Friday, August 26, 2016


Three very successful public radio organizations are celebrating many years of public media service this year. WGLT, Normal/Bloomington is the oldest-timer of the bunch, turning 50 this year. WUNC, Chapel Hill is marking 40 years and New Hampshire Public Radio has 35 candles on the cake.

Anniversaries like these are reminders of the legacy of public broadcasting and a caution to remain diligent in the fast moving media landscape. The three organizations have become “content factories,” serving their communities with on multiple platforms.


I’ve always had a special interest in WGLT because of family connection to Illinois State University. My grandfather was a math and astronomy professor at ISU for many years. I spent parts of several summers there when I was a kid enjoying Steak ‘n Shake, the Castle Theater (where my dad worked with his friend McLean Stevenson of M*A*S*H fame) and the rolling hills of Miller Park. Radio, back in those days meant WJBC or my favorite WLS from Chicago.

WGLT [link] signed on in 1966.  For the first few years it was a student station. In the mid 1970s WGLT became part of National Public Radio, one of the first Illinois members of NPR. Like many public radio stations of that era, WGLT had a checkerboard schedule of local talk shows, blocks of jazz and classical, plus coverage of the ISU Redbird football, basketball and baseball games.

Bruce Bergethon
Then Bruce Bergethon entered the picture. He brought WGLT into modern times.

Bergethon became WGLT’s manager in 1990. During his 25 years leading WGLT (he retired in 2015) the station focused it’s programming on NPR News and Jazz music, upgraded the Bloomington signal to maximum power, added a signal to serve Peoria and resolved several major financial challenges. Way to go, Bruce.


I visited WUNC twice during the time I was Director of News at Public Radio International (PRI). Execs at PRI split up the chore of participating in regional station meetings.  WUNC was part of North Carolina Public Radio and attending its meetings were not most folks first choice, so they sent me and I loved it, particularly Chapel Hill.  My most vivid memory was when I was at the old office/studio location.  My guide, Kevin Wolfe I believe, showed me WUNC’s back up power source: The world’s largest “D cell” battery.

Somehow after WWII UNC acquired the hugest battery I have ever seen. It took up an entire room and looked like a prop in a sci-fy flick.  I recall saying to Wolfe At least it is portable!

WUNC celebrates its first 40 years with a festival on Saturday, September 10th from 2pm – 6pm at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in suburban Cary. The event will feature live music, food trucks and children’s activities. Chatham County Line and the Red Clay Ramblers are scheduled to perform. “WUNC Personalities” will also be there no doubt singing and dancing. More information is at [link]. 


In 1981, what became New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) started as one station: WEVO in Concord. At the time, they called it Granite State Public Radio. In 1983 they faced their first existential crisis at around the same time as the NPR crisis. Because NHPR was/is an unaffiliated community licensee, they turned to their members. More than 1,000 good folks stepped up and pledged enough support to keep WEVO on the air. Though NHPR’s finances are more stable now, that same spirit is still present.

Under the wise leadership of General Manager Mark Handley in 1991 they officially became New Hampshire Public Radio and built a statewide network of repeater stations and translators.

During Handley’s tenure NHPR invested in locally originated programming beginning with a daily talk/interview show hosted by Keene native and NPR newscaster, Laura Knoy. The show became The Exchange and it is now NHPR’s flagship program.

Read a fascinating complete history of NHPR at [link].

Thursday, August 25, 2016


When we reported on the Spring 2016 Nielsen Audio ratings for Triple A stations last week [link] we mentioned a few stations that likely have a substantial number of listeners but the exact number is not published. Perhaps the best example is WYCE [link], the “music discovery” voice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Ratings data is gathered for stations like WYCE, it just isn’t publically available.  Based on the performance of similar stations, my guesstimate is that WYCE likely has 20,000 to 40,000 weekly listeners. But its impact is far greater than numbers – it is the center of the Grand Rapids music scene. New manager Quinn Mathews plans to keep it that way. Mathews told The Rapidian:

Quinn Mathews
“I see this [job] as being a music community ambassador through a radio station. Grand Rapids is so inviting and welcoming, with the musicians and the fans of music going out to support the musicians. You don’t find that everywhere.”

Mathews knows the enthusiasm for local, live music first hand. It was a gig that first brought Quinn and his wife, Channing Lee, to Grand Rapids a little over two years ago. They fell in love with the community and Mathews started at WYCE as a volunteer.

Quinn then established a weekly live program GR LIVE, now a signature show on WYCE. GR LIVE happens each Thursday at Noon, live from H.O.M.E. (House of Music and Entertainment) in downtown Grand Rapids.  Quinn is the host and producer of GR LIVE.

The quick success of GR LIVE led Quinn to apply for the open Station Manager gig. Quinn talked about the symmetry between GR LIVE and WYCE:

I started GR LIVE to get local live music on the radio. It is a place to find out where bands will be playing this weekend. Artists stop by and play a song or two to and chat about the local scene. I’d like that same concept to be what I do for WYCE now. I really want the role as station manager to be ‘What can we do for our local music community?’”


WYCE is part of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center [link], a 501c3 whose motto is Building community through media

The Community Media Center (CMC) began in 1981 to handle local cable TV access channels. If you have cable TV you pay a “Franchise Fee” every month as part of your bill. Every cable system does this but most try to plow the money back into their corporate coffers.

(For instance, I pay $8.36 per month – over $100 per year – to support two local channels filled with preachers, hucksters and polka parties.)

The CMC is different. In addition to overseeing cable access channels, the CMC is a multi-platform media center that owns and operates WYCE, the Wealthy Theatre and The Rapidian, a public news site. According to CMC’s IRS Form 990 for FY 2015, the organization had an annual budget of around $1.6 million. CMC had contributions (in part generated by WYCE fund drives and underwriting) of over $400,000.

WYCE began broadcasting in 1983. Here is WYCE's coverage map:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


I was born and raised in flyover country, the heartland of America that stretches for miles across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. The sky is literally the limit there. Public radio is treasured in many remote places because it brings in ideas and connections to entire world.

To read the definitive book about my experience growing up in Sioux Falls, SD, check out Chris Harper’s Flyover Country [amazon link].

Harper is a journalism professor at Temple University who spent years writing and reporting for ABC News, Newsweek, The Washington Times and many others. But I know Harper best from the days when I managed and promoted his band The Trippers, back in the days of Sex (infrequent), Drugs (not many) and Rock n Roll (crank it up to “11”).  Check out his blog – Media Mashup – at [link].


 Wyoming Public Media, based in Laramie (population 40,000) is today debuting a new Triple A channel – Wyoming Sounds - in three Wyoming communities. The programming will originate on an HD channel and be repeated on FM translators in Laramie (103.5 FM), Riverton (90.5 FM) and Worland (94.1 FM). More communities in the state will get Wyoming Sounds in the near future.

Wyoming Sounds will feature Grady Kirkpatrick’s popular Morning Music program as well as programing by Paul Montoya and Micah Schweizer.

Kirkpatrick was PD at WNKU, Cincinnati before he moved to Wyoming. Kirkpatrick took the time to answer a few questions:

Grady Kirkpatrick

Describe Wyoming Sounds. What will be different than the nearby 105.5 The Colorado Sound?


The obvious difference is that we play Wyoming artists but we also include Colorado and regional artists. We lean slightly more Americana while including a generous portion of established and new Triple A artists.


In some ways this is a return to Triple A for you after leaving WNKU.  In what ways is it different to program Triple A in a rural, sometimes remote area? 


Programming Triple A in a primarily rural state is a bit different with the preference for Americana but Wyomingites also really appreciate the variety that the Triple A format offers. People still enjoy great music whether they’re in Buffalo, Wyoming or Buffalo NY.


You've worked in big markets and small markets. How important is public radio in flyover country?


Public radio is very important in Wyoming. We have an incredibly loyal membership base. People appreciate being in touch with what’s happening in our state and around the world.

KEN: What about working and living in Wyoming --- what are the positives and negatives?


The best thing about working in Wyoming is the wide-open spaces and small town atmosphere around the entire state. The saying goes, “Wyoming is like a small town with really long streets. However, options for good French restaurants are slightly limited. 

But, do try the “Rocky Mountain Oysters.


 High Plains Public Radio (HPPR), based in Garden City, Kansas (population 26,966) is one of the gutsiest public media DIY efforts in the nation. Since 1980 this community-based operation has grown like thickets across the prairie bringing sustainable public radio programming to listeners in portions of five states.

The map on the right shows geographical reach of HPPR. The regional network began with one station, KANZ-FM in Garden City. Today HPPR programming is carried on more than three-dozen repeaters and translators. HPPR is the sole source of NPR News and other noncom programming in many places. This makes HPPR valuable to listeners and vulnerable to changing winds of funding.

But, HPPR has adapted and often thrived in this challenging environment. According to financial reports posted on HPPR’s website [link], the 5013c KANZA Society had $1,3 million in revenue during FY 2015. Only 20% came from CPB and the State of Kansas. HPPR generated $403,000 from pledging and $219,000 in underwriting in 2015, which tops some big city stations.

In the late 1990s HPPR expanded its to service to Amarillo, Texas, at the time the largest city in the nation without an NPR presence. Amarillo (metro population 240,000) is by far the largest city in HPPR’s region.

Amarillo Skyline at Sunset
According to Executive Director, Deborah Oyler, HPPR is now configuring their two FM signals in Amarillo to allow 94.9 FM to air 24/7 news programming. 105.9 will continue to repeat HPPR’s dual format of NPR News and Classical music. This will allow 94.9 to program some hours separately. 

Oyler says that 94.9 will be adding Texas Standard and popular NPR shows like Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me, which are not heard now in Amarillo.

When announcing the new station, Oyler told an Amarillo TV station:

“It’s exciting for us that a city the size of Amarillo can have an NPR News station. From a quality of life or economic development perspective this gives Amarillo a great marketing tool.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Jack Mitchell

Who was the founder of public radio?  Actually, “it took a village” and several people at the right place at right time.  If I had to pick a founder, I’d say it was “Jack Mitchell.”

Mitchell was National Public Radio’s very first employee, the first producer of its legendary All Things Considered and in 1983 helped “save” NPR from a disastrous financial crisis of its own making. Most of his career has been at Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR).

Mitchell’s new book, "Wisconsin On The Air, 100 Years Of Public Broadcasting In The State That Invented It," a very personal story filled with history and progress. [amazon link]

“Public radio” a/k/a “Educational Radio” began in 1917 in Madison, an experiment by the UW Science Department to serve out-station listeners with instructional programming. (No. Jack wasn’t there then!)

In “Wisconsin On The Air” Mitchell examines how the philosophy of public service was put into motion public radio and in a sense public media. He tells of the almost constant criticism that has tested WPR from the very beginning to current Governor Scott Walker. One incident recounted in the book details the efforts of Wisconsin business group to abolish public broadcasting because “it is government-controlled propaganda in your living room.”

The book is a brilliant history of Wisconsin Public Radio set in the context of the social and political history of the state, from LaFollette’s Progressives to McCarthyism.

In 1974 and 1975 Mitchell was there at the beginning of National Public Radio.  He returned to Wisconsin in 1976 to manage WHA Radio at the age of 35. Mitchell was elected to the NPR Board of Directors. He was the President of the Board in 1983 when the shit hit the funding fan and NPR came hours away from vanishing. As the New York Times reported in June 1983 [link]

As best as anyone can now determine, the financial crisis that is threatening the future of National Public Radio had been brewing unseen for at least half a year. Last March, it had come as a shock to most people when a deficit of $2.8 million was discovered, but it came as an even bigger shock when it was revealed last month that the deficit, if left uncorrected, would reach $5.8 million.

Mitchell’s instructions on a Friday night were prepare to padlock all of the doors at NPR unless a solution was found before the following Monday.  It was temporarily solved late on a Sunday, hours before “going dark” forever.

This is Jack Mitchell’s second book at public broadcasting.  His first book – Listener Supported – has details about his work at NPR.


Jack was one of my first mentors when I moved from commercial radio to public radio in the 1980s. He was a terrific mentor and teacher with exception of one night after a regional public radio meeting in New Orleans when he drank me under the table.  My lesson: Don’t drink Scotch on an empty stomach.

Mitchell is still-active UW-Madison journalism professor emeritus. He was the  head of Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) until he retired in 1997. He helped produce the landmark 1979 documentary The War At Home, about Madison’s anti-war movement.


Karen Holp

Another one of my mentors was also in the news recently.  KGOU GM Karen Holp is retiring after 28 years. I met Karen through Rocky Mountain Public Radio, a regional group, was I began my first job managing a public radio station: KCSU in Fort Collins. At the time I knew very little about the inner workings of the biz. Karen patiently taught me about “NFFS,” “CSG” and “NPPAG.” Thank you, Karen, and best wishes for your next chapter.

Speaking of my time at KCSU, I saw an item of interest in Jennifer Waits recent post on Radio Survivor about her station visit to now student-operated KCSU [link].  I love Jennifer’s college station profiles.

Readers might remember my post about KCSU and student fees on February 29, 2016 [link] when I told about the frequent threats I received when I was GM at KCSU to cut off student fees to station. Impossible, you say?

In her post, Jennifer provides this quote from current station manager Sam Bulkley:

“For a couple of decades, KCSU was run as a professionally managed NPR station. Students were allowed to be on-air DJs, but only in the off hours and with the permission of the management staff. The bulk of the programming was classical, and there were five or six full-time professional staff who made all the key decisions for the station.  [The Associated Students] president in the early ’90s made it part of his platform to take back student control of the station, since the students were the ones paying for it. It was a tough fight, with a lot of community opposition, but he succeeded – which is why students run the station today.”

KCSU is an excellent student station today. But seeing this quote made me glad I got out of there.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Last week the Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) announced details about the Content Conference September 19 – 22 in Phoenix.  To sum it up in a quick phrase: Are you ready for some research?

You can find more information about the Content Conference at [link]. PRPD has extended early bird registration to September 1. 
PRPD CEO Jody Evans
PRPD CEO Jody Evans has assembled an impressive menu of original research about the awareness and perception inside and outside the core audience, particularly by “Gen Y” a/k/a the “Millennial Generation.” The Gen Y demographic cohort is typically defined as folks born between the late 1980s through the early 2000s. Today Gen Y-ers are roughly between the ages of 16 and 32.

The Millennial Generation grew up consuming a different media world than the Boomer Generation. I recently amazed a 21 year-old friend when I told him it wasn’t so long ago when I had to stand up and walk to the TV set to change the channel. He asked me if we still sent smoke signals back then. (I still use them.)

In addition to the latest Nielsen Audio data and trends from the Radio Research Consortium [link] and Jacobs Media’s Public Radio Tech Survey #8, the Content Conference will feature exclusive new research from Coleman Insights [link]. The PRPD commissioned the Coleman study to learn more about the perceptions of public radio’s core listeners and less frequent listeners.

Coleman is a heavy hitter in this type of very specialized research. Coleman’s specialty is connecting content with data to reveas listener perceptions and the “aura” of a particular brand.  Coleman also provides granular analysis of listening patterns such as tune-in and tune-out patterns. The PRPD news release doesn’t say whom from Coleman will be presenting the Content Conference study but I bet it will be Warren Kurtzman. He who has done interesting research in the past about public radio.

Ira Glass is the keynote speaker at the PRCC. Another session I recommend is about AIR’s Localore: Finding America initiative [link], multi-platform storytelling done by independent producers in conjunction with public media organizations.


One of my favorite Content Conference presentations is the annual Jacobs Media Public Radio Tech Survey (PRTS), now in its eighth year. PRTS #8 surveyed listeners of 69 stations from markets of all sizes. Participants included WNYC, WBEZ, Vermont Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio. Jacobs uses online “opt-in” methodology, not a random sample. Most respondents are members of station email databases. Other responses were gathered via station websites and/or social networking pages.

Jacobs Media has released two preview charts. The first (on the left) shows the size of the Millennial Generation compared to other generations such as Boomers.  There is no doubt about it: The Millennial Generation is huge and will be a big factor for many years.

The second preview chart (below) is the 2016 Media Usage Pyramid, a very valuable overview of behavior and device usage.  PRTS #8 is broken into two groups: Boomers and Millennials. Fred Jacobs will present full results at the PRCC.


Jacobs Media does Tech Studies for other types of stations, examining similar usage patterns. Jacob’s recently released Tech Survey #12 for commercial broadcasters and has done Tech Surveys for Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) stations.

I decided to look at similarities and differences between these surveys. I have included the Media Usage Pyramids for commercial and CCM (Note: 2015 data) at the bottom of this post.

I’ll let Fred Jacobs give the analysis and commentary but I have three takeaways highlighted in yellow in the chart:

1.) Radio listening is still robust in all cohorts and demos.

2.) There is a special relationship between public radio and podcasts.

3.) Use of Satellite Radio by Millennials is way smaller than other cohorts.  This is certainly a troubling development for the folks at subscription-based Sirius/XM.