Static

Despite being in one of the largest media markets in the nation, Miami's public radio station barely registers with local listeners

He cites budget constraints as an obstacle to starting a local news department. Aging equipment needs replacement first, he says. Transmitters break down several times a year, forcing the station to disappear from the dial for precious minutes and sometimes hours.

"Why should we reinvent the wheel when it comes to research and writing when we already have those newspapers here?" Sagastume says. "I just don't have the resources to do that, not when I'm still having problems with my radio station going off the air for five minutes, like it did this morning."

Sagastume hints that some programs may be changed. "We need to define the flavor of this station," he declares. "We are trying more and more to figure out what are those things that we can uniquely do for the community and then do those very well."

The crux of the issue, he acknowledges, is formatting. "We're not going to go Seventies nostalgia. We're not going to go hate-talk," he says facetiously. "Which way will we go? I wish I could tell you that. I really honestly can't. It's not a secret. It's actually a project in progress right now, because we have to gather a lot of information. But I have ideas."

One of Sagastume's ideas is to turn WLRN into a production house for nationally distributed radio programs, as it has become for television. "I think there's no reason that WLRN radio can't bring some of the fantastic cultural offerings that we have here in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area to the world, through NPR or PRI. We have one of the richest environments when it comes to music, whether it's Latin or jazz or blues or rock and roll. And we have one of the most diverse populations in the world. That brings with it a very dynamic cultural environment. We think that it's fertile ground for some great programming."

Steve Malagodi, an engineer and host at the station since 1979, believes the only way to expand WLRN's listenership is to target South Florida's Hispanic population. He notes that only one show on the station, The Rhythm Box, features Latin music on a regular basis. It's broadcast just one hour per week, on Friday nights.

As a model, Malagodi cites tiny WDNA-FM (88.9), which broadcasts at only 5000 watts, compared to WLRN's 100,000. "WDNA is kicking our ass," he says. "They've got some really great Latin-music programmers."

Malagodi and other WLRN DJs think the station should take advantage of the burgeoning popularity of Afro-Cuban music. "We get a fair number of Hispanic people calling us about American jazz, principally saying, 'That was great, and blah blah, and I really enjoy this,'" he says. "The same thing should be true, I would hope, of the people from the Anglo culture if they heard really great Afro-Caribbean jazz. This is how people come together. Language splits people apart -- music brings people together."

But Malagodi and other WLRN staffers fear Sagastume will not lead the station into a new age, but into New Age. "Sagastume makes a big deal about the fact that Yanni was the largest-grossing public television show ever," Malagodi scoffs. "That's where he's coming from. I don't have any problem with blockbuster shows, as long as you understand that they finance other things."

Malagodi recommends that his general manager take into account South Florida's unique culture. "A national model is not going to work here," Malagodi says. "This is a very different city. There's no place like this in the United States. And we're going to have to invent something new here.

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