Former 'Morning Becomes Eclectic' Host Nic Harcourt on How an Ultimatum from KCRW Led to His New Show on Cal State's KCSN (Q&A)
Los Angeles mornings may once again belong to Nic Harcourt. The longtime Morning Becomes Eclectic host who can legitimately lay claim to first spinning such artists as Coldplay, Norah Jones and Sigur Ros, prepares a return to morning radio with a new program simply called “The Nic Harcourt Show.” It debuts Friday and will air from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. on California State University Northridge’s KCSN (88.5).
You could say Harcourt has something to prove. Namely, that he can create a competitive program in a big market on a relatively unknown broadcast signal. While he vacated his decade-long role at KCRW in 2008 to pursue other projects (among them: music supervision for TV shows and films and hosting DirecTV’s Guitar Center Sessions interview program), he kept a foothold on the NPR station by hosting a weekend show. But when Harcourt was given an ultimatum by station management -- quit his unpaid Saturday show on KCSN or leave KCRW -- he was left with a tough decision.
“It is a difficult choice when somebody puts you on the spot like that,” he said recently. “I was disappointed… and surprised that the work I had done there over a ten-year period [was] not respected.”
Now more than a year later, Harcourt plans to brand KCSN much like his did KCRW. And in many ways, KCSN’s all-music, triple-A format (adult album alternative) is a return to form for Harcourt. Before moving to Los Angeles, he programmed a drive-time show at the triple-A station WDST in Woodstock, NY.
“When I was there and the reason why I ended up getting the job in L.A. was because I had a reputation for playing new music ahead of everyone else,” said Harcourt. “That’s my thing, that's what I get off on, but at the same time I also get a kick out of hearing a great Cat Stevens song next to something brand new.”
The Hollywood Reporter recently spoke with Harcourt about his new show and the future of radio.
The Hollywood Reporter: What do you have planned for your new morning program?
Nic Harcourt: The show is not going to be Morning Becomes Eclectic. I did that and it still exists in another form somewhere else, so there’s no point in trying to repeat yourself. And we are talking about a 24/7 music station rather than a variety station, as KCRW is with a mix of news and music and current affairs. We’ll have to wait to see how it evolves. I haven’t done it yet and I've been around long enough to know that what you set out to do will probably shift a bit.
THR: Will you have bands on for interviews or performances?
Harcourt: Yes, but we’re going to keep them short. One thing -- and don’t get me wrong, I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do this -- but from a radio programming point of view, I always felt that when you give up 45 minutes of your time to one artist, it’s not smart programming really. Because if I’m interviewing a band or an artist and they're performing something that you don’t like … if you just tuned in, then you're gone. You're not going to listen to 45 minutes of this artist. So what were going to do is keep it very simple and probably have the last 15 minutes of the show be two songs and 5 to 7 minutes of conversation. We might do longer stuff and put it on the web. We have to realize that we’re in a very competitive market and when people have many other options as to how they consume music -- whether it's Spotify or whatever's on their iPod -- we need to think about the continuity in what were doing.
THR: You’re known for being a tastemaker and exposing new bands, does the triple-A format appeal to some of your sensibilities as well?
Harcourt: Absolutely. Triple-A is an interesting format [because] it encompasses a lot. It’s interpreted in different ways in different markets -- what you'll hear on a triple-A station in Chicago is going to be different in Philadelphia or in L.A. But essentially the idea of the format to introduce new music to the listeners but in a context that is familiar.
THR: There has been recent research that’s found that young listeners aren't tuning in to terrestrial radio as much as they used to. Is this a concern for you moving forward?
Harcourt: I think that anyone in radio should be concerned that young people don’t listen to radio anymore, and I know that public radio demographic is aging which is not a good sign, obviously. In 2000, we looked at the average age of the KCRW listener and it was like 35, and today it’s probably in the late 40’s. The audience of public radio is aging and they're not bringing new people in. I think what we can do at KCSN, and what I plan on doing with the morning show, is introducing new artists to the audience. And those will be in many cases younger artists, people in their twenties who are making music. If we become known as the station in town that’s doing that, I think we have the opportunity to grab some younger listeners who are not being catered to.
I will say, though, people have been talking about radio dying since television was invented and it’s still fucking here. Because one thing that radio has is the ability to react immediately to what’s going on whether it’s news or somebody walking into the radio station with a brand new song that’s f---ing amazing and you want to put it on the air immediately.
THR: On the same tip, many of the most popular radio hosts in the country, especially in talk, are over 50. Is there still young radio talent coming up?
Harcourt: Thanks for reminding me! [Laughs] I don’t even think of my age … but the question is a valid one. I think that obviously when your launching something new as we are at KCSN, not just my show but the whole station is being re-launched from a year ago, you need to put DJs on the air that have name recognition in the market. So it's smart to get people like myself and Mark Shovel [Sovel, aka Mr. Shovel]; Jed the Fish does a show on Saturdays, and Terri Nunn does a show… But there's young people within the station and there's actually a guy who's going to be working with me, helping me in the morning, just making sure I don't f--- up in the beginning and I might put him on the air. We’ll see. But I think that radio is not the glamour career choice for a lot of people these days. The anonymity of it perhaps doesn't appeal to many, and this is probably just my own opinion, but we have a culture right now where everyone wants to be f---ing famous and that involves being seen. That’s why everyone hangs their dirty laundry on Facebook and crappy reality shows. I’ve certainly met some very good radio programmers and younger people at various conferences during the years. The CMJ conference is in New York this week, and you have college radio stations across the country with young people getting on the air. Some of them go on to have careers in radio. So there are people out there. But, like I said, it’s not the sexiest vocation if you're 18 and wondering how you're going to get noticed. That’s just my observation on our sick f---ing culture.