CLOSE SHOTS Special Edition: An Interview with Austin Music Network's Louis Meyers
by Michele Deradune
|Quick AMN Update: Since the time of this article's publication there have been new developments with regard to the Austin Music Network and Austin Music Partners.
For starters, here are a couple of updates:
For those not familiar with the AUSTIN MUSIC NETWORK (AMN), here's a little ditty I ripped of the home page of their website at www.austinmusicnetwork.org.
"The AUSTIN MUSIC NETWORK is the only independent music channel in the world. We are on the air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and showcase the best of Austin and Texas music. Each day features original music videos and uninterrupted concert performances with a short list of national artists mixed in. Most of our programming is one of a kind and can only be seen on AMN. We are on Time Warner Cable in Austin (Channel 15) and Grande Communications in San Marcos and San Antonio (Channel 24)."
Hmmm...after speaking with LOUIS MEYERS, I'm thinking that maybe with a little bit of progress one day that little ditty on their website will also mention LOCAL INDIE FILM SHORTS - and more. Such is my thinking after having a little chat with Louis. To me, community television never looked quite so good. Pull up a chair and set a spell. This is what folks in the newspaper biz would call a first-breaking story in many respects. Read on and you'll see what I'm talking about...
The first of June I went over to interview LOUIS MEYERS, the General Manager of the AUSTIN MUSIC NETWORK (AMN). When I first caught wind that there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding Austin's premiere music channel - which is dedicated to showing more local indie films - I felt it important to go get some facts. BRAD KOESTER, local film actor and founder of AustinActors.net, joined me.
Deradune: There is a lot in the air of a possible big upset. Do you want to tell us about it?
Meyers: Well, last week the Assistant City Manager [JOHN STEPHENS] put forward a motion to the City Council's Tel Com Committee for a resolution for the City Manager to start negotiating with the AUSTIN MUSIC PARTNERS to take over the contract at the end of this contract period, which would be October 1st.
Deradune: Who is AUSTIN MUSIC PARTNERS?
Meyers: Austin Music Partners is a team of TIME WARNER, a woman named CONNIE WODLINGER from Houston [a TV producer], KEVIN CONNOR from KGSR and I believe a media partner out of Denver. I would have to look to see the name of it.
Deradune: So the Austin Music Partners are basically partners with Time Warner. Is it in a sense a subsidiary of Time Warner?
Meyers: No, it is Time Warner.
Deradune: Oh, it is Time Warner.
Meyers: It's Time Warner Austin. It has nothing to do with the national. This is strictly on the local level. It's Time Warner.
Deradune: Okay, because one of the questions someone from AustinBands.net asked me to ask you was, if it did have to be taken over by someone else, would you rather it be Time Warner or Austin Music Partners? So I guess that answers that question. They are the same thing.
Meyers: They are the same thing. Yeah.
Deradune: Do you think a lot of people might not realize that?
Meyers: That's possible. That notion did not pass through the subcommittee, so it didn't go to the City Manager that way - which leaves open the debate that is going to happen on the future of the network. This is a debate that should not have started in April; this is a debate that should have started in July or August and then presented through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process. If they do have plans to offer the contract to someone besides us, it truly needs to go through an RFP process. There is no precedent for it just being handed away to the highest bidder without a formal process. I feel sure - especially now that the value of the station has increased because of viewership, because of programming and because of the assets that it has - there are probably a lot more people that would like to have a crack at it than there were a year ago.
Deradune: Could you give me a little history? How did Austin Music Network form in the first place? What's the background and what's your background with it?
Meyers: Austin Music Network was originally part of Austin Community Access Television (ACTV) [recently known as ACAC, they are once again going back to the ACTV moniker]. Seven years ago it was offered out as a public-private partnership with the intent of getting it off the City's tab and making it a self-sufficient entity. For seven years they put millions of dollars into it and never saw the results they were looking for from the programming or viewership standpoint. Last year at this time, in May 2003, it was scheduled for demolition. It was taken off the books for 2004. It was taken out of the City budget, it was taken out of City Housing, and it was just erased from everything going into the budget for this current year. I came in July the 1st of 2003.
Deradune: Oh, you haven't been doing this very long!
Meyers: I've been here 11 months now.
Deradune: Wow. So you basically in a way came into what seemed to be a sinking ship.
Meyers: What I came into was a ship that was already taking on water and nobody was bailing. The pumps were turned off and it was going to rest at the bottom of the sea forever, to be found a hundred years from now by the next generation. Basically it was put to me on July 1, 2003, "You have six weeks to save it. Here are the keys. Good luck." Knowing full well that we were out of the budget, that there were a lot of people in City staff that were ready for it to just be gone and "let's stop thinking about it, let's stop arguing about it, let's stop spending time and energy on it, and certainly let's stop spending real money on it."
Deradune: What were you thinking? What caused you to take on something like this?
Meyers: Well, what caused me to take it on was I followed it since day one. I was on the original committee that viewed the contract applicants seven years ago when it was awarded to Rick Melchior and I was close friends with the people at ACTV that started it. I was one of the directors of South By Southwest (SXSW) at that point, so our interaction with the early days of this station were strong. We saw it as a good opportunity. And I felt over the years that it had lost its purpose, for lack of better word. No one was quite sure what to do with it. They were spending an incredible amount of money and bringing in zero. The whole intent of it becoming self-sufficient was going nowhere - to the point where many within the City believed that there was no way for it to be self-sufficient. Again, I came in July 2003. Six weeks later we went in front of the City Council and we were awarded the contract and $150,000 out of hotel bed tax - out of the Arts Fund basically - and given a chance. Up to that point AMN was funded to the tune of $700,000 per year, so on November 1, 2003 funding went from $700,000 to $150,000.
Deradune: Per year.
Meyers: Yes. With the notion that, "Not only are we cutting your money 80 percent, you better make it better. You better make it self-sufficient. You better make us like it." Immediately from day one we started redoing the programming model, the business model, had to let a lot of staff go to get the budget down to where we needed to be to survive on the kind of income we had and launched our sales department. On November 1st our budget was cut, but it was not until near the end of December that they gave us permission to sell advertising, for a couple of months there was a bit of a starvation period until we were able to get permission to sell advertising.
Deradune: How did they expect you do make money if you couldn't sell advertising?
Meyers: Well, I don't think they did expect us to.
Meyers: I'm not quite sure. They expected us to do it via sponsorships like old-style PBS. If we did that there could be no call to action ads, a list of rules and regulations that were almost impossible. There was nothing we could put on the screen that couldn't be at least construed as a call to action ad, and by doing that it meant bands couldn't come on and promote their CDs or their gigs or anything like that. Around December 20th, 2003, we received permission from the City Manager's Office to sell advertising in lieu of starving to death. Around January 15th of this year is when we really launched that, because we had lost the Christmas holiday season.
Deradune: Did that affect your programming choices much, selling advertising?
Meyers: No. It had virtually nothing to do with it. We had to rebuild 95 percent of the programming. Yes, it was designed to be sellable, but it was not designed for specific products or companies. It was designed to kind of recreate what we felt was necessary for the community - and we're still doing that. We still tweak the schedule every couple of months and add things when they become available. We have a lot more unique programming now then ever before, 8 to 10 hours a day and maybe as much as 12 hours a day now that is what I would call unique programming.
Deradune: One of the questions someone asked me to ask you is, why do you show bands like Nelly that are big commercial bands and not local community?
Meyers: We should show everything. Nelly was born here in Austin, so by that gives us the right to show it. It's a major act from Austin. He was raised in St. Louis, but he was born here at Bergstrom. You haven't seen Nelly on here in a long time. We played a Nelly video back in February a few times that should not have been played. It's a video that has aired on several other music channels. It should not have been aired on this channel.
Meyers: For lack of a better word, it was smut. It was sexually over the top and really had no place. It was omitted the second it was brought to my attention. Unfortunately it ran a few times before that. But we run 90 percent local and regional acts and 10 percent national. The national programming includes everything from The Beatles and Led Zeppelin to Elvis Presley and Hank Williams to the latest in Hip-Hop, Punk and Robert Randolph. That amounts to less than 10 percent of our broadcast time.
Deradune: Let's talk a little bit about what you have done and your plans for putting more about Austin film on Austin Music Network.
Meyers: Yes. We've been really pleased with that. There was a definite decision when I came in to bring film into the mix here. We were running sporadic small amounts of film when I got here, maybe 60 to 90 minutes a week - a single film show or a movie. On January 1st of this year we launched - I believe it's 12 hours a week of film, and that includes specific shows from the Center for Young Cinema, Motion Media, the Austin Film Festival, Reel Women and the UT Student Filmmakers Showcase. We have a show from New Orleans called TIME CODE NOAH. It's about the independent film scene down there. And we are still able to run every week a collection of shorts and features from local and regional filmmakers, and so it's something that has been going actually quite well. I am pleased with the respect it is getting. It took a while. We added film at the same time that Janetgate happened basically, so all of a sudden-
Deradune: [Giving a wildly quizzical look, wondering who Janet Gate is]
Meyers: JANET JACKSON'S Super Bowl appearance this year, which caused all the problems with obscenity and indecency on television. So it has taken a while for the local filmmakers to understand just how much of an edited version we need. We have had to stop a couple of films in mid-flight because they just weren't G-rated enough for us to show. We are having to be very careful. That's the unfortunate part, because language and sexual content is part of films, much more so than part of music videos. But we've got everything edited now that goes on, and rarely do you hear a four-letter word.
Deradune: This is more concerned with the City Council than say your advertisers?
Meyers: This is a City Council decision. We are not being rated by FCC standards. We have no late night where we can be more flexible type of situation at all; all 24 hours a day are under the same G-rated guideline.
Deradune: So I get the impression the City Council or some of the City Council is maybe just wanting to wash their hands of this altogether and just have someone else take it over? Is that sort of what is happening?
Meyers: Well, I think that is a minority of the Council right now. When we were given this current contract it was a 5 to 2 vote, and I still firmly believe that the five people voted for us are extremely pleased with what we have done with the station. The other two are never going to like it. It doesn't really matter what we do. We have answered every complaint that the other two had. We brought in not only the film community, but also the arts community. We work very close with the Symphony and the Civic Orchestra and Zachary Scott Theater and pretty much everybody in town now. A lot of that has to do with our children's programming, because all these arts organizations are always trying to do outreach to the kids. That's where they need the help from us, because there is not a local kid's show in town for them to promote the kids' events at ZACHARY SCOTT or ONE WORLD or the symphony series at SYMPHONY IN THE SQUARE on Wednesdays, the YOUTH ORCHESTRA, the MUSICIANS IN THE SCHOOLS program. We work with all those kinds of people. We work with the SIMMS FOUNDATION and the LONE STAR MUSIC FOUNDATION. The new AUSTIN MUSICIANS CO-OP is just opening. We've been promoting that very heavily to help them not only to get volunteers to help them get it out, but materials and supplies. And I think they are already 75 percent filled on that, which is the first musician's co-op in Austin since Willie did it 30 years ago.
Deradune: With pretty strong support on the City Council, why is there a concern that the Austin Music Network as we know it is in danger?
Meyers: Well, there are some pretty powerful forces within the City that would like to see us gone. Why is a question I can't completely answer because I think there are a lot of reasons. Obviously Time Warner would like to have the channel space back. They would certainly like to get as much of the access television space back into commercial hands as humanly possible, because it is the most valuable space on the dial for them. These are the stations that every cable subscriber has on the first tier of cable. That makes them the most valuable real estate on the channel guide at this point in time. And that's a movement all across the country not just from Time Warner but also from other cable companies, is trying to get local access stations turned back to commercial channels.
Deradune: I understand there was some kind of Supreme Court ruling that has affected all of this. Could you explain a little bit about that?
Meyers: In terms of?
Deradune: In terms of, didn't it used to be that cable companies were pretty much mandated to provide a certain amount of access channels to communities - and then the Supreme Court decided that no, they don't have to do that anymore?
Meyers: Yes, but I'm not an expert on that rule. I know that Austin has maybe as many as 14 access channels total within the system, and has several that are dark at this point in time. Our problem with this is Time Warner's desire to turn an access channel into a commercial channel is really unnecessary - because they have dark channels on the lower tier. Channel 14 is sitting completely dark because they moved Cinemax to the upper tier.
Deradune: Not even being used.
Meyers: No. It's completely dark. So there is no need. They have already expressed that they want nothing from the City. They want nothing that the current AMN has, our production values are not good enough for them.
Deradune: Do they just want your name? Is that what it is?
Meyers: No, they don't even want the name. Nobody will say it, but all they really want is the space on the lower tier. That is really all they have to gain is the space - and knocking us off, from a competitive standpoint.
Deradune: Oh, because the more people who watch AMN, those people could be watching one of their channels?
Meyers: I don't think they want the competition if they don't have to have it. But there has been an intense movement to knock us off in any way possible. This has been going on since before I got here, but it has become incredibly political and incredibly - arghhh! - I'll say unethical. I have seen some incredibly unethical things from City staff over the last few weeks.
Deradune: What can the local arts community, actors community, filmmaking community and different community groups here that benefit from coverage on AMN, what can we do to help you fight your way out of this paper bag?
Meyers: Two things. One, it is important for people to understand that AMN is here for them. We are a commercial station, but we are a nonprofit commercial station; we are never going to be a true commercial station. We don't want to sell ads to Whataburger and Wal-Mart. We want to be able to promote local organizations, the local filmmakers, the local arts communities. For instance when you are doing fundraisers, all you've got to do is call us or come by. We have not turned anyone away that is promoting a nonprofit fundraising type event or a nonprofit performance type event. So, for people to know the fact that we are here. It has taken time for people to understand that, because it is something the station really never offered before, especially to the fine arts community - to theater, dance and that type of crew. As far as what can be done to help, the main thing right now is visible and vocal support. There is an Austin Music Commission meeting next Monday evening 6 o'clock - that's Monday, June 7th at One Texas Center, 3rd Floor. The public is welcomed to attend and voice their opinion. I expect that representatives from the Austin Music Partners will be there to answer questions, and I'll be there to answer any questions from the public. A LETTER WRITING CAMPAIGN, a very vocal campaign to the Mayor, City Council, City Staff, the American-Statesman, the Austin Chronicle, local radio. KGSR, although not behind this takeover attempt, certainly one of their most visible on-air personalities is at the forefront of it, so-
Deradune: Yeah, that really throws me a little bit, because I think of KGSR as having such a strong community feel. Their image is a strong community kind of image.
Meyers: I have been assured by both JEFF CARROLL and JODY DENBERG that they are not a part of this takeover, but I have also been assured by both of them they can't be responsible or held responsible for what KEVIN CONNOR does on his own time. There is no ill will towards KGSR whatsoever, but I am not happy that Kevin is using his position at KGSR to basically create a job for himself.
Deradune: Yeah, because what I heard was "KGSR" more than I heard "KEVIN CONNOR" when I heard of that. Now, could you explain what is the AUSTIN MUSIC COMMISSION, and what power do they have in relation to the future of the AUSTIN MUSIC NETWORK?
Meyers: The Austin Music Commission is an appointed group of 9 individuals appointed by the Mayor and each Council Member plus two At-Large Members. What they do is, they look at governmental issues in things that pertain to the music community - recording community, live music community, the ongoing music community. They are supposed to be the voice and ear of the Council in music-related matters. They oversee making suggestions on the Noise Ordinance, on the Smoking Ordinance (that started today), on the parking. Loading and unloading for bands on Sixth Street, they are responsible for there being now parking spots, temporary spots for artists to load and unload without fear of having their vehicles towed or ticketed. They work on continuing memorials, looking for ways to keep lost Austin musicians in people's minds. We know Stevie [Ray Vaughan] has a statue. That's great. But we lose musicians every years, and there is not really a place to honor them.
Deradune: So in a sense they are like an advisory committee for the City Council regarding Austin music?
Meyers: Right. Absolutely. They were created by the Council to understand the problems facing the Austin music community in a better way than the Council could understand it.
Deradune: Is there an advisory council like that to the City Council regarding film, Brad.
Meyers: Is there an Austin Film Commission? I don't believe there is at this point.
Koester: Well, there is the Texas Film Commission, but we don't have an Austin Film Commission.
Deradune: Yeah. It sounds like we need something like that.
Meyers: Well, it gives the Council people someone to turn to for an educated opinion. It doesn't mean they always do what the Commission says, but the Commission's recommendation is supposed to carry weight back to Council. The strangest part of where we are at now is the public at this point has overwhelmingly supported us keeping the station and moving forward. At the Tel Com meeting last week there was no one to speak on behalf of the Austin Music Partners [the Time Warner group] yet there was the largest turnout for a Tel Com meeting ever, and 100 percent of the speakers in the community action part spoke in favor of us.
Deradune: Oh, please explain what is Tel Com. What is that short for, and who are they?
Meyers: That's the City Council subcommittee on telecommunications. It basically used to be the Cable Commission. Now it's called the Telecommunications Committee. It is three Council Members - BETTY DUNKERLEY, RAUL ALVAREZ and JACKIE GOODMAN, and they meet monthly to deal with anything that is related to the cable industry. That includes dealing with Time Warner and Grande and us. They also oversee the City's IT programs and the IT part of the new City Hall.
Deradune: And IT stands for-?
Meyers: Internet Technology. And any of the technology aspect - audio/video Internet technology. That is who works directly with the Austin Wireless Association to create all these free wireless spots around town.
Deradune: And are those Tel Com meetings open to the public?
Meyers: Absolutely. One hundred percent open. And they are replayed in small doses on channel 6. Usually on Fridays is when they replay the Tel Com meetings. I believe the Tel Com meetings are held the third or fourth Wednesday of each month. They are listed on the City agenda, and anyone can come down there and speak.
Deradune: Well, I am feeling pretty optimistic here that things are going to work out for the Austin Music Network and that you are going to stay and continue to progress. And assuming that I'm right, what kinds of things do you see happening in the future on Austin Music Network?
Meyers: From the business side we are working towards putting ourselves back under the umbrella of access television - still keeping channel 15 and the autonomy that we have developed on channel 15 as a quasi-commercial station, and that the station would be managed by the board of access television. I think they have got an incredibly gifted, strong and talented Board right now. The changes they are making within the whole ACTV structure is incredibly positive for the local community, and the changes will be visibly apparent over the next six months. And I think that's positive. We have developed a great working relationship with them, so the merging of staff, equipment, archive, community relationships, what they can do that we can't, what we can do that they can't - we believe that that is about as perfect of a match as it could be. That is where this came from, so we are kind of bringing it back to that.
Meyers: From a programming standpoint, we are not access to the point that people can just come in and automatically get a program on the air. We are access in the fact that any producer can come to us with a program sample and say, "I want to make this program" or "I have made this program," and if we like it, great. Not only can they get on the air, but from day one they have advertising time to sell [and from which they can get a percentage]. In my mind AMN was always intended to be a step up through the access system. People go to access or to ACC or UT, they learn their craft, they go to access [ACTV] to build a show to get it on the air, learn how to physically do that and perfect it; once that is done, they have AMN to bring it to, to be able to actually go out and sell commercials. So local filmmakers don't have leave town to see a return on what they do - whether they are making a music show, a film, a fashion show, it doesn't really matter if it is something we feel our audience will like. Great. That's what we're looking for.
Deradune: That's just wonderful.
Meyers: And for the filmmakers - especially for the film organizations that are doing shows - this is great.
Koester: I've heard that Juan Garcia's AMN Student Filmmaker Showcase has received some awards and press.
Meyers: They received accolades nationally from Kodak. There was a feature on the Kodak website or magazine, something like that about it. And there was a full-page article in the Austin Chronicle a couple of weeks ago praising it. Juan Garcia over there has done a fantastic job. But you know, with the filmmakers, it gives the organizations a chance to solicit sponsors. From a fundraising standpoint, great, "Sponsor our show and you are going to have ads on the Austin Music Network." So there is something physical, something tangible to give the sponsors. They can get some promotional value out of it. We are also developing a series of DVDs. The first one hits the street on June 12th. It's the TEXAS ROLLERGIRLS that we filmed last year with their finals, and it's a two-hour, very in-depth DVD with interviews and behind-the-scene footage and clips from a documentary that they are working on. It's a fun project, and we'd like to do that with all kinds of groups of individuals that can help promote and sell this. We'll work partnerships. I hope to have the first AMN AUSTIN FILM SHORTS DVD out on the street within the next 90 days so that we can work with all the organizations to be able to get this product that is made locally out on a national and even international basis. What's great to me about the film stuff now is the filmmakers can email all over the world and say, "Hey, turn on this website and you can see my film."
Deradune: Yeah, so that really the Austin Music Network can not only more and more support itself by bringing in the funding it needs, but actually it will help filmmakers and different people in the arts be able to be more successful themselves.
Meyers: The whole point of what we're trying to do is help. As we try to generate money we want to generate money for other groups. We can't do it alone. We need everybody as a partner. And it makes sense.
Deradune: It makes everyone stronger and get more exposure.
Meyers: It makes sense. Most film organizations don't have the time, energy or money to create DVD product, get it manufactured and out on the street and accounted for and all of that. We can work with them on a very good royalty rate to where they are making money off of every sale, we're making money off of every sale and the filmmakers are making money of every sale. And we're approaching the AUSTIN CIVIC ORCHESTRA about creating a project with Joe McDermott, a kid's symphonic project for DVD for the fall. Strings Attached, Will Taylor - we're in talks with him about creating DVDs of that. We have already done a deal with the VICTORY GRILL. The first one will be basically a history of the Victory Grill DVD, and then we'll shoot as they get open and work with them on a DVD project and merchandise and all that. Because they don't have any means to do it in-house.
Deradune: Victory Grill. What's that?
Meyers: Victory Grill is Austin's oldest Blues club. It's on East 11th Street. It opened in 1945 and it's been closed for the most part for a couple of years. A woman named Eva Lindsey has taken the responsibility of making sure it didn't get torn down to put condos up and is in a six-month process of getting it re-opened.
Deradune: Yea! That's exciting. I love the Blues.
Meyers: Yeah. It still has the original furnishings. It's close to a Harlem speakeasy type of showroom. This is the kind of place where every great black Blues and Jazz act played.
Deradune: I'm goin'! When does it open?
Meyers: This one of the main rooms on the Chitlin' Circuit. When you walk in there you know you're standing in the middle of true, true history.
Deradune: It's a real bucket o' blood, huh?
Meyers: It's a real bucket of blood, but in a very upscale, urban kind of way. This was a place that was opened initially so that black soldiers from Fort Hood and the other bases in the area would have a comfortable place to go to hear music, dance, have a drink and chill out.
Deradune: Do you know the actual address?
Meyers: It's four blocks east of I-35 on E. 11th Street. Great, great, great facility, great people, some of the nicest people. And you know, we want to be a part of the community. That's really what this is about. It's not about $25 million worth of investment, it's not about being statewide or national; it's about having a positive effect on the local community.
Deradune: Is there anything else you would like to mention that it's not about? Have you heard buzz of any things being misconstrued or misunderstandings? Are there any specific rumors?
Meyers: The rumors that I have heard are mostly attacks on me that are pretty ridiculous. I have heard that I'm going to steal the tapes and sell the archives - which of course is ridiculous. They are City property and I don't think I want to go to jail over a Ponty Bone tape. The reality is that yes, we are struggling and we are probably going to be struggling for a long time. We had an 80 percent budget cut and we're cranking out more unique programming than we ever have in the past. On top of that we are fighting with politics and takeover rumors on a daily basis. Anytime the front page of the American-Statesman says there's a question mark about our future it costs us money in advertising revenue and in relationship building. That's a given. It makes it very difficult to do long-term planning. And the reality is that there is no reason for it. In April when this came down we were in great shape. May was the worst month of the year for us, because of all the negative - I wouldn't even call it negative publicity, all the questionable publicity that occurred in late April and through May. We have survived that. It's June and the doors are still open and we're still on the air. We have a really, really big month this month. We have our high school BATTLE OF THE BANDS CD that comes out next Sunday. We have seven bands plus a special guest set by FASTBALL on Sunday, June 6th at Threadgill's, 4 to 8 o'clock; we have the Roller Girls DVD coming out the week after; we have a 20-act fundraiser coming up. Our first ROOTS IN COUNTRY FESTIVAL is the last Sunday of June at Hill's Café; we have the SOBERFEST at the [Burnet Road] Farmer's Market June 12-13 with about a dozen acts, and that benefits the UT Student Recovery Program. We've got a lot going on. But we have to. We have to generate revenue; we know that. Our advertising revenue was harmed severely by what went on in the last six weeks, so luckily we have other ways around that too, to generate revenue. And I think that we are pretty good shape now. We're still a long way from being self-sufficient and the last six weeks have really put us several steps behind in that goal. Given the chance, one thing I will say right now is we're costing the City very, very little money. We are costing, out of real money to the City, almost nothing. The money that we are receiving right now comes from tourist dollars. I would like to think that after the last 25 years of what I have done in Austin I have generated the City about $250 million worth of economic impact over the last 20 years. I don't need to see very much of that back. I think $150,000 worth of funding is not even pennies. It's less than pennies in the overall City budget.
Deradune: Well, with a loaded statement like that, I think that for any readers who are not familiar with what you have done, maybe could you give a brief idea?
Meyers: Sure. The bumper sticker?
Deradune: A brief autobiography?
Meyers: Longtime musician, in 1982 I started LUNCH MONEY PRODUCTIONS with MARK PRATZ. We ran LIBERTY LUNCH together for I believe seven years [before others carried it on]. During the '80s I managed many, many groups around here, primarily a band called THE KILLER BEES that toured all over the world. Took them from being a band in Shreveport to being one of the biggest Reggae acts in the world for quite a while. In '86 I left working full-time with Liberty Lunch and started the SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST (SXSW) Music and Media Conference along with ROLAND SWENSON, LOUIS BLACK and NICK BARBARO. I worked that for almost a decade, and basically created and ran the music part of that and sold it to my three partners in '95 after just being burned out. Went from there and ran a WOMEN IN MUSIC CONFERENCE in Seattle, ran a music conference in New Orleans. I went to Amsterdam to start a large music conference there. Unfortunately our dates were three weeks after 9/11. So after licking my wounds in Amsterdam for an extra nine months I came back here and started being a musician again. I played pedal steel for BRUCE ROBISON and for KEVIN McKINNEY; currently I play banjo for the BLUEGRASS NIBBLERS and play peddle steel for a guy named WES HAYDEN. I have worked with PAULINE REESE, and, oh, dozens of acts around the area lately. I'm on the new FASTBALL record playing pedal steel.
Deradune: It's just wonderful that you are very much a member of the arts community here - not just some suit running a TV station.
Meyers: I was born and raised here. That's why I took this impossible task of rebuilding the network - because I thought, number one, it was critical to Austin. The fact that we are the only city in the world that has a local music channel is unbelievable.
Deradune: There may be those that fear us setting such a precedent.
Meyers: Yeah, I'm sure. But I mean we all know it couldn't work in very many cities. There are other cities it could work in, but it's a handful.
Deradune: They don't have as much resources?
Meyers: Well, it's having the recorded history. And it's also having a history that the rest of the world cares about. Austin, New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago and maybe Miami. Once you get past those, it's a little tough.
Deradune: Is there anything you would like to add or ask, Brad?
Koester: What's ahead for the next 30, 60 and 90 days? Is it just more struggling with a possible takeover, or is it more just dealing with public opinion and misperceptions within the war of spin?
Meyers: It has definitely been a war of spin, hasn't it? Considering all this has gone down and the Austin Music Partners still have yet to turn in a written proposal. Everything that has been done has been done as a media war, not a facts and figures war by any stretch of the imagination - and not a public opinion situation. What we do now basically is keep doing what we do. We create new programming, we make sure that we fine-tune what we are doing every day and make it better and better. We need to generate revenue, so to hell with the politics, we've got to generate revenue so that we can make sure people get paid and that the lights stay on and the doors stay open and we're on the air. We would like a decision pretty quickly from the City on what the future is. Obviously if they do choose to give the contract away at the end of this contract period, there is not much incentive for us to even get to the end of the contract period. Our revenue stream will dry up and all we'll be doing is working our butts off to hand it to somebody else. Speaking on behalf of the entire Staff and Board of Directors, I don't think we want to do that.
Deradune: One thing I wanted to be sure to address. There seem to be some people with the impression that if the AUSTIN MUSIC PARTNERS took over AMN that it would continue to be local programming. What's your take on that?
Meyers: I have sat through three open meetings with them when programming was discussed, and the programming model that has been explained to me is "KGSR meets News 8 Austin." That's the way it was described in the open meetings.
Deradune: That doesn't really mean much to me.
Meyers: It does format-wise. It means it is going to be short pieces, nothing too long, a lot of quick action stuff, and utilizing the KGSR format - basically a AAA format. When you look at the KGSR play list though, you find that it is less than 20 percent Austin artists. It's a great station and plays great music. It plays the Top 2% of the Austin artists, and that's it. It plays no Latino music, it plays no children's programming, it plays no Hard Rock, it plays no Punk, it plays no true World Music outside of the Reggae show. It's a very narrow vision of music. It's a great vision of music, but it does not incorporate the rest of Austin. At this point the Austin Music Partners have made no effort to share anything about their programming ideas other than that. We were told that there would be one-hour weekly shows devoted to specific programming, but we have yet to see a list of that or what that really means. If they are going to do one hour of Latino programming compared to our 12 hours that means 90 percent of the Latino music producers are not longer going to have a home on a commercial station, and that's a shame.
Deradune: You would think that surely they would use your archives.
Meyers: They are not allowed to do that. These archives are for nonprofit use only. There are no commercial release forms.
Deradune: Oh, so there is really no way they could actually take over AUSTIN MUSIC NETWORK; basically all they could do is obliterate it.
Meyers: Correct. The only way they could take over the current network is through default on our part on the current contract. If we defaulted on the contract the City could move them in - at least according to Ms. Wodlinger - the City could move them in within 24 hours. I don't know what means since they are a commercial entity. Hopefully we will never have to know what that means. We have no plan to default on the contract.
Koester: I've noticed that within the Tel Com committee there was overwhelming support for the network, and when you talk to media arts organizations people I talk to are in favor of the network. Is there a chance the Statesman or any of the broad media outlets in town are going to be able to allow you speak about your side of the issue, or are we just going to hear about the Denver group and the Time Warner group? Is there any chance of there being an open forum like that?
Meyers: I would hope so. I was thrilled that they actually printed my response to the editorial about us that came out May 21st. They printed it last Thursday [May 27, 2004]. So that's the first time. In the past they have printed zero positive letters about AMN. They also printed a letter from MAC PAYNE, the president of the AUSTIN CIVIC ORCHESTRA, which was a positive letter. But again, if you know ARNOLD GARCIA, pick up the phone and call him. He certainly has had enough letters to the editor in our favor over the last six months to understand how the public feels. Why he is so insistent on spinning it in such a negative light when he knows that what he is saying is a half truth, I don't know, but that's part of the City powers-that-be; that's part of the - for lack of a better word - the Good Ole Boy network that exists in Austin that is very hard to deal with politically.
Koester: Yeah, because it seems like in every press item I read they keep alluding to how many millions have been spent over the course of X number of years, but right now under your leadership we are only talking about a budget of 150 grand a year - and the quality is up to standard where, you know, I watch it, whereas I didn't necessarily watch it as much before. If they want an MTV they can run out and buy an MTV, but this is community television. This station is what is happening here, and it's what's happening now. It wasn't supposed to be a commercial station. I mean if they want a commercial station, why don't they just say they want a commercial station and not get into all the, "Well, it's not up to the standard" or "we spent this many dollars" or "we spent this many years." The whole spent-money issue to me is a moot point, because you are not under the same budget.
Meyers: No, we are not under the same budget by any stretch of the imagination. We are working on 20 percent of that type of funding that the station had always worked from. And we get blamed for the $5 million on a daily basis, when all we've seen at this point is $150,000 by the end of the contract period. At this point $75,000 is what we have seen - not $700,000. I wish. My timing sucked. If I had been here two years earlier this would have been a whole lot easier.
Koester: And the $150,000 is Bed Tax. The local taxpayers aren't even paying for it.
Deradune: Is there anything that ought to be said about - it seems like I heard something about a Texas Music Network.
Meyers: That's the proposed name that we have heard from the Austin Music Partners. That is the Time Warner channel, is the Texas Music Network.
Deradune: Ah. So if they took that channel they would change the name to that.
Meyers: Correct. Or if they start a channel from scratch.
Koester: So that way they can sell it to Dallas, to Houston, to San Antonio.
Meyers: Of course. It's diluted from day one.
Deradune: Is there anything else you would like to say, Louis?
Meyers: It's time now for the community to come out in support of the Austin Music Network. I think we have proven that we support the local community in every shape and form, and we need that kind of response back from the local community, organizations and City leaders and organization leaders. Speak up please. Now is the time.
Deradune: Oh. One other thing I wanted to ask. You mentioned that there were some issues with ethics. Could you give me some examples about that?
Meyers: Well, I'm not quite sure ethics is the exact word, but certainly a conflict of interest situation has arisen where the person that is responsible for this contract from the City, which is the Assistant City Manager, JOHN STEPHENS, we found out last Wednesday is on the Board of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB), which has been trying to kill off the Austin Music Network for quite some time now - and very visibly and vocally trying to kill it off.
Deradune: Why? Why do they want to do that?
Meyers: No one will tell me. It is something that started long before I got here, but they have been against the station. They refused to even list us as a television station on the LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD website. The reason I was given is because, "Well, the people that come to Austin for conventions wouldn't be interested in you as a television station." This was in March. Yes, right in the middle of SXSW we are told, "No, people won't care about you as a television station." That's the attitude that we have gotten from the ACVB, so to find out that the person in charge of our contract is on their Board was shocking, to say the least. It also made us understand why ACVB was suddenly backing the Austin Music Partners when the Austin Music Partners have yet to even turn in a proposal. The day after last Wednesday's meeting I called the City Hall to find out when the RFP process, the Request for Proposal process, would start on the Video Wall of the new City Hall. They have a project called AUSTIN STORIES. It will be an inactive video wall with short segments about Austin music, entertainment, culture, events, all of that. And I was told that they have hired a consultant that will be seeing that project through. Now there won't be an RFP process. I asked for the name of that person, and it turned out to be JAN STEPHENS, the wife of the Assistant City Manager JOHN STEPHENS. And I'm sure she is probably quite qualified for the job itself, but I'm not clear as to why that would not be an RFP process. I feel like we already have the bulk of the material that they need for doing this Video Wall, and we should have the opportunity to bid on this contract.
Deradune: Certainly. We've run out of time. This has been very illuminating, to say the least. Thank you very much.