Mixed signals for Sacramento public radio

A few years back, Bites ran into Alexander Gonzalez, president of Sacramento State, as he strode across his campus.

It was fortuitous, because Gonzalez had been ducking SN&R’s calls, and Bites needed a quote for a piece on how the university uses the radio licenses for KXJZ 90.9 FM, KUOP 91.3 FM (Stockton) and the other stations it controls.

Over the years, a nice little public-radio empire—called Capital Public Radio—has come together, steadily accumulating stations, starting with the one they took away from Sac State students back in the 1970s, and using them to repeat popular public-radio content like NPR news, This American Life, Car Talk, etc.

Since then, students have agitated from time to time, saying they should benefit more from those radio licenses. After all, the licenses belong to the university, not to NPR. Remember when there used to be college-radio stations, programmed and staffed by students—before they were all gobbled up by the NPR blob?

(Yes, Bites knows about KSSU. Yes, it’s great, considering its signal barely reaches the parking lot.)

Anyway, Gonzalez was super annoyed to be face to face with the reporter, but there was no escape. He spit out, “I think we need to look at a station for the students,” and beat it out of there.

He probably forgot he said it in the very instant he got away. Bites never did.

So Bites got to thinking again about what those licenses are for, when Capital Public Radio announced a big programming shift. CPR’s jazz and classical programming would be consolidated on its KXPR station (88.9 FM) while making KXJZ a 24-seven talk and news station.

Bites is fine with that, as far as it goes. Some jazz and classical subscribers have rebelled. That was anticipated by CPR honchos, who have surveys and ratings and numbers galore to back them up.

But the real problem is not that there’s going to be less jazz, it’s that there won’t be enough of anything new.

The flagship station will take up much of the new schedule with a four-hour chunk of programming from the BBC. They’re slotting an hour-long arts and culture show called Q which is generated by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. But no new local shows added to the new lineup, and nothing that isn’t standard fare for the NPR station in Anytown, U.S.A.

Just to be clear, Bites loves all that stuff, NPR, BBC, PRI, APM, TAL, PRX, the whole alphabet soup of public-radio producers and distributors who are doing the best broadcasting and some of the very best long-form journalism around.

But the real value of the local public-radio station really isn’t in collecting pledge dollars and using it to air fairly mainstream public-radio programming. You don’t really need a radio station for that anymore—because there’s an app for that.

It’s the local programming that makes the local station special. When CPR created the local public-affairs program Insight, it was the smartest move they made in a long, long time.

And CPR general manager Rick Eytcheson assured Bites that, “The changes will allow us to do a lot more news programming.” The station has added reporters and a new documentary unit. There will be local newscasts in the evening, and Eytcheson said the station is even planning a weekend, local public-affairs show, along the lines of Insight.

But local programming is hard to do, and expensive. Why not turn to the university which holds the license, and to its students, for help?

Certainly, Sacramento State students, among others, could cheaply produce something more exciting and more relevant to Sacramento than another big slab of BBC.