Monday, August 30, 2021

My letter to KALW management and overseeing board/license holders

 KALW Station Management, Board of Directors, and License Holders


I am late in writing this email because of travel, illness and my desire to sample the new music programming fully. I expressed some opinions on the two community Zoom meetings, but want to say more after some deep consideration of the issues and my reactions. My personal focus is resisting voter suppression, but I have a very personal relationship to the issue of KALW programming changes, so I am willing to also participate in this discussion as well.

I write for two reasons, to express support for the Tangents radio show and to provide feedback on the project to revamp KALW as a model for NPR stations in general. I have listened to Tangents for almost forty years. It is a staple of my musical and political diet and is important to me. When I heard that the program would be cut in half, I was alarmed and upset. My life was disrupted for a few days, a stronger reaction than I would have predicted. My alarm was greater after I read the station manager’s op-ed and after I participated in the two Zoom meetings. Here is why.

I fit the mold of an NPR listener and supporter. I have donated to various stations and programs for years, including KALW, KQED, WQXR, WNYC, RadioLab, UnderCurrents, KPFA, and Democracy Now. I listen several hours per day, mostly to the music programming, but also news programming. These are staples of my media diet, in other words. I also fit the demographic, as I am a white, CIS-gender male, and middle class Boomer with a college education. With that background, let me respond to the central issues, the aging out of people like me and the low diversity of the listeners and donors.

The station manager’s op-ed and more raw, unfiltered comments on the first Zoom call show the damage wrought by personal wrongs due to gender, ethnicity and age. She has an agenda that arose in response to those wrongs. There is also an occupational “Joan of Arc” quality to this, in that a successful revolution in KALW programming, listenership and donor base would vault her forward in the NPR world as a solution provider nationally. I get that. As KALW staff member David said, to paraphrase, the existing model is not sustainable.

After I listened to a couple weeks of the new programming, I conclude that my image of what was coming was a little off. Although the core genre is hip-hop, the sound is more KBLX/Quiet Storm than the sound I expected. Frankly, I do not expect this to draw a large donor audience. I suppose it is a valid experiment though. I, on the other hand,  would recommend an Americanized version of Gilles Peterson’s BBC6 Music show on Saturdays with a mix-in of Greg Bridges show on KPFA.

Now, as to Dore Stein’s Tangents show… The pursuit of diversity can take multiple forms. Clearly the music and the political content of Tangents is diverse, that is, varied, multi-ethnic, multi-generational and representative of multiple minorities, far beyond the week night programming. It is also cohesive, representative of a progressive point of view, and artistically and professionally very accomplished. I think if we examine the station manager’s comments about Tangents, especially in the first Zoom meeting, it is clear that she does not consider it diverse - she scoffed at the idea. I attribute this to the fact that Dore is a Jewish American and not a BIPOC. This is discriminatory on its face. She did not ever address the fact that the music is diverse, which blatantly leaves out the central premise of the show. Her treatment of the Gaza Corner issue is also illustrative. Clearly cutting the program time to two hours makes it impossible to include a long news segment. It’s disingenuous to blame Dore. It also shows that the political views of the show are not considered as a voice of minorities, probably because those minorities are not the target audience for the new programming. I think that is short-sighted.

As I edit this, I see that the Station Manager is moving on to a new organization. I hope that something can be done to rectify the situation she created.
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