Monday, February 21, 2011

"Boston Jazz Radio and Government Funding" by Steve Provizer

Looks like the NEA will cut the Jazz Masters program and government funding for PBS and NPR is in jeopardy. How will such cuts effect jazz? I'll just bite off a small piece of it and focus on Boston media.


There's little jazz on TV. Public television has a small stake, carrying awards ceremonies at the Kennedy Center, White House specials, a rare American Masters and the odd Ken Burns documentary. Mr. Rogers used to have great jazz guests. RIP Mr Rogers. Maybe Sesame Street does some. There's no homegrown jazz TV hereabouts. Some years ago, I tried and failed.

In Boston, radio's a different story. Jazz has a strong presence here and an NPR affiliate is one of the major players.

In sheer number of hours, the biggest providers of jazz programming here are WHRB-FM and WGBH-FM. WHRB runs jazz every weekday 5am-1 pm. It is the Harvard-affiliate and not a public radio station. 

There are a number of other college stations which have jazz programs. Jazz Boston.org lists them all, although the list is not necessarily up-to-date (2 of my defunct shows are still listed). Some of the hosts are college students who know little of the music, but some are knowledgeable community members and/or musicians.

WGBH, a powerhouse NPR affiliate, runs local jazz shows 8pm-midnight weekdays and overnight. Their jazz hosts are knowledgeable, if not very adventurous. Last year, WGBH shortened weekday jazz shows by an hour and swapped in a syndicated show for local DJ's overnights.

So what impact would the loss of funding have on local jazz radio? First of all, it would have no direct effect on any of the college stations-including WHRB's 35 hours of jazz a week and their orgy period, which often features hundreds of additional hours of jazz.

And WGBH?

A recent enormous build-out and move combined with the bad economy have forced WGBH to cut back on tv and radio programming budgets. Losing the c. $11 million they get every year from the govt. would be a blow. It's important to note that last year, WGBH made moves to seriously re-position itself in the Boston radio market. In order to challenge the primacy of WBUR-FM and its all-news and public affairs format, WGBH juiced up its talk, eliminated all blues and folk programs and off-loaded its classical programming to a station it acquired-WCRB-FM.

So, it seems a simple enough deduction that, given any significant shortfall in income, WGBH would continue its trajectory and only retain the syndicated overnight jazz programming. Their major jazz show, 4 nights a week, is Eric Jackson's "Eric in the Evening." This is the major shmooze spot for jazz musicians playing in the area. Not my cup of tea, but I think these interviews do help to get people into the seats of local venues(albeit usually the mainstream ones). If "Eric in the Evening" did shut down, local stations with stronger signals than college stations would probably readjust programming to try and grab some of that audience-a pretty desirable demographic.

So, I think the loss of Federal money would not affect the sheer amount of jazz radio programming in Boston. It could de-centralize the radio audience, which might have a democratizing impact on audiences, with higher end acts and venues possibly negatively impacted, but smaller venues getting a boost.

But this is just Boston- a unique radio situation. In many other markets in this country, Public radio provides music, news and public affairs programming that would otherwise simply not be available. I say Federal funding should continue, but that whenever possible, the money should be used to create or buttress local programming that would not otherwise exist in a particular market. 

No comments: