Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jazz & Radio; A Man, A Plan, A Channel

It makes sense that jazz fans want their music on the radio dial and not just on the internet. Even in the face of streaming stations, Satellite, Pandora, et al, radio continues as a force. The numbers vary, but somewhere between 85-95% of Americans listen to some terrestrial radio every day. Radios are everywhere, easy to operate and you don't have to put quarters in to make them work. The charges (and annoyance factor) are "hidden" in ads and underwriting. Americans, weaned on endless TV and radio ads from a young age, have built up an amazing tolerance for the 15-25 minutes of ads and promos per hour on commercial radio stations and for endless public radio fundraising drives. 

But radio is changing in a way that's very important to anyone who wants jazz (or any other "demographically insignificant" format) on the radio: The idea of a high-power station playing more than one format (multi-format) is disappearing. Public stations, as we are learning, are moving rapidly towards all news/talk. Commercial stations hyper-refine their music formats to maximize desirable demographics and they have stopped the little jazz they used to play on the weekend. There was once some leakage in the tight radio edifice, but like every nook and cranny of urban real estate, all cracks have been accounted for and leveraged for maximum income.


I want to thank Larry Cronin for sending a vision for jazz in Boston radio (posted as a comment in my last post and on a Facebook group). Given the landscape as I see it, he presents a somewhat utopian vision.

I do think the Boston jazz community should unify under one organizational banner, either a new one or a pre-existing one like jazzboston. But, even if it does, it will still have little power at a bargaining table freighted with financial concerns. So, to make any of Larry's proposals happen would require large institutional backing. I agree that a consortium of local colleges would bring considerable weight. The question is, why would they do it? They would have to be convinced that this liaison would either greatly elevate their educational mission, or that it would somehow pay off financially. Either argument can be made, but I don't think either can be successfully made.

Instead, I would propose taking a close look at the following Boston-area college stations; radio resources we could actually leverage:
WMBR
WZBC
WUML
WMFO
WMLN
WZLY
WHRB
WBRS
(WERS is a "professionalized," tightly formatted station and of no use to us).

There's already a lot of jazz scattered through the schedules of these stations-especially WHRB. Taken as a group, I think they represent a tremendous opportunity.

Rah

There are challenges. Some of these stations have strong community components and some don't. We don't know how management at these stations would respond to be approached. Their signals range from moderate to weak, certainly nothing like WGBH. It's a major challenge getting people to tune in at a certain time to get the program they want, as opposed to just going to a number on the dial and knowing what they'll hear. But if the coordination was done right, promotion could be effective. I.e., "You can find Jazz programming 24 hours a day on one of these stations." I'm one of a number of musicians with radio experience, invested in this process, who could provide the person-power.  

There are scores of details that would have to be ironed out, but like Larry's post, this is just a beginning.

On the other hand, AM stations are getting cheaper all the time...

2 comments:

gmoke said...

Have the jazz people at the college stations talked to each other about organizing a community listening experience?

Steve Provizer said...

That's not something I'd necessarily know, but assume hasn't happened. That kind of coordination is what I'm saying the invested jazz community would have to make.