Apr 30, 2012

'Long Island Business Report' to debut as special to attract sponsors

WLIW21, a WNET station, is premiering a 30-minute local news show, Long Island Business Report, on Tuesday (May 1) as a special, with the aim of attracting sponsors. “We hope to re-launch in the fall," host Jim Paymar told the Long Island Business News website. "The station is behind the project. It’s a matter of fundraising and getting sponsorships. We’ll be looking for funds from corporations and foundations and individuals who believe in public broadcasting and the type of program we’re doing.” The show is being produced as a collaboration between WLIW and the host's Paymar Communications Group.

In an announcement, the station said the show "continues WLIW21’s commitment to presenting the issues most important to Long Island residents and celebrating the Island’s unique people and places."

Paymar is a veteran business news anchor and correspondent who has worked for CNBC, WABC, WNBC, and BusinessWeek. At CNBC he appeared on Business Center, Power Lunch and Market Wrap. The first episode of the program looks at Long Island’s infrastructure, its rising costs of living and potential for revitalization in downtown areas.

Watch a preview here.

Eaton enjoys choosing shows, and shoes

Rebecca Eaton, e.p. of Masterpiece and the woman who brought the hit Downton Abbey to America, admits she's "pretty addicted" to her job, in a Q&A with (which describes itself as "the homepage for young men the world over obsessed with staying ahead of the curve in the marketplace’s most lucrative leisure pursuits").

In her role, Eaton says, "There’s always a crisis somewhere, and you get the satisfaction of solving the problem. And then, there’s always the mystery of whether a program will work or not, and waiting for the reviews or seeing what the audience figures are."

Eaton also reveals a fairly hands-off approach: Once shows are in production, "my motto is to leave them alone. Once they’re shooting, sometimes I go to the set to visit. When they’re shot, I look at various early cuts and give notes, as I give notes on scripts. ... Hopefully, we broadcast them to great acclaim. And then, I get to buy a new pair of shoes and go to the Emmys. That’s my job."

PBS UK channel 'struggling to find the audience its content deserves'

Ian Burrell, media columnist for The Independent in London, talks with PBS President Paula Kerger, who was in Great Britain to promote the fledgling PBS UK channel that launched last year. The channel "is struggling to find the audience its content deserves," Burrell notes. Richard Kingsbury, PBS UK general manager, "admits that 20,000 is currently considered a good rating — a poor return for the quality of the output."

Concludes Burrell: "PBS cannot compete with the BBC in this country, and nor would it try to, but it does offer a similar hallmark of quality and a welcome new insight into American life."

Diverse array of NEA grants includes Mozilla, BAVC, multiplatform 'Complete Ulysses'

Now online, Current's roundup of this month's NEA Media Arts grants, which includes several high-profile first-time recipients with strong digital components. Open-source pioneer Mozilla Foundation of Mountain View, Calif. — parent of the Firefox browser — won $100,000 for Open(Art), which will commission collaborations between artists and technologists to create and exhibit artwork on the Web. The Bay Area Video Coalition in San Francisco also received $100,000, to support the Factory Hybrid Filmmaking Project, a pilot for young filmmakers producing digital and web-native short films.

Larry Josephson received $10,000 for his ambitious multimedia project, The Complete Ulysses. Josephson, a pioneering host on Pacifica's WBAI in New York, has celebrities lined up to read James Joyce's masterwork, estimated to take 30 hours or more. He's hoping for distribution on pubradio, Sirius/XM satellite radio and the Internet as well as via smartphone apps and compact discs — a wide, multiplatform reach that the NEA was aiming for with the new grants category, enlarged from funding mainly TV and radio projects in previous years.

Other pubcasting-related grants included $75,000 to Appalshop Inc., which operates WMMT in Whitesburg, Ky., for the Thousand Kites radio series and a website for The Prison Poetry Workshop, presenting poetry composed by prisoners in jails across the country; and $75,000 to Auricle Communications, licensee of freeform community radio station WFMU-FM in Jersey City, N.J., for its Re:Mix Media Project, a  new series using the Free Music Archive’s interactive platform to create multimedia art.

'Sesame Street' goes interactive this fall with help from Microsoft

Here's an update on the partnership announced last October between Sesame Workshop and Microsoft to use Xbox 360 consoles fitted with Kinect motion-sensor technology to create interactive educational experiences for kids, including Sesame Street.

Soho Studios, a new Microsoft unit in London, is working on Kinect Sesame Street TV, due out this autumn, reports C21 Media, a site focusing on cutting-edge content. “With Sesame Street from 1969 onwards, the characters have looked out of the TV and asked the kids a question and assumed they were answering,” said Soho Studios’ Senior Design Director Josh Atkins. “What we’ve done is allowed kids to answer.”

He tells C21 Media about a game called "The Letter Tree," in which Cookie Monster is hungry for his next meal. Everything that grows on the tree starts with a particular letter; if kids watching jump up and down, the goodies fall and Cookie Monster gets his reward. “The characters on the screen actually know what the child has done, they respond to the child’s actions,” Atkins said. “Kids at one point believed they were talking to the TV but the TV would only kind of respond. Now the TV responds.”

Apr 28, 2012

Latest Public Media Futures forum, from Los Angeles, to be posted online

The challenges and importance of local pubmedia TV production — from East Harlem to San Diego — was the topic of the latest Public Media Futures forum, on Saturday (April 28), sponsored by USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and American University's School of Communication. Presentations at KUSC in Los Angeles included an update on KCET's local initiatives since its independence from PBS in 2010, from Al Jerome, president of the L.A. station; an inside look at how KPBS in San Diego is raising support for its robust multiplatform news-gathering operation; and an overview of the strength of local programming at Nashville Public Television from TRAC Media's David LeRoy. The webcast of the meeting, which included a wide-ranging discussion among a diverse assortment of pubmedia stakeholders in the room and questions from online participants, will be archived the week of April 30 at this link, on the website of Annenberg's Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. See coverage in the May 14 issue of Current; read Tweets posted from the forum at #pubmediafutures.

FCC okays framework for channel-sharing after spectrum auction

The FCC on Friday (April 27) unanimously adopted the basic regulatory framework for broadcast channel-sharing after the auction to free up bandwidth for mobile devices, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Any channel sharing will be voluntary and flexible; stations may decide how to divide a shared 6-MHz channel, as long as each delivers at least one standard-definition digital primary channel. Each primary channel will be subject to all FCC obligations and must-carry rights.

Under spectrum auction legislation approved earlier this year, a broadcaster may opt to give up entirely its license to broadcast on a TV channel of 6 MHz, keep only part of its 6-MHz channel and share the rest with another station, or swap its UHF channel for a VHF channel (Current, Feb. 28).

'Permanent beta' a new programming approach for NPR

NPR lately has been using a more nimble and less expensive way of developing content — a kind of "permanent beta" — notes Nieman Journalism Lab. New offerings such as TED Radio Hour, Ask Me Another and Cabinet of Wonders are relatively inexpensive live shows or adaptations of existing titles, and run as pilot projects.

That's different from, say, Bryant Park Project, launched five years ago on a budget of $2 million after extended online piloting (Current, Sept. 24, 2007); that died within a year (Current, July 28, 2008).

“Historically," Eric Nuzum, NPR’s v.p. of programming, told Nieman, "the way that NPR and others in public radio have produced big programming is we come up with an idea we think is really good, we hire a staff, we keep all this very cloak-and-dagger secret, and then we try to make a big launch with it, and we end up with 30 stations and then over time more stations add to it. Using that process, it takes years to determine years if something is going to be a hit or not. And that involves millions and millions of dollars.”

Nuzum added that whether the latest shows catch on or not, "I’m really proud of what we’ve come up with. The bigger experiment is the process."

Apr 27, 2012

Oklahoma Network gets state funding for two more years

The Oklahoma Senate this week approved funding the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority for at least two more years, reports the Tulsa World newspaper. The House must approve the measure.

"I think at this point, since this is the last few hours this could have been considered, I think this was a win for OETA and that we are going to be extended two more years," said OETA Executive Director John McCarroll. "Had this not occurred, the way I understand the law, it truly would have ended on June 30 of this year. This gives us another two years to exist."

Two legislators had introduced bills in January to kill funding altogether, one immediately, the other over the next several years.

House Bill 2236, approved on Wednesday (April 25), would have reauthorized OETA to continue as a state agency until its next "sunset," or defunding, review in 2016, the paper reported. Sen. Cliff Aldridge (R-Midwest City) amended the legislation to 2014, a date the House of Representatives had previously rejected.

Currently, OETA receives about $3.8 million from the state and raises some $8 million from other sources annually. The state funding has fallen $1.5 million in the past several years.

Apr 26, 2012

WFUV's Pete Fornatale dies following stroke

WFUV-FM is reporting that host Pete Fornatale, who got his start at the Fordham University pubstation as an undergrad in 1964 and went on to become an influential progressive-rock disc jockey in New York City, has died following a stroke. He was 66.

“This is a devastating loss, not just for his family, friends, and colleagues at WFUV, but for radio listeners everywhere,” Chuck Singleton, interim general manager of WFUV, said in a statement. “Pete was a beloved air personality for four decades and a master communicator. His influence as a pioneer of progressive FM radio is almost incalculable.”

He began his professional career in 1969 at WNEW-FM, where he established his weekly eclectic Mixed Bag show in 1982. Fornatale helped launch careers of singer-songwriters including Suzanne Vega, John Gorka and Christine Lavin, and through the years also interviewed stars such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Carly Simon and James Taylor. He also worked at WXRK (K-Rock). He brought Mixed Bag to WFUV in 2001.

Fornatale wrote or co-authored six books including a textbook (Radio in the Television Age), Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends, and Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock. He also appeared on television, co-hosting the 1991 HBO Paul Simon Live in Central Park and as a guest commentator on multiple PBS music specials.

He is survived by three sons, Peter, a book editor (who worked with his father on several books); Mark, a wine importer; and Steven, a New York City police officer.

On Fornatale's website, his family requests memorial donations to WhyHunger, "an organization that Pete has been associated with since it was co-founded by his good friend Bill Ayres and the late Harry Chapin in 1975."

A private funeral Mass is planned. WFUV has scheduled an on-air/online celebration of his life and career from 4 to 8 p.m. May 5.

Autism treatment grew into passion for classical music for young pubradio host

The host of the Josh's Corner weekly classical podcast for WBOI-FM in Fort Wayne, Ind., may be unique within the pubradio system: In addition to being just 16 years old, Joshua Stephenson is also on the autism spectrum, reports the local Journal Gazette.

When Joshua was 6, to treat his sensitivity to sound, his parents turned to audio therapy, using headphones that emphasized high and low pitches. Joshua learned to tolerate noise through classical music — and developed a love for the genre.

Will Murphy, general manager of Northeast Indiana Public Radio, said that given that passion, Joshua might have a career in radio. "Anytime you have somebody who really loves something and can convey that affection on the radio," Murphy told the newspaper, "I think there's potential there."

Murphy said Joshua's participation in the station reflects its mission statement: To engage the community with content that enriches the human spirit. “If Josh’s show doesn’t do that, I don’t know what does,” Murphy said.

Listen to Josh's Corner here.

FCC asks for input on allowing third-party fundraising on noncom stations

As anticipated, the FCC today (April 26) invited public comment on allowing noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters to spend a small percentage of their total annual broadcast time to conduct on-air fundraising activities for other nonprofits.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is asking for input on whether the ban on third-party fundraising remains necessary to preserve the noncommercial nature of NCE stations; if there should be limitations on the stations that engage in the third-party fundraising; whether fundraising should not exceed 1 percent (about 88 hours) of a broadcaster’s total annual airtime; if there should be a durational limit on each specific fundraising program; if participating stations should submit annual reports to the FCC on their fundraising activities and, if so, what information; and whether participating stations should be required to certify in renewal applications that they have complied with any limits on third-party fundraising.

Previously, the FCC granted waivers of the policy to permit noncom stations to raise funds in support of relief efforts for catastrophic events, such as Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

"Given our experience in these and other cases, where the ability to raise funds for third-party nonprofits has been invaluable, we question whether it remains appropriate to require noncommercial stations to seek a waiver just as emergencies are occurring," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

"This action reflects an effort to balance our continued interest in preserving the core educational mission of noncommercial stations with our goal of providing these stations additional flexibility to support nonprofits of their choosing," he added.

House members establish Federal Spectrum Working Group, in anticipation of auctions

U.S. House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have launched a bipartisan Federal Spectrum Working Group to examine how the federal government can use the nation's airwaves more efficiently, the two announced Wednesday (April 25). Walden said the group will "take a comprehensive, thoughtful, and responsible look at how to improve federal spectrum use as part of our ongoing effort to make the most efficient and effective use of the public's airwaves." In February, Congress gave the FCC authority to conduct broadcast spectrum auctions to free up bandwidth for mobile devices (Current, Feb. 28).

Chairs of the new group are Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). Members are Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands). Walden and Eshoo will serve as ex-officio members.

Longtime visual journalist joins 'PBS NewsHour' as multimedia managing editor

PBS NewsHour has hired visual journalist Tom Kennedy, formerly of and the National Geographic Society, as its managing editor for multimedia.

Kennedy currently teaches in the multimedia, photography and design department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In more than 35 years in print and online journalism, he has created, directed and edited projects that have earned Pulitzers, Emmys, Peabodys and Edward R. Murrow awards.

At the NewsHour, Kennedy will be responsible for the program's online content strategy and digital operation. He was managing editor for multimedia at, developing its multimedia section and creating the first documentary video team for an American newspaper-based website. Previously, he was director of photography at the National Geographic Society.

Kennedy begins work at the NewsHour in June. (Photo: NewsHour)

Station programmer asks CPB ombudsman to address Dyer pledge content

The issue of spirituality in motivational speaker Wayne Dyer's pledge programming has resurfaced in the latest CPB ombudsman's column, after the PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, addressed the topic earlier this month. Getler wrote that he "sensed" that Dyer's programs violate PBS's Editorial Standards and Policies to provide "nonsectarian" content.

Aaron Pruitt, director of content at Montana PBS, wrote to Joel Kaplan, CPB ombudsman, to express concern over the lack of discussion of Dyer's content among pubcasting programmers or development staffers.

"I have been working in public television now for nearly 18 years," Pruitt writes. "The silence regarding this topic, in these otherwise lively discussion groups, is deafening. It is my opinion that PBS management, station programmers, and pledge professionals are hoping this blows over, and that they can go on merrily airing a program that makes huge money for the system. They do not want to talk about this subject."

"I have to believe that there are other GMs and public television professionals who agree that airing these Wayne Dyer programs violates our editorial standards," he continues. "I think they are just afraid to speak up."

Pruitt told Kaplan he's been concerned over Dyer's content since 2004.

Kaplan concludes that "the use of Wayne Dyer in pledge drives or in special programming does not appear to violate any CPB rules or regulations." However, Kaplan adds, "I do hope that top PBS officials, as well as those running pledge drives throughout the country, will revisit this issue given the consternation it has caused both to a significant number of viewers and at least one local PBS executive."

Dyer's pledge programs have long been at the center of controversy over on-air fundraising. In 2002, then-PBS President Pat Mitchell raised ire within the pubcasting system by agreeing with a TV critic that pubTV stations broadcast "shlock" when appealing for viewer contributions; the columnist had called Dyer and financial guru Suze Orman "hucksters" (Current, Jan. 28, 2002). After several high-profile digs at pledge, Mitchell later backed down (Current, Nov. 4, 2002).

Chicago Public Media picks up former Sun-Times journalist as blogger

WBEZ in Chicago has hired veteran newsman Zay N. Smith as a blogger, according to Bob Feder's media column in Time Out Chicago. Smith "was a popular fixture" in the Sun-Times for 13 years, Feder notes, with his Quick Takes column, "a collection of quirky news items, political punditry and random observations." Beginning May 7, that column will appear three times a week on Chicago Public Media's website.The Sun-Times discontinued Quick Takes in 2008, and Smith resigned a year later. Coincidentally, in one of Smith's Quick Takes columns seven years ago he admitted he had "no idea" what a blog was.

Third-party fundraising on noncoms now off agenda for this week's FCC meeting

The FCC has dropped an agenda item on noncom on-air fundraising from its April 27 public meeting, "which more than likely means it will be voted and approved before the meeting," reports Broadcasting & Cable. The item had been a notice of proposed rulemaking inviting public comment on allowing non-CPB grantees "to conduct on-air fundraising activities that interrupt regular programming for the benefit of third-party nonprofit organizations." The National Religious Broadcasters have sought more latitude in on-air fundraising for other nonprofits, B&C notes. The item proposed allowing noncom stations to use 1 percent of annual airtime for those activities.

Apr 25, 2012

This Saturday's webcast on public TV local production

The year's second Public Media Futures forum, on public TV strategies in local production, will be webcast live Saturday, April 28, from Los Angeles.

To connect, go to the website, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Pacific time (12:30 to 4:30 Eastern time). Submit questions here.

Tentative start times of the three sessions:

9:45 a.m. Pacific / 12:45 p.m. Eastern: Nashville Public Television, a former school-board dependent whose local programs now outdraw the PBS schedule.

10:45 a.m. Pacific / 1:45 Eastern: San Diego's KPBS, a "fully converged" FM/TV operator that recently launched a half-hour nightly news show.

12:15 p.m. Pacific / 3:15 p.m. Eastern: How KOCE/PBS SoCal is performing in its new role as primary PBS outlet in Los Angeles, including local productions for TV and the Web.

Here's a list of participants.

The event is part of a series of forums on Public Media Futures sponsored by the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism along with American University School of Communication, parent of Current. This week's session is presented with the assistance of Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media (GFEM).

Attention RSSers: A look at waning NEA grants

The Arts on Radio and Television fund of the National Endowment for the Arts, a source of millions of programming dollars for public media, is distributing matching grants to a wider range of recipients this year — from a smaller pool of money. Grants in the revamped category, Arts in Media, were announced today (April 25), with only about half going to public TV or radio shows. Now online, Current spoke with past recipients about what a reduction in that NEA funding means to public broadcasting.

"Women, War and Peace," NPR, ProPublica win Overseas Press Club honors

WNET has claimed two Overseas Press Club awards, among several awarded to public media news organizations. The New York City station won both the Edward R. Murrow Award for best TV doc on international affairs, and the Robert Spiers Benjamin Award for best Latin American reporting, for Women, War and Peace, a five-part series produced by Fork Films.

The Lowell Thomas Award for best radio news of international affairs went to NPR for its coverage of the Arab Spring.

And the best online investigation of an international issue or event was awarded to a collaboration between ProPublica and The Financial Times, "Tax Wars: A Cross-Border Battle Worth Billions."

A full list of awards is here.

Apr 24, 2012

Five words may sway women donors, academic researcher finds

An academic specializing in philanthropic psychology working with WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., has discovered that five words appear to boost contributions among female donors. In a Chronicle of Philanthropy podcast, Jen Shang, assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs of Indiana University, said volunteers during a WFIU pledge drive were instructed to use one of five words when initially thanking donors for calling in to the station: caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly or kind. Shang said women donors who heard one of those words went on to give an average of $100, compared with women who heard simply "thank you," who gave an average of $83. There was no difference between those two groups of male callers, Shang said. 

All choral, all the time: MPR launches 24/7 choral stream

Banking on the strong Minnesotan tradition of choral music, Minnesota Public Radio is now offering a public-media first: a web stream of programmed choral music around the clock.

The 24/7 stream features professional, college and church choirs singing pieces "from Palestrina to Pärt, spirituals to Schubert." A major element is the inclusion of Minnesota's sizable local choral talent, including ensembles such as VocalEssence, Cantus, The Singers, St. Olaf Choir, Choral Arts Ensemble and the National Lutheran Choir.

The stream is part of a larger initiative by Classical MPR to boost choral music. June 7 will be the first annual "Harmony In The Park" — a free outdoor choral festival at Minneapolis' Minnehaha Park — and MPR will bring the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the city's 20,000-seat Target Center in June 2013.

Listen to Classical MPR's new choral stream here.

W.V. state pubcasting panel lifts contract and hiring freezes for station

A committee appointed by the Educational Broadcasting Authority in West Virginia to examine the financial health of the state's public broadcaster met for the first time Monday (April 23), and voted to lift several contract and hiring freezes, reports the Charleston Gazette. The review was prompted by testimony in January by Dennis Adkins, executive director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, before the House Finance Committee that the station may have to reduce programming due to state funding cuts and a reduction in underwriting. "To put it bluntly," he said in January, "our expenses are outpacing our revenues."

At the meeting Monday, Adkins had better news. "Our underwriting is coming back around, and our current pledge drive is going to exceed projections," Adkins said.

He told the committee that an April 30 retirement would leave the station short-staffed and force overtime pay, and discussed the need for computer upgrades. The state had been delaying filling several personnel vacancies as well as approving a $16,786 bid to replace servers. The committee voted to lift those freezes. The committee meets again May 7.

Apr 23, 2012

Maine Public Broadcasting pondering role in saving three classical radio stations

Mark Vogelzang, president of Maine Public Broadcasting, told the Bangor Daily News that the pubcaster is following the bankruptcy proceedings of Princeton, N.J.-based Nassau Broadcasting "very closely," especially concerning its three classical radio stations in Maine. “We have no intention of making a bid — this is serious money,” Vogelzang said. “But if we could play a role, we’d be very interested in saving classical music in Maine. How we might do that, I don’t know.”

Nassau went into bankruptcy last year, reportedly owing nearly $284 million to various lenders. It owns 50 stations in the northeast, including 10 in Maine. Three comprise its WBACH classical network. “WBACH is an important classical outlet, and because it is such a key partner with many of Maine’s cultural organizations, it really plays an important role — just like MPBN does — in the cultural life of Maine,” Vogelzang said, “so we think that it would be very important not to lose classical music on the radio dial.”

'Education Station' KLCS in Los Angeles launches first-ever fundraising drive

KLCS-TV in Los Angeles is conducting the first fundraising drive ever in its 40-plus year history, hoping to replace $1.4 million for fiscal 2012-13 cut from its $4.6 million budget by its licensee, the Los Angeles Unified School District, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. The newspaper said a text-to-give campaign begins this week, with a goal to raise $100,000 by November, when a traditional pledge drive will start.

Previously, the school district had provided $2.8 million, Los Angeles County gave $150,000 and the remainder of the budget came from CPB and other philanthropic and government grants. The cash-strapped school district currently is in the midst of public hearings over its recent decision to lay off some 9,500 teachers.

The PBS affiliate broadcasts from 6 1 a.m. Its programming includes educational shows (Homework Hotline, College Buzz) PBS fare (Sesame Street, Downton Abbey), coverage of school board and county Board of Supervisors meetings, and original shows about district programs and classes. The station is one of three in the Los Angeles market — along with PBS SoCal/KOCE and KVCR — collaborating in the wake of KCET's departure (Current, Dec. 12, 2011).

If it's spring, it's Great TV Auction time in Milwaukee

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming Channel 10 Great TV Auction, now in its 44th year of raising funds for Milwaukee Public Television. Local news site reports that the auction began in 1969 with a goal of $50,000; now, it raises more than $1 million annually, handling more than 20,000 items throughout its weeklong run. "During the auction, between the phone banks and everything, we have over 3,000 volunteers," said Auction Director Sharon Fischer-Toerpe. "It takes a lot of volunteers. There are volunteers who plan their vacation around the auction just so they can be here." This year's auction runs April 27 through May 5.

Apr 21, 2012

State funding cuts trigger layoffs at Virginia's Community Idea Stations

Virginia's Community Idea Stations — WCVE Public Radio, WCVE PBS and WCVW PBS in Richmond and WHTJ PBS in Charlottesville — on Friday (April 20) announced elimination of 11 positions, about 18 percent of its workforce, before the end of June. A statement on the network's website said the decision was in response to lack of pubcasting funding in the commonwealth's budget. The stations had received about $700,000 this fiscal year; the General Assembly last week approved a budget that does not contain that support, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Six of the 11 positions will be lost in the Educational Services department. The stations will no longer provide technology training for teachers or engineering support for schools, and will stop producing the EdTech Conference, an annual statewide technology gathering for teachers and administrators. It also will cancel a Sunday afternoon film package and “Behind the Scenes,” a web-only program on local arts organizations.

Apr 20, 2012

On C-SPAN, ex-FCC official Copps worries over noncom stations in spectrum auction

Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps expresses concern for public TV stations in the upcoming spectrum auctions, in an interview on The Communicators series on C-SPAN, reports Broadcasting & Cable. "Public television is doing a really good job with multicasting and using two or three streams to do really good programming," Copps says on the program, scheduled for broadcast at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday (April 21) and available online. "And all of a sudden, if they are going to be decreasing in number or stations are going to be thrown together, is that going to mean we are going to have less programming?"

Copps also says: "There is a lot of spectrum out there, and I don't think anybody in the United States has very much of a clue exactly how much spectrum is lying fallow."

POV offering Twitter chat on producing for pubTV

Want to get your documentary on public television? POV Series Producer Yance Ford will be on Twitter at 7 p.m. Eastern April 25 to answer questions about doing just that. Submit questions for her by posting to Twitter using the hashtag #docchat.

Apr 19, 2012

Barbra Streisand rings up "Smiley & West"

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, co-hosts of PRI's Smiley & West, hear from a surprising caller on their Friday (April 20) show: Music legend Barbra Streisand. The program is a tribute to Oscar-winning husband and wife songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Streisand was 18 years old when they met. She recorded many of their songs, including "The Way We Were" and "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" Last year Streisand dedicated a tribute album to the Bergmans, "What Matters Most."

"Martha Stewart's Cooking School" starting on PBS this fall

Domestic doyenne Martha Stewart hits the PBS airwaves this fall in a weekly culinary master class, Martha Stewart's Cooking School. The 30-minute show will be presented by WETA, premiering in October. "PBS is the perfect home for this series," Stewart said in an announcement. "We'll show viewers how to prepare classic dishes as well as how to use proper techniques." The program is based on the bestselling cookbook of the same name.

The New York Times reported that Stewart and execs at her Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia "believe that public broadcasting will be a better fit for her brand than daytime cable." The Hallmark Channel is dropping her weekday Martha Stewart Show after two years.

WETA to offer 24/7 British channel starting this June

WETA in suburban Washington, D.C., on June 2 will launch a new multicast channel devoted to British programming. The 24-hour WETA UK replaces Create on the station's 26.2. "British programming has long proven popular with our audience on our principal channel," said Kevin Harris, v.p. and TV manager of the dual licensee. The channel will feature popular Britcoms (Doc Martin, Fawlty Towers, Are You Being Served?), miniseries (MI-5, Hustle, Waking the Dead) and episodes of the original BBC Antiques Roadshow, as well as Saturday night full-length films and, beginning this fall, major British specials. Here's a promo reel.

Localore, now on Facebook

The Association of Independents in Radio has created a Facebook page to showcase projects in its $2 million Localore initiative (Current, Jan. 30), which pairs indie producers with pubstations on innovative community-service work.

Apr 17, 2012

American Academy of Arts and Sciences elects Woodruff, Wilson as fellows

PBS NewsHour Senior Correspondent Judy Woodruff and Ernest Wilson III, former CPB chair, have been been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The academy, an independent policy research center, was founded in 1780 in Cambridge, Mass. Woodruff and Wilson, now dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California, join 4,000 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members that through the years have included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, more than 250 Nobel laureates and some 60 Pulitzer Prize winners. Other members of the 2012 Academy Fellows include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, actor Clint Eastwood, playwright Neil Simon, philanthropist Melinda Gates and Amazon Founder Jeffrey Bezos. The 2012 academy class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 6 in Cambridge.

V-me pulls sponsorship spots to review noncom content

Alvaro Garnica, general manager of the V-me Spanish multicast channel on pubTV, recently informed station managers that it replaced all sponsor spots on its schedule with promos while it reviewed that content with its FCC counsel to ensure the spots meet noncom requirements., an advertising and media news site, ran a short piece on March 28 addressing the issue.

The removal of the spots came after CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan received a note from a concerned viewer that KVIE in Sacramento was "running ordinary commercials" for L'Oreal cosmetics, Oreo cookies, Kool-Aid and State Farm Insurance, which would be an FCC violation. KVIE told Kaplan that it airs V-me content unaltered as a pass-through on its third channel, and that the station does not insert any local underwriting spots. Its contract with V-me requires that content comply with PBS and FCC guidelines.

"V-me is abiding by FCC regulations, reviewing all creative copy to ensure that it meets guidelines," Roselynn Marra, director of stations relations for V-me Media, told Kaplan. "Additionally, as is common among public stations, V-me works with corporations to edit spots they may already have created to make them fit FCC guidelines."

Apr 16, 2012

Public Media Company, Independent Public Media finalists to buy San Mateo's KCSM-TV

The two remaining finalists bidding for KCSM, public TV in San Mateo, Calif., are local groups affiliated with Independent Public Media and Public Media Company, reports the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club (citing a report in the Palo Alto Daily Post, which is not published online). The bid amounts are not yet public.

Among offers rejected by licensee San Mateo County Community College was one from another pubcaster, KMTP-TV in San Francisco, which airs multilingual, ethic programming.

Jan Roecks, the college's director of general services, will make her recommendation on the buyer to the trustees when they meet again later this month.

The Media Alliance, a Bay-area public-interest media advocacy organization, is asking for 30-day public comment period before the board approves the sale.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A spokesperson for PBS SoCal/KOCE tells Current that the station did not bid on KCSM-TV. Also, Public Media Company, not Public Radio Capital, was one of the successful bidders. 
This post has been updated to omit that incorrect information, which had been reported by the Palo Alto Daily Post.

Veteran KCUR broadcaster Walt Bodine, 91, retiring this month

A public radio legend in Kansas City, Mo., is retiring at the end of the month. Walt Bodine, 91, has spent 72 years in the news business, and generations of listeners grew up hearing his trademark tagline, "What do you say to that?" His Walt Bodine Show dates to 1978, and has aired on KCUR since the early 1980s. He  launched a late-night talk show, Night Beat, on a local AM station in the 1960s.

His son Tom Bodine told the Kansas City Star that his father was on the air on July 17, 1981, after two skywalks collapsed during a dance at the Hyatt Regency hotel near downtown, killing 114 persons and injuring 216 more. “The night of the Hyatt skywalk collapse, he stayed on the air all night and into the morning so the show could be a place for people to express their feelings and to get up-to-the-minute information," Tom Bodine said. "It was a place where people could gather.”

Bodine's interview talk show ran daily until two years ago, when it went to Friday broadcasts. Former KCUR staffer Gina Kaufmann assisted Bodine on and off air for his daily show. “He often said, ‘Let’s not get too exotic,’ ” Kaufmann told the Star. “The local aspect of the show was dear to him. If a show idea seemed to be getting too big for our britches, he would remind us what we were there to do. And he was right.”

He began in radio in 1940 in Sedalia, Mo. After military service in World War II, he continued his broadcast career in Kansas City into the 1970s, and also worked in public relations. He wrote newspaper columns and appeared on local television. Bodine also wrote several books, including What Do You Say to That? and My Times, My Town.

He interviewed hundreds of national and local figures, including Robert F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman

The final Walt Bodine Show, a celebration of its host, will air on April 27. Two specials will look back at Bodine’s decades in journalism through archived recordings on KCUR’s Central Standard program, April 24 and 26.

Starting May 4, in Bodine's timeslot, KCUR will launch a new program, Central Standard Fridays, focusing on history, food and film.

Apr 14, 2012

Stanley Harrison dies at 81; headed communications at CPB

Stanley Harrison, a former communications director for CPB, died of cardiac arrest after a stroke on April 5 in Miami Beach, Fla. He was 81.

Harrison oversaw communications for CPB from 1976 to 1985.

He was born in Baltimore to Frank and Thelma Baer Harrison. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science at the University of Maryland, College Park, and his doctorate in government and public administration from American University in Washington, D.C.

At the time of his death, he was teaching at University of Miami’s School of Communication. He also taught part time at American University and at the Pentagon. Earlier in his career he worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

Harrison wrote several books, including 1998’s Editorial Art of Edmund Duffy, about a Pulitzer Prize-winning Baltimore Sun cartoonist, and, in 1999, Mencken Revisited: Author, Editor & Newspaperman. He was considered an expert on Mencken, and he edited the quarterly scholarly journal Menckeniana.

Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Frances; two brothers, Larry Harrison and Carroll Harrison; and sister Linda Harrison.

Burial will be April 19 at Lorraine Park Cemetery in Woodlawn, Md.

WCNY's new vice president of advancement is a former mayor

A former mayor of Elmira, N.Y., is the new v.p. of advancement, communications and content delivery at dual licensee WCNY in Syracuse. John Tonello will oversee the $20-million “Campaign for WCNY” to raise funds for the station's new Broadcast and Education Center downtown. He's also responsible for membership, public relations, volunteers and events, development, grants and overall fundraising, as well as brand image, on-air trafficking and messaging on all WCNY platforms. Tonello has more than 20 years of experience in communications, public affairs and information technology. He was mayor of the south-central New York city from 2006 through 2011.

Apr 13, 2012

Mobile500 Alliance picks up four more public broadcasters

Four more pubTV stations have joined the Mobile500 Alliance, a group of TV broadcasters advocating for partnerships to accelerate the nationwide availability of a commercial mobile digital television service. The organization is headed by John Lawson, a former APTS president.

New to the alliance are Chicago's WTTW, Maryland Public Television, Public Broadcasting Atlanta and New Mexico PBS. They join three other pubcasters in the alliance, MHz Networks in Washington, D.C., WGBH in Boston and Twin Cities Public Television in Minneapolis-St. Paul. WGBH, Public Broadcasting Atlanta, and New Mexico PBS are already broadcasting Mobile DTV.

Dan Schmidt, WTTW president, said the station's board formed a committee to consider the best options for using WTTW's broadcast spectrum. "We concluded that Mobile DTV held the most promise for extending our brand and services to new audiences, and we liked the open, entrepreneurial approach of Mobile500," he said in the announcement.

The alliance now includes 50 commercial and public station groups with 437 full-power television stations.

Apr 12, 2012

No adequate reason to ban political and issue ads on pubcasting, appeals court rules

A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld the law banning for-profit goods-and-services ads on pubcasting stations but threw out the restrictions on issue-oriented and political ads.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 for the mixed verdict in a First Amendment case brought by Minority Television Project, longtime licensee of noncommercial San Francisco station KMTP-TV. The FCC had fined KMTP in 2003 after it illegally aired commercials for goods and services 1,900 times between 1999 and 2002, the appeals court said.

The court accepted the government’s traditional argument that goods-and-services advertising would harm public stations’ programming by boosting their incentive to reach bigger audiences. But the judges said Congress violated the First Amendment by restricting ads about public issues and political candidacies without showing how the ads would damage programming.

Even if political candidates could buy time to run cartoons of themselves as superheroes, “the possibility that such cartoons would replace Sesame Street anytime soon seems quite remote," Judge Carlos T. Bea speculated in the opinion. Judge John T. Noonan concurred.

They said Congress had cited no evidence indicating that political advertising would harm pubcast programming.

In his dissent, Judge Richard A. Paez said he couldn’t see a tenable reason for permitting political ads while blocking consumer goods ads. After decades of protection from commercial pressures, public broadcasting could be jeopardized by the ruling, Paez wrote.

The decision directly affects only the nine Western states in the Ninth Circuit. The text is posted online.

The decision "leaves open many important questions as to how to implement it," writes attorney Clifford M. Harrington on the Pillsbury CommLaw Center blog.

Craig Aaron, president of the media reform group Free Press, said the regulatory pullback could lead to the on-air pollution of public stations. “At a time when people are turning to public broadcasting to get away from the flood of nasty attack ads, viewers don’t want to see Sesame Street being brought to them by shadowy Super PACs.” Free Press also posted an online petition asking the public to "Tell PBS and NPR to keep their stations free of nasty attack ads."

Apr 11, 2012

Center for Investigative Reporting announces Knight-backed YouTube channel

The Center for Investigative Reporting is launching an investigative news channel on YouTube, funded by an $800,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, to serve as a hub for investigative journalism. The channel will feature videos from commercial and noncom broadcasters and independent producers, including NPR, ABC News, The New York Times, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop and ITVS. The center plans to add  contributors and seek submissions from freelance journalists and independent filmmakers from around the world.

“One of the goals of this partnership will be to raise the profile and visibility of high-impact storytelling through video," said Robert J. Rosenthal, executive director of center in Berkeley, Calif. "We hope this initiative generates revenue that supports the work of nonprofit organizations and independent filmmakers everywhere. Collaborative efforts like this are no longer the future of journalism; they are today's reality.”

The initiative has been in the planning stages since last year.

"This American Life" heads to movie theaters on May 10

WBEZ's This American Life is planning its third live simulcast show, May 10 from the Skirball Center at New York University to 550 movie theaters nationwide.

"I saw this amazing dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes' company," said host Ira Glass in the announcement, "and I thought — that is totally in the style of our radio show. But obviously you can't have dance on the radio." So TAL "built this lineup of stories mixed with super visual things," he said, centered on the theme, "The Invisible Made Visible." In addition to the dancers, guests include fellow pubcaster Glynn Washington, host of Snap Judgment; comic Mike Birbiglia with a new short film; and live music by the rock band OK Go.

Producing will be NCM Fathom Events and BY Experience, which presented This American Life — Live! in May 2008 and April 2009.

Meet the guru behind "Fresh Air's" web success

WHYY's Fresh Air is one of the fastest-growing public-radio shows on the web, reports Nieman Lab. One major force behind that success is web producer Melody Joy Kramer, who has "slowly and single-handedly built a huge following by approaching the job as a digital native, a citizen of the community she wanted to reach. She figured out how to turn radio stories into conversations."

The show's Twitter account now has 70,000 followers, up from 3,800 before she arrived in January 2010 from Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!, where she was a writer and managed co-host Carl Kassel's Facebook page. Kramer also writes everything for the Fresh Air website: headlines, links, teasers, captions and interview highlights. Unique visitors to the site in January 2012 were up by 40 percent over the year before, growing twice as fast as NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, according to Sondra Russell, a senior digital analyst at NPR. Unique views increased by 60 percent over January 2010, the month Kramer started. Today the Fresh Air website attracts some 1 million people per month.

“I think I just know how to talk to people,” Kramer told Nieman. “I enjoy working here. I enjoy reading the books on the show, I watch the movies, I am a fan as much as I am an employee. I’m passing things along because I enjoy them.”

Don't ignore potential of mobile web, NPR advises

Apps for tablets and smartphones may get buzz, but public media stations have a growing opportunity to reach audiences not just with apps, but via web pages optimized for mobile devices. Traffic to station websites from mobile devices has grown from 9 percent last July to 14 percent in March, according to Steve Mulder and Keith Hopper of NPR Digital Services. And while both usage of NPR apps and visits to NPR’s mobile site have grown, the latter has outpaced app usage in growth over the past two years. NPR now has twice as many mobile web users as mobile app users.

“Your app is great for people who already love you,” Mulder and Hopper write. “But your mobile site is the best way to help everyone else discover you.”

The growing use of mobile-optimized sites may be due to traffic from social media, searches and email, all of which guide mobile users to websites. “For NPR stations, 11% of mobile site visits are now coming from Facebook,” write Mulder and Hopper. “That’s up from 8% last July, and will continue to grow. ... Do not underestimate the power of Facebook in exposing users to your content and sending users to your site.”

Apr 10, 2012

Collaboration to power media transformation in Macon, head of journalism center writes

Tim Regan-Porter, director of the new Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon, Ga., provides early details on how the Knight-backed partnership among Mercer University, the local Telegraph newspaper and Georgia Public Broadcasting will work, in a post today (April 10) on MediaShift.

The ambitious vision, Regan-Porter said, is "not only establishing a new model for journalism education but also helping to transform local communities and save democracy itself."

Mercer journalism students will train in a working newsroom, alongside professional journalists, through the four years of the program — some students even living above the center, Regan-Porter said. GPB is boosting local coverage by launching Macon Public Radio, which will make the central-Georgia community the only town outside Atlanta to have "significant locally focused public-radio programming," he said. The university's journalism department is doubling its faculty, bringing in digital media instructors. "And the combined efforts of The Telegraph and GPB allow for improved coverage," Regan-Porter said.

The center also will work with local religious and civic organizations "to get information to neglected segments of the community and to train their members in digital technology and media consumption."

"Collaboration is the modus operandi that will power the transformation we seek," he said.

NEA may cut up to $1 million in PBS arts programming support

The National Endowment for the Arts is considering substantial cuts — possibly totaling $1 million — in funding for PBS arts programming through the NEA's Arts in Media initiative, according to the New York Times.

The NEA told execs with Great Performances and American Masters that the shows would each receive $50,000 in the 2012 financing cycle, down from $400,000 each in 2011. Independent Lens would get $50,000, down from $170,000; P.O.V., $100,000, down from $250,000. KQED in San Francisco was turned down for a $350,000 request; it received $200,000 for its PBS series Sound Tracks in 2011.

Simon Kilmurry, executive director of P.O.V., told the newspaper that the proposed cuts were “a huge surprise and a blow to how much we can support filmmakers, and it’s perplexing.”

Last year the NEA revamped and renamed its Arts on Radio and Television category of grants as Arts in Media. Of that $4 million, about half previously went to shows on PBS. But this year the category is open to content on media platforms including online, mobile, theatrical release and digital games. PubTV insiders said the NEA had about 350 applicants this year, compared with about 150 last year, with the same amount of cash available.

The grants will be announced April 25.

Apr 9, 2012

Headliner Awards go to 18 pubmedia winners; WNET's "Need to Know" gets three

The prestigious National Headliner Awards, announced today (April 9) for excellence in print, broadcast and online media by the Press Club of Atlantic City, includes several public media outlets.

The big winner on pubTV was Need to Know from WNET in New York City, which took prizes in three categories: First place for science and health reporting for “Losing the Safety Net,” by Laura LeBlanc, Alison Stewart, Brenda Breslauer, Shelley Lewis and David Kreger; second place, environmental reporting, for “Toxic Law?” by LeBlanc, Dr. Emily Senay, Breslauer, Marc Rosenwasser and Kreger; and third place, TV news magazine, for “Help Wanted: the Uncounted Millions,” by Jessica Wang, William Brangham, Rosenwasser, John Larson, Scott Simon, Judith Starr Wolff and Tim Geraghty.

Two of the CPB-backed local journalism centers also took honors. For radio human interest story, Fronteras and KJZZ in Phoenix won second place for “Mexican Ghost Town” by Michel Marizco and Alisa Barba; and for radio news series, third place went to Changing Gears in Ann Arbor, Mich., for its series on manufacturing.

Two radio awards, best in show and feature and human interest story, went to “Bail Bonds: Fugitives on the Run, Bondsmen on the Hunt,” by Tristram Korten, Dan Grech and Kenny Malone of the Under the Sun series from WLRN and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting in Miami.

For radio health, medical or science reporting, second place went to “Decoding Prime,” by Lance Williams, Christina Jewett and Stephen K. Doig of California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

In the radio breaking news or continuing coverage of a single event, Alabama Public Radio took second place for its coverage of a devastating tornado in Tuscaloosa.

First place in radio documentary or public affairs went to WBEZ in Chicago for its series on the city's Auburn Gresham neighborhood, by Bill Healy and Cate Cahan; second place to WCPN ideastream in Cleveland for The Sound of Ideas program.

For radio breaking news or continuing coverage, third place went to “Local firefighters honor 9/11 first responders,” by Ben Markus of Colorado Public Radio.

Colorado Public Radio also claimed first place for feature and human interest story for “Getting Hands on at Colorado Gators,” by Megan Verlee.

First place for radio documentary or public affairs went to WNYC and PRX for “Living 9/11” by Marianne McCune, Emily Botein, Karen Frillmann and Chris Bannon. Free Speech Radio News in Toledo, Ore., won third place in the category for “Mexico's Drug War in Context” by Shannon Young and Catherine Komp, a crowd-funded report.

Cleveland's ideastream also won third place in TV public service for “Lifegiving Transplant Stories," by Kay Colby, David Molpus and Mark Rosenberger.

TV news environmental reporting, second place was WTTW in Chicago for “Great Lakes Invasion,” by Ash-har Quraishi, Basma Babar-Quraishi and Tom Siegel.

California Watch also won for online-only site.

A full list of 2012 Headliners is here (PDF).

Channel sharing after spectrum auctions on agenda for April FCC meeting

The FCC's tentative agenda for its April 27 public meeting includes several items of interest to public broadcasters.

The commission will consider a report and order establishing a regulatory framework for channel sharing among TV licensees. Stations face the option of relinquishing some spectrum and sharing a 6 MHz channel  — possibly pairing commercial and noncom broadcasters — as part of the upcoming spectrum auction and subsequent repacking (Current, Feb. 28).

Also on the agenda is consideration of a notice of proposed rulemaking inviting public comment on allowing non-CPB grantees "to conduct on-air fundraising activities that interrupt regular programming for the benefit of third-party non-profit organizations." In its "Information Needs of Communities" report in June 2011, the FCC noted that religious broadcasters have argued that they should be able to "devote a small amount of air time, up to one percent, to help fundraise for charities and other nonprofits." Currently, noncoms, including pubcasters, must receive a special waiver to do so. In the June report, the FCC recommended that non-CPB recipients be allowed to spend that airtime fundraising. "The broadcasters should disclose how this time is used — including how much is helping charities in the local community — so the FCC can make an assessment about the efficacy of this experiment," the June report said.

And commissioners will consider a report and order to increase transparency and public access to information by moving the public files of TV stations from paper to the Internet, an issue that prompted APTS and PBS to file a comment with the FCC last December.

The commission will meet at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, with live streaming of the meeting on

Apr 7, 2012

Feds indict Flagstaff man for alleged misuse of funds for Navajo noncom FM station

A Flagstaff, Ariz., man who told members of the Navajo Nation that he could help them launch a public radio station has been indicted by federal authorities on 18 criminal charges (PDF) including theft, wire fraud and money laundering, reports the Arizona Republic. John Pegram Bittner allegedly used more than $100,000 meant for radio equipment on trips, legal and medical expenses, and child-support payments.

In 2007, when Alfreda Beartrack, a health-care administrator for the Navajo in Shiprock, N.M., heard that the FCC was opening a window for noncommercial educational FM licenses (Current, June 25, 2007), she looked for someone with technical expertise to help launch a station. Bittner claimed to be a certified member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers, although his membership had expired in 2004, and told Beartrack that his father wrote FCC guidelines. Bittner signed a contract for sole control of the account holding grant funds for the station. "By last summer, the Navajo Nation's regulatory commission, which approved the tower and radio station, confirmed to federal investigators that Bittner had not contacted them or provided any progress reports on construction," the newspaper said.

Federal prosecutors also filed a civil case against Bittner (PDF) in December 2011, seeking to recover more than $130,000.

The Navajo station construction permit, held by Dine Agriculture Inc., expired on Jan. 8.

Bittner is set to appear next week before U.S. District Court in Arizona in the criminal case.

Apr 6, 2012

PBS ombudsman "senses" that Dyer pledge shows violate PBS "nonsectarian" policy

Do motivational speaker Wayne Dyer's pledge programs violate PBS's Editorial Standards and Policies to provide "nonsectarian" content? "My sense is that they do," writes PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler. "PBS feels strongly that they do not."

In a PBS online promo for Dyer's latest, Wishes Fulfilled, he is identified as a "beloved spiritual teacher."

Getler writes that in 2009, in connection with a dispute involving five local stations (Current, April 13, 2009), the PBS Board defined sectarian content as "programming that advocates a particular religion or religious point of view." There is no definition of "nonsectarian" in PBS editorial standards adopted in June 2011, Gelter notes.

When Gelter asked John Wilson, PBS programmer, about the board's statement in regard to Dyer, Wilson responded: "PBS believes that Dr. Dyer's programs do not promote one religious viewpoint over others. That is, his programs do not advocate a particular, specific religion or a particular, specific religious point of view. Instead, his programs are motivational in nature and reflect multiple cultural, religious and non-religious philosophical traditions."

The issue for Getler, he writes, "is that the board statement in 2009 does not say: 'or a particular, specific religious point of view,' as Wilson interprets it. It says, again: 'Sectarian content includes programming that advocates a particular religion or religious point of view.' I view 'or' in that usage to mean alternatively, that programming should not advocate a religious point of view."

News organizations including NPR protest closure of hearing at Guantanamo Bay

NPR is one of 10 news organizations that filed an objection Thursday (April 5) to plans by the Pentagon to close a hearing next week on alleged mistreatment of a detainee by the CIA.

The Miami Herald, one of the signatories to the 15-page letter, posted the document online.

The objection focuses on the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, allegedly involved in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 U.S. sailors. In a hearing set for April 11 at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, al-Nashiri's attorneys plan to argue that he shouldn’t be shackled while interviewed because it would remind him of trauma he experienced while in CIA custody. The military court has closed the hearing, citing national security reasons. The news organizations contend they should be able to view al-Nashiri’s testimony because details of his treatment have already been made public, and the military has ways to protect sensitive information.

"Failure to adopt and employ such readily available less restrictive means would not only violate the Constitution of the United States, it could undermine the credibility of, and public trust in, the proceedings of this military commission," concluded the letter.

Maine Appropriations Committee rejects elimination of pubcasting funding

Members of the Maine Legislature's Appropriations Committee late last night (April 5) unanimously rejected a proposal from Gov. Paul LePage to eliminate all $1.7 million in fiscal 2013 state funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network by July 1, the network reports.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta proposed an amendment, unanimously adopted, that directs the state to work with MPBN to determine costs for its emergency alert system, and requests reports from MPBN on its future plans and on how MPBN may use its bandwidth to provide other fee-based services to the state. "A plan whereby over the next five years," Katz said, "the appropriation which is provided by the state to MPBN would gradually be reduced and replaced by fee-for-service contracts to be agreed to by the parties for the kinds of services I was just talking about."

MPBN President Mark Vogelzang said the network will look at new ways to work with the state, and he is "especially pleased" that the $1.7 million is safe. "It's not all of the money we had asked for," he said, "and it's still going to be a 13 percent decline over this year into next year. So it will be a tough one, but I think we're happy."

"Magnificent Obsession" on WBEZ-FM marking 20 years

This week, host Jim Nayder is marking the 20th anniversary his show, Magnificent Obsession: True Stories of Recovery, on Chicago pubstation WBEZ-FM. Each 30-minute weekly episode presents an individual's personal battle with addiction, in his or her own words, writes Time Out Chicago media critic Bob Feder. The program grew out of interviews Nayder conducted years ago during marketing work he did to supplement his radio income, for a suburban hospital's new chemical dependency unit. "I thought writing notes might be distracting, and, being in radio, decided I would simply record the conversations on a little cassette," he said. "When I went back to the tapes for the research info, I was mesmerized by the stories these folks were sharing." He originally pitched it to the station as a 13-week documentary, and response to the first few episodes was "dramatic."

To mark the anniversary, on Sunday (April 8) Nayder is airing the first episode. "It’s special to me for many reasons," he said. "It’s a great program and story, and 'Dan,' who speaks, recently passed away. He died completely sober and lived the past 20 years happy and with a family that he was able to save and love by finding recovery. Although Dan physically is no longer with us, his voice, story and help to others live on. I thought, what better way to celebrate?"

Apr 5, 2012

HBO developing series inspired by "This American Life" segment

Variety reports that This American Life host Ira Glass — along with actor Owen Wilson and Veronica Mars showrunner Rob Thomas — is developing and executive-producing an HBO drama series. The project, tentatively titled Thrillsville, will be a fictionalized adaptation of "Midlife Cowboy," a TAL segment that originally aired March 12, 2010. That segment told the true story of James Spring, a meth smuggler turned advertising copywriter who, right before his 40th birthday, attempted to rescue two young girls kidnapped by Mexican drug traffickers and smuggled to Baja California.

Glass will be joined by Alissa Shipp, a producer who handles TV and film rights and development for TAL, as a fellow executive producer on the HBO show. Thomas is writing the script for the project.

Tacoma pubTV partnering with state's public affairs channel for book show

KBTC, public TV in Tacoma, Wash., is partnering with that state’s public affairs cable channel, TVW, on a weekly book discussion and author interview show, Well Read, that premiered this week. For each 30-minute episode, host Terry Tazioli, a former editor with the Seattle Times, talks to local writers and then chats with Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor at the Times. First up for its premiere April 3 was Kent Hartman of Portland, author of The Wrecking Crew, which tells the story of a group of Los Angeles musicians who weren’t credited for performances on hundreds of Top 40 hits in the 1960s and early ’70s. Following that interview was a discussion of other interesting rock ’n’ roll memoirs. The show airs Tuesday evenings on both stations, and streams live on their websites. KBTC also carries TVW, the Washington State Public Affairs Network, as a multicast channel.

FCC backs WHDD-FM over alleged violations of Communications Act

The FCC is siding with WHDD-FM — tiny Robin Hood Radio — in Sharon, Conn., in a complaint filed last year by a local assistant schools superintendent. Diane Goncalves wrote to the FCC that on multiple occasions station co-founder Marshall Miles broadcast endorsements of candidates and criticized specific members of the Region 1 Board of Education, actions that Goncalves contended were violations of the Communications Act of 1934. Miles answered that complaint with the FCC on Jan. 13, saying the statements were identified on the air as his personal opinion. Goncalves also filed an answer to that letter.

In a decision on March 30, the FCC agreed, saying that Miles "should take care in the future that your personal views over the air continue to be clearly labeled as such.”

Miles told the newspaper that the word "continue" confirms what he has been doing. “The FCC, with that one word, validated what we’ve been doing and said we’re following the rules,” he said.

Washington News Council finds KUOW mishandled aspects of story

In a three-hour public hearing presided over by a former Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice, the 11-member Washington News Council mainly sided with the anti-abortion Vitae Foundation in its dispute with KUOW-FM over an April 2011 story, CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan reports. The reporter from the Seattle pubradio news station had a journalistic responsibility to contact representatives of the Foundation before the story ran, the Council said in a unanimous vote. Also, the Council decided the story contained errors that merited on-air correction. However, the Council sided 10-1 with the station that it did not have a responsibility to provide the Foundation additional on-air coverage after the original story.

A summary of the proceedings is here, which includes the six questions before the Council.

Kaplan noted that Washington is the last news council remaining in the United States, designed to hear complaints from citizens and organizations that feel they have been unfairly treated by the news media.

UPDATE: Members of the Council voted unanimously that the KUOW reporter had a journalistic responsibility to contact representatives of the Vitae Foundation before the story aired. There were no abstentions, as this blog post originally stated. It has been corrected.

Apr 4, 2012

PBS Needs Indies Steering Committee posts second open letter to PBS

Kartemquin Films has announced the initial 15 members of its PBS Needs Indies Steering Committee, which the Chicago doc house is establishing to serve as a liaison between independent filmmakers and PBS. Names include International Documentary Association Board Member Beth Bird, and Michael Winship, senior writer of Moyers & Company with Bill Moyers. The group also posted a second open letter to PBS; its first garnered more than 1,000 signatures after PBS shifted indie showcases Independent Lens and P.O.V. from Tuesdays to Thursdays, resulting in ratings and carriage drops (Current, March 12).

"This incident has renewed our community’s awareness of the critical value of PBS to the national media ecology," the group said in the latest letter. "We know that public broadcasting, uniquely funded by taxpayers, reaches people at every level of society, in virtually every locality in the country. And we will continue to foster dialogue among the community of independent filmmakers about the significance of public broadcasting, and their own role in it."

Attention RSSers: Integrating crowdfunding into pubmedia

So far, crowdfunding hasn’t been able to support full-time journalists, much less a beat, a substantial weekly program or a newsroom. But independent journalists, public media stations, newspapers and web startups all have had successes. Read more online at

Arts group applies for new classical station in St. Louis

The Radio Arts Foundation-St. Louis has applied to the FCC for a new classical station, according to the Post-Dispatch. The group had provided "considerable financial support," the newspaper said, to the former local favorite Classic 99, KFUO-FM, and had attempted to purchase that station from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 2009 before its sale to a Christian pop-music station in July 2010. The Foundation hopes to broadcast on analog radio and an HD-2 channel and stream live on the Internet. Plans also include live music performances from a new facility with two broadcast studios and a conference room that will double as a performance space. St. Louis classical fans currently have one option, an HD channel from St. Louis Public Radio.

Oklahoma pubcasting survives important Senate panel vote

Legislation to save the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority "narrowly squeaked out of a Senate panel" on Tuesday (April 4), reports the Tulsa World. With the crucial vote tied 4-4, Sen. Bill Brown changed his nay to a yay. "I did not realize this sunset bill means OETA could not even go out and raise private money," he said. "This is not an appropriations bill. It just keeps them operating. My stance changes on that because my deal is that I would love to see them go out and raise private money and operate as a private company. But if this bill doesn't pass, they don't even make that. So, I would like to change my vote from a no vote to a yes vote."

The bill reauthorizes OETA as a state agency until its next sunset review in 2016. If the measure had failed, it would no longer exist after July 1.

Brown also said he would vote against a state appropriation for OETA.

OETA receives about $3.8 million from the state and raises some $8 million each year.

The bill now goes to the full Senate.

Nine Peabody Awards go to programs on PBS and NPR

Programming on PBS and NPR won nine honors in this year's Peabody Awards, announced on a webcast this morning (April 4).

Public television winners: American Experience, for what the judges called "three exceptional documentaries . . . under the banner of this grand American history anthology," Triangle Fire, Freedom Riders and Stonewall Uprising; indie showcases P.O.V. for My Perestroika and Independent Lens for Bhutto; and American Masters for Charles and Ray Eames – The Architect and the Painter.

Austin City Limits from KLRU-TV "receives a rare Institutional Peabody Award," the judges said. "Thirty-seven seasons on air make it the world’s longest running live music television program."

And ITVS and Loud Mouth Films won for Who Killed Chea Vichea?, an investigative documentary "produced on a shoestring budget," covering the 2004 assassination of a Cambodian trade-union leader.

On the radio side, NPR won for "Reflections on the Arab Spring from Egypt to Libya"; for "Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families," a three-part report on Native children being removed from their families; and StoryCorps, NPR and P.O.V. won for their September 11 memorial excerpts from interviews with survivors and victims’ relatives.

Honors will be presented at a May 21 luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, with actor Patrick Stewart as emcee.

A full list of winners is here.

Founding engineer of WUOG at University of Georgia dies

Wilbur Herrington, the founding station engineer of University of Georgia’s WUOG-FM, died March 29 of a malignant brain tumor. He had been involved with the station in Athens since its founding in October 1972.

“I can honestly say that Wilbur was, and very much will always continue to be, the heart and soul of WUOG,” Operations Director Akeeme Martin told the student newspaper, Red &Black.

“He was fiercely proud of his spotless professional record, and the fact that the FCC never had to inspect WUOG,” said Tommy McGahee, a 2009 Georgia grad who worked Herrington. "He kept that station up and running for over three decades.”

The lobby of the station's building, dedicated in February 2009, is named in honor of Herrington.

Apr 3, 2012

Media Access Project shuttering after almost 40 years

The Media Access Project, a nonprofit public interest law firm and communications policy advocacy organization, is suspending operations May 1 after nearly 40 years, reports Deadline New York. Andrew Jay Schwartzman, its longtime leader, told the site that MAP “ran out of money.” In an announcement, the MAP Board said it reached the decision "after evaluating the difficult funding environment facing MAP and other progressive public interest groups." The organization "achieved victories and accomplishments in proceedings that affect almost every aspect of the Federal Communications Commission’s activities," the announcement said.

Media reform advocates were quick to react. Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, praised MAP's "trailblazing work," and noted: “MAP earned some of the greatest victories for the movement with its key role in protecting media ownership rules and in securing space on the dial for Low Power FM radio. We are truly saddened to see a close ally like MAP close its doors." And Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said: "Through the years, MAP has provided an invaluable voice for the public interest on a range of issues, including the public responsibility of broadcasters, to media ownership and, in more recent years, many of the most prominent policy disputes of the Internet age." Sohn worked at MAP for a decade.

MAP will host a gathering in early May to celebrate its accomplishments "and to help retire its small debt," the announcement said.

NFCB honors WFMU's Freedman for leadership, innovation

WFMU manager and digital music pioneer Ken Freedman will receive the National Association of Community Broadcasters' 2012 Bader Award.

The award, to be presented in June during the Community Radio conference, honors individuals and organizations for single innovations or lifetime contributions to community radio. It's presented in memory of the late Michael Bader, an attorney who was a fierce advocate for community radio.

“Ken Freedman has been well ahead of the technological curve and need for innovation in public radio long before it was ‘fashionable,’” said Sue Matters of KWSO, Warm Springs, Ore., NFCB board chair. She described Freedman as a "stunning example of the trend set in motion by Michael Bader many ‘radio dials’ ago."

Freedman is widely credited for preserving and advancing WFMU's freeform music format and volunteer-powered community radio ethos after its licensee, Upsala College, went bankrupt in 1995.

Now operated by an independent nonprofit Auricle Communications, WFMU compliments its adventurously programmed broadcast service on 91.1 FM with a robust and interactive website

“Without Ken, WFMU would have been just another asset in Upsala College’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy process,” said Irwin Chusid, veteran WFMU deejay and longtime champion of its freeform approach. Freedman negotiated the deal to buy WFMU's broadcast license, founded Auricle as the nonprofit license-holder, and raised money to complete the purchase. “That’s how we came to own ourselves and become beholden to our listeners.”

Freedman established an online presence for WFMU in 1992 on Gopher space, a text-and-audio digital platform that was a precursor to the web. That move set WFMU on a path to providing an immersive online listening experience for rock music freaks around the globe via live and archived streams, podcasts and an iPhone app that provides access to a deep catalog of music programming. With start-up funding from the New York Music Fund, WFMU launched the Free Music Archive, an interactive digital platform offering free high-quality music downloads, in 2009.

Freedman has also been an outspoken advocate for student-operated college radio stations, provided assistance to community and college broadcasters during times of crisis, and served on NFCB's board of directors.

The award will be presented during the 2012 Community Radio Conference, June 13–16, in Houston.

WTCI requesting $250K from city to start 24/7 local-programming channel

WTCI is asking the Chattanooga City Council for $250,000 to develop a multicast channel with 24/7 local programming, “Voyager.”

Station President Paul Grove told Current that the station will use the sum as seed money to attract additional foundation and corporate support. He expects a council vote on the funding later this summer.

On its 45.2 channel, WTCI currently runs Create, state legislature coverage and regional high-school and college sports. Grove wants to expand that to offer live coverage of city councils in the region and their committee work, host issue-oriented town-hall meetings at the station for broadcast, launch a half-hour weekly arts and culture show and run local documentaries — all in addition to the five ongoing weekly series the station already produces.

Grove sees the channel as an important community engagement service for the region, as the 16-county area that includes Chattanooga crafts its first-ever 40-year growth plan. “That’s a big thing for this community and this region,” Grove said, “and we think we can play a vital role in that.”

In researching the project, the station didn’t see anything similar to Voyager within the PBS system. The channel will go beyond the typical public-access fare of live city-council meetings. Content also will be accessible across multiple platforms and via social media.

WTCI is open to outside content for Voyager, Grove said, but will maintain final editorial control.

Apr 2, 2012

WFDD hires Tom Dollenmayer of WUSF as new station manager

Tom Dollenmayer, former station manager of WUSF pubTV and radio in Tampa, Fla., has assumed that role at WFDD-FM at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Denise Franklin, who had been at the station for 11 years, departed as g.m. March 22. According to the local Business Journal, Franklin had been involved in recruiting and selecting Dollenmayer to fill the spot, which is a new position at the station. A decision about whether to hire a g.m. will be made after Dollenmayer settles in, station spokesperson Molly Davis told the publication.

Journalism hubs should continue, but with guidelines, evaluation says

A consultant who evaluated the performance of seven CPB-backed Local Journalism Centers has recommended that CPB continue funding the multimedia startups for another year.

But interactive-media consultant Rusty Coats advised CPB to qualify its continued support for LJCs by requiring the centers to adopt a set of best practices. These would help guide the centers through the more challenging aspects of their work, such as collaborating in multiplatform fundraising and media production.

In his evaluation of the seven regional LJCs launched with CPB aid in 2010, Coats found that four are performing relatively well, but the remainder struggle with issues of collaboration and long-term sustainability. The evaluation was presented March 26 at a meeting of the CPB Board in Washington, D.C.

The LJCs are entering an important time in their life cycle, said CPB radio chief Bruce Theriault. CPB backed them with the goal of establishing new models for producing multimedia journalism on specialized topics, bringing pubcasters together to report on subjects of particular regional interest. CPB initially provided $10.5 million to support the centers (Current, April 5, 2010)

CPB is now evaluating requests from each of the centers for their third year of operations. But one — Changing Gears, covering changes in the Midwest’s manufacturing sector — has opted to shut down rather than request additional aid.

The most successful LJCs have clearly defined their coverage areas and presented a compelling master narrative, Coats told the CPB Board. He cited in particular Fronteras, which covers the U.S. border with Mexico, and Harvest Public Media, with a focus on agriculture, as LJCs that have claimed their subjects and presented them coherently. Less successful in this regard was Healthy State which covers health issues in Florida and has lacked focus, Coats said.

Healthy State and Changing Gears are among the LJCs that struggled with cross-station collaboration, long-term sustainability and multimedia production, according to Coats. Fronteras and EarthFix, which focuses on environmental issues in the Northwest, have had the most success with collaboration, Coats said.

Although the stations behind Changing Gears — Chicago’s WBEZ, Michigan Radio and Cleveland’s ideastream — declined to request another year of funding, they will continue to collaborate, Theriault said. The broadcasters encountered conflicts in competing for foundation funding, fueled more by fear than reality, he said.

Coats told the CPB Board that the stations saw competition as a problem, but he didn’t see any evidence that they actually were competing with each other.

A PDF of the PowerPoint presentation Coats gave to the Board is available here.