The Spirit of the Radio
Can public radio’s airwaves be taken back?
It’s no revelation to say Albuquerque’s radio landscape is lacking. Amidst the ho-hum mainstream formats provided by the likes of broadcasting behemoths Citadel and Clear Channel, which still, as far as I’m aware, each own eight stations in town, there are a few relatively inconsequential public stations, and then there is KUNM.
I love KUNM: For nearly three years as a UNM student, I worked as a staff reporter at the station, then as a music assistant. Training with seasoned journalists, the experience I gained there was more valuable than any college broadcasting course. As a resource open to anyone in the community, a provider of broadcast training and sophisticated journalism unequaled in our community, KUNM is invaluable. But as a provider of music programming with a college voice, not so much.
Bluntly, the truth is that KUNM is eclectic, but appeals mostly to the tastes of middle-aged hippies. Admittedly, the station contains a handful of excellent youthful programs, i.e. Friday night’s “Street Beat,” Wednesday night’s shredfest, “Tombstone Rock,” and Sunday afternoon’s “Ear To The Ground,” which provides prerecorded live performances from local bands and an excellent opportunity for them to get on the air. Otherwise, the station reeks of music played by, spun by and designed for left-leaning baby boomers. It’s not hip. And if the proof isn’t in the programming, I found it very clearly when assigned the task of tracking new music. New music with younger appeal, particularly that under the category of rock, is typically the least played. The result is programming that excludes and alienates many younger listeners.
So what gives? Bureaucratic complexities aside (and they seem nearly endless with KUNM), the problem is that young people are not very involved with the station. Younger constituencies might represent a good chunk of the listenership, or potential listenership, but the demographic that financially supports, attends radio board meetings and is involved on a decision-making level is mostly middle-aged.
Changing programming is easier said than done, and firing DJs who perpetuate crappy shows, I dare say, is an inconvenience with which those in charge wouldn’t want to bother themselves. And that’s assuming those in charge are aware of the level of suckage routinely broadcasted. Roadblocks aside, let’s imagine if a younger group of people set out to change KUNM and became involved with the station (remember, anyone can get involved). With persistence this younger group could, over time, truly and effectively begin to transform the station’s music programming into something more egalitarian.
Perhaps I’ve oversimplified the issue, but the point is that the future of KUNM is really up you, John Q. Public, not simply the powers that be. Now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, I pray to the radio gods that my former bosses aren’t mad at me ...