Friday, February 17, 2017



Last Monday (2/13) we reported on the latest podcast publisher rankings from Podtrac Analytics.  In that story we compared the Top 10 “US Unique Monthly Audience” in January 2017 with October 2016.  All of podcasts in the Top 10 had fewer listeners in January. Declines ranged from 2% to 40%. Our chart is on the right.

We wondered aloud whether the decline in audience reflected a larger trend or had Podtrac changed it’s methodology. After an initial contact with Podtrac, I was put in touch with Mark Mccrery, Founder & CEO of Podtrac.  I asked Mccrery whether he stood by Podtrac’s numbers and what could have caused the decline in podcast listeners in a four-month period.

Mark Mccrery replied:

Mark Mccrery
Hi Ken,

Thanks for your interest in the numbers.  Yes, we stand by the data.
I’ll also add two points:

- Election conversations took place in the fall in many podcasts regardless of podcast genre/category.   

- There is seasonality, variation and spikiness in podcast activity, so that in over 11 years of measuring podcasts, counts can change up or down by 20% or more from month to month.  Below is a chart of stream/download activity by month for a top podcast for the last 2.5 years, as an example.

KEN SAYS: Podtrac is trying to establish itself as the go-to provider for podcast metrics, something the industry needs. Mccrery’s response shows reaching that goal is a work in progress. As Mccrery said above, counts can change up or down by 20% from month to month. When we report Podtrac’s data, should we add a disclaimer that the actual listening may vary by 20%?

The primary reason for the drop cited by Mccrery is that the number of podcast listeners spiked in October because of the election. This may or may not be true. Seasonality might also be a factor in podcast listening.

That said, I am very impressed with Podtrac’s response and the overall approach by the company. The Podtrac monthly charts are a valuable service and we will continue to publish their rankings.


This is a very personal comment and reply, so I hope readers will read it with that in mind. On December 3, 2015, I published [link] “The Dream Is Over.” It told the story of how a Twin Cities area couple, Kevin and Jill Rische, decided to start a new noncommercial, independent Christian community station. They applied for a short-spaced full-power channel at 88.1 FM.

They won the construction permit for 88.1 and signed on WAJC in 2011. Operating WAJC proved to be a challenge, especially financially. After a few years of tireless work and hand-to-mouth realities, the Rishe s sold their beloved station to their church, Maranatha Assembly of God Church. They are still active in station but they are no long on the hook for operating funds. You can hear WAJC here.

A few weeks ago, Jill Rische contacted me. She was concerned that my article contained errors and misrepresented the Rische’s and WAJC. Below I have posted several pages of Jill’s complaints. Some of her concerns have merit but most were debatable at best and wrong at worst.

There is one comment Jill made that is certainly true: My tone was snarky and unforgiving, almost like I was enjoying seeing their failures. I re-read my post and Jill is right, my words were stark and painful.  This caused me to reflect on what caused me to published my hurtful post.

The truth is I was channeling my own unresolved feelings of pain for my own failures for a station (K-SKY FM) I built and operated and then lost.  I told Jill I was truly sorry for adding to her own pain because I felt deeply about my own failure. I apologized to Jill and Kevin, which they accepted.

At KSKY I made several big mistakes that cost me my ownership stake. Basically, my big ego and pride made me blind to the problems I faced.  A case in point was my failure to realize the physics of radio signals and my hype of things that were not true.

Ken at the top of Terry Peak • July 1982
Very briefly, here is what happened. In 1982 I won a construction permit for a new 100kw station licensed to Deadwood, a small town in Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.  I secured a tower site on Terry Peak, a 7,100 foot mountain that was 3,000 feet above the city of license and 4,000 feet above Rapid City, the only metro area in the region.

My engineer told me I didn’t need to worry about translator because he was installing a 10-degree beam tilt on the antenna bays.  I trusted his expertise, which was a big mistake. 

I had extensively promoted the signal reach of the new station. When K-SKY signed on September 2, 1982, I was immediately confronted with the reality of the situation. Because of the height of antenna and terrain shielding, the 100kw signal could be heard in places 100 miles away but it was spotty in many areas of the Black Hills.  The signal was so spotty in the foothills that I needed a translator to put a signal in the city of license. I had major egg on my face.  The truth was that I failed at my “dream station” because of my own myopic decisions.

I left K-SKY in September 1984 to enter grad school at Arizona State University. After I left, K-SKY (with well placed translators) went on to become the number one station in the Rapid City market. I had the vision, but I wasn’t there to enjoy the success. It still hurts. But this was no reason for me to deflect my self-anger on Jill and Kevin Rishe. They loved WAJC as much as I loved K-SKY.


(Note: I have posted Jill’s corrections and comments about my 12/3/15 story verbatim further down in this post.)

I sent Jill a summary email on Tuesday (2/14) and asked her to respond to three key questions: Did WAJC lose money? Why did you promote WAJC as a full market station when it wasn’t? What responsibility do you and Kevin take for the lack of WAJC’s success?

To: Jill
From Ken

Thank you for the documents and clarifications.  I am planning on publishing the update regarding WAJC this Friday 2/17.  I have a few questions and hope I can include your answers in Friday’s article:

QUESTION ONE: Jill wrote: you see it never was a “Please buy my failing radio station” scenario. The 990s you referred to in your article are not ours—you can look us up under Religious Information Network. We are small but were in the black the entire time we built and ran WAJC.

KEN: I did look up “Religious Information Network” (RIN) in the IRS database and I found the following information for the three most recent tax years. According to filings with the IRS, WAJC was not “in the black” during any of the three years for which information is available. What you assert is no true.

• Tax Year 2014: RIN reported $19,612 in revenue, $25,706 in expenses and a net loss of $6,094

• Tax Year 2013: RIN reported $45,968 in revenue, $56,127 in expenses and a net loss of $10,159

• Tax Year 2012: RIN reported $35,284 in revenue, $42,964 in expenses and a net loss of $7,680

So, during the three years combined, all during the time you were operating WAJC, according to information you filed with the IRS, RIN had a net loss of $23,933. Is the information you provided the IRS correct?

JILL’S 2/16/17 REPLY:

My error as to the ownership of the statements—I looked at a general graph for all three years and should have viewed our individual statements. 

Please be fair—as you know—the measure of a non-profit’s success is different than a commercial one.  Net Assets carried over each year determine viability, not profit/loss numbers.  If you look at our 990s you will see that our Net Assets were always in the black. (Net Assets is what I was comparing on our graph.)

This is common knowledge: “In a for-profit context, revenues less expenses is called net income or net profit and is an indicator of the firm’s success. For non-profits, the change in net assets is a surplus or deficit that is carried forward. Rather than focusing on profit, a nonprofit focuses upon fulfilling its mission. Therefore, the annual surplus or deficit is not necessarily informative about a non-profit’s success.”

During the build-out of the station, when large sums were spent to buy the antenna and equipment, our surplus and deficit went up and down, but the balance carried over every year was in the black. Why not state this fact and credit us for building a full power station on a shoe-string budget with the intent to use it for community radio?  

QUESTION TWO: Though WAJC was the last full power frequency available in the Twin Cities metro area, WAJC did not cover the whole the whole area. In my original article I questioned whether WAJC’s use of a logo featuring the skyline of Minneapolis was appropriate considering that WAJC did not put a reliable, dependable signal into downtown Minneapolis. Do you agree that WAJC was incorrectly implying that WAJC serves downtown Minneapolis?

JILL’S 2/16/17 REPLY:

As we talked about on the phone, this logo was designed and used by Northwestern students for years to symbolize their 1 watt station and student programming. That was the ONLY reason we chose to use the logo. I’ve attached WAJC’s Longley Rice map to prove coverage is much better than you think and Minneapolis falls within the 50-60dbu range.  J  But this was not the reason we chose the logo.


Jill wrote: We are beginners, but we’re learning and hopefully, we can be encouraged to do so even though our ideologies differ.

KEN: One thing I haven’t seen in all of our correspondence is you taking responsibility for what happened with WAJC.  What mistakes did you and Kevin make and what would you have done differently? 

JILL’S 2/16/17 REPLY:

Ken, we turned down several offers that would have brought in a large profit on WAJC and instead, donated it to our church. Are you saying we need to answer for that?

The station is still up and running and doing fine—we’re still very much involved with it—why do you think we need to “take responsibility” for donating a full power radio station? It would be great if you could clarify this before publication.

One thing Kevin and I would have done differently is to involve our church a lot sooner—not because we needed them financially, but because of their outreach to the community.  It’s one thing to dislike our approach or methods, and another to assume a negative intent. Please be fair. I like the words of Jesus here, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Thank you, Jill.


Thursday, February 16, 2017



Like a death in the family, news of the sale of Cincinnati’s WNKU spread quickly around the public radio Triple A community. Everybody knew that the station was on the block but still the end of WNKU seemed sudden and sad.

WNKU will remain on the air until the sale is approved by the FCC.  Of course, this makes the remaining WNKU staff “dead people walking” for their final weeks. On the right is WNKU’s GM Aaron Sharpe’s message to listeners and the Triple A community.

Now comes the news that WNKU’s licensee, Northern Kentucky University (NKU) had a lifeline that could have preserved the station and gotten the university off the hook financially. According to John Kiesewetter, media reporter for Cincinnati Public Radio (CPR), CPR had offered NKU a Local Management Agreement to operate the station and take full responsibility for its operating finances.

A senior manager at CPR who requested not to be named, confirmed that such an offer had been made to NKU President Geoffrey Mearns. Means ignored it because apparently he had already made up his mind to sell. His rationale was to get the debt for a $6.7 million dollar loan from NKU to WNKU for the 2011 purchase of three commercial frequencies in Portsmouth and Middletown, Ohio, off the university’s books.

CPR has an established track record of success.  They have been managing WMUB, Oxford, Ohio, successfully since 2009 via such an agreement. Rich Eiswerth and company at CPR are considered among the best operators in the public radio system.

KEN SAYS: The reason all this happened is that WNKU was own by an “accidental broadcaster.”  Northern Kentucky University, like many universities, got into the radio business when the risk was low and cash was more plentiful. Until the recently, NKU didn’t pay much attention to WNKU.

For instance, NKU failed to do its due diligence on the purchase of three commercial frequencies in Portsmouth and Middletown, Ohio, for $6.7 million in 2011. Had NKU seriously reviewed the plan by then WNKU GM Chuck Miller, they would have seen its was flawed. As “accidental broadcasters,” NKU rubber-stamped Miller’s proposal. I’d call it benign neglect.

The reason I bring this up is because there are plenty of other “accidental broadcasters” in the public radio system.  As my friend Neil Best, GM of KUNC/KJAC, once said:

“At a university licensee you are one vice president away from oblivion.”


NKU President Geoffrey Mearns is on his way Muncie. He will become President of Ball State University later this year.  Ball State is the licensee of WBST and Indiana Public Radio, a regional network covering central Indiana. According to disclosure documents on WBST’s website, the state of Indiana provided around $50,000 in funds to WBST in FY 2015.  This is much less support than what WNKU has been receiving from the state of Kentucky. But, Means insincere approach to saving WNKU demonstrates Means lack of appreciation for public media and the potential for cuts at WBST.


Grady Kirkpatrick was the Program Director of WNKU from 1998 until 2007.  He is now PD of Wyoming Public Media and host of Wyoming Sounds, a Triple A day-part on the statewide network.

Grady Kirkpatrick
It’s the end of an era for Cincinnati radio with the sale of WNKU.

The city has a quite a rich history in broadcasting including “The Big One” news/talk station WLW, 70’s progressive/ AOR rocker WEBN and the disbanded “Future of Rock N Roll” WOXY repeated often in the movie Rainman.  Don’t forget “I’m living on the air in Cincinnati” from the TV sitcom station… WKRP.

WNKU started late 80’s as Kentucky Folk Radio at Northern KY University across the Ohio and just south of Cincinnati in Highland Heights.

The station provided music, specialty shows and NPR news carrying both Morning Edition and All Things Considered until it went all music about seven years ago. At that time, NPR news magazines were also on WVXU. WVXU switched to an all news format in 2005 when Xavier University sold the station to Cincinnati Public Radio.  

WNKU “the natural alternative” became a mainstay for listeners and music fans bored with mainstream radio.  The station was an early adopter to the Triple A. Over time WNKU embraced the “music discovery” brand.

The station had an incredible collection of passionate and talented DJ’s combined with a great support staff and the financial backing of Northern KY University.  The station became part of the fabric of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky hosting live music in Studio 89, co-sponsoring concerts and events and most importantly playing and promoting the many talented musicians in the region past and present.

I have great memories from my time at WNKU.  Met a lot of great folks and enjoyed Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky immensely.

Best to my friends at WNKU. We’ll miss the sound and vibe.

Grady Kirkpatrick
(WNKU Program Director-1998-2007)


Wednesday, February 15, 2017


We haven’t written recently about HD Radio because there has been little to say. The 200+ noncommercial stations that took CPB’s offer to establish HD channels are still on the hook for them. The deal the stations made with CPB requires stations to pay CPB back if they abandon HD broadcasting.

Some noncom stations have created new FM stations by having HD channels simulcast on FM translators.  In most cases this is working.  But lots of HD channels, commercial and noncommercial, continue to bear the expense of providing HD to practically no one. Lately I have been seeing “blind” ads offer to lease HD channels like subcarriers that provide Muzak and reading services for the blind. So, the much hyped HD Radio is becoming a side-band service.


• Radio World recently reported [link] that iHeartRadio has leased the HD2 channel for WWPR, New York, to RUSA Radio [link], a Russian language news service based in Brooklyn. It appears to have similarities to RT – Russia Today, though it is unknown if the Russian government provides funding.

The FCC requires that licensees know what foreign language programs are saying on their frequencies, so we hope someone at iHeart knows Russian and is monitoring their HD2 channel.

• South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) is now simulcasting their HD2 Classical music channel on previously unused digital TV channels because so few people are tuning to it on HD. SDPB operates statewide FM and PBS TV networks.


We crunched the numbers for the top 25 full-time NPR News stations based on Nielsen Audio’s estimates of weekly cumulative listeners for Fall 2016 compared to Fall 2015. Michigan Radio’s stations in five Diary markets leads the list with 304,200 weekly listeners, up 7% from Fall 2015.

But wait, there is more: WUOM, Michigan Radio’s flagship, had 195,700 estimated weekly listeners in Fall 2016 in Detroit, a PPM market.

(A note on the methodology: We are tracking full-time News stations to keep this an apples-to-apples comparison. Dual format stations are being compiled for another report.  For example, WFFC in Roanoke is included but WVTF, also in Roanoke, is a dual format station and will be shown in the subsequent report.)

For ease of reading, we have broken the top 25 into two groups: 1 through 10 and 11 through 25.

Overall, 15 (63%) stations or regional networks increased estimated weekly listeners in the past year. Nine (37%) had decreases in weekly listeners. We could not compare WWNO because they did not subscribe to the Fall 2015 “book.”

We are listing KLCC on the chart but not in the analysis because we do not have confidence in the data.

KAZU, Monterey-Santa Cruz, led the percentage gains, largely because of the demise of KUSP. 

KIPO had an estimated 23% more weekly listeners in Fall 2016 compared with Fall 2015.

WYSO in the Dayton market, had the biggest percentage decline 15%.

WAMC, in Albany and four other markets, added the biggest number of weekly listeners, up 23%.  KRCC in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, had the biggest decline, down 11,400 weekly listeners.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


A major slash in state funding for West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB) is putting the future of the popular syndicated program Mountain Stage [link] in jeopardy. WVPB also operates statewide public radio and PBS TV networks.

Last week West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R) announced that a $4.6 million annual allocation to WVPB will be cut to zero as of July 1, 2017. If this and other proposed cuts pass the legislature (which is expected) Mountain Stage will lose around $300,000 in funding. Approximately half of WVPB’s annual income comes from the state government.

Mountain Stage host Larry Groce total local reporters that he understands the state is in a bind and that the show was prepared to make cuts, but zero funding is unfair:

“Anybody who is objective would say this show and public broadcasting in general is doing a lot for the state to up the image of the state and to attract people to the state. I'm really not sure what the reasoning is.”

Mountain Stage at WV Cultural Center Theater in Charleston
The reason for the cuts to WVPB is unclear. But the plan appears to be in lock-step with DC defunding effort. The $4.6 million WVPB receives is part of $26.6 million in the cuts Gov. Justice is seeking. Observers at West Virginia Metro News [link] say most other state projects will still receive funding and it appears WVPB is being specifically targeted. The Governor’s office is making no comments about the pending cuts at WVPB.

Governor Justice is selling the budget cuts as a choice between essential programs and programs he says are not needed. This mirrors the rational the “defund CPB mantra” by the Trumpians in Washington, DC.

Susan Hogan, chairwoman of Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail [link] the organization wouldn’t have time to come up with alternative funding before the beginning of the new budget year, on July 1st.

“We don’t have a contingency plan, and you can’t do that in a couple months. We believe this would be unwise and irresponsible. We understand the state needs to save money, but such a drastic and immediate cut threatens the very existence of our state’s PBS and NPR stations.”

The cut would result in the layoffs of up to 75 percent of the staff, according to a statement from WVPB’s management.

Mountain Stage is a carried by approximately 200 noncommercial stations in the US. Most editions are recorded in front of a live audience at the West Virginia Culture Center Theater in Charleston.

Monday, February 13, 2017


WAMC turned the uncertainty of continued federal funding of CPB into gold with a massive on-air fund drive on Monday 2/6. Alan Chartock, CEO of WAMC, told the Daily Freeman newspaper [link]: 

Alan Chartock
“Everybody at WAMC is beyond shocked. We always expect this will be a fast fund drive, but, from the time we sat down at 6 a.m. until the last moments of the program around 6:30 p.m., we couldn’t believe what was happening. The skies opened up and every WAMC supporter was there.”

According to Chartock, WAMC’s fund drives typically take four days or more to complete. 

The station had already raised $570,000 toward its goal when the fund drive kicked off at 6 a.m. Monday. By the end of the day, WAMC had raised $1,055,000. Chartock summed it up:

"It was all Donald Trump. Ironically, the president is now our best fundraiser."

Fellow Trumpians also drove WAMC listeners to the phones. The Albany Times Union reported [link] that some listeners made pledges to WAMC in honor of the non-existent Bowling Green terrorist massacre that Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway cited recently.

Also last week, Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) introduced legislation to defund CPB [link]. Lamborn is using the argument that CPB needs to vanish so that the money “could be put to better use rebuilding our military and enhancing our national security.” Expect this notion to be prominent when the new budget is released.

Some public media leaders such as Chartock, aren’t waiting to see new budget from Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. The budget is due to be released later in February.  It is expected to include massive cuts in funding for CPB, NEA, NEH and many other programs to pay for tax cuts for corporations and individuals.

KEN SAYS: It appears that many public broadcasters are content to let Trump and Ryan introduce their budget before reacting. They say "don't get listeners worried" and point out that "CPB has friends in high places." So be patient and don’t over react.

I am with Chartock. The election of Donald Trump, plus the Republican Congress, sets the stage for the most serious threat to CPB in its history. The rationale for defunding is different this time. Consider Rep, Lamborns assertion above: The money “could be put to better use rebuilding our military and enhancing our national security.”


As you probably know, we have been republishing podcast rankings from Podtrac since the middle of 2016.  We often take the most recent month’s data and compare it with a previous month. 

According to data from Podtrac, all of the top 10 publishers saw significant drops in the estimated number of listeners between October 2016 and January 2017.

As you can see in the chart on the left, the number of listeners dropped between 2% and 40% during the period. 

This causes me to have doubts about the veracity of Podtrac’s rankings.  Perhaps there are good reasons for this aberration.  I sent the email below to Podtrac’s media representative.  If/when I hear back, I will update this article.

Here is my email to Podtrac:

To: Joshua Martin at Podtrac <>

Hi Joshua,

Thank for sending me the latest Podcast Industry Audience Rankings.  I am the publisher of SPARK!, a news blog about public media and particularly public radio. My blog is read by more than 300 unique visitors on each business day. Many of my readers are public media programmers, producers and managers.

I have been featuring Podtrac rankings since you began distributing them. I re-publish your charts or custom charts that use your data with complete attribution. Today is assembled a chart of Unique Monthly Audiences from October 2016 compared to January 2017.  Attached is a copy of my chart.

As you can see, all ten of the top podcast publishers lost a considerable number of listeners between October and January. What could explain this drop?  Has Podtrac changed its methodology?  Is there really a major drop in the number of people listening to podcasts?