Terry Green Blogs About KUSP

NPR appoints Vivian Schiller as new CEO

This morning NPR announced that Vivian Schiller, the Senior VP and General Manager of NYTimes.com, will be the organization’s new CEO. She takes over on January 5. At 47, she will be one of NPR’s youngest chief executives, and the first woman to hold the top post.

Vivian Schiller

She has been with the Times since 2006; before that, she was a television executive, most recently at the Discovery Times channel (a New York Times/Discovery Productions joint venture), and prior to that, at CNN/Turner Broadcasting.

Throughout the recruitment process (which has been underway since spring) NPR has stressed the importance of having a CEO with a deep understanding of news and of on-line content delivery. Given her resume, they appear to have succeeded in meeting those objectives. I look forward to meeting Vivian and sharing my impressions of her with you…

KUSP election coverage

Full details are available elsewhere at kusp.org… but in capsule form, we’ll begin election coverage at 4:00 PM Tuesday on KUSP and continue at least until 12 midnight. On our main FM channel, we’ll be combining national coverage from NPR, statewide coverage from The California Report, and regional reporting by our staff and volunteers around the Central Coast.

On kusp.org we will have our live stream as described above, plus a second stream with five hours of special election coverage from Democracy Now from 4:00 to 9:00 (followed by a simulcast of our KUSP-1 programming from 9:00 on), and extensive on-line content from public broadcasting’s web collaboration (major partners include NPR, the NewsHour from PBS, Minnesota Public Radio, and KQED in San Francisco).

The launch of KUSP-2 is something we’ve been waiting a long time for; we had planned on this content being on our HD Radio channel too, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, we are experiencing technical problems right now with the part of our digital transmission system that carries the signal from our studio to our transmitter, and our analog back-up system can only carry our primary FM signal. So for this election special, KUSP-2 will be an Internet stream only.

I’m also excited about being in on NPR’s Vote Report Project, which involves use of newer on-line tools like Twitter (and relatively old-fashioned technology like voice mail) to get a sense of whether people are experiencing problems voting, from now through the time the polls close. Alison Stewart interviewed Andy Carvin of NPR about the plan on Weekend Edition Saturday this morning; you can hear that story here.

On Wednesday we have two special programs following up on the election results, in addition to coverage in our regular programs; Democracy Now will be extended to two hours (from 9:00 AM until 11:00), and a California Report special on the election results in California will come your way from 2:00 PM until 3:00.

I’ll post more updates as needed.

Fall pledge drive report

For everyone at KUSP, I want to express thanks for the support we received from our listeners during our fall pledge drive. We were apprehensive, it’s fair to say, going into the campaign in the midst of global financial turmoil. In the end, we made our key goal — 900 pledges according to the unofficial tally — and came within 4% of the total number of dollars pledged during our Fall 2007 campaign. Pretty good results!

Membership is the biggest single source of KUSP income, and pledge drives account for a little more than half of our annual membership revenue (with the rest chiefly coming through renewals by mail). While more work will have to be done to keep KUSP healthy in this financial climate, we’ve taken a big step forward in this drive. So, for everyone who has given so far, thanks — and if you haven’t, you can go here and make a gift right now!

Technology goes “tilt” on the eve of the pledge drive

Any public radio station goes through much scrambling as the start of a pledge drive nears. KUSP’s charge towards the start of this Fall’s drive has been plagued by technical problems and I want to apologize to all our listeners for the disruptions.

Here is the story on two of the more serious lapses:

For several weeks the digital microwave system that carries our broadcast signal from the Santa Cruz studio to our main transmitting site has been acting up. The problem has been most evident in the late afternoon to about sunset, and would knock us off the air for varying amounts of time. After three weeks of mostly-fruitless troubleshooting efforts, our Chief Engineer recommended that we temporarily switch to our backup analog microwave equipment, which we tried to do on Tuesday, October 7. That switchover went very badly, as part of the backup system refused to work correctly with our HD Radio transmitter. We were forced off the air repeatedly, for fairly long periods of time, and our sound quality suffered until we aborted the job in mid-afternoon.

We tried again today — Wednesday, October 8 — with better results, though we still had several interruptions in programming. Right now we are on the air with our analog FM signal; our digital HD Radio broadcasts will be unavailable until we can find and fix the problems in the digital microwave equipment that we were chasing down in the first place.

Then, due to human error at the station, our recording process for “Marketplace” ran amok and resulted in the accidental broadcast of a week-old program at 5:30 today. Such a gaffe should never happen. We determined the cause and I promise I will do my utmost, as will my co-workers at the station, to prevent any future mistakes such as this.

Thank you to all KUSP listeners who are bearing with us! (more…)

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now producers arrested

Democracy Now reports that host Amy Goodman and program producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar were arrested in St. Paul, Minnesota on Monday 9/1. The link to the news release and video of Amy’s arrest are here.

DN reported late Monday night that all three had been released from custody.

Democracy Now goes on to say:

Democracy Now! stands by Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and condemns this action by Twin Cities law enforcement as a clear violation of the freedom of the press and the First Amendment rights of these journalists.

There was very little mainstream coverage of RNC protests today. We inserted a story from KUSP volunteer reporter Christopher Krohn into All Things Considered today — that story was recorded early in the afternoon in downtown St. Paul. Chris’ story indicated the situation was potentially serious, as the later arrests of DN journalists certainly proved.

New KUSP news, talk and information programs

As I reported here a month or so ago KUSP is making a change in programming strategy on weekdays, from early in the morning through the end of the afternoon commute. KUSP’s new schedule in those times focuses on what we believe are public radio’s most significant news and information programs. We think the KUSP audience will come to appreciate our new programs: The Story with Dick Gordon; our new collaborative project with station KALW in San Francisco, Your Call; Day to Day from NPR News, The Diane Rehm Show from WAMU in Washington; and Marketplace.

Several programs in this schedule now air twice – either twice the same day for two weekday programs, or on two different days for some weekend programs. This idea has disconcerted a number of people, but the reasons for doing it are fairly straightforward.

We are repeating several programs we know can serve large and loyal audiences. Not many people can be tuned in to KUSP all day, every day… so by strategically repeating what we think will be among our most-listened-to shows, we increase the chances that a potential listener will have a chance to tune them in. Experience at other stations indicates that more people benefit from having a second chance to catch the show, than are put at a disadvantage by running into a show they’ve already heard once.

Another reason is more long-term. KUSP’s programmers are working on several new projects, which might meet listener needs and desires better than anything we’ve done before. We’ve seen in the past few weeks how hard it can be for a station to end programs that a number of listeners care about (even if, compared to other programs on the station, the shows that are ending reach relatively few listeners). But sometimes a station needs to create time for something new — as we’re doing now for our collaborative project with KALW, “Your Call.”

When our program development projects bear fruit (and I definitely believe they will, though I can’t say for sure when), it will be less disruptive, we hope, to adjust the schedule to make room if some of our daily content before the switch includes repeats. This also includes looking carefully at programs airing on KUSP as well as on another station in the area.

Not every popular program is practical to repeat. We thought long and hard about repeating Democracy Now! which currently attracts the most loyal audience of any of KUSP’s weekday shows. The problem is, by the time we air Democracy Now, the program is already three hours old; since DN! is a topical news program, a repeat broadcast later in the day runs the risk of bringing listeners news that is out of date. Other news programs where our content repeats (Morning Edition, for example, or Marketplace) have personnel in place all morning and afternoon so that, if news events warrant, stories can be updated.

As we go along I’ll write more about the new shows on the schedule, and look forward to seeing your comments.

KUSP releases new schedule

Today we were able to release the full schedule of KUSP programs beginning Monday, September 1. It’s linked here on the site. We’ll be updating all the relevant site pages as soon as we can.

The new schedule took a while to finalize and release because the negotiation process involved in scheduling our KUSP-produced music programs was complex. From the outset we wanted to offer our very best music programming at the times our listener research indicated we had the most receptive audience for music.

Because our hosts are volunteers, and all have other life commitments besides volunteering at KUSP, in many cases it was hard to match up the best program host with what felt like the best air time. In that “the best air time” for a show is also influenced by the programs that precede and follow it, there was a lot of give and take between our programming managers and our hosts as we sought out the best available combination. We also listened to much feedback from station people and our listeners, and incorporated some of that advice into the final schedule.

As we begin this schedule, 32 different KUSP music programmers will be sharing with you the music they love, and music is on our air every day of the week. Our music programming schedule increases the amount of jazz on the air, and continues our commitment to classical music as well as to music with a global reach. We have a rockin’, soulful Saturday night lineup with Charlie Lange, J.T., Louise, and Seth, and we’re looking forward to building a late night lineup of interesting, eclectic music to keep listeners who tune in after midnight engaged and entertained. Many late night programmers our listeners enjoy continue in those slots now, while we continue working on long-term plans for those hours.

In another post I’ll write more about our new weekday lineup of what we think are outstanding news and information programs, most of them unavailable from any other station on the Central Coast.

Overall, we have high aspirations for KUSP’s new programming. This is what our Board of Directors wrote this week and wanted me to share with you:

KUSP remains committed to original, locally produced content, both in music programming and news and information. In an effort to regain audience loyalty and increase public service to a region that has been dramatically affected by recent media consolidations, KUSP will shift to news and information programming during the weekday hours. This content will feature independently produced local news running in tandem with the best in nationally available content. In the evenings and weekends, KUSP will build upon its 36 years of eclectic programing by highlighting the best in volunteer produced programming in underserved musical genres, with particular emphasis on jazz, classical and world music. Our late night service will continue the ‘pataphysical tradition of offering up our airwaves for creative programming that might not other find a broadcast outlet. We
hope that this schedule will lead to increased listenership and loyalty as well as increased public participation in community radio.

In short, we hope this plan brings more Central Coast listeners the kind of public radio they’re seeking. While we know that change is hard, and that many program hosts that are loved by our listeners leave the KUSP schedule for now, we’re committed to keeping doors open for volunteers new and old, and to working to the best of our ability to expand our capacity to broadcast. That way, you’ll have even more and better listening options from KUSP in the months and years to come.

KUSP announces upcoming schedule change

The KUSP Board of Directors approved several significant changes to our station’s schedule and programming strategy at their board meeting last night. These are the first large-scale changes to KUSP’s schedule in about five and a half years. Most changes will go into effect on September 1.

The most significant change adds more news and information programming in the middle of the day Monday through Friday, where right now we run a mix of different kinds of music programs. This will put news, talk and information on the air weekdays from early in the morning through the end of the afternoon commute.

Classical music will continue on the schedule weekday evenings and jazz will follow later at night, as happens now, but these programs will extend across the whole week, from Monday through Friday (rather than Friday being different from the other weekdays). We will also begin featuring our On-Site live and recorded concert performances (music festivals, local symphonies and chamber music groups, and so on) on Friday nights, instead of late Sunday morning.

The news, talk and entertainment shows that air on weekend mornings will extend a little longer into the day, and be followed on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon by music with kind of a global flavor (we’re still working with our program hosts to plan out exactly what that will sound like; we have three different kinds of “world music” programs on Sunday afternoon now, and a Celtic music show on Saturday afternoon, so this may not be that big of a change).

Saturday nights will have more of an upbeat kind of rhythm musically, and Sunday night will continue much as it is now, with interview and cultural programs in the early evening, followed by jazz.

KUSP will broadcast all of NPR’s news magazines (like Morning Edition and All Things Considered) seven days a week, so you’ll never be too far from an update on world events from what I think is clearly the best broadcast news organization in the U.S.

The part of the decision that provoked the most discussion and controversy involved very late night programming (after midnight), which is now a decidedly eclectic mix of music and talk (and some dead air when we have no volunteer program hosts). In the end the board determined that we need to re-evaluate how we use this air time, hoping that we can evolve it into a more effective laboratory for creative radio programming (something that we were also exploring for web-only content at kusp.org).

The changes emerge from many months of discussions with listeners and seven full-scale surveys about public radio listening in the Monterey Bay area. We learned a lot about how people use public radio, and what they wish could be different. Listeners reinforced the message that they value both news and music on their public radio stations, but attach more importance to the news and information that we provide. There’s more of a preference by listeners for news in the daytime, for music in the evenings, and a mix of news, talk and entertainment to start the day off on the weekend – and we think this updated schedule will fit those preferences.

The schedule retooling on our main over-the-air stream won’t mean the end for all time of the kinds of programs that are coming off the schedule right now. We plan to offer more content than before on kusp.org, produced by more people in our community. This is a critical part of our RadioEngage on-line project, which I’ve written about before – opening up the pipeline for creative kinds of radio so that we’re no longer constrained by the kinds of conventions that have grown up over the nearly sixty years since KPFA pioneered this kind of broadcasting (as in, you have to be willing to come in at 3 AM to get air time for something radically different).

We’re also continuing to pursue multiple over-the-air streams of programming, and will in particular explore whether we can develop a full-time stream of music that would generally parallel what we’ve been playing on “The Open Road,” the weekday music show that debuted in 2003 and wraps around our “Live at Lunch” in-studio music segment. There’s several different ways that second stream could get out to our listeners (including Internet streams and HD Radio digital broadcasts), and we’ll be evaluating all of them.

More generally, we’ve vowed to do careful and extensive listening to listeners about their specific kinds of music preferences. We discovered in the last year and a half of work that it’s easier to reach general conclusions about public radio listener preferences in news and information than it is about music. But music is very important to us – it’s always been a vital part of KUSP – and we want to make our music programming as relevant and important to you as it can be.

For a while today the Santa Cruz Sentinel was reporting on their web site that KUSP was dropping all local music programming; this was not true, and was apparently pulled off their site later in the day. Sentinel reporter Shanna McCord interviewed me this afternoon, along with two other members of our board of directors, and we’re told a story will run in the Wednesday 7/30 edition.

In a few days we’ll have worked out more details of our new over-the-air schedule and we’ll share them with you and the local news media as soon as we have them.

Please take the opportunity to share your thoughts about our changes with me as they get underway!

America’s Radio Sweetheart nails it

Jesse Thorn, the host of The Sound of Young America, comments lengthily on the cancellation of Bryant Park Project and Fair Game with Faith Salie… and other principles and problems of traditional public radio programming strategies.

I spot only one provably untrue statement in his post; it is not true that “no one has HD Radio.” I have two. Since last summer we at KUSP have given away about 30 to deserving donors as thank-you gifts.

Since there are supposedly about one billion radios in the United States, the 32 HD Radios I’ve sent into the world may statistically equal “none” — but still.

Anyway, I concur with much of what Jesse is saying and hope you have a look yourself.

XM-Sirius merger approved by FCC; NPR dismayed

On Friday night 7/25 the FCC approved the merger of XM and Sirius by a 3-2 party line vote, the Republican majority prevailing. The merged entity will control all of the direct-to-listener satellite radio frequencies in the U.S.

The national program distributors in public radio all have relationships with XM, Sirius, or both, and that’s expected to continue… but there has been no place at the table for smaller public radio organizations. Efforts to provide more non-commercial access to satellite radio listeners as a condition of the merger were turned aside, as were efforts to require future satellite radio receivers to include the capability to tune in terrestrial HD radio signals (such as KUSP broadcasts, and plans to expand).

NPR was active in lobbying the FCC for these public-radio-friendly conditions to the merger, so having it go through with only minimal concessions was disappointing. The gist of NPR’s statement on the subject:

“The FCC’s approval of the merger of Sirius and XM undermines public radio and, in turn, the public’s access to our services. While NPR, other public radio producers and public radio stations have had long and mutually-beneficial relationships with both companies, this new monopoly – wielding unprecedented control over spectrum and without the mitigating conditions we sought – will limit the public service mission of public radio and dilute the significant investment our community, our audience and Congress have made in HD radio technology. The public interest is not being served in this decision.”

With a few exceptions, such as the Howard Stern premium channel on Sirius, satellite programming has not developed significant audiences. Independent audience estimates of satellite radio listening have only recently begun to emerge. In estimates released last fall, Howard’s channel had a total weekly audience of over 1.2 million. The public radio channels on satellite are vastly smaller; XM Public Radio, where Bob Edwards moved after NPR, reached an estimated national audience of 48,300 persons per week – only a few thousand more people than are estimated to listen to KUSP! And XM Public Radio has a larger weekly audience than most of the other non-commercial channels on XM or Sirius.

The task of turning the satellite radio industry into a profitable venture is immense.