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Mulling the jazz downgrade on WGBH

Posted by Joel Brown  June 22, 2012 09:05 PM

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You've probably heard by now that WGBH (89.7 FM) has pulled the carpet from under weeknight jazz listeners, with plans to move Eric Jackson's venerable "Eric in the Evening" jazz show to the weekends, cutting it from 16 hours a week to 9, and eliminating Steve Schwartz's Friday night show altogether. Jackson has been on the air in more or less the same slot for 30 years. Jazz fans were up in arms, storming the barricades via a Facebook page. We'll see how that works.

The best part was that WGBH had the Orwellian brass to call this "a new focus on jazz." Call the BFD! Pants on fire!

Lots of folks noted that jazz fans can get whatever they want from the Internet, and Dan Kennedy perhaps shot from the hip with the observation, "I suspect not many people listen to terrestrial jazz radio in the age of Pandora." I suspect that many Internet jazz listeners are in fact dialing up terrestrial stations online - WGBH when Eric's on, as well as the wonderful WWOZ from New Orleans or KKJZ from Long Beach. (As I type these words, Ella Fitzgerald is scatting on K-Jazz, Dan; I think they knew I was going to mention you.) But yes, the Internet has had its usual impact here. And Jackson is 20th in his broadcast time slot.

That's what it's about, ratings and dollars. WGBH decided some time ago that it must battle WBUR for the large audience that tunes in for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered," "Marketplace" and other "news and information" programming, be it local or national. And that means anything that doesn't fit those plans must be shunted to the sidelines - hence the move of WGBH's classical programming to WCRB (99.5 FM) a couple of years ago. Probably the classical listeners had a Facebook insurrection too, but it doesn't appear to have made much of a dent.

You might be one of those naive old-timers who remembers that public broadcasting was created to provide programming that wasn't supported by the marketplace. About the best spin you could put on the present reality is that fine folks at 'GBH and 'BUR have looked at the degraded news operations of the networks and the cable screamers and decided that their most important, their sole mission, should be to provide a news and information alternative.

That both stations are providing pretty much the (oxymoron alert!) same alternative, well... tough. They're afraid for their jobs like everyone else in the media these days, and if big ratings is what they need to keep them...

But I can't see myself driving along the Charles late some night, looking at the city lights, and wanting to tune in reruns of a midday issues talk show, not matter who's doing the talking.

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About the author

Joel Brown is a regular contributor to The Boston Globe and writes the blog. Catch his tweets between posts at More »

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