Saturday, December 15, 2012

10 Thoughts: WPFW

Once again tensions have boiled to the surface among listeners, announcers, staff, and management over upcoming program changes announced for Washington's WPFW 89.3 FM.  The non-commercial station and long-time voice of 'jazz and justice' in D.C. has seemingly operated for years on the brink of collapse as its parent company -- the Pacifica Foundation -- asserted more influence over programming and operations with individual affiliates.  Pacifica's finances are also shaky for reasons I believe to be largely self-inflicted.  However, it's individuals actively involved with WPFW who are mostly responsible for the station's predicament.  As I write this op-ed, there are rival factions within the station defined by complex and sometimes overlapping racial and ideological lines busily circling their respective wagons in response to the latest changes.

I'm reluctant to take a side in this internecine squabble because a) people I know on both sides of the issue are making valid arguments, b) I don't have the authority or inclination to act as arbitrator or mediator, and c) first-hand experience with WPFW instructs me not to volunteer solutions for a hot mess.  Nevertheless, I've compiled a brief list of my initial reactions to the station's latest melodrama: 
  • WPFW retains enough autonomy to address its challenges
  • the station's culture is dysfunctional
  • the amount of programming devoted to local issues continues to steadily and precipitously decline
  • Pacifica appears to be making station policy contrary to its core principles
  • the station's management and station board members lack imagination and nerve, if not tact
  • station resources are vastly underutilized
  • the new schedule's evening jazz programming is an improvement
  • its listener base is aging, shrinking, and contributing less.
  • many of WPFW's 'publics' (volunteers, listeners, artists, etc.) put personal agendas ahead of the best interests of the station or its community of license
  • the ongoing strife at WPFW symbolizes in the U.S., 'public' stations aren't so public; 'progressive' media isn't always progressive.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Elect Your Favorite DMV Music Acts Into Fall 2012 Music Festival

The D.C. area's music fans have a novel opportunity to support their favorite local music acts this fall.  The Amplify Music Expo announces it will feature performances from the area's top 75 progressive music acts as determined by local fans' nominations during its month-long festival scheduled for October 2012.  Fans may nominate any DMV-based solo performing artist or group of the following genres:
  • progressive rock
  • jazz
  • hip-hop
  • neo-soul/R&B
  • electronica
  • world beat/reggae
  • blues
  • funk
simply by adding as much information as they have available on the performer; i.e, name, contact information, website, Facebook fan page, etc., to this thread.  Amplify will then contact the performers to coordinate their inclusion in the expo.  No purchase is required.  The expo asks fans to limit their individual number of nominations to 10 and list 1 performer/nominee per entry, but the use of more than one of the 10 nominations on a single performer is acceptable.

Nominations will be accepted until September 15, 2012. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Demise of 'Black' Radio?

A meme lamenting the demise of 'Black' radio is presently circulating through the Afrosphere with the announcement Disney is switching the format of WRKS-FM (a.k.a., "98.7 KISS" to New Yorkers) from urban contemporary to sports talk.  In what some are billing as a "merger", 98.7 KISS' long-time UC rival, WBLS-FM, is hiring some of the former's announcers to fill time slots presumably occupied at the present time by WBLS employees.  One notable casualty of the format switch is Tom Joyner's syndicated morning show

The reaction I've seen from African-American media pundits has been predictably apocalyptic, if not a bit melodramatic.  Paul Porter, a radio industry veteran who maintains the blogs RapRehab and Industry Ears,  suggested on Facebook WRKS' format switch as another log added to 'Black' radio's funeral pyre.  My initial response was ambivalence: 98.7 KISS isn't owned by African-Americans, therefore "we" aren't losing anything of substance.  I wanted to say if by 'Black' radio we're describing a station, regardless of its ownership, that features content aimed at a predominantly Af-Am audience, then 'Black' gets reduced to a fashion statement subject to change on a whim.

Several people weighed in on Porter's thread attributing this development to several factors, including syndication, commercialism, and deregulation.  While all those factors (and others) collectively explain the current, non-competitive state of radio today -- including 'Black' radio -- I question whether a given station's format change by itself is a reliable reference point for measuring the presence of Af-Ams in the radio industry.  It's no exaggeration to state Af-Ams are underrepresented in every aspect of the radio industry.  However, relative to 1980 (to pick a year) and earlier, there are more Af-Ams working as talent, clerical staff, and managers; more Af-Ams are owners of radio stations and network groups than at any point in American history.  Af-Am professionals are dispersed throughout the industry with companies of various sizes.  Additionally, Af-Am-themed content and content created by Af-Am artists is being increasingly assimilated into the programming of other radio formats, i.e.; adult contemporary, Top 40, CHR, etc.  These facts suggest something contrary to 'Black' radio's demise is underway. 

I submit this slow assimilation of Af-Ams and Af-Am culture into so-called 'mainstream' radio is a net positive and represents not only the class' expansion into the industry, but an opportunity for Af-Am entrepreneurs and investors to make the leap beyond ethnocapitalism.  Perhaps the conventional model for what Porter and others call 'Black' radio has become an anachronism, and therefore requires a new, more accurate definition by which the state of the industry can be judged.  It should be noted that WBLS' ownership has transferred from the Af-Am-owned Inner City Broadcasting to a group including Magic Johnson -- who, the last time I checked, is African-American.  Even Radio One has taken steps to diversify its outlets' programming to offer rock and all-news formats.  I expect as Johnson's group adds to its portfolio of radio stations and other media properties, his participation alone will come to represent the archetype for 'Black' radio moving forward in time.  I'd like to see industry professionals like Porter lend their talents and expertise to this evolution by actively participating in organizational efforts that can become the basis for a new, proper 'Black' radio vanguard.

I'm skeptical whether this type of activism is forthcoming from the armchair pundits and those others protesting the loudest.  However... hope springs eternal.