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By Alice Laussade
KERA 90.1 might prefer to forget about its music-loving past. The public radio station's schedule would certainly suggest so, with talk, talk and more talk crowding out the six hours of weekly music that, in the past two months, have waited on the chopping block to learn their fates.
In November, the Dallas Observer reported significant layoffs and financial woes at 90.1 and its TV counterpart, KERA 13. Rumors persisted about restructuring in the face of losses, and in May, 90.1 at Night host Paul Slavens sent a foreboding e-mail to fans. His Sunday-night music program would soon be canceled, he wrote, as would Lone Star Saturday Night, a Texas-music-only show hosted by program director Abby Goldstein.
"The music show as we have known it is dead," he wrote in May. "I can return all your CDs now."
But Slavens shouldn't give up his discs yet. In a last-minute interview, Goldstein confirms the music isn't going anywhere. Because of her increased workload as program director, she will no longer host Lone Star, but the three-hour Saturday-night block will remain dedicated to music with syndicated programs of Americana and Celtic songs. Meanwhile, Sunday night is still Slavens', and his show's format will remain unchanged.
"Yes, we are a news and information station," Goldstein says. "That's the thrust of what we do and who we are. But weekends are different. Shows like Car Talk and This American Life are popular on the weekend. So we try to broaden on the weekend with more thought-provoking material."
So KERA won't forget about its past any time soon, and neither will Slavens.
"Chris Douridas changed my life with his radio show," he says, and it's not the kind of name-drop you tend to hear around Dallas these days. More than a decade has passed since Douridas played countless hours of independent and local music on 90.1. (He has since left town to work at, among other projects, Los Angeles-based KCRW's world-renowned radio show Morning Becomes Eclectic.)
Two weeks ago, Slavens--a longtime figure around Dallas and Denton music from such bands as Ten Hands--celebrated the one-year anniversary of his show, an homage to Douridas and the '80s days of the station. In that short time, Slavens' program has already developed a reputation for its freakishly eclectic mix. From local singer-songwriter Kristy Kruger to '80s Brit faves The The, and from Nina Simone to Denton's amazingly loud Record Hop, his variety consistently reminds listeners no genre is safe.
"It's the radio show I always dreamed of," Slavens says. "Listeners tell me, 'I heard it on your show and went out and bought it'--that's the height of it. It's a really valuable thing to hear all kinds of music set side by side with no theme, nothing to link them together except that it's just..." He trails off. "To me, music is information and learning and an adventure."
At the time I interviewed him, Slavens thought his show was still in jeopardy. Perhaps 90.1 at Night would be axed altogether, or perhaps it would transform into a talk show with brief snippets of music to better fit the station's focus on news and information. He seems particularly invigorated about evolving the show to include more musical discussions; in fact, he talked about a dream episode in which Al Lipscomb and Laura Miller come to the station with 10 songs each and talk about why those songs are their favorites ("You can learn so much about people that way," he says). Really, he seems open to all possibilities--even the worst one.
"They gave me an opportunity for a year to play what I wanted, and nobody told me 'boo,'" Slavens says. "At that station, Sunday night was pretty much a toss-off. That's why they put me on the air with no radio experience. Years of trying to get on the station, and one great year--if that's all I get out of it, I'll take it."
Luckily, Goldstein wants more, and while she agrees that an eventual evolution of the show would be great, she doesn't want 90.1 at Night to stop playing music any time soon.
"Paul is a great local talent," Goldstein continues. "He's been around this area for many years, and he's got an incredible sensibility. I see a lot of potential." Laura? We're waiting.