Thursday, July 30, 2020


A couple of months ago the future looked bleak for KBCS [link], an old-school community radio station in Seattle. 

In early June it looked like the station was going to layoff its Program Director and News Director because the licensee is cutting off its funding for the station.

The good news is listeners and community organization opened their hearts and their wallets and saved the jobs and gave the station some time to keep operating.

The bad news is that that KBCS’s licensee, Bellevue College, announced that they will be cutting off funding for the station. According a report in The Watchdog, the campus newspaper, the college provides 19% of the station’s annual operating budget. Now KBCS desperately needs to plan for a sustainable future in a dicey time.

KBCS has an excellent signal that blankets Seattle
This will be big task because KBCS is a small player in the highly competitive Seattle noncommercial radio market. In a place where everything is an alternative to something else, KBCS has remained stuck in the 1970s.

KBCS was born during the turbulent times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The station signed on in 1973 after protesting students at Bellevue College, a commuter campus that is part of the State of Washington’s Community and Technical College system, called for a  radio station that would present the news and music of the day.

Since the 1970s, KBCS remained a quirky community station with"Pacifica style" programming politics and engagement.

According to Nielsen, KBCS had a 0.2 AQH share and 33,100 estimated weekly listeners in January 2019, the last "book" where KBCS appeared.

In early July, KBCS began a Sustainability Campaign with the goal of adding 1,000 new members by July 1, 2021. Cash support from Bellevue is scheduled to end on June 30, 2021.

According to the station’s audited financial report for 2019 [link], KBCS received $1.3 million in cash and in-kind support. 

Donations from members and other listeners was approximately $580,000. Underwriters provided about $149,000. CPB added $114,000. The rest of the revenue came from Bellevue College and other sources.

In January 2018 Spark News published a “case study” of KBCS [link].  When we checked KBCS’s website when we were preparing this post, we found that little had changed since 2018.

Slide from our 2018 Case Study
KBCS continues to program “Political Talk” and eclectic music. Weekly mornings are filled with the Thom Hartmann Show and Democracy Now.

On the weekends KBCS airs narrow-appeal music and ethnic programs such as tunes from Hawaii, Portugal and Brazil.

You could describe KBCS as “radio for old hippies” because that reflects the mindset of the station’s hosts and listeners. This approach was working when Bellevue paid bills. Now KBCS needs to be relevant to wider group of people.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


We think it is time to let our readers have their say about news and issues we have posted recently. We are looking at platforms for Spark News that offer better reader engagement. Please send us your recommendations to us at  Thank you, Ken.

Photo of an actual “collapse”
• Regarding our coverage of David Folkenflick’s article about “the collapse of ratings for NPR programs.”  White we agreed [link] with most of Folkenflick’s observations, we said his use of the word “collapse” was unfortunate because it implied that the “sky was falling” for NPR member stations on the broadcast platform.

Mark Vogelzang, President and CEO of Maine Public Broadcasting sent this comment:

“Ken, thanks for the added perspective. Folkenflick himself may not have used the word ‘collapse’ in the story. More likely a digital headline writer.”

And, we received this comment from the manager of a NPR member station on the west coast who asked us not to use his/her name:

“Perhaps Folkenflick is not aware of the fact that the ratings he was quoting are for stations that air NPR programs, not NPR itself. To me, this is further evidence that NPR is bypassing the needs of stations to fund their digital ventures.”

• Our post about Colorado Public Radio’s Indie 102.5 going on a station in Colorado Springs [link] an anonymous reader sent this comment:

“The new Indie 102.3 is more Top 40 now: more repetition, more pandering to pedestrian common denominators.

KEN SAYS: Repetition of songs that people like is a time-tested programming technique that works. What makes stations like Indie 102.5 different from commercial Top 40 stations is public radio’s emphasis on curating, contextual presentation and engagement with listeners and the community. Indie 102.5’s repeater station in The Springs, debuted in the Spring Nielsen ratings and listeners there seem to like having a new music option.

• Our report [link] detailing which noncommercial broadcasters who have received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans brought this question for an anonymous reader:

“Supposedly Pacifica received about $1m PPP funds. Is this true?

KEN SAYS: No, Pacifica and/or its stations have not received PPP funds.

Image from Alan Clark’s blog
The Classical Station
• Our post about Cumulus Media pulling the plug on the Westwood One news service [link] brought this comment from R. Alan Clark, a former Classical music host  who worked at WFLN in Philadelphia and Hawaii Public Radio:

“Immediate news comes to me on my phone apps now. CBS NEWS, NBC NEWS, and others all with video. No need to wait for scheduled radio newscasts.”

KEN SAYS: We get news the same way. But we like news on radio also. If radio in general, and public radio in particularly, stops investing in news programming, they will eventually become irrelevant.

BTW – Check out Clark’s online Classical station here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Chicago media reporter, Robert Feder, was the first news source to report that Windows to the World Communications, the licensee of WFMT-FM and WTTW-TV, has layed off four staff members because of the economic impact of the Covid pandemic.

In his Monday blog post [link], Feder said in addition to the full-time staff cuts, seven staffers had their weekly schedules reduced by eight hours, and company vice presidents and other executives were ordered to take one-week furloughs before the end of the year,

Feder said he received a memo from an internal source that gave the details of the changes. No public announcement has been made by WTTW or WFMT but a company spokeswoman confirmed the changes, but had no further comments.

In the memo, Sandra Cordova Micek, the President and CEO of Windows to the World Communications, thanked the terminated employees for their contributions and service to WTTW and WFMT:

“Those affected by these job eliminations will be eligible for severance as well as unemployment benefits. We will continue to manage the business dynamically and monitor economic and other factors. As always, we will continue to prioritize essential projects and expenses and plan for financial stability.”

The employees leaving Windows to the World Communications have not been identified.


Lorenzo Milan in 1972

Lorenzo Milan, a man who had an enormous impact on noncommercial radio in the U.S., passed away in in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico on July 21st.

Paul Riismanderl posted a loving tribute to Milam on Radio Survivor [link] in which he said:

“It’s hard to imagine a single person who had greater influence on US community radio. My favorite aspect of his legacy is playfulness, and a willingness to experiment.”

“[He] reminds us that the enterprise should also be fun, and that we should also take the opportunity to thumb our noses at the powerful.”

Milam is perhaps best known for his self-published handbook Sex and Broadcasting, published in the 1970s. The handbook was used by dozens of people to establish nonprofit community radio stations.

He was a co-founder of KRAB-FM in Seattle in 1961, thought to be the first non-Pacifica community station in the nation. Milan also co-founded or consulted KBOO in Portland, Oregon, KCHU in Dallas, KDNA in St. Louis, KUSP in Santa Cruz and WYEP in Pittsburgh.

Though Milam’s work and writings had a major impact on community and public radio, he did not think like a businessperson or an effective radio programmer. He remained a dreamer and prankster after he left radio in the early 1980s.