Thanks to Gapers Block for pointing to this: yesterday the Washington Post ran an article about a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts that’s critical of National Public Radio’s trend of eliminating music programming in favor of news. The posture is a bit surprising: the NEA has hardly been a progressive force in the years since it caught flak for supporting Mapplethorpe, Serrano, Finley, and other artists who poisoned our society. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)
The story quotes the report: “’There appears to be a tendency for public stations to discourage music programming in favor of news/talk broadcasts as a way to draw larger audiences,’ the NEA study says. But because it receives tax dollars, ‘public radio has an obligation beyond maximizing audiences.’ The NEA concludes that public radio ‘should balance its drive for audiences and revenues with a commitment to cultural programming and services that are not necessarily profitable.’”
The report was made in response to declining opportunities to hear classical music — something Chicago’s WBEZ has never had to bother with, thanks to WFMT. But the basic points about music certainly apply to our own local NPR station. NPR chief exec Ken Stern offers some bullshit explanations for the shift that resemble the kind of babble that BEZ boss Torey Malatia has been spouting for the last few years. The good ol’ Internet is to blame — thanks to the Interweb, Stern says, access to jazz, international, and other non-commercial music is a piece of cake.
Ahem. Anyone interested in these marginal art forms must now work to hear the stuff, and while you can hear a lot of great stuff online, if you’re not savvy you’ll probably never find it. If you can’t afford a computer or Internet access — oh, well, you’re not part of the “public” in National Public Radio, I guess. The people who fork over cash to NPR are most certainly not among the computer-impaired. Stern also talks about the a bogus-sounding “community” that can be built around NPR’s digital download offerings, which seems just as silly as WBEZ turning to the community to program its art coverage.
I’ve written about this several times, but response has been limited to nonexistent. I don’t think there’s any debate about the continued need for music qua music on public radio, but am I alone in being aghast at NPR’s assumptions about who they’re serving and what resources those listeners have?