Taking radio everywhere is a great challenge

What a great time to be part of the National Public Radio family. Our audience is growing. Donations and underwriting are up and the future holds plenty of opportunity to make things even better.

I’m not the only one feeling this way, as I’ve been hanging out with public media colleagues from across the country this week at the Integrated Media Association and South by Southwest conferences in Austin, Texas. The upbeat attitude I feel after two months in the public radio fold is just as  addicting as the BBQ and blues that permeate this proudly funky and authentic city that feels more like New Orleans than any other place I’ve visited in the Lone Star state.

I’ve been reminded several times this week of some key differences between the newspaper and public radio ecosystems. The greatest of these is the oft-repeated mantra that general circulation metropolitan  print newspapers aren’t long for this world. Gary Knell, NPR president and CEO, said in an address to the iMA conference, “No one under the age of 30 is reading a newspaper. I don’t mean 20 percent. I mean no one. What does that mean to the future of our content, and what does that mean to the future of our country at a time when we need an educated population to make up their own minds about the critical decisions that people are going to need to make about America’s role in this globalized world?”

The plethora of news on the Internet is one of the reasons for the decline of the print newspaper, coupled with the lack of commitment to training sales forces to sell digital advertising. The newspaper industry is scrambling to add “pay walls” to their Internet sites as a way to generate new revenue. Critics are divided about the wisdom of this move, which I see as a last-ditch effort to recover lost advertising dollars that are now going to other media channels. A story earlier this week said one dollar of online advertising revenue is being generated for every seven dollars of lost print advertising revenue in the newspaper industry.

The second greatest difference I’ve noticed is that I’ve never heard the term “pay wall” in any public broadcasting conversation. It just isn’t on the table, and won’t be, as that’s not in the revenue mix for public radio. The unique blend of revenue streams for public broadcasting include corporate underwriting, major donors, listener and viewer contributions and an ever-shrinking slice of government funding.

I overheard a hallway conversation this week that included the statement: “People don’t give money to things they like. They give money to things they love.” Many people genuinely love NPR and their local NPR member stations. I’ve answered phones during member station fund drives and got my first behind the scenes experience at the recent fund drive at Capital Public Radio. The passion for the mission is just as strong on the inside of NPR as it is by those that love the product.

Public radio is mission driven, and that mission is to always put the listener first. It shows in the quality of journalism done by NPR and its member stations. That’s journalism with a capital “J.” Regular NPR listeners understand and appreciate the quality of what they hear in news stories and features that consistently deliver interesting and important information. If you know what a “driveway moment”  is you’re  not only an NPR listener, but probably a proud contributor.

“Radio isn’t going away. Radio is going everywhere,” Knell told his audience consisting mostly of public broadcasters.

He’s spot-on, as NPR is so much more than radio, with a mission of education and transforming content into digital channels. That’s why I’m now part of the team at Capital Public Radio, as director of digital content. It’s our mission to get our content to our audiences whenever they are and on whatever platforms they’re using. This includes websites, mobile applications, podcasts, social media channels and other emerging platforms.

Radio today is so much more than the radio of 40 years ago. More and more of our stories include photo slide shows and video storytelling. Thanks to the rapid growth of broadband Internet, local is now global. Our audience tunes-in online and listens to live and on-demand programs via our mobile apps from every continent. Some open their wallets during fund drives, too. They must love what they’re getting from us.

The opportunities are tremendous. We’re committed to continuing to deliver the quality journalism, extraordinary music and educational enlightenment that you expect and deserve. We’ll be adding new ways to make it easier for our audience to participate and be heard. The evolution of media is putting more smartphones, tablets and other connected devices into the hands of more people every day. Know that public radio is committed to playing an ever-increasing part of keeping you informed, educated and entertained. Just like you, we’re going everywhere.


Listen to Gary Knell’s speech at the Integrated Media Association conference:



Visit Capital Public Radio:




Saturday night fire

My weekend plans went up in smoke late Saturday night. Literally. Actually, there was a lot more flame than smoke, as a unit in my apartment building was gutted by fire. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the blaze, which was the first time I was on the “victim” side of a news story.

I was awakened at about 11:10 p.m. by the sound of pounding on the front door of my apartment. which I had moved into exactly two weeks earlier. “Fire! Fire!” was the next thing I heard, as neighbors were making sure everyone was aware of the inferno raging in unit 26. I live in unit 23,which is on the ground level, and one unit to the right of the upstairs apartment that was ablaze. I put on my slippers and headed for the door, and knew immediately the shouts were serious.

The building that faces mine sits about 25-feet across a small lawn. It was glowing orange from the flames, which were literally flowing like a trio of an upward waterfalls of fire from the door and two windows of the  unit.

I grabbed my jacket and iPhone and headed to the sidewalk in front of the adjacent building. People were still checking on each apartment unit. There was no sense of panic, just concern for neighbors. I heard sirens in the distance, but the fire department hadn’t arrived yet. I started shooting video with my iPhone. First a 50-second clip, then two shorter ones. In between I called my wife, Diane, who was back at our Las Vegas home. She was concerned, and I had to assure her several times that I was fine and that my apartment was not burning. I sent her the first video clip via a text message, then called her back. I did play-by-play of the scene unfolding before me. I felt like I was watching a well-scripted play. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but I never felt afraid, just concerned that everyone was out of the fire and okay.

About that time the fire department was ready to douse the flames. I was surprised see how quickly the blaze was transformed to smoke, sparks and ashes. The fire had met its match. In the meantime, I met the young  man who lives in the unit above mine, who up to this time I knew only by the sound of creaking  floorboards as he and his wife moved around. I learned she had a baby on Dec. 27th. They were both safely out of the apartment and gone to a warmer place. Josh, my new acquaintance, was wearing a headlamp, and seemed to be the most in-control person there until the Sacramento Fire Department showed up.

Here’s what I saw when I opened my apartment door and looked up, and to the right:

I counted 15 firefighters working the blaze. I was told Monday that a press release from the fire department said the number was actually 30. I learned the name of the young girl living in the now-gutted apartment is Alexis. She lost everything. Prior to the fire, I’d only seen her coming-or-going twice since I moved in, but I am always very careful to not hit her truck as I park in the covered lot. Since the fire, I’ve met her and her boyfriend, her aunt and mother. Nice folks.

Not long after the fire was out, the firefighters began tossing all the charred items from the apartment over the balcony railing and out of the windows. There were skeletons of bikes, a crispy sewing machine cabinet, a toasted futon frame and a stick of a Christmas tree still attached  to a tree stand.

I learned later that the long-dried-out tree was the likely source of the blaze, and that Alexis and some neighbors had tried in vain to put out the fire using extinguishers mounted to the outside of the buildings. The flames were too much, and they decided to get away from the quickly spreading blaze inside the apartment.

Just as the debris pile was growing, I noticed a photographer with a professional camera and bag of gear and press credentials slung around his neck  had shown up. I recognized the look, as that’s exactly what I did for so many years as a photojournalist, shooting pictures at news scenes of all types. I introduced myself and he did the same. His name is Ed Fogel, and he works as an independent journalist providing images, video and news stories to multiple news organizations. I showed him the video clips on my iPhone, and he asked me to email them to him. He then interviewed me on-camera as an eye-witness to the blaze.

Ed later Sunday sent me a link to the piece he put together on the fire. Here’s the link:


The utilities to my apartment had to be turned off, so I grabbed a flashlight and headed in to pack a bag and grab some things, as the Red Cross was on the way. A firefighter had asked me if I had a place to stay, as my apartment would be off-limits for a while. When I said, “no,” he told me stick around, and that “the Red Cross will be sure you have a place to stay tonight.” He put an extra “humph” into the “sure,” which told me everything would be alright.

I spent about 20 minutes in my apartment, and after seeing water dripping from the living room ceiling and squishing in the carpet below the drips, I moved my kitchen trash can into position to catch the water. I then sloshed through about a half-inch of water on the bathroom floor and also found a small puddle on the bedroom closet floor. All of this, I assumed, was water from the dousing the firefighters used to knock out the flames. I unplugged everything and moved the living room furniture away from the walls.

I packed a couple of suitcases and loaded them into my truck, then went up to a man wearing a Red Cross vest and hard hat. I counted seven or eight Red Cross people there and later found out they are all volunteers. I now think of the Red Cross as a team of professional volunteers, as these guys really knew what they were doing. We went into the apartment complex office to fill out some paperwork. The whole process took about 30 minutes, and I left with two debit cards bearing both MasterCard and Red Cross logos. One was for $50 to be used for food and the other was for $260-plus to be used for three nights in a hotel. I could tell these Red Cross guys had done this before. I barely had a question, as they covered all the bases with precision.

I got to my hotel at 3 a.m., and was wide-awake. I tapped out my story in an email on my iPhone to family and friends. I called Diane again, and after trying in vain to connect to the free Wi-Fi, decided to get some sleep. I peaked outside to see the morning sky was starting to lighten. Another sunrise. “All is good,” I said to myself. The next four hours of rest were interrupted a couple of times by calls from my insurance company, who I had called earlier, and the manager of the apartment complex. I jotted some notes and apologized to them for sounding groggy.

I went back to the apartment around noon Sunday to get some things from the refrigerator and grab some more clothes. I knocked on the door and introduced myself to my neighbor in unit 21. Her name is Wendy. She said she was at home during the fire, and we swapped our tales from 12 hours earlier. I also met Josh’s wife, Paulo, and their baby.

I got a call today asking me to meet a fire investigator hired by my insurance company at 12:30. I was happy to see the porch light at my unit on, and saw the complex’s maintenance supervisor who said the gas and water would also be turned back on shortly.

A short meeting with Tara, the manager of my complex, and Mike, the maintenance supervisor, left me feeling that I may not be back into my apartment until Wednesday. There’s a large industrial fan blowing across the wet carpet and a dehumidifier the size of  dinette table  in my living room, sucking the extra moisture from the room. Mike said a section of the carpet pad was cut-out, and would be replaced with a new section when the rug is dried out. Everything else seemed to be in good order, aside from a slight smokey odor. Mike assured me my place would be deodorized before they give me the all-clear to return.

Again, I’m so thankful that everyone survived the fire. It could have been much worse. I wouldn’t wish going through a fire, even as the least-effected person displaced, on anyone. The best part of the weekend is that I got to meet my neighbors, and I had my faith in humanity reinforced.

How good is your password?

One of the first things I did on my new job at Capital Public Radio this week is set up a password for logging in to my computer.

The IT staff here included not only instructions on how to sign-in to the system, but a list of examples of both strong and weak passwords. Included on the “bad” list are: Corny1, Coolguy1 and BarrN0ne.

The “good” list includes: B1gShOt1, Am4z1ng and th3C4t5m30w.

I think you get the idea that it’s much better to include a mix of non-alphabetic characters, upper- and lower-case characters and base 10 digits (0 through 9).

It’s a good time to review your own passwords, and take steps to make them more secure. I’m guessing some of you are using “password” as your password somewhere. That’s not good.

A friend sent along a link to a story listing the top 25 worst passwords from the Internet Crime Complaint Center. These include: 1234567, letmein and qwerty.

Read the story: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2011/12/is-your-password-on-this-list-ic3-releases-top-25-hacker-guesses/

Go change your passwords. Now.

My new job

I’m very happy to announce that I’m starting a new job in less than 12 hours, as I will become the Director of Digital Content at Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, Calif.

I report to the office at 9 a.m. on Jan. 9th, the same day that the International Consumer Electronics Show starts in Las Vegas. I’ve covered CES for many years, but couldn’t be more excited about missing it this time. I’ll rely on several media outlets to help me keep tabs on the newest trends and forecasts for what gizmos we’ll be using in the near future (think ‘tablets’).

Stay tuned for more from The Online Guy, as my attention to the digital and interactive media shifts from the newspaper world to the universe of public radio. I look forward to this tremendous opportunity and figuring out what it means to be a commuting couple, as my wife Diane will remain in Las Vegas.

I invite you to visit the Capital Public Radio site: http://www.capradio.org and to download the CapRadio iPhone and iPad apps.

Thanks for your continued support!


NYTimes has an “oops” moment

Have you ever sent a message to a group of people when your intention was to send it only to one or two recipients? It happens to me when I receive a group text message and somehow reply to all, when I only wanted the sender to get my note.

Well, it happens to even the big boys, as the New York Times today sent email notices to a few more folks than they intended. Like millions more. How about 8.6 million more?


I got the message early this morning about my expired home delivery subscription and offer of a discounted renewal, and after a quick glance, immediately routed it to the trash box. I didn’t pay it much heed, as I’ve never had the NY Times delivered to my home.

Then the buzz began across the Internet, as the message, which was intended for just a small group of lapsed subscribers, began flooding in boxes. Tweets were flying and Facebook updates pointed out the snafu.

To the Times’ credit, I received an apology email this afternoon. It read:

Dear New York Times Reader, 

You may have received an e-mail today from The New York Times with the subject line “Important information regarding your subscription.” 

This e-mail was sent by us in error. Please disregard the message. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused. 


The New York Times

If you wonder why your Interned connection had a hiccup today, it may have been those 17.2 million extra emails flying through cyberspace. I also wonder how many people signed up for the discounted home delivery.

Read an AFP story about the erroneous NYTimes email:


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