There’s a music war in town. It is hard to tell when it began, but it reignited last week when Frontburner blogger Bethany Anderson expressed her dissatisfaction with local public radio music station KXT. Anderson’s post prompted a slew of comments sympathetic to her disappointment with the station. But her post was only a shot fired in a larger war. Search twitter for KXT related tweets and you’re bound to find the hash tag #kxtfail, left on tweets by everyone who seems to delight in pointing out all the songs KXT plays that local music aficionados don’t think should be on the playlist. KXT has even earned its very own fake Twitter (The_new_KXT), an online honor bestowed only upon the most detested entities. And this grumbling isn’t coming from a few fringe complainers. Our two most prominent local music critics, The Dallas Observer’s Pete Freedman and the Star-Telegram’s Preston Jones, happily reply to and repost tweets from the unflattering fake Twitter account.
I think all of the recent bellyaching over KXT has illuminated some puzzling inconsistencies with local listening taste. The question I keep returning to is, “What do critics and listeners expect them or want them to play?”
KXT plays “Adult Album Alternative” much like KGSR in Austin, where many lucrative singer songwriters are made. If an artist becomes a “KGSR act” down in Austin town, they can pretty much sleep easy knowing that they’ll be playing well-paying gigs and sharing migas with Bob Schneider or Patty Griffin in no time. Isn’t that what everyone wants: local listener-supported programming that grooms the accessible artists you champion for local stardom? KGSR and KXT have very similar playlists. A quick look at both of their play-lists for January 31st reveal that they both play Classic Rock (Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty), actual “adult alternative” or modern classic rock (R.E.M., U2), safe indie rock (The Arcade Fire, The Decemberists) and even local DFW celebrities (both played Sarah Jaffe and KGSR played Telegraph Canyon). And yet I did a Twitter search for “#KGSRfail” and came up with nothing. Not a single angry hashtag tweet. Looks like Austin is just a little more grateful for what they have, Dallas. Tsk tsk.
See, I’m a little confused here. Doesn’t KXT play the exact kind of music that many local music fans listen to, especially in regard to the increasingly happy, monocultural critical community?
When I peeked at KXT’s home page today, I saw that local critical favorites The O’s and The Orbans were featured on the front page. When Paste Magazine featured local band Seryn’s new video earlier this week, Preston Jones, Pete Freedman, and KXT all raced to re-post it on their pages. So what’s the problem with KXT again? Do these critics have some noise habit or are really into underground dance music and I just don’t know about it?
It’s often suggested that local musician Paul Slavens could save the whole venture if only he handled most of the programming, a prospect that is only a little more unlikely than it is untrue. Slavens has always possessed a respectably encyclopedic knowledge of music, but trying to satisfy as polarized an audience as Dallas-Fort Worth seems almost impossible at this moment in our area’s history.
The reality is, if a radio station is playing 20 percent of what constitutes your personal tastes from last year, and they post videos from the same local artists that you post, how are you not being served? What do you expect from a radio station – any radio station? Fifty percent of your tastes? Eighty percent? I would kill for a radio station that played twenty percent of my combined top ten albums and singles list from any calendar year since 1994.
KXT may be public radio, and it may not rely on advertising revenue for its operations, but the fact that we have noticed a change in its programming mix immediately after the completion of its pledge drive should set off bells and whistles. If the station is playing less than 100 percent of what self-proclaimed edgy music lovers want to hear, it is because that music mix wasn’t widely popular enough to generate financial support for the radio station. Or, the very people who are now rooting for KXT’s failure didn’t shell out money during the pledge drive back when the station did seem to play even more of what they thought it should play. Either way, the whole controversy has “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” feel. From where I’m standing, local music fans are getting exactly what they asked for.
[Ed note: Correction: It has been brought to our attention that Mr. Freedman has not reposted tweets from The_New_KXT feed, though he has used the #kxtfail hash tag. We regret the error.]