Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jay Bennett Dead at 45

Sad, sad news from Jim DeRogatis:

Jay Bennett, a rock musician with deep ties to Chicago best known as a former member of Wilco, died early Sunday morning in downstate Urbana, where he had been running a recording studio, according to a spokesman for his family.

The singer and multi-instrumentalist was 45 years old.

"Early this morning, Jay died in his sleep and an autopsy is being performed," said Edward Burch, a friend and musician who collaborated with Bennett on the 2005 album "The Palace at 4 a.m." "The family is in mourning and is unavailable for comment at this time."

Born in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows, Bennett began playing in bands as a teenager. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned multiple degrees in secondary education, math and political science. In between, he co-founded the Replacements-like power-pop band Titanic Love Affair, which released three albums during the alternative-rock heyday between 1991 and 1996, when it was dropped from its label.

Bennett was working at a VCR repair shop in Champaign when he was tapped to join Wilco as it toured in support of its first album, "A.M." A talented arranger and versatile musician who could play virtually any instrument he picked up, from mandolin to Mellotron, Bennett formed a fruitful partnership with Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy. His contributions over a seven-year period were key to the albums that resulted in the band's national breakthrough, including "Being There" (1996), "Summerteeth" (1999) and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002).

Relations between Bennett and Tweedy, both painstaking perfectionists, soured during the latter recording, as documented in the film "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," and Bennett left the band. Earlier this month, Bennett filed a lawsuit against Tweedy for breach of contract and unpaid artist's royalties, stemming in part from his role in the film.

In late April, Bennett wrote on his MySpace blog about dealing with intense pain from a hip injury suffered during a dive from the stage while playing with Titanic Love Affair. He was preparing to have surgery, but was concerned about his lack of health insurance. However, he also was looking forward to finishing his fifth solo album, "Kicking at the Perfumed Air," at his studio, Pieholden Suites, named after the song on "Summerteeth" that best encapsulates his talents as an arranger.

"This whole experience [with the hip pain] has really taught me to look both inward and outward for support, and I've learned things about myself that I thought I had completely figured out years ago," Bennett wrote. "Family and friends have helped me to keep faith in a future that will actually be much more carefree than my constricted present state. I encourage you all to tell me stories of recovery, as they really do help... All in all, I'm 'in a really good place' right now; I'm just waiting until I can make it all happen."

Bennett's former bandmates in Wilco are touring in Spain and could not be reached for comment. But Burch said he had spoken to bassist John Stirratt, and the band was "broken up" about the news.

"He was an extremely talented musician and a great person, and I'll miss him terribly," Burch added.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Augie's Bonehead Decision Regarding KAUR

Like most people, I was initially more than shocked at the announcement last Friday that Augustana College was pulling the plug on KAUR. As the day progressed, though, my anger did not dissipate but I also began to understand that it really was no surprise. Augie has been looking to unload the station for over two decades, and I’m actually surprised it has survived as long as it did.

I can’t help but be disappointed, though, as the station ranks right up with Budget Tapes and Records and Ernie November as my main sources to discover new music in the 80’s and 90’s. Sure, I undoubtedly would have eventually discovered the Clash, R.E.M., Replacements, Cure, Joy Division, Lloyd Cole, Young Fresh Fellows, Camper Van Beethoven, and tons of other bands, but it was quite a treat to share these discoveries with listeners in my 18-year tenure as DJ and music director (84-85).

It wasn’t just the music that made that old studio in Old Main (and later in one of the dorms) so special. It was the people. Over the years I met so many great people, many of whom I’m still in contact today (including the beautiful and talented Goddess).

Since the Argus relegated this story to a three-paragraph press release, I contacted KAUR General Manager Tom Prochazka to find out exactly why the college’s administration made their decision, and his reaction to the news.

Scott Hudson: How did you find out about the decision to go online-only?

Tom Prochazka: There was a meeting with Dr. Mark Braun (Dean of the College), Bob Preloger (Vice President for Marketing and Communications), Dr. Jim Bies (Dean of Students), Ivan Fuller (KAUR Faculty Advisor), Ben Jensen (ASA President), Jessica Haugo (KAUR’s Assistant Program Director), and myself on Monday, May 11th. During that meeting we discussed a couple of things, including the recent Supreme Court ruling in the FCC case against Cher, before Dean Braun announced that the decision had been made to shut down the transmitter. From that point on, the administration took feedback on what could be done to salvage the radio station and the discussion focused on the potential future, as opposed to any chance for the present.

SH: Was there any knowledge that the school was even contemplating pulling the plug?

TP: There were rumors spreading around campus and I had heard rumblings of some sort of change coming up but the decision to end the broadcast transmission still came as somewhat of a surprise. I had asked, on at least three occasions, to convene the “KAUR Advisory Board” in order to get some feedback on what the college administration was thinking and to offer an “insider’s perspective” in any discussions. The board, which serves only as an advisory board to the President and not as a decision-making board, was never called together and, as a result, I didn’t know exactly where the college was looking to head.

SH: What were the stated reasons for this decision?

TP: Dean Braun cited several reasons during our meeting last week.

One thing mentioned was the listening patterns of our student body. Recently the ASA (Augustana Student Association) issued a student survey to measure interest in several campus-based organizations. The student feedback regarding knowledge of the station and listenership rates were troublesome. One thing the survey indicated was that, if the station were available online, students would be more eager to listen.

Another reason behind the decision was the level of student participation. This is two-fold: a) we have only two staff members lined up for next year and b) we do not completely fill our “clock” with student DJs. For the staffing situation I take partial blame; due to the rumblings of change, I was not as adamant in my search for replacement staffers as I could have been. I was hoping to have convened the Advisory Board early during the semester in order to get some idea of where the College wanted to go before picking up four people just in time to fire them! The volunteer involvement is a much trickier issue. The problem here is that students don’t want to take a show, during the day, when it would fall between classes. That typically leaves late afternoon and evening shifts for students (what I call the “premium slots”). Those slots fill quickly and then other students see that all that is left is early morning, day, and weekend slots and most college kids believe that they have other interests to pursue during those times (sleep, class, or what can be called “social” activity).

Reason number three was the curriculum. Currently there is no place for KAUR in the curriculum. The is a COMM 095 participation credit that students can take to get credit for doing a weekly show but the COMM (Communication Studies) department just recently released a “new major” design which no longer allows COMM 095 to take the place of an internship for the purposes of major requirements. On top of that, Augustana is such a small school that we do not have a specialized “Broadcast” major that would greatly benefit from the use of the frequency. The educational value we do place on the station’s use is that of experience: student staff get to experience real-life managerial skills in dealing with student DJs, with DJs from the Sioux Falls community, with the administration, with the FCC, with community requests, and with community complaints. Volunteer DJs get to experience something not widely available: professional radio. Yes, there are internships available out there, but those internships are much less focused on the student learning through their experience as they are on having someone available to do the grunt work for little, or no, pay. KAUR focuses on the education of the student DJs who learn how to operate a show, how to read live copy on the air, and how to better communicate when there is no script or prepared speech. This is a part of the college’s “liberal arts” education and tradition that will be lost without KAUR at Augustana; students may learn how to memorize a speech for class but will no longer have the chance to ad-lib live copy when moving from a concert promotion to a legal i.d. to the discussion topic at hand.

Another reason the Dean cited was space. KAUR has a relatively small broadcast studio in the Morrison Commons building. Not much larger than a cubicle, this was not the area of main concern for the college. KAUR also has offices in the basement of East Hall, a space that we share with Data Processing. Our offices effectively take up three-fourths of the space available in that basement. With the potential switch to streaming, that will not change much. We have already offered to give up the area we call “The Stacks” (a library and cache of all the old music, formerly played on KAUR, stored on vinyl). We do not need to keep that space to keep up a broadcast transmission… we can easily turn the vinyl over to the library and enhance their music collection while freeing up space in the basement of East.

Another concern of the Dean’s was the FCC and the local image of the station and the college. With the FCC recently bumping up their fine schedules (admittedly, fines now are quite hefty and burdensome) and the Supreme Court recently ruling, in the first part of a split case, that the FCC has the right to enforce standards, the Dean worries that the college could be effectively bankrupted by one fleeting instance of indecency. The nuances here involve the licensing of KAUR as a “non-profit” station (as is apparent by its position on the dial), the coverage area of the broadcast transmission, and the level of regular income of the college. Also, as an insurance policy, two pieces of technology are readily available to alleviate some of those concerns. “Skimmers” record the broadcast as it happens and make a record of what was said, when. That way, when faced with an FCC complaint, the college would be able to prove whether the accusations were founded. “Delay switches” also allow for the DJ to “bleep” out anything that may have slipped. These two technologies could easily be added to the arsenal of technology that the college already possesses.

Lastly, the Dean cited outside interest in leasing the frequency. Apparently a couple of interests have come forward (MPR, the Catholic Diocese,…) and voiced an interest in obtaining the frequency. MPR has been interested in 89.1 ever since their classical station went on the air (back in the ‘70s, I believe) but has not made an offer that interests the college at this point. With the Catholic Diocese we may be able to work something out (timeshare style) where they program hours that they need and KAUR operates as-is for the remainder of the time. Of the Spanish-speaking interests that have come forward, the college needs to be careful. Since the college would still be the license-holder of record, they would need to ensure that the frequency was operating as a non-profit. Any lease operating the station for profit (or worse, commercially) could potentially result in fines larger than would be seen for any utterance of vulgarity.

SH: What was your initial reaction? Other staff members? DJ's?

TP: As I said earlier, the decision still came as somewhat of a surprise but I was not shocked. My assistant and faculty advisor also were not alarmed as the winds of change had already been felt. What did shock us was the speed at which the decision was made and the fact that there was very little consultation of the student staff for consideration of other alternatives! Since I had asked to convene the Advisory Board a couple of times already, I had thought that was what we were meeting for.
The shock hit when Dean Braun said “The decision has already been made to shut down the station.” I did retard my anger and remained level-headed enough to consider what would happen in that instance, thinking the whole time about how one could save the station in its current form, because streaming is no replacement for sending a broadcast… it is merely a supplement!

SH: What have you heard from the listeners?

TP: The listeners have been great. They have been writing emails of support and letters of love. Many listeners have asked why the decision has been made and what can be done to change minds because they do not want to lose access to such a unique entity. One listener emailed the station:

“I've been listening to KAUR since 1973. I read in the paper the other day you will be going off the radio waves. I've listened to your station every day at work; most of the music I've bought I heard on your station. Now what Top 40? I really hate the thought of not being able to dial you in anymore! I really don't know what to say except I'm really bummed!!I went to your web site and read the same thing, my days at work will never be the same or as enjoyable (enjoyable as work can be).It's almost like losing a good friend. Where will I go for my alternative fix?!! Thanks for the 35 years you filled my days and nights with good tunes!”

Another listener, an Augie alumni from Harrisburg, had this to say:

“I am an Augustana College alumni graduate. My occupation finds me alone much of the day working in Sioux Falls with a radio at my side or in the dashboard of my car. I listen to KAUR almost exclusively, as I view most other stations with disdain for their repetitive commercial nonsense.
I was greatly disheartened to learn that Augustana plans to pull the plug on their KAUR radio transmitter. Won't you please reconsider this decision?”

SH: Augie has historically been relatively secluded from the rest of the community. Besides sports, KAUR has been, for decades, almost the only thing non-students know about the school. Do you think the school's exposure will lessen without the station?

TP: I hope not. The thought is that a streaming station will reach many more of the younger, high school audience that Augie wants to target. The problem I see with this is that, if no one knows that we are streaming (didn’t hear it on the radio or see an ad), no one is going to connect. The college is going to have to promote the heck out of an internet stream to raise awareness and the easiest way to do that is to have it supplement the broadcast so that listeners can stream if they want or they can listen in their car where they don’t have internet. Another benefit of this format would be the connection with alumni who are out of the market. By simultaneously streaming, providing downloadable content, and broadcasting live, the college would be able to enjoy a much larger exposure than it currently experiences. My fear, however, is that we make the transition to streaming-only and no one knows about it, where to get it, or they eventually forget as they move on to something else.

SH: To be fair, being online does potentially allow for listeners from all over the country...or the world, really. Is sacrificing local listeners worth any type of worldwide gain?

TP: In my opinion, no. Not when we would be capable of accommodating both. The drawback with streaming is the royalty and licensing fee schedule. In order to stay within our budget, we would have to limit subscriptions to an average maximum of 212. There is some wiggle room here but the math works out that 212 people listening 24 hours a day would be just under a consumption level requiring a higher fee. 213 people would put us into the next category. So, access to over 300,000 potential listeners by broadcast or access to under 300 listeners via stream? Why not 300,300+ by both?

SH: Countering that argument, online listeners are "preaching to the choir" in that only people interested in the type of music playing will tune in. One of the benefits of traditional broadcasts is the person scanning the dial stumbling on a song they've never heard before. You're rarely going to hear something you're unfamiliar with on any of the local channels, but even hardcore listeners to KAUR do every single day (or at least they should). What's your reaction to that analysis?

TP: I say that that is spot-on! College radio plays such an important part in today’s world, not only as an educational resource to the students but also as part of the music industry. Were it not for college radio, acts like Spill Canvas, Nodes of Ranvier, The Glass Atlantic, The Subways, The Arctic Monkeys, Minus the Bear, Coheed and Cambria, The Raconteurs, Deathcab for Cutie, Daphne Loves Derby, the Dropkick Murphys, and many others may not have become as popular as they are. Each of these bands, which has been or is still on KAUR, has hit “Top 40” charts, played on commercial radio stations (such as the KRRO), performed at the VMAs (the Subways), and enjoyed great success after getting started on college radio stations. Labels (and local bands) send CDs to college stations to promote bands that commercial stations will not necessarily take right away. The college stations play the songs and people call in to request them more and more often. The requests are submitted to the labels (as our part of the agreement to get free CDs) and they know who to promote, who to sink more money into, and, now, have statistics to back a band when touting them to commercial stations. Without such proven support, many acts will fall by the wayside as commercial stations receive far too many demos to review.

SH: What should people do if they have an opinion on this situation? Who should they contact to voice their concerns? Is there any chatter about people banding together to question the administration's decision?

For more information, people should check out as I will be keeping the site up to date (as soon as finals are over with) with all the latest happenings at KAUR. If people have questions, they can email the station at (making sure to put “ATTN:OPINION” in the subject line) or they can call 605-274-4385 (the KAUR General Manager and Program Director’s office) and leave me a message. People can also join the Facebook group “KAUR” and show their love and support in the forums there. And letters of support can also be sent to:
2001 S Summit Ave
Sioux Falls, SD 57197

As always, listener feedback and support are welcome. If anyone wishes to contact any of the school administrators, they should email the station and I will forward the correspondence along.

Hudson's Reaction: I have to say that the FCC ruling about the Cher incident is complete BS. Cher’s expletive was aired on network television during prime time hours, and the rulings have gone back and forth. In fact, the final word has yet to be stated, as the ruling actually sends the case back to federal court.

Any potential liability would have to result from an official complaint filed by a citizen. KAUR’s listenership is obviously quite small, and is frequented mainly by open-minded music heads who are generally not too concerned about controversial language. Prochazka states that there are already safeguards to ensure that it’s unlikely that any such language would even make it on the air. These safeguards, along with basic DJ training and the fact that DJ’s don’t chatter as much as commercial radio, really make this a non-issue. (Plus, the Obama administration is unlikely to carry on the witch hunts that occurred after the Janet Jackson incident.)

While there may be some merit to some of the other stated reasons, they’re pretty petty and ignores the importance of the station in this city. Student listenership has never been huge, as quite honestly the typical Augie student have never been known for their hipness. As I noted in one of my questions to Prochazka, KAUR is one of the college’s few programs that reach out to the community, and that is exactly why the station needs to fight the administration's move. Plenty of people I’ve encountered over the years (including myself) have attended the school primarily because of the station. It may not have added much to my GPA or worked at all towards my majors, but I learned more by doing the 2 – 6 am shifts in my freshman year than I did my entire four years.

I have no doubt that the real reason for shutting down the station involves either MPR or the Catholic Diocese. The last time KAUR came close to going under was when MPR wanted the frequency 20 years ago or so. I guarantee that if either of these entities end up with the frequency, this Augustana alum will do anything I can to prevent anybody I know from contributing to either the college or the new owner of the frequency.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Scotty's Got a Squeezebox...

From the April edition of Prime Magazine:

Call me old school, but I’ve never been a big fan of music playback on the computer. Sure, you can have a decent setup on a desktop, but that one spot you’re tied to is generally not the keen area for music listening. While laptops give you portability, the tiny speakers are generally garbage. Portable speakers may help, but any that are worth a damn tend to need their own power supply, and most ear buds also have sonic limitations.

Yet as the internet gains more and more audio sources, the desire to listen has obviously dramatically increased. This is where Logitech’s Squeezebox Boom becomes the perfect solution. The Squeezebox is an internet boombox that will work anywhere it can pick up the signal of your home network, and its 30 watts of power is plenty of punch outside of a traditional home stereo system. (The Squeezebox Duet is the home stereo version of this product.)

What attracted me to this product is the fact that you can set up access to all of your computer’s music files. Besides the standard mp3’s, the Squeezebox is compatible with almost any digital format, including AAC, WMA, Ogg, FLAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and many more. This is great news for bootleg collectors who are otherwise forced to convert their lossless files for ipod playback.

In my setup, I have a 200 gig portable hard drive where I have dumped the contents of all of my ipods, along with all of the bootleg material I have collected over the years. Can you see how I would be excited to have a boombox with direct access to over 55,000 songs?

Yet the Squeezebox offers much more than just the ability to acess my personal library. With a few minutes of setup time, the “Squeezcenter” will program the Boom to stream from a seemingly endless supply of web sources. Once you have these services set up, you can even turn off your host computer. Here is a partial list of the services built into the machine:

Local Channels. Based on your IP, the Squeezecenter searches for the local channels that feature streaming. Stations included in my local setting include a handful of public broadcasting channels, KIKN, B102.7, Hot 104.7, Classic Hits 106.3, KMNS, KXRB, KWSN, and KELO AM.

National Channels. There are dozens of stations, primarily CBS-owned, that are built into the player, from all over the country. These range the full gamut of formats, from sports and talk radio to every genre imaginable. CBS has also partnered with AOL to create a few internet-only specialty channels, including stations devoted to just Radiohead and the Clash.

Sirius Satellite Radio. If you have a Sirius account, just enter your email and password and you have access to their programming, including Little Steven’s Garage Channel and Howard Stern. Surprisingly, XM is not built into the player so for the time being you can’t listen to Opie & Anthony or Ron & Fez.

Live Music Archive. Thousands of artists from all genres have allowed this site to host their concerts. A great example is Ryan Adams, who has over 250 concerts available, or Ween with close to 100. Just the other night, I uncovered a Camper Van Beethoven show from Minneapolis that I had actually attended.

Pandora, Last.FM, Slacker, Rhapsody, etc. In a previous issue, I extolled the virtues of some of these services as must-needs for the iTouch. They’re even handier on the Squeezebox, especially Last.FM and it’s “scrobbing” feature that compiles every artist, album, and song that you play on any of the Squeezebox services.

Other Features. You can also program the Squeezebox to conform to other online sources (including podcasts), or rely on the work of others. Logitech allows third-party programmers to design their own plug-ins, which gives much hope for evenutally seeing XM on this machine.

If you own an iPhone/iTouch, I also highly recommend downloading iPeng, a remote control unit for the Squeezebox. While the remote included with the player is bare-bones and requires one to be within sight of the player’s relatively tiny display, iPeng not only gives you a more direct route to the player’s features, it also displays the artwork of the material you’re playing, allows you to set up playlists, and take full advantage of the love/hate fine-tuning of your Last.FM/Pandora/Slacker profiles.

Note: Since this article was published, I have also purchased the Duet, a home stereo version of the Squeezebox. I couldn’t be more pleased, as the player’s 24-bit Wolffson DAC creates CD-quality sound, particularly on lossless formats such as FLAC.

A Squeezebox user has also created a plug-in for XM reception, so I can now listen to Ron and Fez on both of my Squeezeboxes. If desired, I can even link the two players together for multi-room use.

Hudson’s Short Guide to New Music

Buy Now:

Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid. The solo debut by the Black Keys’ singer/guitarist is the sort of grimy rock ‘n’ roll we desparately need these days.

Morrissey, Years of Refusal. After years of middling disappointments, the King of Mope has now released three fantastic albums in a row.

Proceed With Caution:

U2, No Line On the Horizon. After an initial period of disappointment, U2’s return to Achtung Baby ambience is starting to grow on me.
Neko Case, Middle Cyclone. Nobody can argue that Neko has a beautiful voice, and more than most of her releases this album highlights this fact. Yet, as usual there’s nothing on here that really stands out as a classic.
Various Artists, War Child Presents Heroes. The concept of having classic artists choose who covers them is interesting, and certainly works when Beck does a Dylan song or the Hold Steady covers Springsteen. But Adele doing “Live and Let Die”? No thanks.

Avoid At All Costs:
Franz Ferdinand, Tonight. While there’s always been a bit of a dance-rock element to Scotland’s biggest hitmakers, on this awful album they forgot the rock portion of the mix. Purely disposable dreck.