Friday, June 27, 2008

I Create Nothing . . . I Own

A wise friend told me once, "There are people of substance, and there are people of process. People of substance create. People of process control." Max Wycisk is a person of process, who controls objects--including people--by moving the pieces around on a big board. Clearly, he is not a significant person of substance.

As you can see from his brief resume below (a resume, I might add, that seems slightly longer than the entire history of Colorado Public Radio to which he has been a seminal and significant part), Wycisk has spent his entire public radio career (so far as one can tell) at one radio station; one radio network.

Of course, Max Wycisk presided over his organization (for 25 years) during its transition from university-licensed KCFR-FM at the University of Denver, to Colorado Public Radio (CPR) and back into KCFR-FM (on July 9, 2008), and he has done a lot during that time. Over the course of his tenure, Colorado Public Radio's state-wide network has become the biggest repeater of National Public Radio news in the entire state; reaching (according to CPR statement from Arbitron) 330,000 listeners per week. The substance of Max Wycisk--his particular genius--is creating radio stations. But, during the last 25 of his particular genius, what else has he created?

With large federal subsidies, he created the Classical Public Radio Network (see the post below). Next week, the Classical Public Radio Network experiment folds (for the most part). More recently, Max Wycisk created Colorado Matters; a 30-minute, 5-times per week (not including repeats) local news program produced by between 8 and 13 people. *Just a few years ago, Colorado Matters produced 1 hour of content, 5-times per week (not including repeats) with only 4 staffers. Most recently, Max Wycisk presided over Colorado Public Radio's conversion to HD Radio; conversions heavily subsidized (once again) by federal tax dollars channeled to CPR through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Finally, next week, CPR moves its news channel, KCFR, from 1340-AM back to its former home on 90.1-FM through an $8.2 million bond-financing deal arranged by Public Radio Capital, an organization which shares office space in Centennial, Colorado with--you guessed it--Colorado Public Radio.

Assuming that Colorado Public Radio can sell the (a) 1340-AM frequency, (b) the land it acquired at Ruby Hill in Denver, Colorado (the former home of KVOD), and (c) the AM antenna and equipment, it stands to reason that Colorado Public Radio will be able to retire some debt from the original purchase of 1340-AM (in 2001) or even offset the current, multi-million dollar deal. With all of this extra radio air space, it also stands to reason that Colorado Public radio could broadcast more diverse radio content on the side channels of its HD Radio-equipped Denver FM stations; KCFR on 90.1-FM and KVOD on 88.1-FM. However, CPR probably will not broadcast more diverse and interesting radio content, precisely because it cannot acquire or create more diverse and interesting radio content.

Why can't Colorado Public Radio seem to acquire or create programming? Follow the money. CPR pays a lot of subscriber dollars (in the form of NPR and other dues) to acquire National Public Radio (NPR), American Public Media (APM) and Public Radio International (PRI) content; which is why CPR broadcasts endless repeat hours of Morning Edition, All Things Considered, the BBC World Service, etc. The price of these programs to CPR is based upon the population of the Denver-Boulder metro market.

Since CPR has not appreciably grown the Denver-Boulder public radio market (Denver and Colorado listenship and subscribership have simply increased as a function of people moving to Denver and Colorado from outside the state since the late 1980s), Colorado Public Radio has no more public radio programming to push from Denver to its series of stations and translators (its repeaters) throughout Colorado. Because CPR chose to acquire frequencies and build stations instead of creating distinctive, distributable content, it has no additional financial resources now to create local radio shows for the airwaves it so tightly programs--except, perhaps for KCFR (Sometimes) Presents with Dan Drayer (former Host and Executive Producer of Colorado Matters), and KCFR Showcase, a re-purposing of content from other public radio sources which Colorado Public Radio claims as its own by re-branding it KCFR. In short, it's about programming a radio format from a national distributor, not about programming local radio shows for a discrete audience--the same complaint listeners regularly make about commercial radio content from entities like Clear Channel! It's generic and automated.

So, what does Max Wycisk do when there is everything to do? He decides to run for the NPR Board of Directors, of course! As you can see from the bullet points from the questionnaire posted to the site if Western States Public Radio, an organization to which (it seems) Colorado Public Radio is a nominal member, Max Wycisk has big ideas:

If elected to the NPR Board, on what Board Committee – or in connection with what issue – do you believe you have the most to offer NPR?

The primary issues I see for the NPR Board will need to be dealt with by the Board as a whole. These issues center on the need for clearer and more productive working relationships with NPR member stations. Examples:
  • Improving the NPR governance and management process, with the goal of creating greater internal accountability at NPR and greater external accountability to NPR member stations.
  • Marshaling the public radio system's capacity to support common activities such as news-gathering.
  • Working to develop more effective ways of using new media to maximize the strengths of public radio's local/national structure.
As is evident from his answers above, Max Wycisk is the perfect bureaucrat--a consummate man of process. I suspect that he will not be merely satisfied with NPR Board Membership, but rather, that he is actually running for NPR Board President. Since Colorado Public Radio spent a great of amount of time and effort dealing with its own Nonprofit Board Governance and Station Management last year (which came to light during embarrassing public airing of its own internal processes), Wycisk suggests that more efficient, complete and accountable processes are the perfect remedies for healing a rift among NPR Management, the NPR Board and NPR Member stations.

Let's be clear about what is happening with media in America--all types of media, not just non-commercial radio. Media is fragmenting. Fewer viewers are tuning in to broadcast television; most especially broadcast news. Fewer listeners are tuning in to broadcast radio; AM, FM, commercial, and non-commercial radio. At best, HD Radio is idling at the starting line despite its boosters' constant jawboning of it while simultaneously challenging the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger. Non-commercial television and radio have always had significantly smaller audiences than commercial broadcasters--which is one major reason why non-commercial broadcasters still receive federal and state subsidies. Of course there are notable exceptions. National Public Radio's Morning Edition and All Things Considered are #2 and #3, behind the Rush Limbaugh Show. And in some media markets, local public radios stations even compete in the Top 5 or Top 10 (Seattle, Washington and Boston, Massachusetts come to mind).

Today, consumers have a wider variety of news and entertainment sources from which to choose--and many of them are available on demand-including a significant amount of NPR content. This new media landscape has created many dilemmas for the traditional National Public Radio/Member Station relationship. However, process-related solutions will not lead to the next evolutionary step in public radio network-affiliate relations. Creativity will. Onerous processes will simply consume more scarce resources during tough economic times. Process-believing bureaucrats like Max Wycisk love to talk about accountability, internal and external, but when the it comes to evaluating performance (otherwise known as laying blame), process-bureaucrats will just simply reshuffle or entirely remake the organizational chart to shift accountability elsewhere. Or better yet, they just move on to some other project, leaving former responsibilities forgotten or past duties undone.

As for marshaling the public radio system's capacity to support common activities such as news-gathering, one wonders what Max Wycisk is doing now with his existing "statewide network" capacity. As mentioned above, Colorado Public Radio has no shortage of airspace. See their coverage map here. What discrete content does CPR broadcast to the local markets its satellite stations occupy throughout Colorado? None! All content is pushed to outlying areas of the state from the Colorado Public Radio mother ship located in Centennial, Colorado.

Colorado Public Radio cannot even manage to broadcast localized weather to the four corners of its coverage area. Does Colorado Public Radio do sports reporting? No. Does Colorado Public Radio do traffic reporting? No. Does Colorado Public Radio do local news? Yes--so long as local is defined as Colorado, and so far as reading stories from the Associated Press newswire counts as local news. A search of the word "beetle" on the Colorado Matters website nets 23 hits. A search for "carbon" nets 21 hits. But to be fair, there is some overlap. Who'd have guessed that Colorado Matters could combine carbon footprint with pine beetle! Now there's local news you can use! But, I digress. Does Colorado Public Radio gather news? Yes. As mentioned above, their ratio of news staff to actual content is astounding--astoundingly embarrassing. How is Max Wycisk qualified to marshal all of this capacity as an NPR Board Member when he cannot seem to manage it meaningfully and measurably at the local and statewide level? Accountability indeed!

When it comes to working to develop more effective ways of using new media to maximize the strengths of public radio's local/national structure, Max Wycisk has an ace in the hole, however. His name is Jim Paluzzi; Colorado Public Radio's Vice President of New Media and Technology. He is very well known among the NPR and Member Station elite as a unique and valuable talent. So, Wycisk hopes to use Paluzzi--superimposing true creativity--upon the structures and processes of the National Public Radio and Member Station hierarchy. For Colorado Public Radio, this means that they may finally have to start playing nicely and fairly with other public radio entities. Since CPR is cash-strapped during recessive economic times, in a media market with no affordable non-commercial radio frequencies left to acquire (including existing public radio stations that it can bribe behind closed doors), it cannot continue to build stations--to own people and pieces and to manipulate them on the public radio terrain. Of course historically, Max Wycisk hates cooperating with other people--including people at other public radio organizations--unless he is left with no other choice. Has a new day dawned? Has Wycisk seen the light? Hardly.

Question: How many Vice Presidents does it take Colorado Public Radio to run a statewide public radio network?

That said, want to wager that one of Wycisk's first goals as a Member of the NPR Board will be to pressure NPR Management (its Member Station Liaisons) to rework the due's structure to favor major-market stations and statewide networks like Denver-based Colorado Public Radio? Bet on it! After all, Wycisk can't afford to compete with stations like 91.5-FM KUNC in Denver so long as they continue to poach public radio listeners in Denver, Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins while paying the small market rate for NPR, APM and PRI programming.

Membership within the Western States Public Radio consortium presumably lends Wycisk credibility (with voting members) just like control of a statewide public radio network gives him leverage and power with NPR. Can you say NPR News Rocky Mountain? In order to affect NPR policy on behalf of Colorado Public Radio, et al., Max Wycisk needs national prominence--the podium and the bullhorn. And yes, the other members stations he presumes to represent as a member of the NPR Board can expect the benefit of his policy- and procedure-heavy largesses, so long as they are willing to cooperate with a non-profit President who sees collective decision-making as antithetical to the good governance of public radio. In public radio, non-profit language, it's called "partnering." How sweet--as saccharin! For Wycisk; however, this is really about mergers, acquisitions, and hostile take-overs, Buddy Boy. Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel.

In order to maximize the strengths of public radio's local/national structure, Wycisk will return to an idea he dabbled with and then discarded several years ago--the novel idea of sharing. How quaint for Wycisk! You can read about the resuscitated plan on Current.Org here. Isn't it fitting that when NPR started bypassing member stations by distributing digitally (directly via its own website) that Wycisk finally decided to cooperate with public broadcasting individuals and entities he'd have sooner acquired than speak? How magnanimous! Why should other member stations in Colorado trust him? Member stations of Western States Public Radio? They shouldn't! This battle is about power; pure and simple. And right now Max Wycisk needs to change the balance of power of Member Stations vis-à-vis NPR and other larger, national content providers for the sake of Colorado Public Radio. And yes, hangers-on are certainly welcome.

Knowing Max Wycisk's history and habits and after reading the answers to the NPR Board questionnaire, it seems to me that he is vying for a position equivalent to that of The Commissioner of Major League Baseball; a perfect position for a passive-aggressive, authoritarian personality type like him--head of a nice, tight, white, elitist oligopoly. But, I think Max needs a more descriptive or regal title before his appointment/coronation. How about Commissar of NPR Affiliates, or maybe Member Station Viceroy? That is what $200K in pay and benefits and loads of conventional wisdom gets you--the 20th century brillance of Max Wycisk. He is the Bill Gates of Public Radio. So, how fitting that Gates retired from Microsoft today? Maybe Wycisk should follow his lead. But alas, Colorado Public Radio has no fat endowment to manage. A subject, perhaps, for another day.


Anonymous said...

CPR's website lists 16 people in their "team" of hosts and producers.

16 people to produce 30 minutes of content during the workweek. 16 people working to produce over 20 stories about Pine Beetles.

Listening to Colorado Matters is like watching reruns of the Home Shopping Network. What's the point?

Lastly, KCFR is so Denver-centric that many of my acquaintances over here on the Western Slope have taken to listening and supporting KNAU in Flagstaff, AZ because the programming and local news productions are superior to KCFR.

Anonymous said...

Another Western Slope resident here.

I listen to KVNF out of Paonia. They have a nice slate of programming and actually report on weather in the Grand Valley.

Does CPR know, or care, how many people they piss off over here by reading Denver weather reports all the time?

Ruby Hill said...

With the demise of CPRN, will Max's increduously high salary, even for public broadcsting, be reduced to reflect what will be reduced responsibilites? Redirecting the savings would allow CPR to add NPR and PRI programs not currently heard in the Denver area. Ruby can hardly wait to hear what CPR has in store for us!!! (Lest it be lost on anyone reading this, Ruby is being sarcastic in the extreme too!)

Jimmy James Jr. said...

Ruby Hill,

You are correct, there are many NPR, APM, PRI, Pacifica programs CPR could air. Did I say "Pacifica?" Scratch that! CPR likes solidly middle of the road stuff. That said, what does NPR charge for The Diane Rehm Show? Day 2 Day?