Dennis W. Green

I write things. And talk about stuff.

Sometimes I swim.

De-Funding Public Radio Will Hurt Music, Education

The following is a guest opinion run in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on April 11, 2011.  Read it on their site. Much of the dialogue regarding proposals in the U.S. Congress to reduce or restrict funding for public broadcasting has focused on the impact those cuts will have on news and information stations such as Iowa Public Radio that carry National Public Radio programming.

While many public radio stations provide unrivaled news and public affairs programming, music also is an integral element of public radio's service. More than 100 stations, including our own KCCK, have full-time music formats. Music accounts for about one out of every three hours of public radio listening.

Jazz, classical, folk, world and eclectic music are offered in Iowa and around the country by public radio stations mainly because these niche formats are regarded as economically unsustainable in the commercial market. Chances are, whenever you have heard music on the radio that is something other than mainstream pop, rock or country, it's because you're listening to a public music station. In some communities, public stations are the only music outlet that is locally programmed, not controlled by a distant corporate owner.

Sadly, the potential impact of federal funding cuts will tend to have a much deeper effect on music stations than news outlets. Public music stations tend to be smaller than our news and information cousins. Therefore, federal grants can make up a much larger portion of our budget. In KCCK's case, Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants provide 20 percent of our cash budget -- nearly $110,000.

Now perhaps, if you aren't a jazz fan, you don't see a lot of value in having a jazz radio station in your community. But KCCK provides community benefits that go well beyond playing jazz on the radio.

We apply a community engagement model to our service. What this means is that we go into the community we serve, engage in a two-way dialogue about how we can help and then become an active partner in the solution.

Here's an example: In conversation with high school band directors, we learned that some incoming freshmen didn't have a strong background in jazz because their middle schools don't offer jazz band. This led KCCK to bring Kirkwood Community College and a group of jazz educators together to create a summer jazz band camp just for middle school students. Students who might not otherwise have even tried out for jazz band are now leaders in high school.

We've also created an exciting new music service that is not replicated anywhere in the world. The Iowa Channel is a program stream devoted exclusively to local artists, the majority of whom have never been played on the radio at all. The Iowa Channel gives listeners a steady diet of bands like Orquesta Alto Maiz, The Blue Band, The Nadas, SPT Theatre and many more.

You can listen online at http://iowachannel.org, download the iPhone app, or over the air on KCCK HD-2.

Loss of federal funds would have a devastating effect on KCCK and the community we serve. It would force us to lay off staff and certainly would spell the end of programs such as band camp and the Iowa Channel.

What can you do to help? Two suggestions:

  • Let your representative know you value local, public radio. Information is at www.170MillionAmericans.org, a website set up to harness the voices of the millions who interact with public broadcasting each month.
  • Support public broadcasting with a tax-deductible gift. Every dollar you contribute is one less dollar we need from the government.

With your help, we can keep public radio strong and maintain a strong and vibrant local music culture, for jazz and all genres of music.