Hello friends,

One of the best parts of my job is hearing from listeners, whether they’re delighted or dismayed. Delighted is preferable, obviously, but shared passion always makes for enlightening and stimulating conversation.

Conversation has been plentiful this week. We’ve heard from many of you that you’re thrilled about our recently announced schedule changes. But we’ve also heard that some of you aren’t quite so happy, particularly about the decision to move A Time for Jazz from Saturday afternoons to Thursday evenings.

While it isn’t possible to satisfy every listener all the time, it is always possible to cast a little light on why we’re making a particular change.

We know that everything on our schedule – from our promos to our programs – affects the lives of our listeners and that even small changes can have large implications. That’s why every programming decision comes after lengthy deliberation. In every case, that deliberation is informed not by whim or short-term thinking but by listener feedback, audience data, our mission to provide quality programming, our need to be sustainable, and, in this case, the belief that we must preserve, protect and, yes, even enhance the role of Jazz on our schedule.

A number of themes have emerged in the comments we’ve heard about the move of A Time for Jazz. I’d like to address some of them and, at the same time, offer some context behind the decision.

One line of objection is impossible to refute. Jazz has been a tradition on Saturday afternoon for more than 70 years. Over that time, many of you have enjoyed a decades-long connection with this beautiful, brilliant music and shared the afternoon hours with some of the greatest names in CKUA’s storied history. If you’re one of them, I can well understand that this decision will seem random or ill-advised.

So, yes, it’s true: In moving A Time for Jazz, we are closing the door on that incredible, illustrious run.

So why do it? Why, as some of you have asked, fix it when it ain’t broke.

Unfortunately, it might be broke.

It may be the most difficult thing for fans to hear: that the program that works so very well for them at a particular time is exactly the wrong program at the wrong time for a fellow CKUA listener. I’ve heard from many of you that Saturday afternoon is the perfect time for Jazz, and that Jazz is the only music that makes sense on a Saturday afternoon. As it happens, I’ve also heard from quite a few of you that you’re very much looking forward to hearing something – in some cases, anything – other than Jazz in that time slot.

It would be fair at this point to ask: What of it? Every show – every show – has both fans and detractors.

That is undeniably true. But we don’t base programming decisions solely on the opinions we hear and on our intuition. We also look at what the data tells us, and what the data tells us is that Saturday afternoon may be the wrong time for Jazz.

CKUA’s audience drops — both in absolute numbers and in terms of share of the available audience — when the Saturday afternoon Jazz program comes on. It drops markedly, by as much as a third. When it ends, our audience grows substantially, sometimes doubling as we head into Natch’l Blues. That’s a problem — not only because there are many listeners who could tune in during that two-hour block, but also because the shows on either side of it could enjoy larger audiences if people were sticking around in between.

I don’t like that people switch off the radio when ATFJ comes on Saturday afternoons, but it’s my responsibility to figure out why that happens and to try to find solutions.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable, given the data, to conclude – as many program directors have – that the audience for Jazz isn’t very large. In our view, that’s somewhat beside the point. Whether the Jazz audience — current and potential — is large or small, CKUA must provide a forum for this essential, intelligent music, in all of its many forms. We’re proceeding on the assumption that by committing to the genre, we can sustain the current Jazz audience while building a new one.

It’s also possible that we see a drop on Saturday not because of the genre but because the audience would rather hear a different mix and/or a different style of presentation.

Our view, also irrefutable, is that Kodi Hutchinson has made a positive contribution to the Jazz community in Alberta in many domains. You’ve spoken passionately and eloquently about Kodi’s work on air. He’s worked conscientiously at developing his craft as a programmer and he’s deservedly developed a fan base as a result.

Rather than giving up on the genre or the host, we’ve opted to try something else: to find a time that might be more hospitable to the form, presenting the music at a time when present and future Jazz fans are willing — even eager — to listen. There’s reason to believe that a weekday early evening is such a time.

And: We have previous examples of matching genre to timeslot with great success. Our Bluegrass show used to be on Thursday evenings at 6 p.m. It seemed to us that Sunday at noon was a better time for the show: it would be preceded by a program in a similar genre, it had gospel roots that might appeal to an audience that was on its way to or from church, and… Sunday noon is a much better time for the vibe that Bluegrass engenders.

We certainly got complaints when we made that change too. Listeners told us that they were used to hearing Bluegrass at that time, that we were disrupting their routine, and that they couldn’t listen at noon on Sunday. All fair points. However, after we made the change, the result came quickly: Far more people now tune into the show, not only increasing the number of people who get to enjoy the genre but also increasing the audience in that time slot. We’ve had similar success in other places on the schedule, creating win-win outcomes for shows and audiences.

We’d love to be able to accommodate every listener’s schedule or preferences, but we can’t. What we can try to do is make the best guess about what will serve most listeners, bearing mind time of day, day of week, genre, vibe and so on. Will this change have the same impact on our Jazz audience? We don’t know. But we’re making our best guess based on the data available to us and a certain amount of intuition.

My job as a programmer is to figure out how to bring quality programming in a variety of genres to several different-but-connected audiences, and to do it in a way that will foster the financial support that we can’t do without. At the core of everything we do is the aim of keeping this unique radio station thriving. If I can schedule a program on Saturday afternoon that attracts a new audience and that better supports the programs on either side of it, while also growing the audience for Jazz — and perhaps creating an argument for the expansion of Jazz programming — all by putting programs on the schedule in places where they’re going to thrive… well, that’s what I’m going to do.

And, yes, I said expansion of Jazz programming. I’ve heard from some of you that this switch seems like a demotion for Jazz, but it really isn’t. Several of our 6 to 8 pm weekday slots are currently drawing a larger audience than ATFJ does on Saturday afternoon. If we approach this Thursday evening slot with enthusiasm and with a view to bringing an a new audience to Jazz while serving our valued group of hardcore aficionados, I think early evening can be an enormously successful time for the genre. If so, I’d love to bring more knowledgeable, passionate hosts to our airwaves, to bring the love of this intelligent, moving, powerful music to new generations of music long into the future.

The outcome of this experiment is really in your hands. I hope you’ll join me in supporting this endeavour by spreading the word and supporting Kodi’s work on Thursday nights.

Those of us who work at CKUA are keenly aware of the legacy that we carry into the future. We’re always looking for the best ways to keep CKUA thriving, and has to include Jazz as a fundamental element. We know that you won’t always agree with individual decisions, but we hope you understand that we act with full consideration of the role we play in your lives and with a genuine desire to serve the broadest possible audience with an irreplaceable experience.

I’m always grateful to hear from you. Please contact me at kwilson@ckua.com.

 

Kevin Wilson

Content Director / CKUA Radio Network