May 31, 2009

Looks like he made it

It's summertime, and that means the popular PBS broadcast of A Capitol Fourth is just around the corner. Word comes that longtime pop star Barry Manilow will open and close the show this year. Also appearing is Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. Actor Jimmy Smits hosts.

Random House knows a lot about project

Random House is releasing details of its partnership with PBS to develop The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, which premieres in fall of 2010. The project is just entering development, according to the Animation Insider website. PBS announced at Showcase last month that comedian Martin Short has signed on. The show will center on Sally and Nick, 6-year-old neighbors, and their adventures with the Cat in the Hat -- and, yes, Thing One and Thing Two.

May 30, 2009

CPB turns down WSEC; station outlook bleak

WSEC in Springfield, Ill., could not secure a $460,000 grant from CPB. Its CEO, Jerold Gruebel, said the station has lost $1 million due to the recession. He said the station needs $400,000 to make it through June and July. He added that WSEC could end up carrying only the national PBS program feed.

May 29, 2009

WQED sells 40-year-old offspring Pittsburgh magazine

WQED Multimedia said today it has sold one of its creations that made it multi -- the area's biggest regional magazine, Pittsburgh magazine and its offspring City Guide, Home and Garden Magazine and Pittsburgh Weddings. The station will retain an eight-page "On Air" segment in the magazine, and it will still go to station members who donate $40 or more. WiesnerMedia, of Greenwood Village, Colo., is the buyer; it also publishes ColoradoBiz, Trucking Times and other titles, and plans to develop a regional media specialty. Terms of the deal were confidential. Publisher Betsy Benson will stay with the magazine. WQED began publishing the monthly in 1969 as an arts guide called QED Renaissance. Chicago's WTTW and San Francisco's KQED sold their similar monthlies years ago.

For our blog RSS followers

Don't miss the latest updates of Current's story on the ongoing controversy surrounding a young man who is presenting himself as the "successor" to Mister Rogers. Current broke the story with an exclusive in print and on its website on May 26.

Two showcases to be webcast live from nonCOMM today

WXPN in Philadelphia will broadcast live from two music showcases during day two of nonCOMMvention, the annual conference for pubradio's Triple A music stations. XPN Free at Noon, a weekly live concert series that is open to the general public, is a double-header of Guy Sebastian featuring Steve Cropper, followed by the Derek Trucks Band. Four acts are on the bill of tonight's showcase: Rhett Miller, The Avett Brothers, Pete Yorn and Delta Spirit. Tune your browser to the live webcasts here.

May 28, 2009

Sesame honors mayor, Elmo co-hosts the fun

Sesame Workshop presented New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the Global Leadership Award at a gala yesterday for the show's 40th anniversary. There were performances by artists including Sheryl Crow, and even a video message from President Barack Obama. Co-hosts were NBC News anchor Brian Williams, and Elmo -- in matching suits.

New iPhone apps in the works for NPR

NPR will launch a news-focused iPhone application in July and plans another release for its online music service by September, according to Robert Spier, director of content development for NPR Digital.

During a presentation today at nonCOMMvention, the annual conference for pubradio's contemporary music-mix stations convened by Philadelphia's WXPN, Spier presented slides of the iPhone app interfaces. The “landing page” for the iPhone news app will feature text-based content, with icons designating audio-based stories. The app also allows users to access archived NPR shows or live streams of public radio stations. iPhone users who want to interact with NPR content will eventually be able to transfer playlists created on computers to their iPhones, although Spier anticipates this function will be added to the app later this year.

The iPhone app for NPR Music will feature web-only content such as live concerts, blogs, and sharing functions. “There’s lots of discovery content [on NPR Music] that we would like to bring front and center to the iPhone,” Spier said. “We think sharing could be a more vital function on the music app then it will be on the news app.” Launch of the music app is planned for late August or September, although Spier said the initial release won’t be a “full on” version offering all the functions that NPR plans.

iPhone users are the most active segment of the NPR Mobile audience, Spier told nonCOMM attendees. They account for 54 percent of NPR’s mobile web traffic, even though they are but a small segment of all NPR Mobile users. “There not may be many iPhones out there, but this is where all the buzz and most of the consumption is,” Spier said.

Another panelist in the session, Jon Cooper, chief marketing officer for PhindmeMobile, predicted that the demand for mobile web is about to explode from the 50-60 million Americans now actively using it. He presented research showing that nearly half of 272 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S. want mobile web capabilities in their next phones.

With more than 20,000 different mobile web devices on the market, none except the iPhone have become an “object of lust” among consumers, Cooper said. The proliferation of devices and lack of web content that is optimized for mobile uses have inhibited this web platform from taking off, but that will change soon, Cooper said. “Mobile web is the next killer app,” because it is easier to access, cheaper to develop, and works on more devices.

Columnist suggests ending WHYY's Delaware presence

Delaware could save "half a million bucks" if it pulled the plug on local studios of WHYY in Wilmington, Del. That's what a News Journal columnist thinks should be done. Why? He feels that "the station's idea of programming was offering day-old sports scores and not to broadcast news, weather or sports on weekends or holidays. That's not a television station." Who knows, he may get his wish: The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that the station has put its Wilmington facility's building on the market for $1.7 million.

Pubcaster's snacks seemingly newsworthy

WETA head Sharon Percy Rockefeller turned out for the annual Party in the Garden at the Museum of Modern Art in New York a few nights back. Published reports say she may or may not have noshed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salad, or lobster.

WHYY breaks ground for Learning Lab

Work on WHYY's $12 million Learning Lab has begun at the station's main facility in Philadelphia. The pubcaster said the focus of the lab will be digital media, audio and new media. Part of the project is the 4,100-square-foot Lincoln Financial Digital Media Education Studio. The lab is set to open in 2010.

May 27, 2009

Memorial Day Concert brings PBS ombudsman letters

Michael Getler, PBS ombudsman, uncovers the back story of Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jose Pequeno, who was featured in the PBS broadcast of the National Memorial Day Concert from the West Lawn of the Capitol.

School kids rally for Erie pubstation

About 150 students, waving photos of Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Clifford the Big Red Dog, gathered today on the steps of Lincoln Elementary School in Erie, Pa., to support local pubstation WQLN. It stands to lose some $800,000 in state funding if Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget is approved. The budget would eliminate state funding for all eight of Pennsylvania's public television stations. "If the budget passes, we would also lose another $70,000 in federal matching funds," Tom New, WQLN's director of creative services, told the Erie Times-News. "That's 25 percent of our total revenue."

HD Radio tuner added to new Zune player

A Zune media player unveiled this morning by Microsoft includes HD Radio tune-in capability among other new features. Zune HD combines a multi-touch screen and Web browser with a built-in HD Radio receiver. In addition, consumers who buy a separately sold audiovisual dock will be able to play high-def videos on HD TV sets. "Microsoft is blazing a trail for a whole new generation of small, hand-held HD Radio enabled products," said Bob Struble, president of iBiquity Digital Corporation. But gadget reviewers are yawning. "I'm a proud Zune owner myself..., and while I think Zunes are great, I'm not thrilled with what I've learned so far," writes Dan Nosowitz of Gizmodo. "It'll be a polished and great-sounding player, I'm sure, but I really want to see something that pushes boundaries, and to me, that doesn't mean HD radio." Zune HD players will be released this fall for sale at an as-yet unannounced price.

Radio writing "makes more sense in bubbles"

In her forthcoming book from W.W. Norton, On the Media's Brooke Gladstone will appear as a cartoon version of herself to tell the story of the press's role in American history, the New York Observer reports. Gladstone first tried writing the book as a graphic science fiction novel set in the year 2032, but dropped that approach for a comic book collaboration with Brooklyn artist Josh Neufeld. "[A]s counterintuitive as it sounds, this is the closest I can get to radio," Gladstone said. "I feel that it’ll be a simulacrum of a radio presence, and that’s how I communicate best....Radio writing looks different from regular text—it makes more sense in bubbles.” The book's working title The Influencing Machine is a reference to the psychological syndrome in which patients believe their emotions and thoughts are controlled by some external device.“I think part of the case I’m making is that people are not the passive consumers of media that they often present themselves to be--they are the shapers of the media,” Gladstone said. During a recent interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, Gladstone reveals her bent for science fiction, describing herself as a "huge Trekkie" in a discussion of the new movie and the inspiration of the original TV series.

May 26, 2009

"Chef's Story" divorce goes from frying pan to fire

The divorce of Dorothy Cann Hamilton, host of the 26-part pubTV series Chef's Story, has turned into a lawsuit involving millions of dollars. Her estranged husband, venture capitalist Douglas A.P. Hamilton, says he bankrolled the series and several other of his wife's projects. The suit is complex and involves ownership of the the French Culinary Institute (which she founded), and two trusts in Milwaukee. "Unfortunately, it's a very messy divorce," she said. The two have been married 15 years.

May 25, 2009

Expect changes, GPB head says

Teya Ryan, brought on as president and executive director of Georgia Public Broadcasting in March, tells Atlanta Journal Constitution political columnist Jim Galloway that changes are afoot. She said she wants to use a “commercial discipline” to transform the network. Some public affairs programming has been canceled for now. “Over the next year you’ll see some very creative initiatives,” she said.

May 24, 2009

Alaska pubcaster trims staff, benefits

KTOO in Juneau, Alaska, is cutting three workers, eliminating 1.5 vacant positions, reducing two full-timers to part time, lowering benefits and freezing salaries. The pubcaster includes KTOO-TV, KTOO News Radio, KRNN Rain Country Radio and KXLL Excellent Radio. General Manager Bill Legere told The Juneau Empire that the station has lost federal and state money, as well as production contracts. He also cited the $5 million cost of digital transition.

May 23, 2009

Mom laments end of childhood and "Clifford"

How do you know when your little boy feels all grown up? When he announces that he's stopped watching Clifford the Big Red Dog.

MPR scores $2 million-plus

The Minnesota Public Radio Advocates Network is celebrating passage of the Legacy Amendment in the state, a $2.65 million funding bill for the pubcasters to create "new programming and events, expand regional news service, amplify Minnesota culture to a regional and national audience, and document Minnesota's history through the Minnesota Audio Archives." The network is a statewide group that supports the work of MPR and other pubcasters at the state Legislature and U.S. Congress. The Advocates mobilized to place hundreds of phone calls and send emails and letters. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

May 22, 2009

Senators sign letters of support for pubcasting

Nearly a third of senators have signed letters of support for fiscal 2010 funding for public broadcasting, according to APTS. Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Florida circulated the two letters, for Labor-HHS and for PTFP. "We have not had this documented show of Senate support in many years and we are thankful to all our stations that contacted their senators," APTS said in a legislative update. All signatories were Democrats, along with independents Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

Processing the outrage over NPR movie review

NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard endorses the editorial policy that prohibited the naming of closeted gay politicians in a review of the documentary Outrage, but she agrees with critics who questioned how NPR handled the piece filed by freelance film critic Nathan Lee.

The whole point of Outrage is to identify political leaders who oppose gay rights but are rumored to be secretly gay, as well as to illuminate the mainstream media's complicity in not exposing them as hypocrites. Both NPR and the Washington Post withheld the names of the politicians identified in Outrage, but other daily newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Variety published them, Shepard reports on her blog.

Shepard faults NPR editors for dancing around the issue. "As it turned out, NPR did handle its online review in the manner of a blind gossip item," she writes. "Rather than name a particular prominent politician, the edited version gave enough information for the cognoscenti to easily figure out who the review was talking about."

In addition, NPR illustrated the review with a photograph of former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who was arrested in 2007 for soliciting sex from an undercover male officer and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct while denying that he was gay. "If NPR is not going to name names, then his photo should not have accompanied the review," Shepard writes.

Both Shepard and NPR Executive Editor Dick Meyer have agreed with critics who pointed out that NPR's policy protecting the privacy of individuals hasn't been consistently applied.

Letters flow in to PBS ombudsman on "three nons"

The PBS ombudsman's mailbag is full of viewer comments on the "three nons" issue of sectarian programming. Stations are currently commenting on the proposed PBS membership requirement, which the board votes on in June.

Pubcasters locate money for Geospatial project

Penn State Public Broadcasting's Geospatial Revolution Project has received a $50,000 boost from the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. The project explores location-based technologies (think GPS), "the world of digital mapping and how it is changing the way we think, behave, and interact," according to its website. It includes eight Web video episodes and a nationally released hourlong documentary.

Houston PBS still waiting for Hurricane Ike funds

University of Houston's KUHT is still recovering from Hurricane Ike, which slammed into HoustonPBS in September 2008. Insurance claims for nearly $1 million in station damages are still pending, according to spokeswoman Julie Coan. "It'll be another month before we know what will be covered," Coan said. "It's my understanding the delay is due to the fact the station's claim was included in the university's claims for Ike." The hurricane slammed into the pubTV station in the midst of a pledge drive. The fundraiser was canceled after raising $270,000, only half of its goal.

Kids can go on Sesame treasure hunts

Sesame Workshop has signed a new licensing agreement that brings personalized letters to small fans of Sesame Street, according to a statement. The "Sesame Street Giftventure" line provides poster-sized letters with a personal game or puzzle for children ages 2 to 5. Solving the puzzle provides the location of a gift the parent has hidden. Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster and Abby Cadabby each appear with a unique storyline and educational games. The $19.95 Giftventures are now available at and

May 21, 2009

Strickling okayed for NTIA post

The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved Larry Strickling as head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, according to Broadcasting & Cable. Strickling will oversee broadband rollout grants and the DTV-to-analog converter box coupon program. He had worked as Chief Regulatory and Chief Compliance Officer at Broadwing Communications for three years before joining then-Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign as policy coordinator.

Arizona pubradio creating its own programs for "National Parks"

A lone radio station is joining the massive pubTV outreach surrounding Ken Burns’ National Parks: America’s Best Idea. KNAU, Arizona Public Radio in Flagstaff, is partnering with the National Park Service to produce features about sites in the state including Canyon De Chelly, Wupatki, and Hubbell Trading Post. Segments will air in September along with the Burns series, according to g.m. John Stark, who is also board chair of the Grand Canyon Association. The station is producing the programming independent of NPR with funding from the National Park Foundation and Western National Parks Association. See the May 11 issue of Current for more on the $6 million PBS outreach, one of public TV's most expensive ever.

WNYC, ETV Radio and WDAV, showcase music festivals on-air and online

Pubradio outlets in New York and the Carolinas are kicking off special musical performance series for local and worldwide audiences, beginning tonight with a live performance by Grizzly Bear from New York's WNYC. The show launches WNYC's American Music Festival, which concludes May 27 with a live concert featuring the world premiere of new work by acclaimed jazz drummer Dafnis Prieto. Tomorrow, on the opening day of the Spoleto Festival USA, South Carolina's ETV Radio and WDAV in Charlotte, N.C., co-present Spoleto Today and Carolina Classics, special series to be presented weekdays during the 17-day festival of music, theatre and dance performances in Charleston, S.C. The pubcasters forged a new partnership to broadcast festival programming throughout the Carolinas, and they are providing streamed and archived performances and other coverage online. WDAV extends its daily coverage from Spoleto with The Mozart Cafe, hosted by Jennifer Foster from noon to 1 p.m. daily.

Albright to introduce Muslim doc at June premiere

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will introduce the doc Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think, at its premiere June 3 in Washington. The film will also travel to think tanks, Capitol Hill and several universities before airing on PBS this fall. Produced by Michael Wolfe and Alex Kronemer for Unity Productions Foundation, the film explores the results of the Gallup Organization's first-ever opinion poll on the Muslim world. Gallup polled about 1,000 people in each of 21 countries, mostly in mid-2007.

Copps envisions broadband project partnership

Acting FCC Chair Michael Copps sees building a national broadband network as similar to past work on rural electrification, universal phone service and interstate highways. In an interview Wednesday for for C-SPAN’s The Communicators series, Copps added that such massive projects require cooperation between government and industry. “That’s the way we’ve always built infrastructure in this country – working together.” The interview is set to air at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Post-merger, Sirius XM is losing subscribers

The Wall Street Journal reports that 1.7 million Sirius XM subscribers dropped the satellite radio service in the first quarter of 2009. With 1.3 million new customers signing on, the net loss of 404,000 listeners knocked the recently merged satellite company's subscriber base down to 18.6 million. "Company officials blamed the bad economy and poor car sales and said they expected another hit to subscribers in the current quarter," the Journal's Sarah McBride reports. But, she found another cause: "Many of the dropped customers were disgruntled after the company dropped several stations after the merger. Chris Ross, who had three separate XM radios, says he canceled them in March when his favorite stations were dropped. 'Now an iPod provides the background music,' he says." Be sure to read the comments for a debate on the merits of HD Radio, Pandora and the Public Radio iPhone tuner.

May 20, 2009

Sprout TV to get all Wiggly

The Wiggles, the Aussie musical quartet that's a megahit with the preschool set, are coming to Sprout TV this summer. The bouncy band's television show runs in more than 110 countries and ends a seven-year contract with the Disney Channel in June. The program will premiere on Sprout on Aug. 24. Sprout President Sandy Wax said this is the largest acquisition thusfar for the channel, which is a partnership of PBS, Comcast, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment.

Pubradio comes to the Little Apple of Kansas

Receiving public radio around Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., got a lot easier today, thanks to another big university. Kansas Public Radio (KANU), based at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, turned on two new repeaters nearby, bringing both of its services to town: its main news/classical/jazz service on 99.5 MHz and its KPR2 news/talk service on 98.3 Mhz. Manhattan hasn't had its own pubradio station since Kansas State gave up on its rare shared-control role in KKSU-AM seven years ago. Manhattan got spotty service from the nearest KPR signal, 91.3 broadcast from Junction City.

Arizona station benefits from new endowment

KAET at Arizona State University in Phoenix will receive about $25,000 annually through a planned giving donation from a longtime fan. The new Melvina C. Killion Charitable Endowment is named for "a really fine supporter" of the station, Gary McMahan, Channel 8's associate director of development, told Current. Killion died Jan. 6 at age 91. The size of her estate is still being determined, but is estimated at between $1.6 million and $1.9 million, he said. Three other organizations will share the funding. Killion came on as a station member in 1987, McMahan said, by donating $100. Her annual giving over the years increased to $5,000. The endowment money will be directed to the station via the Arizona State University Foundation and should begin flowing within the next year.

WNET trimming more jobs

An as-yet unannounced number of staffers will be losing their jobs during the next month from WNET-Thirteen, PBS' flagship station in New York, and sister station WLIW-21. Neal Shapiro, president and CEO of, broke the news to employees at an all-station meeting this morning. Shapiro later denied published reports of 50 affected positions, saying only that the number will be fewer than the 85 laid off in January. World Focus staffers will be furloughed, and the company is mulling additional unpaid voluntary furloughs. In addition the company will make "significant budget reductions," according to The New York Times.

PBS ombudsman examines "We Shall Remain" response

In his latest column, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler (right) focuses on controversies surrounding the recent American Experience miniseries on Native Americans, "We Shall Remain." Getler addresses what he calls a "detailed, non-stop, frontal attack on the program" that arrived in the form of a May 10 letter to PBS head Paula Kerger from a small group calling itself the Wounded Knee Victims and Veterans Association. Kerger had earlier responded to another letter from three tribes in Massachusetts also voicing complaints on the programs.

Learn about StorySharing via webinar

Don't forget to register for the National Parks: America's Best Idea StorySharing webinar tomorrow. Join the National Center for Media Engagement (formerly NCO) and WETA online at 2 p.m. Thursday for a tutorial on how to use the StoryShare tool on your station's site. Here's what Rocky Mountain PBS is doing with it.

"Sesame" theme listed in music used on detainees

The theme from Sesame Street is one of the tunes used to psychologically pressure detainees in U.S. custody. The revelation emerged in a Reuters story on the work of the Zero dB (for zero decibels) project that's part of the British legal charity Reprieve. It represents dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The project is working toward a ban on the use of loud music on detainees, which it characterizes as torture.

W.Va. city manager wants Comcast to restore PBS channel location

The city manager of Morgantown, W.Va., is proposing a resolution asking Comcast to restore West Virginia PBS to its original channel location. The station recently shifted from an analog to a digital tier as part of a 2005 agreement between APTS and the cable industry. Similiar moves also prompted complaints in states including Illinois, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Current is following the story.

Archive outlook: standardizing file wrappers is one of many aspects

Broadcast hardware technologists are considering standard specs for a "wrapper" for digital video files to give producers an archive-friendly video production workflow, says Nan Rubin of WNET in her paper "Preserving Digital Public Television: Is There Life After Broadcasting?," published in International Preservation News this month. As an example of a streamlined workflow, she cites the procedures developed for WNET's new five-days-a-week Worldfocus. Rubin coordinated a pubTV preservation planning project for the Library of Congress.

Twittered tamales, anyone?

Rick Bayless, chef and host of Mexico -- One Plate at a Time on PBS, tweets recipes on Twitter. Yes, 140 characters at a time. So when The Chicago Tribune interviewed Bayless, it seemed fitting to stick with that format. An example of a Bayless recipe tweet: "wrap papaya n serrano ham. Grill fish; baste: puree cnd chipotle+honey. Fry garlic in OO, mash in bl beans. Grill #cake+ van ice crm+cajeta." Yum.

Interactive games within videos boosting numbers on PBS Kids Go! site

The interactive game elements embedded within video content on the PBS Kids Go! site are increasing visitors to the site. The platform company supplying the technology, Panache, today announced the partnership, which PBS inked in March. Literally within 24 hours after the gaming elements launched, there was a "jaw-dropping" increase in hits, Kevin Dando, director of education and online communications at PBS, told Current. The first series with the video game interactivity include Arthur, Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman, Cyberchase and Wordgirl. The Electric Company and others will be up within a few months, according to Panache's statement. Interactive clips on the site receive triple the views and longer engagement times than non-interactive videos, it added.

May 19, 2009

Nieman Fellows include pubcasters

Two pubcasters been named Nieman Fellows for 2010, and will be traveling to Harvard University for a year of study, seminars and special events. WBUR's Massachusetts statehouse reporter Martha Bebinger will focus on the politics of reducing health-care spending. Lisa Mullins, an anchor and senior producer on Public Radio International’s The World, will assess diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy during the first 16 months of the Obama administration. Administered since 1938 by the Nieman Foundation, this is the oldest and most prestigious midcareer fellowship program for journalists.

FCC to examine Arbitron ratings method

The Federal Communications Commission has launched an inquiry into Arbitron's Portable People Meter, the ratings methodology scheduled to roll-out in the top 50 markets by next summer. The commission is responding to concerns of "broadcasters, media organizations and others" about how the PPM methodology affects ratings of stations targeting minority audiences, according to the notice of public inquiry released yesterday. "I want to emphasize that this proceeding is not about preserving the status quo or inhibiting technological progress," said Michael Copps, FCC acting chairman, in a statement posted here. "To the contrary, Arbitron should be commended for trying to improve its ratings methodology and for committing significant resources to that effort."

Mississippi Public Broadcasting director to retire

Marie Antoon has announced plans to retire as executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. "Everything is going so well, it's a great time to make a change," she told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I believe I'll take a little mental break and see what happens next." Under her leadership since 2002, MPB has taken on co-production of the award-winning children's series Between the Lions, beefed up production of local television and radio programs, and expanded its radio news operation. The MPB Board aims to hire a successor before Antoon's departure in August.

Director discusses filming in Africa

In the latest Independent, the online mag covering the indie film community, David E. Simpson discusses the challenges of filming overseas. The producer, director and editor's latest project, the doc Milking the Rhino, was filmed on location in Africa. The film, currently airing on Independent Lens, recently screened at the Boston International Film Festival, and has been winning praise at festivals from Honolulu to Jerusalem.

May 18, 2009

Want to star in "Sesame Street"? Okay!

Kids (well, adults too) will soon be able to interact with Sesame Street characters in video segments thanks to a partnership announced today between Sesame Workshop and Yoostar. According to a press release, the Workshop is the first major children's content franchise licensed by Yoostar, which allows users to appear in movie and TV scenes with the original actors and share those clips online. The $169.95 system was introduced at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show.

May 17, 2009

Women novelist scant on NPR exec's book list, blogger says

NPR's Dick Meyer, editorial director for digital media, recently wrote a column listing what he sees as the top 100 English-language novels. Now a Los Angeles Times blogger points out that only three were written by women. It's "truly astonishing," writes Carolyn Kellogg, that Meyer's list overlooked works by luminaries including Flannery O'Connor, Margaret Mitchell, Isak Dinesen, Gertrude Stein, Joyce Carol Oates and Eudora Welty.

May 16, 2009

WHUT dropping Sunday Mass

The "three nons" (nonpolitical, nonsectarian, noncommercial) have been creating discussion in the system lately--especially the "nonsectarian" point--since the PBS board sent the Station Services Committee's membership recommendations back out for comment in April. Now The Washington Post is reporting that D.C. pubcaster WHUT has told the Archdiocese of Washington that it is dropping "Mass for Shut-Ins," which has run Sundays since 1996. The Mass has continuously run on some D.C. station for 60 years. "It's kind of a shock to us," said Susan Gibbs, archdiocese spokeswoman. "They've been great partners of ours for a long time. . . . The Mass is a very local programming that provides a community service. You'd think public television would be about engaging the community."

Basketball whiz Lydia to join 'Arthur'

After a nationwide contest to invent a new character, a little girl who uses a wheelchair and plays a mean game of basketball will be joining the PBS Kids' show Arthur. A sketch (right) by Minnesota six-grader Connor Gordon was selected from some 8,500 entries. The producers were so impressed with Lydia they decided to write the character into the show instead of having her just visit. "The drawing is fabulous," Arthur senior producer Jacqui Deegan told The Pioneer Press. "And she just has that spirit of creativity and positive energy. We also love the idea of her being able to play wheelchair basketball. We like to show kids playing sports." After CVS Caremark All Kids Can came on last year as a corporate underwriter, the contest seemed a natural: The pharmacy's charity works to raise public awareness about children with disabilities. See all the finalists here.

A new tune, because we're not really in the money

Pubradio's Marketplace has altered its music for "The Numbers" segment of the business program, during which listeners learn if the stock market is up or down. If it's down, it's "Stormy Weather." If it's up, it used to be "We're in the Money." But even when the market is up, who's really in the money these days? So a composer was commissioned for a new version, which, according to the show, "better reflects the 'cheeriness' investors may be feeling when the markets tick up only a few points at a time when the Dow is hovering around 7,000 points." Hear both versions here.

May 15, 2009

"Healthy Minds" from WLIW going national

In September pubTV stations will have access to Healthy Minds, an award-winning show on mental health from WLIW in New York. The American Psychiatric Foundation has announced it will contribute $50,000 to fund national distribution of the 13-episode 2008-09 season, and three episodes from the show's first season. "My hope for the show is to encourage people who may have a psychiatric condition to seek help and not to suffer in silence," host and psychiatrist Jeffrey Borenstein told Psychiatric News. "I end each show by saying, 'With help, there is hope.'" The show has won several Tellys and a Folio Award.

WBEZ asks listeners to "Give 20"

Chicago's WBEZ is asking its listeners to make donations of $20 in an innovative fundraising campaign running on The website combines goofy videos, half-serious quizzes, and donor testimonials--along with a great big orange button soliciting contributions. Videos starring Carl Kasell, Peter Sagal, and Kai Ryssdal predict dire outcomes if individuals who don't pony up, with titles such as, "Without your $20 . . . Carl Kasell's voice is wasted on youth." The campaign, created to help the station meet its fiscal-year-end fundraising goals, is designed to keep pledge drives and program interruptions to a minimum, says WBEZ's Cindy Hansen. Even bloggers at Chicagoist think it's pretty clever.

Fundraising online up, size of donations down

Online fundraising among 32 nonprofits is up 26 percent over 2008. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is the average donation decreased by 21 percent. So says the 2009 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, co-authored by M+R Strategic Services, a nonprofit advocacy group, and the Nonprofit Technology Network. Other findings: Email response rates held steady this year, compared with previous declines. The average online gift was $71, down $15. And email lists continue to grow, but more slowly.

Weiss reassigns senior news managers

NPR News chief Ellen Weiss has reassigned members of her senior management team to adjust for recent job losses in the newsroom, according to a memo leaked to Mediabistro.

"The painful cuts and sacrifices by everyone at NPR have sharpened our focus on how best to secure NPR's and public radio's future in terms of journalism, audience and revenue," Weiss says in the memo. "And News plays a central role: our ability to create and present the highest quality journalism and storytelling on all platforms is what defines NPR's distinctive value. To support these priorities I am restructuring the senior leadership of News."

Moving up in the realignment are Dick Meyer, who joined NPR last year as editorial director of digital operations. He becomes executive editor overseeing newsgathering and journalism across all platforms. Also: Ellen McDonnell, director of morning programming, is now executive director of news programming, supervising the top producers of Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation and the weekend newsmagazines.

In other changes, Weiss reassigned Brian Duffy from managing editor to director of enterprise and planning. He will lead enterprise and investigative reporting across all NPR divisions. David Sweeney succeeds him as managing editor; his deputy is Stu Seidel, who will run a new 24-hour news desk that coordinates news gathering and decision-making "with one phone number and email address."

May 14, 2009

CPB requesting quotes for report

CPB is requesting quotes for a person or group to compose a final report summarizing the activities and outcomes of its Ready To Lead in Literacy initiative. Anyone intending to submit proposals must notify CPB by May 22, deadline for proposals is June 5.

PBS dominates Daytime Emmy nominations

PBS leads the network pack in Daytime Emmy nods, announced today in Los Angeles by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. PBS has 56; ABC, 50; syndicated programming, 49; CBS, 30; and NBC, 20. Included are PBS nominations for Sid the Science Kid, Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, Equitrekking, This Old House and Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies. Also, Sesame Street will receive a special Lifetime Achievement Award for its 40 years on the air. See a complete list of nominations here.

To succeed amidst disruption of traditional media, think about 'cannibalizing yourself'

Now is the time for NPR to think about "becoming our own disruptor," said President Vivian Schiller during a webinar on how media companies can and must adapt to the dissolution of their traditional business models.

During a one-hour talk and Q&A hosted today by the Microsoft-sponsored blog FASTforward, Schiller pointed to the big audience gains that NPR booked last fall as the reason for an aggressive push into the digital media sphere--“this is exactly the time you’ve got to think about cannibalizing yourself”--and said it's no longer good enough for to be a companion to the NPR radio news service.

“ has got to be a destination in its own right, and be designed for people who are interested in the values our radio service represents in the online space,” Schiller said. By pairing NPR's national and international newsgathering capacity with the editorial capabilities and listener relationships of local stations, public radio can create a "network of digital properties" that will have deep local connections, she said.

Another featured speaker was media change consultant and author Scott Anthony, who differed with Schiller on the importance that news consumers will place on quality. Media companies have to recognize that "quality is a relative term" and ease of use and simplicity are valuable attributes in digital media, he said.

Fast Forward has posted audio from the one-hour session and is hosting continued discussion.

Gates receives Ralph Lowell Award

Filmmaker Henry Louis Gates is the latest recipient of the Ralph Lowell Award from CPB. Gates was presented with the honor, pubTV's most prestigious, Wednesday evening at the PBS Showcase in Baltimore. His body of work for the network includes Wonders of the African World, America Beyond the Color Line, and Looking for Lincoln. He made news in 2006 and '08 when he hosted and co-produced African American Lives and African American Lives 2, in which he uses DNA testing to track the lineage of notable African-Americans. His next project was previewed at PBS Showcase: Faces of America, which will follow the ancestry of two Jewish-Americans, two Arab-Americans, two Latino-Americans, two Asian-Americans, two West Indian-Americans, two Irish Americans and an Italian-American.

Copps calls for idea to support PBS

Acting FCC Chair Michael Copps thinks America needs ways to address market failures in media businesses. "For example, should we find a way adequately to fund PBS or some other group that is actually interested in doing the job?" In a speech before the "Free Press Summit: Changing Media," today at the Newseum, he also said that perhaps that would be "a PBS-S, Public Broadcasting System on Steroids. That can't be done on the cheap, and we'll hear laments that there's not a lot of extra cash floating around these days. But other nations find ways to support such things. The point is we need to start talking, start planning, now. " He also said that "we still need to get serious about defining broadcasters' public interest obligations and reinvigorating our license renewal process." It is time, he said, "to say goodbye to post-card renewal every eight years and hello to license renewals every three years with some public interest teeth." That brought hearty applause from the audience, made up of journalists, broadcasters, bloggers, policy makers and interested citizens. Here are his full remarks.

Different reactions to WBAI staff changes

There's been a "changing of the guard" at New York's WBAI, the Pacifica station that has been hemoraging money for years. General Manager Tony Riddle was offered a reassignment and Program Director Bernard White was escorted out of the building on Friday, the New York Daily News reported. "This is a termination," White wrote in a letter to his supporters. Steve Brown, a member of the WBAI local station board, told the Daily News that the changes are intended to revive the station, but White's supporters see it differently. An alternative view from Berkeley, Calif., home to the Pacifica Foundation that owns WBAI and Pacifica community radio stations in four additional markets, comes from former KPFA listener board chair Richard Phelps, who has either attended or listened online to many Pacifica National Board meetings. In a commentary for the Berkeley Daily Planet, Phelps writes: "Why didn’t Pacifica correct this problem early on? There was collusion among some PNB members from various stations to allow WBAI to do what they wanted to do with no oversight or accountability to the Bylaws or the listener/subscribers." Worker' s World also provides an account of the lead-up to the takeover.

May 13, 2009

DOE official lauds PBS

Jim Shelton is not only the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement. He's also, as he told a ballroom full of pubcasters at the PBS Showcase, "one of millions and millions of parents" who entrust their children to the network. "There is no place I'd rather send my son than PBS," he said of his 6-year-old. "PBS has the opportunity to be the most effective, trusted brand in education in the country. To be transformative for our children, young adults, and adults in transition in particular. It's in your hands, and I trust you with it." Shelton received a standing ovation. The Showcase concludes tomorrow in Baltimore.

Incoming CPB innovator eyes video games

Joaquin Alvarado, who joins CPB on June 30 as senior v.p. for diversity and innovation, led a wide-ranging, fast-moving discussion on "Public Service Media 2.0" at Wednesday's PBS Showcase. One issue: Pubcasting, he said, is "woefully absent" from the conversation about the educational possibilities of video games. "We have all these kids at the console spending four, five hours a day playing games. How do we use that as an opportunity to address challenges in education?" Alvarado cited as an example the nonprofit Games for Change, which, according to its website, "seeks to harness the extraordinary power of video games to address the most pressing issues of our day, including poverty, human rights, global conflict and climate change." It calls itself "a voice for the transformative power of video games."

APTS updates Showcase participants

At PBS Showcase yesterday, APTS President Larry Sidman joked that there was scant coverage -- OK, none -- of his first 100 days in office. But he was busy indeed, and will continue to be during the coming months. Sidman and his legislative team updated pubcasters on the lobbying group's ongoing efforts on Capitol Hill. "We feel our job is to try to get access to as much federal funding for stations as we possibly can," Sidman said, because all stations are suffering shortfalls in "almost every nonfederal funding source." The group also is trying to assist individual stations that aspire to stimulus grants. There are "pockets of money," Sidman said, available through various agencies. "So we're working with stations to position themselves to be grant recipients."

Classic Sesame album returning

Next week Sesame Workshop and partner KOCH Records will re-release on CD "Sesame Street: Silly Songs," a classic album currently out of print. Remember these? "Monster in the Mirror," "Captain Vegetable" and "The Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree." Should be in stores around May 19.

PBS Showcases kids' lineup

A performance by Mr. Steve, who sang of how sad the world would be without PBS kids' shows, kicked off a preview of programming for younger viewers today at the PBS Showcase in Baltimore. One project sure to generate news is a two-part episode of Arthur set to air in October that will tackle the subject of cancer. An animated Lance Armstrong appears to talk about his battle with the disease and the program was developed in partnership with his foundation. Then there's The Cat in the Hat Knows All About That, voiced by actor Martin Short, the first time the classic story will appear as an animated series. (However, Time magazine's Tuned In columnist is dubious about that.) Over the coming months four "stunts" are aimed to draw not only the younger audience but also press attention as well. On Memorial Day there's a special Super WHY!, "Hurray for Heroes," targeting 8- to 10-year olds. Labor Day brings the premiere of Dinosaur Train, the much-anticipated second series from the Jim Henson Co. On Thanksgiving comes a Curious George one-hour holiday special, then on President's Day is a special Martha Speaks, as "Martha Goes to Washington." Check out the next Current for an interview with Lisa Henson and the creative team behind Dinosaur Train, its latest for PBS since the hit Sid the Science Kid.

May 12, 2009

Outrage over NPR's unwillingness to name names

NPR is being accused of hypocrisy in its coverage of Outrage, a documentary about closeted politicians who support anti-gay legislation. Film critic Nathan Lee, who reviewed the film on Friday, objected when NPR scrubbed his references to two Republican pols profiled in the movie. Lee asked that his name be taken off of the review, IndieWire reported yesterday. NPR's Dick Meyer explained the decision by citing a "long-held policy" of respecting the privacy of public figures and "not airing or publishing rumors, allegations and reports about their private lives unless there is a compelling reason to do so.” But bloggers at Movieline took some delight in pointing to recent NPR stories as evidence that the rule only applies to politicians. Their examples: last month's Monkey See blog posting by Linda Holmes, who poked fun at the mainstream media's speculation over the sexuality of American Idol frontrunner Adam Lambert; and, a November 2008 Tell Me More segment discussing whether Queen Latifah would come out as a lesbian. In addition, Fresh Air's Terry Gross "nearly had an on-air coronary" when Kirby Dick, director of Outrage, began naming names during a May 6 interview.

Ford invests $1 million in EDCAR service for classrooms

PBS has received a $1 million Ford Foundation grant to support the development of EDCAR, public TV's planned online repository of short instructional videos and other "learning objects" for classroom use, net execs said in the kickoff of its Showcase conference in Baltimore today. In an EDCAR pilot, stations have begun loading instructional resources into the online system, which shares a back-end infrastructure with the PBS Video Portal launched in April. More on this in this week's Current and in coming days on this blog. Earlier EDCAR story.

More cable channel change woes

Time Warner cable customers in York, Maine, are peeved that two Boston television stations, including WGBH, have been dropped from their familiar spots on the cable channel lineup. Town Manager Rob Yandow said he's been receiving calls and emails from upset residents, and has been given a petition with 15 names asking that the lineup be restored. Yandow said he contacted Time Warner to no avail. "I’ve had a number of conversations with Time Warner, it’s a business decision," he said. "It’s somewhat firm, it’s a business decision they made." The other station is CBS affiliate WBZ. Maine is one of a growing number of states affected by a 2005 agreement between APTS and the cable industry that allows such changes.

NPR Members meeting goes electronic

NPR hopes to boost participation in its annual Members Meeting by providing a forum for online participation via WebEx, the Web conferencing provider. The June 9 meeting, which convenes at 1 pm in the board room at NPR headquarters, will accommodate up to 300 registered participants. The conferencing system provides telephone connectivity, video streaming of presentations, document sharing, determination of a quorum, and interactivity such as real-time voting and comment-sharing. NPR added the option for electronic participation because so many stations and public radio organizations have had to cut their travel budgets, according to Joyce Macdonald, v.p. of member and program services. The remote conferencing capabilities give NPR a shot at convening a quorum of authorized representatives for the first time since 2003, she said. Previously, authorized representatives who couldn't attend meetings could only listen in over the satellite.

More news on upcoming PBS NewsHour

Here's a transcript of NewsHour e.p. Linda Winslow's remarks at PBS Showcase detailing the many changes coming to the show in the fall. One nugget: "Today we are announcing that we are creating a new correspondent position, which we are calling our 'Face of the Internet.' We're looking for an experienced journalist with solid broadcast credentials who is comfortable with both new media and the more traditional kind. The assignment will be to link our nightly broadcast with our online news operation."

Kerger addresses membership criteria

PBS chief Paula Kerger, in her State of the System address to pubcasters at the PBS Showcase yesterday, touched on the ongoing controversy surrounding changes in critieria for PBS membership. "The Station Services Committee is still reviewing criteria for PBS membership and will issue its recommendations in this area soon," she told the crowd in Baltimore. "As I stated during our GM Planning Meeting earlier today, I recognize that some of these changes will be painful for some of your stations. But I believe they will help our system to achieve greater equity and ensure our membership policies better reflect the realities of the digital era in which we live." Membership discussion continues over "the three nons," and PDP stations are lamenting new rules for fundraising programming. The Showcase continues through Thursday.

May 11, 2009

A bright future for WBGH mural

WGBH's digital mural is back. "We are just very, very happy,'' said WGBH spokeswoman Lucy Sholley. This is a tale of a 30-by-45 foot LED display, a technical glitch, lawsuits, "insufficient ventilation," and, finally, a happy ending starring Curious George, all told by The Boston Globe.

A new NewsHour coming

Big changes at NewsHour. No, the rumors aren't true: Jim Lehrer isn't stepping down. Not exactly. What will happen is he'll have a co-anchor. That spot will rotate among Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff and Jeffrey Brown, all currently with the show. But, e.p. Linda Winslow told The New York Times, "This is not a succession plan in disguise." It's part of a major overhaul of the show, including the new name PBS NewsHour, that will be unveiled at PBS Showcase tomorrow.

PBS hopes to grow news content with cross-pollination

Ever pondered the possibilities of news shows on PBS such NewsHour, Nightly Business Report and Frontline co-mingling resources and cooperating to produce content? That was a "what if" question posed to PBS's John Wilson at today's PTPA meeting in Baltimore. Wilson, the network's senior veep and chief TV programming executive, hinted that the concept is being eyed. Wilson said that through a Pew grant, the network has hired Tom Bettag, a former producer for ABC's Nightline and the innovative pubTV series Life 360. Bettag "has been meeting with news and public affairs producers and trying to get at how to integrate, cross-promote and cross-pollinate among the series in a way that will make more sense to the consumer." There are, Wilson added, "some early signs of silos breaking down." Stay tuned to Current's blog for more news from PTPA as well as the concurrent PBS Showcase this week.

TV critic optimistic about pubTV fall shows

Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik predicts a strong fall pubTV lineup, despite ongoing funding problems. " ... Even in this time of downsizing in media from newspapers to network TV, the people who run the nation's only free TV service can celebrate a fall lineup as promising as any the commercial networks will show at their previews next week in New York, he writes in today's paper. PBS Showcase runs today through Thursday in Baltimore, with the Public Television Programmers' Association also meeting there today.

New investigative reporting unit to focus on California

The Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, Calif., is launching a statewide multimedia reporting initiative with funding from the James Irvine and William and Flora Hewlett foundations. The project, which is hiring journalists and developing collaborations with media partners, will report on key California issues, including education, the environment, immigration, state governance and public safety. It will focus on making statewide data accessible to journalists and the public and emphasize “solutions-based” reporting. "We will monitor government, track private interests and reveal abuses that threaten our democracy,” said Robert J. Rosenthal, CIR’s executive director, and former managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Veteran journalist Louis Freedberg, director of the California Media Collaborative and a former member of the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, will direct the effort.

Iranian court suspends Saberi's sentence

Roxana Saberi is to be released from Iranian prison today. The freelance Iranian-American journalist, who has reported for NPR and other major news organizations, was convicted of espionage last month and received an eight-year sentence. In an appeals hearing yesterday, an Iranian court issued a two-year suspended sentence. “In the next few days, we will make travel plans to return home,” Reza Saberi, the father, told The Associated Press.

May 9, 2009

Euro pubTV bigwigs ponder rubber chickens

Pubcasters in Europe are getting serious about comedy. Some 500 met in Lucerne, Switzerland, this week, according to The Associated Press, "to debate 'The Boundaries of Laughter' and try to come up with a formula for comedies that would tickle residents from Reykjavik to Dubrovnik." As Eurovision TV director Bjorn Erichsen said, "We have 75 members at the EBU. Why are we not able to produce comedy for all?" The EBU, or European Broadcasting Union, is made up of public broadcasters serving 650 million viewers in 56 countries.

Pubradio host lives long and prospers

The local Morning Edition host at WCAI in Cape Cod, Dan Tritle, sure is looking forward to the new Star Trek movie. So he's a Trekkie? Yes indeed, so much so that he once jogged at a science-fiction convention with George Takei, a.k.a. Sulu in the original 1960s series. "I was a fan from the very first episode" in 1966, he tells South Coast Today.

It's two for one for Burns in Florida

Talk about multitasking. As part of a whirlwind, 45-plus city promotional tour for National Parks, Ken Burns threw out the first pitch at the Florida Marlins' game yesterday. He also used the opportunity to pitch something else: His upcoming baseball doc. "We just started editing what we're calling The Tenth Inning," he told The Palm Beach Post of the project, tentatively set to air on PBS in September 2010. "There's so much that's gone on and we're going to really tell the story, good and bad. There's been enough water under the baseball bridge since 1992, (which) was the last action we described.'' Much more on the massive outreach for National Parks: America's Best Idea in the May 11 Current.

20th annual concert coming to PBS

Here's a preview of the "The National Memorial Day Concert." It's the 20th annual airing of the presentation from the capitol on PBS. This year performers include pop singer Katharine McPhee; country crooner Trace Adkins; classical artists Denyce Graves, Ling Ling and Robert McDuffie; Broadway singers Brian Stokes Mitchell and Colm Wilkinson; and readings from actors Katie Holmes, Laurence Fishburne, Joe Mantegna, Gary Senise and Dianne Wiest, as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Pubcasters request translators to cover DTV gaps

Three pubTV stations have applied to the FCC for a new class of translators that will help them fill in DTV coverage gaps in their service areas, according to Broadcasting & Cable. KNPB in Reno, Rocky Mountain Public Television in Denver and WTVI in Charlotte, N.C., are among 14 stations have submitted 20 applications for the translators. Eight others are asking for temporary translators.

Illinois station, others, still getting calls over channel position switch

Springfield, Ill., PBS affiliate WSEC is receiving about 20 calls a day since its channel was recently shifted from its usual spot on Comcast cable to a higher digital tier, according to The State Journal-Register newspaper. "You would have to pay for an upgrade — if you just have the basic service, even those who have a digital set can’t get us," said Jerold Gruebel, station CEO. The channel's move was made because of a 2005 agreement between the Association of Public Television Stations and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association which says that in cities with more than one PBS station, cable providers may designate one station as the “primary” and other stations as “secondary.” Viewers in several other states are also irate. For more on the ongoing issue, look for the May 11 issue of Current.

Paper supplying programs to pubcaster

Here's an interesting arrangement: In Brevard County, Fla., the Florida Today newspaper will be providing regular weekday TV programs for PBS affiliate WBCC, owned by Brevard Community College. The two daily news shows will air at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. There'll also be at least two prime-time specials each quarter focusing on local issues. "Television is a logical extension for us," said Bob Stover, executive editor of the Gannett-owned daily paper. James Drake, president of the community college, said the deal "will enable us to fulfill our public broadcasting potential." The school will pay the newspaper $25,000 a quarter for the shows.

May 8, 2009

Estate from "Roadshow" appraiser coming up for auction

The estate of Antiques Roadshow appraiser Richard Wright, who died March 1, will go up for auction in October, Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers has announced. Included will be Wright's extensive collection of dolls and doll accessories, "one of the most prominent doll collections to be seen in the auction world for many years," according to a statement from Skinner. Wright was considered a leading expert in doll appraisals.

On tonight's fight card: PBS vs. "American Idol"

Conservative website CNSNews (Motto: “The Right News. Right Now”) polled various members of Congress on this pressing question: Which better reflects American values–Fox’s American Idol or PBS? Most replies were, well, politically correct. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., said, “How about ... none of the above. American Idol is very much a cultural phenomenon, and certainly there are more viewers of that than the PBS system, but I enjoy both of them.” A similar cop-out from Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va. “I have to leave that to everybody else to make their decision,” Forbes said. “I don’t think most people look to either American Idol or PBS broadcasting for all of their values.”

Classical host cut in Colorado

Colorado Public Radio has laid off Stephanie Wendt, a classical-music host based in Minnesota. A memo to the staff said the change “reflects our ongoing need to address Colorado Public Radio’s continued financial situation.” The station has been struggling; earlier this year its bond rating was downgraded, according to a Current story in March.

Weekly underwriting now encouraged

The Sponsorship Group for Public Television, a sales organization for producers, is now pitching to underwriters on kid's shows including Arthur and Clifford to run spots for as short as a week, The New York Times is reporting. Current reported in October 2008 that pubcasters had been advocating for such a move; the Sponsorship Group had previously offered only yearlong sponsorships. “We’re trying to be more flexible,” Suzanne Zellner, veep for corporate sponsorships for WGBH, told the Times.

The next Bob Ross?

The late "happy trees" pubpainter Bob Ross is a very tough act to follow. But Anne Mimi Sammis is picking up the palette. And there'll be guest-star artists! According to a press release, Love to Paint with Mimi is a 13-episode series to be available in HD and SD via satellite feed from NETA. Check out her website to see the painter and sculptor with Queen Elizabeth.

May 7, 2009

President's proposed FY10 budget axes rural pubcasting grants

President Obama's fiscal 2010 budget, delivered to Congress today, has targeted rural public broadcasting grants of $5 million for elimination. In a White House blog posting, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote: "The USDA made these grants to support rural public broadcasting stations' conversion to digital broadcasting. That transition is now almost complete." Here is the president's letter to Congress on the budget. CPB, PBS, NPR and APTS issued a joint statement this afternoon praising the president's recommendation of $502 million for CPB. More on pubcasting's budget requests in this February Current story.

Kangas leaving Nightly Business Report

After a 30-year run, Nightly Business Report co-anchor Paul Kangas is stepping down. WPBT, the PBS station in Miami that produces “Nightly Business Report,” plans to announce his departure today, according to The New York Times. His co-anchor, Susie Gharib, will continue on the program. Producers have begun a search for a replacement. “I’m not retiring,” Kangas said in a statement. “Business news is what I know and it’s what I am. So I plan to stay involved through speaking engagements, guest commentaries, television appearances and consultation. NBR has a fine nucleus of young talent that works hard to secure the tough interviews and tell the important stories. These people ‘get it’ and I have no doubt they will carry on with aplomb.” Here's a recent Current story about the show's coverage of the financial crisis.

CBC repackages "Outfront" for PRX offer

Public Radio Exchange and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are offering hour-long versions of Outfront, an award-winning CBC Radio series of personal essays that previously had been distributed as extended modules. Producers Neil Sandell and Marieke Meyer have created a package of six programs, combining the best works into thematic shows hosted by the CBC's Natasha Fatah. There may be more CBC programming to come from PRX. In a news release, PRX describes the offer as a "content development project."

Eight projects backed in final round of Makers Quest

Makers Quest 2.0 has unveiled the eight audio-centric new media projects that received backing to complete production by August. The Association of Independents in Radio, which is managing the CPB-backed initiative, paired each of the producers with public radio stations or networks that will "incubate" the projects for broadcast and other distribution. The initiative began last fall with a nomination round in which 30 independent producers were invited to submit proposals.

May 6, 2009

Former PBS chair testifies at Cap Hill media hearing

Alberto Ibarguen, former PBS chairman and now president of the Knight Foundation, testified on Capitol Hill today. The hearing, on the future of journalism, was before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. Ibarguen challenged lawmakers to consider that broadcast and print media could indeed join forces. "I think it is at least worth a fresh look under current circumstances to see if a resulting combination, perhaps combined with stronger use of new and social media, can help to survive traditional news operations that still have such great expertise in reporting," his written testimony said. Read the full, expanded transcript of his remarks here.

"We Shall Remain" sparks charity drive

The American Experience series "We Shall Remain" on Native American history has inspired a drive in Massachusetts to help residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, according to The Concord Journal. The Many Nations Trading Post in Concord, Mass., is collecting toys and clothing, and taking cash donations to ship the goods. “The reservations get overlooked and are almost invisible to people,” said Carole Ann Baer, heading up the effort. “It’s a spirit, a strong nation that has been broken, but they are still fighting for survival. That’s why the title of the PBS series is so poignant, it’s showing that the spirit of the people shall remain despite the poverty and hardship.”

Juilliard student creates new music for WNET, WLIW

PubTV stations Channel 13 and WLIW21 in New York are debuting new identification spots featuring music created by a Juilliard student. Have a listen here to the new tunes performed by the Juilliard orchestra.

Super Why! research shows increase in literacy skills

Two new studies examining the PBS Kids series Super WHY! provide proof of the show's effectiveness on literacy skills, according to a joint statement from PBS and CPB. The studies, funded by CPB through a Department of Education Ready to Learn grant, were conducted by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and Florida State University's Center for Reading Research. Deborah L. Linebarger, director of the Annenberg Children's Media Lab, commented in the statement that "an impressive indicator of the power of Super WHY! is that meaningful changes in preschoolers' early literacy skills were found with exposure to as few as two or three episodes."

FCC rules forthcoming on replacement digital translators

The FCC may soon announce rules for new replacement digital translator service, which will let stations use translators to fill DTV signal coverage gaps in their current digital coverage areas and replicate their former analog reach, according to Broadcasting & Cable. The construction deadline is expected to be extended from the currently proposed six months to three years.

Salt Lake's KCPW lays off two; CEO cleaning bathrooms

KCPW, the pubradio station in Salt Lake City, has laid off two employees and cut salaries following lax fund-raising drives. CEO and President Ed Sweeney told the Salt Lake Crawler blog that underwriting is fine but individual donations are down. One of the station's two reporters was let go. Sweeney told Current that he now cleans the station himself--including the bathrooms--saving $400 a month.

PRI trims staff by three, reassigns others

Public Radio International laid off three employees, dropped two vacant positions and reassigned about 10 of its 55-member staff in a restructuring that took effect Monday. The restructuring aims to raise resources needed to strengthen programming and marketing within the tightened budget of the Minneapolis-based program distributor/producer, says Julia Yager, v.p. of brand management and marketing strategy. PRI has "aggressively" watched costs and expects only a "very slight" operating loss this fiscal year, she says. The three lost positions were spread among the marketing , communications and programming units. One of PRI's major initiatives, The Takeaway morning news program coproduced with WNYC, has just passed its first year on the air and is now heard on 36 main-channel pubradio stations (plus five HD Radio multicast channels), she said. Major cities reached include New York (WNYC), Boston (WGBH), Detroit (WDET), Atlanta (WCLK) and Seattle (KXOT, an affiliate of KUOW). [Corrected from an earlier version.]

ATC returns to China's Sichuan Province

NPR's Melissa Block and Andrea Hsu, key members of the All Things Considered team that delivered award-winning coverage when an earthquake devastated China's Sichuan province last May, have returned to the region to report on its recovery. They're posting updates on the Chengdu Diary blog that generated so much interest last year, and are hosting a live chat on right now. Their follow-up reports, which began airing on Monday, are here.

First lady talks health on Sesame Street

First lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to Sesame Street on Tuesday to tape a public service announcement as part of Sesame Workshop’s Healthy Habits For Life initiative. Mrs. Obama and Elmo talked about eating right, exercising regularly and being a healthy and positive role model for children. (Photo: Richard Termine)

Pennsylvania pubcasting supporters rally at capitol

Public broadcasting supporters and viewers--including teachers, station employees and even toddlers--protested at the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg Tuesday in an attempt to persuade the legislature to restore funding for the state's eight pubTV stations. Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget would zero-out $8 million in grants to stations including WQED in Pittsburgh. "Dozens of moms with kids in strollers, costumed characters, music groups, all the GMs from our stations, community leaders and even legislators joined us to rally to get the funding restored," Rosemary Martinelli, WQED spokeswoman told Current. "We need to communicate that it is not just a cut but a total elimination."

More viewers upset with Comcast over loss of stations

Add West Virginia PBS to the growing list of stations receiving calls from viewers upset that they suddenly can't receive their favorite channel via their current Comcast cable subscription. This time it's customers in the Northern and Eastern Panhandles of West Virginia, and Morgantown. A Comcast spokesman explained that viewers now need a digital converter box to receive the station under a new agreement between Comcast and West Virginia Public Broadcasting. But in a statement, station Executive Director Dennis Adkins said: “We were not aware that Comcast customers would be required to have special equipment or of the significant number of Comcast subscribers who would not have the appropriate equipment to take advantage of this expanded service.”

May 5, 2009

Nature show's eagles still popular in Iowa

An Internet site featuring a Web camera installed in Decorah, Iowa, last summer for the Nature episode "American Eagle" continues to draw visitors from some 70 countries, according to the Decorah Public Opinion newspaper. Bob Anderson, director of the local nonprofit Raptor Resource Project, says its DSL service has been scrambling to keep up with the high viewing demand for the site. Milwaukee Public TV also featured an eagle cam on one of its multicast channels in 2002.

WEDU putting unemployed volunteers to work on creative projects

WEDU in West Central Florida has launched the Blue Sky Project, gathering a "volunteer consortium of creative professionals" to assist the station, according to a statement (PDF). The PBS station is hoping to develop initiatives drawing on the experience of volunteers who are currently without full-time employment. Tasks include advertising, communications, graphic design, public relations, special event planning and Web design. In return for assisting the station, the work will help volunteers hone professional skills, contribute to their resumes and "provide stimulating projects in an invigorating environment," the statement adds.

Eleven Webby, People's Voice Awards for pubcasters

NPR led pubcasters in the 2009 Webby Awards honoring the best of the Internet. It won a total of seven awards, three of which were determined by votes cast in the "People's Voice" competition. NPR Music and received Webbys and People's Voice Awards in the categories of music and radio websites, respectively. Awards also went to NPR Mobile, the network's news site optimized for mobile phones (, NPR Podcasts, and Project Song, a video series presented by NPR Music's All Songs Considered. Three of the four awards credited to PBS were for Frontline/World programs nominated in the online film and video division. Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, the PBS series produced by New York's WNET, received the People's Voice Award for religion websites. The full list of winners is posted here. [Corrected from an earlier version.]

Lidia and Lopate win Beard awards

Lidia’s Italy: Sweet Napoli, cooked up by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and distributed by APT, received a James Beard Foundation Media Award among TV food shows (Julia Harrison, e.p; Shelly Burgess Nicotra, supervising producer), and WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show won the award in the radio shows/webcasts category for its three-ingredient challenge (with Rozanne Gold and online producer Sarah English), the foundation announced Friday. Bastianich served as gala chair of the foundation's gala reception celebrating Women in Food last night in New York.

Early sketch shows how NPR HQ could look

Hickok Cole, the architect hired by NPR to design its new headquarters, sketched this look for the tough task of combining a new office tower with the old concrete phone company building that must be preserved at least in part under the city's historic landmark rules. An earlier version of this item mistakenly indicated that this renderinglabeled as a "preliminary" drawing on the DC Metrocentric blogrepresents NPR's plan. NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm says that plan is months away. Rehm has no complaint, however, about last week's Washington Business Journal article naming NPR's HQ land deals (with its big tax incentive to stay in D.C.) as 2008's "best land deal" in Washington real estate. Construction won't begin soon. When the development deal was announced more than a year ago, plans called for NPR to move into the new building in 2012.

May 4, 2009

Online columnist slams Cokie Roberts

Slate's Jack Shafer thinks NPR's Morning Edition should dump longtime Congressional analyst Cokie Roberts. "I can think of no comparably sized media space that's as void of original insight and information as Roberts'," he writes. "Her segments, though billed as 'analysis' by NPR, do little but speed-graze the headlines and add a few grace notes. If you're vaguely conversant with current events, you're already cruising at Roberts' velocity. Roberts doesn't just voice the conventional wisdom; she is the conventional wisdom."

Antiques Roadshow coverage hits a bump

Here's a rare occurrence: Newspaper coverage of PBS fave Antiques Roadshow is at the heart of a controversy (albeit small), in Grand Rapids, Mich. A reader questioned the news judgment of the Grand Rapids Press over its decision to feature prominently a $2,000 letter from Gerald Ford over an oil painting worth $300,000. "In his day, who in Grand Rapids didn't get a letter from Congressman Ford?" a reader asked. "There may be valuable Ford items out there, but a three sentence, hand-written letter? I don't think so."

Think your job is complicated? Try rights clearance

WGBH staffers talk about the arduous task of rights clearance in a story in today's Boston Globe. Reclearance for program use years later is especially tricky. "I had film material from a man who is deceased, and his wife granted permission but said that the estate would not go under $20,000 for 50 seconds of material," said Karen Cariani, head of the WGBH archives. "Definitely way overpriced, but we had to pay it."

May 1, 2009

Pubcaster Tavis Smiley is chosen by Time for its top 100

Tavis Smiley, host of talk shows on PBS and Public Radio International, is one of "The World's Most Influential People" as chosen by Time magazine. The list of 100 includes individuals in politics, business, arts, science, media and more, each considered to have transformed the world in some way. This year’s honorees include President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, champion golfer Tiger Woods, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rapper M.I.A., media mogul Ted Turner and actor Brad Pitt. Smiley is also the author or editor of 14 books and created of the traveling museum exhibit, America I AM: The African American Imprint.

Swine flu station resources

The National Center for Media Engagement (formerly NCO) has assembled suggestions and resources to help stations keep audiences informed on the swine flu illness. Included is specific information that stations can offer citizens, including Web links and widgets; suggestions for coverage; and a comment box for sharing plans, ideas and materials. The mission of the center is to help public media build community connections across multiple platforms.

PubTV faves near end of tour

Longtime pledge fave Celtic Thunder continues to rumble across continents. Its latest tour stop: Edmonton, Alberta, where The Edmonton Journal chats with lead vocalist Keith Harkin. More on the lads at their website.

Great Falls approaches goal of PBS transmitter

Thanks in part to local schoolchildren, Great Falls, Mont., is closing in on its goal of securing a PBS transmitter, according to The Great Falls Tribune. "Sacajawea (School) was selling cookies," said Kerry Callahan Bronson, chairwoman of the board of Friends of MontanaPBS. "East Middle School teachers paid to wear jeans. Each school did their own thing." Currently the group has less than $25,000 left to raise of its nearly $1.3 million goal. According to the newspaper, Great Falls is one of the nation's largest cities to lack a free public television broadcast signal. The group hopes to be on the air by fall.

Summer movie alert: Passion. Ambition. Butter. Do you have what it takes?

Who says there are no good movie roles for mature women anymore? Meryl Streep opens Aug. 7 in Julie & Julia as the late Julia Child. Writer-director Nora Ephron confects a screenplay from Child's memoir My Life in France, folded gently into Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell, the Gen-X author of what may be claimed to be the first book based on a blog. With Amy Adams as Julie, Stanley Tucci as Paul Child. Here's Columbia Pictures' trailer. Bon appetit! Fans can hope for a prequel with Child as an OSS officer turning the course of World War II.