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Tavis Smiley is still shaking up public radio...


Fascinating article in the Washington Post on Tavis Smiley & public radio.

Tavis, of course, hosted an NPR talk show, designed to attract African-American listeners, for a few years. Then he left, because he felt unsupported at NPR. These days, he has a new, weekly show on Public Radio International. That's the folks who distribute This American Life, among other programs.

Tavis puts the conflict this way:

Smiley says race, however, was at the core of the breakup. "I'm loud, I laugh loud, I was younger than what they're used to, and certainly blacker," he says. "Everything about my personal aesthetic was antithetical to public radio."

An NPR rep says:

"Mr. Smiley is a smart man," NPR spokesman Andi Sporkin says, "so one would assume that he'd done his homework before joining NPR and understood that . . . NPR and public radio overall do speak to a very diverse audience and don't have TV-level budgets for marketing or advertising of any individual show. Given his concerns, we're frankly surprised he's remained in public broadcasting."

A bigwig at DC's WAMU (who air Tavis' NPR replacement, "News & Notes" at 2AM):

Mathes, who was not at WAMU when Smiley's old show was around, says Smiley has misread public radio's motivations. "If I could talk to Tavis one on one, I'd tell him: 'Don't feel dissed. It's not a sign of lack of respect for your show. It's a lack of marketing resources and a basic reluctance to add new programming. We are so listener gift-dependent that you just don't want to tamper with the apple cart.' "

Frankly, I didn't like Smiley's show that much, and I'm not sure if I like News & Notes, either. This from a guy who was basically an African-American Studies major in college (American Studies, really, but there's no ethnic studies departments at UCSC). News & Notes is kind of dull (although they do get points for having TSOYA pal Nick Adams on), and I felt that while Tavis' interviews were sometimes laudably lively, they too often felt kind of superficial -- going for liveliness over depth. They felt like TV interviews.

And I'm similarly ambivalent about the ghetto-ization of NPR News. I'm fine with an African-American issues show, just like I'm fine with, say, Justice Talking, which is about the law. Both are issues that appeal strongly to a smaller audience, and affect a very broad audience.

African-Americans are not a huge percentage of the US population, and highly educated African-Americans are a smaller group still, one that's tough to serve through commercial broadcasting (see: BET, where, needless to say, they are NOT well served). Having a show for specifically African-American issues, with an intelligent, educated perspective is great.

But I worry that NPR is creating a show like that to skirt the real question: where are these voices on All Things Considered? On Morning Edition? Why is it that Tavis can quite legitimately claim to be the only national voice of color on public radio?

This is a function of the cultural (and to some extent ethnic) homogoneity of public radio. Which is what the guy from WAMU should really be copping to. And when Tavis calls WAMU "elitist," I can see where he's coming from, and when I listened to that (excellent, btw) station, I felt a bit of that, too.

A great example of real diversity in public radio is Ray Suarez -- when he hosted Talk of the Nation, he wasn't doing it as an extension of "Latino USA," but his expertise in urban and immigration issues added to his qualifications. Now, almost everyone on NPR does a fantastic job (the current TOTN host Neil Conan included), but where's that kind of diversity? I, personally, don't always hear it.

Guest Suggestion Thread


Have a good idea for someone to be on The Sound of Young America?

It helps if they have a recentely published book, or a recently released record, but it's not entirely neccessary.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Things will be quiet from this end for a day and a half or so, I'm traveling to America's Breadbasket, aka the Central Valley, for work, and won't be back till tommorow night.

Tell me who to book!

Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go


Thanks to J. Smooth at Tuberaider for sharing this amazing clip of the Backyard Band, one of the best go-go bands in Washington DC. The song is "Ruff it Off," and it's filmed for a local TV station. You can see a bit of DC Hardcore in this DC Go-Go video...

I think it's wonderful that our country still has vibrant regional musical styles like Go-Go. Baltimore club music is another example... despite what some might have you believe, there are regional music styles, particularly in urban music, that remain more than just museum pieces.

In DC, there are posters for Go-Go shows plastered on every lamppost (well, every lamppost in certain parts of town). Bands like Backyard play every week at certain clubs, and folks go every week to party. Here's the father of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, rocking a DC club in 1994.

On a related note... if you don't read the Times regularly, there was a great piece this week by kelefa sanneh about New Orleans hip-hop. It's a manifesto on a topic sanneh has been alluding to for months -- the way the media and dominant culture have ignored New Orleans today, even as they've celebrated "New Orleans jazz" (led by Wynton Marsalis, who's made quite a career of telling white people black culture is something that happened between 1920 and 1955). I wouldn't say that I'm Bout It Bout It, but I agree that Juvenile and Lil Wayne are two of the most talented cats out.

Don't believe me? Watch Weezie rip the Booth at Rap City and tell me otherwise... (and if you need more proof, watch him rock "Shooter" with Thicke)

Paul Rust is planning for May Day.


Paul Rust has big plans for this May Day, and they don't involve Maypoles or the workers of the world:

"May Day" is tomorrow, which if you remember, is that special day when we leave baskets of candy on people's doorsteps, ring their doorbells, and run away. If we get caught, we get kissed.

Call me wily (Pauly T. Wily), but I got a few tricks up my sleeve for this year's "May Day."

Yeah, I'm gonna' leave some baskets of candy on some doorsteps. And sure, I'm gonna' ring some doorbells. And hell yes, I will run away - but just one catch: I'm gonna' run away reeaaaaal slow. I'll surely be caught!

You see, I wanna' be kissed!!!

More plans here.



My 10-year-old brother EDDY DEMON and his PUNK ROCK BAND TOTAL ANNIHILATION will be rocking the snot out of the Potrero Neighborhood House Friday May 12th. It's a benefit for the Jhai Foundation, an international development NGO (find out more by clicking the link). Tickets are $10 at the door, no donation too large, no one turned away for lack of funds.


Total Annihilation on the interweb.

Girls Guitar Club


Strangely, Mary Lynn Rajskub has become famous for her character Chloe on "24." I have to say that I've never seen 24, but I have seen Mary Lynn and Karen Kilgariff rock the house with the Girls' Guitar Club.

Here's a short film they made in 2001, which features Nick Swardson among others.

Moichandising moichandising moichandising!


In the first few weeks of The Sound of Young America's new, listener-supported era, we've gotten a number of contributions from listeners. We're up to about $75/month in steady income, which certainly isn't enough to live on (the ultimate goal), but will certainly give me some capital to reinvest in the show.

For example:

I'm preparing the big mailing to everyone who filled out our listener survey at the end of 2005. I finally found an old copy of Office 2000, and used it to complete the required mail merge... I'll pick winners of all the many prizes (Onion books, DVDs, etc) soon and announce them in the May newsletter.

I also hopped onto Ebay to purchase a card laminator... everyone who responded to the survey will get a brand new Maximum Fun Club card, laminated by yours truly (well, my girlfriend volunteered to help). Hopefully I won't burn my face off or anything.

Also! I just ordered some Sound of Young America stickers... the image on them is pictured above. Everyone will get one of those, too.

I've also got Dan Grayson, best known for designing the TSOYA website and co-writing (and singing) the theme song, "Maximum Fun," working on two other merchandise projects as well... the first is a new "Maximum Fun" pin with the pink elephants graphic I've been using for The College Years.

The second is... wait for it... T-Shirts!

Once Dan's done designing them, I'm off to Barrios Unidos in Santa Cruz to spend my life savings having them printed up. BU is a great non-profit that works with at-risk kids in Santa Cruz and Salinas, helping them build their community. We decided to print them on American Apparel shirts, not really for political reasons (my friend who's a union organizer tells me that while they're sweatshop-free, they're also big union busters), but mostly because those are some really nice shirts. Shirts are so expensive, I'm not sure how we'll distribute them, but I'll think of something.

Anyway, I need to know what size people are, so click here to take the one-question survey.

Jonathan Coulton at Mo Pitkins in NYC


Our pal John Hodgman drops us a line about his partner-in-crime, Jonathan Coulton:

I wanted to let you Coulton fans know that Coulton is offering a VERY SPECIAL concert of songs themed to the first of May (and other themes) on May 1, this Monday, at 7PM, at "Mo Pitkin's" THE place to go for bawdy calendar-based songs and also: chopped liver.

He has many many more songs than you've heard before, as he has been writing one per week for the past 1000 years--part of his incredible "Thing A Week" podcast via his website, called, not surprisingly

Coulton is indeed hilarious, and his website features lots of music you can hear, buy and get for free. It's a unique twist on the pop-rock-humor hpioneered by They Might Be Giants. Like "Skullcrusher Mountain," as heard on The Sound of Young America, which is the usual evil-maniac's-lament type tune.

San Francisco Film Festival


The San Francisco International Film Festival is in full swing here in San Francisco. There are many, many films being shown, but programmer Sean Uyehara offers us some tips on upcoming films worth checking out...

Backstage, Dir Emmanuelle Bercot (France)
Backstage takes on the dark, frenzied world of fandom, immersing viewers in a surreal melodrama of desire in which Lucie, a starstruck teenager, develops an unsavory and dangerous relationship with her idol, pop icon Lauren.

Sean says: "It's sort of like Aaron Spelling meets Antonioni... it's the kind of film that's crossing so many boundaries, it's really a fun, crazy ride."

Screens at the Kabuki in San Francisco, Tues May 02 / 7PM

Cock Byte: Masters of Machinima
Machine animation geniuses Rooster Teeth Productions, creators of the wildly popular online episodic parodies Red vs Blue and The Strangerhood, appear in person to present their greatest hits and new work, all made using the 3D graphics engines from videogames.

Sean says: "Our executive direct likes to say 'they give machinima legs.' There's a lot of people tinkering with machinima, it's really interesting, it's really neat, but it needed a step forward in the evolutionary process to really turn into something that seems viable in the long term and that's what Rooster Teeth is doing."

Screens at the Aquarius in Palo Alto Wed, May 03 / 6:45

Adam's Apples, Dir. Anders Thomas Jensen, Denmark
A pitch-black comedy/religious parable in which a truculent neo-Nazi ex-convict and a dementedly upbeat country priest square off amid Old Testament plagues centered on a parish apple tree.

Sean says: "It's about someone who gets out of prison, doesn't feel like righting himself, and then anything that you can imagine going wrong to him does. And it's hilarious. Because it's not happening to you."

Screening at the Aquarius in Palo Alto, Tue, May 02 / 9:30 PM

Addictive TV, England/France
Trailblazing VJ outfit Addictive TV presents a "best of" selection from the acclaimed Optronica film and music festival and performs The Eye of the Pilot, a live mashup of 1950s 8mm film, art deco-inspired graphics and music.

Sean says: "Imagine your favorite DJ, doing your favorite music mix... some sort of mashup. And then taking your favorite films, your favorite TV spots, some archival footage, mixing it all up, and putting it together. It's an absolutely overwhelming, mind-boggling experience."

Showing/Performing at the Kabuki in San Francisco Mon, May 02 / 9:45 and
at the nightclub Mighty in SF Wed, May 03 / 9:00

Sean talks about watching 1400 films a year for the festival on this week's show.

E-40 is Quarterbackin'


"hyphy is energy, it's lettin' yourself go, it's doin' the fool, it's actin' the rectum, it's a stress reliever, it's lettin' your hair down, it's energy, you know what I mean? If I wanted to put it in a sentence, I could say, 'What happened over there, man? Why that shit happen over there, they throwin' shit up, and it's a whole bunch of hyphy mo'fuckers makin' believe they fools.' That's the way you put that in a sentence."

E-40 interview on Pop Matters

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