Friday, March 24, 2017


This week we have been covering results from the Nielsen Audio February PPM ratings.  Today we take a look at the eight-month trends in estimated weekly listeners for the 20 stations with the largest weekly audiences.

Of the top 20 stations, 17 (85%) gained weekly listeners since June 2016. 

We chose to compare the most recent data with June 2016 data because then the election cycle was beginning to enter its final phase.

Listening to NPR News/Talk stations is at or near record highs. Half of the stations have had increases of estimated weekly listeners of 10% or more in the past eight months. The biggest numeric gain was at KQED, up by almost 200,000 listeners. The biggest percentage gainers were WGBH and KNOW, both up 26%.

Three stations had fewer weekly listeners in February 2017 than June 2016.  Two of the three stations, KCRW and KNKX, have dual formats.  The other, KPBS, had fewer weekly listeners but was number one in AQH Share in the San Diego book.


Joyce MacDonald
The best new hire of the week has got to be Greater Public’s choice for CEO, Joyce MacDonald.  Joyce has an encyclopedic knowledge of the public radio system and is respected for her advocacy of healthy stations. She replaces Doug Eichten who is retiring in July.

Greater Public specializes in public media fundraising efforts, training, research and sharing best practices. They also produce the annual Public Media Development and Marketing Conference (PMDMC), the largest conference of its type in public media.

MacDonald has 35 years of experience in media and marketing. She was Director of Station Relations and VP of Member and Audience Partnership at NPR. MacDonald was interim President and CEO of National Public Media, the organization that represents PBS, NPR and stations with national advertisers. Most recently she was VP of Journalism and Senior Advisor for Content Operations at CPB.

KEN SAYS: What a terrific choice. I first bonded with Joyce when she started in 1999 at NPR. Like me, Joyce came to public broadcasting after working in commercial radio. She was VP of Sony Corporation's SW Networks and worked for several years in affiliate marketing for ABC Radio Networks.

I recall hilarious conversations with Joyce about bizarre events we both witnessed at commercial radio conferences by big shot commercial folks like Randy Michaels and Lee Abrams.


John Stark

KLCC, Eugene, GM John Stark has posted a job opening for a Major Gifts specialist. This is a new position in one of best college towns in America. I was a consultant for KLCC five years ago and if I was at a different point in my career, this a place I’d like to work.

KLCC is looking for an experienced pro who to secure major gifts, planned giving, and grants. The deadline for applications is April 17th. More information is here.


Steve Curtis, a Denver talk show personality who often complained on-air about voter fraud, has been charged with voter fraud himself. Curtis hosts Wake Up!, a weekday conservative gabfest on KLZ-AM. He is also the former Chair of the Colorado Republican Party.

On Tuesday (3/21) Curtis was charged with misdemeanor voter fraud and forgery in Weld County District Court. According to news reports, Curtis allegedly filled out and mailed a ballot in his ex-wife's name in the November election. Authorities said that Curtis’ ex-wife, Kelly, discovered the fraud when she tried to vote in South Carolina.  She then turned him in. A hearing has been set for May.

Ironically, the Denver Post reported that Curtis said on his KLZ show in October:

“There is "something about being a
 Democrat that makes people prone to criminal behavior and It seems to me that virtually every
case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats." 

When Curtis woke up this morning, I he looked in the mirror and saw a hypocrite. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017


Historic.  That is how observers are describing WAMU’s continued success in Nielsen Audio’s February PPM estimates. Tom Taylor NOW [link] quotes ratings historian Chris Huff:

DC’s WAMU just set a record for the largest share ever recorded for a not-for-profit outlet in any PPM market.

 All Access Media [link] added:  

For the fifth time in the last seven surveys, WAMU topped the double-digit mark 25-54. This time it reached its highest peak in over a year. WTOP remained at #2 though it lost a chunk of share. At last look, the gap between the two spoken-word stations stood at a little over four shares!

WAMU’s success versus WTOP is a big deal in the media biz.  WTOP, owned by Minneapolis-based Hubbard Broadcasting, is often the top billing station in the nation with $65 million in annual commercial revenue. WTOP remains number one in estimated weekly cumulative listeners (1,119,900) but WAMU (873,400) seems to be closing the gap.

The strong performances by NPR News/Talk stations come at a time when future federal funding via CPB is under attack.  Tom Taylor opines:

New cumes are coming to many not-for-profit stations in Nielsen PPM markets, and those new listeners could come in very handy as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting faces being “zeroed out” of the federal budget. If the CPB is eliminated, that won’t crash the large-market stations with substantial donor bases and sophisticated fundraising. It’s the rural operators who may be on the bubble.
KEN SAYS: Taylor is correct but if stations in smaller markets lose CPB funding it could indirectly impact WAMU. NPR newsmagazines are vital for WAMU. Dues and fees from member stations provide much of NPR’s funding. Less money from these stations could result in cuts to NPR News. This fact of life is another reason NPR should revise it’s governance and revenue sources to be more competitive.

The same dynamic is occurring in Boston where a red-hot battle between WBUR and WGBH continues to draw more listeners to both stations. WGBH (4.7) now leads WBUR (4.4) in AQH Share. Both stations trail CBS’s all-news WBZ-AM, but if listening to WBUR and WGBH is combined, they would likely surpass WBZ.

In Seattle-Tacoma both KUOW and KNKS gained estimated weekly listeners compared with January. Bonneville’s excellent commercial news/talk station KIRO-FM (5.1) trails KUOW’s AQH share (6.7) but KIRO still has a larger weekly cume (447,000). Meanwhile, KVTI continues to gain estimated listeners. KVTI is a repeater of Northwest Public Radio’s Classical format originating from Pullman, Washington.

NPR News/Talk is also doing very well at KNOW in the Twin Cities. Estimated weekly listeners there are approaching half a million when the broadcast signal and streaming audio numbers are combined. 

CBS’s heritage news/talk station WCCO-AM, (274,800 weekly listeners) trails KNOW by a large margin.

Classical music at KSJN keeps rising. Music stations 89.3 The Current (KCMP – Triple A), CCM KTIS and Urban Hits KMOJ also increased the number of weekly listeners compared with January.

KCFR lost some ground in Denver-Boulder. 

However, the biggest story from the Front Range is the strong showing by Triple A KJAC 105.5 The Colorado Sound

In February, KJAC had more estimated weekly listeners in Denver-Boulder than sister NPR News station KUNC. KJAC and KUNC originate from Greeley, sixty miles north of Denver. GM Neil Best is likely smiling today.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


According to Nielsen Audio February PPM ratings most NPR News/Talk stations in the five markets are maintaining or exceeding their estimated cumulative weekly listeners from the 2016 election period. The results are being closely watched because after past hot news cycles NPR News/Stations have seen a decline of estimated weekly listeners of 10% to 20%. That does not appear to be happening this time.

KQED, San Francisco, shows how good it can be. They are now the number one station in the Bay Area market with a 7.7 AQH Share, topping longtime leader KCBS-AM & KFRC-FM (6.8).  KCBS/KFRC (1,194,700) leads KQED (981,600) in estimated weekly listeners. These two stations remind me of WAMU and WTOP in Washington, DC.

KQED leads commercial talk station KSFO by a substantial margin (2.8 AQH Share; 285,000 weekly cume). Noncom News/Talk KALW, lost listeners from the January book.

In New York City, WNYC-FM was off a bit but still has nearly a record high number of estimated weekly listeners. WQXR (Classical), WBGO (Jazz) and WFUV (Triple A) all were up from the previous month. Apparently Educational Media Foundation (EMF) is now subscribing to Nielsen Audio in more markets. Their K-LOVE repeater WKLV had the biggest one month gain in the market.

KPCC has an estimated 904,700 weekly listeners when streaming audio listeners are combined with listeners to the broadcast signal. KKJZ, perhaps the most successful jazz station in America, has nearly a record high number of weekly listeners.

In Chicago, WBEZ continues to build weekly listeners. 

It will be interesting to see is the program/content director now that Ben Calhoun is leaving Chicago Public Media.
Congratulations to WDCB on a nice bump.

EMF’s K-LOVE repeater KYDA again is the number one noncom in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Dallas is probably the most competitive CCM market in the country.  In addition to K-LOVE, there are two other rated CCM noncoms plus commercial giant KLTY, the market leader with 773,500 estimated weekly cumulative listeners.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


According to news reports [link], last Friday (3/17) West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced he has had “a change of heart” about zeroing out state funding for West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB). Justice credited public outcry as a major reason for his change.  He said in a press statement:

“Public Broadcasting is important to our state and our people, and I don’t want to see it disappear. I mean, really and truly, at the end of the day, I don’t want public broadcasting to leave.”

Moving forward, the plan is to shift fiscal responsibility for WVPB to the University of West Virginia. The arrangement has yet to be finalized.

Justice announced in January that he wanted to eliminate all state funding to the Educational Broadcasting Authority, the agency responsible for WVPB, Mountain Stage and other programming. WVPB said that the cut of $4.6 would cause massive layoffs and the cancelation of Mountain Stage.

Republican House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles said allies of public broadcasting have done a good job of explaining its value:

“[Public broadcasting] plays a vital role in transparency, open government, homeland security and a lot of other roles. I think they’ve done a good job working the halls and explaining the role and the mission of public broadcasting. And I think the members have come to understand that a big cut to them all at once is too much for them to survive.”

KEN SAYS: This is good news because it underscores the fact that the majority of Americans see the value of public broadcasting.


Podtrac’s February chart (shown on the right) of the top podcast publishers shows seven of the top ten publishers had a smaller US Unique Monthly Audiences in February than they did in January.

Note: Podtrac does not provide data about listening to podcasts from publishers who do not subscribe to their data. Also, Podtrac CEO Mark Mccrey told SPARK! on February 23 that their monthly estimates can vary by as much as 20% from one month to another.

This American Life (including Serial) and WNYC Studios had the biggest declines. American Public Media (APM) had the biggest gain in US Unique Monthly Audience, up 17%.

There was one new publisher in Podtrac’s top ten rankings: The New York Times [link]. The Times currently distributes eight podcasts including the popular Modern Love, produced in conjunction with WBUR.


Media consultant and blogger frequently uses podcasts of interviews on his blog [link]. Now he has entered podcast entertainment programs with the upcoming release of Inside Psycho.

Inside Psycho [link] is a limited series of podcasts that take A deep dive into the mysterious and peculiar happenings the occurred during the film Psycho.

Ramsey is asking friends in the biz to listen to the demo of Inside Psycho and give him feedback.  You can hear the demo here.

I did listened and like what I heard. The production qualities are outstanding and Ramsey does a nice job of narrating. In some ways the story reminds me of The Blair Witch Project – a chilling narrative with shocking plot turns. Like Blair Witch, I kept wondering what was fact and what was fiction.

Inside Psycho is published by Wondery [link], founded recently by a small group of Fox Television executives. The company, publishes seven podcasts. Inside Psycho is their first production to wear the Wondery brand name.

Monday, March 20, 2017


As a perfect storm rolls through Washington, DC, I think it is wise to consider what the public radio system will look like after the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is gone.  I hope I am wrong about this, but all of the elements are present for zeroing out CPB. Maybe the best we can hope for is a gentle phase out of CPB support.

Some folks say there is hope for CPB’s survival because VP Mike Pence once got an award from a public television organization. The truth is that Pence won’t make saving public broadcasting his “hill to die on.”

Trump and Ryan are setting up a Sophie’s Choice situation. They say they want to defund Meals on Wheels, but this notion is a “fog,” meant to divert attention. Assertions like zapping Meals on Wheels set up a false choice: Which cuts are the most important, Meals on Wheels or defunding CPB, NEA, NEH, NIH, etc? The goal is make people choose between one or the other.In this dynamic CPB runs the risk of being traded away as part of larger compromise.

In the 1990s and 2000s congressional moves to cut funding for CPB were “free standing,” not part of a big bundle, as they are today. With so many worthy programs in a bundle, it is harder to rally public attention on any single cut.

I want to maintain CPB’s funding but I am also a realist.  To me the best way to move forward is to hope for the best regarding CPB funding while we prepare for the worst. It is time for public radio to change gears and build a sustainable, entrepreneurial future.



NPR News Stations continue to see record high listening, even as radio usage slides a bit each year. Classical, Triple A and Jazz stations continue to serve significant size audiences. Keep the content as strong as possible and continue to leverage its value.

Public radio already is radio industry leader in growing companion digital platforms. Our podcasts dominate the top podcast charts. NPR One keeps building momentum. Streaming video services such as VuHaus are adding extra value. At most stations, listener-sensitive income continues to grow.


It is time for a new generation of nonprofit entrepreneurs to emerge as leaders of the public radio system. In recent years public radio has seen a growing number of business people in its ranks.  I call on folks such as Jarl Mohn (NPR), John McTaggart (APM), Wende Persons (SRG/CMR), Roger LaMay (WXPN), JJ Yore (WAMU), Jennifer Ferro (KCRW), Mike Savage (WBAA), consultants Fred Jacobs and Mike Henry are examples.  Organizations like Public Media Capital and the Station Resource Group need to step forward to build a new national infrastructure that will move public radio forward into a world without CPB.

Once there was a time when CPB provided this national “convening” role.  Once CPB leaders like the late Rick Madden could bring the system together and build a sense of common purpose. But CPB can’t do this now because they live in a political fish bowl where every move may be second guessed.


Public radio is well established in all 50 states and in communities of sizes. CPB provides a “backbone” by providing basic support for stations in markets where there is not local revenue to sustain them. This helps create a national presence. Without CPB funding, ways need to be found to keep public radio stations afloat in Fargo, Wilmington and Marfa, Texas.


Public radio has been joined at the wallet with public television for way too long. In most situations, public radio stations support co-licensed public TV stations. Public radio and TV exist in increasingly different media marketplaces.  Public radio is strong but public TV continues to languish.


NPR is public radio’s leading organization because it has become more entrepreneurial. NPR’s governing Board is too often stuck in the 1970s and 1980s. We need to move beyond subsidized educational radio to compete in the multi-platform universe.