August 6, 2009

Changes at KUT

A friend of mine recently sent an email about a gathering to protest changes in the KUT radio schedule, which includes reducing the hours of several long-time DJs, including Larry Monroe, Paul Ray, and Jay Trachtenberg, and using a syndicated show during overnight hours. I responded to him, and posted a comment on the Austin American-Statesman website as follows:

I've been listening to and supporting KUT since I moved here 17 years ago. I just got an email from KUT (which they should have sent earlier, it's true) explaining the reasons for the recent changes. They are financial and listener based.

"...listenership to our weeknight music programs has been flat for 10 years while the station’s total listenership has more than doubled. The programming that we ended, along with canceling an online podcast, will save KUT more than $120,000 a year—money that needs to be invested where more listeners can benefit."

KUT is changing the weeknight shows because not enough people were listening. Radio is not a static entity, and it's not like that comforting old paperback novel that you turn to every couple of years when you can't sleep. Without listeners, radio dies, and however great Larry's, Paul's and Jay's shows were, people took them for granted and quit listening, and new listeners didn't take their place.

The percentage of KUT listeners who are members (i.e., they give at least $40) is shockingly low, although as they have gained listeners, NPR has charged them more for news and other programs. People who give money and fill out the membership surveys affect the programming. Folks who are really interested in keeping certain shows on the air, and not just preserving the status quo for its own sake, should give, write management, and get involved. Listeners aren't contributing enough to pay for programming, so KUT is increasingly turning to corporate support to run the station.

While I like a lot of things about all the old shows, having the same three or four baby-boomer men dominating all the station's music programming for thirty or forty years is pretty monolithic and doesn't allow for new or different points of view. It's a good idea to start finding newer DJs that can carry on the best of the KUT tradition but also bring a fresh sensibility. We all have our memories of the perfect summer, but I don't expect to find a local radio station that will pretend that it's 1985 for the next 30 years, and the aging hippies can't expect to have Armadillo HQ redux forever, either. Things do change, and because they do, we can look back with fondness. The provincial, small-town, Austin-is-better-because-it-never-changes attitude gets tiresome.

I love that "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" was added to the schedule, and I try to listen every week. I don't begrudge anyone who just loves folk music, but I can't say I'm a big fan of "Folkways" or the fact that it takes up such a big chunk of Saturday.

However, I have enjoyed John Aielli's Eklektikos show, and I don't know how anyone thinks he's a moron--if anything, he's almost too didactic and well-informed for radio. Back when he used to do theme days, every day, I marveled at how he could come up with so many different ideas for tying the morning together. Sometimes I have caught him in a good mood and sometimes he's cranky as hell, but overall, I've heard a lot of great music and obscure album tracks I wouldn't have known about otherwise: Fountains of Wayne's "Bright Future in Sales," for example! While I did sometimes get tired of hearing umpteen versions of one song, it's too bad that his playlist has become so homogeneous. All those free-association riffs took listeners on quite a thrilling ride.

KUT, thanks for the memories.

August 1, 2009

Is the Fire Department a Socialist Organization?

Everyone who thinks that all American entities should make a profit, remember this: before we had our current "socialized" police and fire departments, these functions were performed for profit by gangs of street thugs who demanded payment before responding to a crime in progress or dousing a fire. In case of fire, if you hadn't paid off a particular gang or didn't pony up the cash, your home or business would burn, frequently taking the whole block with it. Whichever gang arrived first supposedly got dibs on fighting the fire (and getting the payment), but often several gangs would arrive simultaneously and battle over who was going to get paid. Meanwhile, the fire would burn out of control. This was a major factor in the 1837 conflagration which consumed Manhattan's entire downtown business district, including the merchant exchange and the post office. Some of you may recall this state of things from Martin Scorsese's film "Gangs of New York," about the Five Points neighborhood in the period surrounding the Civil War. There were numerous historical inaccuracies, including the conflation of the Draft Riots and other gang uprisings, but the general lawlessness and misery were not exaggerated.

This is sort of what happens with health care these days, only it's the insurance companies who are fighting not to pay for your care, and they don't have colorful names like the "Dead Rabbits," but soothing marketingese names like "Humana," when they should be called "Inhumana." While you and they fight over who's going to pay your doctor bills, you might get sicker and die before you can sue, or you might give up because you're too sick and tired to fight, or you might just pay up. All of these outcomes benefit the insurance company, which then doesn't have to pay. And now that they've got you on record as having an illness, they can refuse future claims or insist that these must "count towards a deductible," which is always, always the default position on a major claim.

In my experience, I have never had an insurance company cover everything it said it would, including basic care items such as mammograms (deductible), routine annual labs such as pap smears (deductible), ER visits (deductible), and even hearing tests (outright refusal). They always manage to weasel out of paying and threaten my credit history if I don't pay.

The ACL reconstruction surgery I had 15 years ago was preapproved and precertified, and I used an in-network orthopedic surgeon. In return for this, 100% of my costs were supposed to be covered after my co-pays. Instead, I got nasty letters on red paper for five years afterward, telling me that I owed more than $2,000, and threatening my credit rating. At one point, I lost a temp job because I went over my lunch break by two minutes while trying to sort out this problem for the umpteenth time.

Even though I used an in-network doctor and hospital, the insurance refused to pay for the pathologist because they claimed he was "out of network." The pathologist examines the bits that are excised and affirms that the right parts were cut, although if the surgeon has gotten it wrong, it's too late to rectify the situation. I didn't even know a pathologist was necessary until I got the bill; I certainly had no say in who he was, since I was under anesthesia at the time, so how would I have protested? I wondered if I were really supposed to rise up off the operating table in a morphine-induced stupor and ask, "Etthhkyoothe meh. Ith thath an in-nehwuk fpthologst?"