Alaska stations may be merging

For several months Alaska’s pubcasters have been working with Livingston Associates, a public media strategic planning firm, on the possibility of merging the largest outlets in the state, according to Anchorage Daily News. Steve Lindbeck, president and g.m. of Alaska Public Telecommunications Inc., said the managers of APTI (the Alaska Public Radio Network, KAKM-TV and KSKA-FM in Anchorage) have been meeting with KUAC in Fairbanks and KTOO in Juneau to share ideas. The new merged network could begin as early as next July, Lindbeck added.

Cap Hill hearing set for CPB Board nominee Cahill

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled Patricia Cahill’s nomination hearing for the CPB Board for 2:30 p.m. July 29. If approved, Cahill, g.m. of KCUR-FM in Kansas City, Mo., will be the first active public radio station manager on the board.

WNET offers nonprofits the WordPress variant used to redo “50 sites in 10 months”

New York’s and a Brooklyn company Tierra Innovation Inc. announced this week they’re making available to other nonprofits a content management system based on the open-source WordPress Multi-User blogging platform. WNET says on a WordPress site that the CMS enabled it redo 5 to 10 websites a month instead of one or two without the CMS, at a quarter of the cost. Efficiency was necessary because the station had to do 16 national program sites and 27 sites related to the sister stations WNET and WLIW. With the redesign and its big doses of on-demand video, WNET sites have more than doubled their usage. In a white paper (PDF) the partners discuss why they chose WordPress to build upon and what features they needed to add.

WGBH needs further cuts, layoffs to close $6.9 million FY 2010 budget gap

WGBH will have a smaller production volume for fiscal 2010, President and CEO Jon Abbott told staffers in a letter yesterday. Which means overhead and employee benefits paid by the productions will be “considerably reduced.” That’s one factor contributing to the station’s projected discretionary budget gap of $6.9 million dollars for FY 2010 “that we must and will close,” he wrote. An initial round of cuts requested that departments cut 5 percent of nonpersonnel budget costs; that reduction request is now up to an additional 8 percent. The station is reconsidering infrastructure improvements, negotiated employee benefit savings, and has approached its union leadership to ask for concessions.

Cross-platform kids’ content vital, Sesame Workshop head tells Senate committee

Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell joined other broadcast industry insiders testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Wednesday on the 1990 Children’s Media Act. It established the three-hour weekly minimum of educational children’s programming, and set advertising limits. Committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) called the hearings to address children’s programming in the digital age. In his address to the committee, Knell advised incentives be used to encourage creation of more cross-platform educational content. He also singled out childhood obesity as an important focus.

XpoNential musical fun from WXPN

Philadelphia’s WXPN kicks off its three-day XPoNential Music Festival this afternoon, bringing a lineup of musical acts in the Triple A vein to Wiggins Park on the scenic Camden Waterfront. From two main stages and a Kids Corner, more than 50 artists will perform blues, rock, surf, R&B/soul and music that defies easy categorization. For those of you in Mid-Atlantic region: tickets are still available! But if you can’t make the Fest, tune your browsers to the WXPN stream here, where the station’s live broadcast coverage will be offered as a webstream throughout the weekend. Today’s coverage begins at 4:30 EST.

Henson Co. wins Engineering Emmy

The Jim Henson Co.’s Henson Digital Puppetry Studio has received an Engineering Emmy Award for its system used in the PBS Kids series Sid the Science Kid. The technique allows performers “to puppeteer and voice digital characters in real time on a sound-stage setting with multiple virtual cameras and a real time viewer, generating a high yield per minute and cutting both animation time and costs exponentially,” according to a statement from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. It’s one of four Engineering Emmys to be presented at an Aug. 22 ceremony in Los Angeles.

“Mister Rogers” goes to weekly schedule

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood will only be available one episode per week beginning this fall, PBS has informed member stations. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Kevin Morrison, CEO of Fred Rogers’ Family Communications Inc., cited ongoing economic woes. “PBS is operating under very tight budget constraints and it already has a full program lineup to support Monday through Friday,” Morrison said. “If it was offering Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on a daily basis it would only be as an option to the existing full lineup of programs, and that option is an expensive option for them and the financial situation prevents them from making that an option.” Last season stations had the option for the daily shows.

NewsHour a partner in project cited by Knight-Batten

A project highlighting the quite different economic fates of various U.S. communities, developed by the NewsHour and the Christian Science Monitor, was cited for Special Distinction in the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism announced today by the J-Lab at American University. For Patchwork Nation, producers crunched data from more than 3,100 counties. The $10,000 Knight-Batten Grand Prize went to the New York Times, which is working overtime not to go extinct, developed Represent, a feed for constituents to follow city officials’ activities; Custom Times a prototype personalized multiplatform report; Debate Analysis Tool, which provided a searchable scrolling text of the ’08 Presidential debates, and more. Among other winners: Change Tracker, ProPublica’s White-House-watcher; the Center for Public Integrity’s use of digital tools for projects such as Who’s Behind the Financial Meltdown?; and a free tool for under-staffed websites: Apture, which generates code for embedding videos and other media. Here’s the full winners list.

Consultant fees questioned as U-Fla. stations gird for layoffs

“People who do what I do get paid a lot more than that,” says Mike Harding, a media consultant who is earning $10,000 a month to lead a restructuring of the University of Florida’s media properties, including WUFT-TV/FM in Gainesville. The Gainesville Sun reports that Harding, a commercial TV turn-around specialist, is being paid with funds drawn equally from the university’s four broadcast stations and its College of Journalism and Communications. Paul Gordon, a veteran media ad sales exec also retained by Dean John Wright, earns $69,000 annually as interim director of WRUF-AM, a struggling sports/talk outlet, and WRUF-FM, a rock station. The Sun also reports that Wright plans to lay off five station employees within the next few weeks. “People are being laid off, and they’re spending all this money on consultants,” says Rita Patterson, a “friend” of station employees who was quoted by the Sun.

Scott Simon on the new “This even I know is a big improvement”

NPR unveils the “brand new” in this YouTube video featuring Scott Simon’s first test-drive of the website launching July 27. The Weekend Edition Saturday host finds that the redesigned site is easier to read and navigate and features a Google-powered search engine and nifty interactive visuals. “We want to be your source for NPR news, analysis, arts & life stories and music that is always fresh and up-to-date, a source of unexpected delight and most important, a site that always upholds NPR’s highest standards,” write NPR Digital chief Kinsey Wilson and NPR News Executive Editor Dick Meyer, in an accompanying note to the NPR Community. “On the new site, it will be easier to combine listening and reading, to follow breaking news, to comment on our work and share it, and easier to find programming from your NPR station.” They promise enhancements for NPR Mobile offerings later this summer.

Pubradio staffers score free international vacations

Two lucky pubcasters heard their names called for prizes at the recent Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference in San Diego. And they received pretty primo prizes indeed: Two free international trips from Collette Vacations. Sarah Steinberg of KNPR, Las Vegas, won two tickets for a Christmas Market Tour of Salzburg, Linz, Vienna and Prague. Steinberg, a development associate at Nevada Public Radio, told Current she was especially surprised, seeing as she’d already won two items at the confab, an iPod Touch and a solar charger. Luanne Valentin, development director at KRCL, has donated her Mexico vacation for two to the Salt Lake City station to be used as a special thank-you gift for some “very loyal listener,” she said.

Six stations get new Ready to Learn money

CPB today announced funding for new statewide Ready to Learn projects. Six pubTV stations will work with state education agencies to provide early childhood education resources and services, according to a CPB statement. Funds will foster those partnerships to integrate RTL digital media resources into pre-K through second grade classrooms and other learning environments, such as child-care settings and after-school programs. Efforts will especially target children from low-income families. Included are KQED, San Francisco; Georgia Public Broadcasting; Iowa Public Television; KTWU, Topeka, Kan.; Maryland Public Television; and WMHT, Troy, N.Y.

Boland departing PBS to return to California: Update

John Boland, PBS’s first chief content officer (Current, June 26, 2006), will leave the network after three years to return to California at the end of the year. PBS head Paula Kerger made the announcement to the system yesterday. She said in a letter to g.m.’s that Boland told her of his plans to return to California several months ago. PBS has retained executive search firm Spencer Stuart “to work closely with [COO] Michael Jones and me to identify an individual who can help us build” on Boland’s work; no word as to whether the title and responsibilities will remain the same. Boland came to headquarters from the CCO spot at KQED TV/FM in San Francisco.

Nuptial couple gets the WGBH studio blues

WGBH’s One Guest Street studios have hosted celebs from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to ’80s rockers Duran Duran. But this was a first: On July 17 the studio was the backdrop for a wedding photo shoot. Photographer and WGBH member Rachel Hadiashar chose the locale because she’s “quite taken with the colorful design of the building,” she said. That’s her photo above. Wouter (the groom, completing his doctorate in Theoretical Physics at MIT) and Eileen (the bride, who teaches English as a Second Language in Boston) said they were were delighted with the building, as their wedding followed a blue theme.

Sports added to Omaha’s classical KVNO

News that Omaha’s KVNO, a full-time classical music station, will begin airing live sports coverage in August has prompted a backlash among listeners of the public radio station licensed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “There were audible gasps in the hall” during a recent chamber music concert when Oboist Darci Griffith announced that sports broadcasts were coming to KVNO, the Omaha World-Herald reports. “Those people were KVNO fans, and no one had bothered to tell them,” Griffith said. The schedule change will provide a new source of income for the station because UNO’s athletic department will pay the station to carry its football, hockey and basketball games. Michael Hilt, assistant dean of UNO’s communications school, says the change benefits students and preserves the majority of KVNO’s schedule for classical music.

Sesame president to appear at Cap Hill hearing on Children’s TV Act

Gary Knell, president of Sesame Workshop, will testify before the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday at a hearing examining the Children’s TV Act, reports Broadcasting & Cable. The 1990 Act established a three-hour weekly minimum of educational and information children’s programming, and addressed advertising limits in the shows. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will head the proceedings in his first appearance on the Hill in his new post.

Independent Lens on PBS gets Young@Heart TV premiere

Young@Heart, the award-winning 2007 documentary about a spunky chorus of hip senior citizens, will have its television premiere during the fall/winter 2009 season of Independent Lens on PBS. The critically acclaimed film takes viewers inside seven weeks of rehearsals with the members of the Young@Heart Chorus of retirees as they prepare for a concert in their hometown of Northampton, Mass.

Henry Louis Gates arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and longtime PBS doc producer, was arrested last Thursday trying to force open the locked front door of his home, according to The Associated Press. Cambridge, Mass., police were called that afternoon after a woman reported seeing a man trying to pry the door open. The police report states an officer asked Gates to identify himself and Gates refused, called the officer a racist and said repeatedly, “This is what happens to black men in America.” According to the police report, the 58-year-old professor told officers, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” An Associated Press followup, which includes Gates’ booking mugshot, added details of allegations that the arrest is part of a pattern of racial profiling in the city.

PBS ombudsman eyes Moyers’ health-care show

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler’s column today focuses on journalistic credibility, citing both the Washington Post’s recent lapse on “pay for access” salons, as well as a recent Bill Moyers Journal episode on health care. One guest on that show was Wendell Potter, senior fellow with the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Moyers is president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, which had funded CMD as recently as 2006. The column includes two lengthy replies from Moyers.