Friday, June 30, 2017


Yesterday we talked about comments by Michael Oreskes, NPR’s Senior VP of News, at the Public Radio News Directors (PRNDI) annual conference held last week in Miami. Oreskes also broke some news during the conference: NPR is planning on reorganizing its internal system into regional hubs.

According to a post by Al Tompkins on the Poynter Institute’s blog [link], Oreskes told news folks at the conference, that NPR envisions, "more than four and less than 12 hubs around the country."

News gathering and reporting is now centralized in NPR’s Washington, DC newsroom.

Michael Oreskes speaking at PRNDI
Oreskes said that the new regional hubs are needed to better cover regional stories. He said the new arrangement is intended to make it easier for local stations to share expertise and resources for their investigative work and digital content.

The changes-in-progress reflect the increasing importance of local and regional reporting on all platforms. NPR says it is moving toward stronger ties to local stations for coverage of beats such as health, veterans, education, environment and covering state governments.

Oreskes said that 90 stations are already involved in the effort. The goal is to have at least 200 stations participating.

Tompkins reported that there was some push back from News Directors who were attending the conference. Questions arose regarding NPR’s intentions, specifically whether NPR envisions taking over local stations or local websites. Oreskes assured attendees that this not the vision now.

NPR says they will begin implementing the regional hubs next year but it may take three years to build the entire system.


Last Monday (6/26) I posted a column [link] that fell below my own standards. I rushed to publish it before I had all of the facts. Plus, the tone seemed mean spirited and it was not fair to the people and organizations involved.

The post concerned new research from Coleman Insights and PRPD about the relatively low awareness of public radio by the general public. I didn’t, and still don’t, believe the survey’s premise and recommendations are of great value.  This is my own opinion and I offered it to spark discussion.

When I began publishing this blog in September 2014, my goal was, and still is, fact-based reporting. I publish news about public media that is often not available from other sources or requires more context than what others have reported.  My style is typically irreverent and it challenges assumptions. I feel I am making a contribution to our collective enterprise.

When I saw Jody Evans' follow-up comment on Facebook on Tuesday (6/27) I knew I had screwed up.  In the original post, I mistakenly assumed that PRPD had paid Coleman Insights for this project. Evan’s said in her comment that Coleman had donated their services and expertise. I felt like the ungrateful creep that I sometimes am.

I also did not correctly describe Coleman’s methodology.  I should have checked the facts with Coleman and PRPD before publishing my article. In my rush to get the story out, I failed to do my due diligence. I apologize to Jody Evans and Warren Kurtzman of Coleman Insights for my error.

Most of all, I hope that I have not hurt Warren Kurtzman’s enthusiasm for being of assistance to public radio. He has provided insight and wise council to our industry for many years. Coleman’s work is top-notch and I regret implying that the “awareness” survey is not welcome, even though I found flaws in portions of it.

I have rewritten Monday’s post and it now reflects the facts and my own opinions. You, my readers, deserve my best work, based on facts, not assumptions and innuendos. I will do better in the future.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


Folks attending the Public Radio News Directors (PRNDI) annual conference last week in Miami took a victory lap and then got back to work.   

News Directors and journalists from around the nation gathered to sharpen their skills, honor excellence and learn the latest developments from NPR.

Michael Oreskes, NPR’s Senior VP of News. Set the pace with his remarks on June 23rd:

Michael Oreskes, NPR’s Senior VP of News
Our biggest reward has been the audiences flocking to us. You all know the numbers. It is not just that public radio is up double digits since 2015. More than four million new listeners. 

Our audiences are growing far faster than commercial news competitors.

We are delivering journalism that audiences want and that society needs. Reliable, verified facts. Civil, informed conversations. Deeper thinking and broader perspectives.

You have stood your ground for fact-based news and the public is standing with you. Congratulations!

Oreskes’ complete remarks can be seen here


Phyllis Fletcher
The theme of the 2017 PRNDI Conference was The Year of the Editor. The organization chose one of their own as Editor of the Year: Phyllis Fletcher, Managing Editor of the Northwest News Network, a regional public media news collaboration serving stations in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

PRNDI President Terry Gildea, said when presenting the award to Fletcher:

“Phyllis Fletcher is one of the finest editors working in public media today. 

Her positive influence on the many reporters she has worked with is evident in the work they have produced.”

Andrea de Leon

PRNDI’s 2017 Leo C. Lee Award, the organization’s “life time achievement award,” was presented to Andrea de Leon, NPR's Northeastern Bureau Chief. 

De Leon was also one of the founders of PRNDI.

Leo Lee was an innovative Bay Area journalist who founded Western Public Radio, a public radio training program that was a forerunner of PRNDI.

Brian Bull

A new annual honor, the PRNDI/NEFE Excellence in Consumer Financial Reporting Award, was given to Brian Bull from KLCC, Eugene. 

Bull won the award for his reporting about a couple moving from the rural east coast to Oregon and the difficulties they encountered trying to buy a home in the expensive Oregon housing market.


Nashville Public Radio won 11 PRNDI awards (based on my very unofficial count), the most for any single newsroom. Other multiple award winners included WBGO, Newark (9), WFUV, New York (8), KQED, San Francisco and New Hampshire Public Radio (7), and KNKX, Seattle/Tacoma and WLRN, Miami (6).

You can see a complete list of the winners here

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Yesterday we looked at three-year market penetration trends for 21
NPR News stations in PPM markets. Eighteen of the stations (86%) increased their penetration between May 2014 and May 2017. Today we have the three-year trends for Classical, Triple A and Jazz music stations.

Nielsen Audio data is provided by RRC
Of the three music formats, Triple A had the largest percentage of stations gaining market penetration (64%), followed by Jazz (50%) and Classical (42%)

Market penetration is Nielsen Audio’s Average Weekly Cumulative Rating, referred to as “Weekly Cume Rating.” Nielsen creates this metric by taking the population in the metro (over the age of 6) and dividing it by a station’s estimated Weekly Cume Listeners (also over the age of 6).  This yields a percentage called “Weekly Cume Rating” or market penetration.

For example, if a metro has 100,000 people over the age of 6 and a station has 10,000 weekly cumulative listeners, the Weekly Cume Rating 10.0%.  In other words, Nielsen estimates that the station has a 10.0% penetration into the market.


The three-year trends for Classical music stations are a mixed bag. Of the 25 stations in PPM markets, ten (42%) were up and 12 (50%) were down and 2 stayed the same. One station (WQED, Pittsburgh, did not subscribe to the Nielsen ratings in 2014. Data for the 25 stations is in the two charts below.

Classical music stations that had the largest gains in estimated Weekly Cume Rating were WFCL, Nashville, up 29% in three years; KXPR, Sacramento, was up 27% and KBAQ, Phoenix increased market penetration 21%.

KCNV, Las Vegas, had the biggest loss of estimated Weekly Cume Rating of all of the stations, down 44% between May 2014 and May 2017. KING, Seattle, and WBJC both declined 27%.


We tracked the PPM estimates for 11 stations. Seven (64%) increased their market penetration during the three-year period. 

Four stations (36%) declined.

KUTX, Austin, had the largest increase in market penetration, 18%, followed closely by both WYMS, Milwaukee and KRCL, Salt Lake City at 17%.

WFUV, New York had the largest decline in estimated Weekly Cume Rating, 21%. These figures do not include the Long Island market where WFUV has a considerable number of listeners.


We tracked 11 Jazz music stations in May 2017. One station (KTSU, Houston) did not subscribe to Nielsen in 2014, so our analysis includes 10 Jazz music stations. 

Of the ten, five (50%) increased their market penetration between 2014 and 2017.

The station with the biggest gain in estimated Weekly Cume Rating with KBEM, Minneapolis. KSDS, San Diego was up 21%. WUCF, Orlando, had the largest decline in market penetration, down 42%.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Yesterday’s article – New Coleman Insights Study of Questionable Value – received a lot of reader attention and several comments. We will feature the comments later this week. At the end of that article we mentioned that new analysis of Nielsen Audio estimates show many NPR News have increased their market penetration over the past three years.

Market penetration is determined by using Nielsen Audio’s Average Weekly Cume Rating.  It is a simple but powerful metric. Nielsen takes the number of people over the age of 6 in a metro area and divides it by a station’s estimated weekly cume listeners, over the age of six, to provide a percentage that measures the penetration of the station into the metro market.

For example, if a metro has 100,000 people over the age of 6 and a station has 10,000 weekly cumulative listeners, the Weekly Cume Rating 10.0%.  In other words, Nielsen estimates that the station has a 10.0% penetration into the market.

We took the Weekly Cume Ratings from May 2017, the most recent data available, and compared them with Nielsen data from May 2014 to establish a three-year trend.

Below are the top thirty stations, ranked by their May 2017 Weekly Cume Ratings. Of the 30 stations on the list, 21 (70%) are NPR News stations, 7 (23%) are Christian Contemporary Music (CCM), one is Triple A and one is Latin Pop.

Of the 21 NPR News stations, 18 (86%) increased their Market Penetration percentage, two stayed the same and one was down, comparing May 2017 and May 2014.

The big news is that seven of the 18 stations where the Cume Rating increased, were up by more than 20%.  (Increases of 20% or more are highlighted in yellow.) Stations with the largest increases of market penetration were WGBH, Boston (up 40%), WYPR, Baltimore (up 30%) and WNPR, Hartford (up 26%).

These NPR News stations are seeing remarkable increases in metro market penetration over the past three years. This is occurring despite the fact that overall radio listening has decreased one to two percent per year.

Not all formats are experiencing increases. Of the seven CCM stations in the top thirty, four increased market penetration and three were down from 2014 to 2017. Tomorrow will look at the market penetration trends for Classical, Jazz and Triple A stations.

We’ve broken the top hirty into two sections of 15 stations each. On the left is the chart for stations one through 15. (The chart for stations 16 through 30 is below on the left.

Notable stations in the top 15 include WAMU, up 20% in three years, WBUR up 7% despite aggressive competition from WGBH and KCMP (89.3 The Current), the lone Triple A station that increased market penetration in the top thirty, up 10% in three years.

Two CCM stations in this group saw their market penetration decrease from 2014 TO 2017. KTIS (Minneapolis) was down 16% and KSBJ (Houston), typically the CCM station with the largest audience, was down 13%.

Among stations in the 16 through 30 chart, WGBH’s impressive 40% increase in market penetration show the wisdom of the decision to go head-to-head with WBUR paid off. WPLN (Nashville) was the only NPR News station where market penetration declined.

CCM station WAYF (Miami) had the biggest gain in the top thirty, up 66%, in part because a transmitter site move. Latin Pop station KNIA (Phoenix), a groovy ethic station with the cutest DJs on the planet, increased its market penetration by 11%.

Monday, June 26, 2017


Note: This article has been rewritten.

You may have seen the news item last week that public radio’s biggest problem is “low awareness.” Coleman Insights donated their time and ideas and collaborated with PRPD to learn more about the general public’s perception and awareness of public radio versus their perception of commercial radio. To me, this research seems like a noble effort that is of questionable value.

The most striking finding from the survey is that listener awareness of public radio stations is much, much lower than listener awareness of commercial radio stations. When Coleman asked respondents to name (un-aided) all of the local radio stations they were aware of. Only 24% of the respondents mentioned a public radio station, 99% of the respondents mentioned a commercial station.

Coleman then coded the responses into groups. The chart on the left is a summary of the top-or-mind awareness by survey respondents.

Coleman concludes that low awareness by the general public (quoting from the report0 “holds public radio back from building the images it needs to support a strong brand.” Then the Coleman report advises public radio broadcasters:

“We recommend implementing focused campaigns, directed towards people who do not regularly listen to Public Radio stations.”

In other words, the Coleman report suggests public radio needs an ad campaign and other promotion to increase awareness by members of the general public. This is a questionable solution.


1. The Coleman report emphasizes the importance of establishing "mass market brands." 

But does public radio seek to be a mass market brand? Isn’t public radio about niche marketing and building relationships with listeners on multiple plat forms based on the value of the content to win their support?

2. I question Coleman’s advice that public radio should seek greater awareness with ”…people who do not regularly listen to Public Radio stations.”

David Giovannoni
Many years of research (and common sense) have shown that the best way for public radio to increase listening is by turning occasional listeners into core listeners.

David Giovannoni wrote extensively about this topic.  In 1991 he wrote in Radio Intelligence 1988 – 1990:

[Isn’t the priority] to increase the frequency with which occasional listeners tune in — in other words, to hasten their next occasion, not to make non-listeners “aware” of public radio.

Hastening the next occasion is a programming strategy that stands head and shoulders above any other. Off-air promotion is but a very small part of it. Public broadcasters can hasten the next occasion through consistent, reliable presentation of alluring programming. [It is] the appeal of the moment…what listeners want now.

Giovannoni backs up his points with data about how listeners found out about public radio and why they decide to listen to one station or another. (See charts on the right.)

3. What is so bad about 24% awareness by the general public?

“Public radio” is hard to define because it isn’t a precise, defined term. “Public radio” might mean something different to me than it does to you. Perhaps it is better to classify stations as “commercial” and “noncommercial.” This provides a clearer definition.

However, most of the general public is not so discerning. They listen to what they like.  Most of the inside radio distinctions we in the industry are meaningless to the general public.

This is my point: Public radio has been focused on “fishing where the fish are” and this is the right way to proceed. This approach has brought growing market penetration for many public radio stations, particularly for NPR News stations in the past few years.

Coleman and PRPD should be commended for providing this research. But, there is not value in its findings, conclusions and recommendations.