Terry Green Blogs About KUSP

Congressional Budget Theater

By a narrow margin the House of Representatives passed a budget resolution this week that, among countless other provisions, called for elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting. All but twelve Republican House members voting on the resolution voted “yes”; all Democratic members who cast a vote voted “no.”

Is this a significant development for listeners and viewers of public radio and TV stations? I kind of doubt it.

As this post from NPR’s “It’s All Politics” blog explains, the House resolution has even less effect on the appropriations process than usual, since an earlier resolution approved by both the House and Senate set overall spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year.

The national advocacy organization for public broadcasting listeners and viewers, Protect My Public Media, asked its advocates to reach out to Congress and oppose funding cuts; by their account, over 25,000 people e-mailed their representatives in response. You can see more about the Protect My Public Media effort at this link.

The decisions that actually matter will come up later this spring, as the House and Senate Appropriations Committees work through the bills that actually determine what money goes where, within the overall spending limits I mentioned earlier. Last year, for the first time in my recent memory, public broadcasting funding was not front-and-center in the federal budget debate. With 2014 being an election year and control of the Senate very much open to question, the one one-hundredth of one percent of the federal budget that goes to public radio and TV may yet again turn into a political football.

Covering the passing of Nelson Mandela

The events that followed the death of Nelson Mandela on December 5 posed a significant coverage challenge for news organizations worldwide. For the first time since we became a partner station of the BBC in 2009, KUSP depended more on the BBC World Service than on NPR to bring you a major story.

The announcement of Mandela’s passing by South African President Jacob Zuma happened during our daily live broadcast of BBC Newshour. We stayed with BBC’s live coverage through the rest of the early afternoon, added special programs over the next several days, and brought listeners extended live coverage of the memorial celebration in Johannesburg on December 10 and Mandela’s funeral service in Qunu on December 14-15, pre-empting our regular overnight schedule.

The expense KUSP incurs to be a BBC partner station is considerable — when you figure it in terms of cost per hour of air time, it’s on a par with the other news services we utilize (such as NPR News, Marketplace, and Democracy Now). But by 2009 we had come to believe that there would be times when BBC affiliation would be critical to giving you the quality of news coverage, and the global perspective, that you expect from public radio.

And despite the fact that some of the most compelling radio happened late at night California time, we are inclined to believe that these ten days in December 2013 have been one of those times.

And in answer to numerous questions we’ve received — KUSP does not have the right to time-shift, archive or rebroadcast live BBC special programming, such as the Mandela memorial celebration or the funeral service. Some of the special programming we aired is accessible from BBC News online.

How public radio could serve you better

When I started this blog about six years ago, public radio stations were awakening to the challenges involved in evolving from having just one outlet for what we create — FM radio — to functioning in a diverse and complicated media world that is largely built on the Internet.

Back then, one of the strategies KUSP felt was worth exploring was to find a way to collaborate with other nearby public broadcasters. Our main focus at the time was trying to find a way to partner with KAZU, the Monterey Bay area’s other NPR member station. In early 2008, after about a year and a half of serious discussions, Cal State Monterey Bay (KAZU’s owner) ended that conversation, but both parties gathered a lot of information in the process. For KUSP, we used what we learned to make some significant decisions about what we program and how we operate, and our audience and donor support has grown steadily since that time.

2008 was also the year we started one of our most important station-to-station collaborations — becoming partners with KALW in San Francisco on production of our daily call-in/interview program, Your Call, which airs weekdays at 10:00 AM.

Fast forward to the present, and the urgency of finding a better way to provide public radio in the U.S. is greater and more widespread. Earlier this month I attended a national meeting of public radio executives focused on collaboration. We looked at the issue in two different dimensions — station-to-station collaborations (as we tried to do with KAZU, and have been doing with KALW) and station-to-network collaborations.

In a sense, some of the most important services public radio provides are the product of long-standing collaborations. NPR itself can be thought of as a big collaboration or a big co-op; it is governed by the 268 organizations that own NPR member stations (including KUSP). The stations vote to elect NPR’s Board of Directors and contribute most of its financial support through dues and fees for the programming we use.

There are a lot of ideas in circulation about how to improve the station-network relationship (not just at NPR, but at the other major distribution organizations too, such as Public Radio International and American Public Media). But more of the innovation is happening now at the station-to-station level.

KUSP hopes to encourage a renewed focus on collaboration with the stations that are our neighbors — in the San Francisco Bay area and in the rest of Central California. We realize that great opportunities exist if we can improve our collective efficiency and free up more resources for local and regional programming… and improving the ways we get that content to you, whether it’s on FM radio or through all the other ways our audience consumes media (desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, tablets, and on and on).

Here are some of the interesting angles we’ve seen recently in terms of collaboration at the local and regional level:

    St. Louis Public Radio, operated by the St. Louis campus of the University of Missouri, is merging with the St. Louis Beacon, an innovative online-only news organization. This blog post describes what they’re hoping to accomplish together.

    In Kentucky, six of the state’s seven public radio stations are involved in a study of how they can align their efforts. Kentucky has a history of powerful station-to-station partnerships going back twenty years.

    The Kentucky stations are being advised by a national non-profit, Public Radio Capital, that has been involved with many different station collaboration projects. Two Public Radio Capital executives summarize the challenges and some of the strategic solutions they see in this article.

    Like the Monterey Bay area, Buffalo, New York had two NPR news stations competing with each other, neither having enough capacity to really do a great job. This article describes how they pulled the stations together and diversified the formats, giving listeners higher quality and more choice.

We hope our renewed focus on finding collaborative solutions in this part of California will bear some fruit in the months ahead. As we make progress, I’ll let you know what we’re up to in this blog.

KUSP adopts Public Media Code of Integrity

At the KUSP Board of Directors meeting on October 28, the board unanimously adopted the Public Media Code of Integrity.

As far back as 2008, public radio and TV stations began a dialogue about what our common principles were with respect to ethics, editorial independence, creative freedom, and organizational transparency. All of these virtues are called into question from time to time, both at the local station level and on the national scale.

The years leading up to 2008 were a particularly difficult time in light of several events that went to the heart of how public broadcasting content was created — or suppressed. This included efforts by politically-appointed CPB officials to influence content, occasional conflicts between news staff and officials at universities that held their station licenses, and what seemed like capricious board or executive decisions at some licensees that were either community-owned or held by local or state governments.

Public media organizations tend to move very deliberately, and the drafting of a set of principles that would face up to these problems took the better part of five years. The lead roles in the consultation process were two organizations of local stations. The public radio community looked to the Station Resource Group; the public TV community’s contributions were coordinated by the Public Television Affinity Group Coalition (which is an umbrella group for several different public TV organizations).

CPB went through much internal reform after the Bush-era fracas about board influence on program funding. Following those reforms, CPB provided grants to support the negotiating and coalition-building SRG and AGC were doing. Other major national organizations, including PBS and NPR, added their input. Finally, the sponsors signed off on a final document last month and invited stations to subscribe to the code.

We are happy to be among the first to officially do so. KUSP is strongly committed to the principles that the code is designed to stick up for. As a small community licensee, we are less subject to undue outside influence than, potentially, a licensee whose board consists of political appointees (and much of local public TV in the U.S. is governed that way). And as a community organization from our birth, transparency in how we operate is more natural for our culture than might be true at, say, a station owned by a private university. But that doesn’t mean that everything for us is automatically fine, and so we welcome having the code as a benchmark.

One of our board members pointed out that codes of conduct often turn into boilerplate and don’t matter to day-to-day operations. We will try hard to “walk the walk” when it comes to the public media code of integrity; and we’ll count on the public we’re licensed to serve to help hold us to the standards we’ve declared for ourselves.

KUSP Fall drive raises over $126,000 on air – a new record

The KUSP Fall Membership Drive finished just after 7:00 PM on Thursday, October 10, the ninth day of the campaign. We surpassed our goal; at last count over $126,000 has been pledged.

This tops the station’s previous best result for a single pledge drive of $125,177, recorded in the spring of 2004. At that time the public radio listening audience was divided among the local stations in a very different way than it is today — also, people used the various ways you can give to public radio (via mail, on-line, or phoning in a pledge) differently at that time than they do now.

From last fall to this fall, the revenue from the drive climbed by 20.2% — which is exceptional under any circumstances.

I am supremely grateful to KUSP’s hardworking staff and volunteers for their commitment to the cause, and to the over one thousand donors who have contributed to the campaign so far.

Of course, if you haven’t made a gift to our fall campaign yet, there’s no reason to hold back! Just go to our secure pledge page and make a contribution on-line.

“Outlook” from the BBC debuts on KUSP Monday 9/23

On Monday, September 23, a new program will debut on 88.9 KUSP — Outlook, from the BBC World Service. Outlook will air at 2:00 PM, immediately following Newshour — giving KUSP listeners a comprehensive look at world events from a perspective outside the USA every weekday afternoon.

Outlook’s tag line is “The place where the world tells its story.” One of the premier radio programs produced by any of the BBC’s many audio services, Outlook takes time to tell the personal stories of people, famous and not-so-famous, whose lives are touched by the events of the day. BBC correspondents from everywhere on the planet contribute to Outlook, and we are excited to bring you a daily program with this kind of global reach.

In a way, Outlook shares its mission with the program it replaces on KUSP’s schedule, The Story with Dick Gordon. Dick, we’re sorry to say, is retiring after 36 stellar years in broadcast news, and the program producers have decided to end the series rather than recruiting a successor host. Details about the end of production for The Story are linked here.

Dick’s final program will be produced in a few weeks’ time, and reruns of The Story will be available to stations for a few weeks after that, but we made the decision to change our line-up now because of the schedule of our fall membership drive, which begins on Wednesday, October 2.

One of the principles we try very hard to live by when it comes to fund-raising at KUSP is to deliver on what we promise, and only promise what we can deliver. We know that listeners make decisions about supporting our programs based on what they hear — especially while the pledge drive is underway. Since we only do two major on-air fund-raising campaigns a year, to the best of our ability we seek to let you hear what your gifts will support in the coming weeks and months… rather than putting one thing up during the pledge drive, then switch things around and present something else entirely after we get your pledge.

We think both Outlook and The Story are great programs (otherwise we wouldn’t be broadcasting them!) — but given a choice, we decided to offer you what we expect you’ll hear in the time period for many months to come, rather than something we knew would be going off the air right after the end of the pledge drive. We hope fans of The Story will understand our decision, and also hope that you’ll take notice of Outlook, and make a gift in support of the show if you appreciate what Outlook offers.

One other note about Outlook — for the first several weeks of our new schedule, Outlook will air Monday through Thursday. On Friday, BBC offers a related program, The Fifth Floor hosted by David Amanor. The Fifth Floor refers to the location of the BBC’s 27 non-English services in their broadcasting center (or centre, if you prefer). The show explores how news is covered around the world and the inflections that different languages and cultures create on the global narrative we call “the news.” It’s got a lighter touch than our other BBC programs, Outlook and Newshour, and I’m looking forward to that too.

Later this fall, Outlook is slated to move to 5-day-per-week production, and we’ll make a decision at that time about whether we follow suit or stick with “The Fifth Floor” (assuming that series continues to be available to us).

I hope you enjoy our new programs and look forward to your comments and feedback.

NPR CEO Gary Knell to depart this fall

We learned this morning that Gary Knell, who has been NPR’s Chief Executive Officer since December 2011, will leave the network this fall to take over as CEO of the National Geographic Society.

The Two-Way blog at npr.org
has been following the story.

I’m dismayed by Gary’s exit. In his time at the head of NPR, he brought a great deal of strategic focus and improved relations with stations, the NPR workforce, and our donor community. He brought new people into the organization that have done good work — and with the exit of the CEO, there’s concern that these middle-level people might also start making other plans.

It’s widely believed that compensation might be a critical factor in this leadership turnover. Gary was making about $900,000 a year in his previous-to-NPR job (as head of Sesame Workshop, the producer of Sesame Street among other things) and the last reported salary for the chief executive at National Geographic was in the neighborhood of $1.5 million a year. Public radio wages, even in the executive suite at NPR, are just not at those levels.

Dale Owen memorial event: July 27

We invite friends and fans of Dale Owen to join us on Saturday afternoon, July 27, to remember him and celebrate his life.

Dale’s memorial celebration will be held at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320 Cedar Street in Santa Cruz, from 12 noon until 3:00 P.M.

As I noted when Dale passed in May,
the man was a vital force at KUSP for thirty-one years, as a classical music programmer, as a professional fund-raiser, and as an all-around champion for public radio. And for many of us, Dale was a true friend.

If Dale was part of your life too, I hope you’ll join us on July 27.

89.3 Downtown Santa Cruz signal off the air (and back on again)

UPDATE 6/24/2013 3:30 PM: The 89.3 translator is back on the air with something of an improvised radio link to our main studio. The temporary fix is mono only, not stereo. Aside from that issue, if you experience any unusual reception problems on 89.3, kindly let us know. You can use our online comment form or phone the studio at 831-476-2800.

Original post follows:
KUSP’s 89.3 FM translator is off the air at the present time. This translator fills in our signal in parts of Downtown and West Side Santa Cruz where terrain interferes with reception of our main 88.9 transmitter.

The problem is an equipment failure in the microwave link that gets our audio from the KUSP studio (near the Santa Cruz Harbor) over to the downtown site. Our engineers are searching right now for equipment we can substitute in temporarily.

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and will restore service just as soon as we can.

EarthSky exits radio business

At the start of last year I was happy to announce that KUSP had gained the local broadcast rights to EarthSky’s daily radio science feature.

Now I am sorry to report that EarthSky has shut down their radio operations and discontinued the program, effective June 1. They will continue producing video and content for their web site, but the radio feature is no more.

EarthSky was the latest in a long run of daily science features on KUSP, some produced locally, others distributed to public radio stations nationally. So far we haven’t found a new feature that fits the bill for us in terms of both quality and affordability — especially given that it’s a challenge to get donations or sponsorships for something as short as these features tend to be.

For now we’ll concentrate on our local science reporting as part of our regular news coverage and our KUSP Reports: Environment beat (supported by grant funding from the Michael Lee Environmental Foundation). And we will continue to keep our eyes open for additional science coverage that will meet or surpass your expectations!