06 August 2009

KUT Austin : Messing With History

Photo from KUTAustin / Flickr
The growing protest against KUT-FM's decision to cut back the shifts of longtime disc jockeys Paul Ray and Larry Monroe is shaping up as something of a last stand for the public radio station's old guard disc jockeys. "They haven't even begun to hear from us," said musician Cleve Hattersley, co-founder of seminal local band Greezy Wheels, who is spearheading the protest.

His supporters, who include former Mayor Lee Cooke and 570 Facebook fans, have been calling station board members, staging meetings, and enlisting the support of musicians such as Joe Ely, Marcia Ball, and Toni Price. "We're going to raise such a stink, we're going to get [Ray and Monroe] back," Hattersley said.

But they're battling what station insiders say is a long-running effort to marginalize and push out the station's core group of ol' record spinners, the holdovers from a different era -- Monroe, Ray, and morning host John Aielli, in particular -- who have been part of KUT for 30 years and remain the station's most recognizable personalities...

-- Kevin Brass / Austin Chronicle

Photo by Amanda Klaus.

Austin public radio community
gathers to protest changes at KUT

By Jim Ellinger / The Rag Blog / August 6, 2009

Allow me to share with you some thoughts on last night’s impressive meeting of concerned Austin radio listeners who gathered, and stayed in the 100-plus heat, at Threadgill's beer garden to express their concerns, and some muted outrage, at our local NPR affiliate’s decision to dump on popular veteran DJs Paul Ray and Larry Monroe.

Included in the more than 150 folks were, variously, past Austin City Council members (and mayors), the UT student body president, scores of musicians, rows of small business owners, potloads of policitos, tons of Tweeters, bloggers, and shutter clickers.

KEYE-42 showed up and did a very supportive piece, with a definite "this story is just starting folks... Stay tuned!" angle. The Austin Chronicle’s Kevin Brass’ did an excellent overview article. 

From my perspective, KUT management will have to either return Ray and Monroe to their respective timeslots, and maybe make some additional concessions, or dig in their heels, claim that they know best what Austin wants to hear and that the station “must” make these regrettable but necessary cuts. As of this date, it appears they are twisting their heels into the plush carpeting at Communications Building B on the UT campus.

The KUT fall pledge drive starts on October 20th, and the station may find itself confronted with hundreds of dissatisfied listeners, literally waving pledge checks in their faces, saying, “Not until you bring Larry and Paul back! AND the Texas Music Show!!”

The whole apple cart of “one of America’s finest public radio stations,” is now beginning to wobble. Even as the station continues to support scores of local musicians and community institutions, better than virtually all the other electronic media in the city, they will have to try and get comfortable with being in the bullseye of Austin’s extremely engaged population. Extremely engaged. Outraged Austin citizens. Pledge drive is 75 days away and counting down. A nightmare.

Back to the meeting: It came as no surprise to me that the vast majority of those who attended were -- let’s be frank here -- aging hippies and musicians. (DISCLAIMER: I am 55 y.o. and did the live NPR/KUT radio ‘cast from the last night at the ‘Dillo, thank you…) [Austin's legendary music venue, the Armadillo World Headquarters, closed it's doors for the last time on New Years Eve, 1980.]

Of course, in Austin, the aging hippie/musician demographic includes plenty of politicos, acclaimed authors, journalists and (Michael) Dell-ionaires. But, the president of the UT Student Association was also joined at the event by the President of the East Sixth Street Business Association.

All these “Don’t call me ‘Sir,' kid!” listeners represent a sizable percentage of KUT’s long term supporters. The station simply cannot afford to dis them. One proposal (okay, by me…) is to set aside listener pledges to a “Phriends of Phil Music” checking account, to be held until and unless KUT does right by their 25-plus year programmers. Safe bet that it is being discussed behind closed door in the big rusty cube at 25th and Guadalupe this week.

Consider this: radio, once you got the transmitter and AC up and running is damn cheap. It is still the cheapest form of mass communication available. Every soul in Austin, literally 100% of the population, can tune in, all at the same time, real time, for free, maybe even without the lights on. Other community media groups in Austin are struggling with budgets of a few hundred thousand dollars. KUT? Try $6 million. With 60 employees, many apparently making salaries of $80-100,000.

Remember: UT does not DO “poor.”

How about, instead of dumping on the station’s best talent, all of the senior KUT management take a 2% pay cut?

Hold on to those KUT pledge envelopes.

[Jim Ellinger a community media activist in Austin. He is the Vice-President for North America of AMARC, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters. His Austin Airwaves, Inc. is a Texas, not for profit 501c3 educational group working on a wide range of radio projects worldwide.]

Also see Bad Boogie at Austin's KUT : 'We Built This City' by Cleve Hattersley / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2009 [Includes ‘Time to break out the torches and pitchforks? Format change at KUT,’ by John Conquest]

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