Last night, Candidate Romney had no trouble at all promising
to eliminate all Federal funding for public broadcasting. He didn't even
blink as he looked at the debate moderator, whose paycheck comes from a public
entity. Here's a link to the
television side's response to Romney's comments. But this post is not
intended to be political. I'm not trying to direct votes.
The intention of this post is to educate the Reader about
the importance of locally programmed, public media. Especially those that
program music like Jazz and Blues. And offer music education programs,
marketing support to area cultural institutions, and opportunities to enjoy
live performances and other special events, affordably.
The demand for locally-driven, public service radio
broadcasting began in the 1940s, when college professors and engineering
departments began using the relatively new technology to reach out to
audiences, giving the public access to culture and information. At the same
time, an independent radio pioneer began a small network of stations whose
funding and talent came from the people who listened, rather than from
30 years later, Congress, by adopting the Public
Broadcasting Act to establish a national infrastructure that encourages
professional broadcasting committed to the freedom of expression and listener
sponsorship, unhampered by the heavy hand of advertising dollars. In the
world of radio, NPR, Minnesota Public Broadcasting, PRI and other national
entities developed as providers of quality programming that would allow
stations to meet their commitment to broadcast in the service of the markets
Most of the nationally produced programming is in-depth news
and information. Many individual stations augment this programming
with locally produced material of the same nature. As a public entity,
these stations can afford the production and the broadcast time to look
seriously at issues that, at best, may get 90-seconds on the most-watched local
TV news shows. And locally reported newspapers, well, we know what's
happening to them.
But beyond public media that provides news and information,
some stations program music. Or a mix of music and news. Or a blend
of several different musical genres -- and news. KSDS, San Diego's Jazz
88.3, by choice, programs only Jazz and Blues. We are one of 35 stations
across the United States that do that. Seriously. 35 Jazz stations
out of 13,500. That's three thousandthsof all the
terrestrially broadcast radio stations.
So, obviously, some public media provide a genuine service
to their communities, simply based on the music they play. People in
Southern California have two choices for Jazz programming, but people in
Wyoming have none. Or they can listen to the web stream from
San Diego. Why is this important? If there are only 35 stations
playing this music, aren't they just beating a dead horse? Isn't Jazz a
music that's past its prime?
The one word answer is a thundering "NO!"
Jazz is a true American Art Form. The history and
development of Jazz and Blues are elemental in the American Spirit. The
genre arose as the artistic expression of social, economic and scientific
change. It celebrates the joy, denotes the suffering, and soothes the tragedies
of Americans. The empathic voice of Jazz, and its cousin, Blues, is
no less potent today than it was in the early hours of the twentieth century
when the music combusted spontaneously from the spoils of war, Carpetbaggers,
vestiges of the Victorian era and the birth of the Modern Age. Paraphrasing
Louis Armstrong, Jazz is [American] Life.
The music took this country by surprise. The 19th century
was expiring and the energy and bustle of the city replaced agrarian
life. Historian Warren Susman says "By 1922", an exceptional
and ever-growing number of Americans came to believe in a series of changes in
the structure of their world, natural, technological, social, personal, and
moral.” Vaudeville replaced traveling minstrel shows. The people
singing and dancing in blackface actually had black faces. When "somebody"
realized that Scott Joplin, and Jelly Roll Morton were people of color, the
ambiguity caused as many people to feed the new genres as did condemn them.
Both Ragtime and the Blues underscore the racial
and class issues inherent in the creation of Jazz. Gerald Early,
historian and arts critic, addresses the paradox this way, "You had people
who created a music that's really celebrating democratic possibilities:
liberation, freedom of the spirit, a soaring above adversities - who really
hadn't experienced [it]. Jazz is a kind of lyricism about the great
American promise and our inability to live up to it."
As the music of New Orleans spread up the Mississippi, and
out to Kansas City, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, true to the nature of
the music, each new region added its own nuances, creating a multi-layered
labyrinth of sound and soul.
Yes, Rock and Roll replaced Jazz in the 1960s, and
since then, whole onslaughts of musical genres have taken over the pop charts.
But Jazz continued to evolve, and sub-divide. While it may not be listed
in the Top 10, Jazz is everywhere. Walk into a Pottery Barn and you'll
hear Tony Bennett. Jazz. Watch Sesame Street, and you'll see plenty
of Jazz guests, including Herbie Hancock. A critically-acclaimed movie
this year is titled, "Blue as Jazz." Even the Jazz-Rap group
us3 sampled a Jazz classic as the basis for their song, "Cantaloop."
Okay. So Jazz and Blues are important. Reflections of the
social and political evolutions of the country as much as its musical growth
and sophistication. Why does Jazz need to be on public radio?
Because it has grown so much. Because, with so many
sub-genres, "purists" are turned off by a sound they don't favor. But
imagine this: If we programmed Jazz 88.3 to play only the Top 100 Jazz
Hits, how tired would the audience get? And besides, who would pick those
one hundred songs? And what about new work? Where would anybody
hear about it? Oh, and one more thing, the growth of the music would be
stiffled. The very improvisation that is central to Jazz is one of the
primary forces of its development. Limit that, and Jazz would die.
A commercial radio station has to attract enough listeners
to prompt advertisers to pay for a piece of their broadcast time. A
public radio station has to program enough good music for everyone to be able
to hear some things that they like. Essentially, that's the difference,
Which version do you prefer?