Jun 30, 2009

Public Radio Tech Survey kicks off July 27

The second Public Radio Tech Survey, a web-based analysis of listeners, runs for three weeks starting July 27. It will explore new media and technology use among pubradio listeners nationwide, as well as by market. Last year more than 70 stations took part, generating some 30,000 interviews. The project is coordinated by Jacobs Media, which calls itself "the largest radio consulting firm in the United States specializing in rock formats." Partnering in the survey are NPR, the Integrated Media Association and Public Radio Program Directors.

Lightbulbs going off all over Aspen as pubcasters mingle at Ideas Festival

Public broadcasters are in the impressive mix of forward-thinkers this week at the Aspen Institute's fifth annual Ideas Festival. Here it is, only Day 1, and Frontline e.p. David Fanning had this great quote: "Public broadcasting has always been at war with itself. I don't need to tell you about Yanni at the Acropolis." Fanning also detailed ideas for turning the public broadcasting system into a journalistic powerhouse. James Fallow of The Atlantic is keeping tabs on the activities, providing "slightly-longer-than-Twitter-scale real time summaries of what is going on." Other system insiders brainstorming at the sessions include Kurt Anderson of PRI's Studio 360, Paula S. Apsell of NOVA, Brooke Gladstone of NPR's On the Media, Matt Miller of NPR's Left, Right & Center, Kai Ryssdal of APM's Marketplace and NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

AlaskaOne terminates staff, shifts to live children's feed

KUAC/AlaskaOne is shrinking its staff by a third due to a $450,000 budget deficit, according to The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Two employees are gone effective tomorrow, the start of KUAC's fiscal year. Five long-vacant spots "are no longer on the books," Gretchen Gordon, the station’s director of development and outreach, told Current. Also, two full-time positions are now part time. One of the new half-time jobs is the station's marketing slot. "That may also impact our ability to cultivate and solicit donations, because our presence in the community is going to be effected," Gordon said. All the changes reduce the staff to 19 employees from 28. Also, the station said on its website that the budget shortfall requires changes in its children's programming schedule, "because we no longer have the resources to record and schedule them manually." The pubcaster provides FM radio to Interior Alaska, and public TV to the Interior, Juneau, Bethel and Kodiak.

Burns requests Dust Bowl memories of Oklahomans for film

PBS filmmaker Ken Burns is asking residents of Oklahoma to share their personal stories of the Dust Bowl for an upcoming documentary The Dust Bowl (w.t.). The Oklahoma Network is helping him gather the recollections. In a personal message to the people of the state, Burns said he thinks the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, when severe drought affected crop production and created huge dust storms, "is an important event in all of American history." He adds that his production company, Florentine Films, is in the early stages of research but that the state "will be a major part of the Dust Bowl story we want to tell." He's making the request through the press as well appearances in TV ads.

EDCAR's new name: PBS Digital Learning Library

PBS announced yesterday that public TV's new classroom service will be called the PBS Digital Learning Library. The project, discussed in earlier Current articles, was previously called EDCAR (Education Digital Content Asset Repository). The searchable trove of "learning assets," including short videos and games, will be customizable by stations and searchable and tagged for compliance with state teaching standards. PBS made the announcement at the National Educational Computing Conference in Washington.

Familiar metaphorical smell snagged hosting job for Tyson

In a Q&A with The Boston Globe, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (right, NOVA photo) reveals how he came to host NOVA ScienceNOW. "After their inaugural season, in which I had been interviewed multiple times, they needed a new host," he recalled. "They knew what I looked like, what I smelled like--metaphorically--and so my name sort of rose to the top." And who's the toughest interviewer of all his ongoing media appearances? Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report, followed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, both on Comedy Central.

G4 comments to FCC on possible ethnicity, gender ID filing requirements

Providing the FCC with a list of ethnicities and genders of individual pubcasters wouldn't show a true picture of the role minorities and women play in station programming and services, according to a joint filing to the agency by APTS, CPT, NPR and PBS. The statement is in reaction to a proposed rulemaking that would change the FCC Form 323-E Ownership Report to report those details as well ethnicity ownership data. The four noted that while it wouldn't necessarily be a problem to submit the information, no one individual holds equity interest in a station. And because ownership varies widely for pubstations, “it would be unhelpful, and potentially misleading,” to lump together data for noncoms and commercial stations if the FCC wants a “comprehensive picture of broadcast ownership.” Any new reporting requirements would strain financial resources of public broadcasting stations, the groups added. Speaking for LPFM stations, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and Prometheus Radio Project favors detailing information about gender and ethnicity. However, they cautioned against excess paperwork requirements and suggested a fine of only $500 for LPFMs who don't file the proper forms. If the rule is approved, the new forms would be due Nov. 1.

Jun 29, 2009

CPB launches emergency readiness cooperative project

A collaboration between several pubcasting and communications groups is at the core of CPB's new Station Action for Emergency Readiness (SAFER) initiative. Helping in development are the National Federation of Community Broadcasters; NPR; PBS stations KQED, Mississippi Public Broadcasting and Atlanta Public Broadcasting; and the Integrated Media Association. There'll be online tools such as a customizable station readiness manual, as well as webinars and workshops in which experts help stations implement a response program for their community. Ginny Z. Berson, an NFCB veep, told Current the website should launch late this year, with webinars starting up in 2010. Budget for the project, three years in the planning, is $270,000.

Pennsylvania stations join forces for pubcasting Advocacy Day

Pennsylvania pubcasters are coming together for a state Public TV Advocacy Day tomorrow in an attempt to save state funding. They're asking viewers and listeners to write letters to state representatives, senators and Gov. Ed Rendell to restore the governor's proposed pubcasting budget cuts. His budget would zero out all funding -- $7.9 million -- for station operations, cut technical support from $4.34 million to $2 million, and abolish the Pennsylvania Public Television Network as an independent commission of state government. Negotiations over the budget could continue for six to eight more weeks, according to published reports. The Advocacy Day Web site also features photos of a May rally by schoolchildren supporting WQLN in Erie, Pa.

NYSE bells ring in "Super Why!" toys

The folks behind PBS Kids' Super Why! recently got to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate the retail launch of the popular program's toy line. Pictured from left are Super Why! character Whyatt Beanstalk; show creators Samantha Freeman and Angela Santomero of Out of the Blue; Lesli Rotenberg, PBS children's media guru; and Larry Leibowitz, a veep at the NYSE Euronext Group, the corporation that runs the stock exchange. Super Why! toys are now available at Toys "R" Us.

Filmmakers working to weather recession

Are you filmmaker with dwindling funds? The Independent has a good tips for surviving the recession while keeping your project going. As writer Sean Jones notes, "Many of these point the way to a new, sustainable business model that could bring independent film increasing relevance and financial promise as the economy recovers." On interesting idea is documentarian Shelly Frost’s Make a Movie Studios, which teaches kids how to create their own films. For $99, kits include everything from a script to props list and shoot schedule.

Florida writer wants to see CPB "extinct"

"Dinosaurs are extinct. So should be the CPB," says Phil Fretz, an editorial page writer for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. Fretz thinks the corporation was necessary in 1967 to create programming diversity. "But now I have an Internet radio that picks up thousands of stations, subscription-free and with crystal-clear reception," he says. He'd rather the government save the $400 million annual appropriation.

NPR crowdsourcing project: Who is that lobbyist?

For its coverage of health care reform legislation being drafted on Capitol Hill, NPR News launched Dollar Politics, a series examining how lobbyists seek to influence the debate. The reportage includes an crowdsourcing project, "Turning the Camera Around," that starts with a panoramic photograph of the audience attending a June 17 Senate hearing where lawmakers began working on the overhaul. Reporters Peter Overby and Andrea Seabrook did some legwork to identify a few of the lobbyists in the photo and they turned to the audience for help in naming others. "The response so far has been practically ecstatic--at least in the blogosphere and the Twitterverse," Seabrook says in this Q&A with Poynter Online. " And we've gotten quite a few e-mails from listeners who love the fact that we've 'turned the lens' on the real story." But lobbyists who have been identified respond quite differently, according to Overby: "Usually, their first reaction is, 'How did you get my name?'"

Jun 28, 2009

$1 million Chinese jade sets "Roadshow" appraisal record

Antiques Roadshow Asian art appraiser James Callahan stunned Jinx Taylor -- and made her extremely happy -- when he estimated her collection of Chinese jade was possibly worth more than $1 million. That beats the previous Roadshow record of $500,000 last year in Palm Springs, Calif., for a 1937 abstract painting. Taylor brought the pieces (right, Roadshow photo) to the taping in Raleigh, N.C.; her collection was from the Chien Lung reign from 1736-1795. Callahan said the value of the pieces depends on the market for them in China. The government often wants to buy back such pieces.

Jun 26, 2009

American Archives Pilot stations chosen

Phase I of the American Archives Pilot Program is about to begin. Oregon Public Broadcasting, overseeing the Archive project (Current, April 13) , has selected 25 pubcasting stations. Each will receive up to $10,000 to "locate and inventory video and audio content for the archive prototype," according to a statement from OPB. The massive effort hopes to preserve aging historical television and radio content. The stations chosen are "a relevant representation of both radio and TV stations both geographically and in terms of the type of content they bring to the pilot project,” said Patricia Lanas-Espinosa, CPB's project manager for digital media strategy, in the statement. TV stations: WTVS, Detroit; WNET, New York; WHUT, Howard University in Washington, DC; VPT, Colchester, VT; LETA, Baton Rouge, LA; KCPT, Kansas City, MO; IPTV, Johnston, IA; and AETN, Conway, AR. Radio: WYSO, Antioch University, Yellow Springs, OH; MPR, St. Paul, MN; and KFPA, Berkeley, CA. Joint licensees: WTTW, Chicago; WSIU, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL; WPT/WPR, Madison, WI; WGBH, Boston; WVIZ/WCPN, Cleveland; WQED, Pittsburgh; WOUB, Ohio University, Athens, OH; WKNO, Memphis; WILL, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL; WCNY, Liverpool, NY; WMPN, Oxford, MS; KUON-DT, Lincoln, NE; KQED, San Francisco, CA; and TPBA, Texas. Once stations have identified content, OPB will review it and choose which stations will continue into phase two, restoring and digitizing materials, and also compile a database. Here's more background on the Archive from Current.

Think of all the stories we could share

Mediavore, the blog launched seven months ago by Todd Mundt and Graham Griffith, posted its 1001th entry today and marked the occasion with a special post challenging public broadcasters to think more broadly about their roles as curators of online content. Mediavore's singular purpose is to point readers to the best public media content on news and cultural topics of the day but, as Mundt notes, there is plenty of room for other pubcasting outlets to take up this work. "The technology we have today puts nearly everything that every radio and TV station produces in the hands of anyone who wants it," he writes. But, oddly, few pubradio websites make the effort to point their online audiences to stand-out coverage of their colleagues at PBS or stations. "consistently, perhaps unintentionally, sends the message that there’s no value in offering a video discussion from The Newshour next to a related report it’s produced," Mundt writes. Websites produced by PRI and MPR fall short in this regard as well. "This isn’t criminal behavior; it’s simply a failure to recognize that putting some of the pieces together makes all of it more valuable to our audience." He concludes: "We say all this not to complain, but to point out an opportunity."

"NOW" shows spark viewer reaction, ombudsman column

Two NOW episodes on controversial issues drew the attention of PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler as well as many viewers. One show, in the wake of the murder of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller, examined whether such attacks could be considered domestic terrorism. Another dealt with mounting debts taken on my millions of college students.

NPR, WNET to participate in investigative conference

Reps from nearly 30 media outlets including NPR and PBS member station WNET are attending next week's Watchdogs at Pocantico confab, "Building an Investigative News Network." The "conference on new models for watchdog journalism" is co-sponsored by the Center for Investigative Reporting and Center for Public Integrity--its director, Bill Buzenberg, is a veteran of NPR and American Public Media. "The conclave is unprecedented, and its goals ambitious," writes blogger Ken Doctor, a media analyst and 21-year veteran of Knight Ridder. Investigative journalism is a hot topic among pubcasters, who been discussing taking on more of a watchdog reporting role as newspapers die off (Current, March 2).

Senate okays FCC, NTIA heads

The Senate on Thursday approved the chair of the FCC and head of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. Julius Genachowski replaces acting FCC head Michael Copps, who will return to his commissioner spot. Genachowski may be sworn in soon enough to preside over the FCC's next public meeting on July 2. His background includes work as a telecom and technology adviser to then-Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign as well as experience in law, business, politics, communications and new media. Larry Strickling will now oversee the NTIA with the title of assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information. NTIA advises the White House on communications policy; a current focus is developing guidelines for distributing the $4.5 billion in broadband stimulus money. He also worked on technology for Obama's campaign.

Radio Bilingue, WPFW covering Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Radio Bilingue is producing special coverage of Las Americas, the Latino musical component of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that began this week on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Today's webcast, streaming here, features Maestros del Joropo Oriental, masters of a distinct musical tradition from Venezuela's Caribbean coast, and Arpex, whose "big harp" music is an influential predecessor of the Mexican mariachi tradition. Linea Abierta, Radio Bilingue's Spanish-language call-in show, is also producing daily coverage of the festival. Radio Bilingue's coverage continues through June 29; podcasts of performances and talk programs from earlier this week are here. This year's festival also explores the African American oral tradition and features daily events examining the role that black radio has played in reinforcing and promoting black culture. WPFW, D.C.'s Pacifica station, is producing and broadcasting several of these events. For a schedule, click here.

Jun 25, 2009

KCET confirms layoffs, cost cuts

KCET has detailed to Current its recent cutbacks. Station President Al Jerome said in an emailed statement that a total of 12 full-time and part-time employees are eliminated, including two senior staffers. There'll be salary reductions of 3.5 percent to 11.7 percent based on current salaries; those affect only exempt employees and senior management. Nonexempt employees will instead have furloughs of one, five or 10 days during fiscal 2010, based on salary range. Employer retirement plan contributions are suspended indefinitely. Jerome cited reasons including a fiscal 2010 budget projected to be $5 million less than this year, as well as the station's PBS dues, which, he said, have increased by 40 percent over the past four years.

If you're a media maker, try for a grant

New application deadlines and other details for America's Media Makers: Development and Production grants are now available online through the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Public Programs website. The division funds adio, television and digital projects in the humanities intended for public audiences that "explore stories, ideas, and beliefs that deepen our understanding of our lives and our world." Try to apply early at; it's recently been slowed by a large number of applications. The next two deadlines for the grants are Aug. 26 and Jan. 13, 2010.

WPSU at Penn State ends two shows, trims eight positions

Penn State Public Broadcasting WPSU is canceling two TV programs and reducing the staff by eight positions. Gone are Scholastic Scrimmage, a high-school quiz show, and Common Ground Lobby Talks, an audience-participation public affairs offering. While the station faces potential state funding losses of $850,000 if Gov. Ed Rendell's budget passes, "that is only the most severe and immediate challenge; we must also confront the potential reduction of other revenue sources,” said Ted Krichels, associate vice president for Penn State Outreach and general manager of WPSU. "Those include community support and production revenue." The station's 2008 project, Liquid Assets, (Current, Sept. 29, 2008), an examination of America's crumbling water infrastructure, received widespread critical acclaim.

Jun 24, 2009

Those %&$*@#! technical difficulties

An open mic at D.C.'s WAMU picked up an off-air conversation that included the f-word, reports DCRTV (scroll down), a website that covers Washington and Baltimore TV and radio. American University made two on-air apologies, citing "technical difficulties." Station spokeswoman Kay Summers told the site's Dave Hughes, "The matter has been dealt with internally through discussions with those involved. Not our finest hour, to be sure, but mistakes happen." The expletive aired during Bob Edwards Weekend.

Getler delves into the Three Nons

The Three Nons (nonsectarian, nonpolitical, noncommercial) of pubcasting are the subject of the latest PBS ombudsman column by Michael Getler. He's received more than 100 e-mails on the PBS Board's decision to ban new sectarian programming on primary channels.

KQED chief Jeff Clarke to retire

Jeff Clarke, a leader among pubcasting station executives during his 44 years in broadcasting, announced his plans to retire next June as president of Northern California Public Broadcasting. Since Clarke joined San Francisco's KQED-TV/FM as president in 2002, the organization dramatically expanded its television, radio and web operations, despite having to periodically trim spending and staff. Clarke helmed HoustonPBS during most of the 1990s and plans to retire in Houston, where his family resides. Clarke's accomplishments include creating ground-breaking new media strategies for public broadcasting, PBS President Paula Kerger tells the San Francisco Chronicle. Kerger cites Quest, a multimedia series devoted to science and nature in the Bay Area. Launched in 2006, the series is an example of the "content vertical" websites that NPR and CPB are encouraging more stations to develop. "As we look at our work in the future, being able to seize the power of new media is going to be profoundly important," Kerger says. "KQED under Jeff has been on the cutting edge of that work." Clarke also led public broadcasting nationally as a board member of PBS and American Public Television, among other entities. During the 2005 controversy over CPB Board Chairman Kenneth's Tomlinson's campaign to inject political ideology into programming decisions, Clarke penned this editorial defending public broadcasting's editorial independence.

Jun 23, 2009

"30 Minute Music Hour" rocks on

Wisconsin Public Television's 30 Minute Music Hour, in its second season, "seems to grow more ambitious with each episode," according to The Paper, a webpage of the Madision, Wisc., arts mag Isthmus. The first season began with live online performances that would run on the pubTV station a few days later. This year, the show won't be posted permanently until it runs on TV a few days after the initial web performance. Musicians play live on the Web and answer questions from a "moderator-turned-stage manager," as The Paper says. It's the brainchild of producer Andy Moore, who added: "So far, I haven't found anyone else on a professional soundstage putting up a live, 30-minute set of music with four cameras and a professional director."

New theater coming for Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits, the KLRU-owned pubTV favorite, next year moves to a new home. The name is still being decided but may be Austin City Limits Theater. The show's 320 seats will grow to 2,750. It'll cost around $40 million by the time it's finished around October 2010. The ACL stage will be moved from its University of Texas studio to the new theater.

WashPo, CQ veteran to join NPR Digital

NPR hired Mark Stencel, a veteran of the Washington Post and Congressional Quarterly, as its new managing editor of digital news. "His mix of experience in breaking news, political reporting, digital innovation, technology leadership and the business is wholly unique and impressive," wrote his new NPR bosses Dick Meyer and Kinsey Wilson in this memo announcing the appointment. Stencel is leaving Governing magazine and, where he is executive editor, deputy publisher and a columnist/blogger.

Sesame Street coming soon to Tampa Bay's Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (Fla.) knows how to get to Sesame Street -- build it. It's planning a Sesame children's attraction similar to the one at the Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Va., location. The park filed plans with the city on June 12 for a roller coaster and four buildings, including a 3,513-square-foot "character support and photo" facility. A Busch Gardens rep said an official announcement will come later this summer.

Smiley brings 37 pizzerias to Indiana

Pubcaster Tavis Smiley, a native of Kokomo, Ind., is opening 37 Marco's Pizza franchises during the next five years in an effort to create some 1,000 jobs in the Indianapolis area. The outlets will be in areas that need economic development. Smiley estimated the restaurants will generate at least $1 billion into the state economy over 20 years. His first local pizzeria opened in April with a staff of about 20 workers. The second should be in operation before the end of the year.

Ombud's advice on the torture question: "show don't tell"

"I recognize that it's frustrating for some listeners to have NPR not use the word torture to describe certain practices that seem barbaric," writes NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard in a column responding to complaints about NPR's editorial policy. "But the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate." Shepard shares excerpts of a recent memo by David Sweeney, managing editor of NPR News, advising journalists to use euphemisms such as "extreme" or "harsh" interrogation techniques. She proposes that journalists describe rather than characterize controversial methods such as waterboarding: "[R]eporters could say that the U.S. military poured water down a detainee's mouth and nostrils for 40 seconds. Or they could detail such self-explanatory techniques as forcing detainees into cramped confines crawling with insects, or forced to stand for hours along side a wall. A basic rule of vivid writing is: "Show, Don't Tell." Be sure to read comments reacting to Shepard's online column. More reactions on's Romenesko and Salon.

KCET drops its 45-year-old program guide

Citing a "downturn in our sources of revenue," KCET president Al Jerome has announced the station will discontinue its printed program guide, effective immediately. "This is not an easy decision to make," Jerome said in a statement. "The magazine has been a part of KCET for nearly 45 years." KCET is offering KCET eNews in an e-mail form biweekly for programming information and printable listings.

Ex-GPBer indicted in theft of $21,000

A former Georgia Public Broadcasting finance department employee was indicted Monday on 46 counts of felony theft. Belinda Davis, also known as Belinda Botley Usher, allegedly stole more than $21,000 in a complicated fraud scheme. She was terminated from GPB in February 2008 when the theft was discovered. "We can't comment on this indictment but I can tell you that we hope for a quick resolution and justice," station spokeswoman Nancy Zintak told Current. "At GPB our highest priority is to be good stewards of our member support and their trust, and we will continue to do so."

Jun 22, 2009

You Must Hear This new ATC segment

NPR Music and All Things Considered launch a new summer music series today. For "You Must Hear This," musicians from various genres will pick a favorite piece of music and explain why it inspires them. In the debut segment, Jesse Carmichael and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 reveal their love for Prince's Purple Rain. "It's Hendrix, it's James Brown, it's outer space, it's church, it's sex, it's heavy metal," says Levine. "But at the end of the day, it's just Prince at his absolute best — in my not-so-humble opinion." Audio from the segment won't be posted until this evening, but NPR Music has the web page up with music videos for two songs on the record.

RIP Llewellyn's TV

Llewellyn King of White House Chronicle, recently experienced a death in the family: The old Sony TV in the living room. But instead of mourning, they're rejoicing. "The luxury of not having one is palpable," he writes in The Herald in Monterey County, Calif. "No more arguing about what to watch. No more compulsive, irrational channel surfing. It is bliss."

Renewal funding, new e.p. for "The Takeaway"

CPB awarded a $1.35 million renewal grant to The Takeaway, the morning drive-time show hosted by John Hockenberry and produced at New York's WNYC. President Pat Harrison says the show is "compelling and participatory" and affirms that public media belongs to "not just some of the people, but all of the people," in a news release from Public Radio International, co-producer and distributor. The Takeaway radio show and website, picked up by 42 stations since its launch last April, also has a new executive producer. Mark Effron, a TV news and digital media exec who has supervised news coverage for the MSNBC cable net and Post-Newsweek TV stations, most recently served as president of Titan TV Media, which helps local stations develop ad revenues with their websites. He started on the job last week.

Transition returns MHz to airwaves

Here's one service that's thrilled with the DTV transition, which brought it back to life for its viewers. MHz Networks, owned by Commonwealth Public Broadcasting, carries international programming into 27 million households nationwide. MHz's analog signal to its two channels went dark in September; it was the country's first station to switch off. That caused empty static for many fans in the spot it used to occupy. Then, after the final June 12 transition and rescans by viewers ... "We got calls from people all over saying, 'You're back!' " said CEO Frederick Thomas. Unfortunately the transition was bumpier for other stations: Current reported on the ongoing problems with channels disappearing from their usual spots after the transition -- problems that in some states went all the way to the governor's office and Congress.

KMBH warns of "scam or fantasy" as its critics seek support for a new station

KMBH-FM, in Harlingen, Texas, is warning listeners that anyone else soliciting donations for public radio in the Rio Grande Valley "may be a scam or a fantasy." The Brownsville Herald reports that the on-air spots trouble organizers of Voices of the Valley, which is asking for pledges of support to establish an independent public radio service for the region. KMBH, which also operates a public TV station, is controlled by the Catholic Church. Msgr. Pedro Briseño, the president of KMBH and pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Harlingen, denies that the spots are intended to discredit Voices from the Valley. "We are not in the business of attacking anybody or campaigning against anything. We have no interest on useless debates of opinions," Briseño tells the Herald. "Any negative reaction to our warning is perhaps a confirmation that such a warning was needed to protect the public of the Rio Grande Valley from scams." Voices from the Valley could be ready to launch the new station as early as September, organizer Betsy Price tells Current. "We have collected over 200 pledges of support, secured major donors, and are talking partnership with Texas Public Radio," she wrote.

Jun 19, 2009

House votes to restore PTFP funding

The House voted 259 to 157 last night to pass the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill. It contains the $20 million for the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program that had been in doubt. "This is a major victory for the public television community and represents a significant step toward the restoration of funding for local stations in this difficult economic environment," the Association for Public Television Stations said in a statement. PTPF funding has dwindled from $43.2 million in fiscal 2003 to $18.8 million in fiscal 2008. During its February Capitol Hill Day, APTS lobbied hard for PTFP money, saying the decline created a "critical backlog" of applications outnumbering grants 2 to 1. Now it's the Senate's turn. If the bill it passes differs from the House version, a conference committee will work to reconcile the differences and the full Congress will vote on that final bill.

WFSU and WMFE end reading service for the sight-impaired

More victims of budget cuts: Reading programs in Florida for listeners who are blind or sight- impaired. WFSU in Tallahassee says it's turning off its service July 1, and WMFE will discontinue local reading of the news while airing the national In-Touch network. The two stations and seven others in Florida are losing annual state grants; WMFE's was $38,800 a year. There's no more money to pay for equipment and volunteer coordination, WMFE President Jose Fajardo told the Orlando Sentinel. Established in 1993, the service's volunteers read local newspapers and magazines from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Listeners received the readings through a special receiver, or on the secondary audio program channel of WMFE's DTV signal.

Jun 18, 2009

New York pubcaster inspires documentary

John Robinson is director of corporate support at WMHT in Troy, N.Y., where he supervises an underwriting staff of three. He's also the subject of the doc Get Off Your Knees: The John Robinson Story, which has its broadcast premiere tonight on the station. Robinson is a congenital amputee, born with stunted arms and legs. In addition to his pubcasting duties, he gives motivational speeches to school and community groups. "I'm never going to thumb wrestle with you, I'm never going to be the center of the basketball team," Robinson tells students in the film. "What matters is how I deal with the body I have and the person that I am."

Colorado Public Radio reduces then freezes wages

A 3 percent salary cut and subsequent 12-month salary freeze begin July 1 at Colorado Public Radio, reports the Denver Business Journal. CPR President Max Wycisk said in a statement that the changes will allow the statewide network to keep present staffing levels.

WHYY ends longtime show, terminates staffers, closes bureau

Philadelphia's WHYY is ending it 46-year-old nightly news show Delaware Tonight on July 17, reports the Wilmington News-Journal. Beginning in August there'll be expanded online news and a new weekly state public affairs show. Its two-year-old Dover bureau will close, and the Wilmington bureau, where Delaware Tonight is produced, will reduce its staff. All told, there'll be a decrease from 13 full-time and three part-time employees to five full timers; those remaining staffers will have a weeklong unpaid furlough starting July 18. Chris Satullo, WHYY's executive director of news and civic dialogue, said the moves are part of a transition from legacy radio and TV broadcasting to a multimedia source for news and entertainment. Although WHYY holds a broadcast license in Wilmington, its Delaware presence is targeted mainly to the major Philadelphia market. That annoys at least one resident -- Gov. Jack Markell. He issued a statement saying, "WHYY's decision to leave the daily airwaves leaves a critical hole for viewers and raises significant questions about their commitment to Delaware, which is where their FCC license is granted." But in a statement to Current, WHYY President and CEO William J. Marrazzo said the changes “will enable us to allocate resources to provide much more news online and to enhance the WHYY-FM news service with additional reports from Delaware."

Jun 17, 2009

Tampa's WEDU and WUSF "fight bitterly," paper reports

How's this for a scary headline? "Behind calm veneer, PBS stations fight bitterly." It's WEDU vs. WUSF in the Tampa Tribune's story. What's the fight about? Oh, just "viewers, sponsors, programs and even their very existence on cable TV channel lineups," according to the Tribune. It quotes Shelly Palmer, New York chapter president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as saying: "What you're seeing in Tampa is the first border skirmish in what will literally be a death match between cable companies and local stations across America."

Dish Network entering new carriage talks, rep tells congresswoman

A representative of Dish Network told Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) yesterday that the satcaster is planning new talks with noncom TV stations on multicast or HD signal carriage, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Cable operators and DirecTV already have such deals. Eshoo introduced a bill that would force such carriage, citing public interest. Jeffrey Davis, spokesman for the Association of Public Television Stations, told Current in a statement that Dish Network, for the most part, is not carrying local public television stations in HD in any markets except Hawaii and Alaska, where carriage is federally mandated. The statement added: "It is our sincere hope that Dish and public television can reach a private agreement. However, in the absence of such an agreement and the unwillingness of Dish to engage in meaningful negotiations, we are encouraging Congress to step in to correct this market failure and ensure that Americans have full access to high quality programming created by local public television stations." (See Current's Jan. 21, 2008, story for more on the issue.)

State budget woes force WQLN cuts

Facing a loss of $800,000 in Pennsylvania state funding, or about 25 percent of its budget, WQLN Public Media is terminating staff and making other budget cuts. Affected are WQLN-TV and WQLN-FM. Five jobs have been eliminated; among those are the program director and engineering director. The three remaining top managers will get salary cuts. President and g.m. Dwight Miller will lose 10 percent, the others 5 percent. There's a hiring and salary freeze, and the remaining 25 staffers will take two weeks of unpaid leave. Also, PRI's Marketplace will be dropped from WQLN-FM. Miller told Current that the governor's office has received more than 7,000 emails from across the state. "Clearly the public is making its voice heard, but no one in the capital seems to be listening," he said. The Republican-controlled Senate's proposed budget also contains no money for pubcasting; the Democratic-controlled House has yet to put forth its numbers, Miller said. The governor and Senate are $3 billion apart so negotiations may continue for months, he added. WQLN's cutbacks come after schoolchildren rallied on May 27 to draw attention to WQLN's problems.

CPB to invest in local news collaboratives for pubradio

CPB is offering grants to public radio stations to expand local news gathering and digital platform reporting capabilities. In a request for proposals issued June 11, CPB solicited proposals from groups of 3-6 stations to collaborate in creating multimedia coverage on a single news topic of strong local interest. The concept is similar to the content verticals proposed for NPR's Argo Project. Successful proposals for the local journalism centers will describe plans to employ multi-disciplinary teams of journalists, including editors to ensure quality standards, reporters who are comfortable reporting on multiple platforms, and facilitators working with social media and other engagement tools. "We want to make sure that this is not only a conspicuous play on volume of coverage but also quality," said Bruce Theriault, senior v.p. of radio. "Producers of media today can't exclusively have a one-platform mentality." Like NPR's Argo Project, the CPB initiative provides a mechanism for pubradio to engage audiences looking for new sources of local coverage. The RFP, which has a July 16 submission deadline, also is the first to respond to recommendations of the CPB-backed Grow the Audience project, which called for pubradio to strengthen its news gathering capacity on several fronts.

Jun 16, 2009

Latin American Discovery Channel to carry Sesame Workshop show

Sesame Street's Abby Cadabby will host 3, 2, 1, ¡VAMOS!, a new half-hour preschool show starting June 22 on Discovery Kids Latin America. The program offers segments from the interactive program Play With Me Sesame and the multi-media project Global Grover, as well as Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures, the first claymation series from Sesame Workshop.

Can Planet Money be a money maker?

Negotiations over the future of Planet Money, the NPR blog and podcast on global economics, include the option of operating it as a for-profit, according to this report by AOL's DailyFinance. "Like everyone else in the business, we're trying to figure out if there are other revenue models that might work for us," says Adam Davidson, the NPR reporter who teamed up with This American Life's Alex Blumberg to report "Giant Pool of Money," the 2008 documentary that launched their multimedia spin off for "One of many possibilities raised has been the possibility, like many not-for-profits, of having a for-profit fundraising arm." But Davidson adds: "I can say with 100-percent assurance that our core goal is to be a not-for-profit, mission-driven company."

PBS board okays "three nons" requirement

In a compromise with the small number of PBS stations running religious programming, the PBS board today approved a membership requirement that would allow those shows to continue but would ban more sectarian programs to be added on primary channels. Also, religious programs may be carried on multicast channels or other platforms as long as PBS branding is not included. This was the final requirement recommended by the Station Services Committee after more than a year's work updating membership criteria. The "three nons" question had been sent back to the system for additional input (see Current, April 13). Also at the meeting in Arlington, Va., the board accepted the fiscal year 2010 operating budget, which includes a $3.4 million deficit.

Doug Mitchell honored for pubradio journalism training

Public Radio News Directors Inc. presented its Leo C. Lee Award to former NPR producer Doug Mitchell. The award, which honors distinguished contributions to public radio journalism, recognized Mitchell's work to "encourage young people - and particularly young people of color - to get into public radio," PRNDI announced on its website.

Mitchell, who left NPR in lay-offs announced in December, is a 20-year veteran of NPR News, and he worked for over a decade to establish a public radio journalism program for young people. Through Next Generation Radio, as the training program was called, "Doug did what a trainer is supposed to do--encapsulate the best values of the organization and transmit them intact to a new generation," wrote former NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, in a blog posting about the loss of present and future talent with Mitchell's exit. "Using the metaphor of these days, he was a Moses to their Joshua."

Mitchell recently explained his motivation in creating the program on Transom: "[F]or 15 of my 21.5 years at NPR, my version of teaching was giving back. That’s an old-school term meaning that at one point in my life someone helped me, and after a period of time, I 'gave it back' to someone else who needed help."

The PRNDI award is named for the late Leo C. Lee, a newspaperman who became a western bureau chief for NPR and later founded Western States Public Radio. Lee also established a training program to prepare young journalists, including women and minorities, for careers in public radio. Previous award recipients include former NPR News chief Bill Buzenberg, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, longtime Marketplace executive producer Jim Russell, NPR investigative reporter Daniel Zwerdling, and producers David Isay and Ira Glass.

Jun 15, 2009

"Saddle Up" launches new website

PubTV's Saddle Up with Dennis Brouse has a new website. It's designed to be an educational tool for horse enthusiasts. Brouse said in a statement he hopes the site will show users "how to develop a strong connection with their horses."

Jun 14, 2009

"Bruno" staffer cited PBS as possible destination for film

Uh-oh. First young man Michael Kinsell alleged a link to PBS to advance his plans to become the next Mister Rogers. Now comes word that a staffer for the infamous comedian Sacha Baron Cohen mentioned a potential affiliation with PBS in the lead-up to filming of his latest project about a gay fashion designer, Bruno. A California woman, Richelle Olson, has filed suit saying she was duped by a call from a fake corporation linked to Cohen. A rep asked her if a "celebrity" could announce numbers at a charity bingo game Olson runs, and told her that his appearance would be taped for "a television station such as Discovery Channel or PBS." She agreed. Cohen showed up in revealing clothing, Olson charges, and used vulgar language in front of the crowd. Olson charges she was knocked down when she tried wresting the microphone away from Cohen. Bruno's studio, NBC Universal, called the lawsuit “completely baseless.”

Jun 13, 2009

FCC handles flood of 700,000 DTV callers this week

More than 317,000 calls came into the FCC's toll-free DTV help line yesterday (PDF), the agency reported, as stations said farewell to analog signals. The FCC termed that number "extraordinarily high." Total calls in the runup: Nearly 700,000 between June 8 and 12. Almost 30 percent of callers asked technical questions about their digital converter boxes. "Most" of those, said the FCC, were taken care of with directions for rescans of the boxes to receive channels that had moved to new frequencies. Check out Current's story from this week's issue on the 2.7 percent of American households that were unprepared for the switchover.

Jun 12, 2009

WFUV covering Bonnaroo Music Festival

WFUV's Rita Houston will present special coverage of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on tonight's edition of The Whole Wide World, airing 7-10 pm. Online listeners can catch her live show here (choose the 'FUV branded streams). Houston, music director for the NYC station, will produce live broadcasts, video podcasts and other online coverage through out the weekend.

Suffice to say FCC's DTV call center is busy

Reporter John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable decided to see for himself how things were going at the FCC's DTV call center. He tried three times. First, call demand was too high; "goodbye," a voice said. Next, Eggerton said he was put "on hold with music that recalled the funky jazz of 1970's detective show soundtracks." Third time -- nope, didn't make it through to speak with a human then either. The FCC doesn't yet have call totals. But in a statement today it "hails a new era in broadcasting" (PDF).

Pubcasting, unplugged

How did your station celebrate today's milestone DTV transition? At PBS affiliate WGVU-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich., "dignitaries, photographers and reporters jammed into the ... control room for a live broadcast counting down the final seven minutes of the station's analog signal," reports The Grand Rapids News. Two local bigwigs – including Grand Valley State University President Emeritus Arend D. Lubbers, who welcomed viewers when the station started broadcasting in 1972 – did the honors at 10 a.m. and switched off the power to Channels 35 and 52. "I thought it would hurt, but it didn't," Lubbers reported. As analog monitors went gray, applause erupted outside the door.

Coming soon: Public broadcasting funding votes in House

This week the House Appropriations Committee okayed its subcommittee discretionary allocations for FY2010, reports APTS in its weekly legislative update. That’s the amount each subcommittee has to draft its spending bill. The subcommittee that funds most pubcasting programs (Labor, HSS and Education) received $7.5 billion more than FY2009, for a total of $160.65 billion. “Although this is a welcome increase,” APTS noted, “key elements of President Obama's ambitious domestic agenda will likely account for much of this increase, making funding in the Labor-HHS bill extremely competitive.” The bill should hit the House floor for a vote July 22. The House Appropriations Committee also this week retained PTFP’s $20 million in the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee’s bill. Discussion and voting by the full House for that is tentatively scheduled for June 16 and 17.

Anti-LPFM arguments refuted in Hill hearing

Support for easier licensing standards for Low Power FM stations is growing in Congress and at the FCC, according to reports [here and here] on yesterday's House subcommittee hearing on the Local Community Radio Act of 2009. The FCC's extensive experience in FM licensing "refutes the claim that elimination of third-adjacent channel protection requirements would result in pervasive interference," Peter Boyle, chief of the commission's Audio Division, told lawmakers in his written testimony. "In fact, the potential for interference would be limited to areas immediately adjacent to LPFM transmitter sites." NPR has long opposed proposals allowing more flexibility in channel-spacing rules for LPFM stations.

Aspirations that go beyond driveway moments

An "essay to read and keep": Margaret Low Smith of NPR describes the basic ingredients needed for public radio to "become essential in the lives of more Americans." In the final commentary commissioned by the Station Resource Group's Grow the Audience project, the network's top programmer calls upon the field's creative talents to go beyond the classic "driveway moments" and learn what it takes to create "harddrive-way moments." Smith boils it down to traditional elements of public radio journalism--good story-telling, engaging guests and vibrant personalities, "great tape," and versatility in the crafts of reporting, producing and editing. She also sets the bar high for the content being produced in any medium for any platform. "It needs to be extraordinary. . . .We need to distinguish ourselves at every turn."

Markey takes a moment to mark today's final DTV transition

Now that the absolutely final DTV transition is really here, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) is looking back over the long, laborious process leading up to this point, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Markey is former chair of the House Telecommunications (now Communications) Subcommittee. "When I held the first Congressional hearing on then-high definition TV (HDTV) in the early fall of 1987, " he wrote in an e-mail, "I never imagined that it would take almost 22 years to reach this moment." He said he "aggressively advocated for such a switch and successfully convinced the FCC in 1990 to begin pursuing a digital standard." Markey gave up his communications post this session to focus on energy policy.

Jun 11, 2009

Forty-five positions gone as PBS works to balance budget

PBS today announced job cuts and other cost reductions during a staff meeting at headquarters in Arlington, Va. It faces a $3.4 million deficit in next fiscal year’s budget, spokesperson Jan McNamara told Current. A total of 45 positions, or about 10 percent of the staff, are affected, including elimination of vacancies. A six-month salary reduction of 3.85 percent for all nonunion employees starts July 1. On Jan. 1, 2010, company retirement contributions will fall from 8 percent to 6 percent; those will resume by July 2010, McNamara said. A hiring freeze currently in place will continue, and other cuts including travel will be made. No merit raises will be given. McNamara said the moves will eliminate about half the deficit. The PBS Board of Directors votes on the budget at its upcoming meeting, June 15 and 16.

NewsHour collaborations are up and running

The NewsHour unveiled two of its collaborative reporting projects on-air and online this week. Generation Next, a follow-up to Judy Woodruff's 2006-07 series on young Americans, began its month-long run with reports airing on the NewsHour and NPR on Monday. Patchwork Nation, a multimedia project examining how the recession is affecting different types of communities, also launched with feature reports by the Christian Science Monitor and KWMU in St. Louis. The Monitor created Patchwork Nation as a reporting project for the 2008 election; as part CPB's big intiative backing collaborative multimedia projects dealing with the recession, it teamed up with the NewsHour and 14 pubcasting stations to focus the coverage on economics reporting.

WNETers take a run for charity

A team of runners from WNET participated in yesterday's J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge run in Central Park. Led by Stewart Roberts of the underwriting department, participants (above) included Janice Fuld, Ashlinn Quinn, Samantha Gibb, Arielle Altman, Kristin DiQuollo, Kathryn Minas, Corey Nascenzi and Maura Thompson. The JPMorgan Chase Foundation has donated more than $1.75 million to nonprofits from runs in six countries on five continents during the past three years, according to its website.

Perhaps Gwyneth prefers green eggs?

During a recent appearance in Seattle, Anthony Bourdain had an odd question for fellow celeb chef Mario Batali about actress Gwyneth Paltrow: "Why would you go to Spain with the one b*tch who refuses to eat ham?" Paltrow is co-host of Batali's PBS show Spain ... On the Road Again. But Bourdain asked it with a wicked grin, so it's all in good fun. Paltrow, an avowed macrobiotic eater, has a website, GOOP, that raves about the virtues of the diet. Paltrow has another link to pubcasting: She was a guest on Food Matters with Mark Bittman, part of CPB's Public Radio Talent Quest.

NPR to memorialize longtime pubmedia producer Sheryl Flowers

NPR is planning a gathering to remember pubcaster Sheryl Flowers (right), who died Monday at age 42 after an 18-month battle with breast cancer. The event will be at 5 p.m. June 15. Anna Christopher, NPR spokesperson, said details are still being finalized. Flowers was a longtime executive producer of The Tavis Smiley Show on public radio and television, and current director of communications for Smiley’s production company. In an audio statement on the show's website, Smiley called Flowers “the creative force, the genius most responsible for making me sound a whole lot smarter than I am.” A full obituary will run in the June 22 issue of Current.

"Mosque" doc especially pertinent now, filmmaker says

"The Mosque in Morgantown" filmmaker Brittany Huckabee hopes it helps audiences realize the similarities and differences between religions because "that’s pretty important in a time when Americans are trying to engage with the larger Muslim world, to understand what’s going on here at home inside the often closed doors of mosques." The film, part of the America at a Crossroads project, premiered at the Metropolitan Theater in Morgantown, W.V., last night. It centers on Asra Nomani, who entered the mosque to pray in the main hall where only men were allowed. Her move caused reactions through the mosque there as well as others across the country. The film debuts on PBS on June 15. Here's more on the Crossroads project from the Nov. 6, 2006, Current.

More "WordGirls" coming to PBS

PBS is ordering an additional 26 episodes of its popular WordGirl program on PBS Kids GO! That brings the total number of half-hour shows to 78.

OPB transmitter returns after lightning short-out

One of Oregon Public Broadcasting's transmitters, hit by lightning last week, is up to full power again -- just in time to be shut down permanently on Friday for the DTV transition. “That’s kind of the joke around here,” Everett Helm, director of engineering, told the Gazette-Times in Corvallis, site of the transmitter. Helm said this was a rare occurrence: The lightning appears to have caused carbon to form inside the antenna’s electronics, which caused the equipment to heat up slowly and eventually short out over the weekend.

Jun 10, 2009

CapHill reality show fizzles

Looks like a possible PBS reality show, Agents of Change, probably won't happen, according to D.C.'s The Hill newspaper. Producer Gabe Gentry had contacted at least two U.S. Reps about participating. The program would follow teams of young supporters conducting nationwide town halls to determine issues of concern. The teams would help draft legislation, the public would vote on what bill they most wanted, and lawmakers would take it from there. But one government watchdog found the idea "wholly inappropriate" and said it would “would undermine the credibility of the institution.” At least two legislators expressed interest to Gentry awhile back, but he's finding no support now. PBS told the paper it hadn't yet funded the show -- so it does indeed look like it's probably dead.

WDUQ campaign includes appeals for NPR

WDUQ in Pittsburgh launched its year-end fundraiser last week with a special appeal to its listeners: forgo thank-you gifts for your contribution and the NPR News and jazz station will send 10 percent of the pledge to NPR. General Manager Scott Hanley, who announced the special fundraising appeal during the NPR Board meeting last month, said he has a “six-figure problem to resolve” in closing the station’s year-end budget gap, but folks at WDUQ are “very concerned about what is happening at NPR.” As much as the station’s supporters “love coffee mugs and tote bags, they love NPR more.” Prior to the campaign’s launch on June 4, Hanley blogged about the cutbacks undertaken at NPR this year, adding: “The most stable source of income for NPR is fees for programs from stations like WDUQ. But, in times like these, it isn't enough.” Contributions from WDUQ’s campaign will “be on top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in programming fees that DUQ has already committed to pay to NPR," Hanley wrote. It's not huge, but it's a start.”

Another cash infusion for, the social network in which American Public Media holds a controlling interest, announced yesterday that it has secured $5.3 million in equity financing. Investors include Allen & Company, American Public Media, former chief executive officer of Lotus Development Corporation Jim Manzi, former Hill Holiday chief executive officer Jack Connors, Kevin McClatchy, Andrew Tobias and the Gerace family. The Boston-based company benefited from a big surge in "engagement marketing" bookings, according to this news release. The investors' cash will "fund operations at its current run rate through to profitability expected in early 2010." Paidcontent reports that Gather has raised "at least $25 million over the years since being founded in 2004."

Jun 9, 2009

Texas-sized deal to bring Triple A to Dallas

KERA in Dallas will launch a Triple A public radio station in the nation's fifth largest market with its purchase of 91.7 FM, a noncommercial radio frequency owned by religious broadcaster Covenant Educational Media under the call letters KVTT. The deal, announced today and billed as the largest radio transaction of 2009 to date, was brokered by Public Radio Capitol and partially financed by its Public Radio Fund. Other lenders include National Cooperative Bank and FJC, a public foundation that offers a special loan program for nonprofits. With a potential audience of 5.5 million listeners in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan region, the transaction is a major expansion for public radio's Triple A format, according to Erik Langner, who has been working on the deal since January 2008. "We did a lot of due diligence with the board to see how other public Triple A radio stations were operated," KERA marketing chief Debra Johnson tells a local blogger for the Dallas Observer. "We . . . decided it was an opportunity we couldn't pass by because it would probably never present itself again." KERA President Mary Ann Alhadeff promises a "very, very rich musical discovery experience" in this interview with a KERA News reporter. The new station is slated to launch this fall. KERA also posted a FAQ on the transaction here.

Can funder-filmmaker relationships be saved? Perhaps The Prenups can help

"The Prenups: What Filmmakers and Funders Should Talk About Before Tying the Knot" is an informative new site "dedicated to improving communications and collaborations among filmmakers, funders, strategists and advocates," according to the Center for Social Media, which advises the project. Money people, policy people and film people each bring different skills, needs, concerns and assets to collaborations, the center says. The Prenups explores why some funder/maker relationships thrive, while others don't.

Prepare now to receive emergency info after DTV transition, Red Cross warns

Now the Red Cross is getting involved in the final DTV transition, which occurs June 12. In a press release, the group said the switch from analog to digital signals "will have a real effect on the disaster preparedness plans of many people who have relied on small portable televisions with antennas for emergency communications in a disaster." Those sets won't work without a converter box, as Broadcasting & Cable points out. The FCC issued a statement (PDF) instructing viewers to connect a battery-powered digital-to-analog converter box to continue to receive emergency warnings in a power outage.

Think tank examines Budget Hero user data

Remember Budget Hero? That's the interactive national budget game launched in May 2008 by American Public Media. Players use the same economic model and data as the Congressional Budget Office, choosing from among more than 160 policy options to try to balance the budget. The game caught on quickly: Within three weeks it had been linked in at least 100 blogs. Since its inception about 10 percent of players, around 15,000, left enough anonymous data to do some crunching. David Rejeski, director of the Serious Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in D.C., offers up some interesting stats. Popular policy options include bringing troops home soon, cutting pork barrel spending, cutting military spending by 10 percent and capping and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Also, more than 50 percent of the players earned two or more of the 10 possible badges and played multiple times. In an October 2008 piece for Current, Contributing Editor Louis Barbash wrote that Budget Hero "is not by any means a comprehensive tool for estimating budget impacts of various policies, but it does give users a sense of the magnitude and interconnectedness of the policy promises that get thrown around during campaigns."

Station cuts continue, Wisconsin hit

Wisconsin Public Television is cutting five positions. Gone are three unfilled slots, and two contracts that will not be renewed, James Steinbach, WPT director of television tells Travel expenses have also been cut. One of the network’s flagship shows, the half-hour weekly magazine In Wisconsin also shrinks from 19 new episodes per year to 13. Steinbach cited the ongoing recession and state budget woes. Milwaukee Public Television, distinct from the Wisconsin network, also has frozen hiring and salaries, reduced use of freelancers, and dropped programs with no underwriting support, says Ellis Bromberg, g.m.

APTS Twittering, Facebooking

Now pubcasters can keep up with the Association of Public Television Stations through its Twitter account and Facebook page. Jeffrey Davis, vice president of communications, said in an email to Current that APTS will use Twitter to update stations on legislative and regulatory hearings, press conferences, projects of importance and other tweets. On its Facebook page, visitors can read APTS news updates, post links and comments, and find out about hearings and other events. Davis said APTS hopes both will "enhance the presence of APTS in the online community."

Jun 8, 2009

CPB DDF grant info available

CPB has announced it will be accepting applications for Round 14 Digital Distribution Fund grants from qualified noncommercial educational TV licensees for Priority One: Digital Television Transmission Facilities and Priority Two: Digital Master Control Services projects. More information is now online.

NPR appoints new operations/ finance senior veep

Debra Delman has been named NPR’s senior vice president for strategic operations and finance, the network announced today. Since 2005, she has been with Discovery Communications Inc. as senior vice president, CFO, leading a global team of more than 150 and managing a division with more than $1 billion in revenue. Delman assumed her post June 1.

Site monkeys around with humor research including pubradio shows

Parody site CAP News (motto: "Are you in on the joke?") "reports" that scientists investigating the origins of human laughter now know that baboons have a laugh reflex very similar to humans -- and a special fondness for certain types of comedy, such as pubradio's Prairie Home Companion and Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me. The site said baboons laughed "consistently" at episodes of Car Talk, "even though few of them had ever actually been in a car, much less driven one."

U of Florida media consolidation affects pubradio stations

University of Florida's public radio station will soon begin airing more news in addition to its current classical music, according to The Gainesville Sun. It broadcasts as WUFT/Classic 89 in that city, and WJUF/Nature Coast 90 in Citrus County. The move comes as the university consolidates its media operations of several radio and television stations. College of Journalism and Communications Dean John Wright said there are no plans to close any station, although jobs may be lost. A detailed announcement will come in the next few weeks.

Three students' work honors Fred Rogers' spirit

Three $10,000 awards have gone to students for work on children's media projects in the spirit of Fred Rogers. The annual scholarships are presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation and Ernst & Young. Alexis Lauricella of Georgetown University is at work on a project about the relationship between children's media use and learning. Mayuran Tiruchelvam of Columbia University is developing live-action short film and animated series. And Thy Than of the UCLA plans to create an animated short about a girl who emigrates with her family. The students also will each have TV academy mentors. They were honored at a recent ceremony attended by Rogers' widow, Joanne Rogers.

LPFM advocates score victory

A federal appeals court turned down a lawsuit that would have stopped the FCC from protecting low-power FM stations from full-power station signal interference, reports the Ars Technica website. Around 800 educational stations operating at 10 or 100 watts commit to eight hours of local programming a day in exchange for licenses. After the FCC first authorized the service, the National Association of Broadcasters and NPR claimed that the stations would interfere with full-power signals (Current, May 2008), and persuaded Congress to force a "third adjacent rule" on the service. Citing potential interference from LPFMs, the two also wanted the FCC not protect these smaller stations from signal "encroachment" by new full power licenses nearby.

Jun 5, 2009

Viewers continue to react to 'We Shall Remain'

Lots of letters in the PBS ombudsman's mailbag this week, including more "dealing with challenges arising from the five-part American Experience series 'We Shall Remain' on American Indian history," writes Michael Getler.

Actor REALLY thinks PBS should have Tonys show

The Tony Awards belong on PBS, actor Kevin Spacey told New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel. In fact, Spacey said: "The Tonys should be produced by theater people. Mike Nichols should be the director. The show should be on PBS and everyone should get their award, and then we don't have to give a (bleep!) about ratings." The show currently airs on CBS.

KRVS transitions into new studio

KRVS-FM, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette licensee, has a new home on campus. Spiffy new equipment includes Wheatstone Evolution 5 consoles in editing suites and studios, and custom-made furniture for console units. An Evolution 6 console operates the master control room positioned to oversee interview and performance studios, according to, website of the local WBRZ-News 2 comstation in Baton Rouge. “We experienced no down time," reports Dave Spizale, KRVS g.m. "It was a great coordinated effort with the construction, the university and our staff.”

Jun 4, 2009

PBS: Please Buy Stuff?

That's what Steve Bornfeld dubs the pubcaster in his Mediology column for The Las Vegas Review-Journal. He's troubled by pledge shows such as the Brain Fitness for Kids programs, which he compares with infomercials hawking related books and CDs. "PBS should position itself above high-class hucksterism that, stripped of production polish, would be a cozier fit in its natural habitat: paid-for filler on commercial TV," he writes. "Perfumed by PBS, it still has the stench of salesmanship on airwaves long home to cultural/educational enrichment."

Mashable casts NPR as the "future of mainstream media"

NPR's three-pronged strategy to extend local coverage, engage audiences via social media and provide ubiquitous access to its content is helping the network "grow now" and position itself for the digital media landscape of the future, according to this Mashable article by Josh Catone. "Perhaps the most important aspect of NPR’s approach to new media, is that they have an organizational level commitment to allowing listeners and readers to access their content on their own terms," he writes. "NPR’s commitment to going to its audience rather than making its audience come to them is a smart strategic move." Be sure to read the comments from readers who beg to differ with the author, including this: "One fly in the ointment of this argument: a great deal (perhaps the majority) or local content for many NPR stations is often generated by local print media, especially daily newspapers. I'm a big fan of NPR (and daily newspapers, for that matter), but -- like local TV and many, many bloggers and Twitterers -- a lot of the coal in those furnaces comes from the black-and-white newsrooms. At least today."

What are foundations backing in journalism?

Since 2005, they’ve put nearly $128 million into news and journalism initiatives and experiments, says a report this week from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, now based at American University. That’s on top of funding to public broadcasting, which the report doesn’t count (“because we’ve long known of the generous philanthropic support for their work”). The narrative report are is online and available as a PDF.

Of the 115 projects in the project database, three received nearly half the funding, including ProPublica, which got $30 mil from the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation. Also among the field’s top 10 funders: Knight Foundation, $11.2 mil; California HealthCare Foundation, $8.7 mil; Pew Charitable Trusts, $7.5 mil (mostly to; Schuster Foundation, $5 mil (to Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism); Irvine, $4.8 mil; Chicago Community Trust, $3.6 mil; William Penn Fndn, $2.6 mil; Atlantic Philanthropies, $2.7 mil; and Ford Fndn, $2.4 mil.

Second in the field of funders is California HealthCare Foundation was created as part of the pact when nonprofit Blue Cross of California was converted to for-profit WellPoint Health Networks [10-year report in PDF].

A notable departure among the funders: JEHT Foundation closed in January because its assets were managed by all-star crook Bernard Madoff.

Jun 3, 2009

HoustonPBS is now a bee keeper

Some happy pubcasting news: HoustonPBS is the first pubTV station to locally sponsor the Scripps National Spelling Bee, after The Houston Chronicle discontinued its longtime sponsorship. The bee is the third largest in the country with more than 1,000 schools in 42 counties participating. HoustonPBS coordinates the 1,000 school champions into 37 playoff bees and runs the final bee -- broadcast live. The first HoustonPBS spelling champ, Aditya Chemudupaty, advanced to the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee and missed the finals by just one word. He was eliminated May 28 in the sixth round of the semi-finals on ESPN (pictured). The Scripps National Spelling Bee featured a total of 293 spellers representing about 29,000 schools.

WNED trying first June pledge drive

Rough economic times have prompted WNED in Buffalo to schedule its first June pledge drive. Senior managers have already taken 7.5 percent cutbacks, staff salaries have been cut 5 percent and some jobs are unfilled. If this month's drive doesn't bring in more cash, WNED-TV President Don Boswell told The Buffalo News, the station may cut programs.

CPB wants WSEC to "become sustainable"

CPB's Mark Erstling, a senior veep, said the struggling WSEC in Springfield, Ill., needs "to have a plan so we can change their trajectory so they can become sustainable." Erstling told the local State Journal-Register that he and COO Vinnie Curren met with station managers in May in Springfield. “Our goal is to make sure no one loses public television service in America,” Erstling said. “We’re a funder for public television and radio stations, but there’s not a lot of discretionary funds for dealing with situations like this.” Jerold Gruebel, CEO of the PBS affiliate, on May 29 told The Hannibal Courier-Post in Missouri that CPB is trying to “dismantle” smaller PBS stations.

West Virginia college cooperation continues

As of July 1, reporter Keri Brown will be West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Northern Panhandle bureau chief. It's part of a unique relationship between the pubcaster and several colleges around the state. "We cover the whole state so we need reporters all around the state," Dennis Adkins, network exec director, told Current. The reporters are paid by the schools to teach journalism courses, and report exclusively for the pubcaster. Brown will be based at Wheeling Jesuit University. Elsewhere, the reporter in Morgantown teaches at West Virginia University; Huntington, Marshall University; Bluefield, Concord University; and Martinsburg, Shepherd University.

Planet Money's Adam Davidson under fire for losing his cool

"It's important for journalists to treat whomever they are interviewing with respect -- and to keep their opinions to themselves," writes NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard in her latest column. But Adam Davidson, the lead correspondent for Planet Money, "did neither" when he interviewed Elizabeth Warren about her watchdog role for the Troubled Assets Relief program, Shepard concludes. Davidson's May 6 interview with Warren, who chairs the congressional oversight panel of TARP, was "really cringeworth stuff," the Columbia Journalism Review's Ryan Chittum wrote on May 14. In Shepard's June 1 response to complaints about the piece, NPR News Chief Ellen Weiss says the interview was "unsuccessful from the start." "It was confrontational without being illuminating," adds Uri Berliner, the deputy national editor working with the Planet Money team. "The fight was over an incredibly nuanced issue," Davidson tells Shepard. "I did an awful job of conveying what the issue was by losing my cool and failing to be precise." What went wrong? Davidson didn't have time to adequately prepare for the interview because he had just returned from a fundraising trip for NPR, Shepard reveals, and the Planet Money podcast on which the interview was presented isn't produced with the same editorial rigor of an NPR news program. Davidson discusses the fight with Alex Blumberg, his friend and collaborator in creating Planet Money. In a recent interview with Current, Davidson acknowedged that the Planet Money team was "stretched too thin" in producing multi-platform economics coverage.

Jun 2, 2009

Josh Groban charms PBS staff

Sometimes working at headquarters definitely has its perks. About 100 lucky PBS staffers turned out yesterday when singer Josh Groban stopped by Arlington, Va., while in town to tape WETA pledge breaks for his new special. He chatted with employees including Betty Hickey, who said she has every one of his CDs and has been a fan "since before he was a big star." As he departed, according to one insider, Groban told the crowd, "I just want to thank you guys for all the great work you're doing." A round of applause followed him.

Soldier's story grows more complex, PBS ombudsman says

Michael Getler, PBS ombudsman, is updating his recent column investigating the background of an injured soldier, Army Sgt. Jose Pequeno, and his caregivers. They were honored in PBS's popular National Memorial Day Concert on May 24. "In the aftermath of last week's column," Getler writes, "more letters arrived and some of them continued to describe a real-life situation that is even more tense and complicated than it appeared."

Comcast strikes new deal in West Virginia

Comcast in West Virginia has reached an agreement to make the state's pubTV station available to customers there -- but despite negotiations with Gov. Joe Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the deal is little different from the original. Comcast will not put West Virginia PBS back on its basic and standard cable tiers, which Charleston station requested after receiving angry calls from listeners. Comcast's compromise: It agreed to provide free digital converter boxes to customers for two years instead of one. Meanwhile, in Georgia, Comcast yesterday "clarified" the channel shift of WNGH, Georgia Public TV, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Here's Current's May 20 story on the controversy.