Friday, August 19, 2016


Malcolm Gladwell defines a “tipping point” as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” I’ve also heard it defined as the one snowflake that causes an avalanche.  It is when something happens and things are never quite the same again.

Today we have a short film about a format change at commercial classical station WNCN in 1974 that was a radio tipping point. The impact is still being felt today.

Several decades ago there were at least 100 commercial classical radio stations. Today you can count the number of these stations on one hand.  Some commercial stations such as WQXR, WCRB, WCLV, KDFC and KING became noncommercial public radio stations.  But, many, many other heritage commercial classical stations vanished from the dial.  Classical music fans will remember KFAC in Los Angeles, WGMS in Washington, DC and WNCN in New York.


On November 7, 1974 long-time commercial classical station WNCN changed owners and format.  At the time WNCN was competing with then-commercial station WQXR. The new owners – Starr Broadcasting owned by William F. Buckley – were aware of WNCN’s declining and aging audience and decided to change the format to rock n roll when they took over.

Classical music fans were enraged.  They formed the WNCN Listener’s Guild and filed a complaint with the FCC that would force the new owners to change the format back to classical. After heated discussion, the FCC declined to get involved saying the marketplace should decide programming, not citizen’s groups or regulators. The FCC has never gotten involved in format flip since then.

It is time for the short film to put things in context.  You will hear the final moments of WNCN and the abrupt transition to WQIV, a new rock station that was broadcast in quadraphonic sound (4 channels of audio).  It describes the tipping point, the beginning of the era when commercial classical radio almost vanished.

Video link:


The FCC’s decision to stay out of program and format changes encouraged the sale of many FM stations because it ended the uncertainty of costly and time consuming legal challenges.  But there were other factors.

By the late 1970s FM listening exceeded AM as mainstream music formats like Album Oriented Rock (AOR) and Country zoomed in popularity.  This caused FM stations to rise in value.  Many older owners sold their stations to a new breed of corporate station owners.

Increasingly sophisticated audience research showed that even though commercial Classical stations had lots of listeners, most of them were outside the 18-34 and 24-55 demographics that advertisers wanted to reach. More and more commercial Classical stations vanished every year.

Around the same time there was also a tipping point for another commercial radio format: So-called “Beautiful Music.” BM is still lampooned by comedians today as “elevator music" -- cheesy instrumental versions of Stairway to Heaven. But, in their heyday, BM stations were highly profitable and reached large numbers of listeners.  Like Classical listeners, most of BM’s listeners were older than the desired demographics.

I witnessed this tipping point first-hand when I worked for Transtar and Unistar in the mid to late 1980s. WEAZ a/k/a Easy 101 (now WBEB) in Philadelphia was the most influential BM station.  In 1988 WEAZ dumped BM and began airing Transtar’s Format 41, a format designed to reach an audience whose average age was 41.  In the following year almost every BM station in the nation flipped to another format.


One vital difference between commercial and noncommercial radio is that most noncoms are mission oriented. This fact alone keeps many of the current noncom Classical music stations on the air.

Classical noncoms are doing well right now.  For instance, we reported yesterday that 72% of Classical stations in Nielsen Audio Diary markets increased their number of weekly cumulative listeners from Spring 2015 and Spring 2016.

But noncom Classical station audiences skew very old. Tom Thomas of the State Resource Group (SRG), sponsor of Classical Music Rising (CMR), presented the chart on the right at CMR’s recent meetings in Phoenix. Fact: Noncom Classical radio listeners are quite old.

Given this reality, CMR is making valiant efforts to reach new younger listeners via digital platforms. CMR is also examining new revenue opportunities to offset expiring current members. The key question is whether their efforts will postpone or solve what appears to be an upcoming tipping point of Classical music on public radio.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Some folks might say radio is living on borrowed time because of the proliferation of digital devices and distribution platforms. But there is no trace of this decline in the Spring 2016 Nielsen Audio estimates for noncom stations. In fact, almost two-thirds of the stations we tracked increased their number of weekly cumulative listeners between Spring 2015 and Spring 2016.

According the most recent data from the Radio Research Consortium (RRC), the majority of stations in all four of the secular noncom formats increased their number of weekly listeners. We reviewed the ratings performance for Spring 2016 and Spring 2015 from 101 noncommercial stations. Sixty-six of them (65%) increased their weekly listeners in the past year. The chart on the right provides an overview of the secular noncom formats.

(Scroll down to see the ratings performance of Christian Contemporary Music – CCM – noncom stations.)

Leading the way were full-time Classical music stations – 72% saw increased weekly listeners. Full-time NPR News stations were close behind – 68% had more weekly listeners in 2016 than 2015.

We tracked the performance of 30 noncom stations with Dual Formats.  All of these stations air music programming in addition to NPR News. We had data from both 2015 and 2016 for 28 of these stations. Sixteen increased their weekly listeners and 12 saw declines.


We have reported often about WVTF, Roanoke, a regional powerhouse.  In addition to the 140,000 weekly listeners we tabulated WVTF also has significant listening in other Virginia markets.  WVTF also operates Radio IQ, a regional full-time news network.

KOSU, Stillwater, is a factor in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa. In recent years KOSU has moved their transmitter closer to OKC and they claim it as their “home” market. KOSU trails other news stations in both markets.

KUNM casts a long shadow in Albuquerque, particularly in the afternoon when competitor KANW switches from NPR News to Latin Pop music in Spanish.  If KANW was airing All Things Considered the ratings for KUNM would probably be lower.

Wisconsin Public Radio’s News & 
Classical flagship, WERN in Madison, was an exception to the good news for Classical music stations. Their number of weekly listeners fell 8% from Spring 2015 to Spring 2016.  I wonder if they have ever projected what WERN’s audience might be if they went all news.

WNIN, Evansville, KPBX in Spokane and KVPR, Fresno all had major gains in weekly listeners. But WQCS, Fort Pierce tanked, losing over 10,000 weekly listeners between Spring 2015 and Spring 2016.


While the four formats on noncom secular stations saw more weekly listeners in Spring 2016 compared to Spring 2016, Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) stations saw the opposite. We have data for 12 CCM stations from both years; 3 stations (25%) increased their weekly listeners but 9 (75%) saw declines.

Cornerstone University’s WCSG in Grand Rapids was the CCM bright spot. WCSG is a pioneer of the CCM format and has been one of the most-listened-to stations in Western Michigan for years.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+
These data are provided for use by Nielsen subscribers ONLY,
in accordance with RRC's limited license with Nielsen Inc. Data Copyright Nielsen Inc. Format distinctions are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I recommend Tyler Falk’s article titled "NPR, stations credit audience gains to range of factors
" which appeared in the August 9th issue of Current [link]. Falk investigates possible causes of the increases in listening to NPR News stations. We have also reported on this trend but Falk has access to a lot more data than we do. The bottom-line is the same: NPR News listening is at all-time high levels. 

Falk and I have been reporting on stations in Nielsen Audio’s PPM markets. Today we are looking at a different group of full-time NPR News stations: Those located in Nielsen Audio’s Diary markets.  Most of these markets are measured twice a year in spring and fall. In some ways it is a “second opinion” on trends seen in PPM markets – a different methodology and a new group of stations.

The big news is that NPR News stations in the Spring 2016 Diary markets confirm what we have been seeing in PPM markets: NPR News is on a roll.

Today we are examining 43 full-time NPR News stations in medium and smaller size markets. The number of estimated weekly cumulative listeners was up for 68% of them compared to Spring 2015. In the charts below you will see that we have 40 primary stations with data for both Spring 2016 and Spring 2015. Of the 40, 27 increased weekly listeners and 13 (32%) declined.

Note: “Primary stations” means a single programming source (for instance Vermont Public Radio) – several signals with common programming. Also, some stations have measurable listening in more than one metro (for instance WSKG).  We have combined the number of estimated weekly listeners.  Please keep in mind that there may be some duplication of listeners.


 WUOM d/b/a Michigan Radio is the King of the Diary markets. We have combined the weekly listeners for two of their stations but there certainly are more. Michigan Radio also has full-time repeaters serving Flint and Saginaw/Bay City that are not included in our estimates. Then there is WUOM’s Big Enchilada: Detroit, a PPM market where they have even more listeners. Someday we will add up all the listeners to Michigan Radio when we can count that high.

Note that all of the top five five primary stations increased their number of weekly listeners in Spring 2016 when compared to Spring 2015.

The same pattern is repeated with stations ranking #6 - #15. Most of them increased weekly listeners with a couple of notable exceptions: KRCC had a 17% drop in weekly listeners when results for Colorado Springs and Pueblo combined.  Why? I am not sure but KRCC did make some major programming changes between Spring 2015 and 2016.

Another possible cause of KRCC's lost listeners might be the increased listening to repeaters of Colorado Public Radio's KCFR from Denver. KCFR has listening in three Colorado Diary markets. They gained listeners in all three.

Note that #19, KAZU was up 14%, likely a result of KUSP’s move to all music and eventual demise.

KUNC in Greeley also was up, no doubt because of the switch to 24/7 News after the debut of Triple A 105.5 The Colorado Sound.  Keep in mind that KUNC has many more listeners in the Denver metro that are reflected in PPM data.

Look at the nice “bump” at Peter Dominowski’s WBOI in Fort Wayne. Their Classical station, WBNI, was also up considerably.

Check out WEOS’ gains in Rochester and Syracuse.  WXXI operates WEOS via a local management agreement (LMA) and they appear to be doing something that people are noticing.  

 WCMU, KSFC and WBAA-AM also had nice gains. 

We can only speculate about what caused the 33% loss in weekly listeners at WVXU’s repeater WMUB in Dayton.  Maybe Neenah Ellis added some “secret sauce” at WYSO.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+
These data are provided for use by Nielsen subscribers ONLY,
in accordance with RRC's limited license with Nielsen Inc. Data Copyright Nielsen Inc. Format distinctions are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Nielsen Audio’s Spring 2016 audience estimates show substantial growth of weekly cumulative listeners at a majority of Classical stations in Nielsen Audio Diary markets compared to Spring 2015. To make apples-to-apples assessments, we have divided the stations into two categories: Full-time Classical music and Dual Format Classical and NPR News.

Of the 25 full-time music stations we are tracking, 18 stations (72%) increased weekly listeners and 7 stations saw (28%) declines during the past year.

We also are tracking 18 dual format stations airing Classical music and NPR News. Twelve dual format stations (67%) increased the number of weekly listeners and 6 stations had fewer weekly listeners than they did in Spring 2015.

(Scroll down to the ratings for dual format stations.)


 In many ways WMHT, Albany and WXXI-FM, Rochester are siblings separated at birth. Both are co-licensed with PBS TV stations.  Both began their Classical music service many years ago.  Both have exits on the New York Thruway. Both continue to increase their number of weekly listeners.

WMHT may have the hardest working programmer in the biz: Chris Wienk.  Not only does Wienk program Triple A WEXT, he also programs WMHT’s Classical format. He works with a small but devoted team plus he provides the creative juice that keeps them fresh and relevant.
WXXI-FM is a regional player with listeners in the Rochester and Syracuse metro areas. Plus there are lots of listeners to WXXI-FM trying to cool their nerves on the Thruway during frequent blizzards.


I’ve seldom seen an organization so entwined in its community as The Ideas Stations of WCVE. They are a leader in educational services, relentless promoters of regional arts and culture and a key news source in Virginia’s capital city.  Plus Bill Miller is a fine manager!

Ah yes, Hawaii. I can recall sunning on Maui listening to music and the latest news on Hawaii Public Radio (HPR). HPR is not only a link to outside world, it is distinctly Hawaiian. Best wishes to Jose Fajardo, the new GM at HPR.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+
These data are provided for use by Nielsen subscribers ONLY,
in accordance with RRC's limited license with Nielsen Inc. Data Copyright Nielsen Inc. Format distinctions are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Nielsen Audio’s Spring 2016 audience estimates showed notable gains in weekly listeners for the majority of Triple A/Rock and Jazz music stations compared to Spring 2015. The data, courtesy of the Radio Research Consortium (RRC), provides top-line information for publication. “Weekly cumulative listeners” is a key metric because it provides a snapshot of the total audience size.  (Scroll down to the ratings for Jazz music stations.)


Some station managers have said they don’t consider contemporary rock to be a viable format for them because they believe it doesn’t pay its way in medium and small markets. The top two full-time music stations – KWIR 89.7 The River and WNRN – prove this assumption is not true. According to financial documents on station websites, both stations are sustainable because of “listener sensitive” support: 67% of revenue in 2015 at KIWR and 81% at WNRN.

Strong underwriting revenue appears to be the key to financial stability.  Common wisdom is that younger listeners do not make pledges to the degree older listeners do to News and Classical music stations. So harvesting money from underwriting and events is crucial. Both KIWR and WNRN are deeply involved with their communities and solid track records of success for businesses.

The number of estimated weekly listeners grew at five of the eight full-time music stations between Spring 2015 and Spring 2016. The number of weekly listeners declined at three stations.

WXPN’s repeater station in Harrisburg – WXPH – shows the value of secondary markets. WEXT, Albany had a nice gain in weekly listeners. KJAC, Greeley and KVOQ’s translator in Fort Collins are new since Spring 2015.

You gotta love #10 on the list: spunky WSWI in Evansville, Indiana.  WSWI, aka The Edge, has a small audience that appears to be growing. WSWI’s music mix is similar to KIWR’s.  Both stations concentrate on alternative and hard rock tunes popular with younger male listeners. Check out The Edge at [link].

There are several full-time Triple A stations that do not subscribe to the Nielsen ratings that likely have significant listening such as WAPS, Akron and WYCE, Grand Rapids.


There is Nielsen date available for five dual format Triple A stations in Diary markets. All of them combine music with the major NPR News magazines. The top two have very different histories and approaches.

WNCW, licensed to tiny Spindale, North Carolina, has been a leader in bluegrass and Appalachian music and culture for three decades. WNCW has a regional presence far greater than most stations. WNCW now rocks harder than they did in the past.

WOI-FM seems like it woke up from a long nap. Since several Iowa stations merged a decade ago to form Iowa Public Radio (IPR) some of the best frequencies, particularly powerful KUNI, Cedar Falls, now air NPR News and Triple A called Studio One.

Nine stations makeup the Studio One network. Studio One relies primarily on syndicated programming such as UnderCurrents in addition to NPR News.

Triple A industry folks are keeping a close watch on WRUR, Rochester.  Parent organization WXXI is in the process of acquiring an FM translator for NPR News WXXI-AM. This move may allow WRUR to become a full-time music station.



Most Jazz music stations are located in larger markets measured by Nielsen Audio PPM methodology. Each of the Diary market Jazz stations have a different approach to the music.  KGOU, Oklahoma City airs lots of Blues.  WAER, Syracuse has a more traditional music mix.

Add caption
KIOS had the largest gains in weekly listeners in Diary markets that air jazz.  In many ways KIOS reminds me of KPLU (soon to become KNKX) because of strong commitments to both news and jazz programming.  

KIOS, owned by the Omaha Public School District, is becoming a strong news presence without sacrificing its Jazz heritage.   

School district stations often have conflicts with their licensees.  KIOS, like WAPS in Akron and KHNC in Seattle, are exceptions because the school boards let professionals operate the stations with little interference.

There is not data available to assess full-time Jazz stations in Diary markets.

Monday-Sunday 6AM-Midnight Persons 12+
These data are provided for use by Nielsen subscribers ONLY,
in accordance with RRC's limited license with Nielsen Inc. Data Copyright Nielsen Inc. Format distinctions are the sole responsibility of Ken Mills Agency, LLC.