Out of the local news business (5×8 – 6/27/12)

What if there’s no local news, the future of Car Talk considered, it’s not the heat it’s the fire, shock value in a Minneapolis killing, and what Nora Ephron misses and doesn’t miss.


Even the eyebrows of the most cynical journalists were raised a couple of weeks ago when the New Orleans Times Picayune announced it would only print a newspaper a few days a week. It was a big shoe dropping in the decline of the news business.

Another shoe dropped in Alexandria yesterday when KSAX TV dropped its local news programming. Now comes the big question: Will the people in the Alexandria market care?

The station is the sister of the Hubbard Broadcasting flagship KSTP in the Twin Cities.

“It came down to economics,” the station’s GM said.

This morning, even the station’s local website has been eliminated. It now directs to the Twin Cities’ station’s website. But the KSAX Facebook page is still up:



There’s a pretty fair debate going on in public radio circles in the wake of Tom and Ray Magliozzi’s decision to retire their Car Talk show (I blogged about it here). It centers on NPR’s decision to trot out old Car Talk programs for rebroadcast once “Click and Clack” hang it up this fall.

In one corner, is Ira Glass of This American Life. He loves Car Talk, but he thinks rebroadcasting a deceased show doesn’t fit with the mission of public radio.

For all of public radio’s successes, the part of our mission we’ve always neglected the most is innovation. Our biggest shows — All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, Fresh Air, A Prairie Home Companion — are decades old. The average age of our listeners keeps creeping upward. At 53, I am one of the younger public radio stars. My show has been on the air 17 years.

We need to make space for new shows, new talent, new ideas. That’s our mission, and ultimately, it’ll be good business, too, to have exciting new shows bring in new audiences.

And we don’t need Car Talk to shore up audience numbers on Saturday mornings. Thanks to Doug Berman, there’s another public radio blockbuster that’s building audience and loyalty on Saturday mornings right now — Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

And in the other corner is Eric Nuzum, NPR’s VP of programming, who argues that Car Talks makes innovation possible, he says in a column aimed at the people who will make the decision — local public radio program directors.

We’ve learned from lots of experience that you can’t make a show a hit simply by putting it in a good time slot, or by placing it adjacent to Car Talk or Wait Wait. The last few decades are littered with programs that were placed after these two shows, only to fail. A show has to have intrinsic appeal to succeed, and it can demonstrate that in any time slot.

So there’s good reason not to move Car Talk. There’s also no compelling reason TO move it. All Things Considered and Morning Edition didn’t have to move for Car Talk to emerge. Car Talk didn’t have to move for Wait Wait to emerge, and Wait Wait won’t have to move so the next blockbuster can step up. Programs earn their place in prime time because they do a superior job of serving our audience. And program directors have the tools to recognize that potential anywhere on their schedules.

MPR’s program director, Steve Nelson, says MPR has not yet made a decision on Car Talk’s post-October life:

We haven’t made any final decisions about Car Talk. We’ll probably do that closer to October, when the guys stop producing new shows. What we do know is our listeners love the show, and because of that I’m interested to hear what they think. I’ll read the comments to this post if you’d like to share here, or shoot me an email at snelson@mpr.org.


Sure, it’s hot today in Minnesota, but at least you’re not looking out the window wondering if the wildfire heading your way is going to reach your house.

Former Minnesota resident Mike Lynn isn’t so lucky and neither are thousands of other homeowners near the Flagstaff wildfire in Boulder, Colorado. He sent along video of Happy Hour on the deck last evening…

“We’re seeing flames now,” he said in an email last night. He has more pictures here (sign in as guest).

Wildfires seem to be breaking out all over Colorado. The smoke from them is expected to hit Minnesota today.

Former MPR colleague, Stacie Moncrief, who recently moved back to Colorado, went to the ballgame last night. But nobody can concentrate on just the ballgame…


Down around Colorado Springs, 32,000 people have been displaced by the biggest wildfire.

A wildfire is racing your way, you have minutes to pack two suitcases full of the most valuable items you own. What’s in your suitcase?


You don’t often hear the word pissed on MPR. An exception was made last night for the killing of a five-year-old boy in Minneapolis, shot to death while sleeping on a couch.

“It’s an outrage. And yeah, I’m pissed off. I’m plenty pissed off,” Minneapolis R.T. Rybak said in Brandt Williams’ story about the killing. “But I’m not the parent of a child who’s dead. And I think every person in this community needs to feel that pain that a family member feels when their kids die to be able to take the extreme action that it takes. Do not protect a person who is using a gun to kill a kid.”

Implying that someone is.

There’s a problem when the words a mayor uses on a radio station are initially more shocking than another killing of an innocent kid in north Minneapolis.


Nora Ephron invited us to consider our mortality when she closed her 2010 book, I Remember Nothing with two lists considering the day she dies. That day was yesterday.

What I Will Miss

My kids · Nick · Spring · Fall · Waffles · The concept of waffles · Bacon · A walk in the park · The idea of a walk in the park · The park · Shakespeare in the Park · The bed · Reading in bed · Fireworks · Laughs · The view out the window · Twinkle lights · Butter · Dinner at home just the two of us · Dinner with friends · Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives · Paris · Next year in Istanbul · Pride and Prejudice · The Christmas tree · Thanksgiving dinner · One for the table · The dogwood · Taking a bath · Coming over the bridge to Manhattan · Pie

What I Won’t Miss

Dry skin · Bad dinners like the one we went to last night · E-mail · Technology in general · My closet · Washing my hair · Bras · Funerals · Illness everywhere · Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism · Polls · Fox · The collapse of the dollar · Joe Lieberman · Clarence Thomas · Bar mitzvahs · Mammograms · Dead flowers · The sound of the vacuum cleaner · Bills · E-mail. I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it. · Small print · Panels on Women in Film · Taking off makeup every night

(h/t: Open Culture)

Our turn. Go.

Here’s Kerri Miller’s November 2010 interview with Ms. Ephron…

Bonus I: The treasures outside the back door: Grey Cloud Island.

Grey Cloud Island from Jim Denham on Vimeo.

Bonus II: Russian Roulette. With eggs…


For the second time in six months, a child inside a house in north Minneapolis has been killed by stray gunfire. Nizeal Banks, 5, was killed less than three miles from the house where Terrell Mayes Jr., 3, was shot last December. Today’s Question: What can we do to protect children better?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Jonah Lehrer, author of “How We Decide.” Lehrer edits the “Mind Matters” blog for Scientific American and writes his own blog, “The Frontal Cortex.” His latest book is “Imagine: How Creativity Works.”(Rebroadcast)

Second hour: How companies learn your secrets. (Rebroadcast)

Third hour: Pamela Druckerman details her observations on why French kids seem to behave better and throw less tantrums. She also looks at how French mothers are able to maintain their pre-children life after having children. (Rebroadcast)

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Scott Simon/John Biewen special, “Groundwork: Democracy Close to Home.”

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Political Junkie.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – In the race for president, elections can be won or lost in Florida. And victory in that battleground state can be centered around Orlando. The political terrain there has changed radically in recent years. So how might that play into Romney versus Obama? Robert Siegel traveled to Orlando to find out.

  • Greg W

    Car Talk is a great program and it was my first exposure to Public Radio.

    However, I don’t think reruns are the way to go. Let the show ride off into the sunset. Don’t let it be the Brett Favre of NPR.

    What fun is it to figure out the puzzlers if you can’t send in your response on a twenty dollar bill or on a note attached to a Herman Miller Aeron Chair?

  • Bonnie

    Can’t say it any better than Greg W.

  • Kurt Nelson


    Of course someone is hiding the punk that pulled the trigger. This sort of action does not exist in a vacuum, someone, another sociopath, is helping this punk elude capture. I don’t think many of these animals are smart enough to do much in life all by themselves, let alone keep out of sight from the police. There are others complicit in this, and hopefully they will also face justice too.

  • allie

    RE: Bonus II: Straight out of Ramona, Age 8. Now THAT’S a classic.

  • How in the world does Hubbard justify retaining the broadcast license for KSAX-TV? How can it possibly be argued that the station serves the public interest without local news programming?

  • FC

    Re: #3.

    Having lived with the threat of wildfires during 8 summers in Nothern Arizona, we spent all of fire season with a packed suitcase of essentials (clothes, medicine, important papers, etc). We also kept a list taped to the inside of our hall closet with a prioritized list of things to take if we had more time. The idea was that not only would you be more organized in an emergency, but if your neighborhood was evacuated while you were at work or out of town, a friend or neighbor could easily grab the most important things.

    My answer: pictures, a few family heirlooms with strong memories attached, legal and medical records. Everything else is just stuff.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Re the murder of a five yr old:

    In El Salvador, the world’s highest murder rate has plummeted since a gang truce was negotiated by the the catholic church.

    Sorry, I forgot. In Minnesota, the church has more important things to do. Like stopping gay marriage. (There’s method to their madness, of course. If homosexuals could marry, who would ever want to become a priest?)

  • David G

    I suspect that very few North Minneapolis gang members are Catholic, so it’s not likely the Catholic Church would hold as much sway with them like they would in El Salvador.

  • B Joe

    I can’t be the only one who has become bored with the Car Talk schtick. It isn’t all that substantive and mostly exists in a vacuum with respect to the goings-on of the rest of the planet. In my mind, the only reason to air reruns is that they are free.

    As it stands now, I change the station when Car Talk comes on. I guess because I listen to public radio because I want to be intellectually stimulated. And listening to guffaw-filled tangentially car-related banter, while occasionally amusing, isn’t all that intellectually stimulating. I’d prefer something more like Radiolab in Car Talk’s slot. Or, if they make new episodes of John Moe’s old show (Weekend America?).

  • Tyler

    B Joe, I’m the opposite. I tune in Car Talk to check out while doing chores on Saturday mornings. Now what?

  • Jim Shapiro

    David G -“few North Minneapolis gang members are Catholic.” OK.

    SOMEONE who is respected in that community needs to step up. ( That, or establish a bounty on gang members. I would gladly visit, but I’m trying to be a pacifist…)

    B Joe – Those guffaws that you aren’t intellectually stimulated by come from two guys with doctorates in engineering from MIT.

    But I agree that Radiolab is a superior program. Intellectually stimulating, and cool smart stuff like that.

  • B Joe


    You should listen to the Current.

    @Jim Shapiro,

    Not sure your point about MIT. Especially because neither of them has a doctorate from MIT and only one of them has an engineering degree (a Bachelor’s). Either way, you can’t get by at MIT on guffaws alone.

  • Steve Nelson

    Steve Nelson here. Thanks for the comments and votes on Bob’s poll question. Right now 89% of voters say we shouldn’t air the reruns. The interesting challenge we face is this — we know that Car Talk is really popular with our listeners now, even though many of the shows are already reruns. Thanks for the feedback and keep it coming.

  • B Joe

    @Steve Nelson,

    Do you think that may be a testament to the number of people who use Car Talk as background noise for their weekend chores (or something similar)? If you’re only kind of paying attention to the show, it might be a lot easier to never notice that you’re not hearing a particular episode for the first time.

  • listener

    Weekend America was a very good show that I looked forward to. Is it one of the shows aired near Car Talk that is considered failed? How do you measure success or failure of a public radio show? Public radio listenership has increased so much over the last 10 or 15 years that I guess the time is gone when a good radio show could be on without having to be judged by commercial standards, how many listeners does it have, how many sponsors, how many local stations around the country are buying it. Public radio should support good programs that are in the public interest regardless of whether they are successful revenue generators.

  • Jim Shapiro

    B Joe – My bad. You’re right. While they both graduated from MIT, the PhD is from BU.

    My POINT was an attempt at sarcastic humor. But that’s OK. I didn’t really expect you to get it – guffaws being of no intellectual value, of course. 🙂

  • Bob Collins

    //Public radio should support good programs that are in the public interest regardless of whether they are successful revenue generators.

    How does one do that in the real world. It costs real money to produce great radio, whether it’s commercial or public. A lot of time people only hear one voice, but there can be dozens of people involved in making an hour of radio, not to mention the infrastructure costs.

    People are paid in cash for their work, just as with the rest of the world. Satellite channel owners want cash for the cost of a satellite feed for, say, a guest or an interview, so does the phone company, and the electric company etc. etc. etc.

    If it’s in the public interest, it should have an audience willing to support it.

  • listener

    …in the real world.

    In the Loop and Weekend America were two very good shows that I’m sure had supportive audiences. I guess I’m hoping that when shows like PHC or Marketplace bring in a lot of money from fees charged to local stations who air them, that some of that success can subsidize and incubate the next generation of good public radio shows. Maybe I live in a fantasty world and not the real world, but I would like to think public radio can make decisions differently from the commercial world.

    I also wonder how you know if a show has a supportive audience. If I’m a sustainer and listener, how do you know what shows cause me to give and the loss of which shows will cause me to stop giving?

  • Bob Collins

    // I also wonder how you know if a show has a supportive audience. If I’m a sustainer and listener, how do you know what shows cause me to give and the loss of which shows will cause me to stop giving?

    There are ratings to look at and also, frankly, there are pledge drives during shows at which time people step or not.

    Both of the shows you referenced, btw, were dropped around the time of the collapse of the economy. Institutional giving dropped, pledge drives failed to meet goals, companies cut back on underwriting.

    That’s really the problem, it’s not really a “commercial world” to have a budget and have to meet payroll and expenses, it’s just how things work.

    //If I’m a sustainer and listener, how do you know what shows cause me to give and the loss of which shows will cause me to stop giving?

    You should be communicating directly with the member listener services department about what you like and what you don’t like. That goes right to the people who make the decisions.

  • Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and tested

    to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.

    My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83 views.

    I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!