More on WGBH from Jazz Boston

To everyone who is participating in or following the progress of the Greater Boston jazz community’s campaign for the future of local jazz radio:

On August 20 JazzBoston brought the concerns of our jazz community to a meeting with WGBH executives Marita Rivero, Vice President and General Manager for Radio and Television, and Phil Redo, Managing Director of News and Culture for WGBH-FM. Scheduled for 1 – 2 pm, the open and frank discussion ran until 2:30 and covered a lot of ground — from the spirit and substance of the July 31 jazz community meeting at the Boston Public Library to the future of jazz at WGBH and other stations in the Greater Boston area. 

The tone of the meeting was positive throughout. Marita and Phil assured us of WGBH’s long-term commitment to jazz and to Eric Jackson as the station’s voice of jazz, described their plans for enhancing the station’s jazz programming, and asked for community input on some of those plans. Perhaps most important, they agreed to continue the dialogue with a meeting next month.

How we opened the meeting

In our opening statement, we explained that JazzBoston was there as a representative of the Greater Boston jazz community because we are part of that community and have been supporting it since we were founded 6 –1/2 years ago. We said that we wanted to meet with WGBH to explain why the community feels so deeply about the loss of local jazz programming and what kinds of actions are being planned in response. We also said we wanted to ask some questions. We pointed out that about 10,000 people were following developments via Facebook, the JazzBoston website, The Arts Fuse, and other respected local blogs, in addition to those following via national blogs and the major print media. And we made it clear that we would be reporting back to the jazz community and the media on the meeting.

In describing the campaign now getting under way, we told Marita and Phil that eight teams were forming to find ways to replace what was lost in WGBH’s cutback, some of those teams were looking at ways to provide a platform for on-air jazz at other stations, and one team was pursuing regulatory and legal action. We noted that the team taking the legal route had people with a lot of FCC experience on it.

What we learned

WGBH plans to continue to play an important, rejuvenated role in jazz. They will keep Eric Jackson’s show on Friday – Sunday nights and integrate more arts and culture reporting, including jazz, into their news programming to give it a distinctive texture.

Marita and Phil told us that jazz will be a permanent component of the station’s on-air and online offerings, and Eric will be the station’s voice of jazz.

In addition to doing his own show, now back to its original name, “Eric in the Evening,” 9 hours per week, Eric will appear “regularly” on daytime talk shows. Once a month was mentioned.

The station wants to present jazz “in a way that integrates more with what we’re doing . . . without compromising the reality we face as public media.”

They are looking for “the next generation of DJs” for help with streaming content and in-studio recording sessions. The key word is “young,” Phil said.

WGBH plans to launch an Internet jazz station before the end of the year, possibly starting with 6 hours a day. Phil described the station as a work in progress and said he will seek input from the local jazz community.

The programming will be live, not drawn from archives, with Eric as the main voice, but it wasn’t clear whether Eric will be curating or simply announcing.

Phil indicated that younger voices might be more suitable for daytime spots.

Some of the challenges Phil said they would like community input on are giving the Internet jazz station a name that brands it as local, incorporating a “local sensibility” into the programming, finding talented young DJs, and scheduling different styles of jazz for different audiences. 

Marita and Phil said they want to “broaden community collaborations,” and Marita specifically asked for help letting listeners know who’s playing where, and reaching Boston’s huge student audience. We talked about ways to direct listeners to the events calendar on the JazzBoston website and publicize special WGBH programs to student audiences.

Conclusions

1.Three years after announcing they were going to an all news/talk format, WGBH is still trying to figure out what it is doing with its radio station. Its plans for integrating jazz news into news and talk shows and establishing an Internet jazz station are in the formative stages, and it’s not clear what the new offerings will look like. The jazz community may be able to play a role in shaping them.

2. WGBH has no interest in increasing on-air jazz programming. We got the message that WGBH believes the time for delivering music over the air waves is past. The station is focused on preparing for an all-digital future dominated by mobile devices and the Internet, and is looking for ways to reach large, young audiences. For now, it is apparent that the jazz community must look elsewhere for an over-the-air-waves station for jazz programming.

3. Marita and Phil would like everyone to believe that they always planned the pro-jazz moves they told us about Monday; however, their reasons for not announcing those positive measures when they announced the cutbacks raise questions. You will have to decide for yourself whether some of the apparent changes in course are the result of the unexpected amount of pressure WGBH has received from the jazz community.

4. The tone and length of the meeting suggest they are aware that WGBH’s image needs rehabilitating, and they would like JazzBoston to help do that. We will continue to remind them that we are part of a larger jazz community.

5. Only time will tell whether the commitments Marita and Phil voiced to providing a permanent place for jazz at WGBH, retaining Eric as “the voice of jazz at WGBH,”  and continuing to support the local jazz scene are genuine. WGBH is aware that those commitments will be widely publicized, which should make it difficult to turn their backs on them.

6. It was good to hear that WGBH welcomes community participation as they make their way into the digital era. However, it’s hard not to be skeptical when we have been told that their own Community Advisory Board wasn’t consulted about the last round of jazz programming changes.

7. Overall, this was a good beginning. We heard a lot about WGBH’s priorities and needs for assistance, and built a foundation for cooperation. In the next meeting, we can spend more time on the priorities and needs of  the Greater Boston jazz community and possible ways WGBH can provide support. We will plan carefully and consult with other members of the jazz community to make the best possible use of the dialogue we succeeded in opening.

We will post this report on JazzBoston’s website and link to it from JazzBoston’s Facebook page. We expect to have an online forum in place very soon for use by everyone engaged in the jazz community campaign or supporting it in some way. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about the report, please write to thefutureofjazz@jazzboston.org. Please also write to this address if you are interested in joining one of the teams being formed to carry out the campaign. Planning meetings with each team will begin in early September.

Pauline Bilsky, Executive Director, JazzBoston
Mark Harvey, Director, JazzBoston
Emmett Price, Director, JazzBoston