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Local View: Program director's expertise doesn't come from a diploma

I received an e-mail from Twin Cities musician Scottie Miller concerning some adjustments of requirements at the University of Minnesota Duluth for John Ziegler, the music and program director at KUMD Radio. The adjustments either would seriously...

I received an e-mail from Twin Cities musician Scottie Miller concerning some adjustments of requirements at the University of Minnesota Duluth for John Ziegler, the music and program director at KUMD Radio. The adjustments either would seriously limit Ziegler's ability to do his job or they would completely eliminate his role in promoting and playing music.

The situation saddened me. As a musician, I'm fully aware how foolish it is to think anything good lasts forever, but I think some reconsideration should be explored.

I've been very fortunate to be interviewed by Ziegler many times, nearly always about my performances at Duluth's Bayfront Blues Festival. As I prepared for my final bluesfest performance this year, I realized the interviews with Ziegler were one of the things I'd miss most.

The city of Duluth and KUMD need to know they have an absolute gem within their ranks. The musical knowledge, passion, depth of understanding and keen insight that Ziegler brings to each interview is something musicians rarely, if ever, come across. His shows are as good, and probably better, than shows heard on XM, Sirius or other nationally syndicated radio and satellite radio -- and all from the little studio at KUMD.

There have been times in my interviews when Ziegler asked something that completely caught me off guard. The questions were not mean-spirited, but from a place of kindness and genuine interest in the experiences in my life that molded me into the singer, songwriter and performer the public sees.

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He knows song lyrics and has intelligent inquiries about what inspired the words. His depth of musical knowledge is impressive. Every musician who has performed in the KUMD studio and been interviewed by Ziegler greatly appreciates his intelligence. Musicians know when they're in the presence of another great musician. Ziegler is a great musician, in a sense, every time he turns on that microphone to do his thing.

Perhaps his biggest asset is his simplest asset: Ziegler is a kind man and a fantastic ambassador of all genres of music and of the University of Minnesota Duluth. He simply loves music and the highs and lows of the live musician.

None of these things requires a master's degree. Ziegler could earn such a degree, but I fail to see how having such an accomplishment displayed on a wall in his house could improve or add more legitimacy to his role at UMD.

I'll probably never get the ridiculous things I want in life -- to play piano like Dr. John or to play guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughan. But I certainly won't if I don't try. With that in mind, I asked the University of Minnesota Duluth to reconsider its plans related to John Ziegler. I hope it does reconsider.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "too many cooks in the kitchen" are the sayings that kept repeating themselves in my head when I heard about the layoffs at KUMD. While I'm confident there was no ill will toward Ziegler, the result of the university's action would be a negative effect on the many musicians who've long had a history with Ziegler. I have to believe there are other courses of action that make more sense.

John Ziegler and his job "ain't broke," and they certainly don't need to be fixed.

MICK STERLING is a singer and songwriter from the Twin Cities and a regular performer at the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth.

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