APR listeners emphasize the need for music

From DJ stories about interacting with listeners from Aspen to South America, to singing the first lines of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a group, dozens of former volunteers and local residents emphasized the need Thursday for music on KAJX Aspen Public Radio as a reprieve and complement to the news.

The over 50-person turnout was for APR’s first board of directors meeting since the station debuted its more news-focused schedule, which includes the addition of renowned national and international journalism programs and local news initiatives, but not the weekly local music shows headed by volunteer DJs.

“We don’t know everything, we get things wrong, so we’re here to hear your ideas and your thoughts,” said Doug Carlston, chairman of the APR board of directors. “What we really want to do is give each of you the time to talk to us, complain to us, give us your ideas, ask us questions, whatever works best for you.”

After the 11 board members and two APR staff present ­— executive director Tammy Terwelp and development and community engagement manager Lisa DeLosso — introduced themselves, the floor was opened for public comment on the station’s programming changes, which came in January.

The people gathered in the Aspen Square Hotel’s conference room for the meeting advocated for bringing music back onto the APR airwaves, sharing stories about the locally curated music shows and how they brought a uniqueness to the station that is lost with the current schedule, which many said they feel is repetitive, as well as noting the importance of music as a community connector, community builder and building block of the “Aspen Idea.”

“The question of including music, whether jazz, classical, blues, rock and roll has galvanized our community. This is merely a representative portion,” said Jeannie Walla, a longtime former employee and volunteer DJ for KAJX. “Choosing to ignore this outcry, in my opinion, is short-sighted and irrational.”

The group of public commenters also voiced to board members how “un-Aspen” the changes were carried out, with the local volunteer DJs reportedly receiving no thank-you from station staff after being let go in late January.

“The way that this was handled, and it was spoken of in many letters to the editor … it was a disgrace,” said Scott Harper, former longtime volunteer DJ for APR. “Volunteerism is the heart and soul of public radio and it was disrespected to the max.”

But outside of defending APR’s former music programming and the volunteers who put it on, the locals present also expressed confusion as to why the decision to drop most all of the station’s music was made in such an abrupt and sudden manner, and why the survey data the decision was based off hasn’t been made more publicly available.

“What bothered me about this decision-making process is it’s not clear to me, having read what I’ve read, what the goal was,” said Mick Ireland, a longtime local and former Aspen mayor. “I have not seen this data and I have not seen an analysis of this data and its dubious origin.”

On Tuesday, a handful of former volunteer DJs expressed similar thoughts about the manner of and reasons behind the recent programming changes with the station’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC).

According to APR’s website, the CAC is a vehicle for community input about station programming in a support role only to station decision-makers and is a group the station is required to have by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

During the comment period at Tuesday’s meeting, which four committee members and two station leaders including Terwelp attended, CAC members said they were “blindsided” by the station’s decision to drop the bulk of its music programs.

“I was not aware that was going to happen, that there would be a purge of programs … so my ability to speak intelligently about this with people who approached me was limited at best,” said Andy Popinchalk, who has been a part of the CAC for more than a year.

“I didn’t hear about the change either until I read the paper and I have heard from community members who are upset about it,” added Marci Krivonen, another CAC member and former APR employee.

“I think this could have been done better. … I do think talk radio is good and it appeals to a growing younger audience, but having at least some music is important for this community, too.”

However, the members also said they knew the station had been looking at becoming more news-focused for years.

“I remember talking with Carolyne Heldman (former APR president/executive director) and learning this was a movement and direction she saw the station going,” said Riley Tippet, a nearly four-year CAC member. “So while I think the change was abrupt, I also think it’s been in the works for a long time.”

But while the news focus may have been in the works for several years, many of the former local DJs and residents present emphasized how music programming is what makes KAJX uniquely Aspen and a true community radio station.

They also referred to The Aspen Times weekly poll — which 620 people participated in last week and shows 54.5% of respondents want the old APR format restored, 23.5% want a mix of music and news and 11.5% want just news — as an indicator to the importance of music on APR.

Within the last five minutes of the CAC meeting, one local, Martin Horowitz, directly asked Terwelp how the station would respond to the many listeners voicing their desire for music to return to APR.

“Would you be willing to back off your position and be flexible to maybe inject back into the system of the radio some of the music shows? Is that a possibility?” Horowitz asked.

“One of the things we are looking at is possibly — and I want to be clear we are just looking at this — a second signal but it is in its infancy so I don’t want to say much more than that,” Terwelp responded.

“There are some things we will be looking at but as far as reversing what we have on Aspen Public Radio and the direction, our main signal is going to stay what it is.”

At the Thursday night board of directors meeting, there was less finality from board chair Carlston about the future of music at the station.

He said the station’s three-year strategic plan favors local content moving forward, and that the board wants to be responsive to the opinions and ideas expressed.

After the over 90-minute public comment period, the station’s board of directors met briefly before going into executive session to discuss human resources-related topics. Terwelp could not be reached for comment after the board meeting Thursday.

Because the members didn’t have much time to discuss the station’s next steps, Carlston said the board will attempt to schedule another gathering before its next regular meeting in April, and is determined to “discuss every one” of the ideas and items of feedback presented Thursday. When asked if there is a short-term possibility of bringing some music back to APR, Carlston said that’s always on the table.

“Today was really about gathering info,” he said. “We received a lot of good ideas and feedback and we will do our best to support the community in every way we can.”


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