Now they’re murdering the music in Detroit

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They did what?

Look, no matter what they do to my city I’m stayin’, but I swear sometimes it feels like no matter what we  do, they are hell bent on setting fire to any scrap of a chance this city has of holding onto its soul. It’s enough to make a Detroiter want to celebrate Devil’s Night as a high point in this city’s cultural development.

Oh, so you think that’s crazy? Naw. Lemme tell you what crazy is. Crazy is what’s going on over at radio station WDET, our local public radio affiliate owned and operated by Wayne State University. According to a recent news story that appeared in the Detroit News last week (when this story goes to pay-for-it-first vapor, I’ve got a spare stashed away in the ‘Detroit Issues’  section entitled “WDET to Cut More Music Programs”), April 2 will effectively be the day the music – and the station – died. That’s when “The Ralph Valdez Program,” “Mick Collins and Night Train”, “The W. Kim Heron Program,” “Seventh Journey” with Chuck Horn, and Liz Copeland’s “Alternate Take” will all meet the axe. Ed Love’s “Destination Jazz” will be cut back from its current 5-hour 7-midnight slot down to three hours beginning at 9 p.m.

To be honest, as much as I love Ed Love, I always thought when they stretched his program from three to five hours it was two hours that could have gone to showcase another form of music, but taken in the context of everything else going on over there it has to be considered another victim of the insanity which I confess I first read about at Metroblogging Detroit this morning.

And they’re pulling this stunt before the Spring Fundraiser…?

Hell, I hope the boarded-up buildings stay around for a long, long time, because pretty soon the ruins and the crime will be all that’s left of this city that anybody recognizes. Back in the day, and I admit this is long before I moved here, Detroit was home to one of the most remarkable and creative music scenes in the world. This city gave birth to so many muical giants in so many musical categories it almost makes your head spin. The Motown roster alone is enough all by itself, but there’s no way you can stop there. You have the blues legends like John Lee Hooker, who got his start in the old Paradise Valley before it got paved over in the name of progress. You have jazz masters like bassist Ron Carter and trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. You’ve got rockers like Alice Cooper, who was born here, moved to Phoenix, then moved back and blew up on the national scene. You’ve got the soul/ funk/rock genius of Parliament/Funkadelic, which pretty much launched its career here, even though founder George Clinton came here from Jersey.  

These are just a bare handful, and I do mean a bare handful. We’re not even talking about the MC5, or Iggy and the Stooges, or…

And techno got started here!

Anyway.  The question becomes, how in the hell did it fall from there to this? Once upon a time Detroit wasn’t just the place with the most talented musicians per square inch of working class earth, but it was also the place back in the late ’60s to early 70s  where there were a number of great radio stations with very influential DJs working hard to promote the local music scene (Just finished reading a great book about all this stuff that I got from the library called “Grit, Noise and Revolution; The Birth of Detroit Rock and Roll” by David A. Carson). There were so many clubs and venues for musicians to play. Hell, when I first moved to Detroit 14 years ago there were still a lot of decent clubs to work in, though nothing like back in the day.

Today, what’s going on over at WDET pretty much reflects what’s going on with the local music scene. Talk to just about anybody working the local scene and they can tell you how much the scene has dried up. Apparently WDET feels drying up is something to be imitated, not remedied. Rather than basking in the status as just about the only radio station worth listening to in the entire Detroit metro area – and definitely the only radio station where you could hear any music by local bands – WDET has decided to shove a pistol in its mouth and call it a popsicle.

So let the countdown begin. Whatever it is you hear on WDET after April 2 will not be the sound of WDET. It will instead be the mediocre sound of the mediocre  sound like every other mediocre sound heard on every other mediocre radio station owned by the same mediocre-minded folks who run the same mediocre…

Anyway. So here we are.

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~ by Keith A. Owens on March 26, 2007.

7 Responses to “Now they’re murdering the music in Detroit”

  1. This is part of a national process that has two moving parts. Public radio doesn’t get the resources from “the public” (i.e. from tax dollars) that it used to. Radio stations have been going national for the last twenty years–one of the reasons techno leaves Detroit for Europe is because they could no longer get radio play on WJLB, because WJLB was nationalising its playlist.

    What’s interesting to me is that the hatchet man directly responsible for the changeover is the same hatchet man responsible for changing the MLK Day Celebration at the University of Michigan. Michael Jones Coleman is his name I think. Nice brother, and I like him. But this isn’t a coincidence.

  2. This is truly a loss. I mean who wants to listen to news programs all damn day. I got some really good music referrals from WDET, I mean they introduced me to Thornetta Davis (speaking of local talent).

    I still miss the Judy Adams program & you know she ain’t been on in a while.

    With this new change & the spring pledge drive coming, I am sure that they are expecting a miracle. On the other hand, if we (in the large sense) would have donated consistently over the last few years we would not be having this conversation sad to say but hind sight is 20/20

  3. Hey Lester.

    I know you’re right about tbis not being a coincidence. No, not at all. And the writing has been on the wall for quite some time, so it shouldn’t come as a shock. But it’s still hard to keep the anger down, you know? And to also ask myelf what more could I have done – me – if anything? Between what is happening to the news, to entertainment (American Idolization and Idolatry), and on and on, I can feel my frontal lobe flattening already.

  4. Byg Baby, this one hurts.

    Like I was telling Lester, who made a good poin that this is hardly coincidence, I have to be honest and look at myself in the mirror and wonder what more i could have done on my own. Maybe nothing, and I definitely don’t have large amounts of cash to pledge. Hell, I can barely pledge finances to the heating bill. But to see all of this crumbling right before my eyes is the kind of sight these eyes never wanted to see.

  5. Ironically, I think satellite radio (SR) poses an immediate challenge to Public Radio. Think about it for a minute: You have to pay for both but SR lets you fine tune the playlist to the nth degree.

    I’m not saying that public radio is doomed but I think as our consumer-based culture grows and we progress to a point where “we can’t live without our SR, MP3s or whatever the hell new technology is that’s getting pimped, populist concepts like public radio will become less relevant. Maybe what’s happening at WDET is the beginning of Public Radio re-inventing itself.

    Everybody said that VCRs would kill the movie-theater industry. We didn’t know then what we know now: That people would readily support both. Yes, the movie-theater industry has suffered but 30-plus years after the first VCR showed up, there are still a crap-load of screens around.

    The question here (for me, anyway) is what will be required of public radio so that the communities it serves feel just as vested in it as they did just a few years ago. I’m just hoping it doesn’t take too long to find out!

  6. Notasculptor,

    You make some very valid points about the current status of public radio. That landscape is changing so fast and so radically that it poses an almost unwinnable challenge to current institutions, most of which simply don’t have the ability to turn on a dime. But they’d better learn quick or that’s all they’ll be worth pretty soon…

  7. […] Inc. As the nation?s largest annual African-American event celebrating Black music …Now they?re murdering the music in Detroit According to a recent news story that appeared in the Detroit News last week (when this story goes […]

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