While I was not completely stunned by the recent announcement that WUSF intends to terminate its on-air jazz programming (which has not been appropriately supported ever since Mike Cornette retired as Jazz Program Director), I was profoundly and deeply disappointed in those who made this decision.
After 40 years of engagement with WUSF, in a way I felt like part of the family. I have been a regular listener (of all types of programming), a sponsor, a donor, an on-air guest, and have even taped several promos for their pledge drives. They have graciously played my music and, more importantly, served to inform and remind the west coast of Florida of significant upcoming jazz concerts/events. To have them completely drop their jazz programming feels like a form of abandonment.
Like music creators, newspapers, and so many others, radio is in a challenging space as the impacts of our digital race continue to unfold. Change is inevitable. I get it! However, NPR (and WUSF by association) has always framed itself as a provider of intelligent/in-depth news that values diversity, arts, and culture. And while WUSF’s local engagement seems to me to have diminished greatly over the years, they continue to assert that they have a local impact. After all, its pledge drives are not national ones . . . .they are local/regional station driven ones. So, how does banishing all jazz programming to some completely unknown sector of the digital space enhance any of these objectives?
When classical music programming was removed from WUSF (also controversial), WSMR, a 24-hour classical music station (on air & digital) was created and is part of the WUSF “family”. Comparatively, jazz – pioneered predominantly by African American artists and celebrated internationally as one of America’s greatest contributions to the arts – has been relegated to the back of the digital bus. And, while I’m pretty confident (praying!) this wasn’t a racially motivated decision, the inequity seems inescapable – particularly since the audience for both classical and jazz musics number about the same in most industry polls. Talk about the arts, culture, and diversity is great. . . . . but if it isn’t represented in your programming, it seems pretty disingenuous.
Several criticisms of the announcement have focused on the loss of local programming and support of local jazz musicians/organizations. Yes, I perceive this as an issue as well, although the vast majority of WUSF’s jazz programming is not local but focuses on airing the very best of the music – whether classic recordings or contemporary artists from throughout the world. To me, the absence of this programming would be the greatest loss. Our community needs to have the opportunity to hear this great music and for many to be exposed to works they’ve never been introduced to before. Arts Axis Florida – the proposed destination for whatever is to remain of WUSF’s jazz stewardship – appears to be focused only on community groups. Even if more than 250 folks eventually subscribe to this, where would anyone be able to encounter the recordings of Ellington, Coltrane, Fitzgerald, Metheny, Marsalis, and so many other great artists?
Ironically, I received an urgent request from WUSF to renew my pledge yesterday – immediately following this announcement! Talk about poor timing!! No, I will not renew my pledge and I will continue to urge others not to as well. There remains some great NPR programming on WUSF (although I personally find much of the programming between Morning Edition and All Things Considered redundant and often cloying). However, I became a member because of the jazz programming. Deleting it in such a thoughtless and incomprehensible manner is a slap in the face not only to me, and the Tampa Bay jazz community, but to the art form itself. Shame!!
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