Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Radio? So, Who'sListening?

It can be argued that a sign of our time is a lack of responsibility and leadership. Decisions are too often made from polls and bottom lines. This is evident by business decisions made by those classical radio executives who cannot see further than spread sheets with declining numbers.

WETA-FM in D.C. is among the more recent stations that have decided to drop classical listening. Diana West, writing for the Washington Times, is “on the mark” replying to the station executive who was quoted, “It is painful, but my job is to steward this public radio station in the best possible way," Daniel C. DeVany, WETA's vice president and general manager, said. Ms. West then observes, “This was a new one: The general manager was making it sound as if it were in the public interest for public radio to "steward" classical music right down the drain.… Call it decline, call it a trend, but don't call it stewardship. Because what the classical fade-out tells us more than anything is that the "custodians of public taste" have left the building.” (Washington Times 03/04/05)

In Pittsburgh, the Post-Gazette reports that Pittsburgh's non-commercial classical music station, WQED, just wrapped up its winter fund drive, with seriously disappointing results. Station officials pointed out that that almost no one is making any money playing classical music on the radio these days. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 02/22/05)
Is that a prognosis?

Current states, "News programming is much better than classical music at raising money to keep a station going. A listener-hour of NPR news may generate twice as much listener income and much more business underwriting income as classical or jazz." (Current 02/16/05)

These are discouraging items that can be heard all over the country. But, if we tune in to the stagnant stuff that is broadcast on most of these stations, it’s little wonder. And many stations have low power with a broadcast area of 45 miles ( +- ) with airless pockets within that. Others have announcers that can’t speak music. Some have both these and other detriments. If these go down the drain, who cares? No one is listening anyway. Most classical radio has become muzak.

Without citing where she got her stats, Pam Dixon writes, “ More people than ever are listening to classical music, and the audience is much broader than once thought. It's not just the elite listening to classical music stations; it's everyone from teen-agers doing their homework to teachers driving home from work” (Radio Guide Vol 1 No. 9 ). Pam, there is a difference between hearing and listening. One requires attention. What is needed, more than anything else, is adventurous programming that will smack a listener to attention. Ditto orchestra concerts and their declining audiences.

It must be added that everything in the world doesn’t have to pay for itself. How does having a baby pay for itself? A student is “worth” $3,340 to a school board? Does a new TV pay for itself? We can list the cost of everything but are dumbfounded by their value. Really true for the arts.

A yet to be written history of business in classical music should reveal how we got into this mess. The decline is one of leadership and responsibility to the value of music. The consequent station decline is merely a reflection of that lack.


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