Friday, May 26, 2017



Yesterday we took Talkers magazine to task about the lack of public radio talk show hosts on his publication’s Heavy Hundred Talkers list of the most important talk show host in America.  Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers, replied:

Michael Harrison
Thank you for you thoughtful analysis of our Heavy Hundred this year.  You make some very good points and I salute your concern for fairness and quality in broadcasting.  

I have no criticism of your criticism… and I am honored that you think what we do is important enough to devote so much attention to it.

Talkers is a trade publication primarily focused on the business interests of the news/talk/sports segment of the commercial radio industry.  This includes cable news/talk TV, satellite radio talk and podcasting.  Our secondary arena is commercial pop culture talk and music radio.

We cover public radio out of respect for it but – again – we are focused on the commercial venues.  That is our “beat” so to speak.

Our only political position is support of the First Amendment.

So I guess you are correct, we do take a “narrow” view of the greater talk media universe.

Again, thank you Ken.  Keep up the good work. Best, Michael  


In case you haven’t heard, the Trump-Ryan folks in DC are going after the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), one of many, many proposed in the President new budget proposal for fiscal year 2018. 

Both Democrats and Republicans have said Trump’s budget proposal is dead-on-arrival.

Just a few weeks ago the Congress approved full funding for CPB in its FY 2017 omnibus appropriations bill

Now they are threatening to end funding in fiscal year 2018 and beyond. Debate on defunding CPB is expected to occur in the summer of early fall.

The last Trump-Ryan defunding effort caused a windfall of support for public broadcasting. Alan Chartoff, CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, said Trump is our best fundraiser ever.


Tom Taylor's Now newsletter is reporting [link] that Bluegrass Country is losing a major lifeline: A translator at 105.5 FM that repeats the programming of WAMU-HD2. Bluegrass Country recently became independent from WAMU. The simulcast on 105.5 is expected to end June 21st. Bluegrass Country was unable to craft a deal with 105.5’s private owner.

The loss 105.5 is certain to hurt Bluegrass Country because most the DC audience hears it on the FM translator. In the past five years I have never seen a HD channel show up in Nielsen Audio ratings without rebroadcasting on a translator. HD Radio continues to be a path to nowhere.


Arroyo Utterback
WWOZ’s search for a new General Manager ended back where it stated – in New Orleans. The newest Ozilian (a term for a supporter of WWOZ) is Beth Arroyo Utterback, Executive VP and CEO at WYES-TV, NOLA’s PBS station.

At WYES, Utterback has been executive producer of several nationally-distributed music programs as well as the station's beloved series of local history documentaries and nationally-broadcast cooking shows.

WWOZ [link] is owned by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. Utterbrrck takes over from interim GM Arthur Cohen on June 1st.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


I have been a reader of Michael Harrison’s Talkers Magazine [link] since he founded the publication over two decades ago. I always look forward to each year’s “Heavy Hundred” – a salute to what Talkers says are the 100 most important talk show hosts in the nation. 

Last week Talkers released the 2017 Heavy Hundred.  As I paged through the list of hosts, I thought: Wow, they are almost all white guys.  There is nothing wrong with white guys. I am one. As I kept reading the list I thought about how different it is from the America I see when I travel or go to the grocery store.

Michael Harrison
Conservative talkers have always been the bread-and-butter of Talkers coverage.  Right wing hosts dominate commercial talk media, but I’ve always thought Talkers’ mission and scope was all talk programming, not just a narrow slice of it. 

Mutual friends have told me that Harrison is not an ideologue.  Folks say he is most concerned with broadcasting excellence and substantial profits. I am going to send Harrison a copy of this article and I look forward to hearing his comments.

I decided to do an informal count of this year’s Heavy Hundred.  The chart on the left is a summary of the gender and race of the hosts. To me, the hosts on the list look like the crowd at a Trump rally. I didn’t try to categorize the political leaning of the hosts but it is safe to assume most are politically and/or socially conservatives. This seems to be Talkers’ target audience.

In prior years the Heavy Hundred included a few hosts from public radio.  The 2017 list includes ONE: Terry Gross from Fresh Air is #51. There are is a small handful of left-leaning commercial radio hosts such as Thom Hartmann and Stephanie Miller on the list.

Talkers says it uses this methodology to determine who are The 100 Most Important Talk Show Hosts in America:

• Ratings performance

• Reflecting the diversity and “total flavor” of the industry

• Subjective attributes including courage, effort, impact, longevity, potential, recognition, revenue generation, talent and uniqueness

• Must be employed now as a talk show host

After reviewing this years Heavy Hundred I suggest the Talkers reconsider its methodology to include more public radio folks. As you have seen in some of my recent posts, public radio news/talk programming on NPR News stations is often reaching more listeners than commercial news/talk.

I decided to focus on three “clinkers” on the 2017 list and suggest public radio hosts who are, in my opinion, more “important” than ones chosen by Talkers. I am presenting them as binary choices to let you decide which host is more consequential.



Lets talk about the ratings first.  According Nielsen Audio April 2017 PPM estimates WAMU has average-quarter-hour (AQH) share of 10.0%, number one in the Washington, DC market.  Commercial talk station WMAL has a 3.8% AQH. WAMU has almost three times as many weekly cumulative listeners. So it is safe to say the Nnamdi has many more listeners than O’Conner.

O’Connor is best known as a former Broadway theatre promoter who gained his conservative credibility by working for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood blog. O’Connor’s agenda is exposing big media liberals and defunding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Nnamdi moved to DC from Guyana in the early 1970s. He started in broadcast journalism at Howard University’s WHUR-FM and WHUT-TV in 1973 where he hosted Evening Exchange, an acclaimed public affairs program. He joined WAMU as a full-time talk show host in 1998.



Both Kilmeade and Johnson are both nationally syndicated programs. 1A replaced The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU and is distributed by NPR. Kilmeade is based at FOX HQ in New York.

To me Kilmeade is the “Forest Gump” of FOX News – he is there but adds about as much value as a potted plant. I looked at the carriage for Kilmeade’s radio show and the biggest market/station he appears to be on is WSB, Atlanta.  The rest of his 100 or so stations are itty-bitty stations in small markets.  Is this why he is considered so important?

Johnson quickly established himself after Rehm retired. IA quickly achieved more national carriage than Rehm.  He is now on roughly 330 stations including most of the largest markets.



I can’t recall seeing Jones on previous Talkers Heavy Hundred lists.  I guess he is important now because he is one of President Trump’s primary news sources. Jones is perhaps best known for claiming that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School were staged by liberals, to promote tougher gun control laws. Jones also said the government was behind the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks. Talkers says he is the 26th most important talk show host in the nation.

John Hockenberry is a four-time Emmy Award winner and three-time Peabody Award winner for his reporting at ABC television. He now hosts The Takeaway, a daily live one-hour talk show produced by WNYC and WGBH. The program is distributed nationally by Public Radio International (PRI). The Takeaway is on more than 270 stations including most of the top ten markets.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Recently I received a cheery email titled NPR Announces Summer Podcast Lineup. Without a doubt, NPR is the nations leader in podcasts publishing.  According to the April Podtrac podcast rankings (chart posted below), NPR owns 8 of the top 20 podcasts, 40% of the top performers.

Anya Grundmann
Anya Grundmann, NPR’s VP for Programming and Audience Development, announced the new litter of podcasts with impressive fanfare:

"We are expanding the range of our programming by giving a platform to new voices, sharing a fun new side of favorite contributors, and doubling down on immersive stories and journalism. Your favorite NPR voices, and new ones you'll come to love, are coming to your ears this summer.”

Anya is right about “your favorite NPR voices.” In the Summer Podcast Lineup I saw new work by Guy Raz, Paula Poundstone, Alix Spiegel, Hanna Rosin and NPR international correspondent Gregory Warner and others. These are all bankable names no matter what platform they are on. This is good news.

The bad news is that almost none of these new podcasts have any tie to the broadcast platform, still the way the vast majority of listeners hear, love and support NPR programming. When was the last time NPR announced any new programming for the broadcast platform?

I call this the bad news because broadcast radio is a “use it or loose it” proposition. On Monday I reported that the majority of NPR News stations are holding their audience after November’s record listening numbers. 

We are at a time when NPR and other producers and distributors have VIRTUALY ZERO new programming in the pipeline. This means NPR is ringing the “new bell” less often at a time when they should be bold, fresh and new.  Ultimately, the lack of new programming will hurt public radio stations, the folks who still pay the bills.


Earlier this week All Access reported [link] on new research presented at the recent Worldwide Radio Summit in LA dealing with common traits of podcast listeners. NuVoodoo [link], a research company with a dreadful name, presented results for two proprietary new studies based on almost 8,000 respondents.
NuVoodoo’s research found: 

Charts courtesy of NuVoodoo
• Podcast listening most often comes at the expense of listening to broadcast radio. Two-thirds of podcast listeners, ages 14-54, report that they listen less to FM radio. 

Nearly two in five respondents say they listen less to AM radio since listening to podcasts. NuVooDoo says the 14-54 age segment contains the fastest growing number of new podcast listeners.

• Ten percent of NuVoodoo survey respondents in the 14-54 cohort 10% report they listen to podcasts an hour a day or more. This number jumps to 14% among Men 35-44 and 22% among Men 25-34.

• Lots of podcast listening occurs at times and in places where broadcast radio has had a strong foothold for a while such as while driving and working.

• Many respondents speak about podcasts as "radio." 

A few respondents refer to podcasts as “audio-on-demand.”


Tuesday, May 23, 2017


The trade publication Current has for years played an important role in the development of public media, particularly public radio and public television. Since the publication began as printed newspaper in 1980, Current has been “the news of record” for the industry.

Current is now charging $89 for individuals to subscribe for digital access and/or the print edition. Discounts are available for advertisers, station employees and access for VIPs such as licensee board members. Folks who do not subscribe can still read a handful of stories each month but they will have only limited access.


Since the dawn of the Internet, Current has made its content free online. Many people, myself included, have taken ample advantage of their largess.

Those freebie days will soon be over according to an announcement by Julie Drizin, Executive Director of Current. Drizin says that a paywall for Current’s content will be introduced in the near future. Overall, Drizin is cautiously optimistic about the change:

Julie Drizin
We are truly excited to finally give you a chance to help fund all of our content that you enjoy. We gave our content away for free, just as public radio and TV do. But that’s no longer an option for Current. The future of Current is up to you, the people of public media.

The key words are “fund all of our content.”  This is a big gamble for Current because the publication has been subsidized for most its life. Apparently, now it needs to be self sustaining.

James Fellows
James Fellows and Steve Behrens founded Current in 1980 at the behest of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) to promote the growth and influence of public broadcasters. 

In 1981 NAEB went out of business. Current restarted in 1982 when it found a new fiduciary, WNET-TV, New York. CPB provided much of the funding via WNET.

JJ Yore
The first “golden era” of Current began in 1986 when J.J. Yore was promoted to editor. Yore is now the GM of WAMU.  Yore is a fine journalist, an aggressive promoter and a charismatic leader.  Under Yore’s tenure, Current became an absolute “must read” for people working in public media. (Plus, people like myself who wanted to work in public media.)

Yore recruited David Giovannoni to write about radio audience research, Judith LeRoy to write about TV audience research and Skip Pizzi to write about advances in technology. 

All of these additions were subsidized by CPB. Current caused a ripple effect in the public radio biz because it focused on building audience and raising listener-sensitive revenue. This was a driving force behind public radio’s amazing audience growth.

But, Current still existed because of subsidies it received. In 1987 Current hired its first display ad salesperson, Harold Crabill. He doubled Current’s revenue within a year. Ad sales brought the publication out of the red.  In the 1990’s display ad sales were substantial and Current frequently published 100-page issues in several sections.

Things began changing in the 2000’s.  Current became “sleepy” editorially and fewer people read it. It seemed like Current gave up its leadership role and it became increasingly irrelevant. Online and social networks became the way to market new programming. WNET didn’t pay much attention to Current and the red ink began to climb again.

In 2011, WNET transferred “stewardship” (meaning fiduciary responsibility) of Current to American University’s School of Communication, where it remains today. The move to AU was subsidized in part by Wyncote Foundation.

Steve Behrens retired and Karen Everhart became the top editor.  Mike Janssen focused on building a bigger digital presence. Current hired some very talented young journalists such a Tyler Falk. In 2015 Current hired Julie Drizin to be it’s Executive Director. Also in 2015, Current began a weekly podcast, The Pub, with host Adam Ragusea.

Innovation and enterprise reporting have now returned to Current. In my opinion, Current’s editorial content has never been better. Current’s current vibe reminds me of the best of the J.J. Yore years. 

Current means a lot to public media folks like me. It is a convener, curator and leader. Current is essential to the future of public media. I hope the new self-sustaining plan succeeds and I urge you to subscribe.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Results for all of Nielsen Audio’s April 2017 PPM markets are now available. The question on most people’s minds is: Are stations holding their estimated weekly listeners now that the 2016 election is five-months in the rear view mirror. The answer is: Generally yes!

Today we are looking at the top 30 NPR News stations ranked by their April 2017 estimated weekly listeners compared to Fall 2016. The chart on the left has the summary stats and individual stations are below.

Between Fall 2016 and April 2017 half (50%) of the 30 stations maintained their weekly listeners from an election season where many records were broken. We are defining “maintained” as a change of plus or minus 3% or less.

According to the Nielsen data, six stations (20%) gained estimated weekly listeners by more than 3%. WBUR, KUHF and WFAE were the top performers, up 10% each.

However, 9 (30%) of the top 30 stations had losses of estimated weekly listeners greater than 3%. WNYC-AM lost the most listeners in the five-month comparison, down 27%. KNKX in Seattle-Tacoma lost 19%.


There is no doubt that the majority of the top 30 NPR News stations increased their estimated weekly listeners between Spring 2012 and April 2017. More than seven in ten increased their number of weekly listeners by greater than 3%. The summary chart is on the right.

This is validation that the number of listeners to NPR News stations has continued to grow in PPM markets despite overall radio trends that are down slightly every year.  I don’t know of another radio format that has done this well.

WGBH is by far the top gainer in the five-year comparison, up 47% since 2012. Other top performers were WUSF (up 46%), WYPR (up 32%), WAMU (up 27%), KUHF (up 26%), KERA, KCFR and KCFR were all up 24%.

WNYC-AM and KNKX (formerly KPLU) had the biggest losses of estimated weekly listeners since 2012.

Overall, public radio folks should be proud of their audience building!

Now, lets “do the numbers” for all of the top 30 stations: