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Cue Sheet – October 2009


The main reason I’ve hardly been blogging during the past few months is that I’m just too busy with other duties around here. At the beginning of summer, Arizona Public Media—suffering from the same budget crunch as the rest of the University of Arizona—had to lay off a few employees, including KUAT-FM’s afternoon announcer and its music director. Since the goal was to save money, those people’s work had to be taken on by employees who were already salaried, meaning, primarily, Bill Luckhardt and me.

Bill has for some time been a combo weekend announcer/assistant to the music director. Thanks to Bill, a backlog of more than a thousand CDs that were electronically “lost” several years ago during a transition from one computerized library system to another finally got entered into our current database. That means that at this writing, counting new acquisitions, we have a working library of 6132 classical compact discs.

When we lost those two full-timers, it fell mainly to Bill and me, with technical help from a few others, to split their most essential duties. I’ll tell you about the music-directing job in a future post. Today I’ll just let you in on a little secret: On weekdays, everything you hear in the afternoon after I leave at 12:01 p.m. is recorded (except for the three NPR newsbreaks). Here’s how it works.

Long gone are the days when our evening concert programs were played back from 12-inch open-reel tapes that were mailed to us by distributors. With the advent of a satellite distribution system sometime around 1980, the shows were beamed down to us from some other place, and we recorded them on our own tape machines—first those 12-inch open reels, then digitally onto VHS videotape, then on little Digital Audio Tapes designed specifically for the purpose. During the current decade, we made one more transition: Everything from the network that we don’t carry live, whether sent by satellite or over the Internet, is recorded onto and played back from computer hard drives. So we’ve now extended that idea to our local afternoon programming.

To get started, someone—the weekend announcers, or our production supervisor or program director—takes a music schedule, pulls the shift’s CDs from the shelf, and burns the necessary tracks to the computer drive. (It takes only a few seconds to transfer a 45-minute symphony to the computer, as you know if you’ve done it at home.) Our program director, Ed K (the budget is so limited that his last name has been reduced to a single letter), then puts all the pieces into proper order via the scheduling software in our so-called Audio Vault computer system.

Next, Bill or I will sit down in a little production studio with two logs in front of us, just like when we’re live. One is the music log, telling us what to play when and who’s performing, and the other is the program log, telling us what underwriting announcements and program promos to read and when. We then record each of our breaks individually, plugging them in between the music tracks. If we make a bad mistake, we can go back and record it again, which is a luxury (and responsibility) we don’t have when we’re live. It takes me about 20 to 25 minutes to record my contributions to the 4-7 p.m. segment, which I generally do during my regular air shift, when I’ve got longish pieces playing.

The next day, I press a few buttons at the end of my live shift, so that at 12:01 the automated system kicks in and plays back all the recorded elements we’ve stitched together. Sometimes it works, and sometimes the computer goes insane if it can’t deal with some errant little command lurking in the system. Usually it works.

When I’ve explained this setup to friends, they’ve said they can’t tell the difference between the recorded and live segments of the day. Can you?



In case you missed my announcement in August, I’ve withdrawn from the Tucson Weekly. As I wrote in that column, “I’ve been contributing to the Weekly for 10 years, during much of which I’ve reviewed one to three plays in almost every issue, and after all this time, I want my weekends back.” It turns out that plenty of other diversions have filled my anticipated weekend vacuum, so I have yet to enjoy all the cocoon time I’d anticipated. Besides which, I’m still writing for a couple of magazines, including Strings. In fact, I provided the cover story for the current issue, an interview with viol master Jordi Savall, which you can find here.

Classical Music,


In other news, the Federal Trade Commission is now telling book bloggers (and presumably CD reviewers) not to worry about its new rules on freebies and disclosure. It would be nice if the agency could get its story straight.



As you surely know by now, we’ve thrown ourselves into our autumn membership campaign. Coincidentally, last week Slate repeated an article in which June Thomas, after listening to campaigns on her New York City station, explained public radio's 10 most effective fundraising strategies. Read the article, listen to what we do, compare and contrast. And don’t forget to pledge.



We had a staff meeting yesterday at which senior staffers outlined Arizona Public Media’s growing use of social networking media. It’s great that we’re going to make a bigger push with Twitter and blogging and Facebook and such, but I’m not sure that some of us completely understand its potential.

One of the major guidelines, at the PBS level, is don’t blog or tweet anything you wouldn’t say on the air; as the senior staffer said, we don’t want to alienate the core PBS audience. (I’ll leave aside the fact that I work in radio, which has nothing to do with PBS, but that’s common shorthand.) If we’re afraid of offending the average existing viewer/listener, we’re using social networking for the wrong reason.

OK, tweeting “The boss is a jackass” is a bad idea wherever you work, if you hope that the jackass will continue to employ you. And it’s poor form to overuse the Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television (although “piss” seems pretty commonplace today).

But the basic problem with worrying about putting off the core listener/viewer is that, first, the core listener/viewer—some nice 60-year-old who likes Mozart and British mysteries—probably isn’t that into Facebook, blogs and Twitter. And second, the whole point of using those media is to attract new followers to public broadcasting. Most of those people have a much looser attitude toward acceptable content, and they particularly need to see material that’s honest and witty and a little edgy if they’re going to trust is as honest or at least entertaining.

One of the arts organizations I help run, the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, has a MySpace page simply because a teenager related to the board president took it upon himself to set it up one day. Somebody on the board is supposed to be supervising it, but a friend request I sent last spring still hasn’t been answered, and the page itself hasn’t been updated since January. Most of the board members just don’t understand that things like MySpace are not simply billboards in cyberspace; they’re interactive, and require a little bit of maintenance. Organizations that don’t get this end up looking clueless, and as foolish as a parent who tries to be “with it” to connect with his kids, without really grasping a single thing about the kids’ music and clothing style.

If you’re going to do this, do it right or not at all.



A long, long time ago I announced that I’d soon be resuming blogging. Obviously, I was being too optimistic. Since then, I’ve been doing my own job (announcing live from 6 a.m. to noon every weekday), plus half the work of each of two other employees who got laid off at the beginning of summer. I’ll tell you more about what I’m up to behind the scenes later, but for now you’ll just have to take my word that I’ve been too busy to blog.

But I did streamline my life at the beginning of September by giving up my arts-editor position at the Tucson Weekly, whereupon I promptly absconded to Greece and Rome for two and a half weeks. Now I’m back, and settling into a routine, and it looks like I’ll finally be returning to the blogosphere on a regular basis.

I may not post again until next week—I’m trying to catch up on a backlog of CD cataloguing—but for now, I’d like to point you in the direction of Jack Shafer’s denunciation of the Federal Trade Commission’s new disclosure rules for bloggers.

In short, the guidelines require bloggers who review or promote products or services to disclose any connections they may have to the manufacturers or service providers. There have clearly been abuses of celebrity bloggers promoting stuff in return for payment, but really, the FTC is over-reacting. Look: Every classical music magazine—those few that still exist, anyway—review CDs provided free of charge by the record labels or their publicists. Everybody knows this. Nobody worries about it. Negative reviews flow as freely as the positive. And even holier-than-thou newspapers thrive on freebies. They’d quickly go bankrupt if they had to pay for their sportswriters’ and arts critics’ admission to the events they cover.

Just for the record, every CD I’m likely to review in this space (most of the reviews are reprints of items I provide to magazines) came to me gratis directly from a manufacturer or a publicist, or from them via a magazine editor. That’s the only time I’m going to say it. If you want to know how I feel about the FTC’s power grab, read Shafer’s article, and see the graphic representation of my attitude to the FTC below.



About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.