The major local public radio station here in Detroit WDET recently made substantial changes to its weekday programming, most notibly dropping the Judy Adams and Martin Bandyke shows. There have been a number of articles in the local newspapers discussing the changes:
A group of listeners called Save Detroit Radio has formed to protest the changes and may be filing a class action lawsuit against the station for taking donations during the fall pledge drive without disclosing the planned changes.I have to say that I’m quite upset about the changes myself. I was introduced to the station many years ago by my father. Ever since moving back to Michigan from California, it’s been the only local station I found worth listening to for its music programming. I’ve included below a letter that I’ve sent to the radio station regarding the changes.
Dear WDET programming staff,Based on the “Open Letter” posted on the front page of your web site, I guess I’ll be adding my voice to the many passionate listeners who are upset with the recent WDET programming changes.I used to listen to WDET from 9 AM until 3 PM during the Judy Adams, Chuck Horn, and Martin Bandyke programs on a daily basis. They provided an interesting, eclectic mix of music that I could do work to. It was the one bright spot on the radio dial that was worth tuning into among the monotonous drivel broadcast on the rest of Detroit’s airwaves. Where else could you tune in and hear anything from Boards of Canada to Johnny Cash, the Ditty Bops to Tosca, Calexico to Gilles Peterson, Wilco to Sufjan Stevens, Beck to Junior Brown, Luna to Sonny Landreth? Nowhere, that’s where. Additionally, the periodic news clips were at just the right frequency that I could keep abreast of current events but not get too distracted from work.There are many other sources of news, talk shows and NPR/PRI programming, but there was only one source of the Judy Adams, Chuck Horn and Martin Bandyke shows. If I wanted to hear news, talk shows or NPR programming, I could always change the station to 91.7 FM (Michigan Radio), 760 AM (WJR), or any number of podcasts in iTunes. I could even just bring up the CNN or Google News web site if I wanted to read about late breaking news. But I rarely want to hear programs with people talking and carrying on discussions while I work. They are distracting and reduce productivity.You say in your open letter that calling the station a talk radio station is demeaning to the hosts of the 77 hours of music programming that you still have. I think it’s demeaning to schedule the vast majority of those hours from midnight to 5 AM in the morning when the vast majority of the population is asleep in their beds with the radio off. And to extend the Ed Love program while cutting out the other programs seems like adding insult to injury. While I enjoy jazz myself (I played in the jazz band throughout high school, have taken swing dancing lessons, and was a regular at the Monday night Bird of Paradise Orchestra jazz shows at the Bird of Paradise in Ann Arbor while attending the University) and I understand that different people have different interests and taste in music, Destination Jazz was the one program that never failed to cause me to change the station if it was on when I turned on the radio.Of course there are other radio stations out there that play eclectic mixes of music, but it was great having a local FM station whose broadcast I could pick up with any FM radio. It was easy as pressing the power button on the radio (most often it was already tuned in to WDET). Now I need to use my computer, which is only located in one room of the house (and therefore can only listen there without buying additional equipment), browse through the overwhelming number of audio streams, connect to an often less-than-high-quality audio stream, use up a bit of my Internet bandwidth and bare through rebuffering interruptions due to network congestion… a far cry from the effortless experience of tuning into WDET.I gave the new programming a chance this week but I’ve pretty much decided I won’t be tuning in any more while I work. I haven’t decided whether I will contribute anything during the next pledge drive. After all, why should support a public radio station that I don’t have a reason to listen to anymore? I still listen occasionally on the weekends, though I’m finding the Michigan Radio programming more compelling.What I’d really like to know was whether any surveys were done to determine which programs were most popular with the listeners before making the wholesale changes? I never saw any such survey on the web site, nor anything announced on the radio. Were the Internet stream and pledge drive statistics the only data used in making the decision? If so, it would seem that they would likely be wildly inaccurate at best. The Internet stream was never as high in quality as the FM transmission. And for people who tune in at various times, the program that happens to be on during the time we decide to pledge does not necessarily mean that is the program we listen to the most.My guess is that it was not the content of the programming that led to the reduced pledges, therefore these programming changes will likely not have the intended effect of increasing pledges. There are many other external factors that are affecting radio stations today, mostly other channels of receiving audio content: satellite radio services such as XM and Sirius, digital audio channels delivered by cable and satellite TV providers, Internet streaming radio and podcasts. It would seem that innovation through embracing these technologies would have been a better route to increase listenership than dropping that programming and becoming Just Another Talk Radio Station. I would have loved a Judy Adams podcast for the times that I had to attend a meeting and missed the show.Also, is there a reason that the music programming was gutted wholesale from the weekly line-up? It would seem that a less drastic alternative would have been to switch to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday and Tuesday/Thursday schedule just to test the waters.Anyway, I hope you address station’s financial situation ASAP, haven’t burned any bridges, listen to the many voices of your passionate listeners and determine that the music programs are worth bringing back after all.Best Regards.Brahm Windeler
Update 2005.12.21: I received a reply, supposedly from WDET General Manager Michael Coleman, that just contained the exact same Open Letter posted on the web site. Of course, the first sentence in my letter clearly indicates that I’ve already seen the open letter. For a station that depends upon the support of its listeners, it’s rather sad that the station doesn’t listen to them.Additionally, after perusing their web site, it does appear they do utilize podcasts, though only for news items. I’m assuming this is for copyright/legal reasons.After submitting the letter I also realized that one of the other external factors that I forgot to mention was Michigan’s currently weak economy. Considering the layoffs that GM and Ford have announced, the Delphi bankrupcy, and the efforts Governor Granholm is making to keep manufacturing jobs from leaving the state, it’s no surprise that people are being a little more conservative with their money.Lastly, for those of you unfamiliar with the station, their current tag line is “Credible News. Incredible Music.” The title of this post is a parody of that and was the subject line of my e-mail to the station.