Collegiate Claptrap

The suits are wildly spinning for ‘GBH in Boston, in wake of the takeover of the student station at Bryant University. Bean counters at Bryant — acting the good industrialist as ‘GBH honchos did in busting up their union — have now begun to put that most favorable light on this latest acquisition, to wit: “Bryant partnership with WGBH provides new tech platforms for student radio station.” This is akin to saying “layoffs create whole new world to experience in unemployment.” The word from Boston is equally giddy in its assessment of the move, which will consign student radio to the purgatory of HD radio and online:

“We are absolutely delighted to be returning to an area with so much vibrant cultural activity, and look forward to sharing it with the rest of the region,” said Benjamin Roe, WGBH managing director for classical services, in a press release.

In related news, doings at WDUQ hit the national radar in Tom Taylor’s newsletter, here:

The feared mass layoff at Pittsburgh’s WDUQ (90.5) is happening, as one poster on the Pittsburgh Board at said it would. The new Essential Public Media is buying WDUQ for $6 million and initiating an LMA on July 1. The Post-Gazette confirms that the current staff, more than 20 fulltimers and parttimers, got termination notices. Now the question is — will Essential Public Media re-hire any of them? It’s still going to be doing a limited amount of jazz, as it re-formats to mostly news and talk. The paper’s Adrian McCoy says the buyer is retaining director of development Fred Serino and business manager Vicky Rumpf for the LMA period.

DUQ has been absorbed into the NPR borg, thanks in large part to the machinations (double-dealing, some would say) of Public Radio Capital in its freshlly minted Public Media Co. — a move that slices the hours of jazz programming from 100 to 6, as noted in this blog:

If the online outcry is any indication, there will be a lengthy period of discord over the manner in which the removal of jazz from these free public airwaves is being accomplished. Those who have been most vocal have said that a healthy compromise somewhere between the 100 hours of jazz being aired on 90.5 now, and the 6 that is currently planned for, would be fine with them. Their plea does not appear to be intractable, even in spite of an effort to boycott membership in both stations. Why does WYEP’s silence in response seem that way?…

From the sound of the rhetoric, the management of WYEP has made up its mind, and is not inclined to listen to the pleas of jazz fans around the area to keep more of this music on analog FM. The deaf ear they appear to have turned to the complaints is not in keeping with a community media resource, and has fueled too much speculation along with the bad feelings.

Perhaps they just think that the spectrum is too valuable to continue to commit so much airtime to what they may perceive as a “niche” audience. If that’s the case, their approach is antithetical to their origins. Perhaps they have truly forgotten from whence they came. Too bad.

As this post in March on the Bloomberg Businessweek site, “Making Public Radio a Little More Private,”  notes, the pace for acquisition of the cherry student stations has accelerated in response to perceived threats to federal funding:

Some media executives in Pasadena, Calif., think they may be able to save public radio by making it less public. They’re using business tactics rarely employed in the tame world of local public radio to create a megastation they hope will one day beam its signal from Santa Barbara to San Diego. By building a mini-empire of local stations, they say they’ll be able to better distribute the fixed costs of radio broadcasting and draw on a much larger audience for the donations and corporate sponsorships that could keep them afloat if government funding dries up.

Those plans are taking shape in the $25 million, one-year-old studios of KPCC, the flagship station for Southern California Public Radio. SCPR already owns or operates three stations and is on the hunt for more.

The Southern Cal group, which snapped up beloved station KUSF in San Francisco in its quest to go more corporate, is not shy about its goals:

SCPR’s stations currently reach 14 million listeners, but the board hopes to nearly double that, to 25 million. “If we can buy a station, we will,” says Crawford. “Where we can’t, we’ll build translators to boost our signal. This is a new business model for public radio.”


The Boston Borg

The ‘GBH borg in Boston keeps gobbling up stations in the region. WGBH is taking over the Bryant University station WJMF in Smithfield, RI, and facilitating a power increase from 225 to 1200 watts for WJMF, which, as of August, will become a simulcast of WCRB “99.5 All Classical,” the classical music station acquired by WGBH in 2009. The ‘GBH website bills this as “a partnership between Boston public broadcaster WGBH and Bryant University,” though that partnership shunts the students off to HD purgatory. The post shills this as giving students a wonderful opportunity to join the Brave New World of radio:

The reciprocal arrangement will give Bryant students the opportunity to learn from WGBH digital and broadcast technology experts during the summer in preparation for an August transition. WGBH has been a pioneer in expanding classical music onto new platforms, with live streaming, dedicated online streams, an all-classical HD channel, podcasts and mobile applications.

“Bryant has just taken a strategic step in a new direction with a terrific partner,” said Bryant University President Ronald K. Machtley, “I am thrilled that this collaboration returns classical music broadcasts to Rhode Island while providing our students hands-on opportunities to master leading-edge technologies for delivery of WJMF music, sports programming, and talk shows not just in New England but throughout the country.”

The arrangement involves no capital commitment on behalf of WGBH, and Bryant University plans to maximize the 88.7 signal by increasing its power from 225 watts to 1200 watts by virtue of a recently awarded construction permit from the FCC.

Comments were not so bright and cheery:

WGBH taking over WCRB; Biggest disappointment of the past 10 years. Very little or no locally produced programming. Same old same old; announcers full of wind and blab and gab which gets in the way of any interesting programmes. Announcers so full of their own importance, that the main object seems to be the blowing of one’s own trumpet. And those bloody birds!!! Robert J. Lartzema spent the last 25 years of his life alienating thousands of WGBH listeners by waking everyone up to the dawn chorus, and now some chin-less wonder has decided to bring back the birds (hardly original!) C’mon, let’s hear some original programming!!!! Thank God for the “off” switch. —Wil Davis

As a Bryant alum, I have to say this is absolutely awful! My parents used to listen to my radio show on 88.7 every week. It was great knowing that the local community could potentially come across your show on their radio. I don’t understand what Bryant is getting out of this deal. No one has an HD radio. If Bryant students want to learn from GBH, they can apply for internships! —E

WCRB lost coverage of Rhode Island and areas south of Boston in 2006 when a previous ownership change resulted in a move from a powerful Boston frequency to a frequency well to the north of Boston in Lowell. Then, when WGBH acquired WCRB in 2009 and dropped all classical music from their 100,000-watt signal from Blue Hill for a Public Radio news/talk single format, classical music could no longer be heard in most of Rhode Island on analog radio. (The handful of people who happen to own HD radios can hear WCRB simulcast on WGBH’s HD2 signal.)

WGBH is expecting that the 1200-watt WJMF will bring the WCRB classical programming back onto analog radio in most of Rhode Island and also much of southeastern Massachusetts.

So, what happens to the Bryant University students who had been programming WJMF since 1972? They will soon be relegated to a new WJMF HD2 channel developed for them by the saints at WGBH (and will continue to stream on the internet). As Jennifer Waits notes on Radio Survivor, it’s par for the course that this change was announced after the end of the semester:

So far I’m only seeing official statements about this deal and haven’t caught wind of any protests from angry students, alumni or listeners. It’s notable that this was announced a few weeks after the end of the semester when I’m assuming not many students or faculty are present on campus. I can’t assume from the statement on the WJMF website that students, DJs, and listeners are necessarily in favor of these changes, as it will mean that their station will not be accessible to terrestrial listeners who do not own HD radios.

In the very least, the timing of ‘GBH’s latest venture is curious, as it recently beat down protests from union members and forced its “final solution” on the rank and file. That whole onerous episode didn’t in the least seem to dampen its vigorous pursuit of a media manifest destiny.

Same Old Same

Battle of the Bands?

Boston’s three NPR stations not only are airing similar if not identical news and music programs at the same time (WGBH’s Celtic on WGBH and WUMB’s Celtic Twilight With Gail Gilmore), as well as the head-to-head syndicated NPR news/talk programs on WGBH and WBUR. Two of them are producing competing spring music festivals at the same time as well: (former name before being re-branded “WUMB Music Fest “) and

Folk fans will have to choose between WBUR’s Spring Festival, with Livingston Taylor, and the WUMB Music Festival, with Kate Taylor, both starting at noon this coming Sunday.

So much for diversity from our public radio stations.

We the People

Jeff Boudreau sent along this link to a scathing piece on the site entitled “Dead Air: Why should taxpayers be asked to fund a union-busting, freeloading corporate behemoth . . . like WGBH?” In it, writer Eileen McNamara leads off swinging:

REMIND ME AGAIN why eliminating taxpayer subsidies for public broadcasting is a right-wing idea?

Liberals are incensed that Congressional Republicans want to strip PBS and NPR of federal funds, but when is the last time they took a hard look at how things are going with our biggest local public broadcasting affiliate? While Tea Party guerillas distract the gullible with theatrical sting operations and spurious debates about liberal bias, the increasingly corporate culture of public broadcasting goes unchallenged — especially in Boston.

WGBH is trying to bust its union. It has paid nothing to the city of Boston in lieu of taxes in four years. Even as it cut wages and staffers in 2009, it spent millions to acquire a second radio station in Boston and then did little more with it than duplicate programming already available from a competing station across town.

This is the crown jewel of the Public Broadcasting System that deserves uncritical allegiance?

On down the line, Eileen deals with some specifics, linking ‘GBH bean-counter machinations to what’s happening country-wide — a class war the public is losing:

Free-spending WGBH, in particular, has forfeited any claim to a public subsidy.

The behemoth in Brighton — its new 309,000-square-foot headquarters covers two city blocks — relies on the same municipal services as the small neighboring businesses along Market Street. But unlike them, as the Boston Herald has noted, WGBH has not paid the city a cent for fire and police protection or snow removal since 2007. Yes, it is tax exempt. But the station is supposed to pay Boston through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program. The check WGBH cut in 2007 for $10,517, according to the Herald, was a tad less than the $245,000 the program calculated it should receive from the station…

Moreover, WGBH charges as much as $5,000 to host events in its 208-seat theater and atrium, and twice that much to rent its state-of-the-art television-production facilities. It boasts that it needed no public funding to build its new headquarters or to buy its new radio station. It relied instead on its loyal donor base to raise the $85 million required to construct its fancy building and the $14 million needed to purchase WCRB, the city’s beloved classical music station. If WGBH can privately fund those discretionary investments, it can forgo government handouts and scramble like the rest of journalism.

EVEN AS THE STATION refuses to negotiate with Local 1300 of the Communications Workers of America — the union representing 280 producers, writers, editors, and marketing employees — WGBH continues to pay handsome salaries to its top managers, more than a dozen of whom make north of $200,000 in total annual compensation.

Are only the poor, the middle class, and union members expected to adopt the currently popular mantra of doing more with less? Why should this purported liberal bastion get a pass from liberals when it refuses to negotiate in good faith with the people who produce the programs on which its considerable reputation rests? Why no outrage when the station unilaterally imposes a “last, best offer” that gives WGBH the right to outsource jobs and fire employees without cause?

Why should WGBH be rewarded for emulating the dubious labor practices of corporate media giants? The New York Times Company, for instance, broke the back of the unions at the Boston Globe in 2009 by threatening to shut down the newspaper if workers did not submit to draconian wage cuts, mandatory furloughs, reduced pension benefits, and reductions in retirement and health insurance benefits. The Times Company did that even as it paid CEO Janet L. Robinson $4.9 million, 26 percent more than the year before, and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. $4.8 million. Not a bad payday for two managers who — shades of WGBH — had just built a gleaming new Times Square headquarters that their company and its suffering stockholders (many of them union employees) could ill afford.

Why should we endorse those same twisted priorities with our tax dollars? For all the talk of its inestimable communal value, it is not as if WGBH bought WCRB to expand the listening options available to its Boston audience. It bought the station so it could dump its own existing musical programming there (99.5 FM) and convert WGBH radio (89.7 FM) to a canned, all-news format. Most of that news is provided by National Public Radio and was already available in Boston on WBUR (90.9 FM).

A nice touch for Eileen’s ending:

It is worth noting that we are nearing the 100-year anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence. Next year there are sure to be centennial commemorations of the gutsy textile workers who protested the decision of greedy mill owners to lower wages in response to a government-mandated shorter workweek — just the sort of event WGBH likes to highlight. Maybe Ken Burns will produce a documentary.

WBGH’s own union, meanwhile, gets no such respect.

In this economy, no union expects an easy time at the negotiating table. But when the transparent aim is not compromise but the abandonment of the collective bargaining process, what distinguishes Jon Abbott, the president and CEO of WGBH, from Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin? The answer? Not much. Let’s let taxpayers decide for themselves whether they want to support either one of them.

This is a pretty good synopsis of some — but not all — of the problems we have with what’s become of “public” broadcasting. It doesn’t delve into the rightward drift of what passes for news nowadays, a kowtowing to the corporate powers that be (and fund). As well as knuckling under to the incessant clamor of ideologues braying about a fabulous “left-wing bias.”

As good as this piece is, it only touches on the local stations that hitch their star to the demigod Arbitron, blindly seeking financial acceptance at the public trough — while hypocritically proclaiming an avowed allegiance to the “under-served,” all the while in a headlong rush to the least common denominator.

And it doesn’t address the profligate squandering of $50 million in public funds dispensed to aid in the proliferation of the junk science HD radio, as mentioned here, and the attendant beggaring by bean counters of local budgets in blind obeisance. Then there’s the rank complicity of NPR Labs in this scam, as chronicled here in a post entitled “How NPR Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” — fudging the data to ensure FCC approval for the attempted monopolization of radio, perverting the airwaves with static and more corporate sensibility.

There is little difference between the limousine liberals, assuming they know best what’s good for “public radio,” and the false prophets — the money-changers in the Tea Party temple — leading the truth-seekers down the primrose path to a monolithic corporate hegemony. In short, we believe in spirituality but have little faith in religion, of whatever denomination. Particularly when that denomination comes ultimately at the expense of the people (however unwittingly) footing the bill.

Bad Beans

Jeff Boudreau sends along this post from the website Nonprofit Quarterly, Ruth McCambridge’s “Cannibalizing the Competition? Public Radio Wars in Boston,” where it’s noted that any gains made by the move by WGBH to go talk-talk apparently came at the expense of WBUR, the reigning NPR station in Boston:

If you are a public radio listener and you visit Boston you may notice that at the left hand end of the dial you will often be able to tune in to absolutely identical programming on two different radio stations — at 90.9 on the dial and at 89.7. The former station is WBUR and the latter is WGBH. Last year WGBH, which had always had a mixed format of news, talk and music, decided to divide its classical music offerings off onto a separate station (99.5) and this left it largely mirroring WBUR’s all talk/news format….

While WBUR’s audience is still larger, it is crying foul. Charles Kravetz, WBUR’s new general manager says, “This format, which WBUR pioneered across the country, was a winning formula,’’ he said. “This is a zero-sum game. If either station flourishes, it will be at the expense of the other.’’

Marita Rivera, of WGBH pooh-poohs the idea, countering that “the growth feels like we are attracting new people.” Still, according to the Worcester Telegram, Jack Casey, a radio professor at nearby Emerson College says that although the dynamics are complex and might deserve digging into, it looks to him like the area’s public radio stations are “cannibalizing” each other.

As Jeff notes, the Boston Globe isn’t very sympathetic, as evidenced by this post, “Turmoil in the airwaves (Despite the grumbling, public radio competition is good for Boston).” Joan Vennochi writes, the snide showing:

CRY ME a river of pledge money and federal grants.

Public radio not only wants taxpayer dollars to back it up. One local station manager also wants a monopoly.

“This market did not need to have two public radio stations with the same format,’’ Charles J. Kravetz, general manager of WBUR-FM, lamented recently to the Globe about the competition his station now faces from WGBH-FM.

Tell that to McDonald’s and Burger King, Home Depot and Lowe’s, Shaw’s and Market Basket, Target and Walmart. Any business would be happy if its rivals disappeared. But those wishes run up against an economic reality called capitalism….

Yet, Kravetz doesn’t think it’s fair that WGBH replaced music programs with news and talk shows similar to WBUR’s, and sometimes runs the same National Public Radio shows at the same time. “ … This is a zero-sum game,’’ he complained. “If either station flourishes, it will be at the expense of the other.’’

That attitude is a microcosm of the arrogance and insularity that has come to define the public broadcasting universe. It irritates even those who cherish its great journalistic contributions.

As usual, some of the best contributions to the discussion fall within the ensuing comments. This following group is from the many responses to the article “WGBH changes sting public radio rival” on

daniel-m: If WGBH was a private company they would be lambasted for commercial thuggery. First they buy out their competitor, WCRB, to get a monopoly on classical broadcasting in Boston. Then, they switch GBH to news/talk to push out BUR and get the same for NPR. But because they’re “public” and a nonprofit no one can criticize them. Oh, and they’re ruining CRB by slowly replacing CRB DJ’s with old, boring, blabbering GBH DJ’s. (Will someone tell them to shut up and play the music. You’re not clever, interesting or entertaining; you’re pretentious and slow-worded!)

cliffy123: It doesn’t make any sense to split the fundraising for two stations that play roughly the same programming just at different times. Anyone who listens to NPR in Boston will probably listen to both stations based on what program they prefer at that time, and will most likely only donate to one. This will obviously hurt WBUR more because they don’t have the TV presence that WGBH does. I don’t really know what WGBH’s gameplan is but this is public radio, not commercial radio. If they are willing to spend donor money on redundant programming in order to crowd out a smaller entity that has the same mission, they obviously have way too much money. I will no longer be donating to WGBH until they stop their quest to monopolize public programming in Boston.

jdancer11: Ugh, Emily Rooney — sorry but I can’t stand her snarky attitude. Callie is wonderful. That said, I listen to WBUR because WGBH had a lot of rude people working for it — at least that has been my experience. Any time I called in the past to ask about programming or some other simple question (I’ve called a total of three times in my life) they treated me like an annoyance — so no more donation from me. And their new ‘palace’ is arrogant…

One thing about WBUR is that they repeat their programming too much, and for some reason they cancelled a fabulous arts program The Strand (at 4:30am! Can’t we just have ONE arts program? I mean, really) and put in its place more political programming — jeez, enough already.

satnavsys: Maybe WBUR will get back in the business of college radio, which is what they are supposed to be doing in the first place.

Busted in Boston

Jeff Boudreau sent along this article from the website of In These Times called “At Boston’s Premier PBS Station, Unionbusting Tactics and a Koch Connection,” providing details about the union-busting move by WGBH suits in “resolving” its labor dispute. It seems that Tea Party mogul (Americans for Prosperity) and ultra-conservative financier David Koch, hyper-active in the war on unions, is a member of the ‘GBH board, notes author Kari Lydersen. As Kari writes of the management move:

The three-year contract guts the union that represents a third of the station’s total workforce, making about half of them at-will employees, giving managers the right to fire on-air talent for any reason without recourse and allowing the outsourcing of work without union approval, which could mean hundreds of job cuts, as described by the union.

The management plan also includes the power to assign employees to work across different media platforms, which could mean significantly increased workloads and give management reasons to fire employees who aren’t trained for the new assignments. Management’s contract also reduces the time a laid-off employee has recall rights to the same job  from a year to nine months, and eliminates severance pay if laid-off workers refuse a rehiring offer in a similar job.

And management’s contract reduces employees’ control over their own schedules, allowing managers to force employees to take unpaid leave or vacation time, and eliminating the past guarantee of two consecutive days off each week.

The article then points out the connection to the right-wing puppet master:

The station’s board of trustees includes billionaire Tea Party backer David Koch, The Boston Phoenix reported:

Public records show that Koch, along with his brother Charles, gave more than $17 million over 10 years to groups that organize against workers. They also provided seed money for the private sector front group Americans For Prosperity (AFP), which is currently backing the union-busting Walker in Wisconsin and comparable efforts elsewhere. A WGBH spokesperson tells the Phoenix that “the Trustees have no involvement in the day to day running of WGBH.

A statement from the union says it appreciates Koch’s financial support, but:

As a board member, Mr. Koch’s well-known political and personal philosophy should not influence WGBH’s labor relations policies. We truly hope that Mr. Koch’s seat on the board and WGBH’s aggressive tactics with our union is just a coincidence. . . . The same right wing forces that are trying to bust public sector unions in Wisconsin are at work right here in Boston trying to bust WGBH’s largest union.

Google the Koch brothers and you’ll find a wide assortment of stories linking them to a war against President Obama (from the New Yorker,here), union busting in Wisconsin (New York Times, here), climate change denial (, here), and a panoply of devious deeds in their crusade opposing government regulation (see, e.g., The Independent, here). Not surprisingly, ‘GBH suits deny any link between their move to crush the union and the charitable works of the billionaire brothers. But as commenter Alex Pirie remarked, “Why don’t we just cash out, elect the Koch brothers President and Vice President and move to . . . Sweden, Canada?”

Passing Tributes

One year ago today we started this site with the hope of shining a light on what we saw happening to public radio stations across the country. Whether it was the sudden canceling of popular shows, the fallacy of HD radio, or the creeping influence of national groups such as NPR, we wanted to point out the disservice being done to the supporters of their respective public radio stations. And, for myself anyway, one of the worst aspects of it all was the homogenization of the programming at local stations. Since many stations were dumping local programming for the cheaper national feed, some of the first casualties were the local DJs who added so much local flavor and personal knowledge to their stations. The difference can be remarkable, and there have been two such examples of this in the past few weeks alone. Though both are tinged with sadness. . . .

On Monday, March 21st, it was announced that legendary pianist Pinetop Perkins had died at his home in Austin at age 97. Pinetop was one of the last of the old Delta blues artists, a veteran of Muddy Waters’ band and several others. That night Larry Monroe did a tribute to Pinetop on his recently revived Blue Monday show on community-funded KDRP in Dripping Springs, TX (see the set list and a downloadable recording of it here). A look at that set list will quickly show that not only did Larry play extensively from Pinetop’s personal catalogue; there are also songs from his many peers and collaborators. This type of in-depth tribute requires vast personal knowledge of the subject, as doing Google searches or playing cuts from “Greatest Hits” CDs just won’t cut it.

As remarkable as that tribute was, though, one could possibly say that such tributes are commonplace — they take place all over the country whenever a legendary figure dies. Some tributes may be noticeably better than others, but a blues show doing a tribute to a blues legend is hardly noteworthy. With that in mind I’d like to point to the latest tribute, this time on Larry’s Phil Music Program for April 7th, and this time the subject was Calvin Russell, who died on April 3rd.

Calvin WHO did you say? That is probably the most common response anywhere outside of the Austin music scene or in Europe, where Calvin was extremely popular . I really can’t do justice to describing Calvin or his music; best bet is to go to his website and get treated to something totally unique. But in short, Calvin was a grizzled old guy in a trademark battered hat with a voice that sounded like years of hard living, but also tinged with what could pass for hope. He had some great videos in the ’90s and he had a national hit in France for his song “Crack in Time.” But one thing Calvin definitely was not was any kind of a legend here in the States. He was widely respected by his fellow Austin musicians, both for his songwriting skills and his performances. But even here he only played small clubs. But another peek at that set list and downloadable archive for April 7th ( ) will show how Larry dedicated the same effort to showcasing a lesser-known artist such as Calvin as he did to the national treasure Pinetop Perkins. The same cuts from the personal catalogue mixed in with tracks from other artists to highlight the passing of someone great. The greatness of an artist isn’t measured in how well they are known, or in how many records they might have sold. It’s more in their ability to affect the people that they touch, both with other artists and with the fans lucky enough to discover them.

Once upon a time, one of the main tenets of public broadcasting was that they were to serve the under-served. And to make the listeners in their local communities aware of the treasures around them. When those same stations turned their backs on their local scenes in favor of cheap national feed and the Almighty Dollar, this was one of the predictable results. I imagine that somewhere out there in NPR land there was mention of Pinetop Perkin’s passing, maybe even a sample played from his last CD. But if there was a national tribute to Calvin Russell’s passing then I’ll eat my leather hat. As for the local level, during Larry’s tribute I checked the set list over at his former station, KUT-FM — not a single song by Calvin. Instead there was the usual AAA rotation that the station managers imposed some years ago  (see “Not a Playlist,” here).

Sometimes it’s the little things that really point out the big problems. And for me this is certainly one of those moments. Every day, all around us, in communities across the country we are losing artists such as these. And who is going to mark their passing in any kind of meaningful way? Does your public station devote time to the lesser-known artists in your area, both while still performing and after their passing? If not, then there is a total breakdown of their duties to the community. While I enjoy such programs as All Things Considered and Morning Edition, I would gladly throw away all of the NPR programs for just one hour focusing on the wonders around me. Here at this site we will keep fighting to get that message out. We hope you will continue to support us in that mission.

—Rev Jim

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