The Day the Music Died

Austin Music Network's on-air life winds down, as another network AMPs up

The Day the Music Died

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."

When initially procured, the operational videos were available under the terms of use which AMN offered – noncommercial broadcast. The city has made it publicly known that responsibility for obtaining whatever relevant commercial licenses are needed to play them and provide for royalties is AMP's responsibility. This doesn't change the fact Fain "felt uncomfortable … handing out tapes to any company that has a lot of use for them." While acknowledging that his resentment could be seen as an attempt at "stalling or injuring AMP's efforts," he points out that "waiting until the month before they launch" to craft their programming is a poor harbinger of what's to come. Indeed, AMP was originally slated to launch M&E TV much earlier this year, but the interim management contract with ACTV had to be extended to give the new company more time. "I get this sense that everything's being rushed," Fain says, due to a "lack of preparation on [AMP President and CEO] Connie Wodlinger's part." And "if AMP goes bankrupt, or decides to sell their archives" – a possibility considering AMN's tumultuous history – Fain wonders what measures are in place to keep the company from doing so. "AMN has tried to go commercial before, and it failed," Fain said.

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Austin Music Network
TCB
TCB
Music news

Christopher Gray, Sept. 9, 2005

TCB
TCB
Requiem for the Austin Music Network, news on Zykos, the Arm, Victory Grill, and more

Christopher Gray, Aug. 19, 2005

More by Wells Dunbar
Top 10 City Council Stories
Top 10 City Council Stories
Dais and months

Jan. 6, 2012

City Hall Hustle: The Hustle Bids Farewell ...
City Hall Hustle: The Hustle Bids Farewell ...
To the beating hearts of a great city

Dec. 30, 2011

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Music Network, Music & Entertainment TV, Austin Music Partners, ACTV, Clay Fain, Rondella Hawkins

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle