Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Right-Wing Radio Infighting and A**-Saving

Remember when it seemed like there was never a crack in the right-wing talking points?  It seemed like every conservative politician; every Republican columnist and every right-wing radio talker were yakking in lockstep. But now, there's a rift.

There have been two stories in the past few weeks where a couple of high-profile conservative radio hosts have been thrown under the bus.

It started when GOP pollster Frank Luntz called Rush Limbaugh, and right-wing radio,  'problematic.' Luntz was speaking to students and thought his comments were off-the-record and not being recorded.  But one student did make a recording.

And if the Rush put-down wasn't enough, right-wing talker Glenn Beck was also criticized by...Fox News!  After Glenn had claimed he had left Fox TV to 'save his soul,' a Fox spokesperson retaliated, saying Beck "was trying to save his ass."  You can read all the details here.  And Fox News host Geraldo Rivera also took a swipe at Limbaugh and other right wing talkers.

While an orchestrated advertiser boycott is apparently what doomed Glenn Beck's TV career, and low-ratings ended Rush Limbaugh's very brief TV life, both are still going strong - really strong - on radio.

The most curious thing, to me anyway, that GOP pollster Frank Luntz had to say in that 'off-the-record' spiel wasn't about Rush...it was his suggestion that Democrats have got every other source of news on their side. I'm not sure what kind of news source he's talking about, but my radio seems to have no trouble finding right wing talk shows any hour of the day or night.  In fact, many radio listeners in Seattle and Portland are still upset that two commercial AM station formats that carried progressive talk shows were dumped earlier this year and turned into sports-talk stations (KPTK, Seattle; KPOJ, Portland).

The reality is, if you're looking for something other than a conservative viewpoint in talk-radio, you really have very few choices.  And if you want a truly progressive perspective your options are even further limited.  Especially if you want an outlet that is not owned by a major broadcast corporation. (If you want to see who owns the local radio and TV stations, see this earlier post.)

Fortunately, there are still a handful of truly independent radio stations around the country - stations like KSER.  And shows like Left, Right & Center; Counterspin; The Takeaway; and Ed Bremer's Sound Living.  And, of course, there's the closest thing progressive radio has to Limbaugh and Beck: Amy Goodman.  And, yes, it's painful to put her name in the same paragraph with those two.

The big difference, of course, is Limbaugh and Beck are syndicated to hundreds of commercial radio stations which are owned by major corporations who, not only run more than twenty-minutes of commercial content every hour, but also have access to large corporate marketing budgets to spread their message.

Stations like KSER do not have that kind of financial clout. It's not commercials or corporate support, but mostly listener support that keeps shows like Democracy Now, KSER and similar stations afloat.

So before anyone takes pleasure in seeing stories about Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck being criticized by other right-wingers, remember that they still have the lion's share of radios, ratings and resources. It's up to you to make sure progressive voices remain heard. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Paywall Dilemma - Newspapers, Radio & The Koch Bros.

This web page allowed millions of people to breathe a huge sigh of relief last week:

It marked the end of a tense drama-filled week that had the entire city of Boston on edge.

The Boston Globe provided some great reporting, but also provided a huge public service by making their website 'free' for the week. Note the yellow bar at the top of the screen-grab: "BostonGlobe.com is currently available to all readers."

For a week the Globe dropped their pay-wall.

More and more newspapers, including the Globe, the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun and the Seattle Times no longer make their content free on the web.  It doesn't matter if you're trying to read it on your computer, or your phone, your tablet, your Roku player or your PlayStation.  If you want to read the stories, you have to pay.

It's not surprising that many newspapers are going the 'subscription route' for their on-line content. The newspaper business has suffered dramatically in the internet age. I've heard more than one newspaper person complain, "It's no wonder we're losing money, we keep giving out content for free!"

But I still remember my first job, at age 14, delivering the Washington Post in Martinsburg, West Virgina. My boss, a gruff cigar-chomping character who was always counting paper bundles - and money - always called that money we collected from customers "pocket change."  He said the "pocket change" was for us. The real money, he said, the money that pays for the paper was the page after page of advertising in those newspapers.

It is painful to see great newspapers like the Seattle P-I and the Rocky Mountain News fold. And it's tough to see some papers like the New Orleans Times-Picayune reduce staff and publish only a few days a week.

It's also troubling to see that some 'investors' may be attempting to buy troubled newspapers, not for journalism or profit, but for political gain. For example, see this story about the Koch brothers and the Tribune company.

I don't know the answer to the newspaper dilemma.  Do they try to survive with online advertising money?  Or do they charge readers for online content?  Or some combination of both?

Radio, as you may know, has also been impacted by exploding internet technology, but not to the same degree as newspapers.  Radio still gets it's support one of two ways.  There's commercial radio, which makes money by running commercials...a lot of commercials, getting a lot of money from advertisers.  That's why you'll often have to put up with 15 or 20 minutes - or more - of commercials in an hour.

Then there are public radio stations, like KSER.  We don't play any commercials.  And, of course, listening to the radio is free.  We have no way to charge you for listening. I suppose we could copy the newspaper model, and start charging those people who want to listen to us online.  But that doesn't seem smart when most listening is still over-the-air not online...plus, you have so many other options.

KSER relies on listener support. That's why, a few times a year, you hear those pledge drives on the radio.  Or maybe you receive the occasional letter from KSER asking for a financial donation. That's our primary means of support. You!

But for every listener who makes a pledge of support there are hundreds more who listen but never donate. That is public radio's challenge.

So if you can figure out how to solve these challenges, please let us know. In the meantime we'll keep doing our best to bring you local news, commentary, information and entertainment.  And we'll keep hoping that other media outlets are able to avoid reductions or shutdowns...or buyouts by the Koch brothers.


Friday, April 19, 2013

First, Fast and....Not So Accurate.

In a world that has been transformed by non-stop cable TV news coverage and instant feedback on Twitter and Facebook, every shred of information and opinion gets spread far and wide, and fast and furious. And, in many cases, that's not a good thing.

Some of us have been around long enough to remember the TV and radio news slogans of "First, Fast and Accurate."  Now, thanks to the twitterverse and the never-ending effort to be first with every single piece of a breaking story, often accuracy moves way into the back seat...and sometimes decency seems to be road-kill.

Just ask CNN after a roller-coaster day of back-tracking on erroneous reporting this week regarding the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.

But it's not just the fast and wrong reporting that's troubling, it's the widespread need for some to offer opinions that can be - well - disturbing.

Most of us aren't surprised when it comes from Mount Vernon's own Glenn Beck, who just won't let go of his debunked Obama/Saudi Boston bombing conspiracy theory.

Or maybe you heard about the California radio morning show that got yanked after supposedly making jokes about the Boston bombings.  You can read about it here.

And then there was the Minnesota radio morning show host who is apparently tired of hearing about the families of the children murdered in Newtown. He say's they can "go to hell."  If you find that hard to believe, listen here.

You know what they say about opinions, right?

Hearing and reading about some of this shoot-from-the hip reporting and over-the-top opinions makes me thankful for the more thoughtful and straight-forward information you can always hear on public radio stations, even NPR...and on stations like KSER.  I'm always glad we have voices like Amy Goodman and John Hockenberry.  Reasonable voices like Ed Bremer and Dick Gordon and Sondra Santos.

But that's my opinion.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who Owns Your Favorite Radio or TV Station?

If you ever want to pick up the phone and call the owner of your local radio or TV station..good luck with that. At least when it comes to commercial radio and TV.

You may have seen the news this week that Fisher Broadcasting, which includes KOMO and KVI Radio and KOMO-TV, is being purchased by Sinclair Broadcast Group. 

Some consumers don't care much about local ownership, media or otherwise. After all, how many of us are guilty of bypassing the local hardware store on the way to the big orange box store? But the sale of Fisher to Maryland-based Sinclair means there is not a single major commercial TV station left in the Seattle area that is locally owned.

And if you pay attention to media and politics, you may have heard about Sinclair. In 2004 one of the company's top broadcast journalists was fired after criticizing Sinclair's plans to air what he called "biased political propaganda to sway the election" toward George W. Bush.You can read about it here.

So KOMO TV, the former home of Kathi Goertzen, will now be owned by a company in Maryland that some feel spreads conservative propaganda. KIRO-TV is owned by Atlanta-based Cox Media Group; KING-TV is owned by Texas-based Belo Broadcasting; and Q-13 Fox is owned by Tribune of Chicago.

In radio, it's a similar story. KVI and KPLZ along with news-station KOMO will now be owned by Sinclair. KIRO radio and KTTH are owned by Bonneville, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mormon Church.

But that's not the end of the out-of-town-owners list. KZOK and KMPS are owned by CBS.  KISW, The Wolf, The Mountain and the End are all owned by Entercom of Pennsylvania. And the biggest radio company in the U.S, Clear Channel, owns KJR, KUBE and KKBW. 

You may have also heard about Clear Channel, which owns more than 1,200 radio stations. They were taken over in 2009 by Bain Capital, the 'financial services' company co-founded by Mitt Romney.You can read about Bain here.

Non-commercial public radio is different, thankfully. KPLU is owned by Pacific Lutheran University. KUOW and KEXP are both owned by the University of Washington. Bellevue College owns KBCS-FM.

So that get's us around to KSER. The one station not owned by a university or out-of-town corporation. Our owner, technically, is you. KSER members own the radio station and get to vote each year for which local citizens will make up our Board of Directors. And our board is all-volunteer...local people who are dedicated to the success and sustainability of KSER. 

That desire to have local owners serving the local community with an independent voice is also why the KSER Foundation is developing a second station to serve the North Puget Sound. KXIR-FM at 88.9 will go on the air later this year. It's also why we've conducted a series of public forums and launched an online survey to determine how our stations can best serve you!

All of this isn't to suggest that KSER is a shining beacon and the big commercial stations are always slanting the news and always toeing the corporate line. There are some talented and dedicated broadcasters working at many of those stations.

But it is a reminder that there are few places where you'll hear voices like Amy Goodman and discussion of local issues like you'll hear on KSER's Sound Living or Color Commentary and programming produced by the League of Women Voters. And you don't have to question the motive behind our content. No corporate owner or advertising sponsor is pulling any strings on YOUR station.

And it's also a reminder that while more and more local broadcast signals get gobbled up by corporate out-of-town owners, it becomes more important than ever that YOU have a local voice. It can't happen without you and your support.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Now you can SEE a radio show!

Tim Noah and his talented crew of Thumbnail Theater performers are getting ready to produce another KSER Kaddywompas Radio Special.  And you can be there to see it live, up close and in person.

Tim Noah onstage at Thumbnail Theater
The next Kaddywompas Radio Show is scheduled for Sunday afternoon April 21 with two performances, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish.  Seating is limited, so don't delay. You can purchase tickets here.

The Kaddywompas Players & The Wompas Band
 The next episode of the KSER Kaddywompas Radio Special is  "And The Dog Smiled." (Spoiler Alert: The natives get restless when potato chip tycoon Montgomery Mashwell attempts to take over Kaddywompas.)

If you've ever wanted to see how much hard work, talent and precision goes into producing a 1-hour long radio variety show...music, story-telling, skits...all done the way it used to be, before a live studio audience, you should make sure you get your tickets now. 

And as a bonus, singer-songwriter Bill Davie will be the special guest-performer during the show.  You'll have fun!