An Open Letter to Morgan State University President David Wilson

by: Tom Gouker Special to the AFRO
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Dear Dr. David Wilson,

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address my concerns about closing the doors of WEAA-FM as a “Source for Cool Jazz” forever.

I have lived in nine different radio markets in America and I was immediately drawn to WEAA-FM when I moved to Baltimore for its unique ability to interact with the community and the musical programming of Marcellus Sheppard. I worked at “Live @ The World Café” WXPN-FM in Philadelphia, and I understand that radio programming across the country has a cookie-cutter approach. I marvel at Sheppard’s ability and talents to create a unique playlist to help shape the format and tone of the station. He is truly superior to his peers in other markets.

Jazz is Not Dead

The music industry is morphing and quickly changing.  People have access to more music at their fingertips then they ever had in our lifetime.  For that reason, listeners are crossing musical genres, listeners are becoming more knowledgeable and sophisticated about different styles of music, and WEAA-FM has been there to challenge and satisfy their musical curiously for years.

There are over 15 local music venues in the Baltimore market that feature jazz music on a regular basis.   Without help from the radio station local commerce will be negatively impacted along with the lack of diversity and choice.

This month, “Capital Jazz Festival”, a three-day celebration of Jazz and R&B located in Columbia, Md., just 30 miles from the heart of Baltimore, was standing room only.   The “Capital Jazz Festival” is the bread and butter of Merriweather’s summer season, and the “D.C. Jazz Festival” collects the same type of buzz and excitement attracting the same type of numbers.

WEAA-FM Can Be Profitable

While the music industry is changing, so has the radio business.  There are “winning formulas” out there and with “forward-thinking” management and the ability to react to current technology,  jazz and radio are still viable and can turn a profit.

Even with an understaffed team currently assembled at the station, the station is still winning national awards and recognition.  And, with little promotion, the station was able to exceed its Spring Fund Drive Goal.  Both are “Wins” for the station.

Arbitron Is a Poor Gage of Success

“Arbitron” tracks listenership and then ranks stations in popularity and then forecasts trends in the radio business and time and time again they got it wrong.  How many people do you know that are tracking there listening consumption for Arbitron?

All Musicians Have to Play an Instrument

What I am saying, is that music is universal and connected.  Jazz artists (Funk Brothers) played on all the Motown hits. Kamasi Washington, present day jazz saxophonist played on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” CD.  Students who study Hip Hop have a direct link to the jazz community today, they are not far removed as you think; everything is connected.  Once you pull the plug on jazz you are severing that connection of music and listener.

The History of jazz is woven into the DNA of African Americans

“I Got Loyalty and Royalty inside my DNA!” – Kendrick Lamar.

Jazz was created by Americans, and the best and brightest have been African-American.

Genius:  Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Nina Simone, Herbie Hancock, and Quincy Jones.

Jazz is Art!  It is creative, innovative, and executed by the best musical minds of the last century.

A Jazz Radio Station would seem like a logical marriage of history and forward thinking (purpose, progress, promise) for a HBCU to have in its portfolio.

Shutting the Door Will Make It Hard to Reopen

A student interning at the station with receive ‘real-life” training that they can directly bring to their next job.  If the station is folded back to a student run organization as planned; the students will not reap the same benefits and will be unprepared for the future.

With the loss of the jazz format, you will lose listeners.  And without diversity on the airwaves, listeners will go on-line or elsewhere and will abandon the FM airwaves completely, which will punish the other stations they may have been listening to.  It is a loss for everyone.

Don’t Be Scared

On February 27, when 70 HBCU’s went to the White House and met with President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, we totally understand that you must have left that meeting confused and frightened about the future.  You are the President of Morgan State University, which has 150 years under its belt.  It is your job to protect the college and plan for the worst scenario.  Slashing school programs seems like a smart game plan.  But, why slash the jazz out of the radio station?  Why eliminate diversity in the city of Baltimore?  Why cut a potential self-sustaining profit center out of your budget? I understand that you would be nervous, I would be too.

A Proper Burial.

WEAA-FM has serviced the community for 40 years, which is a really long time.  If I am not able to convince you to keep the lights on at the radio station and keep jazz on the air, then out of respect give the station the sendoff it deserves.  At least, allow the community to pay respects properly and thank them for a “job well done”.

Thank you for your time.

Tom Gouker

Tom Gouker have worked in the radio industry for 5 years at WXPN-FM in Philadelphia, Penn., He has also worked in the television industry for 7 years:  at QVC.  Gouker relocated to Baltimore 4 years ago. He is currently a DJ at “The Ottobar”.  Gouker is also a volunteer for WEAA-FM’s Fund Drives.

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