Just What’s in a Name?

When you buy a can of vegetables at the store labeled “Green Beans” you have the reasonable expectation that what’s inside will indeed be green beans, right? If the contents turn out to be corn, you’d be surprised at the very least. The same with a carton labeled “Milk.” If when you get it home it turns out to be grape juice instead, you will probably notice the difference immediately and feel victimized by the blatant falsehood. Not that there’s anything wrong with corn or grape juice, but the contents of each were completely disconnected from what the label lead you to expect. And as consumers we expect the labeling of a product to accurately describe the actual content. But in some areas today it is truly caveat emptor when it comes to content labeling.

A case in point is the labeling of content at public radio stations, where the name of a given program seems to offer a certain genre of music, usually meant for a niche market, but actually delivers something else. To provide an example, lets look at KUT-FM in Austin, Texas, and its long-running Saturday program Folkways.

Folkways has long been a stalwart on KUT’s schedule. Its roots go back for decades, and the program has long been a favorite in this university town with its long history of singer-songwriters and acoustic artists. For years the show was handled by a rotating group of disc jockeys, each of whom brought their own unique slant to the show. The results of that schedule were evident each week. The DJs had ample time to come up with a theme or a connection to some current event that they could base their song selections around. Many of those shows were incredibly well researched, far beyond just slotting up the next artist off some manager’s playlist. Personally, I can remember shows that were based on such themes as the influence of early black jazz artists on what became known as Western Swing, with well thought out examples such as Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies. Or another show that showcased the songs concerning the malady known as “Jake Leg,” which was a neurological disorder caused by patent medicines in the early 20th century. Obviously these types of programs took a lot of research and were definitely labors of love that could only be done by a professional well versed in folk music and how it related to society at the time. So we had a genre specific, informative & entertaining show available every Saturday for years.

But now fast forward until modern times. . . . . If you look at the program schedule on KUT’s website, you might be lead to believe nothing had changed. Folkways is still right there on the Saturday morning schedule, pretty much at the same time slot as in years past. But don’t let the label fool you; you may be getting grape juice, not milk. And longtime listeners will notice one thing right off — the program’s time has been cut by half, from 4 hours to 2. But what’s disconcerting to an actual listener is that the next 2 hours are hosted by the same DJ with no real demarc between what is purported to be folk music and the following show, which is simply labeled Music With Kevin Conner. And a listener could hardly be faulted for not being able to tell when one ends and the other begins. For this piece I checked the playlists for 2 Saturdays in August for the Folkways aspect of the show and found it was mainly populated by artists that are mainstays on commercial AAA stations across the country. I found The Dixie Chicks, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, The Grateful Dead, Ronnie Lane, David Crosby, Shawn Colvin. The list goes on. Not that there is anything particularly wrong or bad about these artists. Many are favorites of mine. But it goes back to the mislabeled groceries analogy: There’s nothing wrong with corn or grape juice either, but when you are lead to expect green beans or milk it’s a blatant misrepresentation of the facts.

And this is not the only instance of station management using a long-standing show title to attract or hold listeners. On weekdays DJ John Aielli has had his show Eklektikos on the air for decades. And at one time it truly was as eclectic as the name suggests. Essentially you could expect the unexpected. John would skillfully mix in classical, jazz, show tunes, rock and other genres in such a way as to make it seem totally natural, A true wizard of the turntables. But a few years ago the word came down from the managers, no more show tunes or classical music allowed! John is now reduced to selecting most of his program from a committee-approved list of CDs with selected songs “bulleted” for play. Still Eklektikos in name, but the eclectic nature of the program is a thing of the past now.

And it may well be happening again. While I am writing this, it is Monday. This would usually be the night for Blue Monday, the long-running, national award-winning blues show hosted by legendary DJ Larry Monroe. But Larry retired as of last week, and it is widely rumored the retirement was hastened by station managers’ decision to unceremoniously cut his other programs last year. But the schedule still shows Blue Monday, and no one really knows what they have planned for that time slot. One rumor is that another DJ will try doing a blues show during that time, but what can we expect for content? If Blue Monday gets handled the same way as Folkways and Eklektikos have been, then my expectations aren’t too high. In fact, I am expecting the corn and grape juice, not the product I had every right to expect.

So what’s in a name? Apparently, for some station managers and program directors, a name is merely a come-on, part of the old bait-and-switch. With the end result being more AAA pablum being dumped on listeners who had every right to expect more from their donations to a public station that has turned its back on the public they were created to serve.

— Reverend Jim


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