After more than 15 years on the air, "The American Musical Theatre Today," was abruptly cancelled by New York's WKCR-FM, 89.9, the radio station of Columbia University.
The program director for the station, Jason Das, called host Ezio Petersen and told him the show had been dropped because Petersen had neglected to take a new exam to show proficiency with the Emergency Broadcast System (which was changed to the Emergency Alert System). Petersen told Playbill On-Line he'd seen flyers for the exam posted at the station for over a month, "but I just read it and zoned on it. It's not a hard system -- it takes two minutes to learn -- and I know what I'm doing. I asked Jason [Das] why not just suspend me instead of cancelling the show? I pointed out the notice was posted for new programmers but I wasn't sure if long-term broadcasters were also affected. The board said they tried to reach me and co-host Ken Bloom before the deadline about this, but this is not true."
Program director Das called Playbill On-Line, April 21, to say that an official statement from WKCR's board of directors is still forthcoming and he's limited in what he can discuss as to the situation. Still, he said the cancellation was proposed by "the direct superiors of the show," namely the classical music department, and accepted by the board. "It wasn't just cancelled because they thought they could make better use of the time, or just because of the test. I realize I'm being vague here, but there were other reasons."
This leaves WKCR-FM without any theatre show at all on its 168-hour weekly schedule. "The American Musical Theatre Today" program will be replaced by classical music. Das said it's possible another musical theatre show might spring up in the future, but there are no current candidates to host.
Petersen speculated that the real reason WKCR wanted him out was because he doesn't have a college student intern working on the weekly program. "We post for interns every semester," said Petersen, "and no one signs up. It's not our fault; nobody wants to do it. My last intern was Michael Riedel, years ago." Riedel, former managing editor of Theatre Week, is now a widely read theatre columnist at the Daily News. Das told Playbill On-Line, "It's a student station, but there's been a lack of student interest in the theatre show. WKCR is not simply against a music theatre program, but for a variety of reasons, we had to revoke Ezio's status as a programer. The show had to be cancelled regardless of who was hosting."
Das and the board did allow Petersen to go on the air for one last show, April 14 in the usual slot, 9:30 AM-noon. "We had cabaret performer Audrey Morris on, plus a piece on The First in honor of Jackie Robinson's 50th anniversary in the Major Leagues. Also we played the audition tape Michelle Pfeiffer did for the movie Evita and selections from the Fantasticks movie which will never be released." Playbill On-Line's Robert Viagas and David Lefkowitz appeared on the program in March.
As for future plans for the program, Petersen said he'd been getting queries from the program director at WNYE, and he's contemplating approaching WQXR and WQEW.
A few years ago the station, which devotes most of its airtime to jazz, cancelled the long-running opera program, "Opera Fanatic," citing host Stefan Zucker's difficulty coordinating and maintaining student interns. Said Petersen, "The purge has been on at KCR to get rid of all non Columbia people."
Petersen and "American Musical Theatre Today" occasional co-host Bloom are asking fans of the show to write to the president of Columbia University, President Rupp, The President's Office, Columbia University, 202 Low Library, New York, NY 10027, and register their dismay with the decision. His fax number is (212) 854-6466. His e-mail address is email@example.com
Support for the cancelled show is already starting to reach Columbia, such as an e-mail from playwright and New York Times' staff editor William Niederkorn, "I have listened to "Musical Theatre Today" almost weekly over the years and have enjoyed Mr. Petersen's show immensely. The show is unique in the precise sense of the word in presenting the music of the world of theatre to the New York community. We lose a little of the best of New York by losing this show; I hope you can do something to save it."
--By David Lefkowitz