Jay Meehan: Radio waves | ParkRecord.com

Jay Meehan: Radio waves

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

"Slowly but surely, KUER management is demonstrating a tendency to seek out the lowest common denominator."

~ The Park Record "Core Samples," March 2008

What is it about music as a narcotic and a specific radio program as a delivery system, that, when combined, can elicit such passionate responses from members of the listening community when even the threat of an interruption raises its head.

The human component and its relationship with the art-form-in-question play a significant role, of course. When the programmer and the music become one, a comfort zone exists that’s difficult to dissect. One grows to expect his fix on a regular basis. Not only a sense of need but, also, a sense of entitlement develops.

Most certainly, the uproar over KUER-FM’s decision to allow its nighttime jazz-music programming to drift off into the sunset in conjunction with the impending retirement of longtime on-air personality Steve Williams is all going to blow over at some point.

All the University of Utah radio outlet has to do is withstand the initial onslaught of complaints from the jazz faithful and, obviously, they don’t consider that to be much more than a speed bump. It’s not their first rodeo.

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They successfully negotiated that pothole-strewn byway once already when they removed a midnight-to-4 a.m. syndicated jazz music program from their airways back in the day only to replace it with BBC news programming already available elsewhere in the market.

Oh, that’s right, KUER is a "regional" outlet with an extensive translator network and there still remained night-herding outposts untouched by the siren’s call of the clipped British accent. Well, thankfully, that abhorrent condition no longer exists. Actually, I’m a BBC fan, just not when it supplants the quite endangered species of on-air jazz.

Longtime KUER-listening jazz buffs may recall when Wes Bowen, another legendary local jazz-music programmer, retired from his regular weeknight show. At that time, the station also opted to not insert into the void similar musical fare. His 7-9 p.m. program, which led into Williams’ 9 p.m.-1 a.m. show, was replaced by the current daily jazz slot of 8 p.m. to midnight.

Salt Lake City and Utah are not the world’s most sophisticated markets, by any stretch. Yet, due mainly to Steve Williams, his co-hosts, jazz music supporters, and the station, the music has flourished in what has long been, KRCL notwithstanding, a radio wasteland.

Few are the occasions when improvisation and creativity have been rewarded locally within the broadcast band of the electromagnetic spectrum.

So, before I proceed with the venting of my frustration over KUER’s decision to completely drop jazz music from its airwaves, let me thank them for nurturing the programming for as long as they have. It would be much easier to let it all go if Williams and his co-hosts hadn’t evolved into such excellent programmers.

I understand that hosting a radio program featuring an esoteric product line can be demanding on many fronts. Labors of love are like that. The monetary rewards can be scant to say the least.

You are at once a missionary and an evangelist. But, and here’s the rub, as opposed to that time-and temperature bunch further down the spectrum, you are artists all. Jazz music and the quality programming thereof is high-art indeed!

I would dearly miss my "trad" and "swing" and "bop" and all that came after! And, on a personal note, I also want to give a shout-out to Sunday host Chuck Waagen, who, through the years, has fed my mostly ignored and often-derided "West Coast jazz" jones to remarkable effect.

Not that I’m throwing in the towel! I’m still taking issue with KUER’s short-sighted decision to not keep jazz music programming on their airwaves. Not for an instant am I willing to allow station content director Tristin Tabish to get away with the assertion that Steve Williams, as wonderfully compelling as he is, "simply cannot be replaced."

They’ve had a jazz-music-free landscape in their crosshairs for a long time and have just been waiting for Williams to enter into his more-than-well-deserved retirement. There are resources aplenty available to save on-air jazz programming, but they have chosen to ignore them.

Your community loves you and wishes you only the best, Steve! We are forever in your debt! Thank you and Godspeed!

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.