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Update: WLRN Calls Backsies on Len Pace Jazz Show, Names Tracy Fields New Host

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Two weeks ago, we reported about WLRN's plans to replace the retiring jazz man's show with a computer. The station explained the move as a financial one, a result of "the Great Recession."

But that was all before local listeners went primeval on management, protesting the move with online petitions.

Now programming manager Peter J. Maerz tells Riptide the station has abandoned the harebrained computer idea and is instead looking for a local host for the four-hour jazz show.

Although he says the switcheroo was not prompted by "outside pressure," it's hard to ignore the buildup of complaints over the past two weeks.

"Every time we make programming changes, there are people who feel disenfranchised," he says. "But our intention from the get-go was not to have a feed."

Listeners began complaining after an assistant DJ, Bob Grabowski, email-blasted hundreds of his closest friends with the news that Pace's show would be replaced with an automated feed. That Grabowski was fired for the email soon after didn't help matters.

Local musicians such as Mo Morgen and venue promoters such as Randy Singer of the Van Dyke Café huffed and blogged in protest, alarmed at the prospect of losing the one remaining local jazz show to a feed pumped out of Pittsburgh.

WLVE-FM (93.9) DJ Gina Martell also called the feed a losing idea. "It's a shame when people like us are replaced with people that don't have a clue what this market is about."
Just this weekend, smoky-voiced singer Nicole Henry created an online petition urging the station to hire a local DJ, and some 130 fans signed it.

In a letter to concerned listeners two weeks ago, general manager John LaBonia explained the feed as a cost-cutting measure.

With deep cuts from the state and federal government, we are currently unable to hire any new employees... Thus, we've arrived at the solution of bringing the [automated feed] Jazz Works program to our air on weeknights."

But Monday, Maerz called the "feed" a back-up plan for when the station thought it couldn't hire anybody new. Somehow, the station in a short time has scraped together the funding needed to hire a new host. How? On that one, Maerz punted.

"We were looking for various ways to fund the position and we worked with different folks to make it happen," he says. "We don't have the details of where the funding will come from, but we will very soon." By the way, the Miami-Dade County School Board, which owns the station, announced last week it cut $30 million from its budget.

The station hasn't yet chosen a replacement for Pace, but "it has a pretty good idea," Maerz says. He also added Grabowski isn't fired, but won't be appearing on the air anytime soon. Huh?

When reached, Grabowski was shocked by the change of plans, because while he was still working at the station, a local host was never considered. "The fact that they actually got the message -- that it's going to be local, do interviews with local artists -- that to me is worth gold," he says. "It's platinum to me."

Meanwhile, Bleeding Gums Murphy's last show is February 25.

UPDATE: The new host of Evenin' Jazz will be Tracy Fields, a former weekend DJ at the station, Peter J. Maerz confirms. Her first show is not yet scheduled. Fields, who is now living in North Carolina, previously worked at the station for 13 years as a producer and the host of Weekend Jazz. Before that, she was an editor at the Associated Press for 12 years.

"She's steeped in jazz," Maerz says. "We're all hoping that it'll be a smooth transition." The station first contacted Fields months ago, he says, but it never got past the informal stage because of funding. Over the weekend, WLRN decided to use a public broadcasting grant to hire the new host. Earlier today, a local blog reported a new host would be named Wednesday but did not name that person.

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