielson Audio’s ratings for Spring 2016.  It is nice to see that WWOZ has ample weekly listeners again.  Arthur Cohen is doing a terrific job breathing new life into a public media gem. I miss Arthur at the PRPD.

It appears that not much changed in Oklahoma City from June 2015 to June 2016.  Both KGOU from Norman and KOSU from Stillwater have dual formats and are splitting the NPR News audience. It is sort of like when the Sooners play the Cowboys in football – either has a chance to win.

These data are provided for use by Nielsen subscribers ONLY,
in accordance with RRC's limited license with Nielsen Inc.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+

Data Copyright Nielsen Inc

 Format distinctions are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.