[JPL] Troubles at KTSU

Eric Gruner eric at jazz901.org
Thu Jan 5 08:40:12 EST 2012

Wow....    what is up with this industry?      Thanks for posting this Dr....

On Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 10:19 PM, Dr. Jazz <drjazz at drjazz.com> wrote:
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> All That Jazz
> Critics say KTSU has lost its listeners, not to mention its soul, by
> ditching its cutting-edge music and many of its veteran DJs.
> By Steve Jansen
> published: January 05, 2012
> Former KTSU Latin jazz DJ Juan Flores was waiting for his flight to board at
> George Bush Intercontinental Airport when a stranger approached him.
> "Hey, whatever happened to Juan Flores?" the man asked, noting the Texas
> Southern University radio station insignia on Flores's jacket. "His show was
> great. I don't get why he's not on the air anymore."
> Flores wonders the same thing himself.
> Aside from the Sunday gospel programming, Flores's Jazz Latino show was
> arguably the most loved on "The Choice" FM 90.9. But in February 2010, KTSU
> Assistant General Manager Donna Franklin told Flores that his services
> weren't needed anymore "because [TSU President John Rudley] did not like
> Latin jazz," says Flores.
> What followed, Flores explains, was a huge public uproar that included
> sponsors pulling money out of KTSU. Later, he was asked back by school
> officials because presumably Rudley's wishes had been lost in translation.
> Flores returned to the station, but later left for good.
> He's not alone in his disgruntlement. Another former KTSU DJ, Chris Tucker,
> compared the current operations of the historic jazz station to a
> "concentration camp."
> Several current and former employees allege that general manager Franklin
> and TSU president Rudley have ruined KTSU by usurping cutting-edge jazz,
> soul and blues for smooth jazz, a music that's normally associated with a
> dentist's office (and a genre that gave Kenny G his footing) and not a
> left-side-of-the-dial operation that will turn 40 years old in June.
> In fact, the Franklin and Rudley reign has inspired an anonymously led
> uprising called the Concerned Legends of KTSU. The group has published and
> distributed six manifesto-style e-mails alleging a long list of injustices
> at "The Black Jewel" of American radio. Throughout KTSU's 39-year history,
> the station has been a measure of success for one of the nation's largest
> historically black institutions, which, amid other ups and downs, nearly
> lost its accreditation in 2007 following a spending scandal by its
> then-president.
> The group's complaints are both large and petty, accusing the station of all
> sorts of mismanagement as well as misrepresentations to its listening
> audience --- which at one time included jazz lovers throughout the Houston
> area.
> Critics say the station's high-powered equipment has been jeopardized by a
> lack of maintenance. KTSU is putting new student DJs on the air without
> adequate training and often bumping veteran jocks from prime-time shifts to
> accomplish this, they charge.
> And in what they say is a nasty bit of subterfuge, Juan Flores's replacement
> has been misrepresented as a Hispanic DJ when he's actually an
> African-American.
> Problems at TSU and its radio station are nothing new, according to KTSU's
> former music director Aaron Cohen. But Cohen, who says that he was forced
> out in 2006 after a shoving match with a volunteer, believes that Franklin
> and Rudley have accelerated the dysfunction that he says was first put in
> place by longtime Operations Manager Charles Hudson and General Manager
> George Thomas.
> As a longtime KTSU jock, Kyle Scott Jackson played 1920s- to 1980s-era jazz,
> or, in his words, "Music that formed the station to begin with." Shortly
> after Franklin was hired in October 2008, Jackson ditched the gig that he
> had held for 13 years.
> "I left because I saw the wave of change coming to the station, such as the
> programming and the attitudes. I see what has developed since I left and
> there's only a smattering of traditional and straight-ahead jazz," says
> Jackson, who went on to establish the nonprofit Jazz Walk of Fame.
> Station employees weren't the only ones who left.
> A current KTSU employee, who spoke to Houston Press on condition of
> anonymity (we'll call him Albert), says listeners have left en masse since
> Franklin started at KTSU three years ago. In 2004, Arbitron figures show
> that the station had 244,700 listeners. By 2011, the Arbitron number had
> dropped to an all-time low 85,000 audience members. Says Albert: "We've been
> down before --- once we had to buy a new transmitter and we lost some
> listeners that way --- but we've never been that low."
> Count Rick Mitchell, a Houston Chronicle music critic from 1989 to 1999,
> among the lost. When the West Coast transplant arrived in Houston in the
> late 1980s, he discovered KTSU kings Vince Kannady and Steve Crain. After
> Kannady and Crain left the planet at a young age, Mitchell kept the dial
> glued to 90.9 FM as then music directors Cohen and Jeff Kelley kept the
> torch --- and the musical selections --- burning. Nowadays, Mitchell rarely
> tunes in to KTSU's current incarnation. "I haven't listened in probably six
> months," he admits.
> At the center of this latest storm is assistant general manager Franklin, a
> full-figured, lithe-voiced DJ who herself runs a smooth-jazz program called
> Jazz by Design that airs every Monday through Thursday afternoon.
> During the initial stages of reporting for this story, Franklin explained to
> the Press that she was unaware of any internal strife at the station and
> that she was simply doing her job. She has since refused to answer our
> questions. KTSU general manager Thomas and operations manager Hudson did not
> respond to our inquiries and a request to speak with Rudley through TSU's
> media relations department was not granted.
> Meanwhile, KTSU's recently fired engineer Dave Biondi is worried about the
> station from a nuts-and-bolts perspective.
> Though the cash-strapped university has spent countless amounts upgrading
> its facility from analog to digital, it hasn't applied the same amount of
> attention to maintaining that equipment, Biondi said.
> A particular low point was reached last summer when lightning or a voltage
> overload knocked out the digital transmitter and the backup analog unit
> exploded when Biondi tried to bring it back on line --- it hadn't been
> repaired in two years. No one outside of the Loop heard anything from KTSU
> for the five days it took to get things fixed.
> _____________________
> KTSU DJs Chris Tucker and Steve Crain once spent hours at the station,
> programming cuts by Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet and Eddie "Cleanhead"
> Vinson. After the jazz tunes, the funkiest bass line this side of The
> Headhunters's Paul Jackson leaps out of a standard blues progression,
> signaling the start of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Ain't That a Bitch."
> Watson, Cobb, Jacquet and Vincent were all either born in Houston and/or
> made a lot of music here. According to the Concerned Legends of KTSU, you
> can't talk about American jazz --- or blues or gospel or hip hop --- without
> stirring Houston, Texas and KTSU into the conversation.
> According to Tucker, spending every spare hour laying down soul dusties and
> straight-ahead jazz tracks was how things went down at KTSU for more than 35
> years. The Houston-born entertainer worked at the station from 1990 to 1998;
> Crain, who always signed off by saying, "I love you, Houston. Don't hurt
> nobody," died in 1997 after suffering a heart attack.
> It's much different today, according to Tucker, who says that he's not a
> member of the Concerned Legends but that many of his friends are KTSU
> employees. "The quality of the music has really declined greatly and the
> employees are under siege," says Tucker. "[Franklin] runs that place like
> it's a concentration camp."
> KTSU became a Federal Communications Commission-approved station on June 23,
> 1972, and fully operational in January 1973. The 18,000-square-foot
> facility, located on the Third Ward campus at 3100 Cleburne Street, is
> licensed to the TSU Board of Regents and controlled by TSU's School of
> Communications. KTSU is 40 percent funded by the university; listeners who
> sign up for annual pledge- and donation-based memberships supply the
> remaining 60 percent.
> From the beginning, thanks to DJs like Myron Anderson, The Original Sinbad
> and Dr. Freddie Brown, the station distinguished itself for playing
> traditional jazz while mixing in gospel, blues and soul. The Concerned
> Legends say it's this formula --- and not smooth jazz --- that attracted
> listeners to the station's "Jazz in All Its Colors."
> Albert admits that college radio's modern struggles to remain afloat ---
> which Rice University experienced firsthand in April with the sale of its FM
> frequency to the University of Houston --- may be contributing to KTSU's
> ratings slump. (Full disclosure: The author of this story currently
> volunteers for Rice's ktru.org and its HD2 station.) However, the Concerned
> Legends and KTSU employees say it's not KTSU's business model that's the
> main problem. It's Franklin and Rudley.
> "When [Franklin] first came in, she took programs off the air and fired
> people that had been here 15 to 20 years and working for free. Anybody who
> didn't kiss her ass were the ones that had to go," says Albert, who says
> that he's a member of the Concerned Legends. "She replaced them with people
> who have no knowledge of public radio, any other radio or even radio at
> their house. They sound like clowns trying to imitate a real radio person."
> "In my estimation, the problem really stems from the top, and by that I mean
> [president Rudley], who doesn't have a grasp on broadcasting and what he
> wants to do with the radio station," adds former KTSU engineer Biondi.
> The Concerned Legends also contend that Franklin's position was never made
> available to the public. According to a page on the TSU Web site, the
> university is required to advertise job openings for seven days.
> "Everybody knows the job wasn't posted online," says a KTSU employee we'll
> call Donald. "It was a hire from within the president's office. To this day,
> there hasn't been a formal introduction for her as the assistant general
> manager. The interim just dropped off one day."
> The Concerned Legends believe that Rudley, who became TSU's president in
> February 2008, targeted Franklin from the start. Before replacing Priscilla
> Slade --- who was fired in June 2006 and indicted on four felony counts for
> allegedly misusing more than $500,000 of the school's money for personal
> expenses (a plea agreement had her paying a lesser fine and she was placed
> on ten years deferred adjudication) --- Rudley had served as interim system
> chancellor and interim president at the University of Houston.
> Franklin, who previously worked at CBS radio affiliates KODA "Sunny" FM 99.1
> and KHJZ "The Wave" FM 95.7, says that she's doing what has been asked of
> her. According to documents acquired by the Press through an open records
> request, Franklin's starting annual salary as a development executive/jazz
> announcer was $43,634. When she was promoted to interim assistant general
> manager in July 2010, her annual earnings increased to $52,360.
> "[Smooth jazz] was the void that they wanted filled when 'The Wave' flipped
> formats [to 'Hot 95.7']," says Franklin, who began her broadcasting career
> in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1993. "KTSU wanted that audience, so therefore they
> hired me. It was a huge audience."
> Eva Pickens, director of media and public relations at Texas Southern
> University, told the Press that KTSU General Manager Thomas and TSU School
> of Communications Dean Dr. James Ward (who did not respond to our e-mails
> and phone calls) are in charge of KTSU employee hires and not Rudley.
> The Concerned Legends aren't buying Pickens's claim, and summarize their
> feelings on the matter by quoting lyrics from Johnny Watson's landmark tune:
> "Ain't that a bitch? / Somebody's doing something slick / Yeah they are /
> Got me wonderin' / Which is which / Ain't that a bitch?"
> _____________________
> A week after Juan Flores's duties were terminated at KTSU, school officials,
> citing an unintentional scrambling of Rudley's message, allowed him to
> return. "They told me that the president hadn't said, 'Remove him,' he had
> said, 'Move him,' which didn't make any sense because initially he
> supposedly didn't like Latin jazz," states Flores, who says that he accepted
> KTSU's redo because "I'm pretty much a radio junkie."
> But his second go-round was nothing like the first. He was constantly called
> to staff meetings, which he couldn't always make because of his full-time
> job with the postal service.
> When Flores returned from a vacation, KTSU staff had changed his
> Saturday-night shift from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. to 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Flores's
> post office job conflicted with the new time slot, so he quit the station.
> "It was a perfect out for them," explains Flores, who Tucker says was "one
> of the best jocks in the station's history."
> Former KTSU music director Cohen, who has relocated to Atlanta, where he's
> the program director at Clark Atlanta University's WCLK-FM 91.9, says he
> still gets calls from people complaining about KTSU management.
> "A lot of the struggles were because of the people that ran the place ---
> Charles Hudson, George Thomas," says Cohen by phone from Atlanta. "I love
> where I'm at now. It's real radio here. I wish KTSU was on that path. I have
> a lot of love for the station, but I don't know what they think they're
> doing."
> From Cohen's point of view: "It seems that the people currently in charge
> are trying to eliminate the history" of the station that helped launch the
> career of DJs like Shelley Wade.
> For the past decade, Houston native Wade has been an on-air personality for
> one of New York City's most listened-to Top 40 stations, WHTZ 100.3 FM,
> a.k.a. "Z100." She remembers KTSU as the spot where she fell in love with
> radio so much that she decided to make disc jockeying a lifelong gig.
> "I was allowed to play anything I wanted," says Wade, who worked at KTSU
> from 1991 to 1992. "I always thought that was really refreshing, especially
> looking back, because everything is so regimented these days in commercial
> radio."
> Wade and Tucker explain that any passionate volunteer who pined for radio
> time could learn everything about the business from an established
> personality in exchange for a cup of coffee or a Frenchy's run. Now, radio
> station employee Albert says that rogue student DJs often bump veteran jocks
> from choice drive-time shifts, even though they're essentially receiving
> zero training from Franklin and the staff.
> The student will program the music while Franklin is in her office, Albert
> says. Then she comes back in time to announce the songs that have been
> played, he says.
> About the Flores saga, Albert explains that after the Latin jazz DJ departed
> for the second time, KTSU listeners were pissed all over again. As a result,
> Franklin crumbled to public pressure and put Latin jazz back on the air.
> "This time," Albert says, "she got some somebody named Carlos to pose as a
> Hispanic to do Latin jazz."
> According to the program schedule on the KTSU Web site, Carlos Anderson
> hosts the Muy Caliente show every Wednesday morning from 2 to 5 a.m. The
> Concerned Legends say that Carlos is Wayman Carlos Anderson, an
> African-American.
> Albert says, "C'mon, now. How long you think that's going to be a secret?"
> _____________________
> Last year, Franklin allowed an intern to take home an armful of albums from
> KTSU's private library, which includes expensive and out-of-print treasures
> that the station's music junkies have compiled for nearly four decades,
> Albert said.
> According to Albert, allowing records and CDs to leave the building is just
> about the worst thing that can happen to a radio station. He says that when
> the person in charge of the library confronted Franklin, she snapped at him
> and said that she had made an "executive decision" to let the intern take
> whatever he wanted.
> "That blew me away. I think she heard that term somewhere and she decided
> that it was a good time to use it," says Albert, who was also privy to an
> episode in which Franklin went on and on about wanting to be a
> Nielsen-friendly radio station. (Nielsen ratings measure television viewers,
> not radio listeners.)
> Though KTSU listeners probably aren't familiar with Dave Biondi's name,
> they've most likely heard the former engineer at one time or another as the
> voice of the station's legal ID. "I literally built the facility from the
> ground up," says Biondi, who put in 32 years at "The Choice."
> This past summer, after the digital transmitter went off line and the backup
> analog transmitter blew up, Biondi says that President Rudley figured KTSU
> was completely off of the air because he lives outside of the area. (Biondi
> adds that the station should have gone digital years ago, but couldn't due
> to the delay of grant money.)
> "We literally had the factory send a representative down and he spent three
> days here and he couldn't fix it. That's how severe the problem was," says
> Biondi. "Well, the president did not understand that when you get into the
> sophistication of the digital transmitter, you just don't go and buy a new
> transistor and solder it in.
> "[Rudley] is a very impatient person and unreasonable in his lack of trying
> to understand the root of a problem. I know there are a lot of unhappy
> people on that campus in every department that are fearful for their jobs
> because he likes to manage by intimidation."
> Biondi said that following the operational debacles, KTSU started playing
> games with him.
> For years, he wanted the locks to the equipment room door changed because
> strangers were accessing the facility...and not to marvel at the
> leading-edge equipment.
> "I would walk through the door, which was often unlocked, to do maintenance
> on the transmitter and there would be a smell of marijuana everywhere," says
> Biondi. "They would use that building to do their toking."
> After the transmitter malfunctioned the first of two times, the locks were
> finally changed, but nobody would give Biondi a new key. He essentially
> couldn't do his job, which has been contracted out to an IT guy who lives in
> Cleveland, Texas. Biondi thinks that the station continues to run on shaky
> auxiliary power.
> "It's probably operating at 15 to 20 percent of its capacity," says Biondi.
> _____________________
> In November, the Press learned that Franklin, a week after terminating
> Biondi, relinquished her hiring and firing duties to concentrate on
> programming.
> "Because she's been into it with multiple on-air personalities and other
> staff members, how most everyone has looked at the decision is that it's a
> call to save her job," says Donald, who still thinks about quitting every
> day.
> Meanwhile, KTSU refugee Flores --- who says he was never paid during his
> 12-year stint with the station, even though he witnessed Franklin-hired DJs
> receiving a stipend --- has been negotiating with Pacifica Radio Network's
> KPFT-FM 90.1 to revive his Latin jazz show.
> "There's been a lot of great music that has come out and nobody is playing
> it. That's what really bugs me," says Flores.
> From a listener's standpoint, music historian, visual artist and Third Ward
> ambassador Tierney Malone explains that KTSU has been vital to his musical
> development. He remembers when DJs would connect the station and its music
> with the community and vice versa.
> One time, recalls Malone, he invited Crain over to his place and played a
> Cassandra Wilson album that Malone had recently discovered. An impressed
> Crain, hearing it for the first time, thought others would dig it, too. The
> next time Crain was on the air, KTSU listeners heard Wilson attacking a jazz
> standard.
> That rapport is long gone, says Malone. Instead, the artist hears KTSU jocks
> playing R&B songs by Gladys Knight on a straight-ahead jazz show.
> "The DJs they have on there now, oh my God, they're horrible and have no
> idea how to blend or keep a groove going," says Malone. "It's like listening
> to clanging pots."
> Despite KTSU's depleted support, Malone thinks that a lot of folks, him
> included, would go nuts if the station permanently went away. "If KTSU went
> off the air, people would go over to the university and burn [the campus]
> down," says Malone.
> However, it's not enough for him to want to listen to KTSU, save for every
> once in a while when he's driving his truck. Otherwise, he's tuned into the
> University of Houston's KUHF-FM 88.7 or some other radio frequency.
> steve.jansen at houstonpress.com
> --
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> Dr. Jazz Operations
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Eric Gruner
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