Why & How: ‘Unnatural Causes’

In this Q&A, content creators talk with Current about why they decided to pursue a project and how they produced it. What: Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?, a four-hour PBS series that the network scheduled for four Thursday nights on public TV starting March 27. Who made: Larry Adelman, series creator and executive producer, co-director of California Newsreel. Production companies: California Newsreel with Vital Pictures. Presenters: the CPB-funded National Minority Consortia.

Salt Lake’s KCPW has a shot at keeping its license

The financially pinched owner of Salt Lake City news station KCPW-AM/FM has signed a letter of intent to sell its two FM licenses to a new nonprofit started by the station’s g.m., Ed Sweeney, the station reported today. If Wasatch Public Media, the new nonprofit, can’t fulfill its bargain, however, the station will be sold to a big religious broadcaster, EMF Broadcasting. Wasatch agreed to pay $2.4 million. The AM channel will go to another religious broadcaster, IHR Educational Broadcasting, for $1.3 million. The seller, based at KPCW in nearby Park City, is taking a loss on the AM station; it spent $2.5 million to buy and build it.

Viewer reaction to “Bush’s War” is mixed

In his PBS ombudsman column, Michael Getler features nearly 30 of the letters he received about Frontline’s two-part Iraq war retrospective, “Bush’s War.” One Alaska viewer writes, “Thank you for running the story about Bush’s war. I serve in the U.S. Army. I will be starting my third tour in a month.” But about half the letters are critical of the program for being either one-sided or not in-depth enough.

Asteroid named for could-be radio star

Boston blogger, podcaster, magician, street juggler and skeptic Rebecca Watson — one of the six finalists in the Public Radio Talent Quest, awaiting a CPB funding decision on a program pilot — now has an asteroid named after her. The rock, 2.7 miles across and orbiting between Jupiter and Mars, was officially named by the International Astronomical Union on March 21. Jeff Medkeff was entitled to name asteroid No. 153289 for Watson because he co-discovered it in 2001. “Rebecca really deserves this honor.

New PBS series: reality archaeology

PBS and Oregon Public Broadcasting have announced a new primetime series, working title Time Team, USA, to air in 2009 or 2010. Based on the UK’s Channel 4 series, the show follows a group of archaeologists who have 72 hours to unearth artifacts and other info from a dig site. Possible locations include the Indian Mounds of Mississippi and the earth pyramids near St. Louis, Mo. Producers from the UK series will team up with OPB, which produced History Detectives for PBS.

“Why traditional TV production is dead”

As TV viewing options explode and money for program production dries up, “small and midsize public television stations (not the rich behemoths like WGBH) that want to produce original programs of public value” have two paths to tread, writes Alaska Public Media’s John Proffitt in his blog Gravity Medium. Big productions will be few, will “mostly involve outside contractors rather than inside employees, and will draw most of their funding from external one-off granting sources.” Small, local productions will have to scale back to “one person + camera + laptop” and “must be aimed at multiplatform niche distribution rather than mass entertainment. In the end, ‘TV’ folks will either become multifunctional ‘video’ folks” or will leave to work at specialty video houses. Proffitt features YouTube video of producer Michael Rosenblum lecturing about TV’s changing economics.

Music discovery sites serving up a lot of what’s already on the radio

Washington Post radio columnist Marc Fisher surveys the landscape of user-customized online music providers and finds that those proposing songs based on listener preferences aren’t generating “exotic and creative” playlists. On the most popular sites, “the lists of most popular songs are almost indistinguishable from what’s on most pop or hip-hop radio stations,” he writes.

Justice Dep’t okays XM-Sirius merger

Citing the growth of digital audio choices for radio listeners, the Justice Department yesterday approved the proposed merger of the XM and Sirius satellite radio companies. The Washington Post and New York Times report on reactions from opponents to the merger, and what may happen when the FCC takes up the proposal. On Hear 2.0 radio researcher Mark Ramsey describes why the merger will have minimal consequences for the radio industry.