News about the Irish & Irish American culture, music, news, sports. This is hosted by the Irish Aires radio show on KPFT-FM 90.1 in Houston, Texas (a Pacifica community radio station)

March 19, 2005

Shakeup at KPFT & Links to Music Audios

A Shakeup at KPFT & Some Links to Music Audios - If you want to express your support for your favorite show(s) on KPFT, drop a note to the manager: Jay


March 19, 2005, 1:04AM

Shake-Up Planned At KPFT

Manager says all possibilities 'are on the table'

By Allan Turner
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Faced with a "stupendous drop" in listenership and a troubling inability to meet fund-raising goals, Houston's listener-supported KPFT-FM (90.1) — long an iconoclastic voice in a radio market dominated by corporate giants — is planning a series of programming and scheduling changes that could dramatically reshape its offerings.

"There's a possibility we could shake this whole thing up," General Manager Duane Bradley said this week. "I think that right now all programming considerations are on the table. I don't think we have any options that we're not willing to discuss."

Bradley, 50, stressed that despite the expected changes, the station, which celebrated its 35th anniversary March 1, will remain true to the peace-and-justice philosophy of its parent, Pacifica Foundation. The left-leaning network, founded in 1949 by pacifist Lewis Hill, also operates stations in Berkeley, Calif., Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Second broadcast added

Bradley's first change, which became effective March 10, was to add a second weekday broadcast of commentator Amy Goodman's news and opinion program Democracy Now! at 7 a.m. The previous 9 a.m. airing, which brought the station a fourth of its listener-generated income, will be retained for the immediate future, Bradley said.

The general manager also announced the departure of program director Otis Maclay, who will become national technology director for the network. Maclay, who had held his position since 2002, will be replaced by news co-director Ernest Aguilar.

Bradley said the changes, which will be put in place during the next several months, were prompted by Arbitron figures showing KPFT's weekly cumulative listenership had plunged to about 110,000, from 150,000, in the past year. By comparison, KODA-FM, the most popular of broadcast giant Clear Channel Radio's eight Houston stations, routinely draws a weekly listenership in excess of 500,000.

Fund raising falls short

Also worrisome were shortfalls in recent fund-raising efforts. Spokeswoman Gina Rodriguez-Miller said 94 percent of the 30,000-watt station's annual income comes from listeners. The balance comes from a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant. The station gets no money from Pacifica.

During last fall's fund-raising campaign, Bradley said, the station fell 7 percent short of its $390,000 goal; earlier this year, it fell 20 percent short of a $360,000 goal. The station has an annual budget of about $1.4 million and a paid staff of 13.

The general manager suggested the Arbitron figures simply might reflect a falling-off of listenership after the heady days of listener anger generated by the invasion of Iraq. The decline in contributions may be a result of listener disappointment in the re-election of President Bush or "donor fatigue."

Bradley said the number of the station's financial supporters has remained steady at about 9,000.

Vital role praised

Despite the setbacks, University of Houston communications professor Fred Schiff argued that KPFT fills a vital role in the Houston radio world. No other station, he said, provides similar views on news issues or is so finely attuned to Houston culture. He predicted that the station is "on the cusp of gaining a whole new audience."

Historically, the station has been tough. It's survived two Ku Klux Klan attacks on its transmitter and uncounted internecine wrangles. Yet the current problems, which Bradley rated at "a 6 or 6.5 on a scale of 10" are daunting.

Despite the Pacifica goal to engage young and ethnically diverse listeners, the typical KPFT fan is a 51-year-old, college-educated white male, Bradley said.

"This was a youth-oriented station that every young person in Houston knew about," Bradley said. "Asked about KPFT now, most kids don't know who we are. We have this generation gap. It's very disconcerting. It does not bode well for the future."

Christopher Sterling, a broadcast expert with George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, noted Pacifica is not alone in facing such problems.

"The larger picture is that much of public radio is trying to find a stable place," he said in an e-mail. "The local (Washington, D.C.) NPR member station, WETA, just dumped all its classical music for an all-talk format — in a city not short of talk. There's a (Pacifica) outlet here, but I virtually never hear anyone talk about it."

All FM stations, he said, face competition from satellite radio, low-power FM and other entertainment alternatives eroding their audience.

"While I'm sympathetic to the concerns about homogenization of radio, I don't see Pacifica playing a huge part in balancing the problem," said Sterling, who is writing a history of FM broadcasting. " ... A small audience for KPFT is not bad if there are enough of them to keep the station going. But one may well ask, what's the point if it is only talking to the choir?"

Smallest Pacifica station

KPFT is the smallest of the Pacifica stations, most of which have listenership approaching or exceeding 200,000, said Phil Osegueda, the network's director of special projects and administration. Houston-Galveston is the nation's seventh-largest radio market.

For Bradley and his staff, crafting a new programming format — one that will satisfy the station's fervent backers — could be explosive.

Six years ago, accusations that network management had abandoned topical programming in favor of music led to a months-long dispute at KPFA, Pacifica's Berkeley flagship station. As thousands picketed the station, management padlocked the doors and broadcast taped Marxist analyses of the 1960s. The Houston station, which had dramatically increased listenership by adding musical programming, was excoriated as a Pacifica apostate and a "jukebox" — a model not to be followed.

'Still a need for KPFT'

Bradley became general manager in Houston in February 2002 as dissidents assumed control of the network. Today, KPFT's weekday programming features a 50-50 talk-music mix. Weekend programming leans heavily to music shows.

"There is still a need for KPFT," Bradley said. "If Pacifica's mission had been achieved, we wouldn't be in places like Iraq, we wouldn't be basing the largest part of our global economy on weapons manufacture, people wouldn't be starving to death in the Congo, they would be fed.

"There's still an awful need for peace and social justice."

Mar. 17, 2005 Lúnasa: New Sounds In Celtic Music - Live at NPR
Lúnasa: New Sounds in Celtic Music

Irish acoustic band Lúnasa. Giorgia Bertazzi © 2003

Julia Peck, NPR - Lúnasa performs in Studio 4A.

Performance Today, March 17, 2005 · When Lúnasa released a self-titled debut CD in 1997, the Irish quintet was immediately credited with launching a new chapter in Celtic music. Combining traditional melodies with driving rhythms, the band created a fresh improvisational sound with a distinct Irish flavor. Five recordings later, Lúnasa remains one of the most popular Irish acoustic groups on the international music scene. The band joins NPR's Fred Child in Studio 4A to share some music from the Emerald Isle.

Hear more Irish music:
The Chieftains CD: Live From Dublin - Song: "Derek's Tune" - Label: BMG

Black 47 CD: Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes Song: "Downtown Baghdad Blues" Label: Gadfly
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