Nothing New, Please.

I just returned from the Public Radio Music Conference, which despite it’s encompassing name, is really just about Classical stations.  In fact, I was the only non-classical person there!
That said, music stations of any stripe have much more in common than they have differences, be they classical, jazz, AAA, or for that matter, commercial stations.

Classical stations in particular, struggle with new music.  Only in the classical world is the term “new music” not just a descriptor of current releases, it is actually a formally recognized and defined sub-genre that describes anything written (depending on who you ask) after WWII or so.

Of course, when the bulk of your musical inventory consists of pieces that range from 150-300 years old, things that are a mere 75 to 80 years old can seem new.

We have the same thing in jazz.  Artists that KCCK informally refers to as “Contemporary” generally started releasing records in the early 70s, so we’re fine ones to talk.

But I have to admit I was amused by a session where some contemporary classical music was featured.  It was entitled “A Concert Featuring Living Composers.”

Wow.  They should have titled it “Concerts featuring Undead Composers,” then they could have at least capitalized on the Zombie fad….

Symphony Orchestras go through the same thing as radio, although I am proud to say our own Orchestra Iowa has done some very nice positioning of the new music they have programmed, particularly in a recent season where they included music from Iowa composers in each of their concerts.

Orchestras, radio, any organization involved in presenting music, has to find an answer to the question, “How do we expose our audience to something they haven’t heard before?” It’s the hardest question a musical organization can ever struggle with.

Because, no one wants to hear anything new.


But wait! You’re thinking. Our audience is always saying, “Bring us something new and fresh.  That’s why we like you, you’re not boring.”

They’re lying.

OK, not everyone, but almost.  Back in my commercial media days, I saw study after study that in essence said people will tell you they crave variety but what they want is consistency.  Give them anything other than musical comfort food and as soon as another outlet gives them the familiar, they’ll desert you in droves.  And I have seen that very thing happen many, many times.  Cool, interesting station playing a wide variety of tunes, both old and new, gets stomped on when an Oldies station goes on the air.

For most normal people, musical tastes and favorites seem to get frozen in the teenage or college years.  If you’re a literate person, you will find and enjoy new authors to read throughout your entire life, but I’ll bet that you can count the number of musicians you’ve heard in the last ten years that you now call a “favorite” on the fingers of one hand.

Personally, I think of myself as someone who is open and actually seeks out new music to listen to, but I recently was looking through an iTunes playlist I’d entitled “New Stuff,” and discovered there were tunes in there that were released in 2002!

Better than just about anyone, Contemporary Top 40 radio stations know that you need to give the audience the hits.  New music is usually not introduced until it’s been “warmed up” by some other medium.  In the old days, that was done by touring and building a live following.  Today, it’s a YouTube video that goes viral.  But the effect is the same.  People tune in or buy a ticket because they want to hear their favorites.  As a presenter, you need to find some way to introduce them to something unfamiliar that maybecome their favorite without scaring them off.

Back when I was a commercial music director, “predicting the hits” was one of the things that was most fun about the job.  And, I was lucky enough to hit more times than I missed, at least according to the gold and platinum records that still adorn my office wall to this day.  But even when a local DJ could control the tunes he or she played, you still had to carefully balance what new tunes you introduced, almost spoon-feeding them to the skittish listener who would dart away when things got too unfamiliar.

And that might be one reason why most of us miss out on new music as we age.  Even with Pandora, social recommending services, etc., it’s just too darn much work to find the really good stuff.  My iPod Favorites playlist will run for 223 hours before repeating, I don’t need anything new.

But, if I don’t keep searching, exposing myself to new artists and genres, then I truly will be old.

So, if as media and music presenters, we want to find a way to keep from just becoming museums, the onus is on us to curate the best of the new stuff that’s out there, and then to find ways to present it in an engaging, non-threatening, positive manner.

I would like to hope this is a niche that local organizations, be they radio stations or symphony orchestras, can fill.  For me, I’m banking my career that the idea of a person, sitting in a radio control room, playing and talking about music for which they have a passion,  will be a music discovery model that lives on.

I haven’t outgrown it yet!  So, don’t be afraid, come on in.  The music’s fine!  And the stuff you haven’t heard yet may be the best ever.

What are you doing here?

I’ve been in New York for a couple of days attending the Music Personnel in Public Radio conference.
Because… Well, KCCK is a jazz radio station, and jazz is music, right?

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that most public music stations ate classical music stations, and to say that this group is classical-centric is like saying saying young New Yorkers kind of like to wear black.

I am the ONLY person here not from a classical station. In fact, when word got around what my station was, people kept coming up to me and asking, “What are you doing here?”

That said, I’ve picked up some good stuff, and when I started telling people I knew Grammy award-winning composer and Cedar Rapids native Michael Daugherty, my stock really went up.

Although I am still the only one in the room who found the title of the event “A Concert Featuring Music from Living Composers” amusing.

They Can’t Do This To Me, I’m…. Denny Green

We all love to hear the musical sound of our own names, which perhaps can partly explain why,

when I first saw an episode of “Boston Legal,” many years ago, my hero William Shatner had to repeat his character’s name several times (which as I recall, was also an intrinsic dialogue element), before I realized he was saying “Denny Crane,” not “Denny Green.”

Apparently, whoever was in charge of data entry for this supply company’s mailing list was also daydreaming of His Shatness when they were typing up their catalog mailing list:

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to adjourn to the veranda for brandy and cigars.

On Dentists Named Dennis

An article is making the Twitter rounds which discusses “implicit egotism.” The authors suggest that implicit egotism leads us to prefer things that are connected to ourselves, that might have the same letters as those in our names, for example. The writers’ research turned up the fact that the city of St. Louis has a slightly disproportionate number of residents named Louis.
And, that people named Dennis or Denise are slightly more likely to become dentists.

Read a summary of the article here.

Since I did not become a dentist, and settled in Cedar Rapids as opposed to say, Denison; it would be easy to say the article is bunk.

Until I realized that D.G. did in fact become a DJ.

Richard Gere, The L.A. Times and Me

I had a semi-brush with greatness this week when I learned that two Hollywood stars apparently chill out listening to our Iowa Channel webcast. Full story on the Iowa Channel blog, and here is the story that appeared in the L.A. Times.
Believe it or not, this is not the first time my work has been featured in the L.A. Times.
Our tale begins in those halcyon days of 1987. The Iowa Hawkeyes were flying high under
Hayden Fry. In Cedar Rapids, people worked for Teleconnect, Iowa Electric and Rockwell International. They shopped downtown at Armstrongs or at Westdale, which believe it or not, was then the “good” mall. And a young DJ named Dennis Green held down the PM Drive shift at WMT-FM, and was given entirely too much creative freedom.

This particular year, we were electrified to learn that a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE was going to be filmed on our community. Now bear in mind, this was before The Final Season, yes even before Field of Dreams. Up to this point in time, the only fairly recent movie to be made in Iowa was a 1970’s Sylvester Stallone vehicle entitled “F.I.S.T.” filmed partly in Dubuque (Don’t bother).
This movie was to be titled “Farm of the Year,” and would begin with the visit of Nikita Krushchev to an Iowa farm in the 50s (which actually happened). The movie would be the dramatic tale of the sons of the farmer who hosted Krushchev. They fall on hard times during the 80s farm crisis and become folk heroes when they take to robbing banks after the farm fails. What the dramatic connection between the Krushchev visit and modern day Robin Hoods was supposed to be, was never adequately explained.

But the BIG NEWS was that the movie would star Richard Gere, then one of Hollywood’s biggest leading men. And he would live & work in our town for several weeks during filming.
Well, the moviemaking took the town by storm that summer. A lot of people got work as extras and on the crew. A few even got in the movie, including a young Coulter Wood, now a geologist and occasional jazz singer (Coulter’s cousin Elijah had already split Iowa for Hollywood and would get his first pre-Frodo break just a few years later).

The filming was also not without some controversy, as then-Linn County Sheriff Dennis Blome was criticized for giving the production company free or reduced cost security services in exchange for his own part in the film. An interesting precursor to the flap over Iowa’s Film Tax Credit.
But, the one question that galvanized the entire community was “Where is Richard?”

It was a daily occurrence during my show… The phone would ring and the person on the other end would tell me that they had heard Richard Gere showed up at a bar with the cast and crew the other night. He was seen buying a 6 pack at the Handi-Mart. He’s rented a house on Sherman Street…. It went on and on.

So, I did what any DJ at the time would do, created a comedy bit out of it. It took the familiar form of an Emergency Broadcasting System announcement.

“This is a test. This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Richard Gere-Sighting System. This is only a test.”

The familar EBS tone was replaced by a high-pitched voice, dumbfounded by a close encounter with the star. At the end, the announcer instructed people “where to swoon.”

It was good for a few laughs during our shows, and then we kind of forgot about it.

Until one day, several weeks later, my phone rings at the office and it’s an L.A. Times reporter. She’s doing a story on circus a “big-time” film crew creates in an Iowa town, and has heard about the ERGSS. I play it for her down the phone line. She chuckles politely.

A few days later an L.A. friend tells me I’m in the paper. Sure enough, there’s an article, which actually doesn’t completely make us seem like ignorant hicks, and my comedy bit is the main topic. The AP picked up the story, and it also appeared in papers in Alaska and Ohio, among other places.

So, for the rest of my career, my official bio now truthfully can read “…. whose antics were covered by newspapers as far away as Los Angeles and Anchorage, Alaska.”

As for the movie, it finally premiered under a new title, “Miles From Home,” and was forgotten about as quickly as the more recent (although I think, better film), The Final Season.



An interesting footnote is that while we were all so obsessed with Richard Gere, we may have missed out several equally-interesting folks. Now, twenty-plus years on, it’s hard to remember if these were all present in Cedar Rapids, but certainly some were. The movie may have been forgettable but a good half the cast have gone on to long and successful careers: Brian Dennehy, Penelope Ann Miller, Helen Hunt, Judith Ivey, Laurie Metcalf, John Malkovich and Laura San Giacomo all may have spent some time in our fair city.

But, the biggest surprise has to be the director. “Miles From Home” was the feature film directorial debut of… Gary Sinise.

I wish we’d kept better track of Sinise Sightings.



Usually, my colleagues at NPR are spot on both in hard news and soft features, but yesterday…. not so much.

Robert Siegel introduced an interview with an upstart NCAA tourney team by explaining this group of young men was the “feel-good story of March Madness.”… The first team from their conference to reach the Sweet Sixteen since 1979 … done it without the benefit of any likely NBA top draft picks.
He then introduced the senior forward from….. Cornell University.
East Coast bias? Ivy League elitism? Or maybe the Sports Illustrated with Ali Farokhmanesh on the cover just hadn’t arrived at the NPR offices yet.

Survey Says!

Survey Says!-Dennis

Thanks again to everyone who participated in KCCK’s recent Listener Survey. We had over 200 responses, which ran the gamut from “We love everything you do” to “You suck pretty much all the time” and everything in between.

In years past, we would have shared the results and comments with our staff, and maybe put a summary in a newsletter article. But today, we can post the whole darn thing so anyone who is interested can take a look. So, we’ve done so, down this page. It’s mostly all there, warts and all. The only editing we’ve down is to take out a couple of really uncalled-for personal attacks against a couple of our staff, and taken out one particularly profane entry.

Fun with Google Voice

So, the geeky among us know that Google has rolled out a phone service called Google Voice, where you can get a phone number from Google and have the calls forwarded to the phone or phones of your choice.

One of the really cool functions of GV is that when someone leaves you a voicemail, Google will transcribe and email or text the voicemail to you.
However, the transcription algorithm leaves just a little to be desired.
Case in point: I received the following transcription this afternoon (edited slightly to protect the innocent, not that you’d ever be able to tell, and no one involved was named Vince, Andy or Jess)
Dennis, I just wanna apologize for breaking on you unnecessarily … so I want to get it was inappropriate, Hi, this is Vince not a very good mood. Ohh I’m sexy and I just want to apologize. I got a call and Andy through sad actually. Can panties voicemail box is also full, so I can leave a message with him, so I left a message just battery. I need to call me so maybe I can get a hold of. I don’t know that I have the exact date of the quarter. Jess. It might book so I need late that day too, so if you could just ev shoot an email to me with that at date that would be great. And please try to somehow it. It’s on it there as soon as possible. I think, so we’ll figure it out. Alright, talk to you later. Bye

Does anyone else find it disturbing that the default transcription attempts are rather… sexual?