Wednesday, November 22, 2017


As God as my witness I thought turkeys could fly! 
Arthur Carlson, GM, WKRP, Cincinnati

Almost anyone who has worked in radio has a story about a station promotion that went off the rails. Perhaps the most famous “splat” was in the classic WKRP episode Turkeys Away. What most people don’t know about Turkeys Away is that it was based on a promotion that actually happened. 

(Scroll down to see the most famous scene from Turkeys Away.)

Hugh Wilson

Hugh Wilson, the creator of WKRP, based the series on people and events that happened at WQXI, a highly rated Top 40 station in Atlanta. Wilson, an advertising agency copy writer, hung around with folks who worked at WQXI.

When Wilson moved to Los Angeles to write for Mary Tyler Moore (MTN) Productions he pitched the idea of the show that became WKRP to Grant Tinker, the head of MTN. 

Tinker bought it and CBS-TV gave it the green light. WKRP debuted in fall 1979.

The WQXI DJs back in the day

Wilson was looking for a Thanksgiving-themed holiday program in 1980. 

He remembered an incident that his friends at WQXI told him about when the station sponsored a turkey giveaway promotion.

WQXI staged the free turkey event at a strip mall in Atlanta. They planned to toss live turkeys off the back of truck and let people in the assembled crowd catch their own holiday bird.

But, it turned out that the turkeys were not live, they were frozen. So, the WQXI DJs decided to throw the frozen turkeys to the crowd instead.

That was a big mistake. The frozen turkeys hit the ground with big splats causing an unbelievable mess. That true story was morphed into WKRP’s Turkeys Away. It became a huge hit and saved WKRP from being cancelled.

Here is the famous scene from Turkeys Away:

If you are a WKRP fan and like trivia check out the trivia contests at [link].

Spark News will return after the Thanksgiving break.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Fact 1: Commercial radio requires paid commercial announcements to stay in business.

Fact 2: People dislike commercials, particularly a bunch of them in a row.

Fact 3: Noncommercial should exploit the lack of commercials, particularly a bunch of them in a row.

Each Monday All Access Media [link] publishes a media research column authored by Carolyn Gilbert and Leigh Jacobs of NuVoodoo Media, a research company that is a big player in commercial radio music formats. Their most recent column (Monday 11/20) is titled The Other Problem(s) with Commercials.

NuVoodoo has recently done a study of listener perceptions of commercial breaks, called “stop-sets” or “commercial clusters” in the biz. Stations will play eight or more spots in a row. These commercial breaks can last five minutes or longer.

Typical truck stop menu copy • Courtesy of NuVoodoo
NuVoodoo compares the results of this practice to an audio version of a truck stop menu cover where local businesses advertise in 2” x 2” blocks.

NuVoodoo asked a sample of 2,979 people between the ages of 14 and 54 to wear a PPM-ish device (or keep a written Diary) and listen a simulated radio program complete with music and commercial stop-sets. Then the respondents were asked basic questions.

Courtesy of NuVoodoo
Question One: Agree or disagree, Most commercials don’t apply to me?

The chart on the left shows that the majority of the respondents agreed with the statement. They don’t feel the commercials were relevant to them.

Courtesy of NuVoodoo
Question Two: Agree or disagree, Most commercials on the radio don’t sound good to you?

The next chart on the left shows that most of the respondents agree with the statement. The majority felt commercials just don’t sound good.

In their conclusion, NuVoodoo said:

As our consumer experience is increasingly connected with digital media, where ads are served up based on individual browsing history and the deep information available via Big Data, we’re coming to expect that ads are always relevant to us and match the quality of what they hear online or via mobile devices.

The Takeaway:

The respondents appear to have become even more negative about their perception of radio spots.. If this is also true of the general public, noncommercial radio has an increasing advantage over commercial radio.

This matters because the minutes per hour dedicated to commercials is not expected to drop. As the chart on the left from Inside Radio in 2015 shows, over 55% of commercial stations have 10 to 14 minutes per hour of commercials. That have to keep airing this number of spots to pay back their debts.

The sound and relevance of commercial radio is increasingly different than on-demand media, podcasts and noncommercial radio.

Monday, November 20, 2017


NPR's Next Generation Radio [link] says 2017 was one of its best years ever. In a report to stakeholders, Next Generation founder and Director Doug Mitchell said the project trained and mentored 57 rising journalists between January and October this year.

Next Generation, a partnership including NPR member stations and US colleges and universities, is a digital first, multimedia project targeting college students and early-career professionals who are interested in in-depth journalism and storytelling. Each student is paired with a mentor for an intensive, on-location "boot-camp."

NPR's Next Generation Radio Class of 2017 • Doug Mitchell on the right
According to Mitchell, each participant is given an assignment to find one person with a great story to tell. The participants then design the approach to the story, do research, conduct interviews and produce the feature.

Each student-mentor team is advised to think “audience first.” This is an important part of the training because Next Generation wants graduates of the program to do relevant and substatial work. Each team must answer questions like “who cares” and “why should people care” before finishing the piece.

Next Generation Radio has had a big impact on public media because it is an incubator for new journalists with diverse backgrounds. Among the graduates are:

• Audie Cornish, Co-Host of All Things Considered;
• Nicole Beemsterboer, Senior Producer for NPR’s Investigation Unit;
• Celeste Headlee, Host and Executive Producer for Georgia Public’s daily news and interview program On Second Thought;
• Lee Hill, Senior Digital, Editor at WNYC;
• Phyllis Fletcher, Managing Editor at Northwest News Network in Seattle;  
• Nancy DeVille, Network Producer for Youth Radio in Oakland; and,
 Ericka Cruz Guevarra, Breaking News Reporter at KOPB, Portland

Doug Mitchell founded Next Generation Radio in association with NPR in 2000. He explains the project in this YouTube video:

According to Mitchell, in 2018 Next Generation Radio is planning on working with these partners:

University of Houston/Houston Public Media (January 8-12)
University of Southern California (March 12-16)
Georgia Public Broadcasting (May 7-11)
University of Nevada, Reno (June 4-8)
WHYY Philadelphia, PA (June 25-29)
KUOW Seattle (Early Career) July 16-20
Oklahoma City/KOSU (July 30-Aug 3)
KUT Austin, TX (Aug 13-17)
Capital Public Radio Sacramento, CA (Oct 15-19)

In his report, Mitchell says the bottom line is:

"What we do is reinforce what they've wanted to do, or, open their eyes to what they could do."


The New York Times weekday podcast The Daily [link] continues to gain new listeners. Hosted by Michael Barbaro, The Daily says of itself: This is how the news should sound. As a frequent listener, I agree.

According to the October Podtrac chart (on the left), The Daily is now the #2 podcast in the US. Last month The Daily was #5 and in July it was #10.

Also gaining ground were NPR’s Up First and How I Built This. iHeartMedia’s Trending Songs/Pop, a weekly countdown show [link], made its debut on the Podtrac chart.

Friday, November 17, 2017



The inbox has been busy lately. Our post last Wednesday [link] about Classical Music Rising and the performance of full-time Classical music stations in the Nielsen October PPMs brought these two comments:

Comment #1: From the Content Director of a station in one of the top ten markets who asked not to be named:

READER: This article’s premise is somewhat uninformed. Of course listenership on classical music stations in October 2017 was lower than October 2016. That’s because it was a month before a dramatic presidential election.

In 2012, I noticed that starting in August – the month of the national conventions - the numbers for us and the two NPR affiliates we started going up and classical and jazz stations went down. It peaked in November. By February it was all back to pre-August levels.

I think that when big national events happen, people do tune in more often to news and talk stations.  I suspect the. I also suspect people will go back to jazz and classical stations because that intensity of horror is unsustainable

KEN SAYS: The increase in listeners to news stations during hot news cycles such as the 2016 election season has been observed many times in the past. As the reader says, listening frequently rises during the months prior to a national election then it falls back to previous levels in subsequent months. But that didn’t happy after the 2016 election.

As we reported on November 6th [link] 64% of NPR News/Talk stations increased their number of weekly listeners by more than 3% when comparing October 2017 PPM ratings to October 2016.

The reader also asked whether public radio listeners seek “shelter from the storm” when the news they are hearing gets ugly. This hard to quantify. The Nielsen ratings measure behavior, not the motivations of behavior.

Comment #2: An anonymous reader wrote to us:

READER:  I found it ironic that the first part of your post was about Classical Music Rising and the second part of the post was about “classical music falling” in the October 2017 Nielsen ratings.

KEN: The reader is correct that around 68% of the full-time Classical music stations in PPM markets had fewer weekly listeners in October 2017 than October 2016. But, weekly listener estimates aren’t only factor the Classical Music Rising initiative is working on. CMR is working to increase the overall value a station engagement with listeners on all platforms. Plus, Wende Person, Executive Editor or CMR, is doing a splendid job of creating a Classical music radio community. Triple A radio would benefit from this kind of advocacy.

ITEM TWO: There is no “Pacifica.”

We have provided extensive coverage of the deepening crisis at Pacifica Foundation stations, particularly WBAI, since a New York court ruled against Pacifica in case involving unpaid transmitter site rent on the Empire State Building. Pacifica must pay an estimated $2.4 million now or begin having their assets seized.

We had a helpful email exchange with a Spark News reader, whom we will not identify, who was the GM of one of the Pacifica stations a few years ago. The reader provides interesting insight into the motivations of the people who currently operate Pacifica:

From: Ken Mills []
Sent: Friday, November 10, 2017
Subject: Re: Pacifica

KEN: Why hasn't Pacifica gotten rid of all the factions and drama?

READER: There is no “Pacifica.” There are only factions. “Pacifica,” as a 501(c)(3) is “owned” by the members of whoever happens to be on the Pacifica National Board, which is compromised of the factions from each station.

Each year, the local station boards vote for the National Board representatives. So there’s some turnover every year. But, the National Board is mostly the same retread “leaders” and their various supporters who vote with them. These people are not going to get rid of themselves.

KEN: Has it every occurred to the powers that be that there is absolutely no requirement that they operate in this manner?

READER: No. They are there for their own respective agendas. They don’t feel responsible for an organization that is a public trust.

KEN: All of the drama involving these factions is hard to report to my readers. No successful noncom radio station I know of operates in this manner. Why don't they put someone qualified in charge and get back to business?

READER: They don’t want to. The various actors all are delusional and believe they are competent. It’s really a phenomenon that it is nearly impossible to explain. But you have to realize that every incompetent board member, staff person or unpaid programmer has “friends” that are reliable votes in internal elections\

When I was at [station] my faction – “my side” - won big. However “my side” turned out to be even more incompetent and craven than the other side. This is why I think Pacifica is completely hopeless. Besides being incompetent and delusional, they are also lazy.

KEN: Wow, that is a grim assessment.  Is there any hope anywhere within Pacifica?

READER: Not that I can see. I think it’s just about documenting who puts the final nails in the coffin. Maybe I’m wrong, who knows? At Pacifica The good ones leave, the incompetent ones stay and psychos keep returning.

Folks, if what this reader says is true (and I have no reason to doubt it is true), Pacifica has violated my Prime Directive. I publish this blog because I want to promote excellence in use of the radio medium. If broadcast radio is to survive, it must provide programming that listeners will seek out and value.  Radio’s future is a use-it-or-lose-it situation.

The people who run Pacifica don’t seem to care about programming excellence or serving the public interest with their stations. Off with their heads!


A frequent reader and commenter that works in the noncom Christian radio business sent me this comment about our report concerning our post [link] about Educational Media Foundation’s clout:

READER: Christian radio giant K-LOVE has tens of millions of dollars, but won’t say how much they raised. While it had humble beginnings as a single radio station in Santa Rosa, California in 1982, K-LOVE’s fundraising tactics should have come into question. 

Now K-LOVE is the biggest brand in Christian Music radio. But, one has to wonder if they have become an empire, too big to be sustainable, and to consumed by their own greed to live up to their mission.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Image courtesy Jacobs Media
My friend Fred Jacobs posted a great story on his blog recently [link] about folks of millennial age being addicted to their mobile phones. The bottom line is that many millennials are so dependent on their devices they can’t go anywhere without them.

Fred combined data from a study by LivePerson [link], a company that tracks digital device usage by consumers, with Jacobs Media’s Tech Survey 13.  Tech Survey 13 examined device and platform preferences of commercial radio listeners. Jacobs also does an annual Public Radio Tech Survey (PRTS) but results of the 2017 study have not yet been released.

Source: Jacobs' Tech Survey 13
The chart on the right shows the differences between respondents of millennial age and those of all ages to the statement I am addicted to my mobile phone

Sixty-three percent of the millennial age respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the notion that they are addicted to their smartphones.

The LivePerson study of more than 4,000 internet users, ages 18-34 in the US and United Kingdom, concluded that nearly three- quarters of the respondents prefer digital communications to face-to-face contact.

The study had more than 4,000 Internet users in the 18-34 year-old demo across six countries, including the United States. In both the UK and the US, nearly three- quarters prefer digital communications to face-to-face contact. The LivePerson study also found that two-thirds of the millennial age respondents take their mobile devices with hem to the bathroom.

Jacobs feels these findings are significant to the broadcasting industries because smartphones have become the primary source of entertainment for millennials. When people are using mobile devices, chances are slim that they are listening to broadcast radio. Until manufacturers begin including and activating "FM chips" this usage pattern will continue.


I found Jacobs’ factoids about mobile device usage in the bathroom intriguing, so I searched online and found other research that confirms Jacobs’ findings.

One of the best studies of this topic is on ViralBlog [link]Toilet Talk: Cell Phone Usage In Restrooms. The study found:

• 75% of respondents admitted that they had used their mobile devices while on the toilet.  (Count me among that group but, perhaps, that is more you wanted to know.

• Gen Y respondents, millennials, are the most likely to use their devices while on the toilet.

• The most frequent activities while on the john are reading and texting.

• Perhaps, most importantly, 92% of the respondents say they wash their hands after using the bathroom but very few ever wash their phones. Mobile devices, like TV remote control wands, are a major source of germs.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


This year C-SPAN Radio [link] is celebrating 20 years of service. But it appears that the folks who run it haven’t figured out what it is doing. Is C-SPAN Radio a repeater of C-SPAN’s video coverage? Is it a radio station? Is it an online audio portal? I think it is a little bit of all of these but it certainly not “radio” as we know it.

Brian Lamb - Media Visionary
Disclosure: I am a big fan of C-SPAN’s cable TV and online services. They provide valuable public service. C-SPAN has made many positive contributions to our nation’s democracy. 

My favorite program on C-SPAN is Q & A [link], a Sunday evening (8pm ET) interview show on C-SPAN 1 hosted by retired C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb. Each week Lamb talks with authors, some famous such as David McCullough and Tom Ricks, and some who are obscure like Scott Greenberger, the nation’s foremost authority on President Chester A. Arthur.

C-SPAN Radio began in October 1997 when the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (“C-SPAN”) purchased WDRU 90.1 FM, a Jazz music station then owned by the University of the District of Columbia. The owners of WDRU were contemplating selling the license to Salem Broadcasting, a highly partisan, publically traded, religious broadcaster based in California.

A bidding war broke out between Salem, C-SPAN and others that led to C-SPAN paying $13 million for WDCU. The price was big news within the public radio community because it seemed to signal that C-SPAN might want to compete with NPR in its home market.

But that never happened. After WCSP 90.1 FM signed on it repeated raw feeds of programming on C-SPAN’s cable channels. Few people seemed to notice.

Kate Mills

Then, in the mid 2000s WCSP began creating some separate programming when Kate Mills [no relation to Ken Mills] became General Manager. 

Mills had worked at C-SPAN for several years producing interviews and call-in programs such as Washington Journal.

WCSP, C-SPAN Radio’s flagship, has one of the best signals in the market (WCSP's coverage map is on the right).  

C-SPAN Radio’s 24/7 programming is also available on SiriusXM and several streaming audience vendors.

However, I have not seen any hard evidence that anyone actually listens to WCSP on any platform.


C-SPAN TV and radio do not subscribe to the Nielsen ratings. But, Nielsen does have unreleased measurement data that is proprietary. I asked one of public radio’s best audience researchers (who asked not to be named in this article). The researcher told me that in the past 20 years he/she has not seen any trace of listening to WCSP in Nielsen or Arbitron's raw data.

The researcher told me that WCSP’s non-appearance in Nielsen’s published or unpublished data means either (a) WCSP does not encode their signal for Nielsen measurement, or (b) WCSP’s listening audience is so small it doesn’t meet Nielsen’s minimum criteria.

I made several inquiries about audience metrics to Kate Mills and C-SPAN’s press department but they did not respond.

However, C-SPAN does have plenty of information available about its cable TV audience. According to the document 2017 C-SPAN Audience Profile which is available on C-SPAN’s website [link] there is ample information available about the TV viewers. For instance, C-SPAN’s three cable TV channels and on-demand services reach 9.5 million people in a typical week. C-SPAN viewers are evenly split by gender, tend to be a bit younger than the population as a whole and represent all political ideologies.

But, C-SPAN’s report says nothing, not a single word, about who listens to WCSP radio.


Please keep in mind, I am only talking about listening to WCSP 90.1 FM and the simulcast on SiriusXM. C-SPAN Radio, which should be called C-SPAN Audio, has an impressive selection of podcasts, on-demand programs and special series such as The LBJ Tapes.

But on the broadcast radio platform they are disappointing. You can hear it “live” here

Consider these attributes:

C-SPAN Radio has no “radio heartbeat,” the rhythm of host/curator mixed with other programmatic elements, that make radio a companion unobtrusive [thank you Rush]. It sounds canned and mechanical.

• C-SPAN’s television audio doesn’t work well on radio during breaks in the action. When I watch live events on C-SPAN TV I like the downtime moments during or after an event.  On TV it is fun to see and hear people talking to others informally. On WCSP radio, these moments seem like someone fell asleep at the control board.

• Events drone on for long periods of time without speakers being identified.  Voices come and go without context. As a listener I feel excluded rather than included.

• Audio levels are not consistent and ambient room noise muddies the ability to understand what is being said.

C-SPAN Radio often takes clips from events and edits in a hosts’ voice to simulate a Q and A interview. This technique often sounds haphazard.  In one program I heard the interviewee refer to the TV host by name but someone else was the host of the radio version.

The best program I heard on C-SPAN Radio was during late afternoon drive – Washington Today. The host, who I never heard identified, had a nice radio presence. The editing is sharper. But, the show moves at a slow pace and boredom settles in. (I later learned that the host was Steve Scully.)

Here is my point: C-SPAN is not using the radio platform to its advantage. Broadcast radio is far different than cable TV. C-SPAN should create programming specifically for the radio medium. Warmed over TV audio doesn’t cut it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Folks at Classical Music stations sometimes wonder why donors give $10,000 to the local symphony but only $65 a year to your station? Classical Music Rising (CMR) wants you to know the answer and what your station can do about it.

CMR [link], an initiative sponsored by the Station Resource Group (SRG), has hired long-time development specialist Deborah Lein to find the answers. 

Lein, former COO of Greater Public and Development Specialist at Public Radio International (PRI) is a highly respected researcher with numerous ties to the Classical Music radio industry.

Source: Culture Track Study on Consumer Behavior
Lein is currently conducting an analysis of fourteen arts organizations, ranging from the Metropolitan Opera to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. She is also studying patterns in funding for the arts, education and community engagement.

According to a post on the CMR Newsletter, Lein will provide practical and strategic resources to help philanthropic fundraising locally and collectively plus listener engagement suggestions and other best practices. Information from Lein’s study may lead to a multi-station project in the near future.

If you are interest in Classical Music radio, we urge you to subscribe to the CMR Newsletter. For more information, contact Wende Persons at


According to Nielsen Audio, more than two-thirds of the full-time Classical Music stations in PPM markets had fewer estimated weekly listeners in October 2017 than they had in October 2016.

We are now tracking 28 full-time Classical stations in these markets. We have complete information for 25 of the stations. Eight stations (32%) were up compared to October 2016 and 17 stations (68%) were down.

The chart on the left shows the Top Ten Classical Music stations ranked by the number of weekly listeners. We had enough information to compare nine of the ten stations. The estimated number of weekly listeners was up at three stations and down at six.

Technically, WQXR is number one if you add listeners in two adjacent PPM markets, Long Island (59,3000 and Northern New Jersey (40,700). Including data for these two markets, WQXR had 675,200 estimated weekly listeners. Both WQXR and KUSC have considerable listening in adjacent Diary markets which is not included in the October numbers. (Scroll down to see results for stations #11 - #28.)

Monday, November 13, 2017


iHeartMedia is new on the Podtrac chart
According to Podtrac Analytics [link], three public media podcast publishers – PRX, NPR and WNYC Studios – posted impressive gains in October US Unique Monthly Audience compared to October 2016. The Podtrac rankings also show that the podcast market is increasing competitive as more commercial publishers enter the market.

This matters because, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), paid advertising in podcasts will bring in over $220 million in 2017. This is up 85% over 2016.

Four of the ten top podcast publishers in October 2017 have their roots in public radio. However the top ten now includes six commercial publishers including giant iHeartMedia. iHeart appears in the Podtrac chart for the first time in October.

As you can see in the chart on the right, NPR is by far the podcast audience leader. iHeart debuts at #2 on the chart with 525 active shows. Some critics question the relevance of iHeart’s number because they feel iHeart dumped a kitchen-sink of shows into the mix without any popular individual shows. iHeart says individual shows don’t matter as much as bulk audience delivery for advertisers.

Half of the publishers listed in the October 2017 Podtrac rankings did not have any podcasts in wide distribution in October 2016. Newcomers to the chart such as Wondery and Barstool Sports show how quickly a podcast publisher can impact the chart with one hit program.

Wondery [link] is powered by podcasts such as Dirty John, a soft core porn-ish show, a co-production with the Los Angeles Times, and Inside Psycho, a true-crime show produced by media consultant Mark Ramsey. 

Wondery started in 2016 by former Fox television executive Hernan Lopez.

We reported about Barstool Sports in October [link]. They have one big bankable show Pardon My Take.  Pardon… is sports talk show with fart jokes and silly characters. Recently Pardon.. – renamed Barstool Van Talk – had one of the shortest runs ever in radio syndication: one show.  ESPN cancelled it because the content was too profane (but not too dumb) for commercial radio. 


Just as Podtrac has become the de facto chart-of-record for podcast listening, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has become the go-to destination for hard data about podcast advertising.

IAB sponsors some of the Podcast Upfront events for big advertising buyers. IAB recently conducted a study [link] of the industry’s most significant revenue generators. In the study, IAB did a market scan, interviews with the largest publishers and a survey of 20 of the largest podcast advertising companies.

In the study, IAB found that podcast revenue for 2017 is more $220 million in 2017. The chart on the left from the study shows the amazing growth of podcast advertising over the last three year.

While the growth in podcasting revenue is impressive, podcast advertising is small compared to traditional media revenue. For instance in 2017 radio advertising is expect to generation around $16 billion in revenue.

Other findings from IAB study include:

• Marketers prefer ads read by podcast hosts to those that are pre-produced.

• In 2016 revenue generated by ads become the top source of podcast revenue, replacing subscription revenue.

• The remarkable growth of podcast ad revenue, proves that an ancient axiom is still true:

“Great rewards go to those who surprise and delight their fellow humans.”