Yesterday afternoon I was running some errands in the car, and, as usual, I was flipping back and forth between 93.5 “The Source,” the recently introduced alterna-station, and WPGU, 107.1. Upon switching to WPGU, I caught the beginning of a roundtable discussion started by Mat Brown, the former WPGU Music Director (if memory serves) and one of the best DJs currently on the station’s roster. Brown was ranting about the buzz/PGU/217’s local music awards, and his complaint was two-fold:
1) It is ridiculous that everyone associated with this year’s award show is “patting themselves on the back” for overhauling the ceremony, given that they took something that was a more serious attempt to award local bands and trivialized it by introducing silly categories (“best use of leather?”). Essentially, if my take on his message is correct — his co-hosts were interrupting him with non-sequitors constantly, so it was hard to actually discern his message — he wishes that PGU would have stuck with their old format, because he felt it was a more legitimate take on the scene. Either that, or he just thinks it’s immature to congratulate one’s self in such a public fashion. So be it. I don’t have a beef with that comment. However …
2) Local bands — specifically the detractors who raised a stink last year about the award show, declined to participate, then organized an anti-award show just two doors down from the actual award show — need to stop their whining and give the Illini Media Group props for supporting them in the first place (and providing them with free booze at the awards show — ha!). He went so far as to call out one particularly vocal opponent, The Beauty Shop’s John Hoeffleur, by name, and this is where he really put his foot in his mouth: he admitted he didn’t know how to pronounce John’s last name, then proceeded to butcher it (as one of his co-hosts, WPGU Assistant Program Director Liz Rush, seconded his mispronunciation) while asking Hoeffleur and Elsinore’s Ryan Groff to essentially cut the station some slack and just be thankful for the airplay. Liz was specifically keen on this point, stating that WPGU is the only station that plays local music. (To his credit, Mat corrected her and mentioned that WRFU, WEFT, and WPCD also support local music.)
See, this is part of the problem. It’s great that WPGU plays local music, and that many of its DJs actually do attend shows, but if it wants the respect and admiraton of the scene it’s covering, then for the love of God could its DJs pretend to have enough professionalism to actually learn how to say the names of band members correctly, especially when said band members have been longstanding members (until recently) of the C-U scene? It’s HEFF-LER, not HOFF-LER. I’ve heard your DJs clearly misstate simple facts about local bands for years now. When a WPGU DJ opens his or her mouth, it’s often time to assume the cringe position. And this extends beyond the butchering of facts related to local music, to the misrepresentation of music in general.
This is the knock on WPGU, and it extends to its partners, the buzz and 217.com: sure, you give it the old college try, but is the effort sincere? Or, has WPGU just decided that the local angle appeals to enough listeners that it makes financial sense to go that route? Are you really supporting these bands, or are you just co-opting the presence they have in the local scene in order to earn yourself some esteem, which can lead to more support from the community and advertisers?
I’m not sure what the answer is, so you tell me. How does a media outlet truly support the scene? Should the members of the local scene just shut up and accept the coverage, even if they don’t believe it’s in the best interests of the scene? Can that media outlet start by listening to the scene it’s supposedly attempting to serve when that scene provides critical feedback? Does its response to such criticism need to be interpreted as sincere in nature? Does C-U really need a local music awards show — serious or silly — or would the scene benefit more from a radio station’s DJs becoming truly knowledgeable about the local music they are playing and the scene they are supporting, so as to in turn illuminate its listeners? (I’m sure there are plenty of local chums who would gladly educate WPGU DJs on the ins and outs of the local scene in even greater detail than, say, this.)
To me, the main reason WPGU is only a mediocre station is the on-air talents’ collective lack of knowledge about music, let alone local events. You don’t need to have an army of mini-Robert Christgaus manning the mic, but a general knowledge of music pre-Smashing Pumpkins would be a good start. I wish that would happen, and soon, because I would like to not have the urge to spin the radio dial every time a WPGU DJ feels the need to spin a yarn. I love the fact that WPGU has done a lot to improve its play list over recent years, dating back to the efforts of Liz Mozzocco and Alex Rodriguez. Thank you for not playing as much crappy music as you used to. And thank you, Mat Brown, for keeping that trend going (and for hosting a great Flashback Café when it was your turn, which I called in to tell you over the phone more than once).
But, WPGU, you can’t pretend to have much collective perspective on the local scene and hence be the sort of station that local musicians should bow down to, because more often than not your DJs display a clear lack of perspective when they attempt to opine about the music scene. While I won’t pretend to speak for the musicians who were upset by your awards show, I will speak for myself as a longtime listener of your station: that lack of perspective is painfully obvious when I listen to your broadcast, and it impacts my appreciation of your sincerity. If these DJs are supposed to be learning while participating as on-air talent, then please train them better. If they don’t have the motivation to get it right on their own, teach them to care a bit more.
These DJs — and the writers who offer up coverage for the buzz — should realize that they are lucky to have such an acceptable platform to ply their trade. If they truly want to make it as DJs and writers post-college, then they need to expend a bit more effort to get it right while learning on the job. The bands will thank you. The promoters and venue owners will thank you. Your listeners and readers will certainly thank you. And maybe, just maybe, you will all contribute to the scene in such a meaningful manner that we won’t have to listen to on-air debates about whether Local Music Awards 6 is a good idea or not, because you will have already determined more substantial ways to show your support, minus the gimmick.
(By the way, I would have expressed this to the DJs themselves, on air, but they didn’t take either of my calls.)
If you enjoyed this article, Smile Politely recommends: