Riff Raff

Left Of(f) the Dial; Following up

Left Of(f) the Dial
Until recently, Dore Stein was host of a twice-weekly radio show called "Tangents," broadcast on KALW (91.7-FM), the San Francisco Unified School District's radio station. It's a program that is very bright, very much loved by its coterie of listeners, and very representative of a very good thing about both San Francisco and public radio in general. Stein bristles a bit at the idea of calling "Tangents" a world music show, though it does get around -- he thrills in getting the listener from Miles Davis to Cesaria Evora in three moves or less, and plots out the show as a trip across continents and their musical hybrids. In fact, the show does its business so slyly you hardly notice the tonal frequent flyer miles Stein's racking up. And he's been doing that for 15 years, first at KCSM (91.1-FM) and then at KALW, where the show's resided since 1995.

On Tuesday night June 6, Stein got a call from KALW station manager Michael Johnson, saying that "Tangents" was being taken off the air. To hear Stein tell it, no reason was given for the cancellation.

Two days later, Stein sent a lengthy e-mail to "Tangents" listeners informing them of the news. Formulated as a "call to action," Stein encouraged his listeners to protest to Johnson and proclaim their love of the show -- and outrage at its cancellation -- to every local media outlet and every local music and media journalist with a public e-mail address. And so they did. "The last time I will ever listen to KALW is the last time 'Tangents' is broadcast," one listener wrote. "I will make it a point to recommend to at least two people a day that they not listen to KALW."

In his e-mail, Stein insisted the move had nothing to do with the quality of the show. It performed well during KALW's pledge drives, and its listening audience is a notoriously loyal one. "'Tangents' was not the problem," Stein wrote.

Johnson agrees. "Tangents" wasn't the problem, he says.

Whether Dore Stein was the problem, however, is a different matter.

Last week, in response to the mass of letters and e-mails he received protesting the show's cancellation, Johnson sent an e-mail to school board members and "Tangents" fans stating his case in "An Open Letter to 'Tangents' Listeners."

In mid-May, Johnson claims, Stein approached him with a proposal for a formal letter of agreement regarding "Tangents." In general, KALW doesn't work that way -- its show producers, hosts, and DJs work on a volunteer basis -- but he was willing to at least look into the idea. According to Johnson, Stein's proposal would recognize that Stein owned the rights to the program, could seek underwriting for it directly, and could claim all the revenues received that way. Because underwriting rules for public radio are specific and somewhat tangled, Johnson wanted to give Stein's proposal a thorough legal going-over before he signed off on anything. In the meantime, Stein had also proposed the idea of KALW paying a $7,500 yearly fee for "Tangents" if the original proposal was unacceptable. Johnson advised Stein to be patient, and that he would be able to talk about matters in detail by June 12, after the chaos of KALW's pledge drive was over.

Johnson says Stein was pushing for a faster answer than that, and said he should take the show off the air if an agreement wasn't reached before the pledge drive.

"I felt like I was backed into a corner," says Johnson. "There were a lot of things missing from his business equation [in the proposal]. I felt a bit like he was holding the drive hostage."

Stein refused to either confirm or deny any of the claims Johnson has made. Stein characterizes the matter as a misunderstanding that he feels can be resolved through negotiation and, he hopes, third-party mediation -- though he declines to give his side about the source of the confusion and argues he wasn't given a specific reason for the cancellation of "Tangents." "It's really hard when you disagree with management to know the best way to bridge the differences," he says. "The most important thing is getting 'Tangents' back on the air. I just want it resolved."

As for Johnson's open letter, Stein says, "I'm glad he sent the message out."

In the meantime, KALW has filled out the Wednesday and Saturday slots with expanded folk music presentations. Stein says he hopes to get his show on Internet radio in the near future, though he wants to see if he can reach some sort of reconciliation with KALW. Asked about that possibility, Johnson pauses for a very long moment.

"I don't know," he says wearily. "It's a difficult situation. One makes a decision and one must stick by it."

Following Up
A public memorial for Nyna Crawford of Vktms fame, who died May 31 ("Gone," June 7), will take place June 24, 8 pm, at Lennon Studios, 271 Dore St. (off Harrison, between 9th and 10th streets). Vktms member John Binkov promises "live music, stories, and testimonials, more live music, refreshments, and music, tears, and laughter." Also, Joel Harmon, who helped put together the new Port Lite compilation CD ("Not That Tired Old Business About Dot-Coms and Culture Again," June 7) tells us that due to a printer's error, the track order of the CD was wrongly sequenced. Which means that our fawning praise of Debris' "Short Changed" should instead have been directed toward Mercury's "Eye of the Tiger." We apologize to Mercury for the oversight and Debris for the case of mistaken identity.

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