Save All Night Jazz on WUSF

Rising Up to Save All Night Jazz on WUSF-FM in Tampa: Testimonials & Media Coverage

Dan Bindert, Station Manager, WDCB, 90.9 FM, Chicago

Unfortunately, these stories of jazz getting the shaft at larger split format NPR stations are not new. Jazz has been steadily getting gentrified out of public radio neighborhoods since the ’90s. Especially as the news/talk stations have become more corporate in structure, it’s likely to keep on happening.

Numerous public media execs in the “system” have actively served as the hatchet people at multiple stations in this regard over the last few decades, systematically removing jazz from their programming slate, and that after already in many cases relegating the format to undesirable time slots. They get rewarded for it! They’ll also talk a good game about their desire to reach a more diverse audience and then still cut jazz programming, even while they know that jazz tends to draw a more diverse audience than the NPR news/talk format. 

The reality is most of these folks simply do not care one iota about jazz music’s place in American culture or the local jazz communities in the areas their stations serve. They don’t listen to the music, don’t attend jazz events and don’t even really understand why we who love it consider it so important. If you are at a split format new/jazz station and your CEO loves and supports jazz, you’ve got one of the good ones, but the truth is most of them don’t even like jazz, let alone love it.  

The programming “real estate” is just too valuable for the leaders at most public radio stations to not covet every inch of the land for the news/talk programming or game shows & storytelling hours that appeal more to the lifestyle of the typical upscale NPR listener. 

And when they remove jazz from late nights, it’s never replaced with live or local programming. This Tampa GM mentions late night weather/storm updates in their rationale. Has any NPR station ever cut into satellite BBC overnight programming with a live, local weather update, even when a storm is coming? A rarity for sure, and it’d certainly be easier to offer live weather updates if you had a live and local jazz deejay on air.  

It’s not that jazz programming doesn’t have an audience. And it’s not that jazz can’t pull its own weight on public radio. Jazz typically costs less to put on the air than the news/talk “product” or “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” repeats, but the news oriented station leaders see the larger $$ potential in NPR news/talk. They don’t want to just break even or do just OK financially with jazz. Their station’s boards desire corporate style constant upward financial growth, so in their minds, when they air jazz, they aren’t maximizing the real estate. The jazz programming becomes an annoying squatter they can’t wait to evict from the property. There’s just more money to be made (from wealthy listeners, corporate underwriters and big foundations) by super serving the NPR news audience. And performance of rock star CEOs in the public media world is measured primarily by overall revenue raised and how much they grew the budget during their tenure. Just the public media CEO comings and goings in Current – it’s always about how much money they brought in. 

For the sake of jazz music, I would love to see the plan to gut jazz at WUSF get reversed, I hope they are able to save jazz for Tampa, but those decisions rarely get reversed.  

Will the CPB ever come to jazz’s defense? Maybe invest in existing jazz stations with increased system-wide support, or provide funding to put jazz back on the air in cities where it has been removed from the public radio menu? Has that ever happened? 

(via Jazz Programmers List)

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