Community broadcaster: The end of jazz


Is there a future for the historic musical genre on radio?

The author is director of the membership program of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB comments are posted regularly on

One of my favorite memories as a student was meeting John Coltrane. Like generations before mine, I was dazzled by his virtuoso styles on “My Favorite Things”. The stories of his all-night jam sessions and once-in-a-lifetime life were pieces of musical history that will likely never be repeated. Just as his jazz contemporaries forged bold paths, Coltrane has also proven to be a standard bearer. He, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and others have undoubtedly introduced many people to the timeless sound of jazz.

However, every classic song comes to an end. And there is more than a small indication that the days of jazz radio are numbered.

Jazz has seen such a turn of events since it ruled commercial radio in the 1940s until the 1950s. But by the mid-1950s tastes in popular music changed. Even with the rise of the Beatles, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley, jazz enjoyed a huge following. Offshoots such as New Age music and smooth jazz kept the genre in public consciousness just a few years ago. However, with its aging core audience and longtime jazz radio pioneers exploring other avenues, one has to openly wonder how long non-commercial media will continue to elevate the genre.

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While the news does not yet point to a mass extinction, it appears that jazz on the tower faces some challenges. Recently, Current shed light on the situation of veteran jazz channel WUMR, which will abandon its 40-year history of jazz radio in favor of a mixed format. In 2018, three jazz stations – KUVO in Denver and Historically Black College and University licensees KPVU and WNSB – were approved to continue the urban alternative effort supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The new format gives stations the opportunity to connect with new audiences with R&B and hip-hop, although their traditional jazz offerings are (or are) impacted, now and in the future.

While jazz education groups will tell you that there is an increasingly younger population very interested in jazz, I can’t find anyone who says the public perception is where jazz is the first choice. musical of a young person. With pressures to increase listenership and increase the donor base, managers of public and community stations will therefore find little traction with boards of directors or other stakeholders in favor of making jazz a centerpiece of the community. programming. Without champions to expose new listeners to jazz, it’s hard to say what jazz will be on the air 20 years from now. The future does not look bright.

This is not to criticize the value of jazz to the nation, nor does this comment intrude on a musical genre largely vanished from commercial and non-commercial radio. The change is nobody’s fault. On the contrary, the gradual demise of jazz radio could be the clear call to its most ardent supporters to think creatively about community engagement and jazz education at large.

WNCU is one of many jazz stations involved in educating students about jazz and the importance of these stations to their communities and the history of music. KDHX is famous for its folk school, where music lessons introduce new generations to appreciate folk and bluegrass. Undoubtedly, a station could do the same with jazz.

Then, of course, there are the dozens of community radio jazz shows that bring you old and new music in the genre. These efforts are wonderful. Whether this is enough to save jazz from radio silence can be left to history.


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