Friday, April 27, 2018



In our post last Wednesday (4/5) about Good, Okay and Ugly performing NPR News stations in PPM markets [link] we singled out WKNO in Memphis for consistent poor performance in Nielsen Audio ratings. 

We wondered why this is happening.

We reported that according to Nielsen, WKNO had 49,300 estimated weekly listeners in the March 2018 PPM ratings. 

NPR stations in similar size markets do much, much better.  During the same month, WJCT in Jacksonville had 109,800 weekly listeners, WMFE in Orlando had 128,400 and WNPR in Hartford had 120,600.       

Two readers with ties to WKNO sent off–the-record comments and asked their names not be used, a request we always honor.  One comment came from a current WKNO employee and the other was from a former employee. Both said the causes of WKNO radio’s lameness are:

(1.) WKNO is a joint public TV and radio licensee where TV gets most of the money and all of the senior management’s attention.

(2.) A bonehead decision by WKNO’s president Michael LaBonia in 2007 fatally damaged WKNO-FM’s ability to establish an all-news second station.

Michael LaBonia
In the mid-2000’s WKNO did create an all-news second station on WKNA-FM, licensed to Senatobia, Mississippi and WKNQ, licensed to Dyersburg, Tennessee, exurbs of Memphis. The news stations were beginning to establish themselves.

Then in 2007, LaBonia surprised everyone by announcing WKNO had sold both WKNA and WKNQ to religious broadcasters for $2.8 million. LaBonia told local reporters at the time that the two stations were no longer needed because WKNO was making a major commitment to HD Radio:

"We haven't abandoned the goal of providing two full-power services to the market. We're just changing the approach to achieve that goal."

WKNO-TV's nifty news set

Of course, that plan didn’t turn out well because consumers didn’t (and still don’t) want to listen to HD.   

Later it turned out that the $2.8 million was used to build a new 35,000-square-foot facility for WKNO-TV, one of LaBonia’s pet projects.

WKNO hurt its image and has made no effort we can see to establish an all-news second station.

KEN SAYS: The reason I am bringing up WKNO’s questionable priorities is because the key to future of radio is to insist on excellence in programming and service. Lazy stations like WKNO hurt everyone in radio. Calling out laggards like WKNO is one reason Spark News exists.


On Thursday (4/26) we published March 2018 Nielson Audio data for Triple A, Alternative Rock and Americana stations in PPM markets [link]. We put a spotlight on WERS-FM, Boston calling it the “top performing” college station in the nation. That brought this reader comment:

FWIW, WERS has professional hosts during drive times (or at least morning drive) last I checked. I highly doubt [WERS is] the #1 college radio station in the country. Just off the top of my head, both WSOU at Seton Hall and WRHU at Hofstra cover a lot more people down around NYC.

The numbers also demonstrate that KTCU in DFW absolutely crushes WERS, with a weekly cume just shy of 400,000. You can see it here in this report from RRC [link].

KEN SAYS: KTCU is not listed in report you cite.  You are probably correct when you say WSOU and WHRU “cover” more people than WERS. However, “covering” is not the same as “listening.” I can’t recall seeing a college station that reaches more estimated weekly listeners than WERS and are Nielsen subscribers. There may be college stations that don’t subscribe to the ratings that have more weekly listeners than WERS.  But, I doubt it.


On April 11th we published a story about the growth of FM translators and the impact on the FM spectrum [link].  In that post we opined that the expanded use of FM translators to rebroadcast AM and HD stations was preventing new full-power stations to be established. That statement brought this anonymous comment:

Translators do not prevent the addition of new FM stations because translators are an unprotected class. If there is room to put a full power station on a channel that has a translator on it, the translator has to go away when the full power station is licensed. The real reason there isn’t growth in the number of FM stations is simply that the band is full in most well populated areas. That, and filing windows create huge mutually-exclusive application chains that cannot easily be broken.

KEN SAYS: The reader is correct and I was wrong. I appreciate it when readers notify me of factual errors.  One can disagree on issues but facts are always the facts.  I will be more careful in the future.


  1. Oh I'm such a moron. My apologies, Ken, you are 100% right. I was confusing KCBI, which is a straight CCM station, with KTCU, which is more a college radio outlet (albeit at Texas Christian University and I believe they mostly are a CCM station, too).

  2. Well, we can also get into a discussion of "is WERS really college radio"?

    I think it's a valid question. "College radio" is more of a format and a management structure than anything else. After all, ownership means nothing: there are dozens of college-owned NPR stations out there. Or college-owned music stations that nobody would suggest are "college radio". Conversely, if you listen to WBSU in Brockport/Rochester NY you'd often be hard-pressed to know it's almost 100% student-operated (they have a professional GM who splits his FT status between running the station and teaching classes as a professor). They are highly formatted and tightly operated. It's a well-run outlet, indeed.

    WERS is different. They have a LOT of full-time staff for a "college radio" station (eight, including a FT morning show host)

    And they don't really play the "underground alternative rock" or "freeform" formats typical to "college radio"...they're pretty much formatted as triple-A with a handful of specialty shows (they eliminated a lot of the block formatting back in 2013).

    OTOH, the station is part of a formal radio broadcasting curriculum at one of the best educational institutions for learning radio broadcasting in the country. So definitely there are quite a few students working there. While they may not always be in charge, they are usually involved with most aspects of the station's operations.

    Obviously I don't mean to take anything away from WERS. They're a great station.

    But I don't think it's really fair to just call them "college radio". They sound nothing like several other stations, even in Boston, that everyone agrees are "college radio": WMBR, WZBC, WBRS, WMFO, WUML, WZLY, WRBB, WMLN, WSHL, WBIM, etc etc etc. To say they're the "best college radio station" is a little unfair to all the other stations more commonly thought of as "college radio" and it makes WERS into a gigantic fish in a very small pond. WERS is a lot more like a WXPN or a KEXP. To judge by those standards, which may be more harsh but fair, they're not doing nearly as well. In fact, they're arguably underperforming.

    But again, they're unique. They MUST have students involved in a lot of their operations, so you gotta float them a handicap going up against major Triple-A outlets like WXPN or KEXP.

  3. FWIW, I wish I knew how WHRB was doing in the ratings. That would be a fascinating case study against WERS. WHRB is strongly affiliated with Harvard University; not owned, but the parent org is, by its charter, run exclusively by Harvard alums and most, if not all, their DJ's are Harvard students or graduates. They have a lot of what you'd call "college radio" music on their signal but for the most part they're a classical music station. And they have a comparable signal to WERS's, too.

    It'd be fascinating since WERS routinely competes with WUMB and several other commercial stations in town, while WHRB routinely competes with WGBH-owned WCRB. Both are strongly aligned with colleges and have many students involved, but neither really have what you'd think of as a "college radio" format to them.

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