Jazz Guru Len Pace Leaves WLRN, Replaced by Computer

Categories: Culture
Bleeding Gums Murphy.jpg
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Last Friday, Len Pace's Evenin' Jazz grooved smoothly along as it has for the last 30 years.
The gravely-voiced DJ played some Lonnie Smith, as he invariably does at the end of every week, and he bantered through his usual smoky standards.

When he signed off with his typical tag-line, "love, peace and jazz," he gave no indication that he was planning to retire at the end of February.

But after an assistant DJ at the station emailed friends about the still-under-wraps retirement -- and the station's plan to replace the jazz guru with an automated feed -- the news went viral. 

Or anyway, as viral as you can get with the NPR set.

On Twitter and Facebook, listeners bemoaned the loss of their own Bleeding Gums Murphy, but were most appalled by the decision to forgo a local DJ as substitute.
Pace has been a fixture at WLRN 91.3 FM since the days when it was still used strictly for Miami Dade School Board news -- it's still the only public radio station in the United States that's owned by a school board. Bob Grabowski, the assistant DJ who sent the blast email, said he still remembers the dean of South Florida jazz radio doing the morning announcements in the early 1960s.

For fans, the retirement represents a cultural loss, but it's local musicians and venues that stand to lose the most. Over the last 30 years, Evenin' Jazz has become the defacto show for them to peddle upcoming gigs, the McLaughlin Group of the jazz community.

"If I have a show at my jazz club, the chance of getting it on WLRN now is pretty miniscule because Len's not going to be there to talk about it," says Randy Singer, music director at The Van Dyke Cafe. "Some guy in Chicago's not going to care about it."

In a formal letter to listeners, general manager John LaBonia explained the automation decision as a financial one:

Our commitment to jazz programming continues. But we are not free of the consequences from the Great Recession. With deep cuts from the state and the federal government we are currently unable to hire any new employees.
Grabowski, who also teaches jazz history at FIU, tells Riptide that the move towards automation is industry wide. Clint O'Neal's show Sounds of the Caribbean was almost replaced before fans vigorously complained.

He and other local musicians hope the same thing happens here. The station received some 100 complaints Monday after his email blast, Grabowski says.

"It's a loss," said local musician Mo Morgen. "They're not going to get anybody that good on an automated feed. It's important to have a cheerleader like him."
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