Friday, June 17, 2016


Some of you might know that blogging is NOT my full-time job. About half of my work time is spent consulting clients who create, produce, market and distribute nationally syndicated programs that air on noncommercial radio stations. I have been doing this very specialized work for almost 30 years.

I try to keep my "money making" work separate from my journalism. I produce SPARK! as a commercial-free public service.  However, this week one of my clients made news that I am very, very pleased to report: American Routes is debuting this weekend on WXPN, Philadelphia.

American Routes [link] is a weekly two-hour public radio program produced at Tulane University in New Orleans. Since it made its national debut in 1998, American Routes has become recognized as the “gold standard” public radio program about American music. It features a broad range of music and styles including blues and jazz, gospel, soul, old-time country and rockabilly, Cajun and Zydeco, Tejano and Latin, and roots rock n roll.

 My company – Ken Mills Agency, LLC – has been associated with American Routes since July 2011 when the program moved from American Public Media (APM) to PRX, who continues to distribute the show today.  I work closely with founder, host and executive producer Nick Spitzer.  Today’s post is about what the new association with WXPN means to me and perhaps to Nick.


For around 18 years American Routes was heard on WHYY in Philly. WHYY has been a terrific host. Recently WHYY continued its programming evolution and became a full-time NPR News station. American Routes was one of the last remaining music programs on the station.  A couple of weeks ago they cancelled it.

Triple A powerhouse WXPN stepped forward to embrace American Routes. It will now be heard exclusively in Philadelphia on 88.5 WXPN Sunday afternoons fro 3pm to 5pm.  Everyone associated with the program is so pleased to be associated with ‘XPN.  We deeply appreciate the kind support we have received from Bruce Warren, Roger LaMay, Elise Brown, Kimberly Winnick and David Dye.

There is more to this story that just a change of stations. In some ways Nick Spitzer is returning home and music tribe is finally back together.


Nick Spitzer, now just past 60 years old, started out as “Nicky.” He grew up in New York City and rural rustic Old Lyme, Connecticut.  His early interests were rock radio and learning how people express themselves musically.

After graduating from Old Lyme High he started college at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing anthropology. His passion became progressive rock radio, which was flourishing at the time. At Penn he began doing volunteer air shifts at then-student station WXPN.  He was really good at it!

At WXPN Nick combined his love of African American a cappella doo-wop music and avant-garde jazz with his anthropology studies. In many ways he was a pioneer bringing music of the street into serious scholarship.

Philadelphia in the early 1970s was a nationally recognized hotbed of “underground” progressive rock radio.  Nick began working at WMMR-FM, part of Metromedia, who also owned legendary stations WNEW in New York, KMET in LA, KSAN in San Francisco and WMET in Chicago. Nick was really good and WMMR soon offered him a full-time hosting gig.


At WMMR he worked with David Dye, Carole Miller, the late Ed Sciaky and Michael Tearson.  At that time, commercial underground stations like WMMR not only allowed, they encouraged experimentation with many genres of music. 


How eclectic was WMMR?  Here is a small sample of what Nick played on WMMR Monday, December 18, 1972:

The Kinks - Top of the Pops
Randy Newman - Lonely at the Top
Bessie Smith - I'd Rather Be Dead and Buried in My Grave
String Driven Thing - Circus
The Beatles - Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite

A set that cool can only be found on American Routes today.


By the later 1970s, corporate commercial radio was becoming more mass-audience oriented. WXPN began hiring a professional staff, displacing students. This didn’t please Nick and he let people know how he felt.  This led to a falling out with other folks in WMMR/WXPN “radio tribe.”

Nick decided to focus on his studies.  He moved to Austin and worked at alt-country KOKE while completing his Masters and PhD at UT in anthropology and folklore. During the next decade he dabbled in media as a commentator and producer for NPR’s All Things Considered and Fresh Air, ABC’s Nightline and World News Tonight.

Spitzer directed the documentary film Zydeco: Creole Music and Culture in Rural Louisiana in 1986, one of more than a dozen films he producer or contributed to.

But something deep inside kept haunting him.  What about creating a remarkable program for the emerging public radio system?


By the mid 1990s Nick was living, teaching and writing in New Orleans. In 1997 he fleshed-out the concept that became American Routes while doing volunteer shifts at WWOZ. He collaborated with noted ATC producer Mary Beth Kirchner to create American Routes.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) agreed to fund the new series. Public Radio International (PRI) agreed to distribute American Routes. When the show debuted in 1998, it was already considered a major success, airing in almost every major market in the nation.

Now Nick’s voice and program is returning home to WXPN where the “radio tribe” is ready to greet him.

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