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Jazz Radio 2013: Up in the Air

Technology changes and lack of funds leaves radio at a crossroads

Cephas Bowles, WBGO President and CEO
Students perform at San Diego station Jazz 88.3's City College Educational Music Festival
dublab's Mark McNeill

On a recent Friday morning at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of WPFW-FM, a live broadcast wafted out of old speakers and into the yellow-walled warren of studios. You could hear the careful inflections of John Hughes, the station’s general manager, as he led his call-in show, Manager’s Mailbox, in Studio B. As he does every week, Hughes was fielding questions and comments from listeners, and giving his take on the station’s recent activities. But what you really noticed, buzzing through the studio like a horde of flies, was tension.

Just a month earlier, at the beginning of December, Hughes had forced through a set of major programming changes at WPFW, which broadcasts exploratory music and radical-left talk shows under a slogan of “Jazz and Justice.” Hughes’ plan was to nix jazz from midday and drive-time slots, dial back some of the station’s long-running talk offerings, and start piping in a handful of nationally syndicated programs from NPR and Public Radio International.

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