Longtime Wisconsin Public Radio host announces retirement

Jean Feraca, an on-air host on Wisconsin Public Radio since 1983, told listeners on Tuesday (Dec. 20) that she’s retiring in March 2012. Feraca declined to talk further with a reporter from the State Journal newspaper, saying only, “I lost everybody in my team earlier this year, and it’s been difficult,” referring to two producers who moved on from the station.In her letter, Feraca jokes about her small stature, saying that listeners often say they thought she was taller — to which she replies, “I’m bigger on the radio.””And this is true,” she writes. “I am bigger on the radio. We are all bigger on the radio.

Silver Batons for pubTV science docs, radio investigative reporting

Pubcasters won three of the 2012 duPont-Columbia Silver Baton Awards announced this morning by Columbia University: Nova, the PBS science series produced at WGBH in Boston, won for “Japan’s Killer Quake”; WNYC reporter Alisa Chang, for her two-part investigative series on the New York Police Department, “Alleged Illegal Searches by the NYPD”; and Detroit Public Television, for “Beyond the Light Switch,” a documentary series produced and directed by Ed Moore and reported by David Biello of the Scientific American. The duPont jury presented a Finalist Award to WNYC’s Radio Rookies for “Coming Up in 2011,” a collection of “unflinching self-portraits” by teenagers from Staten Island.

PBS NewsHour hires CQ Roll Call’s Bellantoni as political editor

PBS NewsHour has a new political editor. Christina Bellantoni of CQ Roll Call takes her post on Jan. 2, 2012, to oversee all political coverage on air and online, including political analysis, elections and personalities. NewsHour’s previous political editor, David Chalain, departed to lead the Washington bureau of Yahoo News in November.Bellantoni has spent more than a decade covering national political and business news in Washington, D.C., and California. She has worked as associate politics editor at CQ Roll Call since October 2010, appearing as a political analyst on Hardball, Countdown, On the Record w/ Greta Van Susteren, Reliable Sources, TopLine, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Daily Rundown.

Once again, WHYY’s Satullo and cartooning partner produce serialized holiday tale

Don’t miss Whiteout Christmas, this year’s annual seasonal story by WHYY’s Chris Satullo and Tony Auth, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. They’ve created a serialized, illustrated Christmas story together nearly every year since 1996. The first 12 appeared in the newspaper; since 2009, they’ve been online at WHYY.org and NewsWorks.org, as well as broadcast on WHYY-FM as radio plays. Four of the stories also were collected in their 2004 book, A Christmas Quartet.This year’s radio version — starring Satullo, Auth and a slew of WHYY staffers — will be broadcast on 90.9 FM in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. Eastern Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Christmas Day.

WXXI merging with Rochester’s historic Little Theatre

WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., is acquiring the city’s Little Theatre as a subsidiary, it announced Monday (Dec. 19). The merger, effective January 2012, “strengthens WXXI’s roots in the cultural life of the community, while helping to assure the future of Rochester’s independent film house,” said WXXI President Norm Silverstein in a statement.The Little Theatre, built in 1928, is a nonprofit multicultural gathering place, screening more than 100 films per year and hosting several annual community film festivals. It also provides local artists a place to share their work.The affiliation will “enable the two organizations to work more efficiently by pooling resources and strengths in a number of areas including back-office operation and improved fundraising capabilities,” the statement said.A Task Force from each organization consulted with the New York Council of Nonprofits on the agreement. The Little Theatre will become a subsidiary corporation of WXXI, and will continue to exist as a separate legal entity.

WNET owed $500,000 by Vine Talk production company, paper says

A couple big show-biz names are owed money for their participation in the pubTV program Vine Talk, the New York Times is reporting. Actor Stanley Tucci serves as host of the wine gabfest, sipping and chatting with celebs such as writer Nora Ephron and actors John Lithgow and Rosie Perez. The show is produced by Jersey Wooly Productions at WNET’s Lincoln Center studio, although, the newspaper reports, the station has not yet been paid $500,000 for this first season. Joe Locarro, the program’s director and an executive producer, said he was owed “in the six figures.” Tucci declined to comment through his publicist, “on the advice of counsel.” Tucci’s partner in Olive Productions, actor Steve Buscemi, said through a spokesperson that the two have withdrawn from the project.Bruce Marcus, Jersey Wooly c.e.o. and a former s.v.p. at Chicago’s WTTW, declined to tell the Times how much money was outstanding. “We’re still in the process of Season 1 and still bringing money into the project,” he said.

Five charged with trespassing after climbing WETA tower to parachute

Five persons were charged with trespassing late Wednesday night (Dec. 14) after they climbed WETA’s 500-foot radio tower in Arlington, Va., in an attempt to BASE jump from the structure using parachutes. One, Kristin Stewart, 48, was injured after her parachute became snared in a tree. “Every single one of them has been charged with trespassing because they climbed the tower without the permission of WETA,” Crystal Nosal of Arlington County police told a local NBC reporter. BASE stands for buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth, which represent common locations for the jumps.WETA spokesperson Mary Stewart told Current that the station will be sending a crew to inspect the tower for any damage. 

Final omnibus bill doesn’t ban CPB funding NPR, as had been proposed

A legislative rider to the omnibus spending bill concerning CPB funding is not included in the final budget agreement, according to a statement from House Appropriations Committee Ranking Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.). House Republicans originally proposed a rider to block CPB from funding NPR. As of 11 a.m. Eastern Friday (Dec. 16), text of the entire 1,200-page legislation still had not been made available online.

“Aristocratic crowd” turns out for Downton Abbey preview

Masterpiece and Vanity Fair celebrated the upcoming second season of Downton Abbey with an “aristocratic crowd” of A-list guests at New York’s Museum of Modern Art this week, reports the New York Post. Guests included Princess Firyal of Jordan, British Ambassador Sir Nigel and wife Lady Julia Sheinwald, philanthropists J. Pepe Fanjul and Lewis Cullman, financier D. Dixon Boardman, fashion designer Carolina Herrera and husband Reinaldo, Jimmy Choo Chief Creative Officer Tamara Mellon and filmmaker Angela Ismailos. Quipped VF Editor Graydon Carter: “The great thing is that this is a PBS night, but it’s not a fundraiser.”

Wittstock says CNC kept working in good faith to avoid collapse of news bureau

The head of the closed Capitol News Connection bureau in Washington, Melinda Wittstock, apologized yesterday to former pubradio clients of the news service Dec. 12 and asserted that CNC was seeking only a 24 percent subsidy from CPB for 2012, and much less in 2013. CPB radio chief Bruce Theriault said that CNC asked for 100 percent support from CPB (Current, Dec. 12).An email identified as Wittstock’s was leaked to Current today.Everyone —Many of you will have read the article in Current today about the very painful demise of CNC.Confidentially, I would like to correct some inaccuracies in the piece.1. Bruce Theriault said CNC asked CPB for “100% funding” going forward.

Masterpiece scores five Golden Globe nods

“Downton Abbey” on Masterpiece provided PBS with four Golden Globe nominations, announced today (Dec. 15), with a fifth from Masterpiece’s “Page Eight.””Downton” nods came for mini-series or motion picture made for television; actress in a TV mini-series (Elizabeth McGovern); actor in a TV mini-series (Hugh Bonneville); and supporting actress in a TV mini-series (Maggie Smith). Another name called for actor in a TV mini-series was Bill Nighy for “Page Eight.”A full list of nominees is here. The prestigious awards, from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, will be presented in televised ceremonies Jan. 15.

Omnibus to give CPB $445 million, requests report on weaning off federal funding

The Fiscal Year 2012 Final Consolidated Appropriations Bill package, which the House probably will vote on this Friday (Dec. 16), contains a fiscal 2014 advance appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of $445 million, according to a summary of the legislation from the House Appropriations Committee (PDF). That’s $50 million below CPB’s request (PDF) and $6 million below the administration’s proposal. In addition, the bill (H.R. 3671) would require CPB to compile a report on alternative funding sources for pubcasting stations in lieu of federal money. Full text of the 1,200-page legislation is not yet available online.

It’s a public radio miracle on WXXI

A 10-year-old girl’s recent letter to WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., has inspired its newsroom to present a special series of positive local stories. The weeklong radio project, titled “Liza’s Letter,” kicks off Dec. 26 during Morning Edition. “The reason why I want happy news,” Liza wrote, “is that every morning on the radio they’re talking about sad things, crimes, murders, car crashes, terrible storms, sometimes it depresses people who listen to it. So it would make me happy to hear good news, and would lighten other people up, too.””I know you are busy,” she concluded in her letter, “but it would really really be a big favor.”And a P.S. “If you said yes, would I get an interview?”Yes, Liza, there is a Santa Claus .

Crowdsourcing? Let iMA know

The Integrated Media Association is compiling a directory of public media crowdsourced projects. Examples include WDET’s investigation into illegal trucking in neighborhoods of Detroit’s Mexicantown, WNYC’s map of plowed streets during a December 2010 blizzard, and WFIU’s tips for green living based on suggestions from viewers and listeners. Watch iMA’s Facebook page for details.

Knight gives $4.6 million for new local reporting partnership in Georgia

Georgia Public Broadcasting is part of a $4.6 million Knight Foundation project to strengthen local reporting that’s being announced today (Dec. 15). The Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., will bring together professional journalists from the local Telegraph newspaper and GPB Media staffers to help Mercer students learn and employ digital-age storytelling skills, the partners said in a statement. Plans are for the joint newsroom to also launch community engagement projects that will involve local residents in choosing issues to cover. Also, GPB Macon Radio will expand its news staff in Central Georgia over several years.The center will reside in Mercer Village, a new mixed-use development on campus where ground was broken today.

National ratings for PBS Kids’ shows up “dramatically,” Sponsorship Group says

The Sponsorship Group for Public Television (SGPTV) is reporting that Nielsen National Television Index ratings for PBS Kids programs “have risen dramatically” over last season, and two new corporate sponsors have signed on.The group says that children’s shows have posted national ratings gains in nearly every demographic, including a 30 percent hike for kids ages 6 to 8. Curious George is the No. 1 program on any network for kids ages 2 to 5, and SuperWhy is No. 1 for kids under 3 — PBS Kids also holds the 2, 3, 4 and 5 spots for that demographic.In September, Stride Rite came on as a corporate underwriter for Curious George; and Age of Learning Inc., a Glendale, Calif.-based firm supporting early childhood learning, has been underwriting SuperWhy and Wild Kratts since November.

Susan Soto dies; longtime KAET-TV employee in Phoenix

Susan Soto, a former staffer of KAET-TV in Phoenix for nearly 21 years, died Dec. 11. She first worked as an advertising specialist, according to the station, now called Eight, Arizona PBS. Her role grew to include public relations and special events. “One memorable “Are You Being Served?” event required her to ‘mind’ the notorious [actor] John Inman, find a tiara and wrangle a Mrs. Slocombe look-alike contest,” the station said in a statement.

Knight provides second $1.5 million grant to NPR for digital news training

The Knight Foundation has awarded NPR with a $1.5 million grant to expand its digital training in pubradio newsrooms, it announced today (Dec. 14). A statement said the support will provide for development of a training program for more than 70 local pubradio stations.The $1.5 million investment bolsters a Knight grant in 2007, which trained hundreds of NPR journalists in the use of digital platforms and reporting techniques. Knight cited an independent review that found that the $1.5 million grant in 2007 resulted in “a positive shift in individual and institutional attitudes toward digital news.”The Knight Foundation has invested $5.4 million in NPR since 1992.

BBC World channel coming to Comcast

BBC World, the British broadcaster’s 24-hour international news channel, will be available via Comcast by the end of the year in several major American markets. In preparation for its foray into the marketplace, the New York Times notes, the BBC added about a dozen staff members to its Washington bureau — including former NPR News head Dick Meyer to oversee news coverage in the Americas.BBC Director of Global News Peter Horrocks called the agreement an “important breakthrough.” The channel will be available to Comcast Xfinity subscribers in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Portland, Michigan, western New England and Northern California, with other markets coming next year.The network’s BBC World News 30-minute program airs in most of the top 30 pubcasting markets.

Former WGBH needlepoint personality Erica Wilson dies at 83

Erica Wilson, who helped popularize needlepoint arts in the 1970s through her show on PBS, died Tuesday (Dec. 13) at age 83, reports the New York Times.  According to producing station WGBH’s archives, Erica ran 1971-73. “Erica Wilson, noted American authority on needlework, invites the viewer to explore the exciting possibilities of indulging his creative and artistic talents,” the description notes. “In this series of color videotaped 15-minute programs she illustrates the wide vocabulary of stitches used in many types of embroidery including traditional crewel, needlepoint, bargello, and crewel point. As well as demonstrating these stitches, Erica gives professional hints on creating useful and decorative objects.