Python alum Cleese voices ads for Great TV Auction in Milwaukee

The story of how Monty Python’s Flying Circus star John Cleese became a pitchman for Milwaukee Public Television’s Great TV Auction dates to 1987 and “has as many curves as the Monaco Grand Prix,” writes Milwaukee Journal Sentinel TV/radio columnist Duane Dudek. You can listen to Cleese’s two 60-second radio spots here. The auction runs April 26 through May 4 and is the largest pubcasting event of its kind in nation, raising more than $1 million annually.

Last season of NBC’s The Office welcomes pubcaster WVIA as a co-star

WVIA, the PBS member station for the Scranton, Pa., area, is a guest star in the final season of the hit NBC sitcom The Office. The series, based on a BBC show of the same name, follows the quirky lives of employees in the local branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co., all subjects of an ongoing but unnamed documentary project. This season, the fictional film crew and their movie project are slowly becoming part of the plot as the real series winds down. And the documentary crew is revealed to be working for WVIA. In fact, “in the last couple shows the plot points revolve around us,” said Tom Curra, WVIA e.v.p. “I can’t tell you more than that.

WGBH’s veteran radio/TV head Marita Rivero to depart in June

Marita Rivero, vice president and general manager for radio and television at producing powerhouse WGBH, is stepping down after nearly 30 years at the Boston station. Effective in June, Rivero will be succeeded by Liz Cheng as g.m. for television and Phil Redo as g.m. for radio. Cheng is currently g.m. of WGBH’s national digital multicast channel World, which she will continue to oversee. Redo is managing director of 89.7 WGBH and WCAI. Rivero will remain of counsel to WGBH leadership, today’s announcement noted.

Rick Roberts, former manager of KTSU

Rick Roberts, general manager of Houston’s KTSU until his retirement in 1995, died March 21 from complications from a stroke after he was reportedly assaulted in his home. He was 72.

WJFF manager resigns after public controversy

The top station official at WJFF-FM, community radio in Jeffersonville, N.Y., has resigned following a public protest over his management style, reports the local Times Herald-Record. Winston Clark, who lead the station for four years, submitted his resignation Wednesday night at the board of directors’ meeting and leaves the station today. According to the newspaper, many longtime volunteers and others insisted that programming and personnel decisions were made behind closed doors instead of in consultation with a community advisory board. They contend the advisory board hasn’t had a full meeting in years, as required by CPB, “which has been reviewing the charges and monitoring the WJFF situation,” the report noted. Video of the two recent contentious board meetings are online here.

Arizona radio stations ask FCC for looser underwriting rules

The licensee of KJZZ and KBAQ in Phoenix has asked the FCC for temporary permission to sidestep the agency’s rules governing language in underwriting announcements in a test of whether “enhanced” sponsor messages could boost income. In a March 18 letter to the FCC, the Maricopa County Community College District proposed a three-year trial window “to conduct a limited and controlled demonstration project to test a modified loosening of the Commission’s enhanced underwriting policies.” Under the looser rules, KBAQ and KJZZ would air announcements that include:

“factually accurate information concerning interest rates available at underwriter banks, credit unions, automobile dealerships, and other local businesses”;
notification of sales and special events such as discounts and promotions; and
qualitative adjectives based on factual data, such as “certified,” “accredited,” “award-winning,” “experienced” or “long-established.”

During this experimental phase, the stations would monitor listener satisfaction and revenue resulting from the enhanced announcements. If sales rose and listeners accepted the new language without complaint, other public radio stations could adopt the looser rules as well, the college district suggested. In the letter, submitted by communications attorney Ernie Sanchez, the college district cited the need to experiment as stations grapple with cuts in state funding, declines in underwriting revenue and the possible elimination of federal support for public broadcasting. “Could public radio stations remain financially viable, even with diminished federal funding, if the guidelines were simply relaxed or — expressed another way — enhanced somewhat more than previous levels?” the letter asked.

WGBH’s Accessible Media center waives theater captioning fees

The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) at WGBH in Boston is permanently waiving license fees for its patented movie-theater captioning system, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its work to improve media for users with disabilities. Larry Goldberg, WGBH’s director of media access and head of NCAM, told Current that most theaters have made a one-time payment of around $2,000 for the license. The center hopes the waiver will encourage more theaters to offer Rear Window Captioning, one of several systems available for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. More than 400 theaters nationwide have installed the technology since it was first available in 1996, WGBH said in a statement. To use Rear Window, viewers look into clear panels in front of their seats that reflect a large LED screen on the theater’s back wall displaying captions in mirror image.

Prometheus Radio founder Pete Tridish will receive the Horace Mann Award

Dylan Wrynn, a 1992 Antioch grad who chose Pete Tridish (from “petri dish”) as his nom de guerre, founded Prometheus Radio in 1998 to use radio as a force for social change in areas such as housing, environmentalism, health care, antiwar activism and criminal-justice reform. A trained radio engineer who has helped build stations across the U.S., Guatemala, Colombia, Nepal, Tanzania and Jordan, Tridish considers himself — according to Antioch’s website — a “freelance troublemaker.”

In 2011, largely due to organizing efforts spearheaded by Tridish and Prometheus, the FCC granted licenses for up to 3,000 new low-power FM stations. “Needless to say, I am flattered, humbled, thrilled and embarrassed by the honor, and totally unworthy of the company I have been thrust into,” wrote Tridish in an announcement. Named after Antioch’s first president, the Horace Mann Award recognizes contributions by alumni who have followed Mann’s advice to the class of 1859 and “won some victory for humanity.” It will be presented June 15 in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This article was first published in Current, April 1, 2013

Benefits to multicasting pledge: new and lapsed donors respond

After 16 months on the air, WQED-TV’s all-pledge multicast Showcase channel is steadily bringing in donations of around $16,000 a month for the Pittsburgh station. That may not sound that impressive, considering WQED receives an average of $16,675 from airing just one day of pledge programming on its primary broadcast signal. But WQED officials say the revenues, and the benefits, are adding up.

James Muhammad to take helm at Lakeshore Public Media

The new president and c.e.o. of dual licensee Lakeshore Public Media in Merrillville, Ind., is James Muhammad, currently director of radio services for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. He begins work in his new post May 20. “James is a well-rounded leader with experience in public media, programming and community outreach,” said Lakeshore Board of Directors Chair Bonita Neff. “For more than a decade, he built a team that worked collaboratively on radio and television projects, and engaged the community and its leaders. That’s why our board unanimously chose him.”

James has been with WVPB since 2001.

‘Impact Playbook’ from BAVC helps track media engagement

The Bay Area Video Coalition, the San Francisco-based group that seeks to inspire social change by empowering media makers, just released a new resource,  “Impact Playbook: Best Practices for Understanding the Impact of Media.” The free download contains best-practice ideas for developing engagement strategies as well as measuring and communicating the impact of media projects.

PBS FY14 draft budget has $11M content hike, no dues increase, thanks to income influx

PBS’s year-to-date financial results show a net income of $22 million instead of the estimated $100,000 net loss anticipated in its fiscal year 2013 budget, the PBS Board of Directors heard at their meeting April 9 at headquarters in Arlington, Va. “I may never get to say this again, but that’s pretty impressive,” said Molly Corbett Broad, finance committee chair. Thanks to the influx, PBS’s FY14 budget contains an increase of $11 million for National Program Service content without a hike in dues for member stations. The draft budget, unanimously approved by the finance committee and full board, will arrive at public television stations in the coming weeks for comment. Total member assessment is $185.5 million, the same as FY13.

Microsoft mulls dropping Sesame interactive games

Microsoft is considering ending its Sesame Street interactive videogame series, the Wall Street Journal is reporting. The newspaper’s Digits blog cites unnamed sources as saying demand for the Xbox-based games is lacking. Sesame Workshop and Microsoft declined to speak for the story. The Microsoft-Sesame partnership to use Xbox 360 consoles fitted with Kinect motion-sensor technology to create educational games was announced in October 2011.

NPR’s Carl Kasell named ‘North Carolinian of the Year’

The longtime NPR announcer and current co-host/judge for NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! is a native of Goldsboro, N.C., who began his radio career in Goldsboro.  As a student, he helped found WUNC at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

New metasite showcases Localore projects

The Association of Independents in Radio will launch a metasite April 22 that combines its 10 Localore multimedia projects on a single interactive platform, showcasing the results of a yearlong production to develop broadcast and web content in cities across the United States. The website uses a map of the country to direct users to content that public media audiences first discovered on local stations. Designer Drew Schorno chose the map “as a way of representing the U.S. experience” of Localore, he said. A half-hour documentary, This Is Localore, will accompany the launch of the metasite, which will be unveiled during an April 22 event at the Brattle Theater in Boston. Producers from each of the Localore projects will join Sue Schardt, AIR executive director, and Noland Walker, Localore executive editor, in a Q&A session moderated by PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan.

Aereo prompts two networks to consider dropping over-the-air signals

Upstart television streamer Aereo “quite possibly” could bring down broadcast television, according to Fortune magazine. The service, which sells subscription access to broadcast signals via the Internet, has prompted Fox and Spanish-language Univision to actually consider going to an all-cable format. So far the other networks, including PBS, continue their legal fight to put Aereo out of business. And complicating all this is the emergence of a similar service, Aereokiller, which is waging its own legal battle — and that could end up before the Supreme Court.

Scarce funding limits public media’s response to gun debate

The mass shootings last year in Colorado, Wisconsin and Connecticut reawakened Americans to recurring tragedies of gun violence and rekindled a national debate about gun control — one that public radio and television have chronicled and analyzed through ongoing programs and the package of special broadcasts that aired on PBS last month.

WGBH gets almost $2 million from CPB to develop PBS LearningMedia assets

CPB is granting nearly $2 million to WGBH in Boston to expand middle-school math content available through PBS LearningMedia, pubcasting’s free online resource for educators. WGBH, with producing partners WNET in New York City, KET in Lexington, Ky., and KQED in San Francisco, will oversee development of more than 400 new digital resources. Contributing assets will be pubTV stations KUEN in Ogden, Utah; Maryland Public Television in Owings Mills; Alabama Public Television in Birmingham; KAET in Phoenix, Ariz.; KCPT in Kansas City, Mo.; and the National Minority Consortia. Resources will focus on addressing diversity and equity issues from multiple angles, CPB said in the announcement today, noting that many educators feel that digital approaches to teaching math are more effective than traditional techniques, particularly among students from diverse or minority backgrounds.