Friday, October 21, 2016



This past Tuesday (10/16) we commented on a post by consultant Mike Henry [link] asserting that the growth of Low Power FM (LPFM) stations…should serve as yet another wake-up call for local NPR News radio stations. Henry wrote: 

…being the sole outlet for ethnic and community groups, LPFM stations are quickly finding ground and a path as a true hyper-local news outlet in the vacuum being created by NPR News stations that do not cover the local ground. If LPFM stations can now eat your lunch, then your lunch deserves to be eaten.

We received several reader comments, not the least of which is a note from Mike Henry himself:

Mike Henry
Hi Ken.  Good post.  I don’t disagree with you on anything.  We’re saying the same thing from two different perspectives. 

Mine is that some NPR News stations are not doing enough on the local front, and it’s a big void in too many markets.  Some stations are over-relying on NPR News and other national programs. 

Yours is that more NPR News stations are producing more local content, and the effort is growing, which I agree with. Good discussion!

KEN SAYS: Other readers such as Aaron Reed agreed with my premise that most NPR News stations and LPFM stations are in two different worlds.  While local content is important to news stations, there are very few situations where a NPR News station will have its “lunch eaten.” Reed said, in part:

Aaron Reed
Most of the time there are one or more three key factors that are going to make it very, very hard for an LPFM to "eat NPR's lunch". Co-exist, perhaps, but not eat the lunch:

1. The local NPR outlet will do a good job serving their local community with local news and content.

2. The population density is too low for an LPFM to effectively serve the area, so no matter how good the programming is...they won't get enough audience to generate the necessary revenue to support it.

3. If the market is small enough but there's just enough population density to make an LPFM theoretically viable? There's probably a small AM or FM commercial station filling that niche by being highly active in the local community.

That last one's important. Many in the industry, myself included, often bemoan how "big corporate radio" has ruined radio...but there are quite a lot of small town broadcast operators out there who love their towns and hustle to prove it.

KEN SAYS: Reed is correct. I appreciate his pointing out that there are quite a few small market commercial stations where local news and info is the cornerstone of their schedule and social media. There has been a pushback against corporate consolidation by a new generation of “home town” hyper-local stations that has not received the coverage it deserves.

A case-in-point is KXLG-FM [link] in Watertown, SD, owed by Armada Media. Watertown is a market of around 40,000 people and eight stations. Seven of the stations are owned by notorious cost-cutting, bottom-feeding, chain operator Three Eagles Broadcasting. KXLG has used its excellent local news and hometown focus to distinguish itself. According to what I’ve heard, KXLG’s annual revenue is greater than the seven Three Eagles stations combined. 


On Monday (10/17) I took Hillsdale College and Talkers magazine to task for the truly disappointing event they staged live on C-SPAN [link]. They promoted it as a debate about talk radio’s role in the 2016 election. What they delivered were a bunch of old pals sharing inside stories in a dank boomy room – a long way from “must see TV.” 

Michael Harrison

I received a couple of confidential comments from readers who believed I was unfairly criticizing Michael Harrison of Talkers and that I am expecting too much from radio broadcasters. One reader said that radio panels are often low tech and are certainly not made for TV.  I asked Harrison what he thought of my post and he replied:

Hi Ken, I found nothing wrong or upsetting about your review of the program.  You address a legitimate point of view and I support this type of critical thinking/expression.  Thank you for taking the time and effort to do so and letting me know. Best, Michael


Regarding our post on Monday (10/10) concerning Pacifica’s dire financial condition and possible impact on the safety of Pacifica’s treasured archives [link]. Reader Bill Forrest sent this comment:

I'm very concerned about the archives. They should be organized as in a library, digitized, and made available to everyone. I did this for my own tape collection. It's a lot of work, but in the end very worthwhile. Could the Library of Congress be convinced to take on this job?

KEN SAYS: In a perfect world, this would already have been done. Unfortunately the diehards that operate Pacifica are not focused on the greater good, they are playing Game of Thrones with the entire Pacifica legacy. Scorched earth is the result.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Dave Chaney, editor and publisher of the music news blog called me last Monday and left a voice mail message. I put his message into a stack of similar ones.  Now I wish I’d called him back.

Then Wednesday morning I went to, one of a number of sites I visit frequently, and was greeted by these words:



This is the end of an era that Dave Chaney helped make possible.


I first got involved with noncommercial Triple A format in 2003.  Dave started in late 2001. Things were different then.

Triple A was not thought of as a visable public radio format in most markets.  There were exceptions such as WXPN’s pioneering work in 1990s (with financial help from CPB), WFPK in Louisville and KCRW was using its perch in West LA.

At that time nobody could imagine Bill Kling at American Public Media investing several million dollars for a station that became The Current or Neil Best at KUNC in Colorado basing the business plan for a new station (105.5 The Colorado Sound) on the proven track record of other Triple A stations.

Now Triple A is one of public radio’s four established formats along with NPR News, Classical and Jazz.

Two factors made noncom Triple A visible and viable: The annual NONCOMM-vention and Both were so effective because they were based on a sense community, common ground and the belief that the music matters. offered a new platform for stations, artists and labels to get the word out about what they were doing. “The Panel” –’s  airplay reporting vehicle – included noncom stations of all shapes and sizes. It was a list where WSYC in Shippensburg PA had the same status as WXPN. This made folks in places like WSYC feel they had a stake in the success of music.

In the early years of the NONCOMM-vention, “welcomed” the conference in the way stations welcome a concert, with passion, inclusiveness and a bit of hype. I went to my first NONCOMM-vention in 2003 because Dave Chaney invited me. When I attend I felt like I was at home with folks who had a common sense of purpose and sensibility.

“IT IS TOUGH TO MAKE A LIVING IN NONCOM TRIPLE A” brought in much of its revenue from banner ads purchased by music labels, artists and promoters. As you know the music industry is a shadow of what it was in pre-Napster days.  In 2001 an independent music publication could count on label support. Not so now.

I spoke to Chaney Wednesday afternoon.  He is doing fine, thank you.

What happened to was that it ceased to be financially sustainable. Chaney said the downturn started with the 2008-2009 recession:

“Promotional spending by the music industry never recovered after the recession. As an indie with no other major revenue source, our existence was always on the edge. I am proud of what accomplished.  We had lots of fun and heard great music.  have no regrets and wish continued success to all of our many friends at Triple A radio and in the music business." 


Here is a sample of praise for Dave Chaney and from folks in the biz:

• From Paul Marszalek, publisher of a competing site The Top 22 [link]:

Dave's done a considerable amount of great work over the years, with an unquestionable amount of passion and a collaborative attitude. His decision is completely understandable. is far from being my day job, instead a passion side project -- which is the sole reason it still exists. In our collective current state, it's virtually impossible for more than one or two people to make a full-time job out of writing/reporting on the format.

• From Bruce Warren, head guru at WXPN:

Dave and his site was a super super advocate for the format and provided a lot of useful information for our part of the music industry. We are grateful for his work.

• From consultant Mike Henry of Paragon Media Strategies:

Dave Chaney is a great champion of our format and his website will be missed.  It provided a place for those in our format to virtually meet and to follow its evolution.  I hope Dave finds ways to stay involved.

• From Mark Abuzzahab of VuHaus:

For over a decade I've depended on to know what's going on in the format, especially with smaller market stations.   First we started to lose trade magazines, then commercial stations, and now websites.   What's next?


Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Strategies [link] has released the Executive Summary and presentation slides of Public Radio Tech Survey 8 (PRTS 8). The results were presented last month at the PRPD Content Conference in Phoenix. You can download the complete info at [link].

I find these reports fascinating because they are “snapshots in time” of the changing media environment specifically by public radio listeners. I’ve included portions of the Jacobs’ key findings below along with several slides from the presentation.

BTW – I don’t know if anyone says thank you to Fred Jacobs for his important work.  Public radio is better because Jacobs Media is involved. I know Fred totally gets “the public radio sensibility” and we in the biz are grateful for his insight.

My own observations come from a chart I created from the Jacobs data that compares results of PRTS 8 by format, plus a breakout of millennial-age respondents.  First, here is my comparison chart:

My observations about PRTS include:

• Radio listening is still robust by respondents in all categories, even by folks of millennial-age. People are still listening to radio, particularly in vehicles. Keep in mind that most respondents who participate in PRTS 8 are recruited from station lists.

• Podcast listening is most often determined by the age of the respondent and the particular type of content they like. Of the three formats in PRTS 8 (there was not a breakout of Jazz listeners), news listener podcast usage far exceeds Triple A and Classical music listeners. Take a look at yesterday’s post showing Podtrac’s top ten podcasts.  I don’t see a music-based podcast on the list.  Perhaps the cost of music rights are prohibitive for many podcast producers.

• Is there more information about millennial-age folks and their relatively low use of SiriusXM satellite radio? Are millennials who aren’t public radio listeners also avoiding SiriusXM?

• Question for Fred Jacobs: The millennial portion of in-tab respondents is around 8% but millennials make up a much larger percentage of the total population.  Is the relatively low proportion of millennials included in PRTS 8 too low to be reliable?


 Jacobs Media Observation:

Across the entire sample, the mobile revolution kicks into an even higher gear. More than eight in ten (83%) respondents now own a smartphone; nearly two-thirds (64%) carry a tablet. Overall radio listening is up a tick. Nearly nine in ten (88%) listen to broadcast radio one hour a day or more often. In the new study survey, nearly one-fifth (18%) say they’re listening to more public radio in the past year, while only 7% indicate listening less.

Jacobs Media Observation:

The election is driving listening. Overall, one-fifth agree/agree strongly with the notion the Presidential race has led to an increase in public radio listening, especially fans of the News/Talk format, as well as Millennials. 

Jacobs Media Observation:

As is the case for all of broadcast radio, the car represents the top radio listening location, but “connected cars” provide options that are used often at broadcast radio’s expense.

Jacobs Media Observation:

In PRTS 8, 40% of respondents are News/Talk fans, while the composition of Triple A & Classical has increased.

Jacobs Media Observation:

Millennials are different. Gen Y public radio listeners are deep into podcasts, mobile phone usage, and social media connections. 
 More so than older generations, they are more likely to access news from digital sources rather than radio. They are also less likely to own a radio where they live. Millennials are most likely to interact with their favorite public radio station via podcasts and mobile apps. 

Jacobs Media Observation:

Public radio’s health is strong, but more and more consumption is moving to digital platforms. The core values are intact. For the total sample more than half say key drivers supporting public radio listenership include learning new things, credible and objective programming, a deeper news perspective, respect for the listener’s intelligence, and a balanced perspective.

This is my favorite slide of PRTS 8!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Mike Henry
My friend and respected consultant Mike Henry opines in his most recent blog commentary [link] that “…the growth of Low Power FM (LPFM) stations…should serve as yet another wake-up call for local NPR News radio stations.”

Henry cites a New York Times article from last Friday (10/14) that spotlighted the growth of Low Power FM (LPFM) stations [link]. Henry’s conclusion is:

The Times’ hypothesis is that, along with being the sole outlet for ethnic and community groups, LPFM stations are quickly finding ground and a path as a true hyper-local news outlet in the vacuum being created by NPR News stations that do not cover the local ground.

While there is merit in Henry’s op-ed, he is missing the big picture.  LPFM stations and NPR News stations exist in two different worlds.


Henry focuses on a quote by Michael Lasar, co-founder of Radio Survivor [link] from the NYT article:

“There’s still a need for local news and information, which many public radio stations have abandoned,” he said. “There’s a lot of stations that just go on automatic pilot and play NPR and satellite downloads. That’s Low Power FM’s ace in the hole.”

Lasar is smart fellow who literally wrote the book about the history of Pacifica Radio but his work primarily covers NFCB-ish community radio, not NPR News Stations. I believe that Lasar and Henry’s notion that, as a group, NPR News stations are simply repeaters of nationally syndicated NPR content that have abandoned local news, is not true.

Yes, there are NPR News stations that do little more than repeat network programming but there are lots of stations that are doing much, much more. In fact, increased local and regional content by NPR News stations is one of public radio’s brightest new developments: Consider:

• Station-based talk and interview programs are increasing in number and quality. We’ve reported about On Second Thought, at WRAS, Atlanta [link]; Boston Public Radio at WGBH [link]; Essential Pittsburgh at WESA [link]; and Where We Live at Connecticut Public Radio [link]. These programs typically out-perform NPR News magazines and are sources of considerable pledging and underwriting revenue.

• CPB-sponsored Regional Journalism Centers (RJC) are creating new regional and local content. We have previously reported on RJCs such as the Fronteras Desk (based at KJZZ, Phoenix) covering border issues from San Antonio to San Diego [link]; the Texas Station Collaborative based at KERA and KUT [link]; and the New England News Collaborative based at WNPR [link].

• Many NPR News stations cover hyper-local news on their websites, via social media and podcasts.

• NPR ONE allows listeners to build there own menu of news whenever, wherever they chose including plenty of local news.

Mike Henry ends his op-ed with this thought:

“If LPFM stations can now eat your lunch, then your lunch deserves to be eaten. I relish the opportunity to help any broadcaster, mighty NPR News stations or nimble LPFM stations, serve their local audiences the way they deserve.”

Holy hyperbole Mike!

Yes, there are some LPFM stations doing a terrific job covering local communities and interest groups, but they aren’t the norm. The average NPR has an annual budget of around $2.5 million and I have seldom seen a LPFM station with an annual budget of more than $50,000.  NPR News stations and LPFM stations operate of two very different levels.


Podtrac [link] just released their September list of the top ten podcasts, ranked by the number of estimated Unique Monthly Audience. Seven of the ten are sponsored by noncommercial or nonprofit orgranizations.

American Public Media is new on the top ten, likely powered by podcasts from Marketplace. This American Life had the biggest month-to-month decline perhaps because Serial is out of season. Below is our custom chart comparing Podtrac data from August and September.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Last Friday 10/14 I tuned into C-SPAN 2 for the Hillsdale College/TALKERS Magazine Presidential Election Talk Radio Debate and it was truly embarrassing.  I am not talking about the content. It was the presentation that sucked. When radio fails at the basics (particularly on national television) it reflects poorly on all of us in the biz.

You can see it for yourself here: [link].
Hillsdale College, a small college located in rural Michigan near Battle Creek and TALKERS Magazine, the self-described Bible of Talk Radio, sponsored a panel in Washington, DC featuring several well-known commercial radio talk hosts. The stated purpose of the panel was to explore talk radio’s coverage of the 2016 Presidential election.

Michael Harrison
The panel was moderated by Michael Harrison, considered a knowledgeable, nonpartisan pro. Harrison is the publisher of TALKERS. Panelists were Thom Hartmann, Hugh Hewitt, Joyce Kaufman (WFTL, Ft. Lauderdale), Joe Madison (SiriusXM Urban View), Larry O’ Connor (WMAL) and Chris Stigall (WPHT). Other than Hartmann, a progressive/liberal who also has a growing presence on noncom stations, the panel consisted of personalities best known for their conservative and alt-right opinions.

My complaints have nothing to do with the points-of-view of the panelists.  It was the poor staging, inconsistent audio levels and rambling, often pointless discussion. At one point early in the session, one person on the panel – Joe Madison from SiriusXM – hijacked the proceedings to give a lengthy screed unrelated to the purpose of the session.

Harrison tried valiantly to get things back on track but within minutes it slid back into chatter. Part of the problem was that Harrison’s podium was behind the panelists and out of their line-of-sight. Also, Harrison’s podium was so short he had to awkwardly bend over to talk on his microphone.

Bottom line is that the session did not deliver what it promised. There was no actual “debate” or takeaways for the viewer or listener. I learned nothing.

The live event took place at Hillsdale’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, DC, a fancy name for a space that reminded me of my grandma’s dining room. Hillsdale should realize that the poor acoustics, dreadful lighting and lack of a stage showed they are not ready for prime time.

Again, here is my point: Hyped events that fail to deliver hurt the image of radio at a time when excellence is needed.


I guess I did learn one thing: Hillsdale College now has a LPFM station: WRFH – Radio Free Hillsdale. The station is at 101.7 FM.

WRFH signed on July 10, 2016, and according to Hillsdale’s press office, students are “eagerly waiting” to be on the air along with …an automation system [that] selects songs from a “Patriotic Music” catalog...going all the way back to even the colonial era.

WRFH is part of Hillsdale’s journalism program that “…is devoted to the restoration of ethical, high-minded journalism standards. Hillsdale proudly boasts that even Fox News has employed some of their graduates.

The station has a one-page website [link], has no social media, does not publish a schedule and provides no streaming audio. But it does …give students an opportunity to learn and practice broadcast journalism…[and] deliver weather forecasts and sportscasts through the day.

According to the website, Hillsdale students at WRFH also will gain the ability to:

• Operate ENCO DAD broadcasting automation software.

• Access news stories and sound bites from The Associated Press.

• Broadcast play-by-play coverage of selected Hillsdale athletic teams or a sports talk show.

• Use Adobe Audition, the industry standard in audio-editing software.

• Produce promos for station programming and public service announcements.

• Promote the station within the community and online.

• Connect with great internships and jobs around the country.

In other words, WRFH is a perfect place to get started on a career in conservative talk radio.

Scot Bertram
WRFH recently hired a station manager from commercial talk radio, Scot Bertram, morning co-host at WROK-AM, the local Rush Limbaugh repeater in Rockford, Illinois. Bertram said on his Facebook page [link]:

“It took an amazing opportunity for me to even consider leaving Rockford. As many know, Hillsdale College is a special place with a mission of ‘Pursuing Truth and Defending Liberty Since 1844’.”

There may be trouble on the horizon for Bertram if he nixes one of Hillsdale’s sacred cows, patriotic music. He told local media in Rockford:

“I’ve spoken with people, and the first thing to do is get rid of the patriotic music. I know people are getting sick of it.”