Classical Music Rising’s Workforce Report is Out – The Results are Unsettling and Unsurprising

A little over a year ago, the announcement was made by Station Resource Group (SRG) that the Classical Music Rising initiative had been formed, and the search was on for a project director who would lead representatives from participating stations in working groups that would help set the course for classical music radio in the coming years.   Classical Music Rising is now in full swing, and one of its first big reports has just been compiled: a survey of the classical music radio workforce in the United States.  This is something I had hoped to see from the CMR initiative – indeed, when the program was announced, I wrote in this blog:

…we are so focused on keeping track of the pulse of our audience that we forget to look at ourselves as broadcasters.  I don’t think any effort has been made, other than the occasional CPB salary survey, to take a deep look at how stations operate and WHO is operating them.  I’m particularly interested in how long employees have worked at their stations, how their roles have or haven’t evolved over their tenures, and the diversity of station staff – particularly the on-air voices (how many women?  how many men?  how many minorities?  how old?).   We need to know more about ourselves before we can evolve as a broadcasting community.  Talent development is a part of this project, but along with talent development there needs to be a recognition that as a community, we are…a group largely composed of older white folks who are, more likely than not, to be men.  It’ll be tough to recruit and develop talent in that kind of environment, especially because the vast majority of the music we present was written by a bunch of dead white dudes.

Prayers: answered.  Assumptions: for the most part, confirmed.  Details: many, including information about non-on-air staff like PDs, station managers, marketing, development, and web staff.  There was also a great deal of written (i.e. non-numeric, but actual prose) response to survey questions regarding obstacles to the future of respondents’ stations, and indeed the classical radio format as a whole.

I’ve been asked by to write a detailed summary of the report, so I will save more details for that publication, and will likely follow it up with another post in this space.  But I thought I’d share now some very general takeaways from the report – and they likely won’t come as a shock to anyone who works in public radio, or who follows public radio carefully.

  • In terms of on-air staff, more than  70% are over 50.  Men outnumber women nearly 2 to 1.  White people of both genders make up over 90% of the workforce.  These ratios don’t change significantly when looking at the responding stations’ entire staff.
  • The aging staff presents multiple issues for station managers; some wish their older staff would retire to make room for new talent, while others fear that they will be unable to replace older staff and may be forced (or be given an excuse) to drop the classical format entirely.
  • Resources are thin, especially at mixed format stations where the classical staff may be only one or two people (hey, welcome to my world!).
  • Exploring digital possibilities is difficult given those scant resources, as well as the inability or unwillingness of older staff to embrace new platforms (or the difficulty in training them to use them).

It’s not all doom and gloom, however.  The working group that administered the survey also provided recommendations for how to proceed, and specific actions that Classical Music Rising might undertake to aid stations as they try to stay relevant in a rapidly-changing media environment.  Look for more of these things, as well as greater detail about the bullet points above, in Current.  In the meantime, you can read the Classical Music Rising working group report here, and the unfiltered and very comprehensive survey results here.


About Joe Goetz

Joe Goetz is Music Director for WFIU 103.7 FM in Bloomington, Indiana, and has eleven years of experience hosting and producing classical music programming for public radio. While completing his B.A. in Music at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO, Joe worked part time as a classical music host at KCME 88.7 FM. Following graduation, he worked as a classical music host and producer at Vermont Public Radio, developing new and engaging programming in addition to programming and hosting a daily afternoon air shift. He is an accomplished pianist with several chamber music performances to his credit, an occasional choir singer, and an avid golfer. He lives with his wife, Meghann, their son William, daughter Allison, and cats Ollie and Blanche.

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