Radio Waves: Interference Patterns
Responding to some comments about yesterday’s news about WNYC buying WQXR (and preparing, of course, for my long-promised piece on classical radio): I’ve already said that I can’t be completely objective about WNYC since I regularly appear on the station, but I think they have a pretty good track record in terms of their commitment to classical music. I believe they are the only station in the country with a daily talk show devoted to musical topics. (Tell me if I’m wrong, WFMT (Chicago), King FM (Seattle), and anyone else who may be reading.) WNYC's regular shows “Evening Music” and “New Sounds” both also offer a good amount of unusual, challenging, even genre-defying fare. (Though the composer Charles Wuorinen, in a comment published in the New York Times when the station abandoned its former classical format in 2002, denigrated the station's new-music aesthetic as “pop avant-garde that really is just commercially unsuccessful rock and roll garnished with a dollop of John Cage.”)
So I don’t see WNYC as representing dumbing down. On the other hand, they will have to find a new formula for WQXR as they transform it into a public, member-supported entity rather than the private entity it’s been for so long. For my money, some shaking up isn’t a terrible thing; WQXR had, I think, become fairly conservative in its musical approach. It does preserve the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts and, more recently, regular broadcasts from the New York Philharmonic, and those are scheduled to continue.
The larger concern about classical radio, among its fans, is clearly the ongoing debate between listeners who find stations too conservative, always playing the same fairly limited repertory, and the stations which know all too well how fast the majority of listeners turn the dial as soon as something unfamiliar comes on. When WNYC moved away from classical programming in 2002, there was a hue and cry among musicians and classical music fans. But none of them addressed the station’s basic problem: as soon as the format switched from the morning news to
losers classical music, the listenership dropped precipitately.
I know this is a topic close to the heart of many readers, and I would be really interested to hear what people think about classical radio and its future.
Edited to fix a particularly unfortunate typo (marked with strikethrough, above). I believe (or hope) the error was the software's and not a mental transposition of my own.
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