Midnight Hour for the Vultures

Pop Vultures, the locally produced public radio show dissecting popular music, has been canned. Prairie Home Productions, Garrison Keillor's St. Paul-based company, pulled the plug on the program after creating just 22 broadcasts.

The half-hour show featured Los Angeles-based host (and City Pages contributor) Kate Sullivan and a rotating cast of characters scrutinizing pop music. Pop Vultures stood out on public radio--normally the domain of classical concertos and news programs--not only for its subject matter, but also for its casual, conversational style. The tone was more slumber-party gabfest than cultural sermon. The show will continue to air locally on Minnesota Public Radio (KNOW FM-91.1) on Sundays at 10:00 p.m. through the end of the year.

"The show as it was had no chance of airing on a critical mass of public radio stations," insists Amanda Stanton-Geddes, director of marketing at Prairie Home Productions. She says that Pop Vultures was on in just three markets nationwide after stations in Philadelphia and New Jersey had recently dropped the program. Stanton-Geddes believes that the program's laid-back approach, coupled with its sometimes-oblique musical references (at least for public radio listeners) was a difficult sell for program directors. "The show did not appeal to the core audience of public radio stations as far as we could tell," she says. "I think the show was too bleeding-edge."

Sullivan disagrees with that assessment. She argues that Pop Vultures deserved more time to find an audience. "Just because of the nature of public radio listeners, it takes a long time for a show to get an audience and a foothold," she says, noting that stations in both Boston and Pittsburgh had expressed an interest in picking up the program. "We did have a kind of naïveté about how much time we would need to be around to really stick. But I think we were starting to stick."

Some champions of the show agree that it deserved a longer incubation period. "High marks, I think, to Prairie Home Productions for trying this," says Jeff Hansen, program director at KUOW in Seattle. "Low marks for not giving it a long enough try to see if it had a chance." He notes that other unconventional, but ultimately successful, public radio programs didn't immediately win over audiences. "This American Life, when it first came out, was not particularly well received by the system either," Hansen says.

Despite the untimely demise of the show, Sullivan says that she hopes to soon find another spot on the airwaves. "I want to continue creating radio," she says, "and inevitably whatever I do is going to be similar, I think, in spirit to Pop Vultures."

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