They’re Back! But Not Because They Waited For The Audiences To Return

Apparently the pandemic was good for classical music stations. In a story on the Current site, the general manager WDAV in Charlotte, NC had a hard time believing his station had achieved number one market share for the first time ever.

WDAV wasn’t alone, a number of other stations had similar successes. But before you assume that the value of classical music suddenly became apparent to people in a “if you play it, they will come” sort of way, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Stations have been working to frame the music for their communities.

But by emphasizing long-held values of classical radio — to be soothing, to clear the mind, to remind people of aesthetic beauty — stations rose to the occasion to provide refuge from a world that felt scary and uncertain. That has translated into ratings records, strong fundraising and a reminder of the value of classical stations to local arts organizations.

“We heard from a significant number of listeners thanking us for being a place that was normal for them,” said Brenda Barnes, CEO of KING FM in Seattle. WDAV’s Dominguez and leaders at WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., and the USC Radio Group, which consists of KUSC in Los Angeles and KDFC in San Francisco, all said they heard the same from their listeners.

WDAV also got out into the community with their Small Batch music series where they had classical musicians perform at a local microbrewery. Will Keible, the station’s director of marketing and corporate support cited the intimidating environment of a formal concert hall and not wanting to passively wait for people to find them on the radio dial as drivers for their partnership with the brewery.

Other stations cultivated stronger relationships with the artists in their areas. The article also talks about how WXXI had reached out to ensembles and chamber groups in New York’s Finger Lakes region during the pandemic requesting recent performance recordings which they broadcast as part of a 10 week series. Many stations like WXXI have recognized the need to provide programming by musicians and composers of color and that has also helped to broaden their appeal.

“We are changing our library and our rotation cycles so that … you’re hearing representation from all different composers and performers all the time,” said WXXI’s Ruth Phinney. The station also profiles classical musicians of African descent on its website. “We’ve actually had classical musicians contact us and say, ‘I’m a classical musician, I’m not on your site yet. Can you put me on there?’”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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