Do I really live in a city where DJs who work for corporate-owned radio stations pick on the harmlessly modest and soft-spoken altruism of public radio? It seems so.

A Message To KXT Critics: Will Summer Cut Shut You Up For Good?

I haven’t had a chance to mention it, but it was a privilege to be a guest DJ for KXT during their recent membership campaign. I compiled my playlist from music that the station already had in regular rotation, and it was quite easy to come up with a fairly diverse selection, tracks that I actually listen to on my own anyway. As I was tweaking my notes, a rather self-satisfied friend of mine who prides herself on having especially obscure taste in music peeked over my shoulder and said, “This is a ‘normal’ list. Why are you trying to satisfy the normals?”

“I am playing songs by bands I’ve actually heard you listen to: The Jam, Tom Tom Club, and The Cure,” I said. “The Cure is your favorite band.”

So the station plays music that she listens to, yet she was complaining. That sounded familiar, and though it’s been a while, we’ve been over this before. It brings up an assortment of other issues, but the one that’s especially relevant is that last Friday’s Summer Cut event oddly silenced KXT’s staunchest critics, even though it’s merely a live representation of what the station predominantly already has in its rotation — local bands, a dash of international music, and critically acclaimed national acts. The only thing missing was classic rock. That is until, the Flaming Lips, a group that formed in 1983, performed. That’s nearly 30 years ago. Does that count? Oh, yeah, they ran through a couple of their now-famous covers of “Eclipse” and “Brain Damage” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. That counts.

The group also mentioned that Dallas was one of the first places to accept the group all those years ago, and they seemed quite nostalgic about it. Coyne continued that this brand new event was a “really f*cking cool festival,” and that the station should “have us back.” Quite the endorsement from a powerful and locally influential man, even from a state away.

The occasional critical sniping targeting KXT has always been a little curious to me. It just seems like the one issue some critics can zealously harp on in order to seem like the ultimate local music advocate, as if a station that played even fifty percent local music is a viable concept in today’s tough radio market. But if you can’t even successfully fill the clubs every night simply on the strength of local bands (and this year’s all-Texas lineup of Homegrown seemed just a tad underwhelming, if not attendance-wise, then lineup-wise) then would spinning heavier on the locals have the pledges rolling right in? I’m not so sure.

Have you ever seen an old classic rock band play live? In a stadium or elegant hall, for instance? You ever check out those front rows or orchestra pits? Who’s down there? Bespectacled, balding, sometimes adorably cotton-headed men and women, wearing cargo shorts and boat shoes. Some of them are fresh off of work, still wearing the starched white and tie. Who are these people? People who can afford hearing their favorite classic rock band at the comfort level of their choosing. They’re also willing to shell out whenever the virtual basket’s passed around in the local radio pew, when the poor, downtrodden “hip priest” hosts are forced to collect.

This is reality. If you want to have a little podcast with your favorite North Texas acts, fine. But when you’re in charge of a 100,000 watts, you have certain responsibilities. Besides, when most bands struggle to move a thousand CDs for five or ten bucks, or 500 LPs for twice that, how are they supposed to rely on the same tight pockets to support a radio station all on their own, simply because they play those same unmoved units on the air?

But speaking of podcasts, in one of the strongest shows of support yet for our oft neglected local underground, KXT’s Paul Slavens dedicated an entire episode of Track By Track to Pinkish Black, a willfully challenging band that wasn’t even really on the local media radar until Pitchfork started paying attention. Then again, Slavens has a proven track record of following his own path, completely ignoring what the critics think. It’s reassuring to know that someone is involved at the station who isn’t simply just a local homer, but actually has a discerning ear. But I got the feeling from being around other members of the staff when I was actually there that this was a crew comprised of people who have an actual nuanced take on local music, as Slavens does, and they have unfairly had to bear the brunt of some intellectually dishonest criticism from some official sources.

What were the headlines when KXT announced Summer Cut? ”  “Fail No More,” was the merciful and long-awaited pardon from the always authoritative Central Track. “#KXTFail? Not so Fast,” said the Observer’s Daniel Hopkins. He then goes on to tell a story about the station playing the Fate Lions, who hail from Fort Worth. But the general consensus seemed to be surprise, even though KXT had booked a festival that is simply a logical continuation of what it does every day. The Observer even went so far as to honor a hashtag bashing the station with an award for “Best Hashtag” in its Best of 2011 issue.

I wonder why 102.1 The Edge—or even the “Indie”-verse (which is owned by that shining beacon of independent media, CBS Radio)—isn’t held to the same excruciating standard that this public radio station has. The Indie-Verse’s Nico Martini has been particularly outspoken in regard to his feelings about the KXT playlist. Do I really live in a city where DJs who work for corporate-owned radio stations pick on the harmlessly modest and soft-spoken altruism of public radio? It seems so.

But here’s why it doesn’t add up: In a recent playlist from Nico Martini’s American Highway radio show from May 14th, he played a total of fourteen songs, and eight of them were by artists who have recently been played on KXT. Those artists include Johnny Cash, Rhett Miller, The Lumineers, Ha Ha Tonka, Mountain Goats, Rodney Crowell, Amanda Shires, and Lucero. Check my work in the search engine if you don’t believe me.

Martini has called the station’s playlists “predictable.” But when over half of your own radio show is devoted to artists played on KXT, what does that say about your playlist? I’ll be kind. I would say that his playlist is rather “unpredictable,” because I was shocked that the amount of crossover was that high. Perhaps he was making a playlist for the normals.

Photo: Flaming Lips performing (via)

7 comments on “A Message To KXT Critics: Will Summer Cut Shut You Up For Good?

  1. Hey Chris! Thanks for the mention.

    2 things. First, I host the Americana/Roots Rock show, which means… yeah… I’m going to play things that are a LOT more similar to KXT than the rest of the 166 hours a week the station broadcasts (my show airs twice a week).

    Yep! I play lots of music that KXT does, because it’s good. I also don’t play lots of the music that KXT does, but I don’t like it. I’ve played Elvis Costello, Adele, Mumford & Sons (I will take credit for being first on that one), Ben Folds, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, The Highwaymen… hell, I had a whole show dedicated to The Band & Levon Helm.

    And if I didn’t play Americana music on my show, folks like The Stone Foxes, Daniel Munkus, Greg Felden, Shakey Grave, Mount Moriah, and yes, Fate Lions might not get played on our station.

    Second, I have never wished anything but success for KXT. It’s IMPORTANT to the city. This is the only on air station that has the luxury of taking big chances with their playlists. They can play multiple local artists consistently BECAUSE they are funded by local music fans.

    KXT is one of the best things to happen to the local music scene in the history of Dallas music. it gives local bands a chance to be heard on a level that they previously did not have access to. Before the local show on the Edge and KXT, I heard more local music on The Ticket than any station in town (sans KNON and KTCU).

    I DESPERATELY want KXT to do well. See… it’s about a scene, not a particular entity. If the SCENE grows in popularity, then all of those who support it (you and I included) will be put in positions to succeed. Dallas finally has an increasingly popular over the air station that is dedicated to putting out music that corporately owned stations in town won’t touch. It’s an AMAZING thing.

    If KXT does well, that means Indie-verse might just have a chance. We would LOVE for more of Dallas to know the likes of everyone booked at Summer Cut. It was a fabulous line-up. If more people had a point of reference on these bands, the entire “indie” scene would be in a better position to gain popularity.

    The more popular KXT is, the better. Please. I’d LOVE it if they were the highest rated station in town. That would help me and the majority of my friends IMMENSELY.

    But thanks for the plug! Let us know if you’d like your own show. I’d guess there’s a lot of people in this town that would love to know what you think should get radio play.

    Seriously. The offer’s on the table.

  2. It’s important to remember that the Indie-Verse is not a radio station. Streaming online only takes it out of the discussion, and provides important insight into the viability of “indie-only”.

  3. I think the “local” issue is a red herring. The bigger problem is that the national & international playlist is incredibly uncreative.

    I have a simple criterion: when I turn on the nonprofit, public radio, am I going to hear the same songs that I have heard a million times on commercial radio, in advertisements, etc.?

    When I turn on KXT, the answer is “yes.” And if the answer is “yes,” then what is the reason for this entity to exist?

    I don’t even care very much about “local” or “indie” as criteria. All I want is to be exposed to something new and creative. And since I can’t get that from KXT — at all — my car radio will continue to gather dust as I listen to podcasts of WXPN’s World Cafe, KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, NPR’s All Songs Considered — none of which are especially “local” or “indie,” but all of which fulfil the basic criterion of creative interest and innovation in the way that KXT abysmally fails to do.

  4. JasonM said, “[W]hen I turn on the nonprofit, public radio, am I going to hear the same songs that I have heard a million times on commercial radio, in advertisements, etc.?”

    I would add to that a caveat, not an outright disagreement. I heard Led Z on KXT the other day, for example, so I can’t simply disagree with your statement. But I don’t ALWAYS hear Led or Pink or Steve Miller or Nirvana or any of the other “tried and true” hit-makers. I OFTEN hear stuff (especially local stuff) I’ve never heard of because Clear Channel and others of that ilk won’t play it. Just won’t even consider it. You’re calling it a “basic” criterion for creativity, but that simply isn’t so (okay, so I will flat-out disagree, I guess). It’s an extremely high standard to require a station to ONLY PLAY STUFF THAT DOESN’T HIT THE MAINSTREAM AIRWAVES!! A basic criterion would be a blend–to hear something unexpected after that Eric Clapton song, maybe even for comparison’s sake. It might not be your standard for listening, but that doesn’t mean the station isn’t innovative or provide a much-needed function in this town. Could it be better? Well, couldn’t we all be?

  5. I love KXT. I’ve donated since day 1 and I don’t plan to let my membership lapse because it is the best radio in north Texas, period!

    That said, the guy who said “the national & international playlist is incredibly uncreative” has a point.

    The “problem” as I see it is not that the station is playing classic rock, but that too much “top 40 classic rock” is played, when you and I both know the albums those songs came from have deeper cuts that are just as good. And to the station’s credit, you actually do hear some of these deeper cuts, although not nearly as often as you hear the “greatest hits”.