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WGBH Slashes Jazz Programming

Radio Community Reacts Supporting Eric Jackson and Steve Schwartz

By: Ed Bride - 06/22/2012

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A vintage image of Erick Jackson the Dean of New England Jazz DJs. Giuliano photo.
A vintage image of Erick Jackson the Dean of New England Jazz DJs. Giuliano photo.
The show of Steve Schwartz has been cut by WGBH. (file photo)
The show of Steve Schwartz has been cut by WGBH. (file photo)
Ed Bride is the director of the annual Pittsfield Jazz Festival. Giuliano photo.
Ed Bride is the director of the annual Pittsfield Jazz Festival. Giuliano photo.

This week's news that WGBH is downgrading its local jazz programming by more than 50% has ignited a firestorm in the tightly-knit community of jazz announcers. Veteran announcers Eric Jackson and Steve Schwartz, with combined service of more than 55 years in jazz radio, were informed that Eric's long-running weekday show (Mon-Thurs, 8pm-midnight) would be moved to the weekend, and Steve's Friday evening program will be terminated.

In the mind of this veteran listener, jazz advocate, and sometime writer/announcer, this is nothing less than a cultural travesty. Having just celebrated 30 years on the air, Eric Jackson is the Dean of New England jazz broadcasters, and his show is now diminished to weekends, when many listeners are hopefully in the clubs or social gatherings enjoying the product served 'live.' And Schwartz' show is now cast aside like a wilted salad. The elimination of weekday jazz on one of New England's premier NPR stations, in what is arguably New England's cultural hub –Boston—is effective July 2, and will represent a sad day for Jazz, indeed.

The decision is making waves far beyond WGBH's signal, spawning an active and passionate discussion on the Jazz Programmers List [JPL], an email forum for those interested in jazz radio. JPL members include announcers ("programmers," in today's parlance), promoters, musicians, educators, advocates and plain old fans. In an interview at KUVO in Denver, Panama-born pianist Danilo Perez told Arturo Gomez that the WGBH decision was "an outrage," especially given that the community includes the New England Conservatory, the Berklee College of Music, and "a significant jazz musicians and followers community."

Perez was also reached in Denver by Boston Globe reporter Joseph Kahn. "That's some tragic news," he told Kahn. "In a culture where we are so much in need of hope and optimism, that's what jazz is all about. As long as people listen to radio, it's crucial to have jazz [featured] there."

Beyond that, Perez told the Globe, "People like Eric and Steve love and know the music. To a listener like myself, it's almost like having a History of Jazz class on the radio."

Both shows have a lengthy history in Boston, notes PR maven Sue Auclair. A highly-regarded promoter of the arts, especially jazz, Auclair wrote that "These programs are extremely important to proliferation of the music, the artists, the jazz clubs and the jazz festivals in the region and all related businesses, sponsorships."

Brad Stone, music director of KSJS in San Jose, who always signs his email "The light is on," simply commented: "The light is dimmer."

Mike Schwartz (no relation to Steve), host of a jazz show on the same station, KSJS, wrote directly to WGBH management, and posted his letter publicly. Commenting that WGBH's jazz programming is available world-wide on the Internet and is among the best of its kind, Mike Schwartz said that WGBH is "not serving your listeners, your community or anyone, quite frankly, by unwisely making it go away."

One wonders about the extent and nature of any research that WGBH did, prior to making this momentous decision. While much of the NPR community is gravitating to the news/talk format, this migration has not been universally successful.

For example, Leslie Keros, of WHPK in Chicago, recalls that 6 years ago, WBEZ in that city also eliminated local night-time jazz programming from the schedule. "If it had been replaced by local programming of equal value, the station would have been more readily forgiven, but the time was squandered on syndicated programming or, worse, reruns," she emailed to WGBH Managing Director Phil Redo. The decision earned WBEZ "the lasting enmity of the jazz community, and from it arose a sizeable group of former listeners who to this day refuse to support the station. I won't lecture you on the rich history of jazz in Boston--surely you know this--but I urge you to reconsider." Keros'  email, which she then published publicly, concluded, "don't make the same mistake WBEZ did."

Will it work in Boston? That is, will the change in programming help WGBH retain listeners and grow its bank account? Shauna Machosky, who formerly programmed much of the jazz offerings of the late WDUQ in Pittsburgh, doesn't think so. She has "no faith that a move to a single-format news/information will benefit anyone, especially the rich Boston music and arts community. I do not believe WGBH will be more successful."

About a year ago, WDUQ was purchased by an organization that changed the format to news/information and scuttled all but a few hours of jazz on Saturday evenings, she says, down from about 100 hours a week.  Almost a year since the sale of the station and format change, WESA (formerly WDUQ) has had "consistently abysmal ratings," writes Machosky. "WDUQ averaged a 3 to 3.3 audience share in Pittsburgh. The new WESA has averaged a 1.2 share or less. Astonishing."

As to the reliable, syndicated programming in Pittsburgh's NPR scene: Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Fresh Air all remain in the slots in which they had been heard on WDUQ. The local news that had always been a part of WDUQ has not changed on WESA, either, she says, adding "Apparently the jazz programming is missed." She says that local media have reported a 50% drop in overall listeners to the station. One wonders if WGBH will suffer the same fate.

Don Polletta of WCPN in Cleveland doesn't think the news/talk format will be the savior, either. "Many NPR stations are seeing a leveling off or a decline in their numbers.  When stations started dumping music for the news/talk format 20 years ago, the Internet wasn't the all consuming power it is now," he writes. "I don't need to wait to hear a discussion of some topic on NPR on my local station.  I can go to the web to find [Talk of the Nation] anytime I want...plus the web offering multiple ways to get the same info NPR offers...be it other radio...access to tons of newspapers or sites that aggregate news...plus podcasts...the explosion of cable news...the news/talk product NPR offers isn't as unique as it once was."

Indeed, Mike Stratton, who hosts "The Vinyl Side of Midnight" on WLNZ in Lansing, Michigan, wonders if the move will backfire. His station also cut back on jazz two years ago, although unlike Schwartz, WLNZ kept his Stratton's show because of its popularity. In a letter to WGBH management, Stratton wrote, "And now, after two years, [WLNZ] is starting to add more jazz. The loss of revenue from a lack of support and the sense of betrayal in the community just couldn't be overcome. I wonder if you'll come to the same conclusion."

Although stations may have differing points of view (NPR vs. Fox vs. MSNBC vs. Clear Channel),"by the end of the day, unless you are the hardest hard core news junkie, you've heard the same material discussed over and over," writes Stratton

The community of jazz supporters isn't sitting on its hands. Witness:


Whether WGBH, which broadcasts for a living, will now do some listening, is the question of the day.

Polletta of WCPN responds to all these efforts with a challenge of his own: "While it is difficult to make management change its mind, once they make a decision....financial pressure can make them reconsider. Let us see if the Boston jazz community can muster the kind of juice the news/talk crowd has to apply some heat." 

However they decide, they're certainly in the jazz limelight for now.

© 2012 Edward Bride

Reader Comments
From "Chuck Vincent"
07-26-2012, 10:55 pm
In addition to the loss of Eric and Steve, I am truly miffed at the replacement of Bob Parlocha's weeknight programming with Boston local and NPR talk/drivel all night long.
From "david bonetti"
06-29-2012, 02:53 pm
this is appalling news. the anglo-phile gbhers, who want "all downton abbey all the time" have betrayed a community of music listeners. i just called cathy fuller at crb, which is running a fund-raiser for classical broadcasting, to tell her that they will never get a penny again from me until they restore the jazz programming at parent station gbh. and they call this the athens of america. what a joke!
From "Emma Brown"
06-27-2012, 01:57 pm
In response to Ed Bride and Tom Lucci, it should be noted that WICN also provides streaming jazz through a really useful iPhone app, as well as online. They seem to have adapted well to jazz in the internet age.
From "Pete Moss"
06-25-2012, 11:47 am
W.T. Young's comment strikes at the heart of things...public broadcasting, not long ago, became another arm of the Culture Industry. The Industry's got a secret: it doesn't always sell what the public wants buy, but slowly, carefully, narrows the repertoire, shaping public tastes to serve its own self interests. Right now pubcasting is dependent more than ever on the largesse of business, and reshaping themselves as something businesspeople will embrace is part of the long term plan. We'll just have to see how content the private sector is with bland, copycat programming that gets lower ratings than what was on before. I won't even brooch the topic of pubcasting administrators, except to say that they're even more rigid and timid than arts admins. And that's going some...
From "Howard Mandel"
06-24-2012, 08:13 pm
Of the many postings about Boston radio station WGBH’s misguided downgrading of its signature jazz coverage — managing director Phil Redo has announced the removal of long- Eric Jackson, jazz voice of Boston beloved prime time show host Eric Jackson to weekends only, the end of producer Steve Schwartz’s Friday night show, and the cut back Bob Parlocha’s overnight program from seven nights a week to two — the best I’ve read is by Edward Bride in Berkshire Fine Arts. It includes interviews with public radio sources in Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Cleveland and Lansing, Michigan, who note that the substitution of news-and-talk radio and extended NPR broadcasts has, in other markets, resulted in station losses rather than gains. If the value of well-known, highly popular local voices spinning great music to impressionable (and international — WBGH streams online) audiences is not apparent to decision-makers at WGBH, perhaps the experience of stations like WBEZ Chicago which by dropping jazz sent its hard-earned listenership to the college stations WNUR, WDCB, and WHPK can be instructive.
From "Ed Bride"
06-23-2012, 05:31 pm
Tom Lucci is certainly right: WICN is a haven for jazz lovers in central New England, a beacon in what is becoming a darker scenario. Similarly, WFCR in western Massachusetts is maintaining its commitment to jazz (some years ago, Albany-based WAMC also eliminated weekday jazz, and more recently cut its only local program, Tim Coakley's, back from 90 minutes on Saturday nights to one hour. Mainly, my commentary was limited to WGBH; thanks, Tom, for giving me a chance to elaborate.
From "Tom Lucci"
06-23-2012, 12:34 pm
Ed - you should at least mention that your friends at WICN in Worcester are STILL carrying the torch for "Jazz +" 24/7 (20 hours of which is straight jazz). I hope people see WICN as part of the solution - at 90.5 in Central Mass / MetroWest and at wicn.org elsewhere.
From "Lenore Raphael"
06-23-2012, 10:05 am
As a jazz musician and composer, I always counted on WGBH in Boston to be a support, not only in Boston but on the JPL and also on the internet. Eric had one of my recordings up on the TOP 10 for 15 weeks and he interviewed me at the station leading to sales of my recordings. What a sad day for the clubs and concerts and schools in the Boston area that count on radio support to promote concerts and events. Time will tell, but clubs like Sculler\'s. Regatta Bar, schools like Berkleigh can only suffer from it.
From "Geoff Dunlop"
06-23-2012, 04:46 am
Jazz on WGBH is the bright spot of a day in the world of war, murder, and corruption.
From "Bobby Jackson"
06-23-2012, 01:18 am
This current issue with WGBH, Eric Jackson and Steve Schwartz actually is not about them. There is a much more at work here. This is about systematic oppression from privileged board room members who make the decisions about the relevance of African-American culture on the radio. I would venture to say that there aren't many people of color at those tables who are making these decisions. I shared the article about the disappearance of commercial Black radio stations so eloquently pointed out by one of my radio heroes, "talk" show host Bob Law with the recent demise of WRKS. Ed, you noted that GBH is not an African-American station. For those who did not see these posts, I responded, "They Play Jazz...." The elimination of jazz on other public radio stations have not helped their numbers. In fact, in many situations, these behind closed doors, board room decisions have put the stations at odds with many supporters in their communities; supporters who have left their ranks. These stations still struggle against the tide of choices audiences possess that year after year, seem to multiply as the technologies to deliver programming becomes more and more facile for them to access. They are no less at risk of survivial than before they pulled the plug. They have also "lost" income because of the exodus of audience numbers that supported them because of the music programming. These stations as so many of you pointed out are now rehashing the same news like a monotone drone in a twenty four hour cycle. I am incensed that African-American music and culture continues to be marginalized and is the first to be thrown under the bus when there is a "financial" crisis. It is criminal that In this new millennium this pattern continues. We can look at the pattern of stations across the country and see that what I'm saying is real. It is criminal that In this new millennium this pattern continues (my version of a newsie rerun). One of the reasons public radio exists in the first place was to give voice to the voiceless over the airwaves. There is a rich history surrounding what we do that speaks to affirmation of the true melting pot that America is suppose to be. It is a model on display to share; for all to learn from, how we are able to come together under the magic of jazz, a music that originated in the African-American and is now shared not just here in the United States, but the world over. It is insane that it is being taken off the shelf in so many places in its place of birth. Is Ken Burns the only person who can get funding to talk about the story of how we as Americans come together? He even had the sense to realize that jazz is a major melting pot for this. The opportunities for this story to continue to be heard in the place of its birth are slowly being scraped away. This is not about Eric Jackson. This is not about Scott Hanley, formerly of WQUQ or Chris Heim formerly of WBEZ. This is not about me. This is about all of us. Even those who continue. None of you are safe. If you're not making the decision in those board rooms, you too are also endangered. They are crunching numbers and they are not talking to you, but ABOUT you. What will they do with you? I think you know the answer to that..... I turned to and became involved in public radio because I believed it was a perfect fit for the talents I began to develop as a journalism major attending The University of Georgia in Athens and even before that at my beloved alma mater, DeWitt Clinton High School. I have something to share and will continue to share it. When I was let go at WCPN in the Fall of 2009 I did not stop my journey to be heard despite the difficulties I experienced to be hired in other markets. Truth be told, I have more listenership today on terrestrial radio stations, in more cities than at any time in my radio career. I find it somewhat amusing that people in Guam can hear my show which I believe is the finest show I've ever conceived in all my years in service of this music. Conversely, I have made less money than at any time in my life. It has been a tremendous struggle for me financially but I believe in this struggle with all of my heart, mind and soul. The stations I serve by and large to a man are happy with my show and in a recent conference call, I was told they would help me in any way they could. Finding sponsorship dollars endangers its continued existence but I will fight the fight as long as I can alongside the less than 500 announcers who still can be heard on the radio. It is a noble fight. What are we going to do about this?
From "William T. Young"
06-23-2012, 12:38 am
Please note that in recent WGBH fundraising drives, the jazz programs were not involved at all. Only the programming segments preferred by current management took part in the fundraising. That's flat out twisted and evil. It allows WGBH to say that the jazz programs aren't bringing in revenue. Those shows were never given the opportunity to raise funds. Imagine management knowingly cutting their revenue in order to marginalize programs that don't meet with their approval. Calling it irresponsible is being too kind. All this after the station recently went on a huge capital campaign and proudly trumpets its new broadcast facilities at every turn. This is not public radio. This is Dennis Kozlowski meets Lex Luthor. Previously, the station cut back Steve Schwartz's weekly work hours, then told him that he was no longer eligible for health benefits. At age 70, after many years of distinguished and highly esteemed service. I'll say it again - WGBH has become the evil empire. This isn't just about jazz. This is about people's lives and livelihoods. I was formerly not only a supporter; I was also an advertiser in the program guide. They'll never see another dime from me ever again.
From "valerie bishop"
06-22-2012, 11:23 pm
thank you, Mr. Bride for the excellent article. a good portion of the jazz community across the country seems to be in \"mourning\" and at the same time \"up in arms\" over this very unfortunate decision by WGBH. i join them from L.A. i have been hooked on streaming Steve Schwartz\'s show for many years and as a consequence have contributed monies to the station. looks like all that will change.
From "Lois Gilbert"
06-22-2012, 07:58 pm
Thank you Ed for such a wonderful article. We hope everyone will sign the petition to protest the Jazz Cutbacks at WGBH at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/protestjazzcutbacksonwgbh/
From "Tom Mallison"
06-22-2012, 06:48 pm
This is a very well composed article with great representation by others in the Jazz Family. This is truly a bad decision especially in the Boston Market. Reconsider NOW before your next Fund Drive.
From "Harry Bikes"
06-22-2012, 09:21 am
Some time back WGBH cut Ron Della Chiesa's daytime Music America. Now this. Jazz is America's greatest original art form. Subscribers should respond accordingly.
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