Tim Owens Takes Reins At NPR Jazz

Veteran broadcaster's appointment as executive producer signals National Public Radio's commitment to jazz.

Tim Owens, who has co-created and produced such acclaimed programs as "Jazz Profiles" and "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center" since 1995, was recently named executive producer for jazz programming at National Public Radio.

It's a great opportunity for NPR and for Owens, too. And if the past is an indication, it's a good thing for jazz on radio.

Owens, a 51-year-old Southern California native, will be responsible for supervising all of the jazz broadcasts for NPR's cultural programming department, including current and future program development.

"If you were looking for one of the best tenor saxophonists, you would hire Jimmy Heath. Owens is the programming equivalent of Heath," said Murry Horwitz, NPR's vice president for cultural programming.

"No one in the history of American public broadcasting has done more than Tim Owens to provide first-rate jazz programming to the nation. He has produced every kind of program possible. His appointment is proof [of] NPR's continual commitment to this essential American art."

To be sure, Owens' 35-year career has presented him with a number of production challenges, including "Jazz Smithsonian" for Public Radio International and Ken Burns' miniseries "Baseball" for PBS. In the early '80s, Owens produced NPR's "Jazz Summit" series, hosted by the late Joe Williams; the "Jazz Legacies" birthday tributes; and the Peabody Award-winning "Jazz Alive."

"I've evolved into this capacity, and I'm looking forward to the challenges," Owens said of his new position.

Challenges abound. Owens will also direct the NPR programming department's participation in online jazz activities for the new Sirius satellite radio service.

"It's a paradigm shift in our thinking," Owens said. "Technology is constantly changing, and we have to constantly look at the delivery system. Music is basically generational. The Web is a way to attract younger audiences to the music."

Last month, NPR announced an exclusive agreement with CD Radio, the satellite-to-car broadcaster, to provide programming for two channels on CD Radio's national radio service. (Overall, the service will have access to as many as 100 channels of programming, including 50 channels of commercial-free music and as many as 50 channels of news, talk, sports and other entertainment and information programming.)

Owens said the alliance will enable NPR, its member stations and independent producers to develop innovative programs for CD Radio.

"We will launch two channels in January," Owens said. "We plan to dedicate one channel to news, talk and information. The other channel will focus on entertainment and cultural features." Owens said the latter channel could be devoted to jazz profiles or short subject features.

In 1993, Owens left his job as director of programming at WETA-FM in Washington, D.C., where he had worked for nine years, to form his own production company. In 1998, he became NPR's senior producer for jazz.

In his new job, he will continue to work with NPR's jazz programs and services, which include Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz," "Jazz From Lincoln Center," "Jazz Set" with Brandford Marsalis, "Jazz Profiles" with Nancy Wilson and other programs.

"I'm extremely excited about the prospects of the future," he said. "The possibilities are limitless."