Last month in Los Angeles, Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, premiered a chamber opera he wrote with composer Paul Salerni called "Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast." The main character, Tony Caruso, is a failed operatic tenor, but he’s well respected as a classical music announcer. Sadly, Tony loses his job when his station drops its classical format and switches to Golden Oldies.
A familiar and painfully realistic scenario. The opera is fiction, but here’s a scenario that’s real: just over a year ago National Public Radio quietly closed down its Classical Music Unit, laid off nearly all of the staff, and outsourced its flagship shows Performance Today and SymphonyCast to American Public Media. NPR executed the shutdown so quietly that the public really never even knew about it.
If the nation’s number one public radio broadcaster and the nation’s
number one arts guy in Washington consider classical music on the radio
endangered, it must be true.
Of course we’ve overstated the case to make a point. It’s a little
like saying newspapers are dead. Or books are dead. Or the housing
market is dead.
It’s been so easy all these years just to turn on the radio and get
our classical music fix, but things are changing in the radio world. On
this blog, we’re going to explore the shifting landscape of classical
Of course radio’s decision makers can never kill the music itself. To misquote Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice,
the music will out. After all, Shakespeare had plenty of music in his
life; so did Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, and none of them had radio.
Radio has been a lovely blip on the classical music continuum. And
there’s no question that many programmers at radio stations have a deep
love for classical music and are committed to keeping it on the air —
though in the face of falling ratings or listeners’ growing appetite
for news, that can be quite a struggle.
What does the future hold for classical music on the radio? And in
an era of iPods, XM and Web streaming, how much does radio still
matter? We aim to find out.
—Mike and Marty
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