Thursday, August 9, 2018


Ed Christian
Ed Christian, CEO of commercial station group owner Saga Communications stirred up a hornet’s nest of worry when he said on an internal conference call on Tuesday (8/7): “Commercial stop sets are creeping up to unlistenable levels.”

According to reports by Radio Ink [link] and Tom Taylor’s NOW newsletter [link], the problem is not just the number of commercials in stop-sets, it is also the quality of the commercials themselves.

Christian’s comments are notable because he put his finger on one of commercial radio’s biggest liabilities – and one of noncommercial public radio’s inherent strengths – endless groups of back-to-back commercials that are almost certain to cause listeners to tune-out. According to Christian, the problem seems to be getting worse.

At many commercial stations stop-sets now last five minutes or longer. On-demand media has changed listener expectations. When someone has had it with endless ads – “click” – they are gone.

Traditional radio still has ubiquitous market penetration.  According research from multiple sources, over 90% of American adults hear or listen to radio in a typical week. But, time-spent-listening continues to decline. This erodes the prices advertisers are willing to pay for ads. Revenue decreases.  This means commercial stations must sell more commercials to meet shareholder driven profit expectations.

Christian is not known as a “hair on fire” person. He observed that very few commercial station managers and programmers are paying attention to the quality, length and repetition of commercials.


Eric Nuzum
Audible, a pioneer in podcasting, announced earlier this week that they have laid off their entire podcast staff including Senior VP of Original Content Eric Nuzum.  Before Nuzum went to Audible in May, 2015, he was VP of Programming at NPR for several years.

You can hear NPR’s news story about Audible’s layoffs here.

Podcast industry observers are wondering out loud if Audible’s move is a sign that the company believes podcasting has reached its high point. Audible is owned by Amazon, a company known for reading the tea-leaves and acting decisively. Industry sources say Audible is currently producing over a dozen original podcasts that draw an aggregate listening audience in the millions.

KEN SAYS: Speculation now turns to what Nuzum will do next. In an email to friends and associates he said he plans to do some consulting work in the short-term and then dive into a new venture.

Nuzum had a very successful run as VP of Programming at NPR. Before going to work at Audible, Nuzum worked in public media since he was 19. He is also a published author. We hope he will consider returning to public media because we need his ideas, spirit and experience.


(Note: In Nielsen Audio Diary markets reflect listening by persons 12+, Monday – Sunday, 6am to Midnight)

Duncan Lively
In Oxnard-Ventura and Santa Barbara just west of the city of Los Angeles, KCLU has become a regional NPR News/Talk powerhouse. 

The two metro areas comprise a growing exurban area where a significant number of residents work in LA.

The major LA stations covered the two markets via repeaters and translator. So, KCLU has tough competition. 

For the latest news about KCLU and this dynamic market, Duncan Lively, Director of Programming & Operations since 2015, agreed to answer some questions via email:

Spark News: The area KCLU serves consists of two markets that are adjacent to each other. How does this affect your analysis of Nielsen ratings:

Duncan Lively: They do overlap. And to complicate things further, the Santa Barbara TSA overlaps with San Luis Obispo. So, to keep myself on the straight and narrow, I pay equal attention to Metro and TSA numbers to ensure I’m properly interpreting what the numbers are saying.

For the purposes of underwriting marketing, we do some combining across markets to give prospective clients a better sense of the regional reach they’ll be buying.

Spark News: How much of the programming on KCLU-AM is different from the programming on KCLU-FM?

Lively: None.  I put AM in 100% simulcast shortly after I arrived in 2015.  I was a one-man programming and operations shop at the time and I just couldn’t justify the effort (and additional program acquisition expense) to offer separate program streams.  Plus, to do right by a second program service, I would have needed to set up a second web stream – again, adding a layer of complexity that I didn’t feel was a good use of resources.

We’re continually amazed at how well the AM performs.  Plus, it gives us a level of redundancy that’s essential from a public safety standpoint. 

Spark News: How does KCLU prepare for wildfires?

Lively: During last year’s massive Thomas Fire and the mudflows in Montecito that killed 21 people, KCLU was an essential information pipeline for people on the Santa Barbara south coast who were in the path of destruction.  So, when the transmitter located on Gibraltar Peak. above the city of Santa Barbara, burns again – and it will -- we’ll still be on the air at 1340 AM.

With respect to the potential for more fire-related disaster here, our extraordinarily creative Chief Engineer Tim Schultz adapted a Rasperry Pi computer that plugs into our Axia Livewire studio infrastructure. This allows News Director Lance Orozco (or me) to go on the air directly when the station is unattended and when we need to get urgent news on the air. 

 Spark News: Santa Barbara is the home of legendary Classical music station KDB. A few years ago KUSC acquired KDB. Does KDB have programming separate from the simulcast of KUSC?

Lively: They do occasionally break away from the LA feed to play local concerts and an occasional arts segment.  They’re making a really great effort to preserve the best of what KDB did in SB for so many years.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Duncan!

    It's worth looking a little closer at KCLU 1340AM. It's a remarkable situation. Not quite unique, but definitely unusual. That tiny little station (just 650 watts) transmits on a graveyard frequency from a small monopole a few hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean. And because of the magic of saltwater conductivity and groundwave propagation, that tiny signal is easily listenable in the car from Port Hueneme south of Ventura, all the way to the Gaviota Pass (about 70 miles). The catch is that it's only listenable within about 1000ft of the ocean. But the cool part is that the major (and often only) road that runs from Oxnard & Ventura to Santa Barbara and west is "the 101" and it's almost always within a few dozen FEET of the ocean.

    Combined with frequent 500 to 1000 ft cliffs that are near-vertical right to the 101 & the ocean making FM reception a chancy proposition, it means KCLU AM is one of the few audible stations for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of drivers between Ventura and Santa Barbara.

    It's a remarkable case of getting the more bang for your buck than you would ordinarily expect. It was a brilliant move by KCLU to buy it. Especially since while Santa Barbara is notorious for having zillions of non-profits and foundations, it's equally notorious for its residents being famously cheap and unwilling to financially support the institutions those residents claim to value (KDB's story was a prime example of that). Yet KCLU is highly popular in Santa Barbara and gets lots of donations from that area...donations that skew well above the industry average.