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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Passing Tributes

One year ago today we started this site with the hope of shining a light on what we saw happening to public radio stations across the country. Whether it was the sudden canceling of popular shows, the fallacy of HD radio, or the creeping influence of national groups such as NPR, we wanted to point out the disservice being done to the supporters of their respective public radio stations. And, for myself anyway, one of the worst aspects of it all was the homogenization of the programming at local stations. Since many stations were dumping local programming for the cheaper national feed, some of the first casualties were the local DJs who added so much local flavor and personal knowledge to their stations. The difference can be remarkable, and there have been two such examples of this in the past few weeks alone. Though both are tinged with sadness. . . .

On Monday, March 21st, it was announced that legendary pianist Pinetop Perkins had died at his home in Austin at age 97. Pinetop was one of the last of the old Delta blues artists, a veteran of Muddy Waters’ band and several others. That night Larry Monroe did a tribute to Pinetop on his recently revived Blue Monday show on community-funded KDRP in Dripping Springs, TX (see the set list and a downloadable recording of it here). A look at that set list will quickly show that not only did Larry play extensively from Pinetop’s personal catalogue; there are also songs from his many peers and collaborators. This type of in-depth tribute requires vast personal knowledge of the subject, as doing Google searches or playing cuts from “Greatest Hits” CDs just won’t cut it.

As remarkable as that tribute was, though, one could possibly say that such tributes are commonplace — they take place all over the country whenever a legendary figure dies. Some tributes may be noticeably better than others, but a blues show doing a tribute to a blues legend is hardly noteworthy. With that in mind I’d like to point to the latest tribute, this time on Larry’s Phil Music Program for April 7th, and this time the subject was Calvin Russell, who died on April 3rd.

Calvin WHO did you say? That is probably the most common response anywhere outside of the Austin music scene or in Europe, where Calvin was extremely popular . I really can’t do justice to describing Calvin or his music; best bet is to go to his website and get treated to something totally unique. But in short, Calvin was a grizzled old guy in a trademark battered hat with a voice that sounded like years of hard living, but also tinged with what could pass for hope. He had some great videos in the ’90s and he had a national hit in France for his song “Crack in Time.” But one thing Calvin definitely was not was any kind of a legend here in the States. He was widely respected by his fellow Austin musicians, both for his songwriting skills and his performances. But even here he only played small clubs. But another peek at that set list and downloadable archive for April 7th ( http://www.larrymonroe.com/archive/ ) will show how Larry dedicated the same effort to showcasing a lesser-known artist such as Calvin as he did to the national treasure Pinetop Perkins. The same cuts from the personal catalogue mixed in with tracks from other artists to highlight the passing of someone great. The greatness of an artist isn’t measured in how well they are known, or in how many records they might have sold. It’s more in their ability to affect the people that they touch, both with other artists and with the fans lucky enough to discover them.

Once upon a time, one of the main tenets of public broadcasting was that they were to serve the under-served. And to make the listeners in their local communities aware of the treasures around them. When those same stations turned their backs on their local scenes in favor of cheap national feed and the Almighty Dollar, this was one of the predictable results. I imagine that somewhere out there in NPR land there was mention of Pinetop Perkin’s passing, maybe even a sample played from his last CD. But if there was a national tribute to Calvin Russell’s passing then I’ll eat my leather hat. As for the local level, during Larry’s tribute I checked the set list over at his former station, KUT-FM — not a single song by Calvin. Instead there was the usual AAA rotation that the station managers imposed some years ago  (see “Not a Playlist,” here).

Sometimes it’s the little things that really point out the big problems. And for me this is certainly one of those moments. Every day, all around us, in communities across the country we are losing artists such as these. And who is going to mark their passing in any kind of meaningful way? Does your public station devote time to the lesser-known artists in your area, both while still performing and after their passing? If not, then there is a total breakdown of their duties to the community. While I enjoy such programs as All Things Considered and Morning Edition, I would gladly throw away all of the NPR programs for just one hour focusing on the wonders around me. Here at this site we will keep fighting to get that message out. We hope you will continue to support us in that mission.

—Rev Jim

The Revolution Will Be Publicized

The conservative mantra labels NPR as part of a vast “liberal media,” a view espoused vociferously by the right since the time of Reagan. But saying something loud and long enough does not automatically make it true. “The truth will out in a free marketplace of ideas,” journalism teaches the hapless communications student of today (faced with a job market that’s seen a quarter of journalists laid off in the past decade). The marketplace of ideas has itself been corporatized, with free thinkers relegated to the internet, the new opiate of the masses. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be publicized — on Facebook and YouTube (witness the uprisings in the Middle East). Were Edward R. Murrow alive today, would you have to find him on Twitter?

Legitimate conservative arguments do, however, reveal some interesting statistics, as in this post from the website NewAmerican.com:

NPR’s Demographic

The numbers on NPR’s audience are remarkable.

Their household income is about $90,000 annually, compared to $55,000 for the hoi polloi who listen to normal radio. As well, its audience is 86 percent white. Only 5 percent of its audience is black. And about 70 percent of its audience has a college degree, compared to 25 percent of the American population. Moreover, an NPR fact sheet brags, its listeners are three time more likely to have finished graduate school: 32 percent of NPR listeners hold graduate degrees.

Further on down the page is this admission:

But Susan Schardt, executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio, speaking at an NPR board meeting in February, also said NPR erred in targeting the white liberal elite, which is just 11 percent of the population, and should cultivate all Americans as listeners. According to Schardt:

We have to look at this because the criticisms that are coming at us — whether they’re couched in other things — do have some legitimacy. We must, as a starting point, take on board some of this criticism…. We have to own this.

Yesterday’s Taylor on Radio newsletter carried this related piece:

Worries about a commitment to diversity at NPR.
The National Association of Black Journalists says Vivian Schiller “inherited a culture that was dismissive of diversity” when she got there in 2009, and had taken steps to improve that. She’d hired Keith Woods as Vice President of Diversity, News, then Jeff Perkins as VP of Human Resources and Chief People Officer, and former Radio One executive Deborah Cowen as VP of Finance and CFO. Schiller also created the job of a senior editor to diversify the voices heard on NPR, and a diversity correspondent to cover “race, ethnicity, community and culture”, says NABJ. So that’s another challenge for whoever replaces Vivian Schiller. The last time the top NPR job came open, several commercial radio executives took a shot at it. But with all the controversy, what will the pool be like this time?

The lack of diversity has been a far greater bone of contention at local stations such as KUT in Austin (a city nearing a white minority), where a slavish attention to Arbitron numbers drives the choices made. Arbitron, which is now seeking to weather lawsuits in several states regarding its lack of diversity, leading to a systematic alteration of methodologies in collecting these numbers to address the problem.

This is particularly hypocritical given the clarion call on 170MillionAmericans.org in response to the Republican effort to defund public radio, when the spin meisters so devoutly professed to “ensure universal access to high-quality non-commercial programming that educates, informs, enlightens, and enriches the public, with a particular focus on the needs of underserved audiences, including children and minorities.”

But whatever melts your butter, right? That seems to be the norm in politics nowadays, where talk is cheap — whichever face it’s coming out of…

DJs of the World Unite

An exchange of comments on the Support Larry Monroe and Paul Ray at KUT Facebook site is worth a read for those not following it. It was in regards to piece posted here by the Reverend Jim on LPFM and Larry Monroe’s new digs on KDRP in Dripping Springs, TX:

Jennifer Catherine: Article posted below is beautifully articulate. Thank you. Live in Blanco County, TX, pay attention, NPR junkie (KUT as a freebie; will never be philanthropic with them again unless/until they change evil ways). Am veteran DJ from KNON/Dallas; had 3 zany/wonderful shows in late ’80’s/early ’90’s; like to think . . . I know what it takes to make good radio show. Beloved brother-in-arms LM has got MORE than what it takes to do that . . . so grateful he’s returned to airwaves with his big heart & soul & kindness & sensitivity to what is happening at the moment, & his massive talent, it brings tears to my eyes. Have been sitting on a perch for long time, observing what’s happening with radio, desperate to dial in something good. Sign up for satellite thing? Keep twisting dial, hoping for something good? F that. Anything valuable that is pleasing my ears right now I’ve found, I have to dial in online, and I keep digging for more.

Larry Monroe: Thank you, Hacienda Sister. See you at the Stone River Boys show at the Continental Club tonight.

Jim Vest: Thank you Jennifer! As the author of the article below I really appreciate your comment. Over the air radio is the real deal tho I have to listen to Larry on my PC now. While I don’t remember KNON precisely I do have fond memories of Dallas stations. When I was a kid in Odessa I can remember tuning in a Dallas AM talk DJ named Rod Roddy. My memories of him are as an unholy cross between Larry King, Howard Stern & Rush Limbaugh. But I was a pretty imaginative kid. . . .

Jennifer Catherine: Damnit, I do not know how to work Facebook! Just took another peek at Jim’s article and wanted to comment on a few things. LM, correct me if I am wrong, but I think you hung in there at KUT for about another year after KGSR and the Californians took over, standing down from Blue Monday only (all that was left) sometime in August of 2010 (I think Blue Monday was not axed when Phil Music and all of Larry’s other late-night shows were). KUT STILL sends me pleading letters about how long it’s been since I donated. I have never bothered to respond, since I used to be SO generous whenever they would ask, and I figured, like Jim said in his article, their new breed slammed the door in my face and doesn’t care what I think. (My latest idea is to copy all the Statesman and AusChron articles I saved about Larry and Paul over the years, stuff their postage-paid envelope with them, and write something in magic marker on it like “you are no longer relevant to me.”) Anyway, count on the U of T to make the worst possible decisions when it comes to music.

Next topic: I was born in 1960 and my grandma gave me my 1st transistor radio, 1st short-wave radio, 1st cassette recorder, 1st walkman, and if she were still alive, woulda given me my 1st ipod. For a salt-of-the-Earth rural Okie, she was remarkably hip to technology. (According to my mom they had the 1st TV in Seminole, OK). So Jim, I agree with you about the purity of discovery when twisting the dial late at night, on a road trip, whenever and wherever. I grew up doing that, and it broadened my horizons considerably. BUT. The game is changing so much that I think the Davids are going to come out on top of the Goliaths in this economic climate. With all the state-wide and nation-wide budgetary saber-rattling, I am most concerned that NEWS will become corporate-speak if NPR goes to hell in a tote bag. And yet . . . I am confident that the clever among us will come up with an accessible wrap-around! With Love & Respect — Jennifer Catherine Oines

Jim Vest: Hi Jennifer! You are right on all points, including unfortunately my slip saying that Blue Monday was axed the same time as Phil Music. It was last year when you say; I even went to the listening party at Evangeline Cafe that nite. Larry has already sent me a gentle reminder of that. My senior moments seem to come more often now. . . . KUT finally quit sending me notices after I got publicly vocal about their practices, think I am on an entirely different list with them now. And yes, over the air radio is not what it was and it may never be again. I imagine if I was out in Odessa twisting the knob now I would just pick up one Clear Channel affiliate after another, each playing the same tired crap. But the LPFM stations do bring a bit of light to the picture so maybe there is some hope. I really appreciate your comments on this, hope you visit us over on the blog more often!

The Winners Circle

Something Jim Vest (Reverend Jim) commented on yesterday bears repeating in a post. Commenting on HD radio in regards to Austin’s “public” radio station, KUT, Jim said the following:

I just checked on KUT Austin’s newly revamped website and there’s nary a mention of its HD channels on their home page. To find any mention at all you have to click on the “Listen” drop down box and then scroll down towards the bottom of the page. And even then the section is full of disclaimers. They note that while iBiquity promises “CD” quality” KUT notes that the statement is “a bit misleading.” Always the masters of understatement…. And this from a station that was trumpeting HD radio near & far when they shunted all of their jazz programming to their HD-3 channel.

“Trumpeting” may be putting it mildly. As reported on the saveKUTaustin website (still maintained for your edification by Gary Etie), here, the former head of the “digital initiative” at KUT claimed to be overseeing a budget of $1 million a year — out of a total of $6 million, a significant chunk of change, particularly considering that a mil was half the KUT budget before the current ambitious management took over ten years ago. But NPR and its local sycophants bought into HD big time, to the extent (as reported here in a post called “How NPR Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”) that NPR labs fudged data to make it look good.

And now the latest “news release” from iBiquity CEO Bob Struble has been met — even in the heretofore receptive radio press — with a collective yawn. Say what, Bob? Eight or ten years of flogging that dead horse hasn’t led to a Kentucky Derby winner, let alone a plow horse. So Struble’s latest “top ten” things stations could do to boost HD barely rates a mention (if you don’t count the comments sections). Here, from Radio World online, is the latest golly-gee quote from the meister himself: “But just because the HD Radio transition is long term does not mean it isn’t critical to radio’s survival….” Struble wrote. Au contraire, monsieur. It doesn’t mean that it is critical to radio’s survival. The vote is in: Consumers say “enh.” (See also Greg Smith’s comment from yesterday about iBiquity’s attempt to fudge data in Rhode Island to improve its lot.)

Ken Levine’s blog posted on two days ago has since brought a flurry of comments, some of which:

James said… I have HD radio in my car. I like it, but yeah, it’s not great shakes. It’s like a really clean FM signal, which is great when you get it. Otherwise it falls back on standard FM. Most of the time I don’t know which mode it’s in.

Supposedly you can get extra channels and more stuff. From what I’ve seen, station clusters are simulcasting other stations in the same group, so you’re just getting Blue 92 on 104 AND 92. Woo hoo.

BOB said… I won an HD car radio from the best known sports station in the world well over a year ago. Never did bother to install it. Couldn’t figure out where to put it or why…

99.9999% of Americans said… What the hell is HD radio?

Radio Ink did print the whole top-ten list, but also garnered some snide comments:

IBiquity’s “roll-out” is rapidly becoming the “wrap-up.”
—RB

Struble is a spin-master. Not a very good one but one nonetheless. Digital radio’s lack of success is consumer driven and consumers have clearly shunned it. Broadcasters have responded accordingly. It’s over Bob. Move on.
—Jim Wilhelm

Reasons why I think HD will never fly:
1) Cost of conversion and continuing royalties.
2) Reduction in coverage for converted stations.
3) There’s no need. There are already too many radio stations and too little applicable programming. Why do we need more? I can’t even fill up the existing buttons on my car radio with stations I really want to listen to!
Jerry

The problem is that no one cares about HD channels. You could put the most compelling content on your HD2, but WHY WOULD YOU?? Put it on your regular frequency! We are in an age of radio where so many programmers don’t get that the need for COMPELLING radio is LONG LONG overdue. We keep spitting out the same, tired product when the public is screaming for something new all because “research shows.” For now, I say forget the HD2, HD3, etc. Get NEW, COMPELLING, ENTERTAINING content on your regular frequency and stop wasting energy and talent on “stations between the stations” that hardly anyone even has access to. If you have “other” programming . . . get it on your website, tweet links to it, facebook it, make it downloadable to phones, iPads, computers — ya know, the devices people actually have and use.
—Mike

A cell phone mandate to include analog/HD Radio will never happen. Congress and the President are against it. iBiquity would never be able to force cell phone companies to pay for installing HD Radio chipsets, plus royalties. A number of cell phones already include analog, the Zune HD is discontinued, and Apple is reportedly including analog FM. Besides, HD Radio simply doesn’t work as claimed. Analog FM in cell phones is becoming the universal standard. Cell phones with HD Radio could not be marketed outside the US.

I’m smelling serious desperation on iBiquity’s part, as conversions have stalled. The FCC database reports the number converted at 1,925, not over 2,000 as Struble claims.

iBiquity is looking at serious liability issues, as the Keefe Bartel / Galax Wolf investigations proceed. The discovery-phase will go on forever and cost iBiquity, and everyone involved, a fortune. If/when it lands in Federal Court in New Jersey, damages would be tripled for the plaintiffs. Why would more stations “upgrade,” just to potentially position themselves in a Federal Court case that may bring down iBiquity.
—Carter Eskew

I keep databases of all of the stations in the US, including the sideband stations, and this means that I spend a good amount of the day on the phone talking to people at these stations. More than 90% of the people I talk with at stations that have HD-2s & HD-3s don’t even know what they are, let alone know that they are there or what’s on them. If the people at the radio stations don’t now about them, how can you expect the public to care?
—Scott Gilbert

Not a Playlist

A story on the Austin American-Statesman website about KDRP in Dripping Springs, the low-power FM station that picked up longtime DJ stalwart (and national award-winner) Larry Monroe — unceremoniously dumped from shows on “public” station KUT — drew some kudos from his fan base. The story, “Nonprofit KDRP radio in Dripping Springs gains following,” by Patrick George, traces the history of the nonprofit venture. But it also featured some insight by Larry into the KUT “playlist” that’s not a playlist, if you listen to station management — who’ve gone gaga over AAA music to the extent that the songs played there are often indistinguishable from those on five or six other local (commercial) stations. As Larry explained:

I am very happy to be at KDRP where I have complete artistic freedom. KUT is now a AAA format station. Before I retired KUT required music hosts to play four rotation tracks each hour. Rotation tracks were strictly enforced from a group of new cds selected by the music department and only the recommended tracks from those cds could be played. In addition three “core artists” had to be played each hour and I had to play two tracks from cds from the “new” rack. Nine of the 12 or so tracks I played each hour had station fingerprints on them. There was no way to do artistic radio with that format, the best I could do was make little puzzles. Add to that an incredible amount of scheduled “clutter” and station self aggrandizing promotion. No matter what they tell you KUT program hosts do not have the freedom to choose what they play. At KDRP I do have that freedom and I intend to make the best radio programs I can for our ever-growing listening audience. Thank you KDRP.

On KDRP (link on right). Larry has revived the free-form shows “Blue Monday” and the “Phil Music Program” eviscerated on Austin’s “public” radio station, moves that, along with others, triggered the saveKUTaustin protest movement. Larry is now free of the moneyed suits — the best and the brightest — whose hot pursuit of Arbitron numbers, corporate support, and, not inconsquentially, their own fame and fortune pace the consolidators’ rush to the mundane, belying the clarion call of the movement espoused on the website 170millionamericans.org — “to ensure universal access to high-quality non-commercial programming that educates, informs, enlightens, and enriches the public, with a particular focus on the needs of underserved audiences, including children and minorities” (see “Having It Both Ways,” here).

“Austin Slim” added one interesting comment to the Statesman article:

“Our main purpose is to serve the community” says it all. Three cheers for KDRP! The community thanks KDRP for hiring Larry Monroe. And don’t think it went unnoticed that KUT, while getting “best station” in the Chronicle poll, only had two DJs in the top five: Paul Ray and John Aielli. KUT management is still playing to a youth market that isn’t even listening to the radio.

What’s interesting about it is that the two DJs from KUT who made the top five? They were the other two free-form stalwarts whose hours were slashed under the current regime.

Low Power FM: The Power for the Future?

On July 2nd, 2009, the faithful fans of KUT-FM’s long-time DJ Larry Monroe tuned in to hear his world-renowned free-form music program The Phil Music Show (Phil Music being a fictitious DJ who never showed up, leaving Larry to “stand in”). But instead of Larry there was a new DJ and a new program, filled with faceless middle of the road AOR programming. KUT management issued a lot of excuses for the change, and the fans went thru a lot of protests trying to get Larry’s shows back on the air (he also had an award-winning blues show, Blue Monday, axed at the same time), and a Facebook support group was started to those ends. The shows were never reinstated and the Facebook support page eventually gave birth to this site and our accompanying Facebook group, both dedicated to shining a light on these same types of issues nationwide.

But now, hallelujah, Larry and both his shows are back on the air! Did KUT’s managers come to their collective senses? Did the loyal fans storm the communications building with pitchforks & torches? Actually, nothing quite so drastic nor as archaic. Instead it looks more & more like it might be the future dawning for the well-thought-out local programming once solidly in the domain of public radio.

At the end of February 2011 Larry made the announcement that he would be returning to the airwaves on KDRP (http://www.kdrplive.org/ ) a nonprofit low power FM community station out of Dripping Springs, TX, a suburb of Austin.  He has his old time slots back on Monday & Thursdays and complete artistic control of his programming, something that was missing the last few years at KUT. But the question does hang in the air: Is such a move a step down for such a legendary figure as Larry Monroe? To really come to grips with that I think a closer look at low power FM (LPFM) as well as community radio is in order.

According to the FCC, LPFM is defined as stations authorized for non-commercial educational broadcasting only (no commercial operations) operating with an effective radiated power of 100 watts or less, with maximum facilities of 100 watts ERP at 30 meters antennae height (http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/lpfm/index.html). For those of us technologically challenged, that translates as “you can’t hear it from here.” KDRP lists several small Texas Hill Country communities as being in their signal area as well as “South Austin,” but I would say that individual results will definitely vary. I live in what is considered central Austin and I can’t hear a peep thru my better-than-average home system, have the same results in my car. But I haven’t missed a moment of Larry’s return to the airwaves. The reason for that, of course, is live streaming on the internet. Or, for the ever-growing number of people attached at the waist to their smartphones, there is, as they say, an app for that. So while Larry may be sitting in the control booth down in Dripping Springs, you can listen to his shows here in Central Austin, down in Central America, over in Central France, anywhere that the internet streams lively. Basically, everywhere with a spark of electricity. But since internet radio has been around for a while, a person could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing new to look at here, so let’s take a side step for a moment to look at the community radio aspect of things.

Community radio is generally defined as stations that are owned, operated, and driven by the communities they serve. They are also nonprofit and, perhaps most importantly, they do not accept taxpayer funding from the government. They depend totally on donations from the public and are almost always small low-powered stations such as KDRP. I say “most importantly” due mainly to the current tempest blowing through the country concerning taxpayer funding of NPR, the provider of an ever-increasing amount of programming to the once “public” stations such as KUT, WGBH, or any number of other stations across the country. And to some, one of the biggest destroyers of local programming in existence. But that existence may be on life support right now. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seems to have made the funding of public broadcasting their cause célèbre lately — just last week the U.S. House voted to defund NPR even tho the Senate had already indicated they would not even take up the issue. But with conservatives feeling the wind at their backs, you can bet this is just the opening salvo. The results of the 2012 elections may well determine the survival of NPR, and any station beholden to them may well find themselves in big trouble. But the little guys, the community-supported LPFM stations, won’t even notice it. Or, in fact, it may well boost their donations as people decide to leave the drab remnants of their old public stations.

So what we have now is a widely renowned DJ, with a worldwide following, broadcasting on a locally funded station with a broadcast range of only a few miles. Except of course for that internet connection, which takes his work to the four corners of the globe. How is  a life-long radio fan to digest such a strange blend of little & big? I can only speak for myself, of course, and I have to admit that at first I had my doubts about such arrangements. Part of that goes back to my original issues with the public stations: I felt that I had been investing in public radio for years only to have the new breed of station managers slam the door in my face. To let up on them for even a second seems too much like admitting defeat. And part of it is my personal belief that only over-the-air broadcasting is true radio; satellite and internet radio seem like odd mutations. But after much thought I’ve decided that maybe this is the future of radio, the perfect alloy of the new and the old. Though KDRP’s actual signal strength is small, Larry Monroe is now capable of reaching a larger audience than Wolfman Jack could only dream of on the old “border radio” mega-stations. And at the same time, anyone spinning the dial down in that Hill Country sweet spot can find him coming out of the speakers with no special equipment and no monthly service charges.

And for me that is the true magic of radio, the idea of new worlds suddenly coming thru that little box. I grew up on the plains of West Texas and remember vividly sitting up late at night twisting the dial of an old radio my mother had given me and hearing things I had never heard before. It made me aware of the larger world around me and nurtured my love of music in all its many forms. Hopefully some night, 10-year-olds in Dripping Springs may be doing the same and hear Larry going from Howlin’ Wolf to Robert Cray to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and those same doors will open for them.

But I am an old man now, and a radio purist at heart. Which if nothing else means I could well be totally wrong. So I am posting this, hoping for some input from our readers. Is community-funded LPFM the dawning of a new future? Or is it a low-rent compromise that we are embracing rather than holding our ground on public radio? All of us here at this site are long-term supporters of public radio; it’s in our name. . . . And I am sure we will want to continue to take the fight to the powers-that-be in the public radio forum. After all, when the dust settles on the current government funding flap, the money grubbers may well hightail it out of town and we’ll get our public stations back to restore to their former glory. But personally I like more and more the idea of starting over — smaller, yet larger.

So let us hear from you. Are there similar stories out there? Is community-supported LPFM a red herring for the fans of public radio? You can be certain that this site will continue our pursuit of those who would twist the true mission of public radio stations to their own desires, but it is my belief that LPFM is going to be filling the gap for quality niche programming more and more going into the future.

Before closing I feel that I should also give a shout out to the good folks over at the Prometheus Radio Project (website: http://www.prometheusradio.org/, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prometheus-Radio-Project/12921391882). They have really been carrying the water on LPFM as well as bringing affordable radio technology to communities all over the world. They are well worth checking out and supporting, a true grassroots organization. It was their hard work and dedication that brought about the passing of the Local Community Radio Act that President Obama signed in January of this year. Many kudos and our hats off to them!

Hope to be hearing from you soon!

— Rev Jim

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