Jan 31, 2012

WDFH-FM in New York's Hudson Valley faces "financial emergency"

A signal expansion in the lower Hudson Valley three years ago depleted WDFH-FM's cash reserves and now the Ossining, N.Y., community radio station "finds itself in financial straits," according to The Daily Dobbs Ferry. Executive Director Marc Sophos, who helped found the station 39 years ago as a high-school freshman, said the station faces doing dark. "There's a short-term financial emergency right now," he said. "It's urgent. We do need to find this money or else the station will go under. Donations are far less than the operating expenses. We need to be raising $10,000 a month."

"Money is time and time is running out," Sophos said. "Realistically I think there's hope for the station to survive. We're trying everything we can think of."

Jan 30, 2012

WCVE in Virginia plans "puzzle-solving" fundraiser

WCVE, Central Virginia's Community Idea Stations, is planning a unique fundraiser for this spring: A "puzzle-solving event" designed by Ravenchase Adventures in Richmond, Va. The Big Idea Challenge runs April 29 through June 2 and the station hopes to raise $250,000 to supplement its on-air pledge dollars.

"With the uncertain status of government funding, we have been looking for lots of different ways to reach out beyond our traditional audiences and involve folks who peripherally know about us but may not be as close," Lisa Tait, vice president for development at WCVE, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "We wanted something different to tie in with our mission and with the people who like public broadcasting, who are intellectually curious."

Teams will pay a $30 entry fee for contest. Challenges change weekly and will highlight five areas pubTV "impact areas" — arts and culture, history, science, children's education and news/public affairs. Teams earn a point for each dollar of fundraising, and up to 500 points by solving weekly puzzles. Participants can raise money in any way they'd like, such as soliciting donations, or hosting a bake sale or lemonade stand.

"As far as we know, we are the only public broadcasting station in the country to break the mold," Tait said, "and there are a number of stations around the country watching attentively to see how successful we will be."

APTS, CPB, PBS ask FCC to exempt pubTV stations from new reporting requirements

Three national pubcasting organizations are encouraging the FCC to exempt pubTV licensees from any new public interest reporting requirements, in a Jan. 27 filing with the commission. The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) prepared the filing in response to the FCC's notice of inquiry in November 2011 soliciting input on a proposal "to replace the issues/programs list that television stations have been required to place in their public files for decades with a streamlined, standardized disclosure form that will be available to the public online."

“We support the commission’s effort to standardize information about their public interest programming and activities,” said Lonna Thompson, APTS c.o.o., in a statement Monday (Jan. 29). “However, we strongly encourage the commission to exempt public television licensees from burdensome reporting requirements given public television licensees’ demonstrated success in delivering upon their mission to provide programming that addresses the needs and interests of their local communities.”

At Realscreen Summit, Kerger envisions potential for PBS Foundation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the packed "Looking Ahead with the Pubcasters" session at Monday's (Jan. 29) Realscreen Summit, PBS President Paula Kerger once again spoke of the potential the PBS Foundation holds for the future of the organization.

"It’s just starting to ramp up," she said of the foundation. "It isn’t the full answer for us because the amounts of money are reasonably low, but it has given us a little more flexibility to do some things relatively more quickly." One example: PBS was able to acquire a film on Steve Jobs soon after the Apple founder's death on Oct. 5, 2011; Steve Jobs — One Last Thing premiered on PBS member stations the next month. "But more importantly," Kerger said, "we can make investments on the front end knowing that we have the foundation providing money on back end."

"In the years I spent at WNET," said Kerger, who worked in development and served as c.o.o. during her 13-year tenure at the New York station, "an absolute game changer there was having an endowment. There’s seed money to get projects started, it provides production funds upfront and also provides finishing funds, that last little bit needed to bring a project to closure. We’re envisioning the foundation doing that at a national level.”

Kerger has long been focused on bolstering the coffers of the PBS Foundation. The New York Sun noted in a January 2006 story when she was appointed PBS president that "as a founding trustee of PBS Foundation, formed last year to raise private funds, Ms. Kerger helped to secure $13 million. In this capacity, she also demonstrated her sensitivity to the sovereignty of the member stations by establishing a station advisory group that developed protocols for solicitation."

Also in 2006, in an interview with Current, Kerger said, “There’s been a lot of skepticism and concern about the foundation and that it might compete with local stations. I really think there is great opportunity there.”

And in an interview in May 2011, Kerger told Current that she would be focusing more time on foundation work. “Part of it is to help the stations," she said, "and part is to begin to cultivate relationships with funders.”

The Realscreen Summit continues through Wednesday at the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Downtown. More than 1,500 delegates from 24 countries are attending the sold-out nonfiction content conference. Also appearing on the pubcasting panel were Ralph Lee, the new head of the factual unit at Channel 4 in Great Britain, and Kirstine Stewart, e.v.p. of English services at Canada's CBC. Moderator was Jane Root, former Discovery Channel U.S. president, and founder and chief executive of Nutopia.

In Des Moines, IPR listeners get new all-classical service, more changes to come

Iowa Public Radio has completed launch of its new all-classical service in Des Moines. IPR Classical now airs on two commercial FM frequencies — KICP 105.9 and KICL 96.3 — that were purchased last summer for $1.75 million.

The signal expansion gives IPR Classical a broadcast footprint of more than 400,000 potential listeners and improves the outlook for membership and underwriting income.

WOI 90.1 FM, IPR's flagship channel in Des Moines, continues to split its broadcast day between NPR News and classical music, but that could change soon. IPR looks to expand the reach of its Studio One format, which combines news and alternative music programming, and is evaluating format switches for its other Des Moines area stations. Decisions on programming changes are still pending, according to Al Schares, music director.

In a signal expansion project that will realign public radio services for listeners in western New York State and across the Canadian border, Buffalo's WNED will complete its $4 million purchase of WBFO-FM on March 1. Station officials announced the sale closure date last week, but are not ready to talk about their programming plans.

Oklahoma legislators introduce two bills to zero out pubcasting funds to OETA

Two Oklahoma lawmakers are proposing ending funding for Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, the pubTV network based in Oklahoma City, reports the Tulsa World newspaper. Senate Bill 1689 would end state money for "public media or establishing a statewide educational television system," and OETA is the only Oklahoma public media to receive such funding. Pubradio KOSU and KGOU receive funding indirectly through their university licensees schools, not through appropriations. House Bill 3039 would end OETA funding over the course of five years. "If that money were to go away, this would be a very different operation, and it would not — could not — continue to be a statewide operation," said John McCarroll, OETA executive director.

Jan 27, 2012

Idaho PTV faces "loss of service" in wake of capital funding cut

Idaho Public Television needs funding for capital equipment purchases, General Manager Peter Morrill told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee of the state legislature Friday (Jan. 27). The network has not received its usual state appropriation for equipment for the past three years, reports the Spokesman-Review, and is asking for $1.5 million. “Our operating model is not sustainable with current capital funding levels,” Morrill told members. “Continued deferral of equipment repairs and maintenance will lead to loss of service.” The governor's budget recommendation for IPTV for next year calls for a 0.5 percent increase in general funds.

For much more on the loss of capital equipment funding across the system, see the Jan. 30 issue of Current.

Is "Downton" creating online pirates?

Obsessive Downton Abbey fans are turning into programming pirates, reports Salon, poking around in what it calls "some dark corner of the Internet" to find episodes that have already run on Britain's ITV but not yet on Masterpiece. When the writer of the piece, John Sellers, confessed to Downton actor Hugh Bonneville (the Earl of Grantham) that he'd watched the Downton Christmas special online, Bonneville replied: “I wish you hadn’t told me you watched it illegally. That’s really pissing me off. Shame on you. Be ashamed.” PBS viewers are still awaiting that episode, which is set to air in February.

Sellers spoke to Rebecca Eaton, Masterpiece e.p., about the delay between the original airing overseas and when Downton hits PBS. “ITV is a commercial station, they have ads, and their shows have to be reformatted to fit the Masterpiece time slots,” she said. “And Masterpiece, every year, has to avoid certain weeks because of pledge. It’s a puzzle of where to fit programs in here.” She does hope that turnaround time may be shortened, but predicted that fans would still complain about not being able to watch episodes the same time as the Brits. “If they aired a day later,” she said, “illegal pirating would be going on.”

W.V. pubcaster cutting programming due to budget squeeze, director tells lawmakers

Dennis Adkins, West Virginia Public Broadcasting executive director, told state legislators that state funding reductions and loss of corporate underwriting have forced the station to make programming cuts, reports the Charleston Gazette. Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday (Jan. 26), Adkins said further program cutbacks may be necessary. "We're seeing erosion in our ability to provide a quality public broadcasting product to the citizens of West Virginia," Adkins told members of the House Finance Committee. "To put it bluntly, our expenses are outpacing our revenues." State appropriations to pubcasting in West Virginia have dropped 9 percent over the past two fiscal years, and corporate underwriting is off 17 percent in the last year. The public affairs TV show This Week in West Virginia is now on hiatus. If the situation doesn't improve, Adkins told lawmakers, national programming on public TV and radio could be affected, and utility costs may force some translators to be shut down.

KPCC places billboard next door to rival KPFK

Has KPCC "punked" fellow pubradio station KPFK with a "billboard prank"? So says an item on OC Weekly's Navelgazing blog written by Gustavo Arellano, a reporter for the paper who has also appeared on both stations in southern California. KPCC, an NPR member station, has erected a bold orange billboard on the the roof of building right next door to KPFK, a Pacifica outlet, that reads: "Ideas, not ideology." Perhaps a poke at left-leaning Pacifica?

UPDATE: Craig Curtis, program director at KPCC radio, tells Current that the placement was a "complete coincidence — although I'm sure people may not believe that." Locations are rarely specified in billboard buys, Curtis said, and KPCC's sign just landed there. He happened to be exchanging emails with KPFK General Manager Bernard Duncan when Curtis heard about the billboard, so he told Duncan, whose only reaction was, "Hmmm." Curtis quipped, "Maybe we'll put a KPFK billboard on the side of our building."

PBMA rebrands as Public Media Business Association, launches new website

The Public Broadcasting Management Association (PBMA) on Thursday (Jan. 26) announced a full rebranding of the organization, which serves financial, human resources, legal, information systems and administrative managers of public TV and radio stations.

It's slightly twisting the current PBMA acronym into PMBA: the Public Media Business Association, positioning itself as the "go-to" association "focused on delivering programs and services that enhance the efficiency, effectiveness and economics of public media," the McLean, Va.-based group said in a press release.

“The county’s need for public media is greater than ever, but public media stations face severe economic and funding challenges," said PMBA Board Chair Tom Livingston. "It is critical that stations become as efficient as possible in how we manage our businesses and human resources. The new PMBA is now more effectively positioned to serve the business needs of public media.” The organization, previously managed by the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA), switched to Coulter Nonprofit Management last year, requesting a full strategic review of the former PBMA’s market objectives, market position, brand identity, and programs.

A new website reflects the changes; new PMBA social media pages on Facebook and Twitter are accessible through that portal.

The group was founded in 1979 as the Public Telecommunications Financial Management Association, with an original membership of station financial professionals. Its annual conference takes place this year May 29 to June 1 in Las Vegas.

Jan 26, 2012

Republican gives OPB $50,000, citing "Moyers and Company"

Oregon Public Broadcasting received an unexpected $50,000 gift on Wednesday (Jan. 25), from a longtime donor who has "given consistently but nothing on that level," OPB President Steve Bass told Current. And here's a twist: The contributor told an OPB staffer that he's a registered Republican, and that one of the programs he especially enjoys is Moyers and Company, the latest show from veteran newsman Bill Moyers, widely considered a progressive voice.

Several pubTV execs recently told the New York Times that PBS declined to carry Moyers's latest program, which is distributed by American Public Television, because PBS "did not want to realign itself with Mr. Moyers, a longtime target of some conservatives, as it was fighting to keep its federal financing."

Pubcasting pic o' the week

Is this a great photo or what? That's Terry Gross, host of WHYY's Fresh Air, alongside larger-than-life political satirist Stephen Colbert. In case you missed her appearance on The Colbert Report, here's the link on Fresh Air's Tumblr.

Months later, FCC still "obtaining additional information" on sale of WMFE-TV to Daystar

Nine months after PBS member station WMFE-TV in Orlando announced its sale, the Federal Communications Commission has yet to approve its transfer to Community Educators of Orlando, the local entity representing religious broadcaster Daystar. Orlando Weekly reports that in a Dec. 7, 2011, letter, Michael Perko, spokesperson for the FCC Media Bureau, told U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), whose includes Daystar headquarters, that the FCC had “recently completed a preliminary evaluation of the WMFE-TV assignment application . . . as well as the related informal objections,” and “it was necessary to obtain additional information” before making a final decision.

Daystar told Orlando Weekly in a statement, “We don’t comment on station acquisitions, but we are excited about all the growth Daystar is experiencing and thankful for the opportunities God has given us to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.”

Jan 25, 2012

WPSU developing Editorial Integrity Advisory Committee as it navigates scandal coverage

In reaction to the Penn State University athletic department's ongoing sex abuse scandal, WPSU General Manager Ted Krichels is organizing an Editorial Integrity Advisory Committee for the station, which is licensed to the college, reports CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan. "WPSU, like many public broadcasting outlets, is inextricably tied to the university where it is located, and which also holds its license," Kaplan writes; WPSU is also a news operation. "There is no indication that any pressure was brought to bear" on the newsroom over the scandal coverage, Kaplan notes, "but there is a fear inside WPSU that there is a public perception that WPSU is an auxiliary arm of Penn State." Krichels invited administrators, faculty from Penn's College of Communication, WPSU reporters and producers and Kaplan to the committee's first meeting. The group plans to meet again next month, Kaplan said, adding that the initiative could grow into a template for other university-affiliated pubcasting stations.

Krichels is also helping guide the systemwide Editorial Integrity for Public Media initiative (Current, April 4, 2011).

Public Insight Network broadens work to include original reporting

The Public Insight Network from American Public Media is starting up its own news unit to generate original reporting, according to Nieman Journalism Lab, drawing on its massive database of some 130,000 self-identified news sources. “One of the things we learned early on,” Linda Fantin, director of the PIN initiative, told Nieman, “is the amount of intelligence and amazing insights and stories that people have shared with us quickly overwhelm a journalist’s ability to get that information out there.” The first project will be monthlong “virtual road trip” to survey Americans on whether presidential candidates reflect their values.

NewsHour's translation project presents State of the Union in more than six languages

The PBS NewsHour's election-year translation project kicked off with President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday (Jan. 24). Online transcriptions of his speech are now available in its entirety in Arabic, French, Italian, Japanese, Polish and Portuguese; portions of the address are there in traditional Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, German, Korean and Spanish.

Random House and Sesame launch ebook initiative

Random House Children’s Books and Sesame Workshop are partnering on a new digital publishing initiative focusing on early learning and reading readiness. Titles from the Random House Children’s Books Sesame Street library will be available as ebooks for the first time beginning today (Jan. 25) with Elmo Says Achoo! and Elmo’s Breakfast Bingo. An additional 19 titles will be released this spring. Several titles will include audio narration by Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath, who has performed on the program since its premiere in 1969. A joint press release said the program expands the Random House-Sesame Workshop partnership that has been ongoing for more than 40 years.

Jan 24, 2012

A tempest in a "Downton" teapot?

Britain's Daily Mail reports that producers of the ITV drama — and current Masterpiece smash hit — Downton Abbey "are less than happy after an American TV network launched a collection of somewhat tasteless themed jewelry." PBS had featured several items similar to what Downton characters wear on its ShopPBS website.

Supposedly, producers Carnival Films "were forced to call in lawyers" in an attempt to stop PBS "from naming jewelry after the show’s most famous character, Lady Mary Crawley." Carnival, "which has approved an official range of Downton DVDs and books, was horrified to find that PBS, its broadcast partner, was cashing in on the show’s popularity," the paper wrote.

"The ‘Lady Mary knotted pearl necklace and earring set,’ available for £102 ($159.99), was doing a roaring trade until Downton producers complained," it noted.

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler tackled the topic in a column today (Jan. 24). PBS told him in a statement: "ShopPBS obtained jewelry from a number of third-party vendors and placed them within a collection of products dedicated to Downton Abbey. An email from the business affairs office of NBC/Carnival was received requesting that we remove these items. PBS complied immediately and the products are no longer being offered."

A cached version of the Downton jewelry and accessories page on may be seen here.

UPDATE:  “There is no dispute," a Carnival Films rep tells, the online home of NBC's Today show, adding that the request to remove the jewelry from the PBS shopping site “was part of an ongoing conversation with PBS. It isn’t a big issue. We didn’t want viewers to think this was the jewelry that the characters wore.”

KPCC hires former Los Angeles Times editor to oversee content

Former Los Angeles Times Editor Russ Stanton has joined pubradio station KPCC as its new vice president of content, the station announced Tuesday (Jan. 24). Stanton's arrival "is part of an aggressive effort by the nonprofit news organization to become the preeminent regional source for both broadcast and online news — with deeper, more enterprising and investigative coverage," according to a story on the KPCC website.

Stanton had left the newspaper last month in what was called a "mutual decision" with Times President Kathy Thomson. During his four years at the helm, the paper won three Pulitzer Prizes, including a prestigious Public Service award. At KPCC, Stanton will be responsible for the station's broadcasts, website and live events coverage; one of his first duties will be to select an executive editor supervise daily operations of the newsroom on broadcast and digital platforms.

The hire is part of plans by Southern California Public Radio to more than double KPCC's 57-person newsroom by July 2014, a response to last year’s Knight Commission report that criticized public broadcasting’s inadequate commitment to local journalism (Current, Oct. 18, 2011). Its board has approved a plan to raise $24 million to do so. The nonprofit has raised some $8 million so far and hired 20 staffers for its news department in the past year. Thirteen more, including producers, editors, bloggers and hosts, will come onboard this year.

Docs on PBS garner three Oscar nods

Three documentaries on PBS have received Academy Award nominations, announced today (Jan. 24). In the documentary feature category are "Hell and Back Again" from Independent Lens, which follows a U.S. soldier back from Afghanistan after a serious injury; and POV's "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” which explores both environmentalism and terrorism by examining a radical environmental group the FBI calls the country’s “number one domestic terrorism threat.”

POV also received a nomination for documentary short subject for "The Barber Of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement," the story of James Armstrong, an African-American barber who experiences the fulfillment of an unimaginable dream, the election of the country's first African-American president.

WNET releases second online game for middle schoolers, "Flight to Freedom"

"Flight to Freedom," the second in the Mission U.S. series of educational role-playing online games for middle-school students, was released today (Jan. 24) by WNET/Thirteen in New York City, timed in advance of Black History Month. The game immerses players in the experiences of a runaway slave in the years before the Civil War, the station said in a press release. Its development was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The first game in the series, 2010's “For Crown or Colony?” introduced players to Nat Wheeler, a 14-year-old printer’s apprentice in 1770 Boston who was forced to decide if he supported the Patriots or Loyalists.

I'll Make Me a World festival, inspired by PBS mini-series, to draw thousands in Iowa

An annual event that began as an outreach for the 1999 PBS mini-series I'll Make Me a World is still going strong in Iowa, and organizers expect it to draw some 20,000 participants Friday and Saturday, reports the Des Moines Register.  The celebration of African-American heritage, I'll Make Me a World in Iowa, kicks off Black History Month in the state. At the original gathering in 1999, "the prediction was for 300 people to attend, but 1,000 showed up — and now we’ve grown to 15,000 to 20,000 and become a premier arts and cultural organization offering a world-class event,” said Betty Andrews, the festival's executive director. “It’s a blessing to those of us who work to make this happen, and we hope it’s a blessing to those who come and learn and enjoy.” Headliners this year are actor Shemar Franklin Moore of the CBS drama Criminal Minds, and R&B singer Kenny Lattimore.
I'll Make Me a World was a CPB-backed, six-hour mini-series on African-American artists from Henry Hampton, best known for his acclaimed Eyes on the Prize documentary.

Jan 23, 2012

Kentucky newspapers piloting a project to supply content to pubradio stations

The Kentucky Press Association's News Content Service, which shares stories across dozens of newspapers, is starting a pilot program to supply the state's public radio stations. WEKU at Eastern Kentucky University and WNKU at Northern Kentucky University have signed on. "It's a way for us to extend the really great work that journalists are already doing around the state," Roger Duvall, g.m. at WEKU, told the Herald-Leader in Lexington. Greer added that "we know there's interest" in the project among the other five public radio stations in Kentucky. So far, 23 of the 62 newspapers contributing their reporting to the News Content Service have agreed to allow pubradio stations to use their work, Greer said.

Marfa Public Radio pushing ahead with KOCV work

Marfa Public Radio General Manager Tom Michael told the Odessa (Texas) American that he hopes to re-launch public radio in Midland and Odessa by spring. In December 2011, Marfa finalized its purchase of KOCV-FM radio from Odessa College for $150,000 and another $150,000 in sponsorships over 10 years (background, Current, Aug. 8, 2011). Michael said the tower will be moved from the college campus to Gardendale, to bring back listeners who have seen the signal fade since the 1980s. "We’ve begun the construction phase of the project,” he said. “It took us a lot to get to this stage and I’m looking forward to get this up and running.” For now, the station will be operated out of Marfa but localized to Midland and Odessa. The station also will hire one full-time development manager and a part-time operations staffer.

MPTV and Friends group officially merge

Milwaukee Public Television and MPTV Friends, which had previously operated as two independent organizations, have merged, the groups announced Monday (Jan. 23) in a press release. Under the agreement, Friends will phase out operations in 2012, and many of its employees will join the MPTV staff  to continue coordinating fundraising events including the popular Great TV Auction. “We’ve always shared the goal of bringing the community the best in public television programming," said station G.M. Ellis Bromberg in the statement. "This agreement strengthens our relationship and makes our stations even better by allowing us to devote more resources to present new and exciting entertainment and educational offerings." Merger talks began earlier last year.

Jan 22, 2012

Downton, American Masters, Sesame win Producers Guild awards

Three shows on PBS scored awards from the Producers Guild of America in ceremonies Saturday (Jan. 21) in Los Angeles. Masterpiece Classic's hit Downton Abbey continues its string of honors with the David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television, beating out Cinema Verite, Mildred Pierce and Too Big to Fail on HBO and The Kennedys on Reelz Channel. The outstanding producer of non-fiction television award went to Susan Lacy and Julie Sacks for American Masters. Also, Sesame Street won for children's television, a new category in the 23-year-old awards.

Minnesota governor proclaims Gary Eichten Day statewide as longtime MPR host retires

Jan. 20 was Gary Eichten Day in Minnesota, proclaimed by Gov. Mark Dayton to honor the retiring Minnesota Public Radio host and producer after a 45-year career. The proclamation noted that Eichten began his career at MPR as a student announcer at KSJR, Minnesota's first public radio station, in 1967. Over the years he has served as news director, special events producer, and station manager; for the past 20 years he's been host of Midday.

A "Heckuva Farewell" for Eichten took place Jan. 19 at the Fitzgerald Theater. For his last Midday show, Gary interviewed Vice President Walter Mondale.

KSKA metro reporter Les Anderson to retire

Les Anderson, longtime metro news reporter for KSKA in Anchorage, Alaska, is retiring after a career in which he "once stood by a wet mule in a Wisconsin parking lot, wearing hillbilly clothes and promoting a new citrus pop for a commercial radio station," reports the Anchorage Daily News.

Anderson came to public radio in an interesting way, beginning as a college professor at University of Wisconsin. Decades ago, an English composition student asked him what can be done with an English degree; Anderson went to his office and pondered the question. "Then he decided to see if he, with a master's degree in English, could make a career in radio," the paper said. His first pubcasting job was at KEYA on the Turtle Mountain Indian Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota. In 1979 he moved to Alaska as manager of the Kotzebue radio station, KOTZ.

He told the paper how he ended up with his tribal name: "I gained my Inupiaq name through an on-air mispronunciation in Kotzebue. I was reading through a stack of Tundra Messages one late summer Friday morning. I came to one message from a little grandson to his grandmother to have fun in Point Hope where she was visiting and to pick — in Inupiaq — plenty of salmonberries. I knew the word but in haste to get through the stack, mispronounced it. I could hear the Inupiat laughter through two closed doors. I had the grandmother scouring the tundra outside Point Hope picking white owls. The next Monday, Nellie Moore announced on the air that White Owl was my new name."

The station plans a retirement celebration for Jan. 27.

Jan 21, 2012

BBC "prepared to take legal action" against CBS's Sherlock Holmes show, paper says

A legal fight may be brewing between the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes, which airs on PBS as part of Masterpiece Mystery, and an upcoming CBS version of the detective stories. According to the UK newspaper The Independent, the Beeb producers feel that CBS's Elementary, which also places the character in a modern setting using laptops and cellphones, may be too much like their version.

Sue Vertue, Sherlock e.p., said that CBS "approached us a while back about remaking our show. At the time, they made great assurances about their integrity, so we have to assume that their modernised Sherlock Holmes doesn't resemble ours in any way, as that would be extremely worrying."

The Independent quoted Margaret Tofalides, a copyright specialist, that while the concept of a modern-day Sherlock is unprotectable, "if the unusual elements of the BBC series — the modern settings, characters, clothes, plots and distinctive visual style — were closely reproduced in the CBS version, that could form the basis of a potential copyright claim."

Jan 19, 2012

WGBH modifying Roadshow web contact info, participation agreement after complaint

After receiving and investigating an 11-page complaint from a former Antiques Roadshow appraiser (Current, Dec. 12, 2011), producing station WGBH is revising how it handles contact information for experts on the Roadshow website, and making changes in its Appraisal Event Participation Agreement.

In a letter to Gary Sohmers, who had raised concerns over what he saw as "illogically restrictive" clauses in the contract signed by all the experts — who are not compensated for their work — WGBH Corporate Counsel Eric Brass said the station, as part of an ongoing review process of production-related practices, would make contact information available online for past appraisers, and change the participation agreement "to focus more clearly any restrictions on an appraiser's activities and statements regarding Antiques Roadshow to those that WGBH believes are important for protecting the series' trademark and other legal rights, and its image."

"WGBH has been fair and responsible in reviewing the matter and considering your comments and suggestions," Brass said in the letter.

Shapiro: Accelerator's challenge is using for-profit energy for nonprofit mission

Here's more from Jake Shapiro, founding c.e.o. of Public Radio Exchange, on why PRX and the Knight Foundation created the Public Media Accelerator, which was announced in December 2011. First, the concept: "Accelerators are organizations focused on early stage investment in technology startups, providing a mix of financing, mentorship and other support to help launch new companies with the potential for explosive growth," he writes on MediaShift. "It's clear that public media needs its own accelerator — attuned to the needs and assets of the industry and connected to the talent and energy in the broader technology and media world."

One challenge, he notes, is to "harness the for-profit energy that attracts top talent and aligns incentives in the standard accelerator model, while advancing the mission-driven principles at the core of the venture." 

If that's possible, one outcome would be to "overcome the inherent weaknesses of the grant-driven, project-based funding that has been the means of innovation funding in the industry to date," he writes. "These efforts tend to be incremental, short-lived, and at best result in 'sustaining' rather than 'disruptive' innovation (using Clayton Christensen's well-known construct). It's not hard to see why disruptive innovations tend to come from outside successful organizations and industries rather than from within. The Public Media Accelerator has the opportunity to change this dynamic: Knight and PRX have significant standing and relationships in public media, but are also accomplished risk-takers without the legacies and limits of many public media institutions."

MPTV to premiere documentary on conservative talk radio in Wisconsin

A two-hour documentary examining the impact that conservative talk radio has had on the political climate in Wisconsin — a state currently roiled by an impending gubernatorial recall — will premiere on Milwaukee Public Television on Jan. 30. Conservative Talk Radio: Liberty or Lies was produced, written and directed by Brien Farley, a Waukesha County radio, video production, marketing and public relations professional, as a graduate-level independent study project through Marquette University’s College of Political Science, and began as a six-part series based on 17 hours of interviews. “There’s little question that conservative talk radio has had a significant impact on political conversation and results in Wisconsin over the past few years," said Ellis Bromberg, general manager of MPTV, in a press release. "We think this documentary does a good job of explaining, in a balanced way, why that has been the case.”

NewsHour gets CPB grant to caption and translate its election coverage

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is giving PBS NewsHour a $420,000 grant to enable volunteers to translate its 2012 election coverage into dozens of languages, as well as caption it for viewers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. NewsHour Open Election 2012 will use crowd-sourcing technologies developed by the nonprofit Participatory Culture Foundation and open-source Web tools creator Mozilla. "These technologies will make election news, speeches and debates more accessible for diverse audiences, helping to increase their understanding of, and engagement in, the political process," CPB said in a press release Thursday (Jan. 19).

NewsHour has used the technology twice before. The first was a translation of the president's 2011 State of the Union Address, which was converted via open-sourced captions into seven languages and partially translated into 16 more. The other followed the death of Osama bin Laden; that coverage was interpreted in 15 languages.

NewsHour will launch the election-year translation and captioning project during President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union on Jan. 24.

Jan 18, 2012

Blackbaud acquires Convio

Blackbaud, a software provider for nonprofit organizations including public broadcasters, has agreed to purchase Convio, another firm that helps pubcasters with fundraising. Both boards of directors have unanimously approved the transaction, structured as a cash tender offer followed by a merger, according to an announcement on"Blackbaud noted that the acquisition of Convio will combine both companies' strengths to provide a comprehensive and compelling set of multi-channel supporter engagement solutions to nonprofit organizations of all sizes," the announcement said. Blackbaud had acquired Target Analytics, another public broadcasting station vendor, in 2007.

Vanity Fair examines NPR's "annus horribilis of 2011"

"NPR has always been a curiously insular institution," according to a long look at the network in the latest Vanity Fair, "a place where people with common backgrounds congregate, stay around forever, live near and sometimes marry one another (at one point Susan Stamberg actually kept track of how many such matches there had been)."

“It’s a self-involved and self-defining culture,” an NPR insider told writer David Margolick. “I suppose it’s only a matter of time before an NPR couple produces the first NPR baby who becomes an NPR reporter.”

As an outsider, new NPR President Gary Knell, former head of Sesame Workshop, "seems well suited to pop NPR out of its Beltway bubble," Margolick writes. "In the process, he could help it to develop the maturity and competence, confidence and toughness, to match its steadily growing influence and reach."

The story explores at length the Juan Williams firing scandal. There's also a related piece focusing on Williams himself,  including allegations of harassment of women staffers during his tenure at the Washington Post — accusations Williams has previously described as "totally false."

Could "Downton" be headed for Hollywood?

The Sun newspaper in Britain is reporting that the Masterpiece Classic hit Downton Abbey could be in for a movie treatment. After Downton's win for best mini-series at the Golden Globes on Sunday (Jan. 15), creator Julian Fellowes "was virtually mobbed at the event's after-party at the Beverly Hilton, with actors and movie bosses wanting to know whether there was a film on the cards."

"Julian was explaining he would have to give the idea a lot of thought and that lots of people have already asked him about film rights," the paper reports. "Insiders suggested any film is likely to deal with a single event that engulfs the Abbey and its characters that won't detract from the ongoing TV narrative."

Fellowes won a screenplay Oscar for the 2001 British film Gosford Park, which starred Downton's Maggie Smith.

Meanwhile, writing in Newsweek, Simon Schama, Columbia University history professor, calls Downton "cultural necrophilia." Well.

Attention RSS readers

Were Season 2 broadcast rights to Downton Abbey held up during the ongoing — and sometimes acrimonious — production contract negotiations between PBS and its largest member producing station, WGBH? Check out Current's story.

Jan 17, 2012

Kellogg, NPR national correspondent, departs after 14 months

NPR National Correspondent Alex P. Kellogg has left the network after 14 months on the job, he told the Journal-isms blog on Monday (Jan. 16). "We're parting ways amicably," Kellogg said. The blog noted that Kellogg is "one of NPR's two black male on-air journalists." The Harvard-educated Kellogg had previously reported for the Wall Street Journal and Detroit Free Press. While at NPR he reported on topics including deportations, interracial marriage and the racial gap in homeownership.

Ratings for new format WESA-FM down 50 percent from WDUQ days

Audience numbers for news WESA-FM, the former WDUQ jazz/news station in Pittsburgh, have dropped 50 percent since June 2011, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, from a 1.6 Arbitron share that June to a .8 share in December. "It's not surprising there's some audience loss because of the jazz loss," pubradio consultant John Sutton told the paper. "What is surprising: Usually when you streamline your format, you see an increase in listening among the remaining listeners. And that hasn't happened yet."

Tammy Terwelp, WESA director of content and programming, said she considers the downturn typical for a new format, and the low December number doesn't concern her. "Holiday listening patterns of people are so unlike their normal listening patterns," she said. "People are off from work, shopping, traveling. It's really a mixed bag."

South Dakota governor criticizes NPR investigation on Native foster children

The governor of South Dakota is criticizing an NPR investigative report on foster care for Native American children in the state, according to the Daily Republic in Mitchell. The yearlong project, “Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families” ran as a three-part series by NPR investigative correspondent Laura Sullivan on Morning Edition and All Things Considered in October 2011. Sullivan found that nearly 700 Native American children in South Dakota are removed from their homes every year, and that the vast majority of those children are placed into nonnative homes or group homes. According to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, Native children must be placed with their relatives or tribes.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard told the newspaper's editorial board on Monday (Jan. 16), "I can’t identify any legitimate criticisms that identified an area where we could take action. It raised my level of knowledge, but I think that’s a poor way to cause me to raise my level of knowledge, through a sensational story that was unfounded.”

The newspaper said that Daugaard and his chief spokesman have been in contact with NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, for six weeks. Schumacher-Matos said in a column on Dec. 23, 2011, that he is looking into their concerns.

UPDATE: Here is a statement from NPR on Daugaard's comments. "We stand by our story. NPR’s Laura Sullivan conducted extensive research and interviewed more than 100 people over the course of a year. The state granted NPR only one interview, with two state officials, which they limited to one half hour, and declined further requests for interviews and information. Sullivan is currently working on an additional report in this series from South Dakota and we hope the governor and department officials will reconsider and sit down with her to better explain this issue from their perspective."

Attention RSS readers

Now online is Current's obituary for, as well as two tributes to, Jim Fellows, the publication's founder, who died Jan. 6 at age 77. Fellows represented stations on the national scene for 40 years, serving as the last president of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, a forerunner and parent of PBS and NPR. Here is his obituary, along with a remembrance by David Kleeman, president of the American Center for Children and Media, which Fellows founded; and an appreciation of Fellows' life by David L. Fornshell, longtime executive director of the Ohio Educational Telecommunications Network Commission in Columbus.

"Downton" and "Freedom Riders" score Eddie Award nods

Nominees for the 62nd annual American Cinema Editors' Eddie Awards include several public TV include Downton Abbey from Masterpiece Classic and Freedom Riders from American Experience. The Eddies honor excellence in film editing. Here's a full list of nominees.

"Independent Lens" schedule includes two possible Oscar nominees

Independent Lens has unveiled its winter/spring 2012 season, which includes two films on the "short-list" for Academy Award nominations: Hell and Back Again, about the human costs of war, and We Were Here, a look at the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. Here's a full rundown of the 2012 offerings, to be hosted by actress Mary Louise Parker. This season, the program moves to Thursday nights on most PBS member stations.

"Downton" wins Golden Globe for best mini-series

Downton Abbey, the PBS hit from Masterpiece Classic, received the Golden Globe for best mini-series or motion picture made for television in ceremonies Sunday night (Jan. 15) in Hollywood. Downton had received four nominations. A complete list of winners and nominees is here.

Jan 16, 2012

Bill Kling, seen as aloof? "Probably accurate," he tells the New York Times

Bill Kling, former c.e.o. of American Public Media Group, admitted to the New York Times that during his time at the Minnesota-based pubradio network he realizes that he was "generally perceived as aloof."

"That’s probably accurate," he said. "But not for the reasons you would think. It’s difficult for someone who has grown up with the company and who knows the veteran employees so well, to then find that there are so many other employees whom you don’t know well. And if you don’t know them well, you feel bad about it."

"You may feel awkward when you don’t know enough about some people to make them feel as much a part of the company as you want them to feel or know enough about what they have to offer the company," he said. "And so you kind of avoid interactions with them. That’s a mistake because inevitably they have something to offer. And that comes off as aloof."

WAMU buys two translators to stretch its bluegrass reach

WAMU 88.5 in Washington, D.C., has purchased two FM translators to extend its bluegrass format, reports Inside Radio. The station is paying $100,000 to religious broadcaster Family Radio for W228AM, Frederick, Md. (93.5) and W228AB, Paramount, Md. (93.5), which will be the second and third translators for WAMU’s HD2 subchannel, also airing at 105.5 FM from a Bethesda, Md., translator. [Disclaimer: WAMU and Current are both affiliated with American University.]

Jan 14, 2012

Hentoff: Romney cuts in pubcasting funding would "create a dark hole in our lives"

Civil libertarian and writer Nat Hentoff is taking on GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's comments on the campaign trail that PBS needs to run commercials instead of take federal funding. In a piece on the website of the libertarian Cato Institute, where Hentoff is a senior fellow, he writes, "If Mitt Romney and his defunding colleagues have their way and commercialize Sesame Street, Big Bird and the other puppets are going to be cajoling their young audience to keep bugging their parents to buy what Big Bird is selling."

"If Mitt Romney makes these cuts," Hentoff adds, "he will create a dark hole in our lives that will defy James Madison's warning — which becomes more contemporary every day: 'A people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives . . . a popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both."

Meanwhile, Romney repeated his attack on pubcasting funding in an appearance in Florida on Thursday (Jan. 12), saying, once again, that he's a fan of pubTV but it needs to support itself through advertising. "I'm afraid Big Bird is going to have to get used to Kellogg's Corn Flakes," he said at a stop in West Palm Beach, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Portia Clark, who worked on early Fred Rogers show at WQED, dies at 91

Portia Clark, a longtime personality in New York City publishing circles who began her career in public broadcasting, died Jan. 1, according to Publishers Weekly. She was 91.

She started her professional life at WQED in Pittsburgh in the early days of public television. One of the shows she worked on was The Children’s Corner, where Fred Rogers developed puppets that turned into characters in Mister Rogers Neighborhood. [Editor's Note: The Publishers Weekly obituary originally identified that program as The Children's Hour.] She also produced TV shows at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism’s Office of Radio and Television.

Clark went on to positions at at Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Oxford University Press, where "she helped define the field of book promotion to libraries," PW said. She traveled the country, known for her "razor-sharp wit, smoky laugh, and her shock of coiffed white hair."

A memorial service is planned for Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., in the spring. The family suggests donations to Doctors Without Borders.

Jan 13, 2012

N.J. legislators demand overhaul of NJTV network

Two New Jersey Assemblymen who had attempted to stop the sale of the state’s public broadcasting rights to WNET are now calling for an overhaul of the NJTV network, reports, saying it fails to provide residents with state news coverage. Patrick Diegnan Jr. and John Burzichelli gave examples: When the governor was announcing his presidential plans, the network aired Angelina Ballerina; and during coverage of the death of an elder statesman in the Assembly, it ran Thomas the Train. “Given the gravity of the situation, NJTV has become the ultimate ‘Jersey Joke,'" Diegnan said.

UPDATE: NJTV issued a statement, saying in part that "upon the death of Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, the network made the editorial decision to cover the day's eulogy remarks as breaking news. NJTV aired a one-hour live broadcast from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. anchored by NJ Today's Managing Editor Mike Schneider, and included eulogy remarks from legislators and the governor. Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was present in the Assembly chamber, covering reaction to the Minority Leader's death." NJTV also dedicated its entire evening broadcast of NJ Today to the day's events in Trenton, which can be viewed online

Possible KCSM-TV buyers include pubcasters, entrepreneurs, Daystar

Potential bidders for pubcaster KCSM-TV in San Mateo, Calif., include names well known within the pubcasting system, as well as some new ones. The attendance list for a "pre-bid meeting" Tuesday (Jan. 10) includes former WNET exec Ken Devine of Independent Public Media (background: Current, Oct. 17, 2011); Ken Ikeda and Marc Hand of Boulder, Colo.-based Public Media Company;  Booker Wade, of the Minority Television Project/KMTP in San Francisco; and a rep for Stewart Cheifet Productions, which created Computer Chronicles, a personal computing show that ran on public TV for 20 years, ending in 2002. Other interested parties on the list: Ravi Potherlanka and Bill Dekay, two California wireless industry entrepreneurs; Ravi Kapur, vice president of KAXT in Santa Clara, Calif., a low-power affiliate of Spanish-language Christian television Tiempos Finales TV; Brian Stephens, c.e.o. of Pixel-Flick Entertainment, a website for independent producers; and two reps from religious broadcaster Daystar.

Here's a PDF of questions covered at the meeting.

Well. What would Lady Grantham say?

Take images from Downton Abbey, pair with lyrics from Beyoncé and what do you get? Downton Abbeyoncé.

Jan 12, 2012

Basin PBS could be puttin' on the Ritz

Looks like Basin PBS in Midland, Texas, may be moving downtown. According to, the Downtown Midland Management District board has voted to provide the station with a $100,000 grant over the next four years if it purchases the Ritz Theater on Main Street. General Manager Daphne Dowdy Jackson told the board the station would need public support because the theater requires renovation work. Basin PBS anticipates needing to raise between $3.5 and $4 million, some of which it already has, to make the move. The station will operate from the Ritz Theater, as well as open the theater for public meetings and other community uses. Basin PBS is currently housed at Odessa College.

APM, Arizona State join for public affairs teaching partnership

American Public Media and Arizona State University are announcing a new partnership to "help foster collaborative reporting and innovative storytelling in public affairs journalism." Linda Fantin, APM’s director of network journalism and innovation, and Joaquin Alvarado, its senior vice president of digital innovation, will teach as visiting professors during the spring semester at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, leading a class on public insight reporting for radio. The students’ resulting work will be featured on national pubradio programs. And David Brancaccio, one of the hosts of APM’s Marketplace, also will be at the school as a Hearst Visiting Professional as part of the "Must See Mondays” speaker series.

Knell calls last year's NPR troubles "self-inflicted wounds"

New NPR President Gary Knell, speaking on KPBS Radio in San Diego, called the pubradio network's problems last year — including the firing of Juan Williams and resignation of c.e.o. Vivian Schiller — "self-inflicted wounds to a large degree."

Speaking on the station's Midday Edition, he added, "I wasn't there, I wasn't part of the decision making process. The people who were are not there anymore, and that speaks volumes in and of itself."

Also during the half-hour call-in show, Knell possibly foreshadowed upcoming changes. "I think it's important that we are continuously looking for new, articulate voices," he said. "You don't want to 'dumb-down' public radio," and need to include "discussions from conservative voices, from so-called liberal voices and people who might be somewhat in the center. And you can find those voices. But we've got to make sure they feel welcomed on our air."

One caller asked if NPR has a plan in case federal funding is cut. "We're not anticipating, so to speak, and planning for a privatized public radio," Knell said. However, he added, NPR also needs to look at "growing the private sector and figuring out how to manage through turbulence, in public funding or, frankly, in private sector funding. We're not immune from those. And we have our eyes wide open, and we're going to be prudent business people and manage the resources we have in front of us with balanced budgets and other things that I'm going to bring to the table at NPR."

Here's a rush transcript.

Jan 11, 2012

Tiny NPR station may be in big, big trouble

WHDD, the Connecticut pubradio outlet that bills itself as "the smallest NPR station in the nation," has been slapped with an FCC complaint for endorsing political candidates. The complaint by a local school official, reported in a pay-walled article published by the Waterbury Republican-American, alleges that station co-founder Marshall Miles violated FCC regulations barring pubcasters from endorsing or opposing candidates for office.

Terry Cowgill of the blog CT Devil's Advocate speculates that Miles will try to "weasel out" of the complaint by claiming he was speaking for himself, not the station or its licensee. "But that’s just a bunch of baloney. How can the president of an organization — and one of only three members of its board — claim with any credibility that he is speaking as a private citizen over the public airwaves of the organization’s radio station?"

Miles isn't the only pubcaster who shares his political opinions on-air, Cowgill notes, singling out Northeast Public Radio's Alan Chartock among the "loud-mouthed public radio heads" of the region. But Chartock takes his opinionating only so far. "For all his bluster and bias, Chartock is very careful not to endorse specific candidates for any office. He knows the law."

WHDD, first established as the Internet-only stream Robin Hood Radio, was hit with an FCC fine last year for violating FCC underwriting rules, and it struggles to meet payroll, according to Cowgill.

Development pro Soper undertakes survey on PBS online prospecting project

Michael Soper, who spent 14 years in development at PBS and now runs his own consulting business, today (Jan. 11) launched a systemwide survey of station-based public TV professionals regarding PBS's national online prospecting project, the centralized effort to use to identify and cultivate new donors for member stations that it has been working on for several years now.

"PBS may believe that collecting e-mails from visitors to and launching its online initiative represented an unexploited opportunity," Soper writes in an email to clients regarding the survey. "Yet, most stations, and certainly most large stations that already had aggressive e-mail marketing programs, now find PBS's new practices to be competing with their existing efforts."

Soper said he is conducting the survey because while there has been feedback to PBS, "there has been no real quantitative data on how stations want PBS to conduct itself with regard to online prospecting . . . or, potentially, online fundraising."

Here's more information about the survey, and click here to participate from a station-based email address.

Detroit PTV to stream Energy Secretary's address to Auto Show

Detroit Public Television is partnering with the Detroit Economic Club for online streaming coverage of U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu's address today (Jan. 11) from the floor of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Chu will speak at noon Eastern time on innovation and the auto industry.

UPDATE: This original post listed noon Central time.

Jan 10, 2012

"Downton Abbey" doubles PBS average primetime rating

The ratings for Sunday night's (Jan. 8) Season 2 premiere of "Downton Abbey" on Masterpiece Classic are in, with PBS doubling its average primetime rating as well as topping last season's numbers for the popular Edwardian costume drama by 18 percent, PBS announced. According to Nielsen, the premiere averaged 4.2 million viewers, or a 2.7 household rating, excluding station replays, DVRs or online streaming. Fans were provided with a sneak preview on PBS's Facebook page for two weeks leading up to the first episode; that received 100,000 views. In a press release, Rebecca Eaton, series e.p., said "Downton Abbey" "officially takes its place among the best of Masterpiece titles since the series began in 1971.”

Server failure hinders "Downton Abbey" premiere on Rocky Mountain PBS

Rocky Mountain PBS suffered a server failure at 10:15 p.m. Sunday night — right in the middle of the "most anticipated show on the schedule in years," the Denver Post notes, Masterpiece's "Downton Abbey."

“We deeply regret this happened and for the rest of 'Downton Abbey' will go back to a prior tape based technology as backup,” Doug Price, head of RMPBS, told the paper in an email.

Price added that the station “can’t express our frustration enough with losing 45 minutes of our franchise program for the year. We had a problem about three weeks ago that our technical vendor assured us they had never seen but had none the less resolved.”

The station will repeat the premiere on Thursday and Sunday nights (Jan. 12 and 15).

UPDATE, Jan. 11: "It was a data error on a file on our end," Tom Craig, production manager at Rocky Mountain PBS, told Current. The equipment manufacturer is still investigating but right now it appears that data was corrupted as it moved between internal servers, Craig said. The situation was complicated by several factors: Master control operators had just departed for the night, switching over to automation, and an external alert to engineers wasn't triggered by the glitch, which resulted in a frozen image, because the equipment was still sensing data present. "We had faith in automation, and relatively new servers," Price said. "And we got caught in the middle of a show that's a real favorite with viewers." The station is reviewing its master control operator schedules, and honing its procedures for communicating directly with viewers via social media when such problems occur, Price said.

Hire from rival station boosts ratings "sharply" for KPLU in Tacoma, Wash.

Ratings at KPLU, a jazz and news station based in Tacoma, Wash., are "up sharply" since the Labor Day weekend, according to, when the station brought aboard University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass, who had been fired from rival KUOW (Current, Aug. 29, 2011) for speaking out on topics other than weather. “I would have to say that has had an influence,” said KPLU’s Joey Cohn. KPLU and KUOW are now tied for fourth place in the Seattle market, which represents a "significant gain for KPLU," the news site notes.

Alabama PTV and WVAS pubradio pair up for revamped "Capitol Journal" coverage

Alabama Public Television is reviving its Capitol Journal program, which had ended last summer as part of a network-wide downsizing of 19 layoffs in response to state funding losses. The political roundtable resumes Jan. 27 with a smaller staff, reports the Birmingham News. "We always intended to bring it back," said station public information director Mike McKenzie, "we just had to find a different way to put the program on the air given the resources that were available to us, sharing the news of the state and what's happening at the Legislature." An Alabama Public Television reporter based in Birmingham will report on education issues at the statehouse, and two reporters from pubradio WVAS-FM in Montgomery will cover the Legislature for Capitol Journal as well as WVAS.

Ford app lets drivers listen to pubradio programming by voice command

Drivers of some 2012 model Fords will be able to listen to on-demand and streaming public radio programs by voice activation, using a new “NPR News” app debuting at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Spoken commands such as “Hourly News,” “Stations” and “Topics” trigger playback of segments and programs via the automaker's SYNC AppLink system, which was developed to allow drivers to control smartphones by voice. NPR is the first news organization to develop a dedicated app for its programming. Users of the app can also create playlists and listen to stations across the country, not just within range of their FM receivers. The niftiest feature? NPR's Carl Kasell narrates the user experience. “Your favorite stations are accessible through the number buttons on your dash,” he tells drivers. “Press once to listen. Press again to discover more from that station. However, no matter how many times you press, I won’t magically appear in your car. Sorry.” New Ford models featuring the omniscient Kasell and the app include the Fiesta, Mustang, F150 and Fusion.

Jan 9, 2012

Southern Oregon PTV brings together Tea Party, Occupy guests for dialogue

Immense Possibilities, Southern Oregon Public Television's weekly hybrid local-national community affairs show in Medford, Ore., has invited two right-wing Tea Party activists and two members of the left-wing Occupy movement for an on-air, online "groundbreaking dialogue" at 7:30 Pacific on Tuesday (Jan. 10). "To explore the path to a healthier political community," said the Occupy Ashland website, "we decided to take up a question that has been brewing for months across the country: When the bumper-sticker slogans are brushed away, how much do these very different-looking movements have in common? Is the time ripe for an alliance that would shake politics and economics at their roots?"

"Grassroots activism has engaged more and more people in the past couple of years, and raised the temperature of politics," according to the show's website. "It can divide communities. Can it help build them? Can people from very different political backgrounds find common ground?"

The show is produced by Jeff Golden, former host of Jefferson Exchange on NPR.

UPDATE: The Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper reports that since the show's taping, the four have gotten together twice, participated in an online political channel and started a regular email conversation, said Joseph Snook, a Tea Party member from Grants Pass, Ore. "We have a lot of common ground and are similar in our frustration with government and big business," Snook said. "But Occupy holds big business accountable and my frustration is with the government because I vote for them." He said the four panelists are taking their conversation beyond Immense Possibilities. "We're trying to join together on things we all agree on," he said. "I'm very enthusiastic about what Occupy is doing locally."

Tony Blankley dies at 63; co-host of "Left Right and Center" from KCRW

Tony Blankley, who spoke as a conservative voice on KCRW's weekly Left Right and Center roundtable, died Jan. 7 after fighting stomach cancer. He was 63. "Tony was a gentleman, a thinker, and a fiercely intelligent voice for KCRW," said Jennifer Ferro, g.m. "Tony believed in the concept of the show and proved that dialogue between differing views is not only possible but can be productive. We will miss his insight, his wit, his intelligence and his willingness to listen as well as talk." Blankley was also a regular on The McLaughlin Group, and provided political analysis on NPR.

Jan 8, 2012

Jim Fellows, key diplomat within public TV, dies at 77

James A. Fellows, 77, an advocate of high ideals and strategic planning for public television, died in his sleep Friday, Jan. 6, at a nursing home in Millville, N.J.

Fellows represented stations on the national scene for 40 years, serving as the last president of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, founding Current as a service of NAEB, remaining its publisher for more than 20 years, and working to establish a strategic planning unit for the famously fractured and decentralized public TV field.

In 1979, CPB honored him with its highest award for achievement in public television, the Ralph Lowell Medal.

From 1983 to 2003 he led Central Educational Network, a regional association of stations, and for years he chaired the Maryland Public Television Foundation. A longtime participant in the Prix Jeunesse biennial children’s TV festival, he chaired its international advisory board and founded what is now the American Center for Children and Media, based in Chicago.

Fellows’ active life was curtailed in December 2003, when he was hit by a car in front of his Maryland home. Fellows was seriously injured in the accident, suffered a stroke in 2004 and battled Parkinson’s disease for the rest of his life.

He is survived by nephew Andrew Marx, Marx’s wife Tiffany and son Noah, of Dallas; niece Karen Marx of New York, cousin Joan Robinson of Rye, N.H.; uncle William Fellows and his wife Marge of Wadsworth, Ohio; longtime friend and caregiver Peters Willson of Millville, N.J., and many friends across the country.

The family plans a funeral and burial service this spring in Rensselaer, N.Y., at his boyhood family church, and a memorial service in Washington, D.C., also in the spring.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Fellows’ name to the American Center for Children and Media, 5400 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago, IL 60625 or to donors’ local public radio or TV stations.

An expanded obituary will be published in Current, Jan. 17.

Jan 6, 2012

Moyers prepares for new show, and website

Since Bill Moyers' new Moyers & Company isn't going to be distributed by PBS, he'll have his own independent website and “we don’t have to worry about somebody at PBS losing sleep over the fact that David Stockman says the Republicans have lost their minds on taxes,” the veteran newsman tells the New York Times. His latest program premieres Jan. 13, as public-affairs shows on public TV are waning, the paper notes. However, Moyers pointed out, PBS recently announced a companion to Antiques Roadshow just after the Census Bureau revealed the number of people living in poverty had risen to more than 46 million. “I love Antiques Roadshow," Moyers said. "But it is just symbolic of how we’re not connected viscerally to the state of the American people right now.”

Tony Bennett provides big finale for PBS Winter Press Tour previews

PBS wrapped up its two-day Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif., on a high note — a performance by legendary vocalist Tony Bennett. Great Performances will premiere his "Tony Bennett: Duets II" on Jan. 27. More press tour coverage in the Jan. 17 issue of Current. (Image: PBS/Rahoul Ghose)

Jan 5, 2012

Noting that Romney likes pubcasting, Kerger is glad for bipartisan support

PASADENA, Calif. — PBS President Paula Kerger is not fazed by Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s recent comment favoring an end to federal aid to public broadcasting. Nor is she worried by Romney’s call for advertising on Sesame Street.

“I’m glad that he said that he liked public broadcasting,” Kerger said during a Jan. 4 press conference at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. “You know, we have always had bipartisan support.”

The country must make tough decisions about government spending, Kerger said, but federal money costs only $1.35 a year per American.

Broad support for public broadcasting, as shown by research, “should translate into political leverage," Kerger said. “We will be working with our stations to make sure that our elected officials know of the support that those stations have through the people in their community.”

Any move to run ads with Sesame Street would violate FCC restrictions on noncommercial broadcasters, Kerger said.  

She also reminded critics that cable channels that launched as commercial alternatives to PBS have since ditched their documentaries and performing arts for reality shows. The History Channel “found that the way to survive was to create a very different type of programming,” she said. “Programming like Pawn Stars and American Pickers is not the same as American Experience and Ken Burns.”

As in previous press tours, Kerger noted PBS’s success with content on video platforms. PBS had just announced that saw more than 11.7 million unique visitors in November, a 20 percent increase over a year ago. The site serves an average of 98 million video streams per month, making it the most-visited free children’s video site on the Web.

“We’ve reached a new and different audience through our digital platforms,” she said. Later, however, one critic reminded her that, despite promises to use social media, Kerger hadn’t personally tweeted since Nov. 11. “I knew I was going to get nailed on that,” she said. “The thing that’s really kind of stupid about it is that I do use social media a lot and I love reading other tweets just for informational purposes — particularly when there’s breaking news.”

Kerger also fielded questions on veteran newsman Bill Moyers, who is returning Jan. 13 to public television — though not through PBS (Current, Aug. 29, 2011) — and Charlie Rose, host of the PBS late-night talk show who begins co-anchoring the CBS This Morning weekday show on Jan. 9.

Kerger said PBS talked to Moyers about distributing his new program on PBS Plus, a service that allows public TV stations to choose and schedule shows, such as Rose’s program, as they see fit. “He (Moyers) made the decision for various business reasons to go through APT (American Public Television) and we will distribute it through our COVE video player, so he’s very much a part of the PBS family.”

As for Rose, “my only concern is that he get enough sleep,” Kerger said. “He has said to me consistently that his most important project is his nightly show on public broadcasting.” — Barry Garron for Current

(Image: PBS/Rahoul Ghose)

Comments, questions, tips? bgarron /at/

Portland, Ore., mayor worries about security costs for OPB Republican debate

Sam Adams, mayor of Portland, Ore., went public Wednesday (Jan. 4) with his concerns about security costs for an upcoming GOP presidential debate at Oregon Public Broadcasting. He wants OPB and the Oregon Republican Party, co-sponsors, to move the event to a location closer to the airport to reduce the number of police necessary. "The costs are real," Adams told the Oregonian — and already $1.5 million over budget. "I don't know what else to say. We just don't have the budget for this." OPB President Steve Bass said it would be cost-prohibitive for the station to move the event from the OPB studios.

The newspaper countered with an editorial Thursday saying, "Oh, suck it up, Portland. When the president or serious candidates for president come to town, you don't whine about the costs of ensuring their safety or ask them not to stray from the airport. You welcome them the way Iowans just did — you go overtime."

The debate, set for March 19, was announced last October.

Moyers talks to KCET about inequality in America, Obama's lack of fighting spirit

SoCal Connected on KCET in Los Angeles will air an interview with Bill Moyers on Friday (Jan. 6), a week before the veteran newsman returns to pubTV with the weekly Moyers and Company. In the sit-down with host Val Zavala, Moyers provides his current assessment of America, saying that "the growth of inequality in this country is the biggest story of our time. The have-nots now have less than they ever did. The have-it-alls now have more than they ever did." His show takes on the issue in the first three episodes. Moyers also says of President Barack Obama: "You gotta fight for the people. He's not a fighter. He's a good, smart guy, but he's not a fighter."

Chiotakis of "Marketplace Morning Report" moving to KCRW

Steve Chiotakis, host of Marketplace Morning Report, is moving to the local All Things Considered anchor spot on KCRW, the Santa Monica, Calif., station announced Wednesday (Jan. 4). Chiotakis has hosted the American Public Media show since 2008. In a statement, he said that KCRW "is a natural fit for me. It’s home to terrific and talented people. It’s an L.A. institution with a world-class sensibility. I’m excited about what’s possible and can’t wait to get to work telling the stories of this great city." He'll start in late January.

GOP plan may doom spectrum auctions, Blair Levin contends

A spectrum auction to free up bandwidth space for mobile devices will probably fail if Congress adopts a Republican House plan, said Blair Levin, former executive director of the Federal Communications Commission’s Omnibus Broadband Initiative that proposed the auction, reports the TVNewsCheck website. The proposed legislation would give the FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions and share proceeds with the Treasury and broadcasters who voluntarily give up spectrum, but it also contains provisions designed to protect broadcasters who keep spectrum. "The legislation ties the FCC’s hands in a variety of ways," said Levin, who is now with the Aspen Institute. "It opens it up to litigation risk, which then, in conjunction with the other handcuffs, makes it difficult to pull off a successful auction. The nature of the bill dramatically increases the probability that there will be less spectrum recovered and less money for the Treasury."

PBS reveals "Roadshow" producer's new "Market Wars" series

PBS on Wednesday officially announced its upcoming 20-episode Market Wars, at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. In it, four antiques experts search cross-country for unique items to take to auction. Whoever makes the highest total profit at auction in each episode is named the winner. "With affectionate humor, Market Wars follows the combatants, gleaning the best tactics from the battlefield and arming viewers to pursue their own successful treasure hunts," PBS said. Executive producer is Antiques Roadshow's Marsha Bemko. Pubcasters first heard details of the show at the NETA convention in Kansas City, Mo., last October (Current, Nov. 7, 2011).

“I think it’s clear,” Kerger assured reporters at the press tour, “that reality shows have not taken over public television, but we think that there’s a place for smart reality programming.”

"Antiques Roadshow continues to be such an important destination for so many of our viewers that we thought to expand upon that work a little bit on Monday nights and to give another opportunity for people to look a little behind the scenes at the antiques business — and to really learn from people that are doing great work around the country would be an extension of that,” Kerger said.

Noted the Washington Post's TV columnist Lisa de Moraes: "If you take that sentence and replace Antiques Roadshow with Pawn Stars, you’ve got History Channel’s announcement of its Cajun Pawn Stars spinoff, debuting Sunday. And replace Antiques Roadshow with American Pickers and you’ve virtually reenacted History’s announcement of its plans for an American Pickers spinoff."

Jan 3, 2012

Investors provide $50 mil for SoundCloud expansion

SoundCloud, a web start-up that combines audio production with social networking, raised $50 million in new venture capital, according to TechCrunch. Investors including Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and GGV Capital of Menlo Park, Calif., are backing a ramped-up expansion in the United States for the Berlin-based company.

NPR increases pay rates for outside producers

NPR and the Association of Independents in Radio unveiled a new payment structure for freelance contributors that provides a 7.5 percent increase to station-based and independent radio producers. The change, announced by interim news chief Margaret Low Smith to take effect immediately, includes a three-tiered compensation system and establishes standardized rates for tape syncs.

"NPR’s decision to increase rates, which comes at a time of tight budgets, is intended to reflect our commitment to the vital network of station-based and independent reporters whose contributions enhance our programming every day," Smith wrote in her Jan. 1 email.

It took nearly a year of negotiations with AIR and internal consultations within NPR to adopt the new rate system, according to AIR President Sue Schardt.

NPR has also agreed to create an online portal for outside contributors. "We believe this resource will serve to reinforce AIR and NPR’s mutual commitment to clarity, transparency, and to cultivating a broad and diverse pool of public media talent," Schardt wrote in an email to AIR members.

Jan 2, 2012

Reaching more Latino listeners is crucial to NPR's survival, Tovares says

The efforts by noncom Radio Bilingue, which is expanding and building five stations along the U.S.-Mexico border, "are key as the number of Latinos in the U.S. keeps growing and the nation moves toward a presidential election," reports the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. "We want to offer news and information that's relevant to the lives of our listeners," said executive producer Samuel Orozco, "so that they can use it as citizens, to be able to participate in the decision-making process and be active members of society."

"They're a model of how Latino public broadcasting can flourish," Florence Hernandez-Ramos, director of Denver-based Latino Public Radio Consortium, told the paper. "There are a lot of people in the U.S. that speak primarily in Spanish. They have a right to engage in the national conversation."

Only about 5 percent of the listeners of NPR are Latino, said Joseph Tovares, senior vice president for diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. "If we are to survive," Tovares noted, "we need to reach these folks."

Radio Bilingue also oversaw Los Angeles Public Media, the CPB-backed startup that hoped to serve a new generation of minority listeners. It shuttered operations June 15 after failing to acquire an FM station and secure renewed support from CPB (Current, June 27, 2011).

Wilson: PBS is "premium television on the honors system"

PBS is hoping to "make audiences think of public television more like the top-tier programming of HBO, Showtime and other channels they are willing to pay for," according to the New York Times. As chief programmer John Wilson said, “Think of PBS and the local stations as premium television on the honors system.”

An aggressive promotional campaign helped "Downton Abbey" on Masterpiece win six Emmy Awards, the paper noted. "The thinking was that [PBS] had to up their game,” said Kliff Kuehl, president of KCPT in Kansas City, Mo. “That’s what we’ve evolved to — trying to give people that pay-TV moment.”

And federal funding remains an important component of PBS's success, said President Paula Kerger. "People say ‘your business model is broken’ and we should walk away from federal appropriations,” she said. “It’s an unusual system but frankly, PBS was envisioned as a public/private partnership. I don’t think we can trade out that blend that makes public television different.”

UPDATE: Variety blogger Brian Lowry thinks the New York Times is giving PBS too much credit for its "strategy" with "Downton Abbey." He writes: "PBS and Masterpiece didn't set out to justify public broadcasting's existence by ordering 'Downton Abbey.' They simply happened to stumble onto a terrific, compelling program (or programme, if you prefer) that connected with viewers. Now, they are doing what they should do — trying to capitalize on its success by reminding people public television carries certain fare that doesn't often flourish in the commercial space. In other words, PBS is like pretty much everyone else in TV: A surprise success dictates strategy, not the other way around. Still, let's not get carried away: The prospect of public television replicating that success and delivering another showcase with this kind of impact is a complete crapshoot."

Jan 1, 2012

Group seeks denial of license renewal for Asheville's WCQS-FM

A local "Ad-Hoc Committee for Responsible Public Radio" led by longtime pubcaster Fred Flaxman is asking the Federal Communications Commission to deny the license renewal of WCQS in Asheville, N.C., charging that the station violated requirements to form a community advisory board and conduct listener surveys, according to the Citizen-Times. The station filed a response with the FCC saying that it is now in compliance. “The matters raised by the petition are not only outside the FCC’s jurisdiction but have along ago been resolved" by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it said.

The station’s broadcast license, held by Western North Carolina Public Radio (WNCPR), would have been automatically renewed on Dec. 1, but the group's petition to deny triggered an FCC review.

Flaxman, a producer who previously held executive positions at WTTW in Chicago, WETA-FM and TV in Arlington, Va., and KUAT-TV in Tucson, Ariz., told the newspaper that it "truly pains me to be fighting with a public radio station because I have devoted my career to public radio and television, and believe very strongly in the benefit to society. We’re not trying to drive the station off the air, we’re trying to have management that is responsible to the community it serves.”

The station said in its response to the FCC that a 2009 CPB review (PDF) “found that although WNCPR had not fully complied with all CPB requirements in the past, WNCPR had taken corrective action and had established a functioning (advisory board) that meets the act and CPB requirements.” But the complaint alleges that the board “is tightly controlled to make sure that no critics of the station or its policies or lack of policies are allowed to serve." Flaxman said “radical changes” to programming were made without consulting the advisory board.

The complaint also states that the station doesn’t air programs created by local independent producers, including Flaxman, who produces a classical music program, Compact Discoveries. WCQS said in its filing that the petition to deny “leaves no doubt that by ‘local, independent producers of radio programming,’ Mr. Flaxman is thinking primarily of Mr. Flaxman.”

“It would be a travesty of the renewal process if petitions to deny could be used as a vehicle for forcing a broadcaster to advance the private interests of a potential program source, rather than the public interests of the community of license,” the station said.