City Desk

Big Programming Changes Are Coming to WPFW

"I am very upset about the changes. I think we need to boycott."

"I for one will not give more money until I hear some answers...some real answers about the station."

"They're not the people's station."

Those were some of the on-air words of WPFW listeners this morning—never mind that the subject of today's Community Comment show was supposed to be changes to local school boundaries. Host David Whettstone's callers had a different topic on their mind: Word has already spread about impending programming changes to the 35-year-old "jazz and justice" station.

Interim Programing Director Bobby Hill announced on the WPFW Facebook page yesterday that the station will begin a new programming schedule on Dec. 3—one that includes more syndicated talk programs. (You can see the message at the bottom of this post.)

While some of the new programs will be made in-house, others will be syndicated from other stations owned by the Pacifica Foundation, whose network of progressive-talk stations includes WPFW. Although a new programming grid isn't online yet, the move seems to push music programming out of workday hours. And depending on where you sit on the political spectrum, the inclusion of Tavis Smiley, who hosts a show on PBS, and Michel Martin, whose Tell Me More is produced by NPR, may strike you as more mainstream.

The new additions, taken together, could be seen as a path to a bigger, broader listenership. Or they could be seen as watering down the station's mix of progressive talk and a wide range of musical genres—not to mention its local identity.

To make room for all these new programs, WPFW's management has ended others. According to an email conversation among WPFW programmers, some outgoing hosts have already said goodbye to their listeners on air, including Tom Porter and Askia Muhammad (although Muhammad's Tuesday jazz show is ending, he'll host the new Morning Brew talk show). The Decipher hip-hop show has announced that it ends this week. Programmer Tony Regusters, a former leader of the unofficial WPFW programmers association and the co-host of the show Sounds of Brasil, says the mostly volunteer programmers are hearing one by one from the station's management, currently led by General Manager John Hughes. "It’s a big suspense ball," says Regusters. "It’s incorrect the way they're doing this....but none of that seems to matter.”

The shakeup comes a year after programmers declared no confidence in Hughes, who appeared to retain the support of the majority of the station's listener-elected Local Station Board.

The listeners calling in this morning weren't pleased, clearly. Whettstone ended his half-hour program today by announcing that next week, it too will change, albeit subtly: It'll be Community Watch and Comment, an hourlong program of news, interviews, and call-in comments. "I hope you have a good day," he concluded. "Take care."

I'll have more on the changes at WPFW later today. The full message from Hill is below:

To Our Many Listeners:

On Monday, December 3, 2012, WPFW will be implementing a new programming schedule which seeks to optimize the programs and services available to our communities.

Many of your favorite programs will still be available to you, programs such as G Strings, Sunday Kind of Love, Latin Flavor, What’s At Stake, The Nightwolf Show, Decipher, The American Songbook, The Gary Null Show, and Democracy Now!

In addition, our new schedule will feature the following exciting new news and public affairs programs:

Sojourner’s Truth, produced by veteran Pacifica producer and KPFA host Margaret Presscod, which will airs Tuesday through Friday from 10AM to 11AM

The Tavis Smiley & Cornel West Show, which will airs Monday’s from 10AM to 11AM

The Tavis Smiley Show, which airs Friday’s from 4PM to 5PM

The Takeaway Show, produced and hosted by John Hockenberry, which airs Monday through Friday from 2PM to 3PM

The Letters & Politics Show, produced hosted by veteran Pacifica producer and KPFK correspondent Mitch Jeserich, which airs Monday through Thursday from 4PM to 5PM

Tell Me More, hosted by Michel Martin, which airs Monday through Friday from 6PM to 7PM, and

Soul of Jazz, a new Saturday music program, that airs from 7PM to 9PM.

In addition, our new schedule will feature the following new locally produced programs:

House of Soul, featuring DC’s Go-Go music sounds and contemporary soul music, hosted by James Funk and Adrian Loving, that airs on Saturday from 5PM to 7PM, and

Morning Brew, a daily mix of news, interviews, public affairs, and music, heard Monday through Friday from 6AM to 8AM.

These changes support Priority #2, of WPFW General Manager John Hughes’ “Strategic Priority and Action Plan”, which recommends the following key programming actions for growing the WPFW audience, which includes:

Refine the WPFW program grid/schedule

Develop new services to appeal to new audiences

Invest in select (national) program acquisitions

Strengthen and revise drive-time content

Expand local news coverage

Greater coordination of content sharing between Pacifica stations…station-to-station, station-to-network, network-to-station

Create avenues for Pacifica stations to produce and share on-air fundraising programs

Improve skills of on air staff

Thank you for your continued listenership and support, and we trust and hope that you will enjoy our new programming schedule.

Bobby Hill
WPFW Interim PD

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  1. #1

    Not sure about the announced changes, but definitely that station needed to make some changes. I had stopped listening years ago only listening to certain music shows on occasion. Will be nice to hear Tavis though.

  2. #2

    I don't see Rusty Hassan among the remaining shows--did I just overlook it? He is an exemplar of what a music programmer ought to be. If he is no longer on WPFW, that surely spells an end to its relevancy.

    Currently Michel Martin can be heard on every public radio station in DMV with WPFW a lone exception. Does the redundancy of another channel airing her show only exemplify a "me, too" attitude under the general manager? Does it attract more attention to him as a cattle prod than to the station as innovator?

    Finally, Tom Joyner fired Tavis Smiley. That was a good move. Why WPFW would showcase Cornell West and him seems only to pander to their name recognition. It's perverse to see them have a platform after they were essentially dismissed for their negative and strident attacks on President Obama. If diversity of opinion were to aim, why not a fresh name, like Michael Steele or an editor of the Washington Times. Lord knows, we have an abundance of "talkers" in DC, enough to fill any gap. Why go out of the area to get Smiley (based in LA) and West (based in the clouds.)

    My own habit is to scan through my preset channels (car or home) and WPFW comes right after WAMU. If by chance, WPFW is airing the same program as WAMU or Tavis Smiley that is likely to train me to skip WPFW. That way, my listening pattern is more like Swiss cheese pattern than Provolone. I’ll delay judgment on how tasty the new lineup will be--nothing we can do about it now--let's trust that it turns out well for a local alternative radio station that decided to become something else.

  3. #3

    Well I guess I have less reason to listen to WPFW now.

  4. #4

    I have listened to WPFW since arriving in Washingon in 1976. Although the various talk shows are important the main reason I listed to and contributed to the station was the "Real" Jazz played morning, evening and night.
    No where in the message from Bobby Hill did he talk about
    "The Music We Call Jazz," which makes WPFW unique. I remember with regret the void that was left by the demise of WDCU which was sold by the U. of the District of Columbia and it appears that with the "Gentrification" of WPFW we are heading down the same path. Please answer the question about what is going to happen to the Jazz, America's musical contribution to the world.

    Thank you, Booker Weaver, Jazz Love

  5. #5

    Its an outrage that WPFW management is selling out its community PROGRAMMERS for commercial programmers. The genuineness of its programming is being thrown to the waste side. It seems that their management doesn't have a clear plan for bailing themselves out of past and current debt and feel that going to famous names will help.

    Programmers like Von Martin, Rusty Hassan, Yves Daiti, Tony Carr, may be replaced or displaced and its a crying shame. They say they are doing it for their community, but it is so clear that WPFW DOES NOT KNOW WHO THEIR COMMUNITY ENCOMPASSES. Lost a listener here.

  6. #6

    One question I have is whether the size of listener contributions to the station during fundraisers guided the overall programming philosophy, and perhaps the retention or elimination of particular programs. Like it or not, WPFW and other public radio stations probably operate on tight budgets, and shows that attracts contributions are more likely to last than those that do not.

  7. #7

    My wife and I loved this station. We have purchased many recordings first heard here. We have been loyal supporters as well. The variety of music with the mix of informative programs made WPFW unique. The Sunday morning lineup was required listening in our house. We were going to contribute a million dollars had we hit that 550 mil lottery. Now I am not sure if I will send another buck. We will see.

  8. #8

    People that understand what is at work here need to step up and take action before+ WPFW becomes unreccognizable, both in programming and community input. People looking at this just as scheduling issue just do not get it.

  9. #9

    It was refreshing to be able to listen to jazz in the morning while getting ready to go to work. That was unique aabout the station. Now I'll just listen to my Pandora stations instead of WPFW.

  10. #10

    Michel Martin? Please lord say it aint
    so! Talk about a watered down sellout!

  11. #11

    We thoroughly enjoy and contribute to WPFW and listen faithfully to Tom Cole and Miyuki Williams every Sunday and leave it on throughout the day on Sunday... I don't see what changes they are making there. Those hosts support the community so passionately. As I've personally witnessed - they support local clubs by playing music of the visiting artists so it's a bummer to see the music side of things getting "messed" with. I don't know about Tavis and West and The Tavis Smiley show... It's a bit of overkill. Can they really not do better than that...? I have liked Tavis in the past he's also supported artists I favor but... Not sure this will make much difference.

  12. #12

    I am a sustaining member of WPFW and have listened in since arriving in DC in 1988. The station is unique for its "Jazz and Justice" programming with the first emphasis on jazz. If we lose that emphasis, I lose my reason for contributing cash to the station.

    More importatnly, we (WPFW)do not need the voices of Cornel West and Tavis Smiley who already have sufficient platforms!!

  13. #13

    Too leftish and unfocused for big money's interests. Suprised it took so long for a programming change since radio is entirely controlled by a few or more corporations. If it's media, it's controlled.

  14. #14

    Why can't this station figure out what makes them unique and go with it? If they lose that identity and end up with a mishmash of programming without people like Rusty Hassan, well, might as well go off the air. About the last thing that station needs is more blab, following in the footsteps of so many others.

    This is a crying shame.

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