Friday, February 24, 2017



 1.) Fans of recently sold Triple A station WNKU have launched a “Save WNKU” campaign. As of early this week, more than 4,000 listeners have signed petitions asking Northern Kentucky University (NKU) to reconsider sale of the station to Bible Broadcasting. Though the deal has been made, it doesn’t go into effect until the FCC approves the transaction. That gives the parties some wiggle room but a change of heart by the university is not expected.

Some observers have wondered if an effort similar to “Save KPLU” in Seattle-Tacoma last year could work in Cincinnati.  As you probably recall, fans of KPLU organized a campaign to meet KPLU’s proposed sale price.  They raised over $8 million and KPLU is now independent KNKX. There has been no similar citizen campaign that has emerged yet in Cincinnati.

2.) Cincinnati TV station WCPO has confirmed that Louisville Public Media (LPM) approached NKU with a proposal to operate WNKU via a Local Management Agreement (LMA). LPM is very successful three-station cluster with the people and money to make such an arrangement happen. LPM, like Cincinnati Public Radio (who also made an LMA proposal), was rebuffed by NKU.  The university clearly had its mind made up to sell WKU regardless of the value of its music format.

Stacy Owen, program director at LPM’s Triple A station WFPK told WCPO: “A station like WNKU is so important to the local music scene and listeners who count on a format like that for music discovery and where to go locally for music.”

3.) Cincinnati Public Radio is making a good faith effort to fill the void when WNKU signs off by putting WXPN’s Exponential Radio on its HD2 signal. Both HD listeners in Cincinnati are very pleased.

4.) Former WNKU GM Chuck Miller contacted me to clarify an item in our story about the end of WNKU.  Miller to told me that NKU did do its due diligence regarding the costly acquisition of three Ohio commercial stations in 2011. Miller said that the plan, designed by Public Media Company, was fully examined by NKU and appeared to be solid. Miller said NKU soon changed the station’s plan when they made WNKU a “self supporting organization.”  This put the burden on the station to pay the debt itself.

BTW – Miller is doing fine. He is part of an organization that is in the process of restoring the Sorg Opera House, a Middletown, Ohio treasure. He misses friends in public media. Chuck Miller can be contacted at

5.) Aaron Read decided to be “the adult in the room” with this comment:

“As a person deeply involved in LMA's at RIPR, and having worked with one at WEOS, I sympathize with WNKU's plight but I'm not as sanguine about how CPR's offer of LMA'ing was a true "lifeline".

When you're a license-holder, the onus is still on you for everything. Sure, CPR might've assumed all the costs but it's nevertheless a lot of work for NKU to maintain legal compliance. Plus WNKU had an awful lot of debt. That debt creates optics that are difficult to manage when the University is fundraising for other needs. "Hey, you wasted $6 million on that stupid radio station, why should I give you $1 million for that new chemistry lab you want?"

If CPR were expressly offering to *purchase* WNKU in a "lease to own" arrangement that involved an LMA over, say, three or five years to give CPR time to raise the money to make the final purchase? That might be a somewhat different story. Even then, though, I can't really blame NKU for just wanting to get out of the game.”

KEN SAYS: Aaron is correct. From Northern Kentucky University’s point of view, the sale of WNKU makes sense.  When the FCC approves the sale (which is expected in two to three months) they will be able to take a contingent liability off their books.

Despite the community outrage over NKU’s actions, NKU has the right to sell the FCC license anytime to almost anyone they choose. Look at it this way, soon there will be one less “accidental broadcaster” to screw things up.


All of the feedback I have received regarding yesterday’s story about Podtrac has been supportive of my assertion that the company’s top podcast charts are not ready for prime time.  For instance, Dan Costello commented:

“Even if they [Podtrac] have good download data, that doesn't mean there is any way to accurately convert downloads to listening time. NPR One and other similar apps data shows that people drop off a podcast the longer it goes. Boring episodes or episodes that don't hook listeners quickly get skipped. How would you ever get any of this information from just download data? You absolutely cannot. All they have is download data, and that isn't very complete itself either.

Here's an anecdote from my experience. I read a recommendation for a podcast that sounded interesting to me, so I subscribed. My podcast software is set to grab five episodes when I subscribe, and then hold up to 20 unlistened episodes before deletion. By the time I got around to checking this show out, it was a month later and I had nine episodes. I listened to part of one episode, found it wasn't for me, and unsubscribed. Nine downloads, and only one partial listen. A show with lots of recommendations and good reviews may get a big bump in subscriptions and downloads, but there are likely to be a good number of people who try but don't like it. How long before they unsubscribe? It could easily be weeks or even months and yet they keep getting counted.”


Another of public radio’s “greatest generation,” Cleve Callison, GM of WHQR, Wilmington, North Carolina, has announced that he plans to retire from the station in August.

Callison impresses me as one of the hardest workers in the biz. I and others were so impressed the way he rebounded after the sale of WMUB, Oxford, Ohio to Cincinnati Public Radio cost him his job.  Callison stayed visible, kept in touch with colleagues and didn’t give up hope as he searched for another public media gig.

About a decade ago he took the top job at WHQR when this station was on the ropes. The community station was deeply in debt and there was infighting between board members.

Through his leadership and personal example, Callison brought focus and hope to WHQR, paid off the debt, made peace with various factions and turned WHQR into an admirable success. Under his guidance, WHQR added a Classical station via an early HD-to-FM translator plan which allowed the main signal to switch to all news.  Well done, Cleve.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Last Friday we featured Podtrac’s PODCAST PUBLISHERS AUDIENCE RANKINGS, one of two monthly charts of top podcasts provided by the company.  In that post we talked about Podtrac’s goal of becoming the go-to provider for podcast metrics, something the industry needs. Podtrac founder and CEO Mark Mccrey replied to our questions but his response left some SPARK! readers wondered about the veracity of the Podtrac data.

click to enlarge
We heard from several producers and a couple of distributors who were surprised when Mccrey told us that counts can change up or down by 20% from month to month.   

“That's a helluva margin of error!” one observer said.

(The January 2017 Podtrac top 20 podcasts, ranked by US Unique Monthly Audience, is on the right.)

It turns out we aren’t the only observer to bring up questions about Podtrac’s data.   

For instance the top podcast chart contains no metrics.  It is just a list of podcasts without any stats to back it up.   

Podtrac doesn’t provide any proof about how the Unique Monthly Audience sizes compare with each other.

We repeatedly asked for more information from Mccery but he never responded to our questions.

The specific criticism of Podtrac seems to be in three key areas: 

1.) Podtrac’s lack of transparency; 

2.) The fact that Podtrac red lines podcasts and publishers who don’t subscribe to Podtrac rankings, and,

3.) Questions about Podtrac’s methodology, particularly their sample sizes. 

One observer told me: “Podtrac’s rankings are specious at best. Their charts look good but they are filled with aspirational notions, not factual data.”

So, are any of the other top podcast charts that are more reliable?

To get the lay of the land we compared the most recent Podtrac Top 10 with the most recent rankings by iTunes, Stitcher and Podcast One. To say there is a lot of variation from company to company is an understatement.

None of the four chart publishers reveal their actual numbers to explain why podcast #1 has a larger audience than podcast #2.  Each company uses its own proprietary analytics and qualification criteria.

No single podcast appears on all four of the lists. This American Life, Radiolab, Freakonomics Radio and The Joe Rogan Experience appear on three of the four Top 10 charts.  Beyond these programs there is very little consensus about which podcasts truly are in the Top 10. I guess you can say that measuring podcast audiences is still in development. For now, buyer beware.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


We’ve written recently about “accidental broadcaster” – licensees who got into the broadcasting business in the 1970s and 1980s when risks were low and money was available. Often these stations are school district licensees. Such is the case in Miami.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools owns WLRN-FM and WLRN-TV, a PBS affiliate. For the past three decades Friends of WLRN, a nonprofit group, has operated the stations with considerable success. Now a power struggle between the district and the nonprofit has erupted over who is responsible for news coverage. If WLRN employees don’t sign the agree, the district said they could face serious but unspecified “consequences.

The Miami Herald reports [link], the district has given Friends of WLRN until March 2nd to submit to a new management agreement that will give the district control of the news product. The district wants to directly employ reporters and editors. People currently doing these jobs will have to reapply to continue working.

The school district said the reason for the change is “student safety.” Currently WLRN news people are not subject to the same background check requirements as district employees. The district’s new agreement will force 19 WLRN reporters and editors to reapply for jobs and become district employees.

This is important, schools district officials say, because student interns work with WLRN employees. Without stringent drug tests and criminal background checks, WLRN staffers could potentially endanger the interns. According to the Miami Herald, the district has suspended the intern program until the proposed plan is completed.

Critics have pointed out that school administrators will have the sole power to hire and fire its journalists. This will put independent news reporting at risk. Observers point out that under the proposed new agreement the school district can also dictate programming and broadcast content. School district officials have downplayed concerns about the plan.

Friends of WLRN defends its track record and warned that the new agreement could turn WLRN into public relations operation. The agreement could also lead to the cancellation of a news partnership with the Miami Herald and cuts in funding from foundations that insist on firm firewalls between licensee management and reporters.

The Miami Herald says in recent months, WLRN has aired stories critical of school district programs.


Classical music fans in the Portland, Maine, area had quite a surprise this past Saturday 2/18 when WBQX a/k/a W-Bach, suddenly changed its format to Country music. 

Since 1991 W-Bach had provided Classical music to listeners in southern and mid coast Maine. A message on the W-Bach website Monday morning said “this site is no longer on the air.”

According to the Bangor Daily News [link], former W-Bach program coordinator Scott Hooper said in an email to listeners a few hours after the change:

“W-BACH died today. I’m sorry that things went this way. We gave it one heck of a ride, and I hoped for a better outcome.”

The Daily News report says it was well known that W-Bach had been having financial difficulties. Binnie Media, licensee of the commercial station, changed the formats of several of its stations at the same time.

WBXQ was one of a handful of commercial Classical music stations in the nation. According to the Daily News, the emergence of Maine Public Broadcasting’s Classical network was a major factor in the decision to end W-Bach.

KEN SAYS: This good news for Maine Public’s fledgling Classical music service. WBQX typically had a 0.5 AQH share, indicating 10,000 – 15,000 weekly cumulative listeners according the Nielsen Audio data. Many of these listeners will likely move to Maine Public’s service.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Media brands usually revolve around the key elements that users like and value the most. There is also high brand loyalty to things that are fun. Fun is what is happening at KVSC, St. Cloud, Minnesota [link]. Every year in February KVSC hosts their signature event Trivia Storm. The annual trivia contest for 2017 just ended this past weekend and, as usual, a good time was had by all.

Trivia Storm is now in it's 38th year. Thanks to KVSC’s streaming audio, teams from around the globe compete to answer approximately 450 mind-stumping questions. The contest runs over 50 consecutive hours starting at 5pm Friday and running through 7pm Sunday.

KVSC GM Jo McMullen-Boyer and Operations Director Jim Gray 
get ready for Trivia Storm (Photo courtesy St. Cloud Times)
According to KVSC’s GM, Jo McMullen-Boyer, players for this year’s contest came from New Zealand, Egypt and Sweden. The winners were locals, however. A St. Cloud team named It Just Doesn’t Matter, won top honors with 12,070 trivia points.  

KVSC’s staff and volunteers begin the prep for Trivia Storm in June and begin assembling Google-proof questions in August. The questions remind me of ones from the board game Trivial Pursuit such as life and times, film and literature, news and history, and, of course, music.

In October, KVSC staff starts selling sponsorships. Trivia Storm has become one of KVSC’s leading fundraising vehicles. KVSC also asks listeners for pledges during the contest. 

As many as 100 volunteers answer participant calls and messages during peak hours. It isn’t unusual for participants to stay awake for the entire 50 hours.


Last Friday we reported on WAJC 88.1 FM, licensed to the town of Newport, which is south and east of St. Paul. KVSC also broadcasts on 88.1 FM.  A SPARK! reader in St. Cloud sent this comment about WAJC and KSVC:

From Anonymous (edited for length and clarity:

"KVSC in St. Cloud regrets the loss of their Twin Cities coverage due to WAJC’s signal. Is WAJC’s presence beneficial? It's quite easy for one small new signal to destroy reliable reception of an existing station, which is what has happened.

[WAJC’s co-founder Jill Martin Rishe] can babble about our signal all she likes, but given it’s close proximity of KVSC, WAJC’s 60dBu signal doesn’t even reach the MSP airport.

Given that WAJC never should've existed, and it took a vibrant station like KVSC and totally shivved them in the back. Whenever KVSC approached them about buying out WAJC, they demanded an outrageously high.” purchase price.

KEN SAYS: So how do you really feel about it? The interference is not intentional by WAJC. The FCC “short spaced” 88.1 FM and the result is interference for two other stations operating on 88.1: KVSC and KRLX, Northfield.  The coverage maps for the three stations tell the story:

KVSC broadcasts with 16,500-watts from a good spot near the campus of St. Cloud State University.  

The station has lots of listeners in the I-94 corridor between St. Cloud and the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. KVSC signed on in the early 1970s.

WAJC broadcasts with 5,520-watts from a short tower near the town of Coates, about 15 miles southeast of St. Paul. WAJC signed on in 2011.

KRLX [link] broadcasts with 100-watts from a short tower on the campus of Carleton College. They are a pretty groovy college station that once used the slogan Life Is Better When You Are On the Bottom. KRLX signed on in 1974.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Please let me know if you know of other conferences or gathering people should be aware of. Thank you, Ken.

Fairmont Washington, DC

The APTS Public Media Summit claims to be the largest annual gathering of public broadcasting general managers and community leaders. Most of the attendees work in public television. This year’s Public Media Summit will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act.

Who Will Be There: PBS TV station managers and programmers, various consultants, stakeholders from CPB and foundations who fund public TV programming. Big Bird might show up.

More information is here.

TRIPLE A NON-COMMvention 2017
MAY 17 - 19
WXPN World Café Live
Sheraton Philadelphia University City

Public media’s most enjoyable and affordable conference is turning 17 this year. Dan Reed and company will be serving music from breakfast until late night snacks. 

Conference speakers, panel sessions and live music showcases will be held at World Café Live, adjacent to the XPN studios.

Who Will Be There: Anybody and everybody from the noncom Triple A world: Station folks, music industry reps, musicians, a few WXPN listeners and, hopefully, me.

Early-bird registration will start soon. More information is here.

MAY 30 – JUNE 2
Hilton St. Louis at the Ball Park

PMBA describes itself as “an elite group of public media professionals.” Perhaps they consider themselves elite because they keep track of the money. This year’s conference willl focus on strategy, sustainability, compliance, accounting, finance, and human resources issues. 

Who Will Be There: Public radio and television general managers, CFOs, financial and business executives, HR professionals and folks from CPB and other organizations that fund public media.

Complete information can be found here.

JULY 6 - 7
Hilton San Francisco, Union Square

The PMDMC claims to be public media’s largest conference, the same claim is made by APTS Public Media Summit (see above). Apparently “big” is a sales point for both organizations.

PMDMC is focused on issues surrounding revenue generation, marketing, and management. There is something for development folks from all types of public media shops: Small stations, joint licensees, rural stations, border stations, news stations, music stations, etc. The emphasis is on networking and making connections.

Who Will Be There: Station managers, development directors, pledge drive directors, account executives, lots of consultants and vendors.

Check here for more information.

JUNE 22 - 24
Newport Beachside Resort Miami

Andrea de Leon
The 2017 PRNDI Conference will feature panels and speeches about news industry issues. PRNDI is an important interface between station news folks and Bureau Chiefs and editors from NPR. Training sessions also will be held.

The conference culminates on Saturday 6/24 with the annual PRNDI Awards banquet and the presentation of the Leo C. Lee Award.   

This year’s recipient is NPR's Northeastern Bureau Chief and long-time PRNDI member Andrea de Leon. Congratulations to Andrea!

Who Will Be There: Public radio station News Directors, reporters, editors and newsroom folks from NPR.

For more information, click here.

JULY 13 -16
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

CBI, in conjunction with the College Media Association, Associated Collegiate Press abd College Media Business & Advertising Managers, will be hosting the College Media Mega Workshop. The workshop is a four-day intensive training event, designed to improve the management skills of student media leaders, faculty, advisors and managers. CBI is presenting the Broadcast Management track.

Who Will Be There: College students, media advisors, faculty, college radio staff and management.

Lodging and parking will be available at University of Minnesota residence halls for a fee. See more information here

JULY 17 – 19
Embassy Suites by Hilton Denver Downtown Convention Center

This looks like a great conference.  I am very impressed by the work of NFCB CEO Sally Kane – she has the organization humming. At this year’s conference the focus is on sustainability and reinforcing core values. The crowd at the NFCB is the friendliest of any public media conference I’ve attended.

Who Will Be There: Managers, programmers, volunteers from community radio stations nationwide. The diverse attendees include Latino broadcasters and journalists, Native radio voices, inner city radio people, LGBTQ folks.

Learn more here.

AUGUST 14 - 17
Washington Marriott Marquis

The annual PRPD conference usually meets in September.  This year, for reasons I am not aware of, the conference will be in mid August. Perhaps hotel rooms are cheaper then in steamy DC. 

Pre-Conference Sessions begin August 13th.

No conference information is available at this time. For updates, check here.

Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando™

Christian radio’s best and brightest programming and music folks host MOMENTUM, a very sophisticated gathering that is packed with takeaway ideas. In some ways MOMENTUM is the noncom cousin of the PRPD conference.

CMB claims MOMENTUM represents 700 radio and record industry professionals dedicated to the success of Christian music broadcasting.  

Who Will Be There: The Christian Contemporary Music radio and music community, including the power brokers who make CCM happen.

For more information click here.


“The coolest music scene today.” – The New York Times

For five nights, AmericanaFest will feature 215+ live performances at 14 of Nashville's most prominent venues. Americana and bluegrass radio folks, music industry pros will gather for seminars, panels and networking opportunities.

Who Will Be There: Kind-hearted people who love acoustic music, particularly when it is performed live. You’ll meet fans, execs, musicians and digital media folks late at night in some of Nashville’s hottest, sweatiest clubs.  There is a good chance you will get laid.

More information is here.  

Intercontinental Hotel, St. Paul

Way back in the 1980s and 90s, the most important public radio conference was the Public Radio Conference (PRC).  Every other year, the PRC was held at Washington Hilton (the “Hinkley Hilton”).  The primary function of the PRC was to be an interface with public radio stations and NPR, CPB and other key organization.

Over time, the PRC lost focus.  The PRPD became the “conference of record” for public radio. PRPD was an independent organization and NPR ran the PRC.

Since the end of the PRC in the early 2000s, regional groups of stations have become the interface. Many of the regional groups merged.  So now we have the Eastern Regional Public Media (ERPM) conference in St. Paul, Minnesota.

EPM promises another content-rich, highly informative and lively gathering. Lively in downtown St. Paul?

Who Will Be There: Probably the manger of your local public radio station.

More information is here.
CBI National Student Electronic Media Convention
Hyatt Regency San Antonio

Watch for more information here.