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Opinion/Editorial

L.A. Jazz Radio

By Published: April 8, 2004
One ex-KJAZZ host, who asked not to identified said, "I was let go because of financial budgeting. They could get someone to do it for less money. The station has lost its sense of apprenticeship. People who are running it have never been trained in either broadcasting or jazz. I came up with 28 years experience learning from the best of public broadcasting and jazz, and now you get people in management who've never been worked in a radio station before. It gives reason to pause when a jazz station lets go of their highest and best programmers and personalities. The station has been going down for some time in terms of ratings, audience share and fund raising. Not enough people are listening."

Downs concurs, "Chuck Niles is someone who's their bread and butter. He loves the music. He plays great music. But they use Chuck. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Whatever gimmick they can use to get more money coming in, they'll use, and they'll use Chuck for those things. Chuck just wants to play jazz, just like he's been doing for 50 years. All the other stuff is not Chuck's idea. The people who run KJAZZ don't necessarily know much about jazz. They know the business side more. They've said they'll try everything they can to make the dollars come in. I don't think they know exactly what to do, but if they have an idea, they'll try it." Heitkemper contends, "We've run a straight-ahead jazz station for 24 years. Some of the hosts program their own shows. They were hired because of their knowledge of straight-ahead jazz. We have a great music director, Scott Willis. He's very influential in the morning and evening programs. He handles the music library with thousands upon thousands of CDs and LPs."

Traditional jazz stations try to cling to a core audience of jazz devotees. But there is another way. "KCRW markets themselves better and has a much more diverse audience than KJAZZ," observes Downs. "I saw Branford Marsalis in a concert which they promoted. I'd never seen a more diverse mix at a jazz concert. They were all young and they all came to see Branford. It has to do with how they promote. Same with (Brad) Mehldau playing at places like the Knitting Factory." At KPFK, Maxwell is also reaching out to his audience. "I'm always surprised by who's listening. There's a growing audience for it and I have a specific emphasis on music with a social, struggle, cultural, or spiritual message. It is a narrow part of the spectrum. I did it as a reaction to what is missing in L.A. radio."

Being both a deejay (Spaceways on KPFK) and bandleader, Carlos Nino has a unique perspective on the radio scene. "All attention should be put on Mark Maxwell's show. I feel he's playing the best selection of a wide variety of music that people need to hear within the realm of jazz. I say this as a DJ and as a musician. I feel like the voice for real progressive jazz is to be found nowhere else," asserts Nino. He adds, "If people followed his lead, the world would be in a wonderful time for radio. I feel there's no edge at KJAZZ. James Janisse (KJAZZ) is a friend to everyone in jazz and I'm definitely supportive of him, but KJAZZ doesn't play anything that is challenging or provocative. That is problematic, because I feel that jazz music is revolutionary by nature. It's basically a commercial station."


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