Monday, June 18, 2018


Because we think the future of radio is a “use it or lose it” proposition, we are introducing a new occasional feature: The Weakest Link Awards.

Weakest Link is not intended to place blame on individuals. The purpose of the award is to shine a light on stations that are clearly underperforming and show no sign of acknowledging or fixing the problems.

We believe that public radio will survive and prosper only if every station provides tangible benefits to listeners. For most listeners, the primary benefit is the programming. If a station’s programming is sub-par, the station may become irrelevant.

The Weakest Link Award is meant to encourage decision makers at sub-par public radio stations to improve their programming and community service on all media platforms.  If they do not, they are a Weakest Link and devalue the good work of everyone else in the public radio system.

The first station to get a Weakest Link Award is a doozy: WKNO, Memphis [link]. 

WKNO is the only station that airs NPR News in Memphis, Tennessee, a metro area with nearly 1.4 million people.  Memphis has a robust and diverse economy. It is known around the globe as a distribution center.  WKNO-FM’s 100,000-watt signal has potential listeners in three states but very few of them now listen.

Memphis should be a place where public radio thrives. But WKNO-FM is not succeeding. It appears they aren't even trying.

How lame is WKNO’s performance? Check out the chart on the left.

WKNO’s number of estimated weekly listeners hasn’t grown in over 11 years.  In fact, their number of weekly listeners reached a low point in the May 2018 Nielsen Audio ratings.

WKNO was one of the few NPR News stations that did not have an uptick in listeners around the time of the November 2016 election.

WKNO has fewer weekly listeners than WQOX, a station that airs a mainly automated oldies format. 

WQOX's budget is less than $80,000 per year. It is operated by a school district in a Memphis suburb. 

And, WQOX has more weekly listeners than WKNO.

WKNO has a dual format of the major NPR news magazines and Classical music. The station does not have a Program Director.

We’ve reached out to Michael LaBonia, President of Mid-South Communications Foundation, the licensee of WKNO, but we have never received a response. We will keep trying to LaBonia to engage in a discussion about how the station can improve.


Austin seems like a market of achievers who appreciate and support excellent radio. This causes more people to listen. 

The big news in Austin continues to be the success of KDRP a/k/a Sun Radio [link]. In April we did a profile of KDRP [link] and called it the most inspiring noncom station in America.

Mediocrity is not tolerated on-the-air at this five-station combo.  Though none of the stations have more than 100-watts of power, Sun Radio has big impact on Austin’s music scene. 

Also in Austin, NPR News/Talk KUT added 40,000 new estimated weekly listeners between May 2017 and May 2018, up 14%.  Classical KMFA has subscribed to the Nielsen ratings for a couple of years.  We keep them on the chart because they are a great station.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex NPR News/Talk KERA seems to be on another growth spurt.   

Triple A KKXT seems to be stuck in a rut – this is the third straight monthly book where there number of estimated weekly listeners has declined.

NPR News/Talk WABE keeps adding new listeners despite head-to-head competition from Georgia Public Broadcasting’s WRAS. 

Three years ago WABE dropped its dual format by moving Classical music to an HD channel.  At the time, some folks at WABE wondered if they were doing the right thing. Now it is clear, they should have dumped the dual format long ago.


KUOW’s mojo keeps rising in Seattle-Tacoma.   

Triple A KEXP lost estimated weekly listeners in May 2018 compared with May 2017.


  1. Shame on YOU, Ken.

    Using Nielsen numbers...especially the publicly-available shame a station is the height of hubris and arrogance. We already know the numbers, especially the PPM numbers, cannot be trusted as anything like an accurate measurement of audience. But the publicly-available numbers are so broad as to be useless in the first place. That’s why Nielsen publishes them for free but restricts everything else to paying customers.

    Why not use IRS990 and CPB audited financial statements (both publicly available) as a much better indication of how much community support WKNO has? Which is, after all, the only audience measurement that really matters.

    A very simple explanation for WKNO's "poor" ratings could just be that they refuse to spend $20,000 on a Voltair & TVC15 PPM watermark enhacement processor. In which case, yes, they will have lousy ratings. It's well-known that a public radio news/talk format encodes VERY poorly, even with the Enhanced CBET schema Nielsen implemented a few years back. If you don't have Voltair, it'll be a miracle if you get above a 1.0 share in the ratings, regardless of what your actual audience size is.

    And unless WKNO is using their ratings to sell more underwriting (and I'd guess they're not) then why SHOULD they spend that kind of money on a Voltair? What'd be the point? It doesn't measure audience in a way that's accurate enough to make any sort of judgement on programming decisions. It's not gonna be impressive enough to convince ad agencies to buy underwriting. So why bother? Frankly their poor ratings are justification for only one thing: yank out the PPM encoders because they're not helping at all and can only hurt. Certainly they shouldn’t spend it to impress one blogger who seems a lot more interested in passing judgment than in offering useful help to anyone.

  2. Wondered if I was the only PD (before retiring at the end of 2014) in pub-radio that felt the same way about WKNO and missed opportunities. With no disrespect to the fine folks at WKNO.