Too Many Breaks on KUT

RECEIVED Thu., Jan. 26, 2006

Dear Editor,
    I read Kevin Brass' illuminating story about KUT's fundraising with a sense of relief [“KUT by the Numbers,” News, Jan. 20]. I've been complaining to KUT Executive Director Stewart Vanderwilt for three years about the "every five minutes a commercial break" sound that the station has during drive time, but was told only that “not many other people have complained” and that “we have more listeners than ever before." Maybe so – but the chatty, obsessive, and sometimes inane local chatter that follows virtually every story on Morning Edition or All Things Considered ruins the famous NPR sound.
    All one has to do is travel anywhere else in the U.S. and listen to any other NPR affiliate, and the comparison is devastating. Stories on the NPR news shows flow into one another with grace, giving listeners time to digest what they've just heard. When there is a local break (usually on the half-hour, rather than nine times an hour) the listener hears a live announcer – not a cluster bomb of three, four, or even five prerecorded local business sponsorship ads. Imagine how public television would look if there was a commercial break after each five minute story on The News Hour? I once heard a very moving story about uncovering mass graves in Bosnia that was actually cut off at the end by an ad for "Austin's largest bead shop.”
    Brass' story quotes Vanderwilt too often, and takes him at his word too much. When he says "nine sponsorship ads per hour,” he means nine breaks – within each of these breaks there are several ads. I have counted more than 30 commercials in a single hour of All Things Considered, but when I pointed that out to Vanderwilt he accused me of lying. I suspect that "listeners like me" are holding on to their money, or giving it directly to NPR if the KUT guilt trip is bothering them. I donate to other public radio stations instead, where the actual sound going out over the airwaves is treated with respect. And to get the news on NPR, I resort to listening with one hand on the volume control while driving – so that the sound can be turned off the minute the dreaded words "local support for KUT comes from ..." are heard.
Dan Welcher
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