Thursday, June 14, 2018


Douglas J. Bennet, back in the day (pic courtesy of Current)
On Monday (6/11) NPR confirmed the death of former organization president Douglas J. Bennet. 

Under Bennet’s leadership, NPR became an adult. 

In its earlier years NPR was like a teenager – impulsive, free-spending and not worrying about the consequences of its behavior.   

After Bennet took over NPR lived within its means, invested heavily in news and became a genuine force in American media.

Bennet became NPR’s President just after the network was saved at the last minute from bankruptcy in 1983.  NPR’s previous president, Frank Mankiewicz, over-spent NPR’s budget by over $7 million dollars in prior years. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and key NPR member-stations (particularly KCRW) loaned NPR the money to continue in business.

CPB’s bailout of NPR came at a price. Prior to 1983 CPB funding went directly to NPR.  In part because of the crisis, CPB changed its funding structure for public radio. Direct funding to NPR was ended and CPB money went directly to stations to spend it as they pleased. This led to a new competing network, American Public Radio (APR), now called Public Radio International (PRI).

The future for NPR looked gloomy when Bennet took the wheel in 1983. Bennet met the challenge with frugal budgets that helped   build the confidence of station managers and licensees.

Bennet’s death was announced on Sunday (6/10) on Twitter by his sons, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, James Bennet, the editorial editor of The New York Times and by his daughter, Holly.

During Bennet’s tenure, NPR launched Weekend Edition Saturday, made Fresh Air a national hit and started Talk of the Nation in 1991.

Doug Bennet & Midge Ramsey Bennet in 2008
KEN SAYS: We admired Doug Bennet for many things but one of his best traits was that he was a good judge of people. He encouraged associates such as news chief Bill Buzenberg, programmer Jay Kernis and station representative Midge Ramsey, whom he later married.  Bennet backed, and learned from, researcher David Giovannoi.

We will always remember Doug Bennet as a person of good will and good humor who made NPR, and public radio, one of the most respected media organizations in nation.


WAMU was down again in the May 2018 Nielsen Audio PPM ratings. The de facto NPR flagship has lost estimated weekly listeners for the last four books.   
Compared to May 2017, WAMU has lost an estimated 145,300 weekly listeners, down 16%.

On June 7th we discussed WAMU’s schedule changes [link] that go will go into effect on Monday, June 25th. Will the new schedule make a difference in the ratings?  No one knows.  Most of the changes are weekend shows. These programs air in low-listening hours, so they might not have much impact.  Perhaps the loss of WAMU’s mojo is due to what is happening now during the weekdays.

In the closely watched rivalry between WAMU and commercial news giant WTOP AM/FM, WAMU is losing ground. In the May sweeps WTOP had 1,314,900 estimated weekly listeners compared to WAMU’s 714,600. WTOP also has a higher average-quarter-hour (AQH) share, 9.7% compared to WAMU’s 8.3%.  Not that long ago, WAMU led in both metrics.

In Philly, Triple A WXPN continues its upward trend compared with 2017. But, it looks like WRTI continues to be in free-fall. 

Rumor has it that Classical music and Jazz factions are not on speaking terms.   

Someday, someway this dual format marriage will likely end. For now, insiders tell us WRTI is a very unhappy place to work.

Things are more upbeat in Boston.  Both NPR News/Talk stations, WBUR and WGBH, continue to hold their strong positions in the market.  Both stations are neck-to-neck with heritage commercial news/talk WBZ.  If the listening to WBUR and WGBH is combined, WBZ is left in the dust.

In the Twin Cities the May 2018 PPM ratings are mixed bag for the three MPR stations.  Both KNOW and The Current (KCMP) were down a little bit. Classical KSJN was up nicely from May 2017. The big story continues to be the solid performance by Jazz KBEM.  They are become one of the most success Jazz stations in the country.

Folks in Greeley, Colorado at the HQ of KUNC/KJAC a/k/a The Colorado Sound are likely very pleased with their performance in the Denver-Boulder metro. KUNC and The Colorado Sound aren’t even the Denver metro but they have a lot of listeners who are.

The ratings race between The Colorado Sound and OpenAir KVOQ is volatile from month to month.  A friend of ours who listeners to both stations tell us both stations are developing their own vibe:

The Colorado Sound is a place where you can still hear old Eagles tunes and the greatest hits by Poco, and KVOQ is where you hear lots of current “trendy” music from very recent times. The oldest music you will hear on OpenAir is New Order.”


  1. The real news in Boston is that WBUR is up from 5.9 to 5.6 to 6.2, and is 3rd in the market. Meanwhile WGBH is strong but dropping from 4.5 to 4.7 to 4.1. For a while there it looked like WGBH was neck-and-neck with WBUR but something's changed in the last few months and they are crushing WGBH now.

  2. Another great story about Doug Bennet comes from his days as President of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. During that tenure, the college radio station, WESU, went into crisis. It was legally owned by an independent entity, not the college. But nobody had remembered to file the paperwork and processing fees with the State of CT to keep that entity legally alive. It went defunct with nobody realizing it for years until suddenly it was time to renew the FCC license and everyone realized the FCC license was legally invalid. It was held by an entity that didn't exist.

    Bennet stepped in with his contacts at the FCC and got them to transfer the license to be legally held by the college, and cut a deal with NPR affiliate WSHU at Fairfield University to lease about half of every broadcast day. It paid enough to cover the costs of a full-time station manager for WESU and provided enough desirable content to make WESU relevant to the local community. A lot of the non-NPR stuff is still "out there" pretty far but it's appealing enough that, when combined with more normal public radio fare, provides a more steady income from fundraising.

    There was some bloody murder screamed by the students and community volunteers at the time, but since then things have calmed down nicely. There's still plenty of airtime for students & community DJ's and now there's a steady hand at the top (his name is Ben Michael and besides being a nice guy he's been perfect for the gig - he's done a great job engendering trust from all the disparate stakeholders) and the future of the association of WESU to the college community is assured.

    It went so well that in 2007 when the last big FCC filing window for new non-commercial radio stations was about to happen, I worked with Ben & WESU to expand their 88.1 signal substantially into Hartford. Both to get better signal but also to block any new stations on 88.1 north of Hartford that would ruin their existing coverage. It worked great, and the college even paid to have the new directional antenna & bigger transmitter installed.

    Win-wins all around! :)