Friday, June 9, 2017


When Bob Papper talks, people listen. Papper is a veteran news reporter, director and consultant. He is the Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Hofstra University. Papper is in charge of the Radio Television Digital News Association’s recently released study Local News By the Numbers [link]. RTNDA annually does surveys of newsrooms around the US. Paper’s radio and TV study is part of a larger series of reports chronically newsroom capabilities.

Bob Papper
Knowing Papper’s credentials, I am surprised at the way he portrays the current radio programming landscape. 

His frame of reference seems to be radio news as it was when Les Nessman was doing the top-of-the-hour newscasts on WKRP. 

This is obviously an out-dated perspective. Let’s look at Papper’s methodology and conclusion and then look at a more real world assessment.


Papper and his associates conducted the survey in the fourth quarter of 2016. They interviewed 430 News Directors and General Managers representing 1,151 individual stations. 535 (47%) of the 1,151 stations said they air local news in some form. The methodology does not say how many of the in-tab stations were commercial or noncommercial.

The chart on the right shows the formats of the in-tab stations. Note that NPR News/Talk is not listed as a format. Are NPR News stations included in News/Talk, All News or All Talk? Papper never says if NPR News stations are included or what category they are in, if they are listed at all.

Also, Papper says the 71.2% of radio stations in the survey run local news – 70.8% of the AM stations and 71.3% of FM stations. The overall percentage running local news is up just over a point from last year. AM stations were down four and a half and FM stations up almost 6%. 72.6% of commercial stations run local news vs. 67.9% of non-commercial ones.

Papper concludes that commercial stations are running less local news and noncommercial stations were running the same amount of local news as the previous year. Newscasts are important to Papper. He notes that commercial stations were almost twice as likely as noncommercial stations to have added a newscast in the past year. Analysis like this seems to exclude long-form news magazines.

My conclusion is that Papper’s study doesn’t represent reality as I know it.


To provide a more realistic perspective I did an informal review of the number of news people now working at stations in the Twin Cities market. For each station or group of stations I used station websites, so I may have missed a few. 

At commercial stations I saw 15 news employees listed.  CBS owned WCCO-AM and local owner Northern Media both have 6 news folks, KSTP has 3.  I could not find ANY local news people at the 9-station iHeartMedia cluster or the 5-station Cumulus cluster.

Rumor has it (and I could not confirm) that all of news content on iHeart stations is produced in Denver. No wonder why they frequently mispronounce the names of Twin Cities’ places and people.

It is a vastly different picture for the noncommercial stations. I counted 91 news people at six Twin Cities noncommercial stations. Minnesota Public Radio lists 64 broadcast new folks, more than all of the rest of the stations combined. Community station KFAI, Urban Contemporary KMOJ, Jazz KBEM, alt-rock Radio K and CCM powerhouse KTIS all have news staff.

So my questions to you, Professor Papper, are:

• Why did you not measure the capacity for news generation and total amount of news created?

• Why did you chose not delineate NPR News stations in your survey because that is obviously where the most radio news now lives.

• Why did you not consider the size of the audience reached with news programming?

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Attention Deadheads: Get ready for 24-hours of the Grateful Dead at their prime. WNRN [link], Charlottesville, Virginia is hosting 24/’77, a full day and night playing music exclusively from the Grateful Dead’s 1977 live archive. The party begins this Friday (6/9) at 6:00pm.

The theme – 24/’77 – was chosen to coincide with the release of a three CD box set of a historic Grateful Dead concert at Cornell University on May 8, 1977.   

The release, Cornell 5/8/77, is part of an eleven CD ongoing package of live Dead concerts called May 1977: Get Shown the Light. The WNRN pledge drive will be wall-to-wall music recorded at live Dead concerts during 1977.

WNRN listeners who pledge during the one-day drive will be entered into a raffle to win tickets to see Phish at Madison Square Garden later this summer. The pledge drive will be streamed online at


The Grateful Dead in the mid 1970s
Deadheads tend to be purists. Authenticity and quality are as important to fans of the Grateful Dead as credible source are to a NPR News junkie. Certain concerts are historic and revered among the “family.”

The Grateful Dead took great care to make certain their followers had a primo experience at their shows. The sound, visuals, vendors and song selection mattered to the band and the fans. 24/’77 is a perfect fundraiser for Triple A stations like WNRN because it reinforces the notion that the station cares and by pledging listeners can show their appreciation.

The May 8, 1977 Cornell University show is iconic for Deadheads. Earlier in 2017, Sam Sodonsky wrote about the Cornell show and the recording made that night for the respected indie music site Pitchfork [link]:

The Grateful Dead May 8, 1977 at Cornell University
On May 8, 1977, at Barton Hall, on the Cornell University campus, in front of 8,500 eager fans, the Grateful Dead played a show so significant that the Library of Congress inducted it into the National Recording Registry.

Many Deadheads claim that the quality of the live recording of the show made by Betty Cantor-Jackson (a member of the crew) elevated its importance. Once those recordings—referred to as "Betty Boards"—began to circulate among Deadheads, the reputation of the Cornell '77 show grew exponentially. With time the show at Barton Hall acquired legendary status in the community of Deadheads and audiophiles.

Cornell '77 is about far more than just a single Grateful Dead concert. It is a social and cultural history of one of America's most enduring and iconic musical acts, their devoted fans, and a group of Cornell students whose passion for music drove them to bring the Dead to Barton Hall. Cornell '77 is still considered a touchstone in the history of the band.


Molly Davis
Every once in a while you see a job listing that is so appealing you think about dropping everything and relocating.  Such is the case with the opening at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.  Molly Davis, Assistant GM at WFDD – Public Radio for the Piedmont – posted this message on the PRADO bulletin board:

Are you passionate about public radio and storytelling, and interested in sharing that passion with young people? WFDD is upping the ante on our long-standing education program.

Since 2010, we’ve held Radio Camp for middle schoolers every summer; since 2011, we’ve worked with high school students after school to produce stories for our series Radio 101; we’ve even hosted Radio Camp for Grown-Ups. 

High school students at WFDD's Radio Camp
Starting this fall, our Radio 101 program will be embedded in a local high school as a course for credit, and we’re seeking a dynamic individual to take on all these projects.

Over the last few years, WFDD has seen tremendous growth in both revenue and audience, and we have amazing listener engagement. We are the state of North Carolina’s charter NPR affiliate station, and we celebrated our 70th birthday last fall.

We serve 32 counties in the Piedmont and High Country of North Carolina, and parts of southern Virginia. The station is licensed to Wake Forest University, and as such, staff members are University employees who receive generous University benefits.

Skyline of Winston-Salem
Our offices are located in beautiful and historic Winston-Salem, NC, the City of Arts and Innovation, home to the nation’s first locally- established Arts Council, the nation’s first public arts conservatory (UNC School of the Arts), and the prototype for the Empire State Building.

Winston-Salem is conveniently centrally located, close to both the mountains and the coast, boasts a low cost of living, and offers a robust culinary and music scene, plus plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. The climate is temperate: I tell folks it’s almost always spring or fall.

I could go on and on, but instead, I’ll encourage you to check out the job description here.

Sign me up Molly!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Edison Research has released their first Canadian Share of Ear study and it shows that terrestrial radio radio time-spent-listening (TSL) in Canada is more than 16% higher that in America.

Canada’s Radio Connects, a radio advocacy organization, partnered with Edison Research to conduct the first Share of Ear study north of the border. 

The chart on the left shows the Canadian Share of Ear summary. 

In Canada AM/FM stations have 61% of the ear-space compared to around 50% in the US. Canadians also consume a bit more Owned Music and somewhat less streaming audio and SiriusXM satellite radio.

The study also found that Canadians spend an average of 4 hours and 14 minutes every day listening to audio from all sources. Canadian TSL is slightly higher than the US TSL.


Noncom’s larger share of Canadian radio listeners is, in part, due to history. When radio began in the 1920s and 1930s, Canada embraced a hybrid system that combined elements from the UK and US. The government-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had a mission to bring radio (and late TV) to every corner of Canada as a public service. Commercial stations, often copying American formats, were concentrated in cities.

CBC radio was well funded and hired much of the nation’s best talent.  Many observers (including myself) felt that Canada radio sounded “better” than US radio. By the 1980s, budget shortfalls and more aggressive commercial stations cut the CBC’s share of listening. CBC responded by adding an FM “music and arts” channel that had a handful of listeners.

The CBC’s biggest change was the addition of commercials.  Though only two minutes of commercial content was allowed, the ads compromised the “non commercial” aura of the CBC. Now CBC stations have adopted “the NPR sound,” branding themselves as “public radio.” They even have pledge drives.


To illustrate the differences and similarities between noncom radio in Canada and the US, I assembled a Noncommercial Dial Guide (on the right) for Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Winnipeg metro has around 750,000 people, a similar size as Omaha. The Winnipeg noncom guide is on the right.

According to Numeris [link], the nonprofit organization that handles Canadian TV and radio ratings, the top station in Winnipeg is News/Talk 89.3 CBW-1, with a 14.5 average-quarter-hour (AQH) share and an estimated 118,600 weekly cumulative listeners. CBW-2, featuring CBC Two’s eclectic music mix lags behind with a 3.6 AQH share and 54,300 weekly cumulative listeners.

French-language CBC News/Talk station CKSB is only other noncom listed in the Numeris ratings.  They had a 0.2 AQH share and weekly cume of 2,900.

CJUM would likely sound familiar to US listeners. The University of Manitoba station’s schedule looks like a mashup of old-school American community radio and a college rock station like Radio K in Minneapolis. CJUM features US programs such as Radiolab, Democracy Now and e-town.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


So, how much of a media geek am I? Last Sunday night (6/4) I was glued to C-SPAN for Brian Lamb’s interview with Thomas Hazlett about his new book The Political Spectrum.  For a person like me who eats call letters for breakfast this hour of television is as good as it gets.

Check out the C-SPAN interview online here.

The Political Spectrum is about the intersection of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the electronic media spectrum and political influence.   

It is the definitive work about how and why the FCC has made decisions regarding radio, television, cable, the Internet and mobile devices. 

These decisions have made some people billionaires and other people paupers.

Hazlett’s new book is filled with cases studies about how the FCC handles, and sometimes mishandles, new and emerging technologies. With each new device and platform, the FCC rules and policies must adapt existing practices. In many ways, the FCC is trying to regulate and define “the genie in the bottle.”

Most FCC decisions have been helpful to the growth of electronic communication industries but there have situations when the FCC has stifled progress. Hazlett has plenty of examples of both in The Political Spectrum.

Thomas Hazlett is uniquely qualified to explore these topics. In the early 1990’s he was Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission, the person responsible for gaging the economic impact of FCC decisions. After working for the FCC, he has devoted his work to education, research and commentary on the impact of political decisions on government policy.

Thomas Hazlett
Today Hazlett is the H.H. Macaulay Endowed Chair in Economics at Clemson University, where he also is director of the Information Economy Program [link]

He previously held faculty positions at the University of California, Davis, Columbia University, the Wharton School, and George Mason University School of Law. 

Hazlett’s reporting and commentary has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Economist, Slate, Politico and Time.

Best of all, Hazlett is a terrific storyteller with a wry sense of humor and irony. This makes the book a fun, fast read.


I haven’t received my copy of the book yet so I am basing this review on what I heard and saw on C-SPAN and other reviews.

Hazlett’s premise is that while the FCC is necessary to regulate “the ether,” when applied to new media, the higher the stakes, the higher for the potential of waste and political backscratching.

His narrative begins with the popular legend that the FCC’s predecessor, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was established in 1927, the radio spectrum was in chaos, with broadcasting stations blasting powerful signals to drown out rivals. This situation led to ever-increasing federal regulation of electronic media to impose necessary order. But, regulators pushed the FCC to block competition, impair free speech and protect the powerful and politically connected owners of media.

In The Political Spectrum, Hazlett reports how spectrum overseers produced a “vast wasteland” that they publicly criticized but privately protected. His story recounts the losing battle by Edwin Armstrong to establish FM, the untold story of how President Lyndon Johnson’s family became rich by easily acquiring radio and television station licenses and the FCC’s embrace of a HD Radio scheme that ignored common sense.

Hazlett’s book is certain to enlighten and anger readers on the left and right. Here is a sample of the reviews:

“Among [the] proponents of a market for spectrum, none is more vocal and persuasive than …Thomas Hazlett…. Hazlett has done an extraordinary service demonstrating the harm of government-managed spectrum.”

“Few understand spectrum, and yet few things are more important to our networked future. Tom Hazlett covers it all superbly.  A monumental work.”

"Tom Hazlett describes convincingly and clearly how federal regulation of the radio spectrum epitomizes crony capitalism in the U.S.  With colorful writing and extensive research, The Political Spectrum demonstrates how spectrum regulation provides politicians and regulators with a goody bag of campaign contributions while in office and high-salaried jobs afterwards, all at the expense of the general welfare."

The Politic Spectrum was released in late May 2017 and is available from Amazon [link] and local booksellers.

Monday, June 5, 2017


Image courtesy The Boston Globe
Sunday’s Boston Globe has a story that is familiar to people who work in public radio and/or read this blog. 

Check out reporter Mark Arsenault’s article – In well-mannered public radio, an airwaves war [link] – about the competition between Boston’s two NPR News stations WBUR and WGBH. 

Arsenault advances the story and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the people behind the programming at both stations.

Arsenault captures the stakes for WGBH when they decided to challenge WBUR beginning in 2009.

The story begins:

At the time, it seemed like a bold move for a media company. Maybe a stupid one.

Sleepy public radio station WGBH-FM would forsake classical music and jazz programming that had defined it for decades in favor of an all-news and talk format, going head-to-head — or maybe, tote bag to tote bag — against WBUR, the established NPR giant licensed to Boston University.

Mark Arsenault
“It was a bit of a jump off a cliff,” WGBH Radio general manager Phil Redo acknowledged.

Arsenault echoes my observation that the competition between the two stations has increased listening to both stations:

Perhaps the most remarkable part of WGBH’s ascent is that it largely spared its chief rival, steadily building a base without damaging WBUR, or even swiping their monogrammed umbrellas.

I am grateful to Arsenault for making use of my Nielsen Audio weekly listener statistics and crediting my analysis for his report.  This means a lot to me. I publish SPARK! as a public service.  I don’t make a nickel from the blog. Sometimes it is nice to be recognized. Besides, I like seeing my name in The Boston Globe.

Arsenault’s article must have clicked with Globe readers because there were several hundred comments just hour after the story was released. Folks care about public media in Boston.  Here are a couple of their comments:

Comment #1

Boston is REALLY lucky to have two NPR stations of this caliber to listen to. I listen to WBUR and WGBH every day, sometimes all day, switching back and forth for my favorite shows. My all time favorite is GBH's "The Takeaway" with John Hockenberry.

Hockenberry is, in my opinion, a national treasure right up there with Ted Koppel (in his Nightline years). He's a master at dissecting the stories of the day, both serious and humorous, and has a talent for cutting through the typical media bulls##t (even the occasional NPR bulls##t), to get to the heart of the matter.

Of course, if I listen to Hockenberry, I miss WBUR's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrooke, also great programming. Ashbrooke does a great job of bringing out the best in his interviews.

Comment #2:

Why should I pay for copycat programming delivered by WGBH? WGBH offers more local stuff which is Boston centric. Folks in the North and South Shore, Worcester, Providence and Nashua/Manchester really don't care about the Boston City Council's meeting


In May 2016 we reported [link] on WVMO-FM, a gutsy LPFM station that signed on in 2015. It serves the Madison suburb of Monona (population 7,859). WVMO, 98.7 FM [link] is known as the “Voice of Monona.” 

Recently WVMO received half a dozen awards from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.  It is thought to be the first LPFM station in the nation to win multiple honors from a statewide organization. The awards included:

• Best Client Event Promo for “Hoot Hoot Hustle”

• Best Sports Coverage for “Soul of Baseball”

• Best Election Coverage

• Best Use of Audio for the Halloween episode of “Listening to Records Club”

WBA Executive Director Michelle Vetterkind said about KVMO’s trophy-haul:

“It shows everyone how community service and excellent broadcasting go hand-in-hand.”

It also shows the positive power of great mentors. Volunteers at KVMO are guided and inspired by two radio pros, Tom Tueber and Lindsay Wood Davis.

Tom Teuber

If you mention Tom Teuber’s name to folks in the broadcasting and music industries you will hear stories about the great stations he has programmed such as WMET, Chicago, WCMF, Rochester and especially WMMM, Madison. 

You will also hear about people he has hired, mentored and stayed in touch with over a forty-plus-year career.

Lindsay Wood Davis is a Monona resident who has worked with the best commercial and noncom broadcasters in the state.  Last year he was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Davis said about the recognition:

“WVMO has been called, ‘The coolest little station in the nation!’ To be the first LPFM in America to win statewide broadcast awards shows that the City of Monona's ‘community-owned, locally-programmed, volunteer-driven’ radio station can use its unique hyper-local approach to successfully compete with the top stations in the state.”

Well-done and congratulations!