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A Self-Styled 'Eclectic'

All ears are focused on the music program's new host, who starts Monday.

April 16, 1998|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Want a peek into the future of the highly influential music programming at KCRW-FM (89.9)? Sneak into the Santa Monica College station's CD library on Sunday and just listen.

That's where and when Nic Harcourt will be planning the set for Monday, his first day as host of the station's 9 a.m.-to-noon music anchor, "Morning Becomes Eclectic," and plotting out the initial course in his duty as the new music director.

He was hired after a nationwide search to replace Chris Douridas, who has left to concentrate full time on his duties as an artists and repertoire executive at DreamWorks Records that he took on last year.

"I've thought about picking something for the first song that would say something," Harcourt, 40, says from his Woodstock, N.Y., home on the eve of his departure for Los Angeles. "But I haven't figured it out. I'll probably just go in Sunday and pick out a bunch of music. And even then, I might change my mind Monday morning."

It's not a decision that the Birmingham, England, native will make lightly. He knows that the station's loyal listeners, who have come to rely on it for the introduction of notable artists and emerging trends from around the world, will be paying close attention to what he plays right off the bat. And he also knows that what he does will be watched closely by music industry executives, who listen to the station to keep a finger on the pulse of music developments.

Douridas introduced Beck to the world on KCRW--a move that was key in his own rise in the music business--and with his own programming and the hiring of such deejays as Jason Bentley, he helped pave the way for techno music's move into the American mainstream. Douridas' predecessor, Tom Schnabel, can take credit for spurring U.S. recognition of such global music stars as Nigeria's King Sunny Ade and the late Pakistani qawwali music great, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

With that in mind, though, Harcourt hopes no one reads too much into what he does with his first song--or first show, or even first few months, for that matter. The program will still be the same "Morning Becomes Eclectic," mixing recordings and live guests, with an on-air performance by L.A. techno band God Lives Underwater scheduled as part of the Monday debut, a solo acoustic Mark Eitzel appearance Tuesday, neo-jazz singer Holly Cole and her band Wednesday and French electronic lounge music figure Dmitri in Paris on April 24. Harcourt's own imprint on the station, he says, will be something that will evolve over time.

"I realize there will be a lot of people watching--or listening, I should say--to what I do," he says. "But for everything that's gone before, what Tom Schnabel and Chris Douridas brought to 'Morning Becomes Eclectic' and the audience, I have nothing but respect. I'm not going to change it, but add to it, add my personality and my perspective and reference points to music. I can't tell you what that might be, since music's constantly evolving and changing, and I do share similar tastes with both of them."

Still, it's pretty clear that station General Manager Ruth Seymour is looking for Harcourt to be a distinctive presence. After all, she hired him over several people currently on the station staff.

"I see this as the start of a third era for 'Morning Becomes Eclectic' and KCRW," she says of Harcourt's hiring.

Those looking for clues of that new era in Harcourt's resume may come up short, though. He's never before worked in public radio, and his professional radio experience is limited to his seven years at Woodstock's WDST-FM, the past five as music director and morning-show host and the past two years also as program director. The station he's leaving is adventurous by commercial radio standards--he was the first commercial programmer in the nation to play such artists as Joan Osborne, Garbage and English techno group Massive Attack, and it was that openness that led several L.A.-based record company executives to recommend him to Seymour. But WDST still is pretty conservative compared with KCRW's range.

"If people think, 'He comes from commercial radio--uh-oh!,' all I can say is I come from a station with the reputation for playing all kinds of music, and new music, with lots of integrity," he says.

Harcourt hopes eventually to bring some of the elements he introduced at WDST to KCRW. He's especially proud of a show he introduced in Woodstock three years ago called "Sessions," a live performance showcase for musicians from the surrounding mid-Hudson Valley area. He hopes to adapt the concept for KCRW, although he knows the two markets are very different.

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