in Quotidian Affairs

an open letter to KUTX

Old timey photo of family sitting around a radio

Austin radio station KUTX just announced a coming change to their programming. The important information is that they are removing folk and world music shows and replacing them with non-genre specific programming. I wrote them a complaint, which is something I have never done: I have never written a complaint to any company. I’ve also never written my congressman. The thoughts in that note seemed to have a lot to do with where I want this blog to go though, so I decided to share it here…

Good afternoon,

I appreciate the hard work that goes into juggling so many competing musical tastes and values. I listen to and support KUTX because it is the only place where my own diverse tastes find their home. From Twine Time to the Old School (Happy Feet!) Dance Party to all the great music that is hard to fit into a specific genre, you have me covered. Congratulations on a year and half of great music programming!

However, I am sad to see the loss of a home for folk music on KUTX. For many years, the sounds of Celtic folk music defined Saturday mornings. Even now, Saturday mornings mean Car Talk and Wait Wait on KUT, but I am nostalgic for the Saturdays of the past: listening to Folk Waves while cleaning up a pancake breakfast or while weeding the garden. The music set the slow and peaceful tone for the coming weekend.

All things in life change. I adapted to a new schedule, the weekend easing to a close on Sunday afternoons heralded by the soothing songs of the Celtic world. Perhaps I listened while lying on a hammock, reading whatever book Fresh Air has convinced me I will like. (A side note: it is a fact that Fresh Air can convince me and Sara, my wife, against all odds, to watch any TV show, see any movie, or read any book. A reasonable observer might suggest, “Seth, that doesn’t sound like your type of thing,” but we are helpless.) Perhaps I will be rushing through the chores that I did not finish on Saturday, wondering what happened to my tranquil weekend.

It is a shame to lose this programming. It is a shame to lose the world music programming. But, the loss points to a trend at KUTX that makes me even sadder: the loss of genre-specific programming. The attrition of special music shows is not new. When KUTX started last year, I was hopeful that it would mean more time for the kinds of shows that don’t air anywhere else. “They’ll bring back Blue Monday!” I exclaimed to my wife. “And Phil Music!” Of course, these were Larry Monroe shows, which points to the ultimate reality that all things in life have their end date. May Larry rest in peace.

My wife and I are some of those for whom KUT or KUTX is almost always playing. In the past, I could have told you the time of day and the day of the week it after a few minutes listening to the radio. Once, years ago when we were dating, Sara and I suffered the experience of a summer blackout on a Saturday night. This calamity interrupted our planned evening of TV binging. Instead, we found a shower radio and a couple of candles, serenading each other, “It’s twine… time! Oooh! Ahh! Ooh ah ooh ah!” We sat there in the growing dark and talked. We talked (Can you believe it?) listening to the music. Since then, when we have no more glamorous Saturday date ideas, we often turn off the lights, light a candle, and listen to Twine Time. I will mourn the eventual day when KUTX replaces Twine Time with more “non-genre specific music.”

I understand that these changes are motivated by feedback from your listeners. You say as much on your website. You say that the listeners “want to hear it more consistently, i.e. you want the same experience pretty much whatever time of day you tune in.” Perhaps then, you are with me in mourning the death of unique programming, sacrificed the appease the unimaginative masses. Perhaps. If so, then forgive me this protest; let us mourn together. No more world music. (The KUT HD-3 stream does not count.) No more folk music. No more blues. Just the dreadful creeping purple of homogeneity spreading across the program schedule.

One final story: I have a son. He is not even a year and a half old, but he will dance in circles and clap his hands when he hears music. This morning, while I bathed him, he grabbed the shower radio and made the small twist of the dial from the news on KUT to KMFA. On hearing music, he jumped to his feet (a dangerous act in the bathtub) and began dancing in a circle… to Bach.

While he and I and my wife all love the music on KUT, life calls for variety. The everyday can get too oppressive without it. We no longer find much variety on KUTX, so like barbarians, we turn to Spotify. Each Tuesday evening, during dinner (Taco Tuesday!), we listen to a playlist of Latin music. Each Sunday morning, we listen to a Classical playlist called Classical Breakfast that someone updates weekly. Don’t worry: the boy still loves to make his feet happy to KUTX on Friday afternoons for the Old School Dance Party.

I am writing to a radio station, so I don’t need to tell you the value of DJs. I still listen to KUTX all the time. I am listening to Aretha Franklin demand respect right now, in a playlist that includes Bill Callahan, the Texas Tornados, Spoon, and Sarah Jaffe. It’s a hard playlist to beat, and I’m not clever enough to come up with it myself on Spotify.

But there is room in Austin radio for more. My son deserves to experience good music in all its deep and varied traditions, from Bach to the Black Keys to the music of Burkina Faso to the folksongs of Scotland.

Is KUTX really the Austin Music Experience? If so, shouldn’t there be a place for the diversity of cultures present in our town? Or, is KUTX just another genre station? For country, I turn to KVET. For classic rock, I go to KLBJ. For top 40 music, it’s KISS. And for Americana music, tune in to KUTX! Perhaps this is what your audience wants, but I say no. I say each night a different sound, each hour a new adventure, each week a reminder of life’s rhythms and its surprises!

Because if you can’t find joy in the quotidian, if music can’t show adventure in the ordinary, why bother?

Thank you so much for your time and many thanks for being the soundtrack to so many hours of life lived.

Best, Seth