Indie Music Fans Beg for Some Play on Phoenix NPR Station KJZZ 91.5, Get Smackdown from Music Director

There's an interesting facebook battle shaping up over the future of Phoenix's NPR affiliate, KJZZ 91.5.

The instigator is a guy named Greg Ensell who likes to listen to . . . well, umm, pretty much what I listen to: LCD Soundsystem, Black Keys, Hot Chip, The Unicorns, etc.

Ensell is a political consultant and Roosevelt Row type who thinks KJZZ should be a little more like Los Angeles' famed KRCW and play "modern independent music."

"I can say with confidence Phoenix's music scene has suffered greatly because it lacks an indie rock station," he tells me. "Like many indie music fans, I've driven to Tucson many times to see bands that will not grace the stages of Maricopa County. A music showcase like KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic or Metropolis would go a long way to correcting that."

So Ensell started a facebook group called "Bring Independent Music To KJZZ" where he argues that indie rock is the modern equivalent of jazz and this oughtta get a little love on our airwaves.

The group is doing very, very well. It's been up less than a week and it already has over 500 members. In contrast, the "Jazz Friends of KJZZ Phoenix Public Radio" group, which has been up over a year, has a grand total of 18 fans. Ouchie.

One of those 500 fans is Blaise Lantana, the station's music director, who joined the pro-indie rock facebook group. Not because she supported it, mind you, but because she wanted to criticize it in the comments section. She starts, predictably, with a vague accusation of intellectual property theft, which demonstrates the total lack of understanding about new media you'd expect from a staid, jazz-loving NPR programmer.

"I'm surprised that you are using the KJZZ logo on this page," she says. "KJZZ is the only place to hear jazz, an American art form that is loved and appreciated by many. Jazz has already been pushed back to 8 p.m. by news. News is ever-expanding on KJZZ. By the way Jazz IS independent music, but it focuses more on instrumental music..."

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Perhaps the reason news programs keep bumping music back has to do with the fact that no one wants to hear the music that's being played. Just one possible theory, mind you, and a theory that comes from someone who is, admittedly, not a fan of the genre. I don't think I've ever listened to the station and I probably never will because it looks like this semi-governmental employee is battening down the hatches and resisting the push to indiefy, though while nominally supporting the idea.

"I think there should be an indie/songwriter music station. I would put Pacifica news on it and run indie music for most of the day," she said in a comment. "If you have enough people with a commitment you could make it happen -- Tucson did it. This city is big enough to support it, but it would have to be run by volunteers. The hard part would be finding a frequency."

Well, umm, yeah. Duh. If there were a frequency available, this probably would have happened by now. Sadly, as it turns out, the FCC doesn't just hand out call letters to any two-bit punk with a stack of vinyl and a dream. Metro Phoenix is pretty much full-up on radio stations, especially with the need to accommodate our Spanish-speaking population, who make up an increasingly large core of the area's most dedicated radio listeners.

Lantana makes the point that "Tucson did it," but we all know Tucson does lots of awesome stuff we can't manage. That goes to the very heart of Ensell's quest, and it's why I'll provide this cause with any editorial or material support needed. This isn't just about jazz vs. indie rock. It's about those of us who want to live somewhere cool versus those of us settling for a substandard status quo. As Ensell says:

"Back in 2003, the New Times hosted a forum featuring Richard Florida. The primary question was, 'How do we make Phoenix a Creative Class city?' I don't suppose to have the answer; however, I do know that many cities which are often cited as paragons of the Creative Class have NPR stations with formats that include a variety of musical genres: blues, jazz, electronic, indie, world, you name it. Los Angeles has KCRW, Seattle has KEXP, and Austin has KUT. All three have vibrant local music scenes and receive visits from national and international emerging musicians of all types. That can't be a coincidence." So I ask why does Phoenix have an NPR station that only plays jazz?

The answer, of course, is people like Blaise Lantana. The sort of person who bemoans the fact that her station's music programs aren't getting any support -- and that her time just keeps getting cut for news -- but don't see any real alternative. People who are either scared or philosophically opposed to moving forward in a different direction for the good of everyone. These people are fatalists. These low-expectation-havin'-motherfuckers, as Chris Rock would call them, are holding Phoenix back.

And, honestly, this pathetic attempt to protect something that's dying is dumbest thing I can imagine. After all, if I could hear a Grizzly Bear song on KJZZ once in a while I might stick around and listen to what Lantana plays. Since that's not gonna happen, Lantana has to worry about every obituary in Sun City. Each one represents a few seconds she'll soon give up to NPR news programs.

Anyway, that's my two cents. Lantana seems to be uninterested in this little movement, and I doubt there's any way to force her hand. However, I'm available to anyone who has concrete ideas for how to force this issue. Not necessarily even because I want to hear Surfer Blood on the radio, but because I want to see them in concert here instead of Tucson.

Reverse call-a-thon, anyone?

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