Oct 13, 2011

Viewers gripe to PBS ombudsman about on-screen program promotions

"I was trying to watch Masterpiece Mystery! tonight, and the intrusive and pointlessly repetitious imposition of a large, animated, pink and blue graphic advertisement for the PBS Fall Arts Festival on top of the program in progress was extremely annoying," writes one of several displeased PBS viewers to Ombudsman Michael Getler. Several spoke out against PBS's ongoing experiment with on-screen program promotion graphics.

PBS Kids unveils more than 40 new preschool math games

PBS Kids launched more than 40 cross-platform games today (Oct. 13) — its largest offering of interactive math content for preschoolers to date — designed to help children build math skills. The games are accessible through computers, mobile devices and interactive whiteboards so that children engage with the same characters as they cross devices, PBS said in a press release. Games include Monkey Jump from Curious George, a Hermit Shell Crab Game from The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! and a Carnival Count-off from Fizzy's Lunch Lab. PBS partnered with CPB on the project, which is supported by a Ready To Learn grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

WMFE-TV sale still pending

WMFE-TV in Orlando, Fla., may have announced its sale on April 1, but that deal has yet to be finalized, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The FCC told the newspaper it is wading through more than 500 public comments on the impending sale to religious broadcaster Daystar, and is examining the makeup of its proposed local board. Meanwhile, WMFE-FM has had two successful fund drives since the April announcement and continues on the air. The new PBS primary station in the Orlando market is WUCF-PBS, a collaboration between University of Central Florida and Brevard Community College. Viewers who tune to the former WMFE-TV now see a screen directing them to WUCF-PBS.

Letter to new NPR chief: Root out news org's "liberal myopia"

For NPR to truly reflect the rich diversity of America, it must shed the "monochromatic vision" that it shares with many liberal institutions, writes Joel Dreyfuss, managing editor of The Root, in an open letter to incoming NPR chief Gary Knell.

Dreyfuss, a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists that pressed Knell's predecessor Vivian Schiller to diversify NPR's newsroom, warns that Juan Williams's "fiery exit" from the network last October was much more than a badly handled personnel decision "gone nuclear." He points to former NPR News chief Ellen Weiss, who fired Williams and resigned months later after an internal inquiry into the dismissal, as an example of the arrogance and "liberal myopia" that has inhibited NPR's efforts to fully represent the "glorious rainbow cacophony" of voices, stories and worldviews to be found in America.

"[A]s you tackle your mountain of issues," Dreyfuss writes to Knell, "I hope you'll be brave enough not to fall into the trap of believing that your problem was Juan Williams. It wasn't just that NPR was uncomfortable with a somewhat conservative voice; NPR has never been comfortable with black voices and brown voices and white voices that challenged conventional liberal thinking. . . .The bigger issue is not just whom you put on the air but who makes decisions about what is news and what isn't, what's important and what's not, how long a story should be, how many resources should be assigned to cover this or that and where your foreign bureaus are located. In other words, you need to throw out the mental map that has always guided NPR and forge something new that is more inclusive, more innovative and more demanding of listeners as well as employees."

It's official: CPB provides $6.6 million grant to consolidate controls of nine N.Y. stations

CPB is publicly announcing its grant of more than $6.6 million to consolidate broadcast operations of nine New York public television stations, plus New Jersey's pubTV network, into a single entity (see "CPB to equip 2 pubTV facilities as multistation master controls," Current, Oct. 3). The grant will allow the stations to build and manage an automated central master control — a CPB priority in recent years — which will handle on-air operations of 34 pubTV channels run by the stations. The facility will be housed at WCNY in Syracuse. CPB expects that the stations will have combined savings of  $25 million over 10 years.

Each station will retain control of its broadcast schedule and multicast channels. The collaboration, called Centralcast LLC, is comprised of WCNY and WNET as well as WCFE in Plattsburgh, WNET sister station WLIW, WNED in Buffalo, WMHT in Albany, WPBS in Watertown, WSKG in Vestal and WXXI in Rochester. It also includes two New Jersey Network channels now operated by WNET.

“By strategically investing in projects that help stations collaborate and operate more efficiently, we enhance their capacity to deliver quality local content and services in the communities they serve,”said CPB President Pat Harrison in a statement.

The 56,000-square-foot Syracuse facility on the edge of downtown also will house WCNY's TV and radio production studios, a learning center, concert auditorium, cafe and other amenities, CPB said.

Norm Silverstein, WXXI president, told Current that other benefits of the deal include new automation equipment for that station and WMHT. The Rochester station "is in desperate need" of that as it made the transition to DTV early, Silverstein said.

Loan to Salt Lake's KCPW puts spotlight on station's financial ties to city government

In approving its $250,000 short-term loan to Salt Lake's KCPW, the city council overruled the recommendation of its redevelopment loan committee, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The committee considered the loan too risky because KCPW had not proven it could repay the principal on its debts, the Tribune's Glen Warchol reports. A city councilman told Warchol that the station, which has until Oct.31 to pay off its $250,000 loan to National Cooperative Bank, is important to the city's development and promotion efforts. "It clearly is not going to be the most secure piece of debt we own. It is not without risk," said Councilman Carleton Christensen.

Alec Baldwin signs on with WNYC

30 Rock actor Alec Baldwin will host Here's the Thing, an interview show via podcast, starting Oct. 24 for WNYC in New York City, the Associated Press reports. Guests will include big names such as actor Michael Douglas, Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins, reality-show celeb Kris Kardashian Jenner, comic Chris Rock, actress Kathleen Turner, author Erica Jong and veteran talk-show host Dick Cavett.

Baldwin has subbed for host Kurt Andersen, and supplied some pretty funny pledge pitches to stations. But he was interested in doing more, said Dean Cappello, WNYC's chief content officer. "Alec is one of our hometown guys," he said.

New interviews will be available about once a week and probably end up as an on-air radio show.

Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, U2, Coldplay all pitch in to help little KCSN-FM

Tiny KCSN-FM at California State Northridge may not be big enough for an Arbitron rating, but it sure has some huge fans helping it raise money. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are playing what the Los Angeles Times calls "a rare small-theater show" as a benefit for the station. U2 has donated a guitar signed by all four band members that could go for upwards of $150,000 during the fall pledge drive. Also contributing: Mick Jagger, Coldplay, Sheryl Crow and others. Why? "It is because of stations like KCSN that music will always come first," Coldplay said through a spokesman. The station moved its former all-classical programming to an HD channel on March 1 and switched to an automated Triple-A format. But since July 15 it's been playing what it calls "smart rock," determined by music-passionate local DJs. And recent hires include Triple-A veteran Nic Harcourt, former music director and host of the influential Morning Becomes Eclectic program at KCRW and an early supporter of Coldplay; and Sky Daniels, a DJ and programmer at influential rock stations in L.A., San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit — as well as a former promotion exec at U2's record company.