Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stifling excellence-promoting mediocrity

This morning I had the good fortune to wake up just as Dred Scott Keyes came on the air with his "Cutting Edge" program. I say, good fortune, because this turned out to be an hour of excellent radio of the kind rarely heard on WBAI these days.

The subject was depressing and infuriating: the killing of Trayvon Martin. As much as I have heard about this outrageous incident in recent days, none of the coverage comes close to giving as clear and concise a picture of the situation as the one produced by Mr. Keyes for WBAI, a station that has placed his program in exile. There was no copy room narrative, no interview with leading questions, no theatrical outburst, no input from the producer/host other than laying it all out and integrating it with occasional musical bridges. The music, too, was well chosen and understated—no obvious hit-them-in-the-head message songs with a life of their own. This is a first-class documentary presented tastefully, chronologically and entirely via expertly interwoven news footage—nothing else is needed. 

Mr. Keyes knows what he is doing and he allows his work to speak for itself. No ego interfered with the task at hand—this was a program about Trayvon Martin's murder and the society that set the stage for it. As the host/producer, he identifies himself only twice—at the beginning and at the end. We hear the voices this incident has raised and we are left to draw our own conclusions. We are also left wanting to hear more as the story continues to unfold, and I think most listeners will want to hear it through the work of Dred Scott Keyes: straight and unembellished.

Unfortunately, WBAI's current management does not realize wherein the station's assets lie. They give prime air time to people like Bonnie Faulkner, Robert Knight, Geoff Brady, Jeannie Hopper, and a parade of amateur spiritualists and quacks, while dedicated, intelligent producer-hosts like Mr. Keyes and Prairie Miller are relegated to the dead hours. Of course, this unintelligent approach eventually creates more dead time, as listeners in search of substantive programing drop out.

And let us not forget such other exiled talent as Sidney Smith, Simon Loekle, and (to a certain extent) Ibrahim Gonzales, who all have a good grasp on the concept behind Pacifica, but lack the incentive to demonstrate it fully. Finally—and this is, I believe, very important—there is that rich, untapped resource known as New York City. Voices with fresh ideas and vision—extraordinary people in WBAI's listening area who have the creativity and intellect to once again make it a significant voice in the wilderness. They are left standing in the wings, unnoticed and unwanted by those who regard quality broadcasting as rivalry.

WBAI is a high-powered radio station with a world-wide reach, located in the middle of a beehive of intellectual and artistic activity, yet present management operates it as if it were KWRR in Ethete, Wyoming.

A relevant video:
Stopped, Frisked and Speaking Out from NYT The Local - Ft. Greene on Vimeo.

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