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*Tangents* returns, stays put, a Brit misses coke

Wednesday, Jul 25 2001
How to make the world a smaller place Public radio is kind of like church: You don't always want to listen but you're glad it's there. Public radio music shows, however, are often as inviting as a stint on the cross. One exception is Tangents, a multicultural music program on KALW-FM (91.7) in San Francisco. Host Dore Stein prides himself on segueing naturally from avant-jazz to Afro-pop to Brazilian folk, all with an ear toward information and entertainment. Stein records Tangents live, with no canned spots or pre-selected offerings, and focuses heavily on local artists, concerts, and happenings. The show has been on Bay Area airwaves since 1985 -- first on KCSM-FM (91.1) and, since 1995, on KALW.

Or it was on KALW. Last summer, then-General Manager Michael Johnson yanked the program off the air after a dispute with Stein ("Left Of(f) the Dial," Riff Raff, June 21, 2000). Johnson claimed that the producer approached him with a proposal that would've given Stein the rights to the program and the ability to claim any underwriting money that Stein could drum up. (All KALW staff members are volunteers and receive no payment for their work; underwriting goes directly to the station.) If this agreement wasn't sufficient, Stein suggested, he wanted $7,500 a year to produce the program.

"All that stuff was a red herring," Stein says via phone from his San Francisco home, referring to the reasons Johnson gave for canceling the show. "Sometimes you have a boss who [makes it hard to] figure out the way for the relationship to work."

Three months after Tangents was removed from its two four-hour time slots, Johnson's contract with the station came up for renewal. KALW passed and began looking for another GM. Stein waited, figuring that his chances of returning would be better under a new boss.

"I figured I had a good setup with KALW because I had eight hours in a major market -- that's nearly more than any other public radio music program in North America." He pauses for a moment. "Which is really sad, if you think about it."

After six months, KALW hired former KPFA GM Nicole Sawaya to succeed Johnson. Looking at the fund-raising and listener numbers for the two shows that replaced Tangents -- the nationally syndicated Mountain Stage and American Roots -- Sawaya realized that Stein's show had performed far better. Most important, she says, Tangents fit the goals of the station.

"We have a mission to highlight localism, and Dore and his program fit that mission," Sawaya says via phone from the station's San Francisco offices. "It's locally produced. It's international music, which fits with the positioning of the station because, in our market, local is global. And he highlights local venues too."

Beginning July 7, Sawaya returned Tangents to one of its regular slots on Saturdays from 8 p.m. to midnight. Stein says the show will remain largely unchanged, except for an increase in the number of theme shows. Last week Stein featured songs that last under two minutes; this Saturday he highlights female artists like Zap Mama and Alessandra Belloni. At the same time Stein will continue recording the "jazzified" version of Tangents that he's had up on all along.

As for his past problems with management, Stein says, "I've done radio all my life, but I'm a stubborn son of a bitch and I want to see through my particular vision of how I think radio should be programmed."

"I've been living here since '84," he continues. "I always thought that San Francisco was the ideal place for the kind of radio that I do, and I just thought it was a matter of time before there was this really cool 24-hour radio station -- like there are a couple in the country. I still do [believe that], but I think I'll be 93 by the time it happens."

How can we wave goodbye if you won't go away? On July 3's vice president of strategic development and label relations, John Schenk, sent out an e-mail message saying that the Internet radio Web site had lost its funding and was about to close its doors. Cubicle prisoners everywhere moaned aloud at the thought of going without such cool programs as The Greaseman and Suburban Sickness. But according to a missive from another employee, who calls himself "Rags," live365 isn't going anywhere. Schenk, Rags suggested, was just trying out some layoff rage on his last day of employment. The company did can 22 workers (one-quarter of its staff), but will continue to provide services for the foreseeable future.

Another reason the British should rule the world Overheard at a party last week, slurred by a besotted English lad: "What's wrong with you Americans? Nobody's doing coke in the loo! You don't like germs; you put little pieces of paper on the toilet!"

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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