Reshuffling of NPR Music includes farewell to ‘Microphone Check’ team

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Changes in NPR’s music division announced Thursday include the departure of Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley and expanded partnerships with stations in covering jazz and other genres.

Microphone Check’s Kelley and Muhammad are taking their hip-hop podcast “independent and on the road,” according to a memo by Anya Grundmann, NPR’s v.p. for programming and audience development.

The co-hosts will appear in four live shows at universities over the next six months, interviewing musicians and “luminaries from other fields.” Stashimi, a new music app, is co-producing the events. The relaunched Microphone Check podcast starts biweekly production Oct. 3.

NPR Music has produced Microphone Check for more than three years. “As some of you may know, Frannie started at NPR when NPR Music launched nine years ago,” Grundmann wrote.

Even as the network ends the podcast, it is looking to hire a writer devoted to hip-hop who would serve “as a resource to desks and podcasts,” according to the memo.

NPR’s coverage of other kinds of music is evolving as well. It’s “doubling down” with Philadelphia’s WXPN on “serving World Café audiences across hundreds of radio stations and digital platforms,” Grundmann said. “You’ll be hearing more from us about that.”

And for jazz programming, Grundmann said NPR will invest “more deeply” in its partnerships with New Jersey jazz station WBGO and Jazz at Lincoln Center on the multiplatform Jazz Night in America.

WBGO will take “an even stronger lead” in NPR’s coverage of the music, Grundmann said. Meanwhile, the network is letting go digital jazz producer Patrick Jarenwattananon, who has written for NPR’s jazz blog A Blog Supreme since 2009.

NPR will also look to hire “a new director of music to serve as the general manager and executive producer for all of NPR Music across platforms,” according to the memo. Read the full announcements:

From: NPR Communications
Subject: From Anya Grundmann: NPR Music Update

All –

I would like to share some changes that will usher in the next phase of NPR Music. Our goals are to build on our many successes and record of innovation (hello, 4 million people watching Tiny Desk Concerts every month!), strengthen our relationship with NPR News on the radio and online (with increasingly distinctive coverage and driveway moments), grow our audience and social footprint, and evolve our partnership with key stations.

As the first phase of this evolution, we posted three positions earlier this month:

  • music news editor will be responsible for ensuring that NPR Music is an up-to-the-minute source for music news across platforms.
  • social media strategist will cultivate communities on NPR Music’s social channels and engage our loyal, enthusiastic group of fans.
  • staff writer in charge of hip-hop coverage will join our genre experts, producing content for NPR Music and NPR News, and serving as a resource to desks and podcasts. This person will help identify hip-hop artists for NPR Music’s signature projects, including Tiny Desk concerts, First Listen album previews, end-of-year music round-ups, and All Songs Considered.

We are also expanding our partnerships with key music stations. NPR Music and WXPN will be doubling down together on serving World Café audiences across hundreds of radio stations and digital platforms. You’ll be hearing more from us about that.

In jazz, we are investing more deeply in the partnerships with WBGO and Jazz at Lincoln Center that we created around our groundbreaking show, Jazz Night in AmericaJazz Night in America is NPR’s first truly multi-platform program, with:

  • a weekly radio show now airing on almost 200 stations, beautifully produced by WBGO, and featuring storytelling and performances from Jazz at Lincoln Center and venues all across America,
  • a regular video series capturing the people, the stories, and the music that make jazz such a vibrant art form,
  • a digital home at nprmusic.org, and
  • regular conversations on All Things Considered, featuring Audie Cornish and JNIAhost Christian McBride, reaching millions of listeners.

Over the next months, WBGO will be taking an even stronger lead in our collaborative editorial coverage of jazz, and NPR will be eliminating its digital jazz producer position.

As part of these larger changes, after more than three years at NPR, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley of Microphone Check are leaving the company. They are relaunching their podcast devoted to hip-hop artists and culture, taking it independent and on the road. You can read more on the Intranet. We are incredibly proud of the work we have done together.

I am also making a number of team realignments, including several promotions and new roles. As senior strategy manager, Otis Hart will manage the music news team with a focus on digital and social content. Jacob Ganz becomes senior editor and will coordinate coverage on NPR newsmagazines and oversee special projects and feature coverage. Robin Hilton becomes supervising producer and will manage the team that produces All Songs Considered, which has lived at the top of the music podcast charts since the charts existed. We will also search for a new director of music to serve as the general manager and executive producer for all of NPR Music across platforms.

NPR Music has touched tens of millions of people since its launch in 2007, with 167 million views on YouTube alone, not to mention the reach of our radio programs, events, podcasts, social media and 3 million+ monthly visitors to nprmusic.org.  Over the years, the team has collectively focused on reaching out to and connecting with new audiences, creating a vibrant visual identity for NPR, building a platform featuring great musicians across all genres, acting as thought-leaders at important cultural moments, and featuring the curation of more than 100 music tastemakers from across the public radio system.

It’s an incredible team and I’m looking forward to this next chapter.

Anya

From: Anya Grundmann
Subject: News about Microphone Check

After more than three years at NPR, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley of Microphone Check are leaving the company. They are relaunching their podcast devoted to hip-hop artists and culture, taking it independent and on the road.

Over the next six months they’ll be live onstage at four top-tier universities, in dialogue with the musicians and luminaries from other fields who need to be heard. That series of events is being produced in collaboration with Stashimi, a new music app delivering artist-centered news and content. In these new events and in their podcast, audiences will continue to hear Frannie and Ali’s signature approach to intimate interviews with the people who make and love hip-hop culture.

We are incredibly proud of the work we have done together. What began as an experiment became a full-fledged community-serving editorial project with podcast, video and live components. Microphone Check started the conversation about hip-hop on NPR, and since 2013 has brought NPR listeners and readers fascinating stories and long-form interviews with icons and up-and-comers (and some who have gone from up-and-comers to icons). Ali has brought the experience and insight he’s gained as a world-renowned producer, songwriter and musician to bear in the studio, complementing Frannie’s encyclopedic knowledge and vernacular reporting style to make NPR an important part of the hip-hop conversation. Through their live events they have introduced NPR to a whole new generation of fans.

Frannie notes, “NPR’s platform was an excellent place to begin our work together, and we’re excited about this new opportunity to take the podcast into communities across the country.” Ali adds, “Telling stories to NPR’s open-minded audience made up of people from every walk of life gave us all kinds of freedom and the opportunity for our guests to have deeply personal and unconventional conversations.”

As some of you may know, Frannie started at NPR when NPR Music launched nine years ago. In addition to creating Microphone Check with Ali, she has been behind many of our most innovative and foundational initiatives — from starting The Record blog with Jacob Ganz to bringing audiences her pioneering survey on women in music that resulted in extensive coverage across NPR.

To stay in touch with Microphone Check and to be the first to get announcements and ticket info to their events, follow @FrannieandAli on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And watch for their podcast, which will publish biweekly episodes starting October 3.

Anya