Jun 30, 2010

Years later, columnist still thinks NPR is a "cultish echo chamber"

The Miami Herald's columnist Glen Garvin recently came across a piece he wrote in June 1993 bashing NPR. Now he writes: "NPR remains a cultish echo chamber with a tiny audience anchored in a dying medium, funded almost entirely with money extorted from taxpayers. Other than that, public radio is great." Here's the original 7,300-word column that ran in the Chicago Reader.

"The Old Scout" steps aside, for now

Garrison Keillor is taking a hiatus. Nope, not from pubradio's popular Prairie Home Companion, but rather from "The Old Scout," his weekly newspaper column. The Star Tribune in Minneapolis says Keillor told his syndicator, Tribune Media Services, that he wants to complete a screenplay and start writing a novel. No word on when he'll return to his newspaper writing.

N.C. college station hopes to become the latest NPR affiliate

The radio station at Gaston College in Dallas, N.C., is beginning the process of becoming an NPR affiliate, according to the Gaston Gazette. The catalyst, officials at the community college say, was losing a state grant when the Legislature zeroed out college radio funding this year. Fundraisers weren’t bringing in enough money to WSGE and the college had to make up the shortfall. The station has applied for a CPB grant that would help pay for becoming an NPR affiliate; it will hear on that in July.

Kerger signs on for three more years at PBS

PBS CEO Paula Kerger has inked another three-year contract, according to PBS. No word on salary. According to a 2009 survey of nonprofits by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Kerger was making $534,500 at the end of fiscal 2008, up from $424,209 in 2007. During 2008 she had $60,198 in benefits and an expense account of $11,225.

Uproar in Charlottesville over pubradio format change

A change in format at WTJU, the University of Virginia pubradio station in Charlottesville, is the subject of dueling forums, a walkout by a longtime DJ and an upcoming town hall meeting. The furor began, according to the C-Ville arts and news site, when new g.m. Burr Beard sent an internal e-mail describing “The All New Consistent and Reliable WTJU." The station currently plays an eclectic mixture of music selected by DJs. The proposal would drop the number of weekly hours for rock and jazz and institute a rotation of four songs per hour, chosen by department directors from 20 releases and electronically placed on a DJ’s program log for airplay each hour. All this has not gone over well with DJ's, notes C-Ville. WTJU’s former Rock Music Director Nick Rubin told Radio Survivor that station staffers and fans were “shocked and appalled” about the short notice and little debate over the change. But as Burr said in the internal email, obtained by C-Ville: "It’s not enough to expose people to new music when it’s just a smattering of all kinds of music." He added that the overhaul is a response to a downturn in fundraising and low station listenership—"7,500 weekly, the smallest of any noncomm station serving Charlottesville." In addition to his previous work as g.m. and program director of WXLV-FM at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Beard is "one of the great hammer dulcimer players of the late 20th and early 21st centuries," according to his website.

WV pubcasters seeking permission for staffers to work pledge drives

The West Virginia governor's office is attempting to determine whether Educational Broadcasting Authority employees can still participate in on-air pledge drives for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the Charleston Gazette is reporting. A recent legislative audit determined that pubcasting staff should not provide services for the network's two fundraising nonprofs, the Public Broadcasting Foundation and the Friends of Public Broadcasting. Friends organizations supporting pubcasting in both West Virginia and Florida have recently come under scrutiny (Current, June 21, 2010). The groups give pubcasters more flexibility and speed in purchasing and contracting than government procedures usually permit and they can pay for programming or other mission-related activities that the stations couldn’t otherwise afford.

Jun 29, 2010

Vegas PBS opens $60 million facility

Vegas PBS's $60 million Educational Technology Campus was dedicated Monday (June 28), reports the Las Vegas Business Press. The 112,000-square-foot facility houses operations and production for the station, as well as the Clark County School District's Virtual High School and educational media database. "Our role in the community as a local media company is to work with organizations to empower them through the use of the technologies and the distribution networks we have," said g.m. Tom Axtell. Vegas PBS has seven broadcast channels and oversees six closed-circuit channels, and a Homeland Security database of building blueprints for police and fire departments to access during civil emergencies. KLVX is the first totally "green" television station in the United States or Canada to seek LEED gold certification for its facilities (Current, Jan. 8, 2010).

Jun 28, 2010

NJ Senate okays study of NJN assets as part of break from state

The New Jersey Senate today (June 28) approved a study of New Jersey Network's assets and its plan to break from the state, is reporting. Under the legislation, a panel would investigate the value of equipment and licenses held by dual pubcasting licensee NJN, and ascertain if it could operate as an independent nonprofit without state funding. The network's state support in fiscal 2011, beginning July 1, falls to $1.98 million from $3.9 million in FY10. Howard Blumenthal, NJN's interim executive director, wanted the stations to go independent July 1 (his plan, PDF). The network has been asking for independence as far back as 2008 (Current, May 12, 2008).

Pubmedia trust fund hopes dim after White House announces broadband plans

The administration's fast-track plan for broadband spectrum reallocation does not include the much-anticipated public media trust fund created by auction proceeds (background, Current, Feb. 8, 2010). A four-point White House fact sheet released today (June 28) for the media says auction revenue instead will be used to "promote public safety, job-creating infrastructure investment and deficit reduction." In a statement (PDF), Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski endorsed President Obama's plan, including the spectrum auction "generating revenue to fund a world-class mobile broadband network for our nation’s emergency responders." Neither the White House memo nor FCC statement specifically mentioned public broadcasting.

However, the National Broadband Plan did, recommending that "Congress should consider dedicating all the proceeds from the auctioned spectrum contributed by public broadcasters to endow a trust fund for the production, distribution and archiving of digital public media. There would be multiple benefits to public television stations who participate in this auction. First, it could provide significant savings in operational expenses to stations that share transmission facilities. Second, 100 percent of proceeds from the public television spectrum auction would be used to fund digital multimedia content. The proceeds should be distributed so that a significant portion of revenues generated by the sale of spectrum go to public media in the communities from which spectrum was contributed."

In a conference call with reporters, Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, announced the administration's four steps for achieving a release of 500 MHz of spectrum for the growing number of wireless devices: Identify spectrum for reallocation, provide tools to free it up, enable spectrum to be put to "highest value uses" (mobile broadband, unlicensed bandwith for tech startups, and spectrum sharing), and use auction proceeds to benefit public safety, job growth and deficit reduction. The White House has no official estimate of revenues from a spectrum auction but notes it "could reach the tens of billions of dollars."

A White House official told Broadcasting & Cable that President Obama does not favor mandatory spectrum give-backs, which some broadcasters fear.

Vermont gets new chief content officer

Vermont Public Television has hired Kathryn A. Scott as its chief content officer, the Burlington Free-Press reports. "I am doing my level best to stimulate the local economy through the purchase of a new car and some new appliances," Scott quipped. She produced American Public Media's Weekend America from 2005 to '07, and Sound Money from '02 to '05. In the 1990s she was series producer for Newton's Apple on PBS. She's also produced news and docs for USA Today on TV, Discovery and Tech TV News. (Image: VPT)

Benazir Bhutto's sister to introduce ITVS bio film at Washington premiere

A rare appearance by Sanam Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's sister and only living sibling, will open the Washington, D.C., premiere of ITVS's biographical doc "Bhutto" Tuesday (June 29). Also speaking will be Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States; and CPB's CEO Pat Harrison. PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff will lead a post-screening discusssion and audience Q&A with the film's director Duane Baughman and producer Mark Siegel. "Bhutto" has its national broadcast premiere in March 2011 on PBS's Independent Lens in honor of Women's History Month.

Once again, PBS brings home most Creative Arts Daytime Emmys

PBS cleaned up at the Creative Arts Daytime Emmy Awards Friday (June 25). The network led nominations with 53, and topped winners with 16. Electric Company scored five, including for new approach to children's programming. Perennial fave Sesame Street was honored with seven; that included a tie for acting. And Avec Eric's graphic design took a statuette. Click here for a complete list of winning names.

Jun 26, 2010

WBUR-FM takes the lead in Boston pubradio face-off

WBUR 90.9 has taken a big, early lead in the news-radio battle of WBUR and WGBH, reports the Boston Herald. Arbiton said it scored a 4.8 share of Boston listeners in January, 4.5 in February, 4.1 in March and 4.5 in April. WGBH, meanwhile, drew a 1.0 in January, 1.2 in February, 1.5 in March and 1.0 in April. WBUR is 11th in the market; WGBH, 23rd. The rivalry began last Dec. 1 when WGBH shifted its classical music programming to WCRB 99.5 FM and adopted a news/talk-dominated format for WGBH 89.7 (Current, Dec. 14, 2009).

Jun 25, 2010

RFP seeks ideas for series to diversify PBS audience

The first RFP for the new CPB/PBS Diversity & Innovation Fund will lead to production of one or more 10-episode x 60-minute primetime weekly series that would help make public TV’s audience  younger (40-64) and more diverse than today. Proposals are due Sept. 15.

The grantmakers plan to choose several applicants in December to make pilots. After showing the pilots online, one or more of the projects will get production money. The RFP, posted this week at, says the programs could fit in several popular nonfiction genres but not drama, public affairs or children’s programming.

The RFP asks producers to plan for release on multiple platforms, such as public TV’s Digital Learning Library for schools. Publicizing the RFP at the AFI Silverdocs Festival today, PBS program chief John Wilson said part of a project could be purpose-built for another platform, but can’t sacrifice the objective of a broadcast series.

Production costs must be kept “sustainable”— $375,000 or less per hour, not counting promotion, outreach and new-media costs. 

Wilson and CPB's Joseph Tovares prompted a little scorn from a relatively young audience at Silverdocs when they said only printed proposals would be accepted. Wilson said they hadn't been able to arrange for online submission this time, but will be ready next time. This RFP will use one of the larger parts of the fund’s two-year $20 million allocation,  Tovares told Current. The funders also plan smaller RFPs for educational, gaming and digital projects.

The funders encouraged proposals that would interest viewers who fit “the Explorer archetype” that PBS uses to describe experience-seeking, curious, independent-minded viewers. More about Explorers here.

New leader Susan Howarth arrives in Tampa

The new head of WEDU in Tampa, Fla., wants to focus on creating more local online programming, reports Tampa Bay Online. Susan Howarth, who helped launch the video-centric while president of Cincinnati's pubTV station (Current, Feb. 19, 2008), has 35 years experience at seven public television stations. She has "lots of ideas but I didn't come down here with any preconceived notions," Howarth noted. Former station President Dick Lobo, who announced his retirement in late 2009, has agreed to stay on during the transition.

Visit his headlines blog, get Baltimore news, and be sure to sing along

WYPR’s local Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner in Baltimore (Balmer, to you natives) might be the only pubcaster out there with a theme song for his headlines blog. He's run it a few times on the air to promote the blog, where he links to station segments as well as stories from other local media. Baltimore filmmaker Chris LaMartina composed the song and quite deftly rhymed "Sterner" with "back burner."

Jun 24, 2010

And now, in pubcasting sports news . . .

ThirTeam, the aptly named softball team from Thirteen/, is on a roll, reveling in three consecutive wins -- 13-6, 15-8, 9-8. The players are current and former employees of the New York City station. "It’s allowed us to stay connected with each other," said Joe Basile, director of program rights and clearances, who has been playing for ThirTeam since it formed in 2004. A few team members and their departments, from left: Manny Santiago, network technologies; Austin Traina, tech support; Christine O’Brien, schedule operations; Ryan DeWitt, research; Dean Li, local corporate marketing; and Basile. (Image:

NPR's latest iPhone app: a new vehicle for sharing music

A new NPR app for iPhone users launched last night. "[W]ith the NPR Music app for the iPhone, we have another crucial new vehicle for sharing music with our audience," writes Anya Grundmann, e.p. of the multi-genre music website, on the Inside NPR blog. The app's launch coincides with release of Apple's newest iPhone, but the software also works on 3GS iPhones and the iPod Touch. It has multitasking capabilities that allow users to listen to audio while doing other things with their iPhones. A New York Times feature on the growing popularity of NPR Music, pegged to the app release, reports that traffic to the website hit 1.7 million unique users in May.

Charleston Gazette: Private nonprofits protect WVPB from politics

Who should control the private monies raised to support West Virginia Public Broadcasting? Not the administration of Governor Joe Manchin, according to editorial writers for the Charleston Gazette. In an editorial published yesterday, the newspaper questions why private donations and CPB grant monies have been transferred from the pubcasting network's sister foundation into state accounts and says the state legislative auditor, who has called for greater regulation of pubcasting monies, has it all wrong. "Frankly, we think it's great for public radio and public TV--the realm of Beethoven symphonies and Masterpiece Theater--to be partly independent, free from politics. It would be dismal for them to be regular state agencies like the Division of Motor Vehicles of Division of Highways."

New York Post questions whether PBS should exist

"Move on, Big Bird," insists a New York Post headline. It cites problems such as WNET's recent federal investigation, then launches into a more broad attack. "Once upon a time, the network’s slogan was: 'If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?' These days, the answer’s obvious: CNN, Fox, A&E . . ." It also asks, "Why the hell is government still in the TV business, anyway? And on such a grand scale?" and concludes that "public broadcasting is an anachronism."

Charlotte PBS affiliate begins cutbacks in staff, programming

The slashing has begun at WTVI in Charlotte, N.C., after Mecklenburg County cut its support from nearly $860,000 to just $95,000, according to the Charlotte Observer. "We cannot continue the business model next year we had this year, and it will be painful," Elsie Garner, WTVI's president, told the station's board Wednesday (June 23). The board approved a $3.2 million budget for the fiscal year beginning in July, a 13 percent reduction from the current fiscal year. Probably two or three jobs will be eliminated from the 16 full timers at the station. WTVI has dropped its contract with Nielsen, about $60,000 annually. The Public Square channel that carried reruns of county commissioners meetings and other pubaffairs programming, is gone, replaced with the international MHz Networks channel, which is free to stations. The Create channel also may be gone soon.

Jun 23, 2010

Knight-McCormick fellows include four public broadcasters

Four pubcasters are among 20 fellows announced today (June 23) for the 2010 Knight-McCormick Leadership Institute hosted by the Knight Digital Media Center at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Participating will be Holly Kernan, news director at San Francisco-based KALW public radio; Christine Montgomery, managing editor of; Michael Skoler, vice president of interactive media for Public Radio International; and Matt Thompson, editorial product manager at National Public Radio. The announcement called the program "a unique, six-month curriculum 'tailored' to meet their individual needs as primary digital news leaders in their organizations."

Yellowstone pubradio personality dies at 55

Lois Bent, a longtime voice on Yellowstone Public Radio, died June 15 after an 18-month fight against cancer. She was 55.

According to an obituary on the station site, Bent started her career at YPR/KEMC as a volunteer in the late 1970s. She began a classical program in 1983, also as a volunteer, and was hired as operations manager in 1986. Bent was named interim general manger in 2005 and remained in that position until her medical leave of absence began in January 2009.

Barrett Golding of Hearing Voices, an indie radio collective, recalls his friend who, as he put it, "passed on into that great audio control room in the sky." He also offers an audio clip of Bent in 2003 answering his question, "How would you change the world?"

WTTW honors John Callaway with fellowship

Chicago's WTTW has created the John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship, the station will announce on this evening's Chicago Tonight (June 23). The fellowship is named for the founding host of the longtime pubaffairs program who died last June 23 (Current, July 6, 2009), exactly 10 years to the day after his final show. The fellowship will be funded through donations from family, friends and WTTW viewers, according to a statement from the station. It's open to graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Each quarter, a young journalist will work with TV producers and web staff to create original and supplemental content for the Chicago Tonight website. It runs for 10 weeks and each fellow receives a $3,000 stipend. “John Callaway remains an iconic figure in the history of WTTW,” said Dan Schmidt, WTTW president and CEO. “I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory than by making this opportunity available to talented young journalists.”

CPB Board gets reports on station collaborations at meeting in Beverly Hills

Among items on the agenda at the CPB meeting wrapping up today (June 23) in Los Angeles are reports on pubTV collaboration projects in the L.A. market, as well as four stations in Alaska. The meeting is at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, which, notes CPB Digital Strategy veep Rob Bole, monograms each guest's pillowcase (above).

PBS's satellite developer John Ball dies

John Edward Dewar Ball, who oversaw development of PBS's first satellite-based programming delivery system and was an early supporter of closed captioning, has died at age 77.

He was recruited by PBS in 1971 to design and oversee the implementation of the satellite system. "The successful completion of the system led other U.S. television networks to move to communication satellites for reaching their affiliates," notes TV Technology, which just reported his March 25 death. Ball received an Emmy for his work.

While working on that project in 1971, Ball attended a demonstration of closed captioning, then called “subtitling for the deaf,” at Washington’s Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University). The enthusiastic response of the largely deaf audience led him to urge PBS to adopt the technology. By 1979, PBS had done so. He won another Emmy for that work.

Ball died of complications from a stroke he suffered late in 2009. Gallaudet University posted a detailed obituary written by his children, going back to his childhood in Scotland.

WGBH helping Disney World visitors to "hear" the park

The Media Access Group at WGBH is providing audio descriptions of Walt Disney World for visitors with vision loss. A new palm-sized wireless Assistive Technology Device developed by Disney provides information about outdoor areas, from architectural elements to the location of restrooms. The environmental descriptions were written by RenĂ©e Ruthel, one of WGBH’s describers. Visitors can hear descriptions of key visual elements, including action and scenery, for more than 50 attractions; amplified audio for most theater attractions; and closed captioning in pre-show areas where television displays narrate the upcoming experience. (Image: WGBH)

Jun 22, 2010

Half of testers use mobile DTV devices once or twice a day, comments reveal

The first reactions from consumers are rolling in from ongoing tests of mobile DTV in and around Washington, D.C., according to a statement from the Open Mobile Video Coalition. The coalition is analyzing some 2,800 comments from more than 150 "hands-on" users of new mobile devices capturing television programming. Just under 50 percent of viewing respondents say they watch one or two times a day on the device, and around 30 percent watch three or more times a day. Around 63 percent of viewing is taking place "on the go," compared with 44 percent at work or at school, and 33 percent at home. Many viewers also say they are excited about the potential of mobile DTV. On a scale of 1 to 10 -- 1 being "not at all excited" and 10 being "extremely excited" -- initial survey participants rate mobile DTV as 7.1 The test is taking place in the Washington, D.C. area. In May, participants were provided with specially-modified Samsung Moment phones to receive free mobile broadcasts from nine DC-area TV stations broadcasting 23 mobile DTV channels. PBS affiliate WHUT is sending out PBS and PBS Kids shows. Viewers give feedback through daily diaries, market research and focus groups.

FCC gathering tech experts for broadcast engineering forum June 25

PBS's Chief Technology Officer John McCoskey is among speakers at the Federal Communication Commission's upcoming broadcast engineering forum (PDF). The June 25 meeting from 3 to 6 p.m. Eastern will tackle topics including cellularization of broadcast architecture, metholologies for repacking the TV band, improvements in VHF reception, and advancements in compression technology. If you can't attend the meeting at FCC headquarters in Washington, catch it live online or submit questions via email ( or Twitter using hashtag #brdcstforum.

Jun 21, 2010

Washington State burg to get first locally produced pubradio station

A think tank in tiny Hoquiam, Wash., about 70 miles west of Olympia, has received a license from the FCC to create a pubradio station at 91.5 FM. The Grays Harbor Institute provides lectures, seminars and workshops on various issues including poverty, racism, education and the environment; past speakers have included activist Angela Davis and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D). Now it is the licensee for KGHI, according to the Daily World in Aberdeen, Wash. The paper says that station supporters hope to program "news sources, speakers and syndicated programming with radio of a purely local flavor, along with a free-form song format weighted toward classical music." But first, they need some infrastructure. A "raise the tower" fundraiser takes place on July 14 — folk singer Woody Guthrie's birthday.

El Paso PBS station gets interim general manager

With the departure of g.m. Craig Brush earlier this month from PBS affiliate KCOS in El Paso, Texas, retired TV exec Dan Krieger has taken the helm, according to the El Paso Inc. website. “How long will I be here? I don’t know,” Krieger said. “I expect four to six months. If I fall in love with it, I’ll stay. But I really like my previous life.” He's a businessman who retired nearly a decade ago as g.m. of local CBS affiliate KDBC. Tanny Berg, KCOS board chairman, said Brush’s departure was amicable. “Mr. Brush has decided to resign to explore different avenues to use the talent he has in a different vein,” Berg said. “He has been a great asset for the time he’d been there, which was about 12 years. General managers usually only last five years.” The station, a community-owned nonprofit, operates on a $1.5-million annual budget with nearly $500,000 to be raised locally.

New program delivery technology now in beta testing, after holdups

PBS's Next Generation Interconnection System-Non-Real-Time Program File Delivery Project (NGIS-NRT) is back on track, after challenges including federal funding snags, a management change and technology issues, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The project is working to deliver programming as compressed digital files. "Catch servers" are now in place at 15 stations. Each server has 12 terabytes of storage for about 10 days of content. Files are encoded using MPEG-2 at high-quality mezzanine compression rates-33 megabits per second (Mbps) for HD video and associated audio, and 13 Mbps for standard-def video and audio. If beta testing is done by the fall, rollout to stations could begin by the end of the year.

This is the second phase of a federally funded, 10-year, $120 million initiative to overhaul the transmission infrastructure that PBS, American Public Television and the National Educational Telecommunications Association use to deliver about 200 hours of content to stations weekly. The first phase of NGIS replaced satellite receivers and shifted linear feeds to a new SES satellite (AMC-21), which was done in 2008.

There've been complications along the way to beta testing. The NRT project was put on hold in 2006, after Congress balked on around $35 million in funding. PBS engineer Ed Caleca also departed that fall (here's his 2005 commentary on the project), and was replaced by current CTO John McCoskey. The process of ratifying AS-03, PBS' implementation of the Material Exchange Format (MXF) networking specification that would be used in the NRT system also took longer than expected.

For background, see the story in Current, Aug. 29, 2005.

KQED producer blogs her Arctic journey

Gretchen Weber, associate producer for Climate Watch on KQED in San Francisco, is spending two weeks at Toolik Field Station, an Arctic climate change research station, as a Logan Polar Science Fellow. Follow her adventures -- including breakfasts of reindeer sausage -- on her KQED blog.

Lack of vision hinders bringing in new pubTV viewers, experts tell paper

Crain's Chicago Business today (June 21) takes a look into both WTTW's current money woes and pubTV's future plans. The Chicago PBS affiliate endured recent staff reductions of 12 percent. Viewership has fallen almost every year since 2005, the paper says. Member, sponsor and government revenues are all down. "The Chicago PBS outlet faces a more fundamental problem, however: attracting viewers in a digital era that's bombarding them with options," the paper notes. Lawrence Grossman, PBS president from 1976 to '84 and now on the Connecticut PBS network board, provided big-picture analysis, saying that pubTV "is not going to survive unless it reevaluates where it's going." Former WTTW producer Frank Liebert commented, "Many of the stations in the system have chief executives who've been there way too long, and often that lack of vision is a significant problem to the PBS station's survival."

Jun 18, 2010

KCTS seeks relationship with incoming neighbor, Gates Foundation

Today, Seattle's concludes its two-part story on KCTS and its CEO, Moss Bresnahan. He's hoping the station can work together with a new neighbor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose headquarters is going up across from KCTS. "We’ve talked to them about the fact that they’re going to be our new neighbors . . . and how can we make good use of this proximity," Bresnahan said. "They’ll be bringing in world leaders of all kinds, and so are there ways that we could take advantage of that in terms of programming,” perhaps supplying guests for the station's Conversations program, or producing shows on foundation initatives.

Don't forget about risk, Rob Bole advises

Pubcasting thought leader Rob Bole writes on his Public Purpose Media blog that public service media no longer has an innovation problem. However, "What we have is a risk problem. As a group, an industry, a system . . . we are not properly arming ourselves with the necessary enterprise skills, tools and perspective to make our efforts sustainable." Pubmedia folks must realize that "inherent in the act of innovation is a risk assessment and acquiring the necessary skills to manage it." As one commenter noted, "Provocative post, as always."

Viewers get a season-kickoff Tweetfest with History Detectives team

History Detectives launches its eighth season Monday (June 21) with a live Tweetfest. Viewers get to chat with the show's investigative team while watching the broadcast, which attempts to answer questions including: Is Andy Warhol's art on the moon? (Spoiler alert! Answer here.) Use hashtag #histdet_pbs, or check out the show's custom TweetGrid. The team will be online for two back-to-back sessions so viewers across the country may participate.

Jun 17, 2010

APTS taking on two bills that would cut out pubcasting support

The Association of Public Television Stations is lobbying against two congressional proposals to eliminate millions in pubcasting funding. Republican Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn this week introduced a bill to eliminate all federal funding to CPB after FY 2012. That now has 12 cosponsors, all Republican. In a Dear Colleague letter Lamborn sent to House members Wednesday (June 16), he said that government funding of public broadcasting is "completely unnecessary in a world of 500-channel cable TV and cell phone Internet access." He also referred to pubcasting as a "nonessential service." Also, late last week, Democratic Ohio Rep. Charles Wilson introduced a bill to eliminate PTFP. APTS said that move "highlights the very real pressure on PTFP" over the past few years. "We cannot take funding for PTFP, or for any of our programs for granted." Funding for PTFP, or the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, has dwindled from $43.2 million in 2003 to $18.8 million in 2008.

More pubaffairs, fewer pledge drives for KCTS, CEO Bresnahan says

In the first of a two-part series today (June 17) on KCTS's CEO Moss Bresnahan, the Crosscut news website delves into the Seattle station's improving financial outlook and plans for the future. By year's end, Bresnahan said, KCTS will focus more efforts on civics and public affairs. It will partner with local NPR affiliate KPLU-FM and Investigate West, a nonprofit journalism group, on several projects. And it's making the weekly public affairs program KCTS Connects year-round, instead of taking a summer hiatus. Other projects include arts, history and science initiatives. The station is concentrating more on major giving and reducing pledge drives -- from 120 last year to just over 100 this year. Part two of the story concludes tomorrow with a look at the station's major giving techniques.

Jun 16, 2010

WBUR and PRX pubcasters win Knight News Challenge awards

Pubcasters have been awarded two of 12 grants from the Knight News Challenge, which funds digital technology for innovative journalism efforts, the Knight Foundation announced today (June 16). This fourth round of winners in the international contest received $2.74 million in grants.

John Davidow of WBUR in Boston got $250,000 for his Order in the Court 2.0. Davidow wants to provide the public greater access to the judicial process by establishing best practices for digital courts coverage that can be replicated nationwide. He envisions a courtroom area for live blogging via WiFi, and live streaming of proceedings. He'll also work with Massachusetts courts to publish a daily docket on the web and build an online glossary of common legal terms.

Jake Shapiro of PRX received $75,000 for its StoryMarket. This is an outgrowth of a project created by a 2008 challenge winner, StoryMarket will allow the public to suggest and help pay to produce stories for local pubradio stations. When the necessary cash is raised, the station hires a professional journalist to do the report.

The Knight News Challenge is a five-year program; more on it here. Previous Challenge winners in pubcasting include Margaret Rosas at KUSP in Santa Cruz, who won $327,000 in 2008 to develop Radio Engage, an open-source software package for pubradio stations (Current, Sept. 2, 2008).

South Carolina ETV keeps state funding

Good news out of South Carolina. State lawmakers continue to debate their way through overriding Gov. Mark Sanford's 107 budget amendments, but they've decided to spare South Carolina ETV the ax, reports local ABC affiliate News 4 in Charleston. At risk was more than $5 million of its $10 million in state support.

Filmmaker focusing on West Virginian National Guard returns from Iraq

West Virginia Public Broadcasting filmmaker Chip Hitchcock last week returned from Iraq, where he was embedded for nearly three weeks with a National Guard unit from Dunbar, W. Va., the Charleston station reports. “In my opinion, there’s nowhere near enough media coverage of U.S. troops in Iraq anymore,” Dunbar said. The Dunbar unit trains Iraqi police and justice officials, "the most important thing that American troops still have to do,” he said. Hitchcock also has produced a series of four documentaries featuring West Virginians telling their stories after coming home from deployment in Iraq, titled "Bridgeport to Baghdad."

Public Interactive's new Web publishing service to be built on Drupal

Public Interactive has chosen Drupal, the open source content management system, for the new web publishing system that is about to launch piloting on six client station websites, including one created through a content partnership between KUT and the Texas Tribune. Doug Gaff, PI's new director of technology, announced the decision on the Inside NPR blog: "While all of the major CMSes are excellent in their own right, Drupal was an especially good fit for the platform. It’s one of the most extensible and general-purpose CMSes in use today. It has one of the strongest and most active open source communities. The module library is very extensive and diverse. Drupal is well suited for deploying to mobile devices, and there is a strong affinity for Drupal in the public media space." Some pubcasting stations have already adopted Drupal for online publishing: San Francisco's KALW Radio, for CrossCurrents, a local news program with a dynamic website, and WGBH in Boston, for the website of its new World multicast channel. Bob Lyons, director of radio and new media initiatives, told Current that WGBH is using Drupal for some other websites as well--small ones that its digital team wants to launch quickly.

WNET settles federal probe of grant handling

WNET announced yesterday (June 15) that it reached a settlement of a dispute with the federal government over the station’s use and accounting of millions in grants. The station said in a release that it agreed to repay $950,000 to the government and forgo reimbursement of about $1 million in expenses under awarded grants it has not yet received. The federal investigation revealed last year (Current, Sept. 21, 2009) involved $13 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. As part of the settlement, WNET hired compliance officer Evelyn Mendez and “adopted a plan to make sure issues of this nature don’t arise again,” President Neal Shapiro wrote in a memo to the staff. Papers settling the case were filed in federal district court. “I’m pleased that this episode is behind us,” Shapiro said in the staff memo. “As I told you back in the fall, we have continued to receive project grants from the same agencies that called for the investigation, but have not drawn from those grants. We can now move forward.”

Jun 15, 2010

New FCC paper supports proposed broadband spectrum policy and auction

Julius Knapp, the Federal Communication Commission's deputy chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology, today announced in his blog the release of an FCC paper, "Spectrum Analysis: Options for Broadband Spectrum." It supports recommendations in the National Broadband Plan that 120 MHz of the broadcast spectrum be turned over for wireless use. "We cannot emphasize strongly enough two critical points that are the cornerstones of the paper," he stressed: Any contributions of spectrum by TV broadcasters for an auction will be voluntary, and viewers will still be able to watch free over-the-air TV. The paper "offers provocative ideas that deserve to be fully vetted and considered," Knapp said.

The paper itself (PDF) points out that "spectrum policy is not easy. Technology changes. Consumer preferences and habits change. Business models change. Allocation priorities change. And this change can be daunting." However, "the benefits of a voluntary approach to broadcast spectrum reallocation may have more upside for all stakeholders—broadcasters, mobile broadband providers and especially consumers—than one might initially expect." It also gently chastises naysayers: "The natural tendency can be to seize on uncertainties and potential negative impacts and thereby marginalize the positive impacts." More about the spectrum auction and its potential impact on public broadcasters in Current's Feb. 8, 2010, issue.

Schiller talks up collaborations at IRE conference

NPR President Vivian Schiller talked about the challenges and rewards of reporting collaborations during last weekend's Investigative Reporters and Editors conference: "[A partnership] will succeed only if it results in good, serious, enduring work. And not if it’s about next news flavor of the month. And certainly not solely because it’s a cheaper model." She also spoke at length about the investigative unit that NPR established in January: "The next step in our ambition is to help our member stations do better investigative work at the local level where so much reporting has simply gone away. And we know to do that we must partner. We must employ digital media in both gathering and distributing the news. And we must adhere to a seriousness of purpose — we’re aiming high and not just for high ratings." Full text of her remarks is posted on 10,000 words. A blog reporting on various conference sessions is here.

Jun 14, 2010

Ifill receives Fred Friendly First Amendment Award

Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., presented its 17th annual Fred Friendly First Amendment Award to Gwen Ifill of PBS's Washington Week, during a luncheon today (June 14) at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. The award, named for the former CBS News president, acknowledges those who have shown courage in preserving the Constitutional right. "Gwen is a top writer, great reporter and fine communicator," said Ruth Friendly, Friendly's widow, who presented the award. "She is gutsy, determined and dedicated to her craft. . . . I can't help but to feel the presence of Fred today. He would be nodding hearty approval, too." Former winners include Tom Brokaw, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl, Ted Koppel, Jim Lehrer and Tim Russert.

Paper examines NJN's Blumenthal and his private nonprof restructuring plan

New Jersey Network Interim Director Howard Blumenthal and his leadership of Philadelphia's indie pubcaster MiND TV (WYBE)  is the focus of a story Sunday (June 13) in the Bergen, N.J., Record. His "bold privatization plan" (PDF) to transfer the TV/radio network to a nonprofit would "unload a taxpayer asset with an estimated value of $200 million," the paper says. During his time as CEO of MiND TV, it paid a fine for airing commercials; Blumenthal said an oversight by busy staff members led to the fine. Also, net assets for MiND dropped 16 percent. But Douglas Eakeley, chairman of the NJN Foundation, supports Blumenthal and his plan, which has been called a "radical restructuring" by the  Record. "As we went to the private sector for capital infrastructure improvements or the like, the fairly frequent response was: 'Well, you're asking us to repair the roof of the house that the state owns,'" Eakeley said. Being linked to the state "actually was an impediment to raise funds." The network will find out by July 1 if it will get $4 million cut from its state funding, as Gov. Chris Christie has proposed.

UPDATE: An NJN spokesperson corrected details we published earlier here: Blumenthal continues as part-time g.m. of WYBE while handling the job at NJN. The FCC fine cost WYBE $2,500, not $25,000. NJN said the estimate of NJN's assets was calculated by the employee union, which opposes the spinoff, and not by the newspaper.

Possible 50 percent-plus state cut faces pubcasters in South Carolina

South Carolina Educational TV is the latest in an ever-growing number of stations facing state budget cuts. ETV finds out Tuesday (June 15) if it will see over 50 percent cut, more than $5 million of its $10 million in state support, the South Carolina Radio Network reports. On Friday (June 11) ETV posted an "emergency alert" asking viewers to contact state legislators to protest the cutback, which it says would have a "crippling effect" on services. ETV is statewide network with 11 pubTV stations, eight radio transmitters and a closed circuit educational telecommunications system to schools statewide. The cut may force ETV to discontinue its public safety and local government training, it said. It came in the form of a veto by the governor.

Henson Company to release 3D movie

The Jim Henson Company is working on a 3D sequel to Jim Henson's "Dark Crystal" film, CEO Lisa Henson tells Reuters. She said several of her father's primary interests before he died in 1990 were 3D films, computer animation and digital imagery. "He was pretty far ahead of his time, and I like to think that we have taken the company in the direction he would have chosen," she said. "I really believe that 3D will only get better." The movie, "The Power of the Dark Crystal" will be made in Australia with using techniques including 3D and CGI to propel puppets into the 21st century and beyond. Tentative release is 2013.

Jun 13, 2010

Stations wind up unique multi-year forgiveness outreach

A four-year Campaign for Love and Forgiveness program draws to an end Tuesday (June 15) at six pubcasting stations nationwide participating in the Fetzer Institute program. It's an outreach that encourages participants to come together to forgive on both personal and community levels. At KEET in Eureka, Calif., there was a theater production and art exhibits. KPBS in San Diego sponsored conversations among youth and survivors of torture. Maryland Public Television dedicated a forgiveness garden. At WGVU in Grand Rapids, Mich., "A Season of Forgiveness" project that began with the outreach is now a privately held organization. Part of WTVI's campaign, a "Red Bench of Love" in Charlotte, N.C., began as a place for conversations of forgiveness; it ultimately inspired a theatrical event. And WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., sponsored an exhibition of images and stories of people who found the courage to forgive, titled: "The F Word: Images of Forgiveness." Other partners in the campaign included StoryCorps and the American Library Association.

Jun 12, 2010

Need to Know brings on financial reporter

Financial journalist Stacey Tisdale tis joining Need to Know as a contributing reporter on June 25. "It’s an honor to be part of something that PBS entrusts with the responsibility of succeeding Bill Moyers," she told The Women on the Web site. "I look forward to the longer ‘docustory’ format that will allow us to go in depth and meet the journalistic standards and expectations of the PBS audience." Tisdale's career includes reporting for CNN, NBC's Today, CBS MarketWatch, The Early Show and CBS Evening News. CLARIFICATION: Tisdale is joining the show as a contributing correspondent, not as a staffer as previously reported.

Jun 11, 2010

KWMU to air St. Louis Symphony performances

KWMU is picking up live performance broadcasts of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in September. The partnership, announced yesterday, provides a new outlet for the symphony after KFUO, the city's all-classical outlet, switches to the "Joy FM" format under new owner Gateway Creative Broadcasting, a religious broadcaster. KWMU, which recently rebranded itself St. Louis Public Media, will air all Saturday concerts in the symphony's Wells Fargo Advisors Orchestral Series, beginning with the 2010-11 season-opening performance featuring violinist Joshua Bell. The news isn't so good for opera lovers, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which reports that KWMU doesn't plan to change its Saturday afternoon line-up to carry live broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera.

NPR Music: Passport to the coolness of Bonnaroo

NPR Music is about to begin webcasting live from the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., a first for the online music service recently touted by the Washington Post as "a kind of passport to coolness for NPR's core radio audience of aging baby boomers." Neon Indian, a synth-pop band that riffs off Wizard/True Star-era Todd Rundgren in a track on NPR Music's Bonnaroo Preview playlist, kicks off three days of live performances at 1 pm ET. Three public radio stations--KUT, WFUV and The Current--have joined NPR in producing coverage of more than 40 full sets from the festival. On Twitter, follow @NPRMusic, @allsongs, and @RitaHoustonWFUV for updates and color commentary. For reactions to the Washington Post's June 6 feature headlined "NPR has become a major player in the indie rock scene," check out the blog posts and comments on New York Magazine's Vulture and The Alt Report (via Bruce Warren's Some Velvet Blog).

Letters to ombudsman persist on Smiley's comments, and Memorial Day concert

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler continues to hear from viewers about two controversial subjects: Tavis Smiley's comments on terrorism, and treatment of the Vietnam War in the recent Memorial Day special. Read his Mailbag here.

Jun 10, 2010

Sylvia Strobel, attorney and former pubcaster, heads association of access centers, ACM

Sylvia Strobel, president of the Pennsylvania Public Television Network until it was dismembered in state budget cuts recently, has been named executive director of the Alliance for Community Media, the national association of cable access centers, starting Aug. 1. Strobel is chair of the American Women in Radio and Television and recently served as its acting president. She held executive roles with Twin Cities Public Television and CPB and has been a senior partner in the entertainment law firm Lehmann Strobel PLC, now based in Lancaster, Pa.

Foundations withdraw their option on WDUQ

The Pittsburgh foundations that bought a 60-day option on the sale of WDUQ last month have withdrawn their nascent bid for the public radio station. The group sought to recast the NPR News and jazz station as a public media news service for the Pittsburgh region, but recently decided that there wasn't enough time to complete its analysis and solicit community feedback before the July 2 deadline. The Heinz Endowments, one of four community foundations involved in the planning, announced the decision yesterday.

Duquesne University wants at least $10 million for WDUQ, the city's most-listened-to public radio outlet. It's unclear whether any bidders are willing to pay that amount. Public Radio Capital, which is representing the community-based group that wants to preserve WDUQ's existing service, has said the university's asking price is way too high.

On a blog soliciting community feedback on the future of WDUQ and elsewhere, supporters of WDUQ's music programming have been questioning whether the foundations "get" the significance of jazz in the city's cultural life and heritage. "Public radio should be about preserving the regional character of the markets it serves," writes Peter King, a Pittsburgh musician and music writer, in a letter to Current. "The rush to copy successful formats in other cities is depressingly reminiscent of the herd mentality that has made commercial radio so homogenous."

Foundation leaders may still play a role in determining WDUQ's future, judging by their statements: "[W]hile the option has been withdrawn, the foundation has not backed away from its interest in saving WDUQ as a vital public radio resource serving the broad Pittsburgh community," wrote Grant Oliphant, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, on the foundation's website. "Our view has not changed that WDUQ is a critical part of Pittsburgh’s media landscape."

"We're pulling out of the option, but we're not giving up our interest and support for a quality public radio station that delivers the NPR programming and what we would hope would be enhanced news and information that the community could really respond to," Doug Root, spokesman for the Heinz Endowments, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bridget Fare, spokeswoman for Duquesne, said the university will return half of the $50,000 the foundations paid for the option. "We still do not plan on acting on any proposal before July 2," she told the Post-Gazette.

PBS Kids Go! writing contest judges includes hit kids' book authors

R.L. Stine, author of the hit children's book series Goosebumps, is among the judges for the PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest -- which has already generated 25,000 entries from 87 stations nationwide, according to PBS. The contest, co-sponsored by WNED-TV Buffalo/Toronto, encourages children from kindergarten through third grade to create illustrated stories. Also on the 14-judge panel is six-time Emmy winner Marc Brown, creator of the character Arthur of book and PBS program fame; Ann M. Martin, author of the mega-hit series The Baby-sitters Club; and Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Winners will be announced in July.

ABC News veteran signs on as NewsHour political editor

Longtime ABC News Political Director David Chalian joins the PBS NewsHour on July 6, the show announced today. As its political editor, Chalian will direct the NewsHour’s political coverage across all platforms and manage the editorial content from the NewsHour’s congressional, White House, and Supreme Court beats. He will also serve as an on-camera political analyst and will appear in regular political webcasts on the Online NewsHour, as well as develop original digital political content.

West Virginia pubcasting audit reveals issues with its relationship with nonprofs

An audit of the Educational Broadcasting Authority in West Virginia (PDF) released to state legislators Wednesday (June 9) concludes that by operating two supporting nonprofits with separate bank accounts it may not be following state requirements, reports the Charleston Gazette. Among the findings: That EBA employees do not have the authority to fundraise and provide administrative support for Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation (both those groups have no employees). And while the EBA may receive donations, its employees cannot solicit donations on state time. Auditors put forth a series of recommendations, including that the two nonprofits "operate as complete and separate entities" with different missions and finances "to protect the financial rights of the state and persons affected by the agency's activities." In its response, EBA said seeking an opinion from the West Virginia Ethics Commission on the issue of its employees supporting the two entities, and that its board passed a resolution earlier this month turning over control of underwriting funds to the state.

Jun 9, 2010

PBS lays off 13

Thirteen staffers "will be leaving PBS," network President Paula Kerger said in a memo to the system today (June 9). "The entire PBS senior management team actively participated" in the decisions, she added. Departments affected include marketing and communications, interactive and general counsel.

FCC news: Cap Hill testimony, and an upcoming forum

In a hearing today (June 9) on Capitol Hill, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski asked Congress for its assistance in reclaiming spectrum for mobile broadband, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The request came during the House Appropriations Committee Financial Services Subcommittee testimony on the FCC's 2011 budget. Genachowski said the spectrum giveback (background, Current, Feb. 8, 2010) was good for all parties involved — broadcasters, viewers and the government — but the feds need to move quickly to head off a looming spectrum shortage. Congress needs to okay use of some proceeds from the spectrum auction to compensate broadcasters. "Ironically," writes B&C reporter John Eggerton, "access to the hearing itself over broadband was interrupted for a large swath of the proceedings due to streaming problems."

Forum news: The agency announced a daylong forum June 25 (PDF) at its headquarters in Washington to explore the technical end of freeing up broadcast spectrum. Topics: cellularization of broadcast architecture, methodologies for repacking the TV band, improvements in VHF reception, and advancements in compression technology. Interested? Follow along on the FCC's live feed that day.

It's Takeaway vs. Morning Edition in Minneapolis

On community station KFAI-FM in Minneapolis, The Takeaway, the live drivetime news show from Public Radio International that launched in April 2008, will go head-to-head with the powerhouse Morning Edition from 5 to 8 a.m. starting June 30, writes David Brauer, MinnPost's media reporter. He says The Takeaway "is like Morning Edition in a hoodie: more casual, younger-skewing, and international, but hardly the rush to the barricades" that Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! provides. (Democracy Now! will follow The Takeaway at 8.) KFAI, feeling pressure to draw a larger audience and maintain its CPB grant, is moving music to make room for news. Blanche Sibley's Friday Fubar Omniverse is one local show being shunted from morning drive to the 10 a.m.-noon slot. She told Brauer: “You take 15 hours away from community listenership. PRI has been pushing The Takeaway for two and a half years. Why should we whore ourselves out like that? We should have a pledge drive to dump the CPB.”

Jun 8, 2010

WOXM, Classical 90.1 in Vermont, takes to the airwaves

There's a new pubradio music station today: Vermont Public Radio's Classical 90.1 WOXM, which signed on this morning (June 8). It launched with a performance by pianist Annemieke Spoelstra live from Middlebury College. The station brings VPR Classical to more than 83,000 listeners in most of Addison County. VPR also finalized its purchase in May of WCVR 102.1 FM, based in Randolph; that should begin broadcast this summer, also as VPR Classical. It's Vermont’s only classical music network featuring local hosts. Station spokesperson Michelle Jeffery told Current the station has been in the process of bolstering its classical offerings since 2007, when VPR split its news and music services. It received a license to build a full-power transmitter that year and completed a successful capital drive to fund that $350,000 project for WOXM.

U.S. Forest Service temporarily alters rules affecting pubTV camera crews

The controversy over Idaho Public Television's request to film in a federal wilderness area is spreading. The Associated Press via the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., reports that pro-wilderness groups say that filming within areas such as the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, which IPTV has been doing for 30 years, may not reflect "appropriate stewardship" of the lands. IPTV's show Outdoor Idaho annually follows students doing conservation work within the wilderness. Last month its cameras were denied access by a U.S. Forest Service supervisor, who said theirs was a commercial enterprise. That decision was reversed after Gov. Butch Otter and Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson complained the Forest Service had inappropriately barred cameras, and the Forest Service conducted an investigation.

But more voices are questioning pubTV cameras venturing into the wilderness, as Oregon Public Broadcasting also does. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics fears relaxed guidelines will mean more intrusive filming. And at least one member of the Student Conservation Association filmed by the Outdoor Idaho crew in late May objected to appearing on camera, on grounds it violated the "wilderness ethos," according to AP.

In the wake of the dustup, temporary guidelines for wilderness filming permits took affect last Thursday (June 3) and expire in December 2011, at which time the Forest Service must have in place permanent regulations. Previously, Forest Service managers were directed to issue permits for commercial filming only when the projects contributed “to the purposes for which the wilderness area was established.” Under new criteria, special-use permits are issued if filming has a “primary objective of spreading information about the enjoyment of wilderness or its ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic or historical values; helps preserve the wilderness character; doesn’t advertise products or services; and if there aren’t suitable film sites outside wilderness.”

The show addressed the situation on its website, saying, ". . . please remember this: Outdoor Idaho is definitely not 'commercial.' And we look forward to documenting many more stories on the public’s land."

Jun 7, 2010

Sesame Wii games use unique (and fuzzy) remote-control cover

For the first time, two video games will use a cover to actually hide buttons on the Wii Remote. "Elmo's A-to-Zoo Adventure" and "Cookie's Counting Carnival" games from Sesame Street will use the plush cover (Elmo, right) to make the Nintendo control less confusing for youngsters, the Associated Press reports. "We will be the first to introduce such an aid," said Scott Chambers, Sesame Workshop senior vice president of media distribution. "We're doing it so that preschoolers can play and learn from these Sesame Street games without feeling frustrated with the controller." The two titles are also the first Wii games from Sesame Workshop. The games are designed for 3- to 5-year-olds to be able to play without help from their parents.

Speaking of Sesame Street, don't miss the photos of the eighth annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala on June 2, now up on entertainment site Monsters and Critics. Word on the Street is it's the first time Snuffy attended.

Upcoming PBS concert has gamers excited

The video gaming community is going bonkers in anticipation of a PBS special airing July 31 and through August. And it's no wonder: According to the Video Games Live website, the 90-minute orchestral performance includes "never before televised live musical performances from the Mario, Zelda, Sonic, Halo, Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, God of War, Civilization, Chrono Cross, StarCraft and Guitar Hero franchises, including a musical journey through Classic Gaming." It describes the show as an "immersive concert event" featuring music from the video games along with "synchronized lighting, solo performers, electronic percussionists, live action and unique interactive segments to create an explosive entertainment experience!" It adds that the event is put on by the video game industry "to help encourage and support the culture and art that video games have become." The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra does the honors for this concert (above), filmed in February in New Orleans. Watch the PBS trailer here. Will this bring in a younger audience? Well, as one comment post on the trailer says, "omg, i love pbs now."

"LZ" webinar registration opens

Registration is now open for the June 23 webinar on LZ Lambeau from the National Center for Media Engagement. The event, a belated welcome home to Vietnam vets, was the largest single outreach in public broadcasting, with around 70,000 participants over three days last month. At least three stations are now planning similar or scaled-down tributes; the webinar will feature reps from sponsoring station Wisconsin Public Television offering advice. A CPB-funded toolkit also is coming up.

Jun 6, 2010

Newspaper reports "radical restructuring" probable for New Jersey Network

The Daily Record of Parsnippany, N.J., today (June 6) takes an in-depth look at the challenges facing NJN pubTV and radio. It reports that state aid is drying up, staff cuts are "a near certainty" and a draft plan is attempting to "reinvent" the New Jersey Network. "A radical restructuring of NJN appears likely, and it’s not clear what the station will look like when it’s done—and whether a not-for-profit, independent charitable media organization can survive, let alone thrive," it says.

Jun 4, 2010

NPR, on the cutting edge of silliness

By now you've probably heard about NPR President Vivian Schiller's controversial remarks about the future of radio at D8, the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference. But you may not have seen the hilarious video that introduced those remarks. Check it out, in all its "NPRness," here. ("Auto-Tuned Things Considered." Heh.)

Chicago's WTTW to reduce staff by 12 percent

WTTW-Channel 11 will let go 12 percent of its staff, between 25 and 30 positions, due to poor corporate underwriting and a $1.25 million cutback in state funding, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting. Station President and CEO Dan Schmidt said early retirement packages will be offered first, then layoffs. Schmidt also said executive compensation would be reduced 5 percent more, bringing the two-year reduction in top management salaries to 10 percent. A companywide salary freeze from 2009 will stay in effect until 2011. WTTW also will close its employee cafeteria. Also, on the radio side, $200,000 in expense cutbacks are planned next year due to soft sponsorship.

Ken Burns lucks into opening pitch for historic game

Here's a nice bit of publicity for PBS's upcoming "Tenth Inning": Docmeister Ken Burns will toss the first pitch at the long-awaited debut game of Nationals phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg, according to the Washington Post's D.C. Sports Blog. The date for Strasburg's first major league shifted several times, and luckily Burns had been scheduled to appear at Nationals Park on June 8. The game is sold out, although online resale sites have a few remaining tickets for up to $1,000. Yes, for one ticket.

Web analysis mentoring program assists

A unique mentoring program provided PBS with analytics and advice for, reports Internet Retailer. The digital analysis firm Web Analytics Demystified last month began the Analysis Exchange project to "provide training in web analytics to students and build up the industry’s base of analytics experts," said founder and CEO Eric Peterson. "There are not enough qualified, experienced people doing web analytics in business." The students, many of whom are already Internet professionals, receive training in web analytics and then research nonprofit websites for no cost to the organization. At PBS, the study found that, for example, the StumbleUpon recommendation site was generating the most traffic from social media for, but wasn't sending visitors that were highly engaged once they arrived. Other information included data on bounce rates and average time on site. The students also gave PBS advice on how to build stronger engagement on the site. Kevin Dando, PBS director of digital communications told Current that the process was very instructive, "and gave us quite a lot of valuable, tangible information that we incorporated into our thinking right away."

Shapiro takes on Apple's uncharitable policy

Jake Shapiro of Public Radio Exchange challenges Apple's prohibition on iPhone applications that solicit donations for charitable causes in a guest article for Ars Technica. "The excuse that 'Apple doesn't want to be held responsible for ensuring that the charitable funds make it to the final destination' is a cop-out," Shapiro writes. "Apple, of all companies, can’t credibly say it’s not up to the technical and logistical challenge." The policy presents an "acute problem" for public media, which depends on listener contributions to support content that is "hugely popular" across Apple's iTunes and iPhone/iPad platforms. Shapiro is responding to Ars Technica's earlier reporting on how iPhone users reacted to "push notification" fundraising appeals from This American Life.

Jun 3, 2010

Sutton plays out the scenario of radio oblivion by 2020

NPR President Vivian Schiller's remarks at D8 yesterday don't jibe with her reassurances that NPR "is not trying to do an end run around stations," writes public radio marketing consultant and researcher John Sutton on his blog. If she truly believes that radio towers won't exist in 10 years, then NPR's long-term strategy must not include the audiences and revenues aggregated by local stations. "It can't. Not if the towers are gone. So what replaces the $68 million NPR now gets in station revenues? It's not all business support. That kind of money comes from listener contributions. With member stations out of the way, NPR has to be thinking about direct listener fundraising. There's no other model."

Sutton, a critic of NPR's mobile strategy, adds: "It will be interesting to see how the NPR Board balances the interests of NPR's member stations against a corporate vision that financially requires the near-extinction of those stations and the migration of their listeners to NPR platforms."

West Virginia takes control of state pubcasting underwriting funds

The West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority, licensee for the state's pubradio and television stations, on June 2 approved the transfer of underwriting funds from the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation to state-controlled accounts, reports the Charleston Daily Mail. Critics are concerned the move may result in the authority making pubcasting programming decisions. The shift was requested by Kay Goodwin, state secretary of education and the arts, to improve accountability. "Currently, all proceeds from underwriting go directly to specific foundation checking accounts, on which no foundation directors have signature authority," Goodwin said at the Wednesday meeting. "Foundation directors make no determination as to how funds are expended from those checking accounts." Goodwin recommended there be a "clear delineation in the finances and staffing of the authority and foundation," the paper said. The board okayed the change -- but exempted expenditures for Mountain Stage, the popular national music show produced in the state. Authority CFO Michael Meador issues checks for performance expenses, for a quicker turnaround on those payments. Andy Ridenour, the show's e.p., told the board this is done to get payments to visiting artists within a few days of their appearances. He said a new process that would require state and foundation approval might hold up payments and hinder the show's ability to draw bigger-name artists.

FCC starting up Native Nations Broadband Task Force

The Federal Communications Commission announced June 2 (PDF) that it is seeking members for an FCC-Native Nations Broadband Task Force to help the agency increase broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands. The group will help develop a consultation policy, get input from Tribal governments, develop recommendations to promote broadband within its communities and coordinate efforts with other federal departments and agencies. Applications are due to the FCC by July 15 for the two-year appointments.

PBS NewsHour seeking ideas to keep its BP oil spill video feed streaming

A Gulf Leak Meter widget and live video stream of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have provided PBS NewsHour with a "significant increase" in Web traffic, the show reported today (May 27). Newshour and NPR are providing the embedding code for the widget free and it has been used by more than 3,000 websites including YouTube, Huffington Post, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Wired, ProPublic, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and many local PBS stations. Subscribers to the PBS Newshour YouTube channel doubled in one 24-hour period. More than 1 million viewers have watched the video feed via Newshour and NPR websites. The crisis began April 20 when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 17 workers and left 11 missing, and oil continues to flow from a well some 5,000 feet below the surface. The widget debuted May 9.

UPDATE: Chris Amico, an interactive editor at NewsHour, is requesting assistance from the news-tech community at Help by Hacks/Hackers for ideas to keep the streaming video flowing. "We're currently using NPR's Akamai account, but the cost is starting to get beyond our ability to pay," he noted, adding, " . . . would your news organization like to partner with us to help keep the feed alive?" For technical reasons the show can't link directly to BP's video feed, which is in WMV format.

WTVI salvages nearly $100,000 from proposed $860,000 county cuts

While state budget woes continue to threaten public broadcasters, WTVI in Charlotte, N.C., is running into county funding problems. Mecklenburg County provides about 23 percent of the station's operating budget, or about $860,000, President Elsie Garner told Current. Garner got a heads-up call from the county manager in March that the funding would be zeroed out under a proposed fiscal 2011 budget. The station geared up for a fight with a "very complex and well-orchestrated" plan of attack, Garner said. The League of Women Voters was instrumental; that group didn't want to lose its televised debates. Thousands of postcards of support poured in to the county. Red and black buttons saying I WATCH WTVI AND I VOTE were spotted all over town. The station's board chair wrote an opinion piece in the June 3 Charlotte Observer. And in a preliminary vote last night (June 3), the county commission decided to give nearly $100,000 to WTVI -- still a big cut, but not nearly as large as proposed. "Being a glass half-full kinda gal, I'll take it," Garner said. One bright spot: The county is still paying WTVI's debt service of $10 million in bonds sold 10 years ago to finance its digital transition. "That's deeply appreciated," Garner said. The new spending plan is set for final approval June 15 and would take effect July 1. CORRECTION: This item originally identified the city as Charlottesville.

Jun 2, 2010

Fellow grantmakers salute Wallace Foundation for funding "The Principal" on P.O.V.

Next Sunday the funder of The Principal Story, a doc that aired in September on P.O.V., will receive the first Woodward A. Wickham Award for Excellence in Media Philanthropy, bestowed by Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media. The grantmakers’ group said the award was named after the late MacArthur Foundation Vice President Woody Wickham to honor funders who demonstrate Wickham’s "creative, often courageous" grantmaking (Wickham obituary, February 2009). The Wallace Foundation, which backs initiatives to improve school leadership, stepped forward as full funder of the doc by Tod Lending and David Mrazek (Current, Sept. 8, 2009; program website). Jessica Schwartz, senior communication officer for Wallace, said the funder hadn't commissioned a film before but found it would be the most effective way to reach its target audiences. For more information on the grantmakers’ group, visit its website.

Vivian Schiller at D8: We're NPR, not National Public Radio

NPR President Vivian Schiller said some very provocative things this morning at D8, the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference, according to a live blog of her appearance. Early in her Q&A session, Schiller tells the Journal's Kara Swisher: "First of all, note we don’t call ourselves National Public Radio anymore. We’re NPR." The change reflects NPR's job to provide universal access to news and information, she explains, "that used to mean radio, but we don’t think we should be limited to that anymore....We just wanted to reach more people, on more platforms. We want to make it as widely available as possible." Schiller predicts that radio towers will be gone in 10 years and Internet radio will take its place. "This is a huge change and we should embrace it. Mobile will play a big part." Schiller also hints at changes in NPR's business model: "We ask our listeners to contribute, and about 10 percent of them do, pretty consistently. That said, on a B2B level, this could change. Our stations don’t pay for our Web programming right now, but that could change. They get it free with the radio license fees they already pay." What role do stations have in this new paradigm? To produce local and state coverage that NPR itself can't provide, Schiller says. "We are commited to providing that coverage via local affiliates." Note: the live blog is not an official transcript.

Caution: Tweeting while eating ahead

The PBS Annual Meeting in Austin earlier this month may be over, but it continues to generate vital news: KQED is announcing winners of its Seussical Twitter rhyming contest that took place at the breakfast launch for The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That (KQED image above, dig those striped parfaits!). The grand prize, a complete, 40-plus volume set of Dr. Seuss books, went to Mary Ann Dillon, Ready to Learn coordinator at PBS Eight/KAET in Phoenix. Her Tweet:

A person's a person
No matter how small
And PBS kids
Are the smartest of all

Runners-up, who received books from "The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library," didn't quite hit the anapestic tetrameter rhythm exactly but managed to have fun. Here's a ditty from an obviously annoyed Holly Emig, program schedule manager of the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority:

PBS Kids and the Cat
Came to play
But I didn't win the Cat at my table
And someone must pay

But our favorite may just be this one from David Lowe, g.m. at KVIE in Sacramento, who diverted from writing about the new PBS show to focus on more pressing matters:

The Austin Hilton didn't hold
My board chair's reservation.

Thankfully it wasn't my fault
Or I'd have no job preservation.

Yovel Schwartz, Cat in the Hat project supervisor at KQED, told Current that the contest actually was announced in advance via several Twitter feeds and internal PBS sites and newsletters. The competition ran for nearly three weeks but most participation was at the breakfast, which was attended by around 800 persons. "Three of our winners were just regular moms that were following the PBS Parents Twitter feed when the contest was announced and decided to participate," Schwartz noted.

Ready to Compete Act would add to Ready to Learn program

Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky has introduced H.R. 5477, the Ready To Compete Act, that would fund pubTV's Ready to Learn and Ready to Teach (which encompasses PBS's popular TeacherLine). It also adds two new programs: Ready to Achieve, a national, on-demand digital media service that would allow pubTV stations to share content in a central location; and Ready to Earn, to support educational digital content and services for adults, including GED preparation and workforce training. In a statement, Lonna Thompson, interim president and CEO of the Association for Public Television Stations, said, "Education has been, and continues to be, at the core of the mission of public television. Local public television stations, which are some of the last locally owned and operated media outlets in this country, will now have an opportunity to expand upon this mission."

iPhone users push back on TAL's push for donations

In its latest experiment with soliciting text donations, This American Life used the push notification system on its iPhone app to ask listeners to support the show. The response from tech savvy readers of Ars Technica was not positive. "The pushed message for donations felt a bit off-putting," the online technology journal reported last week. "Getting a donation pitch during or after a show is expected. A random notification pushed to your phone isn't." Sixty readers commented on the article, including Seth Lind, TAL production manager, who apologized for the annoying iPhone message. "We're all learning how to use this stuff!"

The push notification was a way around Apple's prohibition on using software applications to solicit charitable donations, but it wasn't an effective way to ask for text gifts, Lind told Current. "The push notification looks like a text message, but when you unlock the iPhone, the message is lost. It's not very effective at all." The notification was created for TAL's biannual fundraising campaign, now in its third week. Most of the donations are coming in through the TAL website, but 21 percent are text gifts of $10, Lind said. TAL's first campaign for mobile gifts of $5 raised nearly $143,000.