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Jones College's 'beautiful music' facing ugly reality

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Since October 1964, Jones College Radio has transmitted the increasingly surreal genre known as "beautiful music" throughout the Jacksonville area. This category is diverse to the point of seeming inchoate to those who are not aficionados. "Beautiful music" can be anything from the lush sounds of the Jackie Gleason and Mystic Moods Orchestras to the American classic sounds of the Ray Conniff Singers and 101 Strings. If you listen to Jones College Radio for long enough, you may even hear music from the benighted 21st century -- "Don't Know Why," the slice of heaven from the coquettish chanteuse Norah Jones, was on there one recent evening.

Those who have lived in Jacksonville for decades likely have found themselves scanning past the station on their way to the nihilist nothingness offered by the corporate rock and rap stations. But if you've ever found yourself needing more than the amorphous rebellion clear channel has to offer, true anarchy and rebellion can be found on Jones College Radio, where forgotten groups like the Anita Kerr Singers perform willfully anodyne covers of harder rocking songs … like "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tenneille. 

Despite the station's willful ignorance -- and thank God for it -- of the twerking and blinging of the modern era, the station has done well in the ratings. The station's website at wktz.jones.edu/ claims that the station is in the top 5 with the 35+ set. Despite this consistent ratings success, however, problems have been looming with the station's finances this fall.

A recent spot on the station, played maybe once an hour or so, laid the case out plainly in Jones College Radio's first attempt at a pledge drive in recent memory. The station is still popular, yet many of those who listen to it do not support it financially. If Jones College Radio does not raise $200k in the next couple of months, the future of beautiful music in Jacksonville -- and most of the rest of the country, where the format was banished from the airwaves right around the time Carter left the White House -- would be decided. For good.

By email on the day before Thanksgiving, Kenneth Jones -- General Manager of Jones College Redio -- was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the pledge drive, and to give some indication of the future of his station's singular sound and vision.

As of 11/27, the station is close to its fundraising goal -- "73%" of the way there, related Jones. That bodes well for the station, but the fundraising came at the expense of some misunderstanding from the station's loyal audience. 

Response was "mostly positive", claimed the GM, who added that "some were upset that we were asking for 100 or more. I spoke with one person about this and said 'We have been asking nicely for years. The PBS station takes off the regular program and does fund raising until the goal is reached. When someone send us $5.00 we are happy to see it however the Government requires up to acknowledge the donation for tax reasons, and we are happy to thank them in writing. The ultimate cost of a business letter and all that goes with this is more than the amount donated'."

Right now, there are no concerts or fundraisers planned to spur community interest. Nor are there increased attempts at corporate outreach -- business on that end has not been increased because of "lack of staff".

As a former college radio DJ myself, I have wondered about the tie between the Jones College community and the radio station. Was radio line itemed out of the budget, I wondered. 

"No, however I am unwilling to request funds from the College for our Radio service. How much should our students have to pay to support the favorite music of our listeners? I think the only answer is none," related Jones, who reiterated that we "want to continue as long as it does not cost our students."

Whatever happens with the pledge drive, Jones College will ultimately be fine. 

"The Radio Stations of the College are a considerable asset. The capital value of the asset, if converted to cash, may do better at money market rates,"

Beautiful for the bottom line. A discordant note for music fans, if that were to happen.

Negotiations continue with "angel" investors and prominent community members of the sort who could resolve the deficit with a stroke of a pen. However, nothing is certain regarding the Jones College Radio initiative. Who will save the station? Will there be a time when beautiful music, alas, is just too beautiful to live?

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