[JPL] Computers are useless

Bradley M. Stone bstone at science.sjsu.edu
Tue Sep 5 01:11:47 EDT 2006

Dear Bob,
I remember you posting a similar argument on the JPL a few months ago.  I wanted to respond then, but it was Arturo, I believe, who eloquently answered with a very similar response to what I was going to make, so I didn't.  This time, I decided to take this up.
As a product of listening to the old free-form FM days (and having worked at several free-form stations), I certainly understand where you are coming from, and empathize with your line of reasoning.  In an ideal world, maybe what you say would be true - and your plea for independent control of all the music on each individual show is something that already exists and works on some stations.  However, I must respectfully disagree with your argument from a practical standpoint.
I would argue that music directors are more necessary than ever.  With the advent of satellite radio, internet radio, etc., it makes it that much more challenging, and important, for radio to produce smart programming, rather than to be willy-nilly all over the place from show to show.  With the plethora of new releases that we receive every week, it becomes more and more important to make judicious decisions about what goes on the air, and what doesn't.  Having a bevy of shows that results in spinning everything that comes in, results in one spin here or there in a month, does little for the artists.  A disciplined playlist therefore can help to give significant spins to the releases that are chosen to be on the playlist (i.e. in rotation).
I understand what you mean by having enthusiastic, passionate announcers who are knowlegeable and bring their own art to their programs.  One of the problems with free-form radio, where these DJs have complete control over their own shows, is that it is very easy to get stuck in a rut and at times not be as creative as they may be capable of.  We all get into routines where it becomes "easy" to just put on the cut we played last time, or a familiar cut, thereby becoming complacent.  I have witnessed this time and again with DJs at these sorts of stations - it is work to be "on one's game" every shift - and it has certainly happened to me where I realize that I've gotten into the same old pattern.  One of the reasons that I love operating from a regular rotation is that it challenges everyone on the air to be creative.  We need to work to build sets around the scheduled albums that are in rotation - it forces you to really think every hour how the music that you choose will fit in with the new albums on the playlist - and keeps you on your toes.  This can really help to keep stimulating creativity.  We are very fortunate to have 3 community staffers who bring the sort of passion and knowledge about the music that you espouse to our station.  Our rotation is one that is about equally divided between "music director's decisions" and "DJ decisions".  These DJs (Mike Schwartz, Kevin Foley Ariente and Karen "The JazzCat" Gentile) are adept at building sets around the rotation material (including blues and world music), keeping their shows extremely creative while putting their own stamp on the sound (in a separate posting, I will give you examples of their show playlists).
Another factor is that we are a University radio station, and therefore dealing with teaching students about radio.  Most of our announcers are students, and many of them do not have much knowledge about jazz.  Some of them are terrifed with the prospect of having to do a jazz show, but the rotation makes the whole process much easier and comforting for them - a student can go on the air without knowing much about the music and still sound professional.
The last point I will make in favor of rotations (set playlists) and music directors is that I believe that it is important for jazz shows, on a station like ours, to have some continuity from one show to another.  There needs to be some connection, some common thread, that makes us sound like who we are.  The music director can (hopefully) control this sound in an intelligent way, that makes sense for the positioning of the station in that particular market.  For instance, in our case we have KCSM in our market, who do a great job with their programming, so given that we are University radio, it makes sense for us to try to be on the more progressive side of things - to appeal to young people while giving other listeners in the market a reason to tune us in during jazz shows.
I agree that radio has been presented a whole new set of challenges this decade, that we continue to need to address.  While, as a listener and music junkie, I enjoy hearing eclectic, free-form programming - that does not mean that it works for every listener, nor would it work for every radio station in every market.
Brad Stone
San Jose
P.S. DELIGHTED to see the thread of postings in recent months about PROGRAMMING!


From: jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com on behalf of Bob Rogers
Sent: Mon 9/4/2006 10:26 AM
To: jazzproglist at jazzweek.com
Subject: [JPL] Computers are useless


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"Computers are useless because all they give you are answers."

                                            Pablo Picasso

Suppose I assert that the only acceptable way to present any form of
artistic expression is to present it with artistic intentions.  That is,
present it in a manner aesthetically pleasing to the presenter, one who
always feels perfectly free to "lay it out as it plays," like a good jazz
musician.  How would that idea strike you?  Unworkable?  Pretentious? 
Self-indulgent?  Naïve?  Incorrect?  How about Necessary?

The notion today that one or two people in a radio station should compile a
list of music that it's okay to play and that that list will best represent
the music and serve the listeners, is an outmoded idea and exactly the
opposite of what needs to happen.  If every member of your air staff is a
knowledgeable and gifted presenter, centralizing the decision of what gets
played is inherently inferior to the collective consciousness (including the
moods, spells, notions, eccentricities and sudden urges) of an air staff. 
If you don't have a good air staff, maybe you should switch to a news/talk
format.  That way there's at least a chance that someone might say something

Music radio was born when music was scarce.  From the 1920's until quite
recently, radio was a way to help mitigate that scarcity.  Today, as people
discover that they are able to hear almost any music they want when they
want it, music is no longer scarce.  With an iPod and a little effort most
people can build their own music stream.  There's certainly less and less
reason to spend time with a radio station that's not exceptionally good.  By
good, I mean unique, irreplaceable.

I think that one of the fundamental survival skills for music radio is to
provide unique, one-off sources of music that are as compelling as what
listeners are doing for themselves, a valued option despite the fact that
they may also "roll their own."  Music-based stations with centralized play
lists and other tools of "top-down" management, are facing diminishing
importance.  They mistakenly assume that an optimum presentation of music is
some kind of marketing science rather than an art, and that as such, music
selection should be placed firmly in the hands of "program management
professionals" who act as gatekeepers or tastemakers.  In the name of
consistency, such stations offer a distillation of the views of those who
are well-schooled in chart reading and adherence to whatever passes for
programming status quo.  But views are no substitute for vision and
consistent is not a synonym for compelling.

Another survival skill is to become cutting-edge adept at, and attentive to,
your web presence and deft adaptation to other emerging platforms.  If you
live, it is by the grace of your role as a content provider.  Old-school
jazz radio won't cut it in that environment.

You need to put on a hell of a show, actually a series of them.  That's the
kind of consistency that really counts.  To do that you need an air staff of
knowledgeable and gifted presenters, people who already know what to play. 
Such people are not known to be particularly interested in what's on your
list or what your view is of those eternal questions, "What is jazz?" and
"What are we to do? (Ruby, my dear)"

That's why I'm not interested in listening to anyone that I think would
follow my play list, much less yours.  I want crazy-brilliant, willful,
passionate people on the air, doing what they love to do, making it up as
they go along, people who love playing music more than they love the radio,
or for that matter, they mamas.

Can I get a witness or something?

Bob Rogers
2816 Barmettler Street
Raleigh, NC 27607
WSHA - www.wshafm.org
Bouille & Rogers Consultants
email: rwsfin at hotmail.com
phone: (919) 413-4126

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