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I have to state it, for the record: I think WPGU (107.1 FM) is the best commercial radio station in Illinois. No sarcasm here. I promise.

The station’s playlist engages me, every time I listen in. After all, WPGU’s Music Director, Mat Brown, added “Living Through Another Cuba” by XTC this year, and for that, I am eternally impressed and grateful.

But that doesn’t mean they are off the hook.

The WPGU/Buzz Local Music Awards are here again, and in my humble opinion, this charade is actually a bad thing for the music scene: the musicians, the venues, the promoters, the audience — everyone.

WPGU hasn’t proven to the community that they are really worthy of presenting an awards show. Given how the nominees are selected and the way in which the awards’ winners are chosen, this type of event and campaign does nothing but divide the bands and dilute the strength of Champaign-Urbana’s music scene.

The nominees were announced on Monday, and while I am amazed by the diversity of talent and the wealth of resources in this scene, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of wonderment as to why and how an event like this takes place, especially sponsored by a radio station that doesn’t seem to have much understanding of what it means to actively engage the live music scene in this community.

The Local Music Awards are an easy way for Illini Media Company to pretend to care. The awards are a fabulous tool to get people to pay attention to them as well. After all, they have the media at their finger tips. They are the media. But for a station that won’t hardly promote or sponsor live music shows unless dollars are attached to the deal, it’s incredulous and mysterious that they would choose to use the local and not-so-local bands from this town to further promote themselves without considering how the event might be considered demeaning.

WPGU too often ignores the live music scene in Champaign-Urbana simply because the scene is not economically equipped to afford their advertising prices. In the end, for some reason, they are hung up on pretty much only promoting events that people have paid for them to promote.

Why can’t it work another way? It can. Allow me to make a suggestion:

Dear WPGU,

I suggest you choose at least one show a week to promote at a rotating cast of venues. Whether it’s a touring artist or simply a good local show, go out of your way to promote it. Do it with your Ticket Tuesday promotion, but also have your DJs mention the event as often as possible. Increase the airplay of the artists performing that week, pump it up with live-reads (which is the DJ simply talking about the show) and pre-record promos to drop in with paid advertisements. Park the van in front of the venue, give away a Frisbee, flirt with show-goers, make your own flyers – that sort of thing.

Click through openingbands.com and websites for Highdive, The Canopy Club, The Iron Post, Courtyard Café, Aroma, Mike ‘N Molly’s, Krannert Center, Independent Media Center and all the other venues around town. Talk to the owners, talent buyers and bands who put on shows. Choose these shows based on what you want to promote, and not based on what they pay you to promote.

After all, you’re a radio station. It would be in your best interest to actively seek out live music shows to promote yourself to a music-listening audience.

Sincerely,

Seth Fein

Listen. WPGU is not some demonic and horrible organization that is out to get the local music scene. No one is twisting their Machiavellian moustache in an effort to dismantle the things that people work hard to preserve and maintain. It seems, however, there are a lot of people at the station with great ideas that are being stifled by the sales and advertising departments.

But these Local Music Awards and the show that accompanies them? They have to go. And not just because I think the station makes a mistake every time they choose to ignore all of the great shows going on in town. That would be close minded.

The Awards need to go because they pit bands against bands in a Myspace-style popularity contest that divides rather than unites. It’s a cleverly disguised promotion for WPGU, bought by advertisers, and served up to you, the consumer, with almost total disregard for the musicians who work so diligently to make this music scene into something real, and of worth to us all.

Why is it so difficult for the station to see live music shows as a great place to promote themselves? Why do they need to be bought in order for them to properly engage in an event? Why are they so insistent on the idea that a live music show can be sold commercially, the way that Arby’s promotes a fish sandwich or a tanning salon tries to sell manufactured UV rays? Why is it so hard for them to believe in the idea that a partnership with the venues and bands in town might go a long way to get those sagging ratings back up? Why can’t this be one big media trade?

But above all, why does WPGU host an event that divides the very community that it seeks to unite?

It’s beyond me.