[Dixielandjazz] Responses to "Jazz Radio" gripe

Stan Brager sbrager at socal.rr.com
Wed Apr 14 13:30:44 PDT 2004

Thanks for the feedback, Charles. I'm a former DJ on a publicly supported
jazz station and I liked to do sets of music. I was trained by Mr. Wonderful
himself, Bob Ringwald and I'm convinced that his idea of treating the set
was the best.

Before the set, announce the first tune with band and soloists. Play about 3
cuts and back announce all 3 cuts. Since we'd do our shows live for the most
part, Bob and I both gave out the station's phone number so that listeners
could call in case they wanted more information.

The only exception to that rule is when I'd do a special program featuring
an individual musician (in most cases). For those shows, I'd tell the story
of the artist and punctuate it with the music he/she recorded - this
generally meant playing just one cut and announcing it.

These methods seemed to please most of my listeners (I knew this from
conversations with listeners as well as watching the listener pledges
increase during my tenure at the station).

The concept was to maximize the amount of music one's playing while, at the
same time, understanding that the audience was the market for the music
we're playing and most people liked more music.

Stan Brager
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Charles Suhor" <csuhor at zebra.net>
To: <Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 8:41 AM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Responses to "Jazz Radio" gripe

> Last fall I posted on DJML an article I wrote for Jazz Notes about jazz
> radio. The current issue includes a report on responses to the article.
> Feel free to pass it on to others.--Charlie Suhor
> >From JAZZ NOTES (March 2004), journal of the Jazz Journalists Association
> (www.jazzhouse.org)
> The response to my JAZZ NOTES article "Jazz Radio--Blindfold Tests,
> Hostage-Holding, and Station Breaks" was large and surprisingly
> impassioned. My unradical premise was that jazz broadcasters do a
> disservice to listeners and an injustice to musicians when they wait to
> end of a set of tracks before identifying the artists and songs.
> I pointed out that listeners often must leave their cars or home radios or
> are interrupted during the end-of-set announcements, so they don't find
> who the artists were. This knowledge is useful in itself and beneficial to
> jazz musicians. Their careers are enhanced by name exposure and they
> benefit financially from CD sales that result from listeners' knowledge of
> tracks they particularly like.
> I received 74 reactions, some from Jazz Journalists Association (JJA)
> members and others from individuals who saw the article when it was
> forwarded to various email lists. This was by no means a scientific
> but the comments were fascinating.
> The response was overwhelmingly in favor of naming artists, songs and
> labels after each track rather than after sets. Fifty-eight (78%) were for
> Track ID, nine (12%) for Set ID, and seven (10%) were on the fence.
> Interestingly, seven of the nine comments favoring Set ID were from DJs
> defending their practice--only two were from listeners.
> Among the 58 favoring Track ID, many were musicians and writers well known
> to JJA members, but I won't identify them. It's clear that most musicians
> were angry and many were concerned about retaliation. Nine were DJs who
> already do Track ID or want to but are forced to delay identification.
> ("Station management was always on my back to be more like the commercial
> stations.")
> Among the most moving comments was this one from a jazz artist. " My late
> father, a church musician and choral director, used to tell me, 'Son, the
> church is the people, not the building.'  I think there's a strong
> with jazz radio. The artists are jazz music. No radio station has played a
> single note on its own. Jazz radio isn't jazz apart from the recording
> artists whose music they air. If the program directors think they are,
> Selmer saxophones are jazz apart from the players who blow air into their
> horns." He saw the homogenization of jazz radio and the insensitivity of
> broadcasters as a major hindrance to the musician's ability "to reach an
> audience, develop a fan base, [and] earn a living."
> One DJ wrote, "I'm not in the business of promoting the sale of jazz
> recordings," apparently oblivious to the fact that  his work, absent a
> concern for the musicians on the records he plays, is parasitic. When I
> forwarded the above quote to him (not naming the musician), his views
> changed dramatically.
> A sampler of the comments against Set ID.... "I wish I had a recording for
> each time I've exited my car pissed off about the dearth of info
> provided".... Jazz listeners don't want "a glorified juke box"....
> "background din".... "the facelessness of clear channel and its negative
> minions".... "You have identified a major gripe I have about jazz
> radio".... "failure both to pre- and back-announce is plain
> unprofessional".... "the local station is guilty of this practice...I
> seldom listen to it".... After making a "connection between  a particular
> song or artist, I got the album, sometimes followed by more albums by the
> same artist".... "If you don't know the artist, how can you buy the
> CD?".... "Bravo"..... "totally agree".... "100 per cent concur"....
> "Yes!!!!!!" And so on.
> Those defending Set ID had their reasons. The most sympathetic was from a
> public radio broadcaster. The DJ is often alone, he wrote, acting also as
> unpaid programmer, announcer, engineer, and telephone answerer. S/he is
> hard put to come in after each track with information. While this is
> certainly true, many volunteers get sufficient training and gather enough
> experience to do all those tasks, and do them well.
> A familiar false forced-choice argument came from those who don't want DJs
> filling the airwaves with idle comments about their preferences or reading
> liner notes between selections. Some highly specialized programs (like
> Hazen Schumacher's "Jazz Revisited") do include good commentary and
> educational information, but no one is calling for all programs to be this
> way, let alone for inane banter. As one writer put it, "I don't need to
> know how knowledgeable or cool the DJ is, just who's playing what." Time
> it, folks. In about 30 seconds you can give the name of the tune, the
> leader and sidemen on a combo record (soloists on a big band track),
> and date of the session. Enough for a listener to say, "Yes, I dug that
> want to get the CD."
> Then there was the lazy sumbitch argument: If you don't have the attention
> span to wait to the end of a set, or if you have to leave the radio for
> some reason, you can call the station. The DJ or other genial person will
> gladly tell you all you want to know. With some stations, you can go to
> their website for their playbill.
> But many Track-ID advocates reported that in the real world, they've been
> given no information or wrong information when calling in. And besides,
> should a listener have  to make a call or go on-line? For everyone who
> looks up the number and plays the odds that the station will be
> there must be dozens who remain frustrated. (I'm among those who've been
> put on eternal hold, brushed off, or given bad info.) And even when an
> individual calls in successfully, the artists still get less name exposure
> and poorer communication about their work to the larger audience.
> The obvious solution--announcing after each track--apparently goes against
> a prevailing dogma about "uninterrupted music" among some programmers and
> broadcasters. In this market-based argument, it's assumed that listeners
> will change the station if an announcer "interrupts" between each song to
> give a few seconds of relevant information. This might have been true of
> general audiences at some time, but I know of no research that answers key
> questions about how jazz audiences react to Track ID.
> Jazz audiences, like classical music lovers, tend to be serious listeners.
> "They thirst for short but full information," one respondent said. As for
> casual jazz listeners, another wrote, "they need to be CULTIVATED as a
> audience" to ensure a continuing fandom. Another typical comment: "When I
> was growing up, I learned about the music and musicians by listening to
> intros and outros." It's incredibly short-sighted to think that  listeners
> will stay with the music or the station if their interest in jazz stays at
> the level of hip mood music.
> Ironically, the market-based argument for Set ID is parallel to a
> high-minded concern for quality programming stated by several DJs. A
> truisim about radio--i.e., radio is programming-- is elevated to a
> of the DJ as artiste.  Let me acknowledge up front that developing a
> and coherent set of tracks for an evening of programming can be a
> skill. Insight and sensitivity are involved in putting together sequences
> of recordings that evoke moods, provide contrasts, and cover an
> range of artists. But there's no contradiction between great programming
> and low-keyed announcements between the tracks in a set. It's magical
> thinking to hold that brief Track ID blows the mood to all hell and throws
> the listener into the audio equivalent of coitus interruptus.
> It's sad when devotion to Set ID freezes into ideology, and it's appalling
> when the genuine craft of developing sets is equated to the art of jazz
> performance. One DJ claimed that "radio is just like jazz, just like film,
> just like literature, an art form....I know to a certainty that's what it
> is when I do the programming." Another combined presumption with
> writing of "the artistic integrity of the jazz set...high art....It's like
> the jazz DJ is improvising jazz." Those who criticize Set ID are victims
> "complete and utter lunacy...laboring under some sort of delusion." We
> to "get hip to what jazz is," then we'll "understand why jazz sets are the
> ONLY way to correctly broadcast jazz." Jazz listeners "absolutely,
> and without question" prefer Set ID. To think otherwise is "anti-jazz,
> anti-art, and flat out badheaded."
> Am I missing something here? Admittedly, I've never been a jazz
> broadcaster, but I've selected and sequenced live performance sets and
> and poetry concerts, both as a producer and performer. That's lovely work,
> but I've never equated the fascinating mechanics of programming with the
> art of performance. I've put together literary anthologies, too, but I've
> never confused myself with William Faulkner.
> Honestly, I believe that the DJs who ego-trip about the art of set-making
> need to go back to the original DJ metaphor. It stands for "disk jockey."
> You are riding the horse of the disk, you aren't the disk itself, much
> the artists whose talents you depend upon. There are great jockeys and
> jockeys, but without horses there would be no jockeys at all, just skinny
> guys with riding crops. Show the proper regard for the art and the
> livelihood of the musicians who make your work possible.
> It's apparent that musicians and highly devoted jazz fans favor Track ID.
> simple experiment might get an initial  take on how other jazz listeners
> feel. Set ID broadcasters might move without comment to low-keyed Track ID
> for three weeks or more, and see if complaints, congrats, or no comments
> all come in.
> But for a larger picture, some well-designed research is needed. Research
> that doesn't lean towards preferred conclusions, as would be the case if
> DJs posed the question explicitly to their own predisposed listeners.
> Research that distinguishes between the preferences of jazz audiences and
> other listeners--pop/easy listening/nostalgia, etc.--for whom
> "uninterrupted music" was created decades ago. Research that discovers the
> kinds of announcements actually seen as intrusive (basic ID, DJ
> commercials, public service announcements, etc.). I hope that JJA or
> university communications departments will put this on future agendas. A
> lot depends on challenging the "time-tested" (read: unexamined) idea that
> Set ID, a ripple from the past, is the wave of the future.

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