Apr 26, 2012

WFUV's Pete Fornatale dies following stroke

WFUV-FM is reporting that host Pete Fornatale, who got his start at the Fordham University pubstation as an undergrad in 1964 and went on to become an influential progressive-rock disc jockey in New York City, has died following a stroke. He was 66.

“This is a devastating loss, not just for his family, friends, and colleagues at WFUV, but for radio listeners everywhere,” Chuck Singleton, interim general manager of WFUV, said in a statement. “Pete was a beloved air personality for four decades and a master communicator. His influence as a pioneer of progressive FM radio is almost incalculable.”

He began his professional career in 1969 at WNEW-FM, where he established his weekly eclectic Mixed Bag show in 1982. Fornatale helped launch careers of singer-songwriters including Suzanne Vega, John Gorka and Christine Lavin, and through the years also interviewed stars such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Carly Simon and James Taylor. He also worked at WXRK (K-Rock). He brought Mixed Bag to WFUV in 2001.

Fornatale wrote or co-authored six books including a textbook (Radio in the Television Age), Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends, and Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock. He also appeared on television, co-hosting the 1991 HBO Paul Simon Live in Central Park and as a guest commentator on multiple PBS music specials.

He is survived by three sons, Peter, a book editor (who worked with his father on several books); Mark, a wine importer; and Steven, a New York City police officer.

On Fornatale's website, his family requests memorial donations to WhyHunger, "an organization that Pete has been associated with since it was co-founded by his good friend Bill Ayres and the late Harry Chapin in 1975."

A private funeral Mass is planned. WFUV has scheduled an on-air/online celebration of his life and career from 4 to 8 p.m. May 5.

Autism treatment grew into passion for classical music for young pubradio host

The host of the Josh's Corner weekly classical podcast for WBOI-FM in Fort Wayne, Ind., may be unique within the pubradio system: In addition to being just 16 years old, Joshua Stephenson is also on the autism spectrum, reports the local Journal Gazette.

When Joshua was 6, to treat his sensitivity to sound, his parents turned to audio therapy, using headphones that emphasized high and low pitches. Joshua learned to tolerate noise through classical music — and developed a love for the genre.

Will Murphy, general manager of Northeast Indiana Public Radio, said that given that passion, Joshua might have a career in radio. "Anytime you have somebody who really loves something and can convey that affection on the radio," Murphy told the newspaper, "I think there's potential there."

Murphy said Joshua's participation in the station reflects its mission statement: To engage the community with content that enriches the human spirit. “If Josh’s show doesn’t do that, I don’t know what does,” Murphy said.

Listen to Josh's Corner here.

FCC asks for input on allowing third-party fundraising on noncom stations

As anticipated, the FCC today (April 26) invited public comment on allowing noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcasters to spend a small percentage of their total annual broadcast time to conduct on-air fundraising activities for other nonprofits.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is asking for input on whether the ban on third-party fundraising remains necessary to preserve the noncommercial nature of NCE stations; if there should be limitations on the stations that engage in the third-party fundraising; whether fundraising should not exceed 1 percent (about 88 hours) of a broadcaster’s total annual airtime; if there should be a durational limit on each specific fundraising program; if participating stations should submit annual reports to the FCC on their fundraising activities and, if so, what information; and whether participating stations should be required to certify in renewal applications that they have complied with any limits on third-party fundraising.

Previously, the FCC granted waivers of the policy to permit noncom stations to raise funds in support of relief efforts for catastrophic events, such as Hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

"Given our experience in these and other cases, where the ability to raise funds for third-party nonprofits has been invaluable, we question whether it remains appropriate to require noncommercial stations to seek a waiver just as emergencies are occurring," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

"This action reflects an effort to balance our continued interest in preserving the core educational mission of noncommercial stations with our goal of providing these stations additional flexibility to support nonprofits of their choosing," he added.

House members establish Federal Spectrum Working Group, in anticipation of auctions

U.S. House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have launched a bipartisan Federal Spectrum Working Group to examine how the federal government can use the nation's airwaves more efficiently, the two announced Wednesday (April 25). Walden said the group will "take a comprehensive, thoughtful, and responsible look at how to improve federal spectrum use as part of our ongoing effort to make the most efficient and effective use of the public's airwaves." In February, Congress gave the FCC authority to conduct broadcast spectrum auctions to free up bandwidth for mobile devices (Current, Feb. 28).

Chairs of the new group are Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). Members are Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands). Walden and Eshoo will serve as ex-officio members.

Longtime visual journalist joins 'PBS NewsHour' as multimedia managing editor

PBS NewsHour has hired visual journalist Tom Kennedy, formerly of and the National Geographic Society, as its managing editor for multimedia.

Kennedy currently teaches in the multimedia, photography and design department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In more than 35 years in print and online journalism, he has created, directed and edited projects that have earned Pulitzers, Emmys, Peabodys and Edward R. Murrow awards.

At the NewsHour, Kennedy will be responsible for the program's online content strategy and digital operation. He was managing editor for multimedia at, developing its multimedia section and creating the first documentary video team for an American newspaper-based website. Previously, he was director of photography at the National Geographic Society.

Kennedy begins work at the NewsHour in June. (Photo: NewsHour)

Station programmer asks CPB ombudsman to address Dyer pledge content

The issue of spirituality in motivational speaker Wayne Dyer's pledge programming has resurfaced in the latest CPB ombudsman's column, after the PBS ombudsman, Michael Getler, addressed the topic earlier this month. Getler wrote that he "sensed" that Dyer's programs violate PBS's Editorial Standards and Policies to provide "nonsectarian" content.

Aaron Pruitt, director of content at Montana PBS, wrote to Joel Kaplan, CPB ombudsman, to express concern over the lack of discussion of Dyer's content among pubcasting programmers or development staffers.

"I have been working in public television now for nearly 18 years," Pruitt writes. "The silence regarding this topic, in these otherwise lively discussion groups, is deafening. It is my opinion that PBS management, station programmers, and pledge professionals are hoping this blows over, and that they can go on merrily airing a program that makes huge money for the system. They do not want to talk about this subject."

"I have to believe that there are other GMs and public television professionals who agree that airing these Wayne Dyer programs violates our editorial standards," he continues. "I think they are just afraid to speak up."

Pruitt told Kaplan he's been concerned over Dyer's content since 2004.

Kaplan concludes that "the use of Wayne Dyer in pledge drives or in special programming does not appear to violate any CPB rules or regulations." However, Kaplan adds, "I do hope that top PBS officials, as well as those running pledge drives throughout the country, will revisit this issue given the consternation it has caused both to a significant number of viewers and at least one local PBS executive."

Dyer's pledge programs have long been at the center of controversy over on-air fundraising. In 2002, then-PBS President Pat Mitchell raised ire within the pubcasting system by agreeing with a TV critic that pubTV stations broadcast "shlock" when appealing for viewer contributions; the columnist had called Dyer and financial guru Suze Orman "hucksters" (Current, Jan. 28, 2002). After several high-profile digs at pledge, Mitchell later backed down (Current, Nov. 4, 2002).

Chicago Public Media picks up former Sun-Times journalist as blogger

WBEZ in Chicago has hired veteran newsman Zay N. Smith as a blogger, according to Bob Feder's media column in Time Out Chicago. Smith "was a popular fixture" in the Sun-Times for 13 years, Feder notes, with his Quick Takes column, "a collection of quirky news items, political punditry and random observations." Beginning May 7, that column will appear three times a week on Chicago Public Media's website.The Sun-Times discontinued Quick Takes in 2008, and Smith resigned a year later. Coincidentally, in one of Smith's Quick Takes columns seven years ago he admitted he had "no idea" what a blog was.

Third-party fundraising on noncoms now off agenda for this week's FCC meeting

The FCC has dropped an agenda item on noncom on-air fundraising from its April 27 public meeting, "which more than likely means it will be voted and approved before the meeting," reports Broadcasting & Cable. The item had been a notice of proposed rulemaking inviting public comment on allowing non-CPB grantees "to conduct on-air fundraising activities that interrupt regular programming for the benefit of third-party nonprofit organizations." The National Religious Broadcasters have sought more latitude in on-air fundraising for other nonprofits, B&C notes. The item proposed allowing noncom stations to use 1 percent of annual airtime for those activities.