Piece Comment

Review of Turnstyles 002 Hour 1: Sex Mob

The term "broadcasting" has agrarian roots--it comes from the idea of scattering seeds, spreading them out over a parcel of land. It is very appropriate--be it in the form of interviews, music, performance, news reporting, or whatever, we are spreading the seed of ideas, emotions, and context.

Listening to Turnstyles takes the agricultural analogies even deeper. Ask a farmer what happens when you plant seeds to close together, or mix together too many varieties in close quarters—and what happens? None of them grow to their potential.

Musically, Turnstyles is one of the most tasteful programs I have heard. However, the program is too diverse and its one-hour length proves problematic.

In many cases, music mix or "needle drop" programs tend to be little more than an exercise in taste self-expression for the host and producer. They don't translate nationally. You can't swing a dead cat anywhere in this country without hitting a music "expert" with ultra-refined tastes. However, Turnstyle host Sam Fuqua is on a much higher level than most--a man of extraordinary taste. He pulls together sets of music that, on the surface, might seem like silly explorations of eclecticism--but they work. This program features electronica, blues, world music, even some jazz. Often these disparate elements are lined up together. It shouldn't work as a music mix, but it has amazing synergy.

The music is the program's greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. No radio program has ever created significant public service by appealing to music geeks like me. For a great majority of public radio listeners, the show is too all over the place. Repeatedly, these eclectic music shows have proven to only attract a very small audience and not offering much to the rest of the station's listeners. Plus, if a station is interested in establishing a beachhead with different listeners by offering a unique musical format (unique as in different than the station normally offers)--the station will need to offer a significant and consistent number of hours to do so. Airing just a one-hour program won't cut it.

The program also offers a large chunk of time to an interview and "live" performance (in a pre-recorded show--it is a little dubious to refer to it as a "live" performance). The interview subject was interesting, and the music really engaging, but the interview segments were way too many and way too long. If an interview can build my interest in 2 or 3 minutes--great. Get to the pay-off (perform some music)--don't keep talking! The interview should be there only to enlighten the performance and shouldn't last a second longer than necessary. If it is a music show, then it should get to music as quickly as possible, every time. (I was driving while listening, so I can't tell exactly how long the interview segments were--it felt like many, many minutes a piece.)

Producing this program as a one-hour show for public radio feels like stuffing a square peg in a round hole. This music mix and the talents of the host and producer would be better used creating an unique Internet audio stream or a larger block of programming for one station (or perhaps a block of programming for a small number of AAA or college stations).