- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

Going through confirmation for the board of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting last summer, I explained I strongly support public radio in no small part because of the role it has played in preserving indigenous American music.
I have been blessed because of public radio to have spent most of my life within range of New York's WKCR-FM with its long history of programming gospel, blues and bluegrass and Washington's WAMU-FM and its great tradition of bluegrass and mountain music.
In my testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, I singled out WAMU as an example of what public radio should be. Little did I know that as I offered these words of tribute, the station was laying plans to reverse its heritage of musical diversity.
Newspapers a week ago disclosed that WAMU had abruptly ended its nearly quarter century tradition of bluegrass in afternoon drive time.
Bluegrass fans who over the last 30 years have been the most generous of WAMU's contributors were given no chance to make the case for traditional music programming or to speak to the importance of diversity on the radio dial.
So much for the public in public radio.
During the three-hour drive-time segment, bluegrass will be replaced on 88.5 by public affairs programming that during long segments is actually identical to that being offered by nearby 90.9 WETA-FM. Throughout the day excellent public affairs programming can be found on C-Span Radio at 90.1. And AM radio has a wide variety of news and talk programming. But you will find no prime-time traditional music on your Washington-area radio dial.
Those who control WAMU point out the station will continue to play bluegrass between midnight and 6 a.m. Sundays. There also will be some other traditional programming on weekends, and the station will offer bluegrass on a new Web site.
Big deal and little consolation to bluegrass supporters who over the years contributed funds vital to WAMU's growth with the promise that their contributions would keep weekday programming on the air.
Bluegrass supporters, in the words of North Carolina Republican Rep. Howard Coble, are "hopping mad." Arlington lawyer Kevin Appel has organized the Coalition to Save Bluegrass, a group that is urging congressional intervention and demanding WAMU return money raised in the spring to keep bluegrass in prime time. There's also talk of a class action suit against the WAMU officials who were raising money for bluegrass programming while making plans to pull the plug on it.
All this is so unnecessary. WAMU is a great radio station with a rich tradition of diversity that embraces a wide spectrum of musical and political interests. Surely those who now control WAMU will recognize their fiduciary responsibility to establish an open and public process to determine the nature of prime time programming.
To do otherwise places them in a position of jeopardizing something important in American life public support for public radio.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson was director of the Voice of America in the Reagan administration and is a member of the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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