As a longtime KOTO stalwart and a veteran of more than 20 KOTO Live Broadcasts, and including, most recently, the producer of the Live Broadcast of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, I feel compelled to defend KOTO’s decision to not broadcast The Ride Festival and shine some understanding on what goes into a successful Live Broadcast.
James Loo’s recent Guest Commentary in this publication dismisses the reasons to not broadcast The Ride as “excuses.” That belittles the careful consideration given by the KOTO staff and board before arriving at that conclusion. Also, Watch music columnist, Geoff Hanson – who works for The Ride – thought it appropriate to throw barbs at the radio station for not producing a Live Broadcast. Both gentlemen utterly missed the mark.
KOTO did not start broadcasting the two major festivals – Bluegrass and the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival – until they were mature festivals whose robust ticket sales could warrant offering a free broadcast over the radio airwaves and now, the Internet. Bluegrass was in its 25th year when KOTO’s former Music Director, G. Douglas Seitsinger, proposed producing a live broadcast to that festival’s promoters. By then, TBF was well on its way to being the sell-out-in-minutes juggernaut it is today. The promoter of the younger but steadily growing Blues and Brews festival first gave careful consideration to the festival’s bottom line before reaching out to KOTO to make the broadcast happen in 2000. The festival industry is incredibly competitive and both of those festival’s promoters are aware that someone who can listen for free may choose, instead, to not purchase a ticket. The permission to produce a Live Broadcast for even the established festivals can be revoked at any time, at the pleasure of the promoter, for many reasons.
The Ride Festival’s ticket sales hardly rival those of its older siblings. In order for any festival to really thrive from the roots up, it’s all about getting people into the festival site. For as long as KOTO remains partnered with this nascent music festival, it behooves not only Telluride Productions, but the radio station as well – the festival’s sole beer vendor – to encourage people to be in the park. That strikes me as sound financial thinking for both entities involved in staging this festival.
Getting an agreement, in writing, from each and every artist, is imperative for a slew of reasons, not least of all legal considerations. In my experience, it is not uncommon to launch a broadcast while still waiting to hear from a handful of artists’ management. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of tracking down a tour manager on-site. In the world of acoustic music, it is highly unusual for an artist to decline. However, in the rock and blues-rock business, we have encountered a much higher percentage of acts that say no to the broadcast. We never assume an artist will agree and we never tell them that if we don’t hear from them we will assume they’ve agreed to their set being broadcast. I can’t think of a better way to find oneself in search of a defense lawyer.
What makes for quality programming is the experience of the Live Broadcast team. Interesting interviews, well-produced human-interest stories and technical know-how all conspire to make a great live broadcast. Believe you me, I have committed and/or observed many cringe-worthy gaffes in the course of my years learning the ropes. Perfection is an elusive goal, but one worthy of pursuing. There are many moving parts to a broadcast, most of them beyond what is heard on-air. I trained for more than a decade, working with and learning from first G. Douglas, then former KOTO News Director/Broadcast Producer Stephen Barrett. For the Bluegrass Festival, I was hired by Planet Bluegrass to handpick a team of radio professionals, augmented by KOTO staff, to create a broadcast like no other. We succeeded, in no small part, due to the experience of the core team. What you heard was a result of years and years of time spent doing live radio in the field. Most people have no idea how many things can go wrong. It takes experience and seasoning to be able to anticipate, solve and resolve issues – hopefully before they happen – in order to create a seamless experience for the listener. The bar has been raised and for KOTO staff to want to achieve that same level of quality is to be admired, not reviled.
This is a side note, but I must also counter Mr. Loo’s assertion that KOTO does “not have the best relationship with Planet Bluegrass.” That is categorically wrong. The Planet Bluegrass-KOTO partnership for the Live Broadcast was a win-win for both parties and we look forward to continuing this creative and amicable relationship for years to come.
I realize there are many who have come to expect the Live Broadcasts. My goal is that, with this commentary, listeners will understand why it is simply not a given.