Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Radio vs Herbie Hancock

Yesterday we had a double announcement. On the one hand, Herbie Hancock with his Joni Mitchell album won the main Grammy. On the other, GCap announced the closure of theJazz, its digital radio station. John L Walters in the Guardian hit the nail on the head, by highlighting the juxtaposition of success and perceived failure.
(Thejazz is a reason why I too have just bought a DAB radio. And I really enjoyed, just an hour ago, hearing Empirical followed by Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker while having a coffee in my kitchen. Much more exciting that birdsong.)
The closure is though more to do with the pressure on GCap because it is vulnerable to being taken over than to do with the relative success of the station. The radio industry is behaving like old-fashioned smokestack industries. Trying to milk old technology for all the short-term cash that they can get.
Sad to say thejazz has been quite successful so far in terms of audience and reach, and I would congratulate Classic FM on launching it in a very effective manner. One reason is that jazz is a marvellous music for "pushing the envelope". And this has surely been proved by the results so far, which I presume have been done at relatively a low cost to the Jazz music and musicians will ensure that they make the best that they can of anything that they are given. For example, Evan Parker has been a master in finding new sounds out of the soprano saxophone. (I recall hearing this once at a talk, where someone explained that he uses jazz musicians to test new software and equipment, because they would sooner than anyone find out the limitations and where the potential is.)
Any investment in jazz though takes quite a time to come to success, and not many are patient enough with that. When I lent the Vortex money to reopen I had expected (hoped?) that the club could repay the debt within two years. That hasn't been the case. Nevertheless, the club should be glad for my patience, stubbornness and commitment, because it is now trading profitably on a monthly basis and the music level is getting higher and higher. I think that it proves that commercial success doesn't necessarily conflict with artistic quality. So I remain optimistic on that leve.
But thejazz's closure is not about the music and the baby has been thrown out with the bath water. As the Grammy for Herbie Hancock proves. It has been about whether DAB is a good format for digital. At least, Classic FM is keeping two hours of jazz late at night. And I hope that I would prefer to tune into that than Late Junction. Of course that depends on whether Classic FM is there in its current format next month....


Jonathan said...

I feel sorry for all the people who are losing their favourite station. I also think GCap have conned all the people they persuaded to buy a DAB digital radio with their relentless adverts prior to the u-turn. DAB has always been a rather poor format, resulting in a low bitrate and mono sound for theJazz. Yet is was promoted to the extreme by GCap simply because they owned most of the commercial DAB multiplex.

Classic FM fans are affected by this to. The station has now had a big shake-up to accommodate refugee presenters from theJazz, with some existing presenters axed, and others shunted into different slots. We also lose the 6:30pm news programme. And while I wouldn't object to hearing a bit of jazz, I'd prefer classical music just before I go to bed, and if that's after midnight, Classic FM will be no use from now on.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, GCap have put commercial interests before those of its listeners.

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