A significant contributor to the music culture in Denton has been the University of North Texas’ KNTU radio station, “The One for Jazz.” It broadcast jazz performances at Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, where audiences in the thousands came to hear the musicians who performed on the Jazz Stage. Thousands more listened on the radio. It was a vital part of Denton’s cultural uniqueness.
How many jazz format college/university radio stations are there? There are approximately 69 stations in the U.S. that feature jazz. Forty of those 69 are operated by a university, college or public school system. That’s out of a total, as of 2018, of 600 university-operated stations in the country.
Dallas almost lost its iconic classical music station, WRR-FM. Initially, the city wanted to sell the station to pay off debts incurred by the station’s operation. The classical music format would be lost. Public opinion made the difference, and the station’s management was transferred to KERA. The classical musical format was saved.
Unfortunately, KNTU’s listeners and contributors had no opportunity to weigh in on KNTU’s format change. We were blindsided by an after-the-fact announcement of a done deal, take it or leave it.
How many of those listeners, UNT alumni among them, would have responded had General Manager Dan Balla and his staff launched a “Keep the jazz on 88.1!” campaign on social media and on station broadcasts? We’ll never know.
KNTU provided a unique musical experience in a world of cookie-cutter radio formats algorithmically designed to generate as much advertising revenue as possible. This lowest common denominator approach is mandatory for a commercial radio station. But it is the wrong choice for a university-run station that is about preserving a musical past while nurturing a musical future.
The arts are under attack in many areas of public education: schools, universities, libraries and museums. KNTU’s management is an unwitting accomplice to that attack. The individuality and freedom and diversity fostered by the creative arts are particularly vulnerable. They are the first to go when there is the whiff of debt or, heaven forbid, a shrinking demographic.
Jazz is America’s indigenous musical art form. It was Made in America by Americans, and its infectious rhythms and intriguing melodies and harmonies have spread to every corner of the globe. It has managed to stay alive in an ever more hostile marketplace that values quantity over quality.
Now, there are no longer 40 jazz-formatted university radio stations. There are 39. And Denton is the poorer for it.