Ken Mills, a longtime public radio consultant and blogger about the industry, died Aug. 30 after a short illness. He was 75.
Mills “brought such a passion to public radio,” said Steve Martin, a friend and fellow consultant.
“He was very good at analyzing audience data,” Martin said. Mills had “a particular affinity” for music programming and supported jazz and community stations, Martin said.
Mills began sharing analysis and commentary on trends in the industry on his blog, Spark News, in 2014. He wrote that he aimed to “improve the quality and impact of our work, influence policy and shine a light on excellence and incompetence.”
He also worked as a consultant for more than two decades, helping stations create shows and get them on stations. Some of his clients included American Routes, WBEZ’s Sound Opinions and NPR’s Justice Talking.
Last year, Mills started the Public Radio Oral History Project to “preserve the voices and perspectives of the pioneers who blazed the public radio trail in America,” he wrote. Mills was concerned about the loss of insights from public radio pioneers. He hoped to complete dozens of interviews for the project and collected three as of February.
Mills was born in Huron, S.D. According to the South Dakota Rock & Roll Music Association, which inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2009, Mills began promoting bands in the state in high school through his company Ken Musical Enterprises.
“Music and Ken Mills were synonymous in the 60’s,” the organization wrote. “Whether he was booking bands, promoting or on the radio, Ken was a household name and he started his amazing career in high school. Most of the bands he managed and promoted would not have enjoyed the success they had without his guidance.”
Mills spent the early part of his radio career working for commercial rock stations, first as an announcer in 1967 and later as a founder and GM of a station. He got his start in public radio in 1986 as GM of KCSU in Fort Collins, Colo.
He later led KCSN in Los Angeles. He went on to work as director of news for Public Radio International before becoming an independent consultant.
In 1992, he authored a “Guidebook for Unattended Operations of Public Radio Stations” and was later co-editor of Independence and Integrity: A Guidebook for Public Radio Journalism, which was published by NPR.
Mills was “jolly” and had a “great upper Midwest sense of humor,” said Nick Spitzer, host of American Routes. The two met in 2008. Mills went on to serve as the show’s station representative.
“No station was too small or too too big for him to talk to,” Spitzer said.
He added that Mills was “very supportive of this idea of being somewhere between information and music and cultural presentation.” Mills gave Spitzer “a certain confidence in doing this eclectic show that both digs deep into what Americans share, but presents what diversifies Americans in the best sense.”
“It was always striking to me how much he could keep a positive attitude and try to turn whatever he was facing into something positive,” Martin said.
Mills was preceded in death by his parents and a sister, Lynn, and survived by his wife Linda Carter.