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Jul 31, 2008

Jul 30, 2008

Hutchison in for Stevens on Commerce Committee

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas will replace Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) as the GOP's ranking member on the Commerce Committee, which oversees broadcast legislation, while Stevens is under indictment, TV Week reports. Congress is about to recess for its August break and the party conventions and won't be back in session until mid-September.

WMUB drops evening jazz, goes all-news

WMUB in Oxford, Ohio, is adopting an all news/talk format next week. The format switch moves longtime evening host Mama Jazz to WMUB Jazz, a 24-hour HD-2 channel and online stream, and clears evening slots for repeats of the Diane Rehm Show and Talk of the Nation. The station invited listener feedback on its Directions blog, where a couple of commenters questioned why WMUB would drop the music programs that differentiated it from Cincinnati's WVXU, a nearby NPR News station. "By focusing our format, we believe we will increase our ability to attract and retain new listeners as well as serve the great majority of current listeners," said Cleve Callison, WMUB g.m., in a statement. "This change thus orients us toward future growth in audience and local fundraising capacity."

Food and beverage marketers seek kids online

"The nation's largest food and beverage companies spent about $1.6 billion in 2006 marketing their products to children [ages 2-17], according to a Federal Trade Commission report released Tuesday," reports the Washington Post. About 200 million of that went to cross-promotional campaigns using films, TV shows, video games. "The Internet--though far less costly than television--has become a major marketing tool of food companies that target children and adolescents, with more than two-thirds of the 44 companies reporting online, youth-directed activities," the report said. The FTC recommended that media companies license their characters to healthier food and drinks and that food and beverage marketers expand their efforts to educate kids about healthy choices. Lawmakers sought the study because of concerns about growing childhood obesity rates. Read the FTC report here.

Jul 29, 2008

Sen. Ted Stevens indicted

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the longest serving GOP senator in U.S. history and a longtime pubcasting advocate, was indicted on federal corruption charges tied to his relationship with an Alaska oil exec. According to Senate Republican rules, Stevens will have to give up his position as vice chairman of the influential Commerce Committee, among other leadership positions, the New York Times reports.

Backlash against Garfield's take on online commenters

Bob Garfield tells On the Media listeners what he really thinks about the "frustrating, maddening and extremely discouraging" online feedback he often receives from anonymous commenters and gets an earful from Ira Glass. Then, the social media consultant and blogger Derek Powazek weighs in: "Comments online are just like conversations in newsrooms - sloppy and stupid and often wrong. But they’re the raw stuff that great journalism starts from."

Network builder Jack McBride dies

One of public broadcasting's master builders, Nebraska's Jack McBride, died Monday from complications of lung surgery, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. He was 82. McBride was the first employee of the University of Nebraska's TV department in 1953, put KUON on-air in 1954, won funding for a nine-station NET network in 1963, and added radio, a national school-video distributor, an intensive experiment with interactive videodiscs and many other ventures, serving until retirement until 1996. In 1990, NET was the first state net to lease a satellite channel to serve schools; today it has 303 downlinks across the state, according to the network. "There wasn't anyone better at looking into the future," said longtime program chief Ron Hull. "Jack was an absolute dynamo." Regional network chief Jim Fellows, presenting a Carpe Diem award to McBride, observed: "If Jack McBride didn't see an opportunity to seize, he created it and then seized it." A celebration of McBride's life is set for Friday, Aug. 1, 1 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln.

Jul 28, 2008

No such thing as "race transcendence," says Smiley

"There is no such thing in America as race transcendence, and Obama's going to find that out real soon," says Tavis Smiley in an AP story about how he and other journalists are addressing issues of race in the presidential campaign. Smiley started a blogosphere firestorm when he criticized Obama on The Tom Joyner Morning Show for not appearing on Smiley's State of the Black Union cablecast on C-SPAN in February. "Just because Barack Obama is black, doesn't mean he gets a pass on being held accountable on issues that matter to black people," Smiley says in the article. "We have an awkward history about how to talk about race in the nation and in newsrooms," says NewsHour and Washington Week's Gwen Ifill, whose book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama will be published early next year. "I don't see any hesitancy about addressing it," she says. "But I do think we are all searching for the language."

Jul 25, 2008

Next on eBay: Sting's bass, Andy's Fender Telecaster, Stewart's drums

In the run-up to WNET/WLIW's Madison Square Garden benefit concert Aug. 7 — the last performance of the reunion tour of The Police — four donors have bid a total of $39,700 on eBay for packages of front-row seats and other special goodies involving the band and their opening act, the B-52s. Stay tuned on eBay for Wave 2 of the auction, Aug. 4-14, which will dispose of autographed instruments from The Police. Meanwhile, tickets are selling for $125 and up, and seating is being expanded to include seats behind the stage. More on the stations' Public Television Rocks campaign in Current, July 28.

Jul 24, 2008

Bryant Park fans keep up the fight

Consultant Rob Paterson, a passionate fan of NPR's soon-to-sign-off Bryant Park Project, has started The BPP Diner, a Ning site "where the show continues." Another supporter gives instructions on how to turn a cereal box into an oversized postcard for registering unhappiness with NPR. And John Proffitt has compiled his favorite listener responses to news of the cancellation. "What I find remarkable is that so many in the audience 'get it,'" he writes. "Making NPR's decision here all the more puzzling / frustrating."

Jul 23, 2008

Haarsager's "joyless decision" on Bryant Park

Interim CEO Dennis Haarsager explains NPR's decision to cancel Bryant Park Project to fans who are lobbying to save the show: "For non-commercial media such as NPR, sustaining a new program of this financial magnitude requires attracting users from each of the platforms we can access. Ultimately, we recognized that wasn't happening with BPP." In an earlier posting on his Technology360 blog, Haarsager reveals his personal conflict over a decision he describes as "joyless." "I'm not sure how someone who has done articles, speeches and consulting about the importance of disruptive investments . . . , supported the BPP initiative when I was an NPR board member, and is now trying to shape NPR into more of a digital company, finds oneself on this side of a decision to end this great project." Meanwhile, Jeff Horwich, host and principal blogger for Minnesota Public Radio's In the Loop, refutes the idea that BPP's demise signals the end of NPR's efforts to attract younger audiences. [Scroll down for Horwich's July 15 posting on the tactical failures of BPP and Fair Game, another series that, like In the Loop, aimed to serve web savvy listeners under age 35.]

"What's wrong with WNYC?"

Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff isn't happy that WNYC has taken PRI's "illuminating" To the Point off the air, and he's unimpressed with the station's explanation that they want to put new, more diverse voices on the air. Hentoff calls To the Point's replacement, Michel Martin's Tell Me More, "a reasonably competent but basically undistinguished magazine-style show—sort of like 'smooth jazz' radio in contrast to Newark's WGBO-FM." When he called WNYC's public relations folks, says Hentoff, he "got a whiff of WNYC's yearning for younger demographics—just like the commercial stations. That's the reason for The Takeaway, the new alternative to National Public Radio's invaluable Morning Edition, which used to be heard on both AM and FM. The Takeaway, a breezy but often marginal hour-long show, makes me jump ship to WNYC-FM at 8 a.m., which is now the only place to hear the far more invaluable and in-depth Morning Edition." Hentoff says he's seen many angry letters from listeners to WNYC about To the Point. "'Diversity,' of course, is as vitally essential in radio as it is everywhere else," says Hentoff, and he points to Amy Goodman's Democracy Now as a "continually invigorating example."

Nova ScienceNow: grotesque, tantalizing

"Take a little of the grotesque, a lot of the tantalizing and a heavy dose of friendly analogies, and you have Nova ScienceNow, a science program in a newsmagazine format that will leave laymen of almost any age feeling smarter and better informed," writes New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger in a review of tonight's episode on the leech's return to the medical field, scientists' search for extraterrestrial signals, creating stem cells without the use of embryos, and a new deep-sea camera. [Episode website.] "Pretty much everything gets an analogy, apt or ridiculous," says Genzlinger. "Stem-cell treatments would be like putting fettuccine in a blender and making a cheesecake out of it. Yes, [host] Dr. [Neil deGrasse] Tyson puts some fettuccine in a blender." The info is all "served up brightly, and at a level that a child can grasp but that doesn’t bore an adult." NOVA, the mothership of this newsmag spinoff, isn't exactly shining--the show's ratings have been decreasing since 2004 (Current, May 27, 2008).

Newscasts provided for commercial station

Starting today, Santa Fe Public Radio (KSFR) will provide five newscasts every weekday to commercial KVSF-FM, owned by Hutton Broadcasting LLC, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. The Triple A station ("Project 101.5") will air the newscasts at about 7:25, 8:25, 9 and 9:25 a.m. and 5:20 p.m. In the regional AP competition, KSFR has been named New Mexico News Station of the Year for four years in a row and has received more than 50 awards in five years.

Jul 22, 2008

Jarvis: Forget the curmudgeons

Jeff Jarvis, blogger/professor/new media thinker, reprises his dismissive attitude toward old media "curmudgeons," based on an experience he had at last weekend's Public Radio News Directors Incorporated conference in Washington. Jarvis and Terry Heaton gave a mostly well-received presentation on blogging and journalism at the meeting, but there was at least one loudly contentious pubradio newsman in attendance. Jarvis says: "I have decided I’m not going to waste my time anymore with lazy, rude, self-important, self-delusional, intellectually dishonest, closed-minded curmudgeons who bark against the full moon of change."

Grief and anger over Bryant Park cancellation

Fans of Bryant Park Project, NPR's web-based morning news service for younger audiences, are describing the show's pending cancellation as evidence that public radio is: (a. only interested in serving wealthy old fuddy-duddies; and, (b. doesn't have the stomach for experiments with new media. "NPR isn't giving up on the Web. It's just giving up on its younger audience members, the ones who don't have Scrooge McDuck-size moneybins they can dig into come pledge time," writes Daniel Holloway, a film critic who appears regularly on BPP, on Huffington Post. New York-based Globe and Mail correspondent Simon Houpt observes: [M]ember stations had no interest in ditching . . . Morning Edition for some upstart out of New York produced by a bunch of hipsters in their 20s and 30s. (Hipster is a relative term: They still worked for NPR.)" NPR is an "old media organization," Houpt writes, that lacked the "intestinal fortitude for a new-media experiment." Meanwhile, today's edition of BPP features segments on what to do if you're laid off and the powerful motivational effects of anger.

Jul 21, 2008

KPCW's Feulner signs off, possibly forever

Blair Feulner, founder and longtime manager of KPCW in Park City, Utah, may have talked himself out of a job. During a July 15 on-air sign-off, Feulner told listeners he was taking a six-month sabbatical. The announcement took trustees of KPCW licensee Community Wireless of Park City by surprise, according to a report posted on KPCW's website. Feulner and his board have been in a stand-off over his demands for a renewed employment contract since March, and the Park Record reports that the board appears to be split over what to do about him. Joe Wrona, the Community Wireless executive committee member who handled negotiations over the pending sale of Salt Lake sister station KCPW, told the press that Feulner's leave of absence is unauthorized and the board is "struggling to try to make decisions that are in the best interest of Community Wireless, and that do not constitute a betrayal of the trust that Community Wireless listeners, donors and employees have placed in the board of trustees." The Salt Lake Tribune also reported on the dispute last week.

Jul 18, 2008

'Wrench' a jalopy, viewers say

There's been no shortage of dismissive reviews of Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns, the animated Car Talk spin-off PBS launched July 9. Now viewers weigh in, and it's not much prettier. "Click and Clack? Surely, you jest!" Mary Sykes of Raleigh, N.C., wrote to PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler. "That you who preach journalistic integrity would subject your viewership to such dribble on such a class act station is almost beyond repair."

Three stations win My Source awards

CPB announced yesterday its My Source Radio Testimonial Awards, given to three public radio stations and the listeners who recorded promotional spots about the roles the broadcasters play in their lives. The winners were Vermont Public Radio, KWMU in St. Louis, and WBGO in Newark, N.J. “Through the My Source testimonials we are hearing directly from the people who use and value public radio and the important role it plays in their lives,” said CPB President Pat Harrison at the Public Radio Marketing and Development Conference in Orlando.

WGBH to turn off mega-billboard

Boston’s WGBH will temporarily shut down its huge electronic screen, visible to drivers on the Massachusetts Turnpike, reports the Boston Globe. LEDs in the screen are turning off due to overheating, and the station plans to fix the problem. (Story in Current about the screen and WGBH’s new headquarters.)

Multiplatform town hall addresses St. Louis foreclosure crisis

Rob Paterson reports on the first town hall meeting held as part of the Facing the Mortgage Crisis project at St. Louis’s KETC-TV. “St. Louisans could see the enormous amount of help that was there for them,” he writes on the FASTforward blog. “They could hear stories of all the things that could happen for bad or good. They could feel hope.” (Coverage in Current.)

Feulner abruptly signs off in Utah

The former president of KPCW in Park City, Utah, unexpectedly left his morning show Tuesday to go on sabbatical, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Blair Feulner, who started the station in 1980, cited a dispute with the station’s board. “The board of trustees will have to meet to determine whether we want to revisit Blair Feulner’s employment status,” said a board member. (Via the PRPD blog.)

Sesame Workshop prepares to unveil new website

An upcoming revamp of Sesame Street’s website will feature a live-action Muppet guide and an option that can help prevent children from straying to other websites, reports the New York Times. Sesame Workshop is taking the site seriously. “We view this as really the future of the workshop, as becoming the primary channel of distribution down the line,” Gary E. Knell, president, told the paper.

SnagFilms: streaming docs from PBS, others

Todd Mundt takes note of SnagFilms, a site for viewing documentaries online that has PBS as a partner. “PBS has made a few moves like this — each of them smart,” he writes. “I’m watching less over-the-air public TV than ever, despite having four multicast channels on my TV, but I’m watching more PBS than in years, on other platforms that I use a lot — from Netflix (”Napoleon” was this week’s home viewing) to iTunesU and now SnagFilms.”

Cartoon Tom and Ray are cute, but...

Wednesday’s PBS debut of Tom and Ray Magliozzi in animated form gets a mixed review from the New York Times's Ginia Bellafante, who calls As the Wrench Turns “indisputably adorable” but says, “A television program with scripts and scene boards and illustrators doesn’t merely impede their spontaneity. It also carries the vague hint of ambition, and the Magliozzi brothers have built a career relishing in the joys, essentially, of just sitting around.” (Earlier Current article.)

Jul 17, 2008

Walker saluted with Murrow Award

Laura Walker, president of WNYC, is this year's recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award, CPB announced today. "Her creativity and willingness to take risks have made WNYC one of the foremost radio stations in the country," said CPB President Patricia Harrison. In her 11 years there, the station bought its freedom from the city government, launched Studio 360, On the Media, Radio Lab and The Takeaway, among other national programs, and last month moved into a new home [New York Times story] outside of the city's municipal building, where it operated 84 years. [Current feature on Walker, 2004.]

Jul 16, 2008

Roll your own widgets and play NPR content

NPR today invited Internet techies to take custom feeds of NPR text and audio-- 250,000 stories going back to 1995 -- and mash their own combinations for personal noncommercial or nonprofit use. It's "the beginning of what could be some really cool stuff," predicted Todd Mundt of Louisville Public Media, who said the idea was endorsed by public radio's Digital Distribution Consortium. The network released an application programming interface (API) that tells techies how to play selected material in widgets and other Internet-fed outlets. A query generator spits out a section of code for selecting material by topic, program and date from NPR's database. Available content so far doesn't include Fresh Air, Diane Rehm This American Life and other station-produced shows. Several widgets for NPR feeds have already been developed, including the Reverbiage map (shown in miniature above) and Axion Searchable Radio, which displays NPR headlines on iPhones. But that's just the beginning, as the Inside NPR.org blog indicated in a preview comment yesterday: "We are very excited about this new tool and are looking forward to the inventive ways that you will use our content! After all, there are only a few of us but millions of you..." What do you expect to come of this? Comment or start a conversation on DirectCurrent.

Jul 15, 2008

Prodigies coming through

From the Top has announced dates and sites for its radio and TV tapings. Radio tapings are set between Aug. 10 (Aspen, Colo.) and next May 22 (Omaha, Neb.). Prodigies will hit the road for San Antonio and Lubbock, Texas; Northfield, Mass.; Cincinnati; Mesa, Ariz.; Indianapolis; Mobile, Ala.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, plus two shows at home in Boston. The TV version will be taped in New York's Carnegie Hall May 27-31 and June 27-July 1.

A fair start for a not-so-bad program

Readers of Edutopia magazine learned that Garrison Keillor was inspired to invent his daily short, The Writer's Almanac, by a good experience at the Minnesota State Fair in 1993. Instead of holding a trivia contest, as planned, Keillor walked into the crowd and asked fairgoers to recite favorite poems. Which they did. The article also reports that Norwegian radio NRK has picked up the show. [NRK announcement translated from Norwegian by Google.]

Pubradio speech vehicle runs out of gas

American Public Media will discontinue Word for Word, its weekly broadcast of notable speeches, effective Aug. 8, the distributor announced today. "Despite our best efforts, the program has not gained significant station carriage," said Jon McTaggart, chief operating officer. [Program website.] Former APM exec Bill Buzenberg launched the series in June 2006 before moving to the investigative journalism organization Center for Public Integrity. The program's host has been Melinda Penkava.

Jul 14, 2008

Billy Crystal to host PBS comedy series

Billy Crystal will be the host of WNET's upcoming comedy series Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, which documents more than a century of American comedy and is due to air on PBS in January. Crystal will introduce each of the six, one-hour episodes and contribute some of his own schtick to the special. Michael Kantor (Ghost Light Films), who produced the Emmy Award-winning Broadway: The American Musical, is creator and producer.

Prediction: Bryant Park Project gets 2 weeks' notice

NPR was expected to tell the staff of its Bryant Park Project this week that the morning show will be discontinued July 25, the New York Times reported yesterday. After 10 months' production, the show aimed at a younger-than-Morning Edition audience was getting an online audience of a million unique users a month this spring but aired on only five analog public radio stations and 19 digital multicast channels, the newspaper said.

Jul 7, 2008

New blog lifts the hood on NPR.org

NPR launched Inside NPR.org, a blog, similar to advance blogs used to shape new programs such as The Bryant Park Project, that will serve as a sounding board for the network's digital plans. Online staff will discuss services and products under development and seek feedback from users. "We hope that talking about these activities more openly will help create a virtuous cycle of product development and feedback," wrote post authors Andy Carvin and Daniel Jacobson.

Jul 3, 2008

Getler: WW cover-up is worse than the crime

Washington Week made an apparently innocent slip-of-the-tongue much worse by erasing it from the program's transcript, writes PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler. On June 20, moderator Gwen Ifill clearly didn't mean to imply that Al Gore was gay when she said he "came out of the closet" to endorse presidential hopeful Barack Obama. But after a blogger named Tony Peyser asked about the slip-up, a producer changed the transcript. (The original transcript is available here.) Peyser, naturally, noted this in his blog, which points up the stupidity of the decision to change it in the first place, Getler writes. "Now, altering a transcript to remove a controversial or embarrassing statement is a very bad and fundamental journalistic sin, and also professionally stupid because someone will always catch it," he said. Washington Week has pledged not to change transcripts in the future.

University of Georgia buys TV station near Athens as journalism lab

At a time when educational institutions are more likely to be spinning off broadcast stations, the University of Georgia has bought a CBS-TV affiliate in Toccoa, 50 miles north of the Athens campus. The school agreed to pay owner Media General about $1.6 million plus DTV costs f0r WNEG-TV, says the asset purchase agreement and will use it as a teaching lab for communications students producing local programs for the northeast corner of the state, according to Dean E. Culpepper Clark’s remarks on the station’s own newscast and in the Independent-Mail of Anderson, S.C. The station will remain a commercial broadcaster, but Clark indicated it may drop its CBS affiliation. Clark came to the university two years ago from the University of Alabama, where he was involved in acquiring Tuscaloosa station (now WVUA) for teaching purposes.

Two local shows cancelled as Jones departs WBEZ

Chicago Public Radio programming v.p. Ron Jones exits for "a new adventure" as the station cuts two local programs, Hello Beautiful and Right Now, an afternoon talk show. The cuts, announced this week as the station's board met to approve the budget for the new fiscal year, prompts Chicago Reader venting about Vocalo, the experimental service for younger, web-savvy media consumers and creators. Robert Feder of the Sun-Times summarizes staff reassignments (scroll down).

Ira Glass on Limbaugh: "That is some chops"

Rush Limbaugh, Premiere Radio Networks' $400 million man, is profiled in the July 6 New York Times Magazine, published a few days early on the Times website. The piece quotes This American Life's Ira Glass on Limbaugh's unique talent: “Rush is just an amazing radio performer . . . . Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops. You can count on two hands the number of public figures in America who can pull that trick off.”

Jul 2, 2008

PBS launches teachers' social site

PBS launched PBS Teachers Connect, a new area of its PBS Teachers site that will allow member educators to start discussions and share lesson plans categorized by subject area, with more sophisticated messaging, feed options and other enhancements still to come (press release). PBS Teachers blogger Andy Carvin, also NPR's social media guru, elaborates.

VP debate Ifill's 'toughest assignment'

That's what the Washington Week host told PBS's Engage blog this week. Ifill was the most recent subject of the social media project's regular "Five Good Answers from..." pubTV interview feature. If the tables were turned, whom would she pick to interview her? "Since I'm writing a book that comes out next year, I suppose I'd most want an Oprah interview," Ifill said. "Wouldn't you?"

KETC launches mortgage crisis resource project

KETC in St. Louis has launched Facing the Mortgage Crisis, created in partnership with CPB. The multimedia project--which includes a partnership with the online newspaper The Saint Louis Beacon--aims to make KETC a central hub for information about how and where struggling homeowners can get help. A Google map on the project website maps partner service organizations across the metro area. The site's other resources include information about the United Way's help line and KETC-produced video stories about specific neighborhoods. The project, which was initiated in mid-May by CPB, is intended to create a template for other stations to use in their communities. The template will be available to the public broadcasting system in September, and CPB will issue an RFP for stations to implement the idea. Look for a story on the project in the July 14 issue of Current.

NPR, eight stations honored with Murrows; Bob Edwards wins first for satellite radio

NPR News, Mississippi Public Broadcasting and XM Satellite Radio's Bob Edwards Show are winners of 2008 Edward R. Murrow Awards for radio network news coverage announced yesterday by RTNDA. New York's WNYC-FM is the only pubradio outlet earning a national Murrow in the large-market radio division, but six pubcasters serving small markets receive RTNDA honors for excellence in electronic journalism. NPR's winning reports are "Sexual Abuse of Native American Women" by Laura Sullivan and "Rescuing the Wounded: Iraq to Germany" by Guy Raz. MPB Radio wins with "Emmett Till Apology" and "Kids Write the Blues." The award to former NPR host Bob Edwards, recognizing a documentary on homeless children, is the first Murrow that RTNDA has presented to a satellite radio broadcast.

Jul 1, 2008

Enhanced web resource for radio programmers

Public Radio Program Directors unveiled its redesigned website today. Upgrades include an improved search function, a knowledge base of tricks of the trade and a members forum. Reports on recent PRPD activities, such as a meeting on best practices in local talk programming and a webinar on social media produced by WXPN's Bruce Warren, are available to non-members.