The foundations, CPB and NPR don't get it.
Most WDUQ listeners want to hear
both news and jazz
To the editors:
I just read your May 17  piece on the pending sale of WDUQ-FM with great interest. I am a former pop music critic, jazz writer and copy editor for the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and I now make my living as a guitar teacher. (I have an M.A. in guitar performance from Duquesne University, the institution that is trying to unload WDUQ after holding the license for 60 years).
Your reporting is good — it's accurate, and I appreciate your covering the Pittsburgh scene. But I would venture that two things are missing. Current hasn't quite caught the sense of disenfranchisement on the part of WDUQ's fans of the current format, which emphasizes news and jazz. Your publication also needs to understand a little more about Pittsburgh's singular history and culture.
As you know, four Pittsburgh philanthropic foundations have come up with a plan to help buy the station and make it an all-news platform. What has been remarkable from the start of this process is the foundations' almost complete lack of recognition that DUQ is not only an NPR station, but also a jazz station.
The word "jazz" and the notion that DUQ members pledged a record million-plus dollars in the last, lean year to support both news and jazz have been practically absent from the foundations' public comments.
That lack of acknowledgement is finally changing a little, with the Pittsburgh Foundation starting a blog that invites jazz lovers to sound off about their deep loyalty to the station's present format. Feel free to check it out.
One of the topics that the e-mail writers (including myself) have focused on is that, considering its medium size, Pittsburgh has made a giant contribution to the world of jazz over the decades. Jazz greats such as George Benson, Billy Strayhorn, Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Stanley Turrentine, Jeff "Tain" Watts and more were born or grew up here.
What's more, the Pittsburgh jazz scene is currently enjoying a small renaissance, fueled by the addition of the world-renowned young jazz trumpeter Sean Jones to the faculty of jazz studies at (here's irony) Duquesne University. When Jones is not busy teaching and performing in Pittsburgh, he tours worldwide with Wynton Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, as well as with his own band.
Pittsburgh is buzzing with jam sessions (which Jones frequently attends), a new club called Little E's, and summer outdoor concerts every Tuesday night at Katz Plaza in the Downtown Cultural District.
That's why, when bigwigs at Corporation for Public Broadcasting, NPR and APR are cited by the foundations for providing all-news models that have worked in other cities, I want to play really loud, snarling, dissonant notes on my guitar.
This is not Abilene or Peoria — it is Pittsburgh. This is a local market that has been well-served by a local station for 60 years. Public radio should be about preserving the regional character of the markets it serves. The rush to copy successful formats in other cities is depressingly reminiscent of the herd mentality that has made commercial radio so homogenous.
DUQ's current management estimates that about 70 percent of its listeners enjoy both the news and jazz. Again, I am exasperated when the foundations claim that DUQ's success as the largest public station in the market is obviously due to the fact that its listeners support NPR. Of course they do. But they also strongly support jazz. Grant Oliphant of the Pittsburgh Foundation claims that it would be hard to secure funding to buy the station if it keeps its present format, but I would ask why potential funders would argue with the station's great success!
It is my hope that the foundations will alter their present focus and present a news/jazz plan in their detailed report due July 2. I also hope they will consent to a public hearing on the matter — something they have not seemed eager to do so far.
Certainly, there is room for improvement and change in WDUQ's programming — for instance, some fans question whether the jazz played on the station is a bit too mellow and old-fashioned. But overall, the most sensible and sensitive course would be for the foundations to ally themselves with the present management of DUQ and the station's thousands of passionate fans of local news, NPR and jazz.
Web page posted June 9, 2010
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