The distinguished audio expert Jim Brown saw the Rifftides piece on the possible demise of the last jazz radio station in Los Angeles and sent this reminder that the music is threatened at stations across the nation.
Although I’ve just completed a move to Santa Cruz, I did learn during a recent visit to Chicago that WBEZ, the NPR station there, has announced discontinuance of all music programs in favor of the magazine format that has dominated an increasing portion of their airtime over the past ten years or so.
While that magazine format has been mostly done well, the jazz programming segment has both shrunk and suffered a serious decline in quality. I blame both the president and general manager (Torey Malatia) and Chris Heim, his appointed music director for those ten or so years. I got out to hear jazz at least once a week. I never saw Ms. Heim in a jazz venue, nor have I talked to anyone who has. Prior to her tenure, all the jazz jocks “lived it and loved it,” in the words of the legendary Chicago DJ Daddio Daylie, and it showed in their on-air work. Under Malatia/Heim, there were tight playlists (white bread), jocks are not allowed to say much of value, and good jocks were either fired or quit. In the same time frame, a low power suburban station, WDCB, has only musicians on the air as jocks and gives them plenty of running room. As a result, the real jazz fans deserted WBEZ in droves. This undoubtedly was reflected during pledge drives. Although I love NPR and their news programming, I withdrew my support years ago in protest of the mess they were making of jazz (and told them so), and supported WDCB generously. Now that we’re here, we’ll support KCSM.
Which brings up another threat to both jazz and NPR—we can’t hear KCSM on the air here, although they’re only 50 miles away, because there’s a 10 watt translator (for an Idaho religious broadcaster) on their frequency two miles away! If you travel across the country, you’ll find this is a common problem, as religious broacasters have gobbled up both high- and low-power licenses on the fringes of the major NPR stations. This mess, for example, caused WBEZ to need to add three translators to fill in the newly created “dead zones” that they previously covered quite well. In much of the United States, it is now far easier to get saved (and be fed the political agenda of the saviors) than it is to get the news.
WBEZ is run by a board composed of the same sort of large donors that fund PBS stalwart WTTW Channel 11 (whose upper crust-focused programming earned them the moniker “Wilmette Talks To Winnetka.” That, I suspect, has a lot to do with the Legends of Jazz debacle).
Jazz radio is being squeezed off the air across the country. Jazz’s market share has dropped to about 3%, with no signs of an uptick. Editorial space for jazz coverage, in newspapers and mags, continues to shrink.
And yet it seems as though new jazz CDs continue to be released at an ever-increasing rate.
Who’s buying/playing all of these releases?
And what percentage of these musicians are making a living via their art?