Listening to P. Anne Everson-Price, Kathy Wade, Bill Caffie, Eugene Goss, Mike Wade, Steve Schmidt and all the others wail and play the Blues, it was suddenly disconcerting to be handed a clipboard with a petition on it.
"Here, this is about WNOP," Laura Gentry whispered, handing it over. "Sign it."
It read something like, "We, the undersigned ... blah, blah, blah, protest the selling of WNOP, RealJazz 740 ... blah, blah, blah ..."
What? Yeah, you read right. As of New Year's Eve, WNOP, the home of Jazz and the veritable lifeline of the same to the greats and the upstarts alike, will be dead. Finito. No mas. A cold corpse on the doorstep of this jive city.
According to a press release from Mark Stevens, WNOP's general manager, Heidelberg Distributing Co., the station's corporate parent, has signed an agreement with an unnamed religious group that will broadcast Roman Catholic messages on the 740 AM spot on your radio dial.
If you have any affinity toward or remote fondness for Jazz, right now you should be saying aloud, "What the fuck?" The certain demise of WNOP — on the air since 1959 — begs this question: Why is it Jazz must go the way of some Dickensian character, homeless, disenfranchised and misplaced?
I think I speak for Jazz heads citywide when I say, "More Jazz, please, sir?"
I'm mad because I look around Cincinnati and see all kinds of creative funding for all kinds of artistic programs, yet no one has stepped up to rescue the little Jazz station that could. Where's the Otto M. Budig Jr. Foundation? Where are Proctor & Gamble and Carl Lindner? Hell, where is the Blue Chip Broadcasting Company, owners of WIZF and WDBZ?
If anyone would have a stake in preserving a Jazz station that has, for four-plus decades, preserved and presented the truest of the black American art forms, it would be Blue Chip, a black-owned and operated media conglomeration based right here in Cincinnati.
In his press release, Stevens says, "It was the sincere hope of the staff that an employee buyout made possible by a generous friend of the arts could save the station. Unfortunately our offer, though fortified with years of work as volunteers and at near minimum wages, was not considered efficient."
In short, WNOP staffers, backed by a private funder, were outbid by the Pope.
Maybe another frequency will become available in the next year or so, Stevens muses in his release. In the meantime, where will Cincinnati's Jazz players, self-produced discs in hand, get played, promoted, coddled and nurtured?
From here it doesn't look good. In fact, it looks bleak.
I will step out on a limb and compare apples and oranges here. If this were a Classical or Oldies station about to meet its maker, there would be a deafening rallying cry heard 'round the city. People would be going so deep into their pockets their fingers would scrape the ground.
I'm not optimistic. I'm a realist. Thus, I think those people who feel the strongest about Jazz in this city are, as my pastor calls them, the "under rowers." In other words, they're the ones who carpool to see shows in other cities. They're the same folks seen at all the local shows. They're the same ones who tell one another about upcoming shows, new releases, deaths of Jazz greats and so on.
Quite frankly, they are a collective David.
What this situation needs is a Goliath with full-grown pockets who can write off such a Baywatch-level rescue for tax purposes. Where, oh where, have all the philanthropists gone? And what were the owners of Heidelberg thinking? Surely, there isn't money to be made from owning and operating a small, AM Jazz station in a musically conservative city. (I think they got into too many cases of their product.)
At any rate, until you hear otherwise, this New Year's Eve will be especially melancholy.
And I hope that wherever you are on that night you pour a little off for my dead homey, WNOP.