Leadership at KEXP, Seattle’s world-renowned nonprofit radio station, has made a number of changes this week increasing the station’s on-air and musical diversity in an effort to make the station what they call an anti-racist organization.
Program Director and “The Morning Show” host John Richards said the changes were necessary at a station where mostly white, male DJs held the prime-time on-air slots.
“We have amazing people of color on our staff, but they were all sort of on the outskirts of the” prime-time schedule, Richards said. “They were on Sunday nights and on the weekends and that’s not the way we should be programmed, and we know that. And it took something to wake us up to that fact as well: ‘You know what, this is the time to do that.’ We have the DJs, our community supports us and we need to step up and we need to get better and get more diverse voices on the air right away. And that’s what we did.”
KEXP (90.3 FM, kexp.org) began its new schedule Monday. Changes include creating new programming and content positions, shuffling and adding shows, and reducing the length of others to make room for the increased content.
Among the changes: Larry Mizell Jr. and Gabriel Teodros have been promoted and given shows during the weekday prime-time schedule. Mizell is now director of editorial and host of “The Afternoon Show” (1-4 p.m.). Teodros, now associate music director, will move from his late-night slot to host “Early” from 5-7 a.m., sharing the drive-time slot with Richards, whose morning show now runs 7-10 a.m.
Starting this fall, Albina Cabrera will become co-host of the modern Latin program “El Sonido” (7-10 p.m. Mondays) and will join the station full time as Latin American content producer. The station also hired Reverend Dollars and added her to the staff of DJs who handle the “Overnight” show (starting at 1 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 3 a.m. Fridays and 2 a.m. Saturdays), and will hire two more DJs to work on the rap/hip-hop show “Street Sounds” (10 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays).
The station will also introduce two new shows: “Overnight Afrobeats” with Lace Cadence (1-3 a.m. Fridays), believed by staff to be the first Afrobeat show at a noncommercial station in the U.S., and “Mechanical Breakdown” with longtime KEXP employee Sharlese Metcalf (1-2 a.m. Sundays).
“Having Larry on every day on the afternoon show (has been great),” Teodros said. “And Reverend Dollars did her first ‘Overnight’ shift last night. I got to hear the end of her show as I was coming in and it sounded great. Lace Cadences’ Afrobeat show sounds incredible.
“This is the first week, so people are really excited about it, and I mean beyond just the people that work at KEXP — the listeners, the supporters,” Teodros added. “It’s been an overwhelming amount of support for these changes.”
Richards said more will be coming as well. He said discussions were happening internally at KEXP and with the community before the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police this spring reignited political protests.
Considered musically diverse in the very white world of public radio, Richards said there was a sense of complacency at the station. Watching the reaction to the protests, especially in Seattle, helped station management move past its hesitancy to shake things up.
“We do not want to be a station that does not follow what it preaches,” Richards said.
Teodros said a walk through the office pre-pandemic revealed a staff that was about 80 percent white. Change is already evident, but he expects more, especially adding more women to the lineup.
“I think it’s all a work in progress,” Teodros said. “Like even the changes now, I feel like there can and should and will be more. And I think the station has acknowledged that as well, that this is just a start, you know?”
Metcalf, KEXP’s education and community engagement manager and a 13-year employee at the station, said she’s dreamed of something like “Mechanical Breakdown” for years. The weekly show will feature post-punk, industrial, various wave, synth and EBM (electronic body music).
“I’ve been listening to this music for years and just collecting songs,” Metcalf said. “And I wasn’t sure what I was collecting them for. Maybe I was collecting them for my DJ night. I didn’t know that I would ever even get my own radio show. So it’s cool to be able to share it in this way.”