Naked City

We Are the World (Not)

An Austin institution, or at the very least a KUT one, has vanished. Our local NPR affiliate's World Music show, hosted for the better part of the past decade by Hayes McCauley and for another decade before that by infamous fugitive-to-be Dan del Santo, has been canceled by station management. The cancellation is the highest-profile change thus far in the year-old administration of station director Stewart Vanderwilt and program director Hawk Mendenhall.

Also getting the axe is AfroPop Worldwide, a syndicated program that preceded World Music on Friday nights from 7-8pm.

McCauley, who is still employed by KUT and works other on-air shifts, referred all questions to Mendenhall, who said the reason for the cancellation came down to the simple matter of too few listeners.

"We had about 70% of the audience [share] on Friday that we had Monday through Thursday," Mendenhall says. "The World Music show with Hayes has been struggling to find a real consistent audience that made it a real point to tune in to it. … So many fewer listeners decided to stay with us [on Friday nights], and they went somewhere else. That just tells me that maybe they're not as attached to that as maybe they once were.

"Hayes is -- I don't know that you could find anyone that was much smarter when it comes to world music. The guy really knows world music, knows it really well. But you can't make people listen to something. … Hayes and I have talked, and I hoped that we could move the show and still give him the opportunity, because we'd like to expose world music like we have in the past, but scheduling it doesn't work out for Hayes because he has a full-time job. [McCauley is the world music buyer for Waterloo Records.] I'm going to try to find a spot that will work not only for Hayes but more importantly work for our listeners, where maybe the people that treat world music as a destination. … We can find a place where it will work for everybody."

Mendenhall noted that Michael Crockett's Horizontes Latin American music show does very well in its Friday afternoon slot.

The World Music slot, from 8-10:30pm, will now be filled by Jeff McCord's Left of the Dial, which previously had followed McCauley. Left of the Dial is a blend of Americana, jazz, and alt.rock that might be an effective answer to KGSR, which Mendenhall believes is where KUT listeners are most likely to migrate to when they change channels. The syndicated show This American Life will fill the 7-8pm slot.

Asked if competing with commercial stations ought to be the function of a public station, Mendenhall replied, "KUT's mission is to provide significant programming for significant audiences. That's kind of our definition of public service. If you're providing a significant, high-quality program [but] nobody is listening, then how much public service are you providing? … Now of course I'm not saying nobody was listening to the World Music program, but if we can provide a program that is of high quality and reaches more people, then we're providing better public service." Mendenhall pointed out that most of KUT's programs fill niches that probably couldn't survive on commercial radio.

The bigger question that all of this may create in KUT listeners' minds, of course, is whether it portends other major changes at the station. The station has already declared its intention to create a local-news staff, and has been making major fundraising pitches to its members to finance one. Mendenhall insists that outside of adding the news division, "anything we do for the most part would be kind of tweaking what's already working pretty well. An hour here, an hour there. We may flip-flop a program or two, we may start music at seven o'clock in the evening instead of eight o'clock, there may be a program or two that we add, we may shift some things around on the weekend a little bit. … KUT is still going to sound pretty much like KUT."

As for that news department, Mendenhall said the station hopes to wrap up its search for a news director next month and then look for reporters in October and November. "I don't think you'll hear anything on the air specifically from KUT news until after the first of the year. We won't be creating any specific new news programs; we'll be integrating our news product into what we already have from NPR, Morning Edition, and All Things Considered."

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KUT, World Music, Hayes McCauley, Dan del Santo, Steward Vanderwilt, Hawk Mendenhall, AfroPop Worldwide, Waterloo Records, Michael Crockett, Horizontes, KGSR

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