From the in-box: Helping KFAI, Tomorrow’s Book, North news

A grab-bag of morning news …

♦ KFAI — the public radio station Strib board chair Mike Sweeney isn’t complaining about — has suffered a listenership drop lately. Now, station management is looking for current and non-listeners to evaluate programming services and give advice on how to improve things. If you’d like to help out these very deserving folks, click here to fill out a 2-minute survey and perhaps become part of a January focus group.

♦ Last week, I wrote about the Duluth News Tribune accepting (or failing to accept) donations from readers.’s Beth Bly has a wide-ranging roundup of the business prospects and problems at a host of northern Minnesota media operations here.

♦ Minneapolis-based August Publications, which I know mostly for excellent Spring Training guides, has launched Tomorrow’s Books, which covers all things e-reader, content, tools and formats. If you’re a junkie for such tech, or an author, worth following.

♦ It’s not for a few weeks yet, but the Minnesota News Council and the League of Women Voters will host a pre-caucus gubernatorial debate Wednesday, Jan. 27, 6:30 p.m. at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention in Bloomington. It’s open to the public, but you have to pre-register, and journalists seeking credentials should contact Sarah Bauer. Moderators are MPR’s Gary Eichten, the Strib’s Lori Sturdevant, and Alexandria Echo Press Editor Al Edenloff. The DFL, GOP and Independence parties are caucusing on Tuesday, Feb. 2, by the way. Happy Groundhog Day!

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Dan Gustafson on 12/16/2009 - 05:20 pm.

    KFAI doesn’t have anything worth listening to. On top of that, their signal is or has been non-existant unless you live in the Wedge.

    Over the last decade, when hasn’t KFAI been asking for help? Give us your time, give us your money, listen to us lean to the left on every social and political issue in the world. There is no balance in the on air discussion, just what can we do for GLBT community today? That isn’t much of a dialogue.

    Furthermore, the on-air schedule, the last time I attempted to tune in, has a different show in the same hour every day of the week! How can one possibly connect to or digest anything that is different every single day?!?! There is a complete lack of consistency in programming.

    This survey DB refers to only confirms my opinion that the station is completely detached from anything resembling actual radio and or organizational responsibility. It had two or three questions with predetermined answers, and no place to actually give ones opinion on what to do to improve listernership. They want to meet with you face to face, but don’t really want to hear what they can do to improve.

    Sure they offer you airtime (one hour one time), but only after you have volunteered 20 or 30 hours doing their promos, and trying to work in a studio with 20 people. If you do want a show, make sure it is with music no one will listen to, have an opinion only 2% of America has, and dedicate your whole life to pushing the agenda of the paid staff as a volunteer. It’s no wonder no one listens.

  2. Submitted by Richard Parker on 12/16/2009 - 05:49 pm.

    KFAI presented an amazing program on the centennial of Johnny Mercer’s birth, NINE HOURS over three programs, featuring interviews with singers Andy Williams, Margaret Whiting, Johnny Mandel, Dave Frishberg, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, and more, Mercer biographer Philip Furia, plus archival audio of Mercer, Fred Astaire and others. KFAI personality David Cummings enlisted local bandleader Les Block to put it together with him. Cummings’ show, “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” is more eclectic than the title indicates — he features all kinds of nuggets of nostalgia and history, much of it rooted in the Twin Cities. A two-part interview with Noel Neill, for example, the Minneapolis-born actress who played Lois Lane on the 1950s “Superman” TV series. Only downside is that he’s on from 6 to 9 a.m. Wednesdays, pretty early for a lot of folks, and even with a power boost KFAI’s FM signal doesn’t come in real strongly everywhere. At home in Roseville I can get it at 90.3 sometimes, but not at all at 106.7. David’s show is streamed and archived with other programming at, however. It’s worth a listen, and the station is worth our support.

  3. Submitted by Richard Parker on 12/17/2009 - 12:47 am.

    Well, Dan, I disagree. See the above.

  4. Submitted by Dan Gustafson on 12/17/2009 - 08:34 am.

    Richard, we are going to have to agree to disagree.

    I had never heard of Johnny Mercer, and after Googling him I recognize a song he wrote–Hooray for Hollywood circa 1937. This is what I am talking about–the programming is so obscure and so out there an average listener will not be engaged. Furthermore, this topic is not worth nine hours of air time no matter who the guest speakers are.

    Here is a suggestion on a one hour program: do a piece on Brian Setzer. Here’s a guy most people 25-50 have heard, hasn’t sold his soul to the pop music industry, does stuff very differently (rock and roll with an orchestra) and lives in town!!!!! Way more interesting, but still an alternative to Clear Channel radio.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/17/2009 - 11:04 am.

    Seems to be a generational thing going on here.

    Dan G. has probably heard any number of Johnny Mercer’s songs, among them Moon River, Accentuate the Positive, Autumn Leaves, Blues in the Night, Days of Wine & Roses, I’m Old Fashioned, Lazy Bones, On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe, One for My Baby, The Summer Wind and You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.

    On the other hand, who is Brian Seltzer?

  6. Submitted by Dan Gustafson on 12/17/2009 - 11:49 am.

  7. Submitted by Dan Gustafson on 12/17/2009 - 11:58 am.

  8. Submitted by Adam Mehl on 12/17/2009 - 12:15 pm.

    I would like to clarify that the survey linked here is for individuals take to be considered for our focus groups being held in January.

    This survey’s purpose is to gather a variety of information on listeners and non-listeners, which we will use to construct focus groups that represent a wide range of community members. The reason there is not the opportunity to give feedback on the station is because the focus groups will be serving that purpose.

    Additionally, a survey asking for people’s opinions will be available soon, also in January. This will be where those who wish to give their feed back on the station and programming content, those who were not selected for the focus group, or those who are unable to attend the groups can give their opinions for KFAI to consider and improve the stations service to the community.

    If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.

    Adam Mehl
    KFAI Program Director

  9. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 12/17/2009 - 12:48 pm.

    I’d like to be supportive of KFAI since I finally got a car that will pull in their signal here in Midway, but that survey form was written by activists to make sure only activists will participate.

    Seriously: worst form I’ve seen in ages. Not only do they erect barriers to participation, but they try to dissuade you from participating.

    Why does a station that barely covers the metro area need a drop down menu for you to indicate what state you’re in?

    Eight-member panels? Has anyone ever seen a panel that large that was capable of dealing with the issue at hand?

    This all sounds very familiar to me. It sounds as if KFAI is trying to reform itself like the DFL does: grudgingly and with no intention of following up if they don’t like the input.

    As for their programming, a little more obscurity would serve them well. If you don’t know who Johnny Mercer was, you probably don’t know enough about radio to help with programming decisions. The only music programming I object to from community stations is when they play music I’ve already heard on the radio. That’s left end of the dial FAIL in my book. KFAI gives you more Getatchew Mekurya and less Patsy Cline, and yes that’s a shot at The Current, the worst left-end-of-the-dial trespasser we’ve got.

  10. Submitted by Dan Gustafson on 12/17/2009 - 02:44 pm.


    We agree on the form. It’s awful, for all the reasons you state.

    Respectufully, I don’t agree on the fail on the left hand side of the dial as you indicate. KMOJ seems to do well with some popular and some obscure content and labels itself, “The People’s Station”. According to their website, 84,000 individuals per week tune in, and it’s way left on the dial. The station is mostly volunteer, serves the underserved in the media, emphasizes positivity, and trains volunteers for the commercial broadcast industry.

    As far as programming goes, you are right I’m no program director, and the examples given can be picked apart by anyone. What I do know is typically obscure content whether music or talk has a smaller audience, while popular content seems to have a larger audience. Finding the correct blend, in my opinion, is what KFAI needs to do given the whole point of DB’s note the station needs more listeners. One of his other posts suggest that the audience for KFAI has fallen 60% over five years to 22,600 per week. That’s a fail on the left end of the dial in my book.

  11. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 12/17/2009 - 06:41 pm.

    KMOJ is a great example of what the left end of the dial should sound like.

    When I first got to the Twin Cities in the late ’80s, I listened to KFAI all the time. Now it seems they try to serve too many communities, and fail all of them as a result.

    Public service programming isn’t that hard. Local news, and music/etc. that you can’t hear on commercial stations.

  12. Submitted by Martin Owings on 02/10/2010 - 01:43 am.

    In response to Dan Gustufson and to a lesser extent Mark Gisleson. Many of the things you point out about KFAI I agree with, though painfully so. The different station every hour thing, the lack of focus and so on….all true. It pains me to read your comments, but I definitely share some of the exact same concerns.

    I think the first step toward fixing something that is broken is admitting there is a problem. KFAI has done that and now it seems they’re working hard on fixing it. I’m not a spokesman for the station, nor am I paid by them, but I do volunteer and value their presence in the community as an independent information source.

    More than just telling them what’s wrong though, I think we should get involved. I’ve shared ideas with them on how improvements could be made and I’ve volunteered my time and energy in trying to improve the station in positive ways. Something you may want to consider, if not by getting involved directly, maybe by helping out through the survey or a phone conversation with the management or volunteer board. I think they’d be receptive to your input. And if you’ve tried in the past, try again!

    Here’s a part of what the station is doing that I can speak to directly and even defend with confidence.

    As someone who covers politics at the Capitol I challenge anyone to give me one single example of our (KFAI’s) coverage of State or local politics in the past year that was in any way blatantly biased. The reason you won’t be able to is simple, it does not happen in our local political coverage in my experience.

    Last session we ran more stories on House and Senate Republicans than we did DFLers, many of them favorable. In addition, we ran stories critical of the DFL including individual Law Makers, certain policies and strategy as we did with the GOP. It was balanced, fair and accurate by any measure. I know because I provided the coverage.

    We’ve had GOP and DFL legislators as guests when the issues called for their insights and we’ve done it without bias toward one party or the other. We let them do the talking so you can decide the issues.

    I realize this goes against the trend of infotainment and partisan commentary that passes for news these days, but I think KFAI’s local political coverage and news team is committed to being better than that and I think we are delivering in exciting new ways that only public radio can provide.

    While you may be able to point to general stories or features that focus strictly on “liberal” or “progressive” issues in the community, they aren’t coming from our Capitol coverage. I know the station airs Democracy Now at Noon everyday and perhaps that’s what your referring to when you say “listen to us lean to the left on every social and political issue in the world.”

    While I freely admit to not following KFAI’s local political coverage 5 years ago, my experience for the past year and a half has been that KFAI is far from a DFL echo chamber when it comes to the work I do at the Capitol.

    At the end of the day all you or I have is our character, would you jeopardize that for the opportunity to grind an axe or two?

    If you still have questions about the fairness or balance in our local political coverage, I suggest you contact Representatives Tom Emmer, Seifert, Zellers, Brod, Drazkowski, Buesgens, Dean or Senators Limmer, Senjem, Hann or any other GOP Legislator and ask them what they think of our coverage. You’re welcome to ask the same of the DFL and if you ever want to discuss these issues with me directly I am at your disposal and would be happy to address your questions or concerns.

    If you are indeed interested in hearing what we’re up to these days with our local political coverage, I’d ask that you take a listen to the Gubernatorial Forum we just broadcast this past Monday. Here is a link and feel free to let us know your thoughts.

    KFAI’s management, Board of Directors, News Department, as well as our Capitol Team and the many committed volunteers are all working hard to improve the station and connect listeners to independent content as well as news and issues that directly effect their communities and their lives. I think most Minnesotan’s agree that there is great value in that.

    Thank you,
    Marty Owings

  13. Submitted by Andy Driscoll on 02/10/2010 - 07:26 pm.

    All right, Mr. Gustafson – let’s take these points one-by-one.

    First of all, it’s clear that anyone not firmly ensconced on the political right is to be dismissed as lacking worth. You must have listened to this eclectic station 24 hours a day for at least one full week: 28 totally different programs (Amy Goodman’s Democracy NOW! and KFAI’s afternoon newscasts the only programs repeated daily-for the time being). I commend you for listening so conscientiously to form your well-researched opinion on the worth of KFAI programs.

    Our mission – the very reason for our existence – is that we make radio programs geared to audiences otherwise underrepresented and underserved in the Twin Cities market – the GLBT community is one of those with its hour-and-a-half per week. This does not make us a left-leaning station; but I concede to no one our place on the social justice spectrum informing and raising the consciousness of citizens, advocates and policymakers alike that may provide a counterweight to the plethora of right-wing talk stations that do nothing else 24-hours a day than to bash the progressive left and promote a conservative political and social agenda. Those are the dominant voices in talk radio – here and everywhere – by a factor of 15-1, and citizens have a right to hear and contribute to the other end of that spectrum.

    We offer programs in something like 15 or 20 languages. Do KSTP, WCCO, KQ, MPR offer any? They don’t. Fine, but without some means of building community through communication they can understand, our new neighbors would have few opportunities to connect.

    So, in our quest to garner a larger share of the Twin Cities audience, we must not lose sight of that mission, even as we bring more people the programming they need to live in a democracy–public affairs discussions, solid news reporting and entertaining music.

    But, Dan is right on one count: our schedule’s been too eclectic, and we must program the station to better match the listening habits of radio fans. This does not concede the claim that we shouldn’t provide programming to audiences no other station can or does.

    Yes, the signal is always comparatively weak. Why? Because KFAI was licensed as a low-power community-owned public broadcasting facility. We were never meant to compete with the commercial big boys, even through we try to program most of shows as professionally as possible. I know that I bring all of my 50 years in the broadcasting industry to bear on my weekly show, TruthToTell.

    Still, KFAI: 1) boosted power from 30 to 900 watts a couple of years ago and, together with our St. Paul booster signal, we now cover three times the Metro Area; and 2) our antenna, once buried atop the Foshay Tower (once the tallest building in Minneapolis) among surrounding skyscrapers, now rises off the top of the IDS Building. Our signal has improved five-fold.

    Now, I ask you: over the last four decades, when has MPR not gone begging for help – or tpt-Channel 2, for that matter? Never is the answer. Public stations like us and KMOJ and KBEM, live by the donation, the contribution, the grant–and the thousands of volunteer hours we spend producing and programming our KFAI shows.
    Not one of us is paid. We’re all volunteers. Five-plus staffers run the station. The rest are volunteers – 200+ of them.

    As for the survey – as Program Director Adam Mehl points out – what you found online was an old recruitment survey for focus groups that have now met and rendered their report, which should have been taken down once the participants had been selected. Another, broader, survey will give regulars and irregulars alike a chance to tell us how they listen to radio – what they tune into and when – during the day and/or week.

    What other station, Dan, offers ANY time for your to speak your mind on the air during an hour in which you can say anything your heart desires as long as the FCC wouldn’t haul you up on charges for it? No one, is what. I don’t know, personally, whether I’d put a floor under your ability to qualify for programming that hour – that is, I suspect that the volunteer hours requirement to produce one of our Sunday WAVE projects should be dropped. Access is access.

    That said – and it’s a lot said, if you find nothing worth listening to, your choices in this market are too many to even count, and you’re welcome to them. Sure, we’d like your listenership and your support – money and volunteer time – but, don’t try to make us something we can never be: a regular commercial outlet that plays the same thing day in and day out, 24-7, or simply cannot cover the news and public affairs topics that hit close to home as we try to do.

    KFAI is just fine as long as don’t let go of the dual purpose of serving our constituents even as we work our way into a competitive market position for wider audiences as well.

    Andy Driscoll, Producer/Host
    TruthToTell (11:00A-1200P Wednesdays)

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