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Warming Up to the New 'BEZ


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Dear Editor:

In the wake of the continuing series of destructive and disastrous decisions made by those kooky administrators at WBEZ [Hot Type, December 10], it is too easy for listeners and supporters of WBEZ to become depressed. Let me suggest that rather than focus on the negative aspects of this nightmare we will all feel better if we can focus on the positive dimensions of this predicament. In the midst of Winter's cold, two warming thoughts immediately spring to mind.

(1) Attacks on public broadcasting have often taken the form of complaints about a perception of both liberal and anticorporate biases. In these complaints WBEZ is cast as a station embodying, for want of a better term, a "humanist" perspective towards culture. Unfortunately, the usually complicated and long-winded response to this type of criticism is less forceful and less effective than it might be. Thanks to the recent misadventures at WBEZ, the next time this criticism is raised station management can respond with a plethora of short, insightful, and powerful counterarguments. For example:

"Do you think we're liberal? Would a liberal station have screwed Stuart Rosenberg like we did?"

"Do you think we're unsympathetic to corporate America? Who but the most enthusiastic students of American corporate culture could autocratically make major changes in a station's programming and then, once the changes were already implemented, plan radio programs which, under the guise of eliciting feedback, really serve as cynical public relations ploys designed to give the illusion that management really cares?"

"Do you think we're liberal? Would the administrators of a liberal station take away or radically change hours and hours of music programming and then, in the finest Chicago-Machiavellian-political tradition, try to mute the response to these changes through a divide and conquer strategy--i.e., we say to the folk music audience, "Sorry, but we're making more room for jazz,' and we say to the jazz audience, "Sorry, but we're making more room for blues and world music,' and we say to Stuart Rosenberg's audience, "Sorry, but this superlative mixture of folk, jazz, blues, and world music is not what WBEZ wants to broadcast.' In short, would a liberal station screw its audience like we did?"

(2) At the end of many radio discussions of public policy problems the final minutes often concern the issue of empowerment--the question of how to help ordinary people do something about a particular problem. Unfortunately, the answer usually involves ordinary people having to do something. But, the solution to recent problems at WBEZ can come about through a classic example of empowerment by doing nothing. Next time WBEZ has a week-long fund-raiser--do nothing. Don't call in. Don't pledge. Don't volunteer to answer phones. Don't send over food. Don't volunteer to play music. Don't join the dollar a day club (they don't even have a secret handshake). Do nothing--and every time the pledge phone doesn't ring you can share in the knowledge that by doing nothing you are truly part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Some WBEZ listeners get depressed just because they think that the heads of the station's management are half empty. I'm an optimist. I believe we'll all feel better by thinking that their heads are half full.

Michael Levin

S. Austin

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