“Ore: Theatre Intangible” threatened at WRVU-FM! (and how you can help out)

Vanderbilt’s WRVU-FM has removed “Ore: Theatre Intangible” from the station schedule this week, completely stripping experimental music and sound art from their broadcast. The show, hosted by my good friend and former co-host Tony Youngblood, has been one of WRVU-FM’s most-active and participation-friendly broadcasts at the station since 2007. It almost goes without saying that it was one of a very few places for experimental musicians and enthusiasts to hear such sounds– and in the samey, corporate, pop country BS behemoth city of Nashville; “Ore” brought a desperately-needed infusion of new ideas.

Mikil Taylor, WRVU’s general manager (i.e., wet blanket), cited “sexually offensive comments” as cause for Youngblood’s dismissal. Here is his letter:

“It has come to my attention that some serious programming violations occurred during your show last night, violations I have verified. As you should have known, DJs are expressly prohibited from making sexually offensive comments on air, or knowingly allowing such comments to occur. Thus, I have no other course of action than to remove your privileges as a DJ at WRVU. Please note that you are no longer able to enter the station, and are no longer welcome at WRVU.”

Here’s the catch– WRVU has a 3-second delete system in place, which allows DJs to catch and remove fleeting obscenities from broadcast. Punch a button, and the delayed signal is clipped out before ever reaching the station’s transmitter. It’s a dumbshit device to be sure, only made necessary by dumbshit listeners too stupid to turn the radio off for themselves, and beloved by the dumbshit politicians and FCC chumps who have helped to create an environment of self-censorship in radio for decades. Still, Tony was aware of station policy. Like me, he’d rather live to fight another day– broadcasting experimental music is usually thankless enough without fighting a second front against censorship!

In short, he rode that delete button like a champ. Unfortunately, what Tony didn’t know is that the delete system only affects the transmitted FM signal… not the archived, antiquated RealAudio stream WRVU insists on using for its online broadcast.

Tony hoped an explanatory reply would be enough to reverse his dismissal, but I wouldn’t be writing all this if it had been, would I? Here’s his letter to Taylor:

“The only conclusion I can draw is that you must have reviewed the show from the RealAudio archive, which is not routed through the 3 second delete button in the signal chain. I know this because all of the examples of violations you mentioned were deleted by me with the 3 second delete key. I just listened to the archive to confirm that it does not delete the deleted sections. I also just called a friend who listened to the show via radio, and he confirmed that the sections WERE deleted in the radio feed. Another friend recorded portions of the show from his radio, and I can try to get a copy to prove when the delete key was hit if you’d like proof. This also suggests the very-disturbing possibility that every hit of the delete key in recent station history goes through the RealAudio link uncensored.

Every other week my show is a live freeform improv. I attempt to showcase the provocative, and the groundbreaking, but never the inappropriate. Most of the weeks, the improv is instrumental with no voices; but on rare occasions I develop a concept that involves voices. This particular show was intended to be a simple call in show with a very fascinating and interesting personality. Dave Cloud is somewhat of a local legend. If you’ve ever seen him perform live, you know how entertaining and challenging his act can be. I was attracted by his colorful character and thought he would make a fascinating participant. I very rigorously counseled Dave Cloud and the other performers before the show about what was appropriate material. I even brought up the story of the DJ’s who got kicked off the air because of discussing a “dirty sanchez,” telling my guests that it wasn’t enough to not say the 7 dirty words, that they must also not make sexually suggestive remarks.

That being said, a live call-in show is much more difficult to control than a dj set. Early on I could see things were getting out of hand. I had two options. I could end the show early and dismiss the guest performers or I could ride the 3 second delete key. I chose to ride the delete key. If you had an air-copy of my show for review, you would see that I used the delete key at even the smallest hint of inappropriateness. The delete-key notwithstanding, you might say that the more prudent decision would have been to end the show early or avoid a call-in show with such a risky guest. You would be correct. That is, of course, much easier to see in hindsight. Still, I made an error in judgment, and for that I am sorry. However, there is a big difference between an uncaring dj who has no regard for the rules and a rule-abiding one who made one mistake out of a hundred shows and tried to correct it.

I have been a dedicated and contributing dj for over two years at WRVU. No one values their show more than I do. I always take great care to leave the station in better condition that I entered it in. I contribute headphone adapters, ipod adapters, and mic clips when the station ones go missing (as they seem to do quite often). I pride myself in delivering a niche of music that is not otherwise being represented and in witnessing a growing experimental community that I helped build. I would never intentionally jeopardize that which means everything to me.

I was chief engineer at my college radio station WIDB in Carbondale, IL. I understand that complaints must be taken very seriously. When the station license is at risk, one must err on the side of caution. Better I lose my show than WRVU going off the air. Still, I stand by my claim that you cannot judge the over-the-air contents of my show by review the RealAudio feed (which does not preserve the muted sections). For proper review, we really need to hear an over-the-air copy. Yet, I could have used better judgment.

Therefore, I suggest a compromise. Suspend me for a month, a semester, even a year if you see fit. It would be a hardship, but much less distressing than losing my show entirely. If a complaint was made, the complainer would be appeased; and I would be able to return to my show with the commitment to never let something like this happen again. My show is not only valuable to me, but it serves a vital purpose in the community. It is a refuge and a conduit for experimental, avant-garde, drone, noise, and outsider musicians in the community. If it comes to it, I know I can count on support from participants, community members, and fellow WRVU djs with letters and e-mails addressed to the WRVU staff and advisers.”

In fairness, and without getting too much into specifics about the show, Tony DID make some mistakes. Number one, he invited someone on his show that didn’t care about WRVU as much as he does. I’ve had that problem before as well, though I handled it somewhat differently. That’s Tony’s second mistake– he should have booted the fucker, and played a CD. Better to have a crummy episode than no broadcast at all. Still, he TRIED to fix these things. Out of his many, many broadcasts, this is a true outlier– anything but a repeatable pattern of broadcasting abuse.

Since the dismissal, a lot of little electronic nastygrams have been floating back and forth, with hurt feelings on both sides. But you, dear listener, have still got a job to do. Write an e-mail and let Taylor know where you stand. Tell him that you prefer experimental music remain on the air at WRVU-FM, and that Tony deserves a second chance. Do it today, and maybe we can get “Ore” back on the air!

Here’s the relevant e-mail addresses and contact information:

Mikil Taylor
General Manager, WRVU

Sam Parler
Programming Director, WRVU

Jim Hayes
Assistant Director of Student Media, Broadcasting

Chris Carroll
Director of Student Media
offensive comments

6 Responses to ““Ore: Theatre Intangible” threatened at WRVU-FM! (and how you can help out)”

  1. Tony Youngblood Says:

    Thank you, Dave, for your support. It really means a great deal to me.

    UPDATE: The show is banned for life with no hope of getting reinstated. But your e-mails and phone calls will still help. If it makes them deal with the next dj infraction more tactfully and professionally, then it’s time well-spent.

    As far as the nastygrams, I thought mine were initially rather cool and collected despite holding back huge amounts of disappointment and frustration. My emotions got the better of me in the last two e-mails I wrote, and I really let the gm have it. Of course, this is after I exhausted all avenues of diplomacy. At that point it was merely the final shouts of the accused being led to the gallows.

    I will say that Dave Cloud is in no way a fucker — he’s a brilliant musician, and he tried very hard to play by the rules. It was mostly the callers who brought in the sexually suggestive material. After all is said and done, the final show actually turned out pretty fantastic, and I would work with Mr. Cloud again in a heartbeat. I will try to get the show posted tomorrow on the ORE page. Fortunately for the listeners (but unfortunately for my defense), the copy I burned on the live cd burner bipasses the delete button. You’ll hear the show in all it’s raw glory, but you won’t have any way of knowing what I bleeped out of the broadcast feed.

  2. startlingmoniker Says:

    Looks like it’s time to name the next incarnation of ~Ore~…

  3. Jefferson Says:

    The FCC thanks you for your cowardice. –> GM, PD etc…

  4. startlingmoniker Says:

    I brought this up with Jim Hayes, specifically asking him about how it is that the lowest common denominator should be allowed to set community standards, especially when so many people have expressed that they enjoy the programming. If there was a flood of complaints, against one supporter, we could easily guess that public opinion/standards were against something. Why doesn’t this work the other way?

    In truth, this situation is symptomatic of the FCC’s preferred operating method– be completely inscrutable, make radio programmers do their dirty work long before they ever get involved…


  5. Tony Youngblood Says:

    Unfortunately, WRVU is not really concerned with the quality of content on their station, and they don’t really care about attracting listeners. The only reason listener complaints carry so much weight is because WRVU is (justifiably) afraid of getting shut down by the FCC.

    WRVU is first and foremost a training ground for students who want to learn about the communications industry. If they truly cared about keeping and attracting listeners, they would schedule their programming based on the popularity of their shows. They don’t. Students get run of schedule, then graduate students, then alumni, and then community members. Most of the great programming is made by community members because they tend to stick around longer than 4 years, and they treat their shows more seriously than the average 19 year old looking to waste a few hours. And yet, these community member shows which develop followings always get last pick of schedule. I’m not blaming WRVU for that. Training students is what they get funded to do. It just is what it is.

  6. Karthik Kakarala Says:

    I recall the situation like Tony just explained above at my own college radio days, albeit without the grounding premise of even having a specific training purpose (I mean, we didn’t exactly have a radio program of education in a 2000-strong school population).

    But, speaking from my own rudimentary engineer perspective, it’s particularly irresponsible to not be familiar enough with the tech, as it frankly seems to me. The ONLY audio version that matters is what goes out over the air. Words aren’t as important inside the studio if they don’t go out over the air, so long as no damage to surfaces, humans (liability), or the equipment itself ever occurs.

    I’m just as dissatisfied with the way that station handles its loyal community programs as with my old station, considering that they ARE a pillar of support that can be relied on.

    Learning about the communications industry does apply to this situation as much as any other in the station, though.

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