An oasis for the ears in Trans-Pecos

Five ways Marfa Public Radio is different from your nearest NPR-member station:

1. The drivetime host reports on rush-hour traffic of five vehicles, “some turning left, some turning right and some going straight ahead … with one forlorn pronghorn along the way.”

2. Drivers crossing a near-empty 152-mile stretch of Interstate 10 without Sirius XM send in donations to thank the station for being a “surprise oasis.”

3. A Mexican rancher stops by to say that he picks up the signal deep in Chihuahua, more than 100 miles south of the border.

Broadcasters still waiting on FCC spectrum model

Until the Federal Communications Commission releases its Allotment Optimization Model (AOM) for upcoming spectrum auctions, “broadcasters should remain skeptical — and wary — of the anything having to do with incentive auctions,” writes broadcast media analyst Harry Jessell of  TVNewsCheck.”Broadcasters have been eager to get their hands on the model so that they can test (and possibly question) some of its assumptions and simply see how they would do under various scenarios,” Jessell writes. “But the FCC won’t give anybody a peek. It won’t let broadcasters or the public see what it is seeing when it runs the numbers.”In its original National Broadband Plan in March 2010, the FCC said modeling would be “forthcoming.”Jessell reports that FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake said at the National Association of Broadcasters meeting in April that the modeling should be released in the “next few months.””Well, by my calendar, a few months have come and gone,” Jessell writes. “You ask the FCC now about when the modeling might be forthcoming and you don’t even get an answer.”

FCC okays sale of WDUQ-FM to Essential Public Media

The Federal Communications Commission has approved the sale of WDUQ-FM (90.5), which allows the license to be transferred from Duquesne University to Essential Public Media, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In its ruling Thursday (Aug. 3), the FCC acknowledged objections to the deal, many concerning the format change from jazz to news. “Although the commission recognizes that WDUQ’s program has attracted a devoted listenership,” it said, “it is well-settled policy that the commission does not scrutinize or regulate programming, nor does it take potential changes in programming formats into consideration in reviewing assignment applications.” The sale is expected to be completed within the next 30 days.

PEG channels could extend their mission via low-power FM, advocate says

One of the sessions at last week’s Alliance for Community Media conference in Tucson explored collaboration opportunities between low-power FM (LPFM) providers and Public, Educational and Government (PEG) Access channels. Workshop leader Erik Möllberg, assistant manager at Access Fort Wayne, said LPFM offers PEG providers an opportunity to extend their mission by reaching people who otherwise do not have a voice, reports the Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age blog from the New America Foundation. LPFM has been “a nice way of pulling in other sectors of society that were not using access television and that might work much better for them,” he said. And with the Federal Communications Commission is poised to open LPFM frequencies up to the public again (Current, July 25), it’s a great time consider the partnerships, he said.

Kernis joins start-up team for NBC’s primetime newsmag

Jay Kernis’s vacation from the TV news business lasted less than two weeks.The former NPR programming exec has joined an NBC News team that’s creating a new primetime newsmag hosted by Brian Williams for debut in October. As a piece producer on the as-yet-unnamed show, he’s working on a story with former CBS anchor Harry Smith, who ended his 25-year CBS career to work on NBC’s new broadcast.Kernis played a key role in creating and updating NPR’s flagship programs in two separate stints in public radio. When he left NPR for CBS News in 1987, Smith was the first anchor he worked with, he told Current. Kernis left his most recent TV job last month — as senior producer and blogger of CNN’s In the Arena, the Eliot Spitzer show that delivered its farewell broadcast last night. He planned to be a consultant and take time to consider his career options — possibly including a return to public radio — but NBC moved quickly to hire him for the new broadcast.

PBS SoCal boosts kids’ programming weekdays, adds weekends

PBS SoCal, formerly KOCE-TV, is ramping up its kids offerings, reports the Los Angeles Times. The station, which took over as PBS primary in the Los Angeles market when KCET left the network in January, is expanding daily programming by 90 minutes and adding a children’s block from 6 to 8 a.m. weekend mornings for the first time. The changes begin Monday (Aug. 8). Jamie Annunzio, the station’s director of education, said it’s all part of “our commitment to increase and maintain quality and educational children’s content.”

Broadcasters asking for another delay on new EAS equipment deadline

NPR, PBS and the Association of Public Television Stations are among broadcast organizations asking the Federal Communications Commission to once again extend the deadline for stations to install Common Alerting Protocol-compliant Emergency Alert System equipment. They want at least a six-month extension from the current Sept. 30 date. The clock originally began ticking in October 2010.In the filing, APTS and PBS argue that because “the deadline for reply comments is set for early August, it is likely a Final Order by the Commission will be released relatively close to the current CAP-compliance deadline. This could make it extremely difficult for stations to comply with newly revised regulations by the current deadline.”

PBS hires two new — but well known — programming veeps

Two names familiar to public broadcasters are coming to PBS as new vice presidents of programming. Beth Hoppe, who begins work Aug. 8, developed the reality frontrunners Frontier House and Colonial House; Donald Thoms, arriving later this month, created the Independent Lens documentary series. In a statement, PBS Chief Operating Officer Michael Jones called them “smart, talented individuals who truly understand public television and have excellent experience in content development.”

Since 2009, Hoppe has been an e.p. at Discovery Studios, where she developed the series Human Nature and other projects. She also worked as president and c.e.o. of indie TV producers Optomen Productions from 2004 to 2009; and from 1998 to 2004, she served as director, science programs, for WNET in New York.

170 Million Americans campaign offers exclusive music download

170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting and ANTI- Records are releasing “Raise Your Voice!,” a 16-track music compilation free only to pubcasting fans who sign up for the ongoing online advocacy campaign. Artists include Wilco, Tom Waits, Dr. Dog, Mavis Staples, Lost in the Trees, Neko Case and Booker T. Jones. In a statement, Ari Picker, frontman for Lost in the Trees, said: “Our culture needs public broadcasting. And public radio has been an enormous resource for musicians like myself.”

Native Public Media’s Morris appointed to FCC advisory committee

Traci Morris, director of operations for Native Public Media (NPM) will represent tribal interests on the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee. The committee helps “amplify the voices of many of the least-served communities and constituencies in current policy debates,” said Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, an NPM partner, in a statement. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that as the representative of Native Public Media, Morris “will be a voting member of the CAC, helping us to ensure that all Americans have access to modern communications services.”

Julia Child helped change face of public TV, friend writes

Jasper White, a chef and longtime close friend of pubcasting icon Julia Child, has a nice remembrance of her in the Herald News of Fall River, Mass., to mark the anniversary of her Aug. 15 birth. In America, “the culinary arts were lagging way behind the others in the last half of the last century,” he writes. “It took a catalyst to awaken America’s palate, to make the love of food an acceptable behavior and to raise expectations and standards of our cuisine. That catalyst was Julia Child.”

$40 million in NEH grants include public broadcasters

The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced $40 million in awards for 249 projects. Several public media recipients include the American Routes radio series, $250,000; WGBH’s American Experience, $700,000 for a two-hour documentary film and multiplatform project on the 1964 “Freedom Summer” Mississippi voter registration and education effort; Public Radio International, $300,000 for Studio 360 from PRI and WNYC; and WETA, $750,000 for The Roosevelts, a 14-hour documentary series. A complete list (PDF) is here.

Social media taking a toll on arts journalism, panelists say

While much focus remains on the dropoff of investigative and local reporting, arts reporting and criticism is also in flux. “Arts journalism faces an unclear future as social media takes over, and non-journalists can share their opinions as easily as journalists,” said Thomas Huizenga of NPR Music at a Communications Leadership Forum at the Annenberg Center’s Washington D.C. office on Tuesday (Aug. 3). “The impact of criticism is lost in the new media. Journalists have now fallen to the bottom of the list.”

Redefining objectivity in journalism: it has to be much more than “just the facts”

As new forms of journalism take root in the rapidly evolving digital media landscape, standards for objectivity in reporting must evolve too, writes Stephen Ward, director of the journalism ethics program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, for MediaShift. The tradition that holds “just the facts” reporting as a journalistic ideal — with no interpretation or opinion from the reporter who has gathered those facts — should be abandoned and redefined. “Objectivity is not about perfect neutrality or the elimination of interpretation,” Ward writes. “Objectivity refers to a person’s willingness to use objective methods to test interpretations for bias or inaccuracies. Objectivity as a method is compatible with journalism that interprets and takes perspectives.

South Carolina ETV lays off 15, and won’t fill six open positions

South Carolina’s ETV, which operates statewide public TV and radio networks, is shedding a total of 21 full-time and two part-time positions due to cutbacks in state funding and federal grants, The State newspaper is reporting today (Aug. 3). Rob Schaller, ETV spokesman, tells Current the layoffs took effect July 29. Fifteen full-time staffers and two part-timers are gone, and six open positions won’t be filled. “That leaves fewer than 150 employees at the state’s public educational broadcasting network, which also, among other things, offers a multimedia educational system to more than 2,500 of the state’s schools, colleges, businesses and government agencies,” the paper notes.

For independent news entities, community engagement is vital, Knight adviser says

In an interview for an upcoming “Empowering Independent Media” report update, Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of the Knight Foundation, said community engagement “is a key” to the success of independent news efforts. “The content must engage people, the connectivity must engage them and when appropriate they need to be asked directly for money to help,” he said. “News proprietors need to be able to clearly show the impact of the work. If people do not believe news and information matters, if they do not see the impact of journalism, it is difficult to establish and maintain professional media organizations.”

Nearly 60-year-old Backyard Farmer show grows fans online

At 58 years and counting, the Backyard Farmer gardening show from Nebraska’s NET may be the longest-running locally produced show on television. And now it’s becoming a hit online, too. Producer Brad Mills tells the Associated Press that the show is often in the top 10 of YouTube’s science category; one show on container gardening has raked in nearly 66,400 views. The program also hit No. 17 overall at iTunes U, the educational arm of Apple’s iTunes Store.

Public radio experiments with visuals

Visual storytelling “may seem anathema to the magic of radio,” writes Amanda Hirsch for the iMA Innovators Blog, but some public radio stations and producers have found ways to populate their websites and social networks with photos and videos. Hirsch points to efforts at KUT in Austin, Minnesota Public Radio, and among producers of State of the Re:Union as the best examples of visual storytelling in public radio.

FOCAS gathering at Aspen Institute examining impact of tech on citizenship

PBS President Paula Kerger, American Public Media’s digital innovation s.v.p. Joaquin Alvarado and WNET President Neal Shapiro are among media leaders participating in the Aspen Institute’s FOCAS (Forum on Communications and Society) meeting today through Thursday (Aug. 2-4) in Colorado. This year’s gathering will explore the growing impact of network technologies on communities and citizenship. Others attending include Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Craig Newmark of craigslist; and Daniel Weitzner, the White House deputy chief technology officer for Internet policy.  Live streaming video is here, Twitter hashtag is #FOCAS11.

Nothing merry prankster-ish about James O’Keefe

“The object is to expose reality,” says conservative muckraker James O’Keefe, in a New York Times Magazine feature profiling the 27-year-old firebrand as a guerrilla media maker for the right. O’Keefe doesn’t choose targets of his video stings with a particular outcome in mind, he says, but to expose where liberal values have run amok. “Let the people change things,” he says. “Remember, Congress and the president defunded Acorn, not me.”The scandal sparked by O’Keefe’s sting of NPR’s top fundraising exec Ron Schiller doesn’t get a lot of discussion here, but the risks that he takes and the sense of injustice that motivates him does.”O’Keefe’s stings, marked by outlandish costumes and outrageous stories, are as much theater as political statement,” writes reporter Zev Chafets for the magazine. “But there is nothing of the merry prankster about him.