Apr 4, 2011

Feds investigating suspicious fire at KUAR-FM in Little Rock, Ark.

An April 2 fire at KUAR-FM in Little Rock, Ark., is being investigated as possible arson by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. When the station suddenly went off the air around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the station’s engineer went to the transmitter site on Shinall Mountain to determine the problem. Smoke was pouring from the building but the lock on the front door had been changed so he couldn't enter. KUAR is currently using a standby transmitter to broadcast at a lower power, and General Manager Ben Fry estimates damages at between $100,000 and $200,000.

Center for Public Integrity to run iWatch News site

The Center for Public Integrity is launching the iWatch News site dedicated to nonprofit investigative journalism, the New York Times is reporting today (April 4). It'll be updated daily with 10 to 12 original investigative pieces and aggregated content from other sources on money and politics, government accountability, health care, the environment and national security.

What if pubcasting got $178 billion a year?

OK, so CNN discovered that some Americans think that public broadcasting accounts for 5 percent of the federal budget, or $178 billion (yes, with a "b") annually. Whew. That got Salon columnlist Alex Pareene thinking about what NPR and PBS could do with that kind of money — like Thai silk tote bags filled with precious stones as pledge premiums.

WMFE, selling to religious broadcaster, says it will return pledges to unhappy donors

WMFE is offering members a chance for donation rebates now that it has announced its pending sale to Daystar, the Orlando Sentinel is reporting.

The station also told the paper that WMFE "had numerous conversations over the course of the last year about the various issues facing our station" with PBS, "including the burdens associated with being in an overlap market, the unsuccessful PBS fundraising platform and the inequities of the fee structure, which was predicted to increase by 37 percent over the next two years."

A source familiar with the PBS dues structure tells Current that under the existing model and early estimates for fiscal 2012, WMFE's fiscal dues would increase around 6.1 percent; under the proposed formula being considered, its dues would not increase.

WMFE sale due in part to PBS dues, station president says

Jose Fajardo, president of WMFE in Orlando, told WMFE-FM today (April 4) that station management and the board "looked at mergers, partnerships, going the KCET route as an independent public TV station" before deciding on the sale, announced April 1. "The numbers just didn’t add up, no matter which alternative we looked at." One insurmountable problem he cited: PBS dues. He said WMFE pays about $1 million dollars a year, and he said that could increase up to 37 percent under a new formula the network is considering. Meanwhile, its pledge support is down 34 percent since 2007.

After WMFE's sale announcement, PBS released a statement saying: "PBS learned today of WMFE’s decision to sell its television station. PBS member stations hold licenses locally and a station’s Board of Directors makes decisions regarding how to provide the best service to their local community. We will work with WMFE to ensure a smooth transition during this process and to ensure that the people of Orlando continue to benefit from the full range of high-quality PBS content and services. ... PBS’ goal is to have a financially stable service in the Orlando market and will look to other member station partners to achieve this."

UPDATE: WMFE to sell for $3 million

Community Educators of Orlando Inc. — which has the same mailing address and president as Daystar religious broadcasters — has filed with the FCC to purchase WMFE in Orlando, Current learned today (April 4). Greg Guy, a managing partner at media broker Patrick Communications in Elkridge, Md., confirmed the $3 million price. The FCC application, filed by WMFE licensee Community Communications Inc., can be viewed here.

Tiny WHDD — Robinhood Radio — finds populist success

WHDD in Sharon, Conn., the smallest NPR station in the country, gets its own story in today's (April 4) New York Times. "In its own eccentric way, in these quite perilous times for public broadcasting, WHDD is not a bad model for what truly public radio might be," it notes. The station — motto: "Robinhood Radio: Slightly off ... but very good" — airs an eclectic amalgam of shows, from segments on language by Nat Benchley, grandson of humorist Robert Benchley and brother of Peter, author of Jaws; to shows on NASCAR racing and Indian music. As one fan put it, it's "a hybrid between an old fashioned-community radio station and a highbrow NPR station."

"It’s not certain that being hyperlocal before hyperlocal was cool is a fail-safe way to keep off the hounds on NPR’s heels," the paper notes. "But it’s hard to call you elitists when you’ve got the local agricultural extension agent as one of your regular voices."

"Yuppie elite" NPR fans shouldn't forget about saving PBS too, writer says

"It would be a shame," writes New Republic reporter Eliza Gray, "if populists and yuppies, fighting a culture war over tony NPR, ended up taking down PBS in the process" as Congressional budget cuts continue to loom for funder CPB. She contends that "yuppie elites" are focused on saving NPR because "they’re afraid they won’t be able to poach eggs and drink coffee on Sunday morning anymore while listening to This American Life." None of the GOP criticisms of liberalism apply to PBS, she notes, "whose viewers mirror the demographic makeup of the United States almost exactly, yet its budget still appears to be on the chopping block along with NPR’s."