Eddie Stubbs Leaves the Building
Yesterday marked Eddie Stubbs' final delivery of country and honky-tonk sounds to Washington. The longtime voice of C&W music in the D.C. area, a Gaithersburg native who now lives in Nashville, made his final appearance on his WAMU show yesterday as public radio took another step toward nationalizing its sound.
Stubbs lost his show and Dick Spottswood, who has been on WAMU (88.5 FM) since 1967, had his air time cut in half as the station seeks to find room for more of the national news and talk programming produced by National Public Radio. This is a new chapter in an old story, the struggle between the original concept of public radio as a refuge for local and cultural programming that could never find a place in commercial radio, and the latter-day concept of public radio as the source of some of the best and most ambitious news and talk programming in the land. It's not a close fight.
Stubbs is still on the air in Nashville, where he's long been a voice associated with the Grand Ole Opry. And in the new world of Internet and satellite radio, folks who enjoy Stubbs' kind of music can easily enough find it online or for a subscription fee. The cuts at WAMU end up hitting home primarily for those who are computer-challenged and for those who listen to the radio to discover new sounds. I'm hearing from lots of such folks this week, and while part of that reaction is just the standard dislike of change, part of it also reflects a growing unease with the direction of public radio.
WAMU's move came as yet another domino effect of the demise of classical WGMS and the related return of public WETA to its former classical format following a couple of years of experimenting with a news/talk schedule very similar to WAMU's. When WETA went back to music earlier this year, some listeners clamored for WAMU to pick up some of the news and talk shows that WETA had run. That's what pushed WAMU to continue its years-long process of crowding out the acoustic music specialty that once accounted for a large chunk of its broadcast day.
If NPR's brass had their way, they'd make their news and talk programming widely available both online and on satellite. But the local public stations pay the bulk of the freight for NPR programming, and they will fight like dogs to keep the marquee shows--Morning Edition and All Things Considered--to themselves. As more and more public stations cut back on local and music programming, the result is a sameness across the land, and that is clearly not what public radio was originally meant to be. But the importance of local content will become painfully evident once again in radio. If NPR's signature shows are available online or through other media, then local public stations will have to find other ways to appeal to listeners--and when that happens, it is shows like WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi talk program and the Stubbs and Spottswood programs that will make all the difference.
PS--WETA, meanwhile, is still in classical jukebox mode. Although it's been a couple of months since the station returned to airing classical music, there are still no symphony orchestra broadcasts in the evening, still none of NPR's excellent classical programming, still no adventuresome efforts to expand beyond the most basic works, not even late at night. But there is finally a first sign that WETA might branch out beyond the all-too-WGMS-like pops it's been emphasizing:
The popular and alluring From The Top, a weekly show that features and plays with some of the country's best young musicians, will move to WETA Sundays at 6 p.m. starting April 29. The show will also record one of its episodes at the Music Center at Strathmore on June 6, to be aired on WETA on Sunday, October 7.
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