Sep 28, 2007

Lawmaker to push over-the-air performance royalty

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) plans to introduce a bill next month that would require over-the-air radio stations to pay performance royalties for the music they play, a move the recording industry has been plotting for some time. Broadcasters have paid royalties to composers and music publishers for decades, but unlike satellite and online radio operators, they haven’t had to pay the performance rights holders--generally record labels--of recordings they air. The National Association of Broadcasters predictably vowed to fight the effort. "The big record labels are spinning the same old tune to Congress--asking them to impose a tax on radio to line the pockets of international record executives," NAB President David K. Rehr said at this week's NAB Radio Show in Charlotte, N.C. "We can't and won't let that happen."

CPB backs plans to build pubradio audience and major giving

To address the slowing in public radio's audience growth, CPB put out an RFP today seeking someone to lead a systemwide consultation and develop goals, audience-building strategies and best practices. Deadline: Oct. 31.

Earlier this week CPB gave the Development Exchange a $235,000 grant to plan a Major Giving Initiative for pubradio. The objective is to train radio fundraisers and otherwise help them find major donors, following completion of a similar project for pubTV.

Sep 26, 2007

Iowa Congressman finds mistake in Burns' WWII doc

Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley found a factual error in Ken Burns' The War, reports Radio Iowa. In his description of "one of the most famous Iowa families involved in that war," Burns says the five Sullivan brothers were from Fredericksburg. " 'That came as a great surprise to all of us living in Waterloo, home of Sullivan Park and the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center,' Braley says. Braley faxed a letter to Burns today, praising his work as a filmmaker but pointing out the error."

APMG to bring back classical format to Miami

Rebuffed last week in a bid to buy an FM outlet in the Washington, D.C., area, American Public Media Group has agreed to laid out $20 million for a station in the Miami area, according to a news report on APMG's Minnesota Public Radio. APMG plans to change the format of WMCU from Christian to classical music, a format that lost its longtime broadcaster a decade ago. APMG President Bill Kling said he's not on a buying spree, but the offer was "just too good to pass up." The seller is an affiliate of an evangelical school, Trinity International University. WMCU's last day on the air will be Sunday, Sept. 30. Public Radio Capital said that it brought the seller and buyer together and repped APMG in negotiations. The seller of the D.C.-area station was also a small Christian college, but its board changed its mind about selling.

What may become a frank and open chat with Jim Russell

The doctor is in. Jim Russell, the longtime radio producer who does business now as The Program Doctor, has just begun taking questions at, the website for public radio producers. Like other guests, Russell posted a conversation-starter, his 17-step guide to program development. (He had a hand in developing not only Marketplace, but also The World, Weekend America and more. Transom's previous guest was Ben Shapiro, a TV-and-radio producer who discusses visual storytelling for radio folks.

African-American museum already active online

More than 40 stories of black families recorded by the ongoing CPB-funded StoryCorps Griot Project are on the website of the Smithsonian's newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum, expected to be built on the Mall by 2015, aims to raise half of its expected $500 million cost and went online early to show donors that it's already at work, the Associated Press reported. The Griot Project mobile recording booth has already swung through Atlanta, Newark, Detroit, Chicago and Oakland and will be in Holly Springs, Miss., tomorrow through Oct. 6, and moves on to Clarksdale, Oct. 11-27, and Memphis, Nov. 1-Dec. 8.

Sep 25, 2007

Nine news Emmys for PBS shows

PBS received nine Emmys last night in the 2007 News and Doc ceremony in New York last night; CBS came in second among the networks with five. Both Frontline and P.O.V. drew special awards for excellence from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Of the nine Emmys, six went to WGBH, including two to American Experience, two to Frontline and one each to Frontline World and one to Nova. Three went to WNET, including two to Nature and one to America's Investigative Reports. Here's the complete list.

Listening "won't feel like a civic duty"

Jesse Thorn ("America's Radio Sweetheart") doesn't mind that Esquire has listed his high-energy show, The Sound of Young America, in The Esquire 100. Esquire endorses it as "a public radio show that's specifically designed not for the kind of people who carry around canvas NPR tote bags." You want to check it out because: Listening to the show "won't feel like a civic duty." (Thorn himself compares the show to Fresh Air, "but more fun.") Thorn and friends started the show in 2000 at the college station at UC Santa Cruz. called his show "the greatest radio show you've never heard." He has since begun extolling "the New Sincerity." Perhaps for some other reason PRI began distributing the show this year. Archived podcasts and artifacts are at The Sound's site.

Sep 24, 2007

Election mash-up draws more than 1 million

The online build-your-own Democratic presidential debate--hosted by PBS's Charlie Rose--has attracted more than 1 million users since it premiered on Sept. 13, reports the Los Angeles Times. The site, created by Yahoo!, and The Huffington Post, allows users to compare video of each candidate answering Rose's inquiries about the Iraq War, health care and education. However, users seem more interested in another feature--the "wild card" questions posed by Bill Maher.

Sep 23, 2007

Two-thirds of PTFP outlays to DTV

The Commerce Department's Public Telecommunications Facilities Program announced its annual grants, grouped by state, this year totalling $22.4 million, two-thirds for DTV conversion. Twenty-four stations got aid to buy emergency generators. Some of the radio grants help launch the first pubradio signals for five localities.

Sep 21, 2007

NPR names Shepard new Ombudsman

NPR announced today that Alicia C. Shepard has been named the new NPR Ombudsman. In a memo sent to Jim Romenesko, NPR President Kevin Close said, "Lisa brings a strong portfolio in analyzing and explaining journalism and media policy. She is currently teaching a graduate-level course in Media Ethics at Georgetown University and writing a chapter on the media for the Center for Public Integrity's forthcoming book, The Buying of the President. She has also served as a journalism instructor at American University and the University of Texas." Shepard recently published the book Woodward & Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate and is co-author of Running Toward Danger: Stories Behind the Breaking News of 9/11. For nine years, she was a principal contributor to the American Journalism Review, where she received the National Press Club's top media criticism prize three times. She has written for the New York Times, Washingtonian magazine, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newark Star Ledger and Washington Post, and she was a staff reporter with the San Jose (CA) Mercury News. "As we sought to fill this position now," writes Klose, "we also wanted to advance its role and duties within our organization to reflect how both the media and media criticism have changed in only seven years. ... Among her first duties, Lisa will work with the NPR News, Digital Media, Communications and Member and Program Services Divisions to deal with the increasing number of letters we are receiving, which are the result of everything from the public intensity over the upcoming elections to improved technology available to drive advocacy campaigns."

College nixes sale of station sought by APM

The trustees of a small Seventh-Day Adventist college just outside Washington, D.C., took its noncommercial FM station off the market yesterday, giving up, at least for now, expanding its thin endowment by some $20 million that American Public Media offered for WGTS. "The Lord performed a miracle today and we give him all the praise and thanks for what happened," says John Konrad, g.m., in announcements on the station and its website. The college didn't explain the board's decision or say whether the decision was final. Konrad said the sale was off "for now." If APM bought 91.9, its format was expected to leap from "family-friendly" Christian rock music to secular news/talk. Columbia Union College said in July APM would be the only bidder considered, but a spokesman said last week that a bid from the parent of K-Love, a big Christian radio net, was also in hand.

Sep 20, 2007

PBS viewers angry about exclusion of Kucinich and Gravel

In today's PBS ombudsman's column, Michael Getler posts letters from viewers who are angry about Iowa Public Television and AARP's exclusion of Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel from tonight's debate.

Kucinich criticizes Iowa PubTV for excluding him

Dennis Kucinich chastized AARP and Iowa Public Television in a recent release for excluding him from tonight's Democratic Presidential Forum, which will focus on health care and financial security. The Iowa Democratic Party has said Kucinich does not have an "active organization" in the state. Kucinich said: "How can AARP and Iowa Public Television claim they are committed to education and informing the voters of Iowa on the number one domestic issue in this campaign when they deny a voice to the only candidate who is leading the effort to bring real reform to the health care system by ending the control of for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies?"

Ken Burns' companion book already a best-seller

The companion book to Ken Burns' The War, co-authored with Geoffrey C. Ward, "was released last week and makes its debut today at No. 34 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list," reports the paper. The $50 book follows successful print renditions of The Civil War and Baseball.

Sep 19, 2007

Top GOP candidates won't be at Smiley's forum

"The leading contenders for the Republican nomination have indicated they will not attend the All American Presidential Forum organized by black talk show host Tavis Smiley, scheduled for Sept. 27 at Morgan State University in Baltimore and airing on PBS," reports the Washington Post. Party leaders are concerned this decision may further alienate black and Latino voters--earlier this month, top GOP candidates (except McCain) declined an invition to debate on Univision.

Sep 18, 2007

Latinos plan protests of The War

"Four protests of [Ken] Burns' documentary at local PBS stations are planned Sunday in California; a Capitol rally is to be held in Austin, Texas; others will hold exhibits, commemoration days and panel discussions in their cities," reports the AP on Latino groups' continuing opposition to Burns' 15-hour PBS series The War, which premieres Sunday evening.

City Attorney posts documents from KPBS

San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre, who requested public records from KPBS after it cancelled the public affairs show Full Focus, explained his actions in a recent press release: "Since the public records request was made public by KPBS, I've received more citizen concerns questioning whether KPBS is fulfilling its responsiblity as a public broadcasting station for the people. In addition, the Editors Rondtable's [a KPBS weekly radio program] regular opinon-maker is the Union-Tribune's Editorial Director, and people have expressed concern that the newspaper already enjoys a virtual monopoly on editorial content disseminated to the citizens of San Diego." (The documents obtained by Aguirre can be downloaded from his website under "Significant Reports and Legal Documents.")

Sep 17, 2007

Talent Questers unveil their demos

Online voting is underway on five-minute demos created by the five remaining contestants in the Public Radio Talent Quest.

Lehrer was soft on Petraeus and Crocker

Like many viewers, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler wasn't too impressed with Jim Lehrer's questioning of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Sept. 12. Getler writes of the NewsHour segment, "For an issue that is at the heart of this moment in our history, the half-hour, as a whole, seemed too flat and dry to me, an under-utilized opportunity. It offered a calm nod to those frustrations that engulf millions of Americans about where this war is going without really pressing more specific questions about military and diplomatic strategy and the associated costs in lives, money and reputation that are on people’s minds." (See video and transcript of the segment.)

Also off-limits, South Side: Cokie Roberts

The suburban Chicago Daily Herald points to a broadcast segment about a bar fight between spunky two women to characterize :Vocalo, Chicago Public Radio's idiosyncratic new offshoot station for the young and nonwhite. The new station in Indiana, which reaches only southern parts of Chicago, went 24/7 this month, the Sun-Times reported. CPR President Torey Malatia described the thinking behind :Vocalo in Current. Listen for yourself.

Sep 13, 2007

City Attorney request documents from KPBS

San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre has requested documents from KPBS related to cancellation of its local program Full Focus, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Aguirre also requested documentation about the station's largest donors and how KPBS chooses participants for its Editors Roundtable. KPBS spokeswoman Nancy Worlie told the Union-Tribune, “There's not much in the documents, but whatever Aguirre does with this only Aguirre knows. We are flattered he wants to spend his time looking into us.”

Sep 12, 2007

Brown is the New Green aptly investigates Latino experience

"I've long thought that someone should make a documentary on the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the Latino experience in the United States," says San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. in a commentary about Brown Is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream (airing tonight on PBS). The film, says Navarrette, fulfills this wish. It unpacks Latino identity as it relates to "politics, business, entertainment, marketing and media," and also addresses the "contradictions and mixed messages that Latinos send everyone else." Navarrette quotes filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez: "'Latinos are such an enigma to America.'"

Sep 11, 2007

Underwriting sales agency bought by NPR, WGBH

The largest producing organizations in public radio and TV, NPR and WGBH, said in a release today that they're buying what is probably the largest broker of underwriting time on local stations, Boston-based National Public Broadcasting. It represents 60 stations in pubTV, 120 in pubradio, NPR,, and the NewsHour. Bob Williams, a sales exec who had built an earlier business selling ad time on cable TV, established the business 10 years ago as National Public Television and later expanded into radio.

PBS parrot star dies at age 31

Alex, the super-smart parrot featured on PBS's Scientific American Frontiers and the Nature episode "Parrots: Look Who's Talking," died last week at age 31. Alex--who could identify objects, colors and shapes--was known for his verbal interactions with Alan Alda on Scientific American (see video).

Sep 10, 2007

PBS Ombudsman: Crossroads needs context

Responding to viewer criticism about the latest American at a Crossroads doc--Robert Kaplan's "Inside America's Empire"--PBS ombudsman Michael Gelter says the programs need more introductory context. The problem for viewers, he says, is "the concept of what this Crossroads series is supposed to be."

Comic strip responds to Ken Burns' The War

In response to Ken Burns' The War, creators of the comic strip Baldo will introduce a Latino WWII vet character on Sept. 17, reports Editor & Publisher. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a University of Texas-Austin professor who has advocated against The War, helped creators Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos develop content for the new character.

Rural pubTV stations get USDA digital grants

The USDA gave six rural public TV stations a total of $4.95 million to build out their digital infrastructure in advance of the February 2009 analog TV shut-off. Pubcasters in Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee received rural development grants ranging from $1.86 million down to $25,510.

Yikes, a critic who is of two minds!

"As a reading lesson, Super Why! is brilliantly clever," says a New York Times review today. "As a lesson in literary interpretation, it fails miserably," writes Susan Stewart, who contends that the new PBS children's series neutralizes the power of dark but enduring fairy tales.

Sep 6, 2007

For those who hate wordless humming

Tomorrow afternoon ATC will announce the winner of a contest to write lyrics for the show's enduring theme. Nina Totenberg can be heard on warbling the four finalists culled from nearly 1,000 entries. Listeners' voting to pick the winner closed last night. A Californian named Bruce Dick is the finalist with the shortest entry, which nevertheless emphasizes quite a big claim for the show: "Not just many things considered / Not just most things / In fact, all." Now we can't get that out of our minds.

NPR talks with Made in L.A. filmmaker

On NPR's Talk of the Nation yesterday, Neal Conan talked with filmmaker Almudena Carracedo about her film Made in L.A., which debuted Tuesday on the PBS series P.O.V.

Sep 5, 2007

LA Times on Burns' The War: an epic poem

"[Ken] Burns sometimes gets dinged for being too heartland; a critic for this paper chided his 'pure Hallmark' moments. But the whole point here is the contrast, the Hallmark against the horrors," writes Paul Lieberman in a Los Angeles Times feature about Burns and his upcoming film The War. "He's not producing a textbook but 'an epic poem,' and he's tried to distinguish his from the other WWII films by focusing on the interplay of home front and war front, using Sacramento, Luverne, Minn., Mobile and Waterbury."

"Bluegrass makes hangovers go away!"

WAMU's announcement that it will drop bluegrass music from its weekend schedule later this month and upgrade its HD Radio service prompted nearly three dozen listeners to post comments yesterday on DCist. A handful of listeners applauded the change: "I just don't 'get' Bluegrass music. Waaay too twangy and countrified for me," wrote one. But many others found reasons to object. The new Sunday afternoon news/talk line-up is "extraordinarily lame AND lazy," wrote one listener. "This sucks. Bluegrass makes hangovers go away!" commented another. "I always liked WAMU weekends for the very reason that it wasn't just like WAMU on the weekdays," writes a fan of the Dick Spottswood Show and American Routes, Americana music programs to be dropped from WAMU's flagship service.

Sep 4, 2007

Made in L.A. another window into labor of undocumented immigrants

The film Made in L.A., which runs tonight on PBS as part of the P.O.V. series, is an "excellent documentary," according to a New York Times review. The doc follows the labor activism of three Latino women in L.A.'s garment manufacturing industry. Writes the Times' Andy Webster: "Congress may not be able to decide how to process the nation’s illegal immigrants, but the film understands that they’re simply here, an integral component of the economy."

WordGirl is funny, Super Why! is "sugary-sweet"

The new PBS kids' show WordGirl "doesn't just teach, it also entertains with humorous situations that should appeal to children and their parents," writes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV critic Rob Owen. The new Super Why!, however, is a "sugary-sweet show that may entertain its target audience of 3-to-6-year-olds, but may repulse parents the same way Barney does."

New York Times on new PBS series WordGirl

"WordGirl takes the [superhero] conceit back to an earlier era, with a sensibility that could only have been conceived by creators who may have watched too many Rocky and Bullwinkle shows," writes Elizabeth Jensen in a New York Times article about the new PBS children's series.

Armed and virtuous

Jody Foster's latest heroic movie role -- in Neil Jordan's thriller The Brave One -- is a public radio personality who becomes a vigilante when her fiancé is killed and the justice system fails to do justice. NPR's Bob Mondello says he hears talk the Warner Bros. film may be an award-winner. See the trailer on Fandango.

WAMU ends weekend bluegrass, bets that music fans will embrace HD Radio service

WAMU in Washington, D.C., announced that it is dropping all bluegrass programming from its weekend schedule and replacing long-running music shows with news/talk programming. The station will invest in upgrades to its HD Radio service, WAMU Bluegrass Country, by adding digital multicasts of live-hosted music programs on 88.5-2. It also will give away 1,000 HD Radios to listeners who contributed to its bluegrass programming within the past year. A third digital channel will combine news programming from the BBC and music from Triple-A outlet WTMD in Towson, Md. (All three schedules are posted here.) WAMU once broadcast more than 20 hours a week of bluegrass and other acoustic music programming, according to according to the Washington Post's Marc Fisher, who reports on the changes today on his blog. Six years ago, the station launched first digital service for bluegrass fans--as an online-only, 24-hour streaming service, but Fisher reports that the audience for music broadcasts on its flagship channel is much larger than that of the Internet service.

Unwelcome competition for NPR News audience on shores of Maryland

"I think there is enough competition in the media world. Between iPods and downloads, there is enough competition without worrying about another station," says Gerry Weston, g.m. of Public Radio Delmarva stations WSCL and WSDL serving Maryland's coastal communities. The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., reports on plans for Baltimore's WYPR to begin beaming its NPR News service into Ocean City and examines how competition from the distant station will affect local pubradio outlets.