Feb 3, 2012

Philip Weinberg dies at 86; brought pubcasting to central Illinois

Philip Weinberg, "the man responsible for bringing public broadcasting to central Illinois," according to the Peoria Journal Star, died Thursday (Feb. 2) in Peoria, Ill. He was 86.

"Not only did he start public radio on the Bradley [University] campus," said Chet Tomczyk, g.m. of WTVP-TV, "but when he came across Sesame Street, produced by the Children's Television Workshop, he decided that here was a show that people in this community needed to be exposed to." So Weinberg arranged for the program to play on another local channel for six months before it could be carried on the pubTV station that Weinberg put on the air in June 1971, Tomczyk said.

Weinberg was also a former dean at Bradley University, and "a Renaissance man, one of those visionary transformational figures, not only for Bradley but the central Illinois community," said Jeff Huberman, dean of Bradley's Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts. "That was a college Weinberg not only created but ran for nine years," the paper noted, "after serving as chairman of the school's electrical engineering department for 20 years, a department he also created."

AU purchases 96,000-square-foot building for its WAMU-FM

WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., will soon move to a much bigger home. Licensee American University has purchased a 96,000-square-foot building for the pubradio station and its Bluegrass Country operation. "A first-class radio station depends on great staff and an appropriately-sized and outfitted facility," WAMU General Manager Caryn G. Mathes said in the announcement. "We have the staff, and now, thanks to American University, we will have the facility.” WAMU, housed in a 23,000-square-foot space since 1993, should be broadcasting from the Connecticut Avenue building early in 2013. The station will use about half the total space, with the remainder for other university purposes. [Editor's note: Current is part of American University's School of Communication.]

Coming soon on "Family Feud," it's Team Vogelzang!

“Being on a syndicated television program was not on any life’s list that I ever had,” said Mark Vogelzang, president of Maine Public Broadcasting Network. And yet there he is, on an episode of Family Feud scheduled to air Feb. 8, alongside his son and daughter and their spouses.

The Vogelzangs heard about a regional audition for the show at a furniture store in Lynn, Mass., just north of Boston, in spring 2011. Between all the kids and grandkids, “we have 16 people in the family, so we figured we could probably mount a team,” Vogelzang told Current. Finally it was decided that Team Vogelzang would consist of Mark, son Aaron and wife Alisha, and daughter Sarah and husband David Jones. Producers from FremantleMedia (which also owns American Idol) liked their performance, and the team moved on to an August 2011 taping at the civic center in Atlanta.

So did they win the top cash prize of $20,000? Did they drive away in the shiny new car? We won’t ruin that for you. This much is certain: “It was loads of fun to hang with my family,” Vogelzang said, "and great to watch them experience TV behind the scenes — and to see our name in lights.”

In the photo, from left: Mark, Aaron, Alisha, Sarah and David (Image: FremantleMedia)

There's good news in numbers at PBS Board meeting

ARLINGTON, Va. — PBS President Paula Kerger told the PBS Board that 2011 was an "amazing year amidst extraordinary challenges." Kerger, speaking Friday (Feb. 3) at PBS headquarters, sparked two rounds of applause from directors with lots of impressive numbers.

According to Nielsen data, the 2010-11 season ended with a 1.33 national primetime average, up 4 percent over 2009-10. Currently, Kerger said, PBS's primetime audience is "significantly larger" than that of several popular cable outlets: 104 percent over Bravo, 75 percent over TLC, 70 percent over Discovery. PBS’s primetime numbers for news and public affairs programming are 60 percent higher than CNN's overall primetime average, Kerger said. Morning children's programming viewers in 2010-11 were up 18 percent for ages 2 to 5 over the previous year. Seventy-nine percent of children nationwide ages 2 to 11 watched PBS, a total of 32.7 million, up 3 percent from 2009-10.

The PBS Arts Fall Festival reached nearly 19 million viewers on Friday evenings, Kerger said, noting: "What's interesting to me, when we looked at the cume audiences, we pulled in a lot of new people on Friday nights. This is a niche so underserved by the rest of the media."

On the digital side, viewers watched more than 128 million videos across all of PBS’s web and mobile platforms in December 2011 alone, up from an average of 2 million monthly views in 2008. Facebook fans jumped 110 percent in the last year, to more than 1 million. Twitter followers of PBS now number 930,000.

And then, of course, there's Masterpiece megahit Downton Abbey. Besides its hefty ratings — Season 2 premiered to an audience of 6.3 million viewers across all plays, the highest for a Masterpiece episode in 17 years — it provided "one of the great moments in the past month," Kerger said, when Downton won the Golden Globe for best mini-series and, according to Twitter, was the single most-Tweeted moment of the awards broadcast on Jan. 15.

Kerger said she realizes that tough issues remain, as stations wrestle with funding cuts and system sustainability. "But it's important to occasionally pause and savor the moment," she said.

"Moyers and Company" sparks letter to CPB ombudsman

Moyers and Company, the latest offering from pubTV veteran newsman Bill Moyers, a longtime target of conservative criticism, has prompted a complaint to CPB Ombudsman Joel Kaplan from Prof. Victor Lieberman of the University of Michigan's Department of History, who calls the program "strident, undisguised left-wing advocacy."

"I should like you to attempt to defend what seems to me to be completely indefensible programming," Lieberman wrote to Kaplan.

Moyers, contacted by Kaplan, defended the show. "Take a look at only our first three broadcasts and you'll find guests from across the political and cultural spectrum, including President Reagan's former budget director and a corporate CEO," he said. "More diversity to come."

Lieberman also had concerns about Page Eight on Masterpiece Contemporary, previously addressed by PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler.

Turning public radio's funding model upside-down

As public radio listeners gain more options for listening to and supporting their favorite shows, the value proposition that's at the center of local station membership revenues is about to be up-ended, writes radio consultant Mark Ramsey. Listeners now can directly support programs like This American Life, and this gives them less incentive to contribute during a local station's pledge drive, he says. The station's role in presenting the show also changes — "from distribution partner to advertising vehicle" — because local broadcasts become a highly effective way of turning more listeners on to the program.

Under a system of direct listener support of public radio programs, the fees that stations pay for national programs should be discounted, Ramsey writes, and local outlets should put more of their money into curating a unique localized listening experience for their audiences.

South Carolina ETV makes "hard decision" to close WJWJ after nearly 40 years

South Carolina ETV is closing the studio and office of its Lowcountry public TV station, WJWJ, after nearly 40 years in Beaufort County, according to The Beaufort Gazette. WJWJ will no longer produce local programming, and two staffers lost their jobs. "We have had other reductions over the past year because of our overall state funding, but there has not been another facility like this that we have closed," said South Carolina ETV President Linda O'Bryon. The decision was made because WJWJ wasn't paying for itself. "In other locations, we have revenues that are coming in to offset the costs, and in this area we just didn't have the revenues and we had to make some hard decisions," O'Bryon said. WJWJ will continue to carry ETV programs, she added.