With the $120-million sale of for-profit sister company Rivertown Trading to Dayton Hudson, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) gains a secure subsidy while ridding itself of a longtime public relations problem. The Minnesota Communications Group–parent of MPR and the for-profit Greenspring Co.–announced March 23 it was selling the catalog business to the Minneapolis-based retail giant, parent of department store chains including Target and Marshall Field. MPR and Greenspring President Bill Kling and two other top execs share the bulk of $7.3 million in payouts under a plan previously laid down by their boards of directors. But the big beneficiary is MPR, which gets about $90 million of the net proceeds to add to its existing $19 million endowment fund, giving it by far the largest endowment in public radio. The endowment should give MPR annual income equal to the average $4-million-a-year contribution Rivertown made to the network over the last 10 years of its existence.
It may be a simple question–are PRI and NPR talking about a merger?–but that doesn’t mean it gets a simple answer. To keep their options open, the presidents of the two networks are employing nuances that reach beyond the English of newspaper headlines and into metaphysical realms of potentiality. Asked to clarify their positions Feb. 19 , NPR’s Delano Lewis said talks with PRI are still ongoing and PRI’s Stephen Salyer said they’re not, “currently.” Lewis was questioned at the NPR Board meeting after trade periodicals delivered conflicting assessments that both came from Salyer:
“NPR-PRI merger talks are off, says Salyer,” said the headline of Current’s Feb.
The KALW situation is marked by problems and issues resonant in public radio. Most familiar: distress with institutional licensee.
As the prospective new owner of jazz station WDCU took constant heat over the past month from jazz lovers and public radio officials, another potential buyer was visibly waiting in the wings. The persistence paid off: Earlier this month, C-SPAN assumed Salem Communication’s $13 million bid for the Washington, D.C., station. Commercial broadcaster Salem, which owns one of the nation’s biggest religious radio chains, was facing a fight to close the WDCU transaction. A citizen’s advocacy group was set to file an FCC challenge, questioning the nonprofit bona fides of the corporation that Salem set up to purchase the station. NPR was considering filing its own challenge.
This American Life is unlike anything on public radio. But what would you expect from a man who once devoted an hour of Talk of the Nation to an imaginary presidential inaugural ball? The iconoclastic weekly program, on the air nationally since June 1996, already is a success by several objective measures — most notably, a Peabody Award in its first year. (“Holy cow, I’ve never seen that before!,” says an impressed producer.) Within 10 months, 111 stations picked up This American Life, including the big stations in nine of the top 10 markets (D.C. is the holdout). Recently, CPB’s Radio Program Fund gave the show a three-year $350,000 award — about twice what the show was seeking.
Observers are watching hopefully as Laura Walker, the first CEO hired to run WNYC as a private entity, sets out to double WNYC’s weekly cume and make it a high-energy, high-profile and spiritually indigenous New York cultural and news center.
With no vocal opposition to a CPB task force’s proposal to add audience size to the criteria for radio station grants, the CPB Board unanimously approved the policy Jan. 22. Endorsing the proposal will “send a strong message to stations on the edge that they must try harder,” said task force member Mike Lazar, g.m. of WNIU/WNIJ, DeKalb, Ill., before the board vote. Another task force member, Tom Thomas of the Station Resource Group, estimated
that one in six stations will have to improve its audience service to meet
the new requirements, which take effect in 1998. “The overall majority of
stations that now enjoy the support of the corporation will be doing so in
three, four and five years out.”
Indian country’s first satellite radio network is set to launch Oct. 31 with a weekday hourlong anthology of native programming
from producers around the country. Supported by a 27-month, $459,000 grant from CPB, American Indian Radio
on Satellite (AIROS) will link about 25 tribal stations in 10 states
— many on reservations where radio is the sole telecommunications
service. AIROS directors see the network as a first step toward an ambitious
goal: building and linking stations on 250 Indian reservations. “It’s historic,” says Susan Braine, an Assiniboine Sioux, who
has been the network’s one-woman staff since January.