FAQ for KEXP Programming Changes

photo by Renata Steiner

We’re approaching our announced changes to programming with the full knowledge that this is only a start. We’re not done engaging with issues of equity, and visioning, discussion, and work on additional steps is already underway. You can expect more movement on actions KEXP is taking toward its commitment to racial equity. 

We’ve thought of a few questions you might have about the announced programming changes, and have tried to answer them as best we know how. As always, we invite you to to keep us accountable along the way. Send us your feedback and questions at feedback@kexp.org. 

Q: Why did you make these changes?

A: We are making these changes to more fully embody KEXP’s mission to enrich lives by championing music and discovery, and to honor our stated values -- including our commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization. Our community has called on us to improve on-air representation. We are a community-supported arts organization; it’s our responsibility to take feedback seriously and act on it thoughtfully. Our hope is that with these changes to our on-air schedule and creative leadership structure, more people will find a music home in KEXP, more community members will feel welcomed by and reflected in our programming, and our overall programming will be better. We feel strongly that these initial changes are leading our work in the right direction, and that this first step will spur future elevation of and dedication to that work. 

One of KEXP’s greatest strengths is how on-air staff bring their full selves to the airwaves, and champion music they believe in. As a broadcast organization, DJs hold some of the most visible and influential roles at KEXP. Our on-air hosts don’t just announce predetermined programming; DJs say what they want to say, and play what they want to play. For those reasons, on-air representation is an important step in working toward racial equity at KEXP -- though this is only a start. We realize that making staffing changes is not enough on its own, and must go hand in hand with breaking down norms in organizational culture and structure that enforce racism and white supremacy. 

There are some things that are NOT driving these changes. We are not acting out of any concern over listenership numbers -- in fact, KEXP is in a period of record listenership, particularly online. It’s also important to note that this is not a format change. KEXP will continue to play music of all kinds, new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, just as we always have; and this will continue to include variety mix programming as well as specialty shows focused on certain genres. 

Q: Why now? 

A:  First, we want to acknowledge the groundwork laid over many years by BIPOC staff past and present, who have often had to put themselves on the line to help KEXP grow to the point where it is today. Second, the underrepresentation of BIPOC hosts and DJs has been a known issue at KEXP for some time -- but in all honesty, many of us have been blocked by our own limited ways of thinking about what's possible. Recently, our staff and community and the broader movements rooted in justice for Black people have pushed us to do some critical reflection and re-evaluation. And this helped us think more creatively about some of the issues that had previously seemed like roadblocks. We realized: making space for more voices doesn’t mean we have to fire anyone who’s doing good work, or cancel a successful show. It’s not a zero-sum game, and our on-air schedule isn’t set in stone. 

Q: How can you afford to make these changes right now, amidst the uncertainty of COVID and an uncertain economy?

A: It is true that KEXP is seeing some segments of revenue decline as an impact of COVID-19, including revenue related to business support and in-person events. It is true that this is one of the most challenging periods in KEXP’s financial history. And, it is true that these decisions come with a certain level of risk, because staffing changes are not one-time costs, and neither are investments in racial equity. We’ll need to make sure we can sustain these changes throughout next year and beyond. However, we are proud to have operated within our means for many years, including through the 2008 recession and other challenging times, which has helped put KEXP in a position where we can consider bold action when it is called for. This includes continuing to re-evaluate and revisit our practices related to how we manage cash reserves and KEXP’s quasi-endowment funds. We do expect to continue to face difficult business decisions in the years ahead, while doing all we can to stay focused on equity, quality programming, and integrity to our mission. 

Above all, despite significant financial challenges in this tumultuous year, we’ve continued to see strong overall listenership and loyal support from our donor community. And we are confident the changes we’ve announced today will ultimately strengthen both of those patterns. Put simply, while these changes are an important part of living up to our stated mission and values, we believe they are also sound investments in the future of the organization.

Q: What was the process to arrive at these new programming changes?

A: These specific changes were initiated primarily through conversation between radio programming leadership and BIPOC DJs and staff. Through individual 1-on-1 conversation and group discussions involving BIPOC staff across the organization, a framework began to emerge. Ultimately, most of the schedule changes came from these discussions, as did recommendations for new on-air hosts to add to the KEXP roster. Additional steps relating to racial equity at KEXP will come, but require further conversation, imagination, reflection and work before they can be fully realized.

Q: With these changes, the daytime radio shows feature mostly male presenters. What is the plan to address gender representation?

A: We recognize that gender representation among on-air presenters on KEXP, including among the hosts included in the new daily lineup, is not where it should be. Going forward, it is a top priority for our programming team to correct the imbalance, and bring more female-identified and gender nonconforming voices to prominent roles as hosts and presenters. One of the behind-the-scenes aspects of our work is thoughtfully preparing for existing staff to eventually transition out of their current roles. And that means intentionally supporting and developing other staff to take on those responsibilities someday. This kind of succession planning is already underway for shows, timeslots, and other roles in programming, and throughout this process, we’ll continue to center the need to add gender diversity to KEXP’s team of presenters across all platforms.

Q: We’re happy to see and hear more Black voices driving KEXP’s programming, but would love to see/hear more representation from other historically marginalized groups as well. What’s the plan for that?

A: We recognize and acknowledge that there are not enough Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) DJs and hosts presenting music programming on KEXP radio. These latest programming changes are an early step towards bringing more BIPOC voices onto the air, but they are by no means a final step. We will continue to lean in to our anti-racist work, identify where we are falling short, and work to correct it. As in the question above, one way we can do this is to thoughtfully prepare for existing staff to eventually transition out of their current roles. Part of that work is organizational -- making sure our structures and processes are set up to adapt around new personnel. And part of that work includes developing and sustaining career pathways for BIPOC staff throughout the organization.This kind of  succession planning has been underway for some time for different shows, timeslots, and other roles in programming. We’ll continue to center the need to add racial diversity to KEXP’s team of presenters. 

Q: Not a question, but I am going to miss the additional hour of the Morning/Midday/Afternoon/Overnight Show and I’d like to share that with you.

A: That’s completely understandable. We know it’s not always easy when the things we love change. At the same time, every DJ you’re used to hearing is still on the air, just at different times! With the new schedule, we’re now able to feature more on-air talent and spotlight great music from more music communities. At the same time, each DJ still gets a substantial block of time on air, and listeners can still count on a certain level of consistency when they tune in (avoiding the total whiplash that might come with, say, handing off the mic every hour). We’re hoping you’ll give the new hosts and new shows a shot, and you can always listen to many hours of your favorite DJs on the streaming archive at KEXP.ORG or the KEXP apps.

Q: What happened to the old KEXP/KCMU focusing on indie rock? Why does this radio station need to change?

A: Indie rock is great! We still love it, and we’ll still be playing it! At the same time, a full commitment to our mission—to enrich your life by championing music and discovery—involves a commitment to community, and to change. After all, without those very strengths, the KEXP you know and love might not be here today. A willingness to evolve along with our music community has helped this station stick around for nearly fifty years. KEXP, and KCMU before it, has always been about variety, new-ness, and the individuality of the hosts behind the mic. And the way that shows up on the air will change over time. Music is community, and we want to make sure that KEXP is a place where all communities, making all great music, feel welcomed and included. 

Q: I’m concerned that there are some shows which seem to be relegated to undesirable timeslots. Is this something that you’ve considered?

A: In recent years, there’s been an increase in listenership during early morning and early evening hours, including strong listenership outside of Seattle and on the East Coast. And this has encouraged us to change how we’ve traditionally thought about “primetime.” Our new schedule will actually more closely match listenership patterns, with primetime extended by an hour in each direction—now starting 5 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m. Along with cutting an hour from our previous variety mix shows (Morning, Midday, Afternoon, KEXP at Night, and Overnight), this restructured schedule allows us to add new shows in the daytime lineup while keeping specialty programming hours intact. All of these decisions also involved input from the on-air hosts to make sure their shows are scheduled in a way that works for them.

In addition, We've been seeing growth in listenership in our 2-week streaming archive, a service offered through our website and mobile apps that allows listeners to stream any show aired in the previous two weeks. Not every listener will like every show or every DJ -- and that’s okay! In fact, that’s a good thing, because over 40 different DJs means 40 different musical perspectives, and true variety in curation. We’re looking at ways to further encourage more use of the streaming archives going forward, specifically to emphasize the music perspectives shared during hours when many audience members may not have the time to listen.

Q: What's happening to my favorite show? Did you cancel it?

A: All of your favorite shows will still be there! We've moved some things around, but every show remains on the schedule. Specialty shows like Wo'Pop and The Roadhouse will be the same length as before, just moved back one hour to 7-10PM PT along with the rest of our weekday specialty shows. All of your favorite variety mix shows are still on the air as well - although some have moved days and times. Weekday night shows (KEXP at Night) that were previously 9PM-1AM are now one hour shorter, 10PM-1AM, and Overnight shows are now one hour shorter, 1AM-5AM. And of course, you can still listen to each and every show or DJ whenever you want in our two-week streaming archive at KEXP.ORG and the KEXP mobile apps.

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