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.