National vs. Local; Live vs. Canned Music

Authormarty72x72_2You’re a program director for a classical music station. You have a tight budget, an on-air staff ranging from just ok to excellent, an incredibly supportive local audience, and a lot of local ensembles that need promotion. What do you put on the air?

Can your listeners tell the difference between national vs. local, live vs canned music? Is there any reason to play whole shows of live performances?

A program director at a major station recently told me the concert hall experience doesn’t work on the radio; people don’t sit quietly and listen like that. They’re driving, working, or exercising while they listen. So he won’t air any national concert programs. Yet that same station plays all sorts of local concerts, some good, some mediocre. The rest of the time the station plays canned music.

Two program directors were talking about Performance Today at a national conference, and one said, “I’d never play it. There’s too much talk. The other said, “I’d never allow that on my air.” Another program director recently told me, “we don’t air any produced product.” I talked to a major market station this week that doesn’t allow outside material, because they believe in local, local, local.

Then there are stations that air just about everything national but have no local production. Or how about stations that believe only local announcers should be heard on-air?

We in the biz go round and round on programming. But we usually argue about what repertoire to play, not whether to play national programs or live music.

If your listeners knew about Performance Today and had a chance to audition it, would they request it over what you produce locally? If you gave them a chance to hear SymphonyCast would they ask you to keep it? Are you auditioning shows and seeking the listeners’ input or are you deciding for them? If they got to choose between listening to the Royal Concertgebouw and the local youth symphony, which would they choose?

Some people think the only way to save classical radio (maybe all radio) is to keep it local, and tied into the community — to promote the heck out of local music and have the kids on the air. Others think you should have the big name national shows on the air. Some stations play canned music all day and then play the major orchestra concerts in the evenings.

What do I think? I think you should have both. Air the very best shows out there, whether live or canned music, but also promote your local music community. I often will listen to the good shows online rather than turn on the local canned music.

If you don’t air what people want to hear, they will find another place to listen. And please don’t assume listeners want to hear only your local announcers. If that were true they wouldn’t turn on NPR with its multitude of interesting voices.

About Marty Ronish

Marty Ronish is an independent producer of classical music radio programs. She currently produces the Chicago Symphony Orchestra broadcasts that air 52 weeks a year on more than 400 stations and online at She also produces a radio series called "America's Music Festivals," which presents live music from some of the country's most dynamic festivals. She is a former Fulbright scholar and co-author of a catalogue of Handel's autograph manuscripts.

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1 thought on “National vs. Local; Live vs. Canned Music”

  1. I will admit I’m spoiled. I live in Chicago and have been listening to WFMT for over 30 years. I like their balance of local and nonlocal programming, the obviously knowledgable hosts (even after Mel Zellman and Don Tait retired), and especially the policy of no recorded commercials. Of course, this is one of the leading classical music stations in the country and the producer / distributor of the Beethoven Network as well as a number of symphony broadcasts.

    In addition, I spend most of my day working in an office which has a broadband connection. So, if I don’t like what WFMT has on (I don’t care for most vocal music), I can listen to KUSC, Wisconsin Public Radio, or anything else I find on the Internet which appeals to me.


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