Radio Lightning Rod

For decades DJ Larry Monroe worked the radio trenches. After starting in radio at age 13, he worked at stations in Indiana, Ann Arbor, Detroit & Austin to name a few. While always receiving high accolades, including a “Keeping the Blues Alive” award in 2002, he was the prime example of a journeyman DJ. He put a lot of personal time & effort into his shows, he communicated with his peers and listeners, and he got along with his bosses as well as most of us.

Then in 2009 there was a sudden and unforeseen change in fortune. On July 2nd, just a couple of hours before the start of his long-running Phil Music Program, he was advised by KUT-FM managers that the show had been canceled, being replaced with a generic AAA format designed to bring in new listeners, whoever those might be. That started a long chain of events, part of which resulted in the formation of this site. Larry hung around another year doing his Blue Monday show, but finally called it quits and retired from KUT in August of 2010.

But after a few months of retirement and working on his archives, Larry found a new home at KDRP-FM, a low-power FM station in the Austin area town of Dripping Springs. And it seemed the perfect match. KDRP management was proud to have such a talent on board and all of Larry’s many fans were thrilled to have his programs back on the air. For those out of the over-the-air signal coverage there was both a streaming feed for the Internet as well as an iPhone app. So when he returned to the air in March of this year, his programs were greeted with much praise and a sense that the little guys had triumphed this time.

But now there is another radio controversy in the Austin area, and once again Larry seems to be right in the thick of things. Thankfully, this time it has nothing to do with him personally. Instead it touches on many of the other things that we have been writing about on this site from the beginning: the greed of radio conglomerates such as Clear Channel, the deleterious effect of HD channels, and the hopelessness of the FCC in enforcing their own mandates.

The reason for this is clear, as in Clear Channel. There was a wonderful piece done on this by local Austin TV station KXAN last week (see story here). What has happened is that small-town station KDRP is being bullied by Clear Channel, by way of another entity, Educational Media Foundation (EMF). EMF is a nationwide Christian broadcasting group that had entered into an agreement with Clear Channel, where Clear Channel was able to lease some antenna space from EMF in exchange for some HD radio signals. Remember HD Radio? If so, you may be the only one, as HD Radio has been a debacle and the idea that the conglomerates are swapping them around is interesting in itself.

Trouble is, even though this was done with an OK from the FCC, you now have two stations broadcasting on 103.1 with only 15 miles separating their towers. And the inevitable loss of signal to low-power KDRP is causing major problems for the little community-based station. A lot of KDRP’s programming is typical small-town stuff — church broadcasts and Little League games, community events. The station bleeding over is KVET, an Austin-based sports and talk station that sometimes airs what KDRP listeners consider questionable content. And since it comes in on KDRP’s frequency, they are blaming KDRP for the problem.

For its part, EMF has been mainly conciliatory. According to the KXAN story, EMF’s vice president for signal development has stated flatly that they understand that they can’t interfere with KDRP’s signal, and that they are willing to work with KDRP to resolve the issue. But the big guns are having none of that. Clear Channel has issued a statement stating that their translator is in compliance with FCC guidelines, and that KDRP is “seeking to claim rights to coverage which is outside their FCC protected area.” KDRP has filed a complaint with the FCC, but considering how the FCC has kowtowed to the likes of Clear Channel in the past, it looks like this David is going to have a tough time up against the Goliath.

And in the meantime KDRP will have to try and hang on to its local listening community. As well as pay what will have to be large legal bills just to try to keep up with the attorneys from a large corporation such as Clear Channel. And all of this is just part and parcel of what this site and others have been trying to say for some years now: Public and community radio is on the ropes right now, and there is just no way of battling huge corporations such as this when they decide to come in and run roughshod over smaller stations. KDRP was filling a much-needed service for the people of Dripping Springs; they have been growing with the community for some time now. And because of that friendly energy they were attracting new listeners, as well as known talents such as KVET alumni Sammy Allred and Larry Monroe. They deserve protection from such predatory tactics, and if the FCC has any teeth (or cojones) left at all, it will prevent further encroachment on KDRP’s signal as well as its coverage area. It’s what the FCC was designed to do; if it is no longer capable then it might as well be disassembled, much as an old transmitter from one of the stations it has failed. Stations such as KDRP need their core local audience. And the radio world in general needs an outlet for such talents as Sammy Allred and Larry Monroe.

Which brings us back to our old Radio Lightning Rod, Larry . . . None of this has anything directly to do with Larry; he is just another volunteer working at a community station in this matter. But in Austin his name still carries clout in the music community. So it’s no real surprise that when KXAN did their piece on the troubles the station itself was having, they also did a side piece on Larry himself. Specifically, they did a piece on his dismal treatment by his former employer, KUT, and how he had come to find a new home with the folks at KDRP. It’s well worth a read (or a viewing, here). It’s a great review of Larry’s radio journey here in Austin, some of the ups & downs. A lot of this has been chronicled here before, but it’s good to hear Larry tell the story in his own words. And a big hats off to Jim Swift and KXAN for allowing Larry the forum to do so.

We’ll try to keep up with this story, because for us at this site it pretty much has everything we’ve been talking about, all wrapped up into one doozie of a local story. And with KXAN’s coverage maybe more people will be waking up to the very real problems in radio today. The citizens of Dripping Springs, TX, probably didn’t know anything about translators, coverage areas, HD radio, or Clear Channel until recently. But when questionable material starts coming out of the radio you thought you were supporting for church coverage, it’s a pretty big wakeup call. Let’s just hope it’s not the beginning of a nightmare.
—Rev Jim

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One Response

  1. […] going back at least until June of 2011. Much of that was covered at the time, both by our site, here, and by Austin NBC affiliate KXAN reporter Jim Swift, here. In a nutshell, the problem is one that […]

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