Friday, December 9, 2016


Wherever there is money there likely will be theft. Noncommercial public media outlets are not immune to internal scams.  In some cases, it is easier to rip off a large university because few people know the terminology and operations of a station.

John Valenta
Such is the case with WDCB, licensed to the College of DuPage in suburban Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported last week [link] that former WDCB engineer John Valenta has been accused of stealing more than $100,000 while working at the WDCB’s licensee, the College of DuPage. Valenta will face trial in DuPage County court beginning Feburary 28, 2017.

According the Tribune report, Valenta was indicted in April 2015 following a lengthy internal investigation. Authorities allege that between 2006 and 2013, Valenta submitted invoices for WDCB services payable to a company called Broadcast Technologies. Valenta owned the company. The College says it was unaware of his ownership. The investigation revealed that many invoices were for services that were never completed and that the college paid for parts that were not delivered, according to prosecutors.

According to court files, Valenta told police that he submitted false invoices because he felt he should have been employed full time at the station.

The investigation further found that Valenta had been convicted in 2011 of a similar scam when he was a contract engineer at WRSE-FM at Elmhurst College.

We were able to get a redacted copy of the College Board of Trustees investigative report that led to the charges. The following includes verbatim verbiage from the report with a few edits for clarity space:

Prepared for the College of DuPage Board of Trustees

In December 2013, the College of DuPage uncovered and acted on a scheme to defraud the college by John Valenta, employed by the college as an engineer at its radio station WDCB (FM90.9). The scheme involved the use of false invoices issued by Valenta’s company, Broadcast Technologies. Inc.

At the outset, it is important to note that an employee defrauding his or her employer will naturally go to keep the fraud hidden from view and dissuade investigation.

Scott Wager 
John Valenta was employed by COD as a station engineer at WDCB from 1979 to 2014.  Valenta was under the supervision of former GM Scott Wager.

Authorities allege that while working at the station, Valenta submitted phony invoices from his side business from June 2006 to December 2013 for materials the school never received and work he never performed. The scheme also included at least $90,000 for radio transmitter parts that were never installed, according to school records.

In the years prior to Valenta’s retirement in 2014, the station experienced frequent power outages that caused it to go off the air. When the outages allegedly occurred, Valenta would purchase parts and/or equipment purportedly damaged from the outages. The purchases were made outside of the College’s usual purchase order system, a procedure approved of by Wager.

Wager [told investigators] that Broadcast Technologies was a sideline business for someone he had known for years and he felt it provided a better price than other suppliers.

Wager also said it was not realistic to get a purchase order approved in the middle of the night when a new part was needed. As a result, the College’s purchasing department worked with Wager to establish a blanket purchase order for Broadcast Technologies.

Each payment to Broadcast Technologies [was] approved by Valenta and Wager, the station manager. [However] subsequent investigation found that most of the power outages never occurred.

Likely facing termination for lack of performance, Wager retired from the College effective July 31, 2013.  Valenta retired in February 2014, shortly before the college's auditor issued the internal report accusing him of violating school policies by personally approving fake invoices.

A search for a new station manager culminated in the hiring of Daniel Bindert on October 28, 2013. [Bindert apparently had no knowledge of Valenta’s activities prior to becoming GM.]

Bindert’s supervisor told him about Valenta’s use of overtime. The alleged  power interruptions were still occurring.   

in December 2013, Bindert was meeting with an engineer from another radio station. That engineer warned Binderdt to take a close look at Valenta because he had had problems at Elmhurst College and elsewhere.

Bindert performed a Google search and found a newspaper report on Valenta?s indictment as a result of theft at Elmhurst College. He also pulled billings and inquired of station staff concerning Broadcast Technologies.

Bindert then performed a Google search of Broadcast Technologies in Wheaton, illinois and it showed Valenta’s address.

Shortly thereafter, senior college management, met with Bindert to address and investigate Valenta’s apparent fraud. the internal investigation ensued leading to the charges against Valenta.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Tamar Charney
I don’t know Tamar Charney well but I am impressed with her and her work. My previous contact with Tamar happened when I was marketing programs to WUOM. Tamar was always kind when WUOM dropped one of my shows, plus she also told me the reason for the change.

Since January 2016 Tamar has been Managing Editor at NPR One, a new position at the network. Now I consider her to be one of my teachers. I am grateful for her writing and reporting on NPR Digital’s web pages [link].

Here is how Tamar described herself earlier this year in a Public Radio International (PRI) newsletter:

“I’ve been a public radio jack of all trades — DJ, newscaster, arts reporter, talk show producer, and for almost a decade I ran Michigan Radio’s on-air, online, and news strategy and operations. Currently, I'm the managing editor for NPR One, which is a new way to listen to public radio news and podcasts from stations, networks and producers you've never heard of before, but will love!


One of the things I like about Tamar’s posts about NPR One is that they apply to all phases of mass communication. A good example is her recent post titled Five things your editorial team can learn from NPR One data [link]:

(Note: I’ve edited her comments for clarity and copy space.)

1. How stories start matters...a lot. 

Whether it is a news story or a podcast, the content that does well starts strong. It grabs listeners with a big idea or something intriguing that they care about. Don’t start with a guest’s credentials. Make your story “sticky” by making it matter in the first words.

2. Newscasts are an important part of the public radio diet. 

Listeners value short roundups of the most important things that are going on in their world and their community. NPR One data shows newscasts (local and national) are the least skipped type of content in NPR One. Listeners also ask for them when they are missing.

That said, data also shows repetition of the same story without significant added depth and context doesn’t do well. Keep newscasts less than five minutes long. There is a steep drop off in listening after that.

3. Listeners want features that help them make sense of things.

Newscasts tell people what is happening in their world, features unpack why those things matter. Local stories that listeners have liked and shared the most are most often ones that help them understand what defines their community.

4. Everybody and their dog has a podcast, but doing one well takes skill. 

A successful podcast is one where you are on your A-game every step of the way. The start of your story has to grab ears from the first word. Podcasts have their biggest audience at the beginning and lowest audience at the end. A great podcast uses storytelling techniques to keep as many listeners as possible through the show.

Pro-tip: Never save your best stuff or your most important point for the end of a podcasts, because that is when your audience will be the smallest it will ever be.

5. Lots of data points combined with great editorial judgment is the secret sauce.

When I was programming a station, anytime a big news event caused a listening spike, I’d think about what I could do to keep those new listeners. The data from NPR One provides a good clue about what people respond to and when they listen.

A FEW THINGS ABOUT TAMAR CHARNEY YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW (from various sources in her own words)

Tamar Charney's #1 Advisor
Fun fact: I’ve done voiceovers for funeral homes, truck engine repair training modules and even a cartoon hepatitis virus — yes, you read that right.

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, before the city was full of hipsters, moved to Michigan for school and I stay here because I fell in love with snow, the Great Lakes, and the stories there are to tell about this area.

I’m one of those people who is perfectly content to sit alone in a restaurant, observing the people around me. It’s no surprise I became a journalist because I enjoying wondering what other people's lives are about.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Mike Savage
Since Mike Savage, has been on the NPR Board of Directors, stations in small and medium size markets have had a strong voice advocating their concerns. Savage is GM of WBAA AM/FM in West Lafayette, Indiana, Nielsen Audio market number 222 with an estimated 12+ population of around 160,000.

Savage joined WBAA in November 2013, and in August 2014 he was elected to the NPR Board. He became one of only two smaller market representatives on the 17-person board. He has kept pushing for a larger role for smaller stations, given that three quarters of NPR’s 274 member stations are in small markets.

Some people have called Savage a “rabble-rouser.”  In a recent interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal [link], Savage doesn’t object to the description:

SAVAGE: “Anyone who knows me knows I didn’t go in to stir the pot [just] because I can. But the one thing I wanted to do when I came to the board was to provide a missing perspective, a perceived missing perspective, and I think I have done that.”

The “pot stirring" has produced results. We asked Savage about his progress:

SAVAGE: I believe the board has much more balance in the past couple of years with the perspectives of myself, and new board member Jay Pearce from WVIK in Rock Island, Illinois.  In my view, the board now has balanced representation from major, mid sized and small markets.

KEN: Why is it important to have smaller market representation when large market stations pay the majority of station dues and have most of the listeners?

SAVAGE: It is true that larger stations pay the majority of NPR dues.  But small stations make up a significant geographic area of coverage for NPR.  Comparing large versus small stations is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child.  Both groups serve a very important purpose in the member station system.

KEN: How important is it that National Public Radio be a "national" voice that includes markets of all sizes? 

SAVAGE: That is very important. It’s the balance of having service in population centers and small towns that makes public radio a consistent and valuable public service.

KEN: We also asked Mike Savage about possible threats to CPB funding by the new administration and emboldened Congress:

SAVAGE: Yes, I am concerned?  Whenever there is a change in the President or Congress, public broadcasting historically has been concerned about the future of federal funding. Public TV and Radio have made significant progress in reaching out to both sides of the isle to generate congressional support. All NPR member stations including small and rural stations must continue to play an active role in communicating the value of our public service to Congress, especially now that we have a new President.


Start making plans now to attend the 17th annual NON-COMMvention in Philadelphia May 17-19, 2017. The 2016 NON-COMM was filled to capacity.

Take it from a person who has attended several NON-COMM in the past (me), it is the most enjoyable and affordable annual conference in public media. Hundreds of noncom radio folks and music industry taste makers will ne there for three days of meetings and dozens of artist showcases at World Café Live, adjacent to the WXPN studios.

According to NON-COMM promoter Paul Marszalsek, the NON-COMM has been able to secure more rooms at the official hotel, The Sheraton Philadelphia University City, for 2017. Room rates for conference goers start at $163 per night. For more information keep checking [link].

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Paul Huttner

Recently when I renewed my Minnesota Public Radio membership I was asked by the woman who took my pledge What programming do you enjoy the most? I replied “Paul Huttner.” Oh, weather guy, the pledge-taker said, I like him too.

Paul Huttner is MPR’s head meteorologist, part of the commitment MPR has to be “weather station of record.” CBS O&O WCCO-AM played that role for several decades but they gave it up this summer.  I reported on WCCO’s diminished role last July [link].

Huttner appears regularly on MPR’s talk/interview programs and in news stories about climate and weather. He also writes an excellent weather blog called Updraft [link].  

He is Minnesota’s version of Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Huttner is more homespun than Nye but his weather knowledge is remarkable. Like Nye, Hutnter is popular with students and makes frequent campus and classroom appearances. Earlier this year he was the keynote speaker at The Minnesota Science Teachers Association’s Conference on Science Education. His speech topic was Minnesota’s Changing Climate: Is this the new normal

 I wish every public radio outlet could have an ambassador to schools like Huttner. Weather is a key part of MPR’s effort to be the “station of record” in the region.


On Dec. 4, 1916, one hundred years ago, 9XM, the predecessor to today's Wisconsin Public Radio, broadcast its first weather forecast. It was in Morse Code. When the weather was going to be severe, the dots-and-dashes were in red. (Just kidding.)


9XM, which became WHA-AM, was one of the pioneers of noncommercial educational radio. It was one of several notable university stations that specialized in distance learning and weather for statewide agriculture. 

Other AM stations in the 1920s, 30s and 40s that provided similar services included WOSU, WOI, WBAA, KOAC and WILL.

Last week WPR published 100 Years Of Weather Broadcasting At WHA [link], a fascinating look back at WPR’s earliest years.

The story begins in 1916 when Physicist Earle Terry enlisted his staff and students to build the equipment for an experimental station. Soon after 9XM signed on it became perhaps the first station in America to broadcast a regular schedule of news, weather and Badger football in dots and dashes.

The U.S. Weather Bureau enthusiastically supported broadcasting the weather. One of Terry’s students, Eric Miller, became 9XM’s first “weather star.” In early 1917, Terry and Miller invited friends over to listen to a special transmission of music. His guests were reportedly unimpressed. By 1921, 9XM changed from Morse Code to full time audio broadcasting.


Weather is everywhere but extreme conditions frequently appear in many other places, such as Florida. Tourism, agriculture and seafood all depend on the weather and a future hurricane is probably just around the corner.

Jeff Huffman

WUFT at the University of Florida I Gainesville has made significant investments in weather technology and person for their cluster of broadcast properties. 

WUFT-TV, WUFT-FM and two commercial stations share the weather center [link] headed by meteorologist Jeff Huffman. Huffman also writes a daily weather blog [link]


Vermont Public Radio (VPR) is partnering with Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium [link] in St. Johnsbury to operate Eye On the Sky. Eye is built around a nifty website [link].

Not only does Eye provide the latest conditions and forecasts, it provides nighttime star-watching advice and a newsy journal by senior meteorologist Mark Breen.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Huntley Santa Monica Beach Hotel
When I travel to Los Angeles my favorite place to stay is the Huntley Santa Monica Beach [link].  Not only is it with walking distance of the Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica Pier and wonderful beaches, it is a classic echo of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940. The Huntley is a favorite of international film folks. People watching is terrific.

One thing I’ve noticed when I stay at the Huntley is how hit-and-miss radio reception is in a car or in a guest room.  The reason is terrain shielding from nearby hills. The lack of a line-of-sight prevents weaker FM signals, particularly from Mt, Wilson, from being reliably heard. One of the weaker FM signals is KPCC-FM.

Terrain shielding on Pacific Coast Highway
Back in the 1980s Pasadena City College made the wise decision to move it’s transmission to Mt. Wilson, LA’s major tower site. To do so KPCC had to drop its power to 600 watts, which means KPCC's primary signal has difficultly reaching some areas west of the 405 Freeway, Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, Sawtelle, and Brentwood. KCRW has the advantage reaching these areas of West LA.

Now KPCC [link] has signed on a booster signal for 89.3 to serve listeners in these areas. Gone are “picket fence” dropouts and interference from other stations. The signal improvement also benefits commuters who cross the Sepulveda Pass and travel along Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Malibu.

The projected coverage is shown on the left. People in the red and yellow areas are now able to receive KPCC with no problems. Folks is the green areas are getting improved service.

The booster required state-of-the-art engineering preparation between KPCC and National Public Radio Labs [link].


Alain Stephens
Producer/reporter Alain Stephens of KUT in Austin, Texas, has been selected by Reveal as one of the first five recipients of its three-year Reveal Investigative Fellowship for journalists of color. 

Stephens will be working with Reveal to report on police department policies regarding guns and other weapons that have been seized. The key questions are: Why do Texas police departments sell their used guns, and who ends up with that equipment?

Reveal Fellows will receive investigative reporting training and mentorship, coaching, travel reimbursement and a $10,000 stipend to support their projects.

Reveal is produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting and is distributed by PRX. The fellowship is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. You can see more information at [link],