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WGBH cuts back jazz programming: No place for music on public radio?

Posted by Mark Leccese  June 22, 2012 05:00 PM

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Boston’s WGBH-FM announced two days ago a major cut in its jazz programming, replacing “Jazz on WGBH With Eric Jackson,” which runs Monday through Thursday nights from 8 p.m. to midnight, with more news and talk. Eric’s show will be moved to Friday through Sunday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight. Steve Schwartz’s Friday show will disappear.

The Globe story quotes the eminent jazz pianist Danilo Perez: “That’s tragic. 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.”

Is there no air time left for music on public radio?

WBUR-FM long ago got rid of all its music programming, save for a Saturday night salsa show. WGBH inches closer to doing the same.

I grew up listening to Eric Jackson on WGBH, and his show nurtured my romance with jazz. I still listen to his show when I’m in the car at night — I’ve been listening since I was in high school. I used to listen to Ron della Chiesa’s wonderful “Music America” in the afternoons on WGBH, but that show was trashed long ago.

WBUR, back in the 1970s and 1980s, had Tony Cenamo playing jazz at night. I used to fall asleep to his show on my clock radio. WBUR also had the inimitable James Isaacs (who can’t even get a decent Wikipedia entry) playing jazz and quirky pop.

Now it’s all gone from Boston public radio and never replaced. Jazz is fading from college radio, too. WERS, the radio station at Emerson College, where I teach, used to have the thoroughly enjoyable “Jazz Oasis” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, playing its limited jazz library with students charmingly (no, really) mispronouncing musician’s names now and then. Gone, and I couldn't do a thing about it.

The Harvard University radio station, WHRB, still airs the estimable “Jazz Spectrum” every weekday morning until 1 (thank you, Harvard), and there are some other jazz shows scattered around the Boston FM dial.

Joseph P. Kahn wrote in his Globe story on WGBH’s programming changes:

The moves come as WGBH fights WBUR for public radio supremacy in Greater Boston, a battle that impels his station to program more public affairs shows.

I understand that public radio stations chase ratings — listeners donate, and I assume decent ratings attract underwriters. And I’m just as guilty as any other music fan in sinking WGBH’s rating for jazz. I listen to jazz on SiriusXM satellite radio, I listen to streaming radio stations playing jazz from faraway cities, and I listen to my collection on iTunes a lot more than I listen to the radio.

Kahn wrote:

Ted Kurland, who manages several local jazz artists, said he, too, was saddened by the news, but not entirely surprised. “We’ve seen a huge reshuffling of music on terrestrial radio,” he said. “Entire jazz stations are calling it quits.”

Through websites such as Pandora, jazz fans can effectively become their own broadcasters, Kurland added.

“What is irreplaceable are two guys like this who’ve got good ears,” he said. “They’re the filters, the curators. To see their roles diminished somehow, that’s a loss.”

There is a “Save Eric on the Evening” (the old name of his show), but I don't image it will persuade WGBH executives.

Still, I wish there were a place on public radio for music that may not be commercially popular. It is public radio, isn’t it?

Follow @mleccese on Twitter.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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