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.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice if classical music listeners get their share of bandwidth, just as sports, news, and country music listeners do. But getting what you like on the radio isn’t a divine right.
And I do believe culture on the radio is just as healthy for a community as museums, concert halls, and libraries are.
But I don’t think it’s the listeners or the community that need classical music on the radio at all. We like it and we want it, but if we don’t have a classical station we’ll get our music in other ways. If we miss a concert we won’t die from it.
But if the musicians don’t have radio, they will die from it. They will shrivel up and lose their jobs. And if the musicians lose their jobs, we lose our music and with it our inspiration. So we don’t need classical music on the radio for ourselves. We need it for the musicians who light up our lives, and whose work gives us the ability to carry on in this complex world. Classical music on the radio is keeping our beloved musicians alive and working.
How important is classical music on the radio to people in general?
In 2002 the Knight Foundation talked to 25,000 people to find out (it was a partially targeted audience, not totally random), and they concluded:
–Radio is the dominant mode of consumption of classical music.
–Nearly 60% of adults express at least some interest in classical music, and
nearly one-third of those fit classical music into their lives regularly, in their
autos and at home.
–Nationally, the most common setting for experiencing the art form is the
automobile, followed by the home.
–Increasing the availability and quality of classical music on the radio, and increasing
ownership, exchange and use of classical recordings is strategic to the long-term
vitality of the orchestra field.
Unfortunately, the preliminary report I got those statistics from is no longer available online, but several other reports from that 10-year study are. It’s called The Magic of Music.
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