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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