The Day the Music Died
Austin Music Network's on-air life winds down, as another network AMPs up
Who knew the faux-shamanism of Jim Morrison would prove instructive to City Council? When the music's over, turn out the lights and come September 1, that's what the city's doing to the Austin Music Network. That day, Austin Music Partners launches Music & Entertainment TV on AMN's coveted low number on the cable dial, channel 15. As AMP readies the station, the city's take on AMN is best summarized by another paragon of rock & roll excess: Mötley Crüe and its metal classic, "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)."
After much wrangling among the city and the personalities that birthed it, AMN premiered on April Fool's Day of 1994. In the years since, the station's Web site freely admits, "AMN has been rocky and controversial, rife with funding crises, vastly different visions by general managers, criticisms of over-spending, and plenty of negative publicity." Late last year, AMP finalized plans with the city to take over the station. As the commercial AMP station takes over channel 15, AMN hopes to live online but whether they'll be allowed to depends on a City Council which, under Mayor Will Wynn, may be none too sympathetic to the political headache-inducing station.
"The city owns AMN. They own the name, they own the library. They have the power," said Clay Fain, AMN's program director. Usage of the vast AMN video library is a last-minute wrinkle in the station's transition. The library is composed of two halves: the AMN archives, local (or locally filmed and/or produced) videos, defined as "anything archived and housed at the Austin History Center," or on its way there, according to Fain; and the operational library, comprised of the promotional, MTV-style videos made by artists and their labels. Originally, Fain says, AMP wasn't interested in the operational library, saying it wasn't of a "high enough quality"; an operating agreement between the city and AMP, dated October 2004, says the city will retain all of AMN's assets, including all of the station's videos, but "[o]ther than the Archives, these assets will not be available for use by AMP." This now appears to be at odds with a recent memo to the council from Assistant City Attorney Sonny Hood, which states, "The City, not the former managers of AMN, has the right to designate an agent for the care, custody and control of these [operational library] recordings" which Fain says is a de facto acknowledgment that the AMP will be allowed use of the library. In many ways, the City is AMN, so such a decision shouldn't be surprising, but Fain thinks the move signals "bad faith entering the picture."
The programmer's hope that "both entities could coexist because they provide different functions" looks increasingly doubtful. Rondella Hawkins, of the city's Department of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs, says "If we allow another entity to run some other type of music channel the Music Partners could have a claim against the city." She alluded to "opportunities to keep [AMN] going on the public access channels," but with ACTV looking at a possible management change of its own, to be decided by council on the 25th, the station has its own battles to fight. Ultimately, council will make the call on whether AMN is allowed to continue possibly the same day as the ACTV decision.
While many may see the station's execution as a mercy killing, the AMN experiment still hasn't answered several questions the most important being whether a promotional station about Austin's disparate, oft-touted but rarely city-supported music scene should be expected to operate in the black in the first place. The question of whether AMN should continue, if its online proposal is a valiant but doomed gesture or a desperate attachment to what's already gone, seems almost incidental.
And it definitely remains to be seen if AMP can do any better.