Thursday, June 27, 2002
Before she decided that she would return to the air next Monday morning to host the Roadside Cafe radio show, J.T. Mason went through several days of soul-searching. A week after deciding to go forward under KAZU''s new arrangement, Mason was not excited about the change.
"I''m still very much in a sad place-sad to have lost our little, special radio station," she says.
Mason had been with the "old" KAZU at 90.3 FM for 23 years. She had worked with some of the station''s founders and gone on to serve as program director for five years, presiding over a KAZU that featured 80-percent local programming. She felt like part of a family.
On Monday, June 18, Mason learned that many of her colleagues at KAZU, including a big majority of the on-air volunteers, had been given the axe by the station''s general manager, John McNally.
Along with the station''s board of directors, McNally had decided to change KAZU''s format. The station abandoned the focus on specialty music shows hosted by local volunteers and shifted to broadcasting all-day news and public affairs-mostly from National Public Radio. Locally-hosted music programming would be retained for four to six hours a night, but would be limited to the progressive, contemporary sounds that have become a hallmark of the station in recent years.
While eliminating almost all of the local daytime fare, McNally asked Mason and co-host Robin Roberts to continue their weekday morning show, in which folk music and friendly chat is interspersed with visits from musicians passing through town and local artists or activists.
Mason and Roberts did not jump at the offer.
"It was tough," Mason says. "When you work as a comrade in a non-profit you get very tight, and you get very passionate about the vision.
"I had a deep affection for the variety of voices and music. It scares and saddens me that there''s not room for that anymore. It scares me that there''s fewer outlets anywhere."
Ultimately, both women decided to stay with the station. "The show is a lot of fun for us, but it''s also a social and political contribution," Mason says. "Robin and I didn''t want to say goodbye to that."
Sherman Davis, longtime host of a popular Friday afternoon blues show, is clearly still stinging from the abrupt change of direction at the station.
"This was a community resource, and it''s all been taken away," Davis says. "Whether they knew it or not, anyone who wanted to could come in and get on the air. All they had to do was walk in-whether it was a blues band with a local gig or someone throwing a fundraiser. Now it''s unapproachable.
"They say they want a broader listener base, but what about the 1,500 to 1,900 people who''ve been supporting the station year in and year out? People who like blues and jazz?"
Davis says he suspected a change was coming ever since the CSUMB Foundation bought the station four years ago to bail it out of financial trouble.
"There''s been this urge to get bigger and better, and be more like KUSP," he says. "Well, now we really are just like KUSP, right down to playing identical programs at the same time."
Bernhard Drax, who hosted a music program before being hired last week as the station''s first-ever news director, says he and the rest of KAZU''s management are committed to keeping the station rooted in the community.
To that end, McNally has asked Drax to produce two-to-five-minute local news segments to be broadcast at the top of every hour during NPR newscasts, as well as a half-hour weekly news magazine.
Drax, who produced nightly news programming for Pacifica Radio affiliate KPFK in Los Angeles before moving to Monterey County, says, "We don''t want [KAZU] to turn into an NPR clone," Drax says. "We intend to produce a news magazine that reflects the diversity of the Central Coast, including breaking news, politics, arts and culture. It will definitely be cool."
KAZU''s local news magazine will premiere Thursday, June 27 at 7pm.
The programmers of the "old KAZU" are holding a "wake" on Sunday June 30, at the Hillside area of Laguna Grande Park, from 10am until 1pm. Participants are encouraged to bring a potluck dish. For more info, email Mike Eckstrom at email@example.com or call 393-0193.