The Albany Times-Union ran a feature the other day on a local classical music buff who has refined a system for tracking performances by orchestras around the world:
To keep track of his daily listening options, Olsen has compiled a weekly grid showing when concerts by major orchestras can be heard, and on which stations. The full schedule allows him to keep up on the weekly performances of acclaimed orchestras in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee and Vienna, among others.
You’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?
In my last post about broad trends in classical radio, I started to examine the odd beast known in public radio as the “dual format.” A dual-format station airs both news and classical music on weekdays, with NPR’s morning and afternoon newsmagazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, sandwiching a midday block of music.
Many stations in public radio adhere to this format — a little more than half of the 450 stations airing classical are dual-format. Most of them serve small- and medium-sized markets where the smaller number of public-radio listeners makes being “all things to all people” more feasible. But a considerable number of dual-format stations have been cutting back on classical in recent years or dumping it entirely, in part due to the thorny problems posed by airing two different kinds of programming. Research shows that most listeners who enjoy classical avoid news programming and vice versa, which forces a dual-format station to try to serve two different audiences. What’s more, stations have found greater success raising money around news programming than around classical.
Mike suggested I write about why classical music on the radio is important. If you’re reading this you’re already a believer, so this topic is sort of preaching to the choir. But — don’t die of shock — I really don’t think classical music on the radio is all that important for the listeners. Ach! Heresy! (Keep reading.)
The real reason classical music is important on the radio is for the musicians. Classical musicians can’t survive professionally in this day and age without radio.
–It’s still the most effective way they have of communicating with their audience.
–It’s how they let you know about their concerts and their recordings.
–It’s how they demonstrate who’s good and who isn’t.
–It’s how they help you figure out what music you like.
And in turn, you help them make a living. Radio is the cheap, portable way for musicians to communicate. Ads in the paper are prohibitively expensive and lack that minor little detail called audio. Downloads are ok if you already know what you want to hear. You might ask, “what about the web?” Well, we’re not there yet. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra broadcasts, for instance, reach some 350,000 listeners a week on-air, but fewer than 2,000 are listening online each week.