Wednesday, September 20, 2017

RESTRUCTURING DEBT SAVES KCPW BUT NOW CAN THEY COMPETE?



Lauren Colucci with news of the restructuring
Lauren Colucci is General Manager of KCPW located in the very competitive Salt Lake City noncommercial radio market. The 450-watt community station competes with KUER (NPR News), KBYU (Classical) and KRCL (Triple A). Of the four stations, KCPW is number four in almost every metric. However KCPW has the brightest future it has had in years.

KCPW had been struggling to pay off the remaining $1.8 million of a $2.2 million loan that was used to purchase the station in 2008. (We will get to that story later in this post.)
The reason why things look so promising at KCPW now is because of a financial restructuring plan that lifts the burden of long-term debt that threatened to sink the station into bankruptcy. Now Colucci and everyone at KCPW can concentrate on serving listeners, members and the community.

Wasatch Public Media is the current licensee of KCPW. The station had formerly been owned and operated by Community Wireless of Park City until its sale in 2008. Wasatch paid $2.2 million for KCPW. Though the deal seemed to make sense just before the Great Recession, paying the debt took a big bite out of KCPW’s operating budget. Payments to service the loan were roughly $10,000 per month. This was just the interest; the full principal was still due.

When Colucci took the reins in 2014, KCPW’s total secured and unsecured debt with interest had grown to over $3 million. The Board of Directors was hemorrhaging members. The day-to-day operations had long been running at a deficit. Colucci said in an interview with Spark News:

“I seem to like crisis management.”

Although this was the first time Colucci had managed a radio station, she had some non- profit organizational experience. Before moving back to Utah, she worked with arts, conservation and diplomatic organizations doing financial assessments and research among other things. Her experiences took her to both coasts and South America.

Colucci first landed in Salt Lake to attend school at the University of Utah. After spending years away, she returned, eventually landing a part-time producing job at KCPW in 2013. When she was asked to help patch the management transition in 2014 she found herself surrounded by turmoil and frustrated staff members.

With just weeks of operating cash, Colucci went to work on keeping the station afloat while quickly learning the fundamentals of the biz. She and her staff delayed paychecks for the first couple of months before the inevitable layoffs took place. Colucci included herself in those layoffs and continued in her role as a volunteer for the next five months before rejoining as a contractor and then as a staff member once again in 2016.

Marc Hand
It was clear that KPCW had to take care of the long-term debt problem if the station was going to survive. KCPW had a working relationship with Marc Hand, CEO and co-founder of Public Media Company (PMC), a company that specializes in devising plans for public broadcasting organizations to become sustainable.

Hand and his team worked with KCPW to find a solution and initiate a new financing package to pay off the original loan. The keys to making the deal work were: a new loan made by FJC, a foundation in New York; loan guarantees made by two anonymous individuals in Salt Lake City; plus philanthropic funds from local individuals and foundations.

The proposed refinancing was a five-year $420,000 loan that bought out the $1.8 million note and interest.

You read that correctly: $420,000 bought out the $1.8 million long-term debt and interest. That means over $1.7 million was to be forgiven. Incredible!

The lenders said: Yes!

When she heard the news, Colucci said:

“It is a miracle. We are thrilled by what this means for the station’s future. We deeply appreciate the generosity and commitment to keeping local public radio a part of our community. You are heroes all.”


Now the real work begins: Creating success at the number four noncom station in a four station market.

THE MIXED LEGACY OF BLAIR FEULNER

This much we know is true: Blair Feulner founded KPCW in Park City in 1980 and KCPW in Salt Lake City in 1992. Beyond that, the truth depends on who you talk to. Feulner was part visionary and part huckster and his legacy is still debated today.

Blair & Susan Feulner
Blair Feulner and wife Susan Feulner, along with a handful of dedicated volunteers started KPCW in 1980.  The early years were lean and the Feulers spent many, many hours of uncompensated time building KPCW into a much admired community station.

Also in the 1980s and 1990s Feulner was a “license trader.” He spent his time acquiring radio station licenses as cheaply as possible and then selling them for a profit – sometimes a big profit.

During the go-go 1980s big changes were made regarding the ownership of FCC licenses. The Commission had deregulated many aspects of station ownership including the “three-year rule” which required licensees to hold a license for three years before selling. The end of this rule made broadcast licenses more like real estate. 

In the mid 1980s the FCC had approved a plan to increase the number of FM stations called “Docket 80-90.”  Hundreds of new frequencies were opened for new stations, investment money was available from Savings and Loan companies (also deregulated) and the elimination of the three-year ownership rule meant licenses could bought one day and sold the next day.

Blair Feulner took full advantage of the situation. On behalf of Community Wireless, Feulner obtained a new FM license for Salt Lake City in 1992 and built KCPW as a sister station of KPCW.

Then he struck gold.

In 2004, Feuler and Community Wireless bought a failing commercial FM station in Coalville, Utah for $50,000. Coalville is a tourist town 20 miles as-the-crow-flies east of Salt Lake City. However, the station could not put a signal into Salt Lake because of terrain shielding.

Feulner knew a secret about the Coalville FM. Because of its location and frequency, it blocked several big Salt Lake City stations from expanding their coverage. This fact was of tremendous strategic importance.

Feulner leveraged the Coalville license and sold it to one of the commercial broadcasters for $3.6 million. This was an amazing windfall for Community Wireless.  The board was thrilled.

To show their gratitude for the deal, the Community Wireless’ Board of Directors voted to pay the Blair and Susan Feulner $895,000. That became a public relations nightmare.

Word of the transaction and the payment to Feulner traveled quickly in Utah and throughout the public broadcasting industry. There was outrage because Feulner was making big bucks off of a non-profit public enterprise. The deal was completely legal but ethically it stank.

Things got even worse when The Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2005 that Blair Feulner was being paid $150,000 per year and Susan Feulner was being paid $45,000 per year for part-time work.

Members of KPCW and KCPW were outraged and fundraising slumped.

Politicians used the Coalville deal as “proof” that public broadcasting did not need federal support. Feulner spent less and less time at the stations. By 2008 both KPCW and KCPW were operating at a loss. Relations between Feulner and Board grew tense.

Blair Feulner 2008 SLC Weekly
By early 2008, Feulner and Community Wireless were at odds over Feulner’s employment contract. Feulner had been working on applications for several open FM licenses, including Moab and Nephi. The Board told Feulner he could not use Community Wireless money to apply for them.

Feulner was furious. He took his complaints to the press where he was quoted saying:

“I don’t know why you would want to give up on millions of dollars worth of free frequencies.”

By July 2008, the Board felt it had to act. Feulner was fired on July 15, 2008. Around the same time, Community Wireless sold the license for KCPW in Salt Lake to Wasatch Public Media for $2.2 million.

Today Blair and Susan Feulner reportedly live in Park City. KPCW is now considered one of the best small market public radio stations in the nation. KCPW in Salt Lake City did not fare so well, accumulating a substantial operating debt. Then Lauren Colucci became GM in 2014 and she led the station to solvency with the recent financial restructuring plan.

Now the “real work” begins: Turning the #4 station in a four-station noncommercial radio market into a successful public radio station.

MEET KCPW TODAY

Colucci has brought new optimism and vigor to KCPW after completing the financial restructuring plan. Time that went to resolving the historic issues that plagued the station is now available to invest in station development. But KCPW still faces tough odds.

The chart on the left shows the vital stats for all four of Salt Lake City’s CPB-qualified public radio stations.
KCPW has an alternative-to-NPR news format, with some Jazz for spice.

Classical and Triple A music are well established in the market at KBYU and KRCL. KCPW’s main competition is KUER.

Let’s look at how the schedules for the two stations compare. The two charts on the right show programs for the hours when the most people hear radio.

During the weekdays, KUER has what many observers would consider to be the "standard" NPR News station schedule. Radio West, KUER’s local talk and interview show, is considered one of the best of its type in the public radio system. 

Q is a very good choice for 11:00 am. I like that KCPW has the first local play of The Takeaway.

KCPW's local shows are signature programs for the station. Behind the Headlines, a weekly examination of local news with Salt Lake Tribune reporters, is produced in association with the Tribune. Both Sides of the Aisle is a point-counter point look at local issues. The Bottom Line is a close look at business in Utah. In the Hive is a look at the issues and ideas that shape the greater Salt Lake valley.



Saturday 7am – 3pm offers several opportunities for KCPW. Freakonomics is an excellent choice for 8am – 9am.

The Hinckley Institute program is obviously a relationship issue. But, 11am – Noon on Saturday is the prime-est of Saturday prime time, so a stronger program during that hour could stimulate pledging.


CPB BACKS KCUR’S “KANSAS NEWS SERVICE” WITH $500K GRANT • "THE DAILY" KEEPS RISING ON TOP PODCAST CHART


The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) continues to invest in public broadcasting’s local news infrastructure and content creation. News is working for public radio news stations.  Some public news/talk stations have increased their number of weekly cumulative listeners by double-digit amounts in the past three years. Increases in listeners typically means increases station memberships.



CPB is providing approximately $500,000 to KCUR to expand Topeka-based Kansas News Service (KNS). 

The grant is part of $3.3 million CPB has pledged this year to create or improve five Regional Journalism Centers (RJC).

Locations of stations mentioned in this story circled in red

KNS was launched by KCUR in February 2017 with the support of local and regional foundations. 

Participating stations in KNS, in addition to KCUR, are KMUW, Wichita; KANU, Lawrence; and High Plains Public Radio, a regional network serving rural counties, based in Garden City.  

One Kansas CPB-qualified station, KPRS in Pittsburg located in the south-east corner of Kansas, is currently not part of collaborative. Donna Vestal, Director of Content Strategy at KCUR, says KRPS is welcome to join the other stations:

Donna Vestal
“We are certainly encouraging KRPS to be fully involved with the RJC collaboration. All of the content is being made available to them, and we will be discussing ways to share their work.”

Some of the staff for KNS is already in place. The Managing Director is Jim McLean, based at KNS headquarters in Topeka. The Editor is Amy Jeffries, based in Kansas City.

Vestall anticipates that KNS will be adding new reporters and producers in coming months, including a new digital producer at KCUR, an environmental reporter at KMUW and reporter specializing in agriculture and other rural issue sat High Plains.

Vestall added about the new RJC:

"We're incredibly proud of how the Kansas public media stations are working together. And we have a lot of work to do serving all the communities across the state."

THE DAILY RISES TO FIFTH ON AUGUST TOP PODCASTS CHART

The New York Times daily Monday through Friday podcast The Daily continues to move up on Podtrac’s chart of the top ten podcasts. The roughly 20-minute program hosted by Michael Barbaro is number five on the August Podtrac chart, up from 10th in July and 12th in April.

We reviewed The Daily on May 3, 2017. [link]

If you haven’t heard The Daily I urge you to check it out [link]. Each edition contains a long-form story done in ATC-style plus a brief look at headlines for other current stories. The Daily contains lots of first-hand reporting. It is a nice companion to the Times written reporting and seems to be growing in popularity.

As readers of this blog know, I like what Podtrac is doing but I object to the fact that they fail to provide analytic data on their Top Podcast Rankings. Podtrac does provide the supporting numbers for their other monthly chart that shows the top podcast publishers. 

Velvet Beard
I contacted Velvet Beard of Podtrac and asked why they reveal ranking data for one chart but not for the other. She kindly replied:

We publish free audience numbers at the publisher level but do not make those publicly available at the show level. That is a product decision we have made.”

In other words, the information is embargoed because it is proprietary. I urge Podtrac to reconsider this decision because it hurts the company’s credibility. Without metrics, the list seems more like an impressionistic painting than a scoreboard. Podtrac has the data, so please be more transparent.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

WHEN YOU GREW UP DETERMINES YOUR MEDIA PREFERENCES


As noncommercial radio examines its opportunities in the digital, on-demand marketplace, new information shows radio has some strong positives and vulnerabilities. The biggest variable is when folks were born.



On the right is a key chart from a recent study by Pew Research Center [link] the shows preferences for watching television.  The study does not ask about audio delivery preferences but we are assuming that the behavior will be similar.



It all depends on when you were born and what technology you grew up with. Younger people came into a world where digital dominated the media landscape.



About six-in-ten of those surveyed ages 18 to 29 (61%) say the primary way they watch television now is with streaming services on the internet, compared with 31% who say they mostly watch via a cable or satellite subscription and 5% who mainly watch with a digital antenna.



Other age groups are less likely to use internet streaming services and are much more likely to cite cable TV as the primary way they watch television.



Those with a college education or more are more likely than those with less education to say their primary way to watch TV is online streaming. Roughly a third of college-educated Americans (35%) say they mainly watch via streaming, compared with 22% of those who have a high school diploma or less.



BRIDGE RATINGS HAS BREAKING NEWS: RADIO LISTENERS DON'T LIKE COMMERCIALS



Last week Bridge Ratings, a research company that traces media’s affect on consumer behavior, published [link] the results of a study titled Why Radio Can’t Accommodate Today’s Hit Music.




Bridge quizzed 2,200 consumers between the ages of 12 and 64 earlier this year regarding what they like and don’t like about AM/FM radio and what they do like audio streaming audio. 

However, Bridge either did not ask, or included the responses, for reasons respondents don’t like streaming. Such an omission makes the survey appear less honest. So, consider the source when looking at the following charts.




Chart One (on the left) shows that people don’t like commercials. This is hardly breaking news. 

The other four reasons deal with radio’s lack of on-demand choices.



Chart Two is the inverse of Chart One, asking what respondents what like about listening to music radio. Other than the ease of using radio, the reasons are all in the “human dimension” – the stuff that people do better than algorithms.








Chart Three shows what respondents said they do like about streaming.





Monday, September 18, 2017

THE END MIGHT BE GETTING CLOSER FOR WBAI • KHSU ADDS SECOND STATION • RICHARD MILES NOW IS GM AT WBAA


The dispute between WBAI/Pacifica and the Empire State Building over WBAI’s refusal to pay the rent for its transmission spot atop the building enters a new phase on October 4, 2017. 

Oral arguments will be heard that day by New York District Judge Gerald Lebovits.   

Empire State is requesting that the Court make a summary judgment to settle a long-standing lawsuit caused by WBAI/Pacifica’s failure to pay rent. The last time they paid rent was in 2014.

If the Court approves Empire State’s motion, WBAI and Pacifica will have to pay $2.1million in back rent plus legal fees.

At the hearing, Empire State will argue that WBAI/Pacifica has no valid defense. They will point out that WBAI/Pacifica signed a lease agreement in 2005, made payment until 2014 and then stopped making payments claiming the amount wasn’t fair. Empire State will say WBAI/Pacifica stopped paying the rent because of inept management.

On the other hand, WBAI/Pacifica are expected to try to  make a make a nunc pro tunc case that would void the contract. They will say the rent is onerous and unfair. So, this is essentially an appeal for mercy from the Court.

Antenna workers at Empire State Building
WBAI has mounted a campaign intended to “shame” Empire State for being heartless capitalists. Empire State believes that WBAI/Pacifica’s claim is moot because they willingly signed the agreement.

There is a lot at stake for WBAI/Pacifica if the Court rules in favor of the summary judgment. They will have to come up with $2.1 million pronto.  Because WBAI/Pacifica are in the midst of financial crisis, they could be forced to liquidate the FCC license for WBAI or be forced to enter bankruptcy.

Observers say that the most likely outcome is that the Court will agree with Empire State and approve the summary judgment.

KHSU ADDS SECOND STATION: RADIO BILINGUE

KBAE's projected coverage area
Last week it was announced that KHSU in the Eureka area is purchasing another FM signal in the market.  Humboldt State University, the licensee of KHSU, is paying $70,000 for the license of KBAE 95.5 FM. KBAE’s projected coverage area is shown on the map on the right.

Rather than establish a second station with a Classical or Triple A service, KHSU will become a repeater of Spanish-language Radio Bilingue, based in Fresno.

In a press release, Radio Bilingüe describes itself as a community-based radio network with a satellite system that reaches scores of affiliates throughout the U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico as well as its own seven stations in California, three in New Mexico, one in Arizona and one in Colorado.

Radio Bilingüe programming can be heard online [link].

Until the FCC approves the license transfer, KHSU is now airing Radio Bilingüe via a Local Marketing Agreement (LMA). There are 5,000 to 10,000 people of Hispanic origin living in Humboldt Couty.

RICHARD MILES IS THE NEW GM AT WBAA, WEST LAFAYETTE

Richard Miles
WBAA AM & FM [link], licensed to Purdue University, announced that their new General Manager is Richard Miles. Miles is a well-known and respected public media veteran.  Before accepting the WBAA gig, Miles was VP of Interactive Media & Content Strategy at WFYI FM and TV, Indianapolis.

Miles will likely find working at WBAA to be a different environment than WFYI. Purdue keeps close watch on activities at the stations and has a very active role in station decisions. Previous GM Mike Savage was at WBAA for a relatively short time. Rumor has it that Savage tried to mitigate Purdue’s presence in station decision-making.

KEN SAYS:  I know Richard Miles and he is a great guy and a solid manager. He knows the scene at WBAA and Purdue well from his years of working in the state. We wish him the best in the new job!



Friday, September 15, 2017

READER COMMENTS


We haven’t featured reader comments for a while, so today let’s get caught up.

BIG MONEY AT WNYC?

One of the things I like about blogging is seeing the extended life of older posts. A few of my posts continue to get comments months or years after their initial appearance.  This is proves that the “long tail” keeps getting longer.

A case in point is our post [link] from April 14,2015 with the headline Who Makes the Most Money In Noncom Radio? 

James & Ruth Campbell
The answer was James Campbell, founder and President of Radio Training Network, a fast-growing Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) group using the name His Radio. According to information from 2012 on the organization’s IRS 990 filing, Campbell received almost $600,000 that tax year. Plus, his wife made nearly $80,000.

That post also included compensation information for folks at WNYC, NPR, APM, PRI, CPB and several other organizations. One thing I learned from that post was that some people really, really don’t like to have their salaries publicized even though they are a matter of public record. But readers seem to love this kind of information.

We continue to receive comments about salaries at WNYC which were higher than most other public radio organizations. Here are two recent replies:

# 1. FROM AN ANONYMOUS READER

They [WNYC] have fantastic programming, with listeners from every part of the world. Believe me, 300K is not THAT much in NYC where I personally live in a 340-sq-ft studio on a fifth floor of a walk-up building, and pay $1600 a month (utilities not included).

If you don’t pay talent such as Leonard Lopate or Brian Lehrer they won’t stick around. They are stars and have to be properly compensated.

#2. FROM AN ANONYMOUS READER

In response to WNYC is always pleading poverty. In a typical year they do three ten-day pledge-drives plus shorter ones. They expect $100 contributions and push $365 sustaining memberships. In their new building, WNYC is always advertising and hosting events (beer tasting, food tasting, straight singles gatherings, gay singles gatherings, etc.) to raise needed revenue. Meanwhile, the quality of their programing has deteriorated over the years. It’s a bit of an outrage that donor contributions should go to such generous salaries rather than quality programming.

BAD KARMA AT CURRENT?

On July 27. 2017 we posted an article [link] called Current May Disappear Unless More People Subscribe. The post described the challenges faced by Current as they establish a paywall and try to become self-sustaining financially.

I was a bit surprised at the lack of comment about the post.  A couple of friends sent me private messages saying they didn’t care if Current survived because there were lots of other information options. One anonymous reader sent this comment:

Current’s online presence has been free and people have gotten used to it. It is just like listeners who have gotten used to free podcasts of Fresh Air, This American Life, etc, and no longer need to give or even listen to a local public radio station to get what they want. Karma.

KEN SAYS: Of course this is the problem.  People have become accustomed to free everything online.  But, dissing Current’s karma is a bit too harsh. I think they are a good source of public radio system news and I hope it continues.  And, I subscribe and encourage others to subscribe too.

WBAI’S TOXIC WORKPLACE

We are one of the few publications who attempt to report developments at Pacifica and WBAI. I’ve called them “public media’s biggest embarrassment” because they have earned it. I will continue to report on the status of Pacifica but I try to avoid the back-and-forth between factions. An anonymous reader sent this comment:

I was with the station from 1978 to 2013 when they laid off 90+% of the staff because of the usual money short falls. We were months behind paying the Empire State Building even then. Bad management for decades, no vision, a toxic work space and an us-or-them mindset has driven away most listeners and subscribers.

Once there were a handful of creative professionals doing good work despite management’s toxic culture of failure. But those people are gone now also.

KCSN & KSBR PARTNER TO MAKE 88.5 FM A LA MARKET STATION

There were lots of positive comments and re-postings of our September 6th article [link] about the new partnership between KCSN, Northridge and KSBR, south Orange County to create a full-market Triple A music station at 88.5 FM.  Both stations broadcast on 88.5 meaning neither could cover the entire LA basin.

Spark News Reader Aaron Read sent this comment:

If KSBR was the only thing keeping KCSN from moving to Mount Wilson, they’d be crazy not to make that leap.

The Mt. Wilson "tower farm"
KEN SAYS: Agreed! Mount Wilson is the best transmitter site in South California. Most the markets TV and FM stations transmit from the 5,723’ mountain peak.  Travel tip: If you are traveling to Los Angeles for a vacation don’t miss the Mount Wilson Observatory.

Mt. Wilson Observatory in the 1930s
For the first half of the 20th Century, Mount Wilson was the most famous observatory in the world. Among the many discoveries made on the mountain, a few revolutionized our understanding of our place in the Universe. At Mount Wilson Edwin Hubble proved that the mysterious spiral nebulae, which astronomers had speculated about for decades, were in fact distant galaxies similar to our own. Then Hubble teamed up with Milton Humason and discovered that this immense Universe was expanding. This finding lead to the Big Bang Theory.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

“MOUNTAIN WEST JOURNALISM COLLABORATIVE” BRINGS TOGETHER BIG SKY STATIONS • NPR LEADS THE LATEST PODTRAC RANKINGS


MAP OF MWJC STATES
CPB’s journalism collaborations continue to add new resources to expand public media’s news footprint. Last week CPB announced a new collaborative – the Mountain West Journalism Collaborative (MWJC) – that will bring together six public radio stations that serve northern Rocky Mountain areas. 

The lead station for the CPB grant is Boise State Public Radio. Other participating organizations include KUNC, Fort Collins/Greeley; KRCC, Colorado Springs; KUER, Salt Lake City; Wyoming Public Media in Laramie; and Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings.

TOM MICHAEL
Tom Michael, GM of Boise State Public Radio, said in a press release:

“Here in the West, we’re watching the fast growth of new American cities, but we’re also seeing significant changes in the rural outposts. 

"The partnership will explore the growth [and] expansion in west, including the rural-urban divide, issues facing the rural west and western culture and heritage.”

CPB is providing MWJC with a $475,000 start-up grant. The money will be used to hire new reporters and a managing editor who will oversee MWJC’s content and day-to-day operations.


Jackie Yamanaka
An important goal of MWJC is to raise the visibility of the largely rural region. Jackie Yamanaka, interim news director at Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings put it this way:

"There is no voice from the Rocky Mountain West. The region, is missing from national coverage except when something happens. Most often people hear stories such as the Freeman standoff or the arrest of the Unabomber."

Yamanaka told Billings media that the MWJC will focus on issues such as land and water, growth in an expanding West and long-form stories and in-depth investigations on subjects like the fate of public monuments and the effects of “dark money” on politics.

NPR CONTINUES ITS DOMINANCE IN THE LATEST PODCAST RANKINS




NPR continues to have a wide lead as the nation’s top publisher of podcasts according the latest Protrac rankings. Seven of the top-ten podcast publishers showed gains in US Unique Audience in August over July.

ESPN, PRX and the New York Times had double digit increases. WBUR dropped from the top ten.

Sean Hannity Slept Here
A new publisher made its first appearance on top ten chart: Barstool Sports, a for-profit publisher of 16 podcasts.   

Check out the podcast selection on Barstools site [link]. 

Barstool's podcasts will not be confused with ones published by public media organizations. 

At Barstool you will find podcasts praising Alt-Right hero Steve Bannon, support for Kid Rock’s election chances, soft-core porn and a few sports trivia questions.   

But, hey, that’s entertainment!