in: News & Features

October 19, 2013

WCRB: “We’re Playing 20% More Music”

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In the past couple of weeks BMInt readers have been trying to fathom the changes they have perceived in the programming at WCRB. I’ve heard about this in questions directed to me personally as well as in comments appended to strings where they were not really germane.

It seems likely to us that the station is backing away somewhat from the programming improvements we applauded after Manager of Classical Services Ben Roe arrived. The focus on live recordings of local performances has not seemingly resonated with listeners. Nor do ratings show that the many other lively and interesting shows produced by Roe have been able to find large, loyal audiences.

Over the years numerous members of the staff have been sacrificed, apparently at the altar of cost savings. This can’t continue unless the station wishes to become a classical jukebox. Because finances at the WGBH Foundation don’t seem to have improved in the last couple of years as those of other large non-profits have, there may be no alternatives to the new approach.

Lee Eiseman spoke with Benjamin K. Roe, Manager of Classical Services for WGBH, and Michael Raia, WGBH Director of Media Relations & Marketing.

Lee Eiseman: Ben, BMInt readers are very interested in hearing your précis of the fall programming from Classical New England, both on the web, which I gather is gaining popularity, and over the air. Many of the questioners are long-time CRB supporters who are yearning for your answers. Tell us about the changes listeners can expect from WCRB.

Benjamin K. Roe: The first change is the most important: really embracing the idea of being more live and more local more of the time. So we’ve actually increased our hours of live local programming. Starting this fall, our regular hosts are now on the air all the way from five AM until midnight on weekdays. So we will basically have local programming all the way from five AM until midnight Monday through Friday with the only exception being Concierto, our bilingual classical program, which runs from ten PM to midnight on Friday nights.

Some of the other changes we’ve instituted during the weekdays include adding repeats of our Boston Symphony Orchestra live broadcasts on Monday nights instead of Sunday. I think that’s a really good timeslot for them—the BSO is traditionally dark that night. And one of the things that people who’ve been to Symphony Hall often ask us is—when can we here that concert again? So it’s a great chance to do it on Monday night. We think it can be the kind of appointment listening the same way that people listen to the live broadcasts on Saturday nights.

But when you say local, then, do you mean locally produced in terms of the hosting and the record spinning or do you mean locally recorded?

BKR: I’m talking about locally produced and hosted. I don’t actually make a distinction between whether or not it’s something that’s pre-recorded or something that we’ve made in the studio, but the fact of the matter is that something like 75% of all the programming you hear is made right here in Guest Street, either in the studio, in the production studio, or on location.

You mean as opposed to commercial CDs, they’re groups that have been recorded locally either by you or by somebody else. . .

BKR: No, I’m talking about a production thing—the source material can be any number of places—it can be something we’ve recorded in Frasier, on location, or with a commercial CD.

OK. So it’s locally produced as opposed to coming from some syndicate.

BKR: Or Chicago, or Minnesota, or Washington, or anywhere else.

But that doesn’t mean more live recordings of local groups.

BKR: Right. But Lee, it is important to note that the on-air talent is live from 5 AM to midnight five days a week. We’ve now expanded that on Sundays where our local talent is now on Saturdays it’s from 6 AM all the way through our BSO productions, and then on Sundays we’re now live with local productions from 6 AM all the way until 6 PM.

Before I do any more pushback, I’d like you to characterize some of the individual shows?

BKR: Sure. James Davids Jacobs has moved out of his producer’s role into being the host for our Sunday morning programing, both for Baroque in Boston, as well as a program we’ve just introduced called the Boston Sunday Brunch. I’m really excited about this show because I think it’s going to be a real destination for people on Sunday mornings—and it’s a way to pair up James and his incredible musical knowledge with a time of day where a lot of people that may not have a chance to listen to us during the week can listen on the weekends.  And I think he’s going to put together just a fantastic, interesting, blend of music starting with the Baroque but really moving beyond that. That show will go all the way now until noon on Sundays.

On Saturdays, I’m thrilled that we have Dennis Boyer back on the air with us. You may remember him from his days on WBUR. One of the great voices in Boston classical radio, and he’s now our regular Saturday afternoon host. I’ve mentioned we’re doing the BSO repeats now on Monday nights. WGBH Arts Editor Jared Bowen is now with us on Thursday mornings doing his arts previews with Laura Carlo.  And we’ve refocused our “Keith’s Classical Corner” segments as well. I’m really proud of the seven-year association WCRB has had with Keith Lockhart. But it was really getting to be a little difficult for Keith and his schedule to be on the air with us five days a week. So he’s now on Wednesday mornings, so we’ve reframed the discussions to be, I think, a little more personal and insightful from Keith’s perspective from behind the podium. And so far we’ve been really gratified by the response. One thing that we’ve introduced, if you’ve noticed on our website, there’s now a pretty extensive build out on the website for people to submit their questions and comments to Keith and that has really gotten a bit of traction.

Some of the other changes on the weekends: I mentioned that Dennis Boyer is now on Saturday afternoons, and Larry King is on the air now on Sunday afternoons. And From the Top is now in the more family- friendly hour of 7:00 pm in the evenings after the choral program.

Now I’m going to take a minute to talk about the choral program. Last spring we inaugurated a program with Anthony Trecek-King of the Boston Children’s Chorus called Together in Song.  We’ve forged a program partnership with WQXR in New York where we’re doing six months of a choral show, and now they’re doing six months of a choral show. So as of this beginning of this month we’re running their program called The Choral Mix hosted by Kent Tritle, the head of Musica Sacra and music director at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. So we’ll be airing Kent’s program for six months while we create some new episodes of Together in Song for when it returns in April

Can you tell us what familiar shows are being cancelled to make room for this new programming?

BKR: There are some programs that we’ve moved, some that we’re putting on hiatus, and some programs that are going to be only on the web. Our New England Summer Festivals program is on hiatus right now while we kind of reexamine it and frankly think about to make it more effective. For me, it’s not just a question of the concept of the show, but also for if you’re just randomly finding it on your dial, you have to ask yourself, “What’s the quality of the production, what’s the quality of the music, and just what is the music?”  In its current context, the program has run its course, and we’re going to step back and reexamine how effective it is. We’ve also moved Performance Today as you know, from five days a week to one day a week. This is a show that means a great deal to me and I think it’s important to have a national connection to what happens in the world of music. But I was disappointed in what we were hearing in terms of the production and the quality of the show, and frankly from the audience response.

Well, what about locally recorded material overall this year compared with last year, say? I do gather there is going to be less of it, whether that will be something that people lament or not, I don’t know.

BKR: We have been very deliberately stepping back and doing a lot of behind the scenes infrastructure changes over the last few months. We’re about to ramp back up with our studio performances. They’re going to take on a different kind of size and dimension: They’re not going to be as long, but they’re going to be more frequent. The idea being that, like it is with everything in radio, a great five minutes, five days a week is better than a mediocre hour once a week. And that really is what we’re leaning towards. So our Fraser studio performances will be back, I think they’re going to be better than ever. But we had some important reexamining to do. We’ve been spending a lot of time in discussion with our members really trying to figure out the best way we can provide a great showcase and be engaged in the arts.

The whole thing we’re trying to do here is that we need to be able to reach a broader cross-section of the audience to make more of an impact, to be a more significant force in the community and help all of the arts groups here survive and thrive, as well as to fulfill our primary obligation to create a great listening experience for our audience.

I kind of buried the lead here, Lee, but by virtue of the fact of how we’ve been taking a hard look at not only our music strategy and programming, but also ALL of the components of a broadcast hour, that we’re now probably playing approximately 20% more music each given hour of the day. This is one reason why we want to be more live and local because we can actually provide more music programming.

Does that mean, though, that we’re going to need to shorten our attention spans? That there might be five minutes of live music, then one movement of a larger piece, and then something else? Will the audience will hear more of a mix so we don’t have to sit through long tedious interviews, some of which are brilliant, some of which are not? You said we’d have five minute sections of live performances. Does that mean we’re going to have five minute sections of longer pieces also?

BKR: I would hope, Lee, that you never hear a long tedious interview on my radio station! Seriously, we spend a lot of time and brainpower on our interview segments. Whether it’s The Bach Hour with Brian McCreath, Cathy Fuller’s excellent Arias and Barcarolles program, or the interviews you hear on our BSO broadcasts, you may hear a choice nugget on the air, and usually you’ll hear the much deeper contextualized interview online, or on a podcast, or on one of our mobile apps.

The whole goal for radio listening is really, what’s the listening experience? What is a great listening experience? If you’ve got the choice, if you’re in your car, you’ve got a choice among Magic, or maybe sports talk, or maybe news, or classical. When you hit “classical,” what are you going to get? What can I do to help you stay there and stay with me a little bit longer?

And what I’m hearing is that you plan to keep me interested by not overdoing any one aspect of what you’re offering.

BKR: I think that’s correct. I agree with that.

So there will be more single movements? What I’m trying to get at is are you going to sound more like Nassau (the former owner of WCRB) although with strong local hosts providing the glue that holds it all together?

BKR: Well, asking if “we’re going to sound like Nassau” is really an apples and oranges comparison. We’re not Nassau and we’re not the old WGBH. How many movements do you think we’re playing right now?

Well, I sometimes hear pieces played all the way through but I also have the sense segments are shorter than they used to be. That depends on the time of day, obviously.

BKR: Obviously it depends on the time of day. It’s why for example we’ve introduced the “Symphony at Eight,” which seems to be getting a very nice response. People have different listening expectations at different times of the day. One thing that I’m very interested in doing is connecting with people and not giving them a programming that you might have heard of sometimes that’s called “eat your spinach.” Obviously we have a mission to serve, to educate, and to inform, and we’re always going to honor that.  Last Saturday night, we had the live Boston Symphony broadcast of a new work by Thomas Adès next to a piece by Charles Ives. That is not done for ratings, but it’s important and vital that we offer that on the radio. As we do with offering live opera productions on Sunday night, or Pipedreams for aficionados of organ music. But it’s equally important for folks that may tune us in on Sunday morning, or the middle of the day, that the music is suited to that time of day and to what their expectations are.

People want to have the jukebox play what they want to hear when they put their nickels in, and that’s going to be lighter stuff when they’re driving.

BKR: The jukebox is one of those terms that’s negatively loaded. The whole point of great music programming is how you create the blend: There are the pieces that you recognize, those “tentpoles” you can grab onto. But at the same time discovering the unexpected, being surprised, hearing something quirky, hearing something that is delightful. I will tell you that I think everything we play on the air should sound, in one way or another, great. We don’t have room and time to play bad music.

That’s WHRB’s secret—that David Elliott hadm made sure that nobody can play any bad performances because there aren’t any in their library. So weeding out your record library to make sure nobody can accidentally play bad music would be a wonderful solution.

BKR: Well, yes it would.

Let me ask you a couple of the other things that people are asking me about. Clearly there have been financial strains and people have had to be let go, and you’re on the radio yourself often running a board, or talking, or hosting. What we can’t find out looking at form 990s and publicly available data, is how much of this is the problem of the radio station itself, and how much is the problem of the foundation as a whole? I have the sense that contributions are great and underwriting is great at CRB and to some extent the classical radio is paying for the errors made in judgments at a higher level, and yet there’s no way of getting a grip at that. The available reports are silent on these issues.

BKR: On the subject of having to cover air shifts, I’ve got to cover Cathy Fuller’s air shift in about two minutes. So I’m going to hand it at this point over to Michael Raia who’s going to be happy to take on that question.

MR: On the subject of the funding picture for non-profits, with WGBH among them, we see things fluctuate month to month, we see things fluctuate from year to year. You can take a look at our public records that we make available, including our IRS Form 990. Or you can go on our website and take a look at our annual report, which can give you an understanding of what our funding environment looks like.  But I cannot go into the specifics of what WCRB or WGBH or others are bringing in.

Right, that seems to be unknowable from the published material. But we know that radio, and classical radio in particular, is a very small percentage of the overall revenue and expenditures. But that’s all we know and we don’t see a breakdown.

MR: That information is available in the materials that we to make available to the public.

I’ve looked, and it doesn’t answer any of those questions. To what extent do you care about audience share and ratings?

MR: We’re committed to growing classical music and celebrating classical music in Boston and making it available for people to use in their cars, at their homes, in their offices. And that means reaching more people and reaching more people who want to listen to it more loyally and stay with it for longer periods of time. So I think it’s fair to say ratings and audience growth are important for any radio station.

Do you have any sense why listenership has dropped so much? And it’s not just at CRB—WETA in DC (another classical music station) has declined from a 3.9 share to a 1.8 in two months, which is disastrous. And CRB has fallen from almost a 3 share just before WGBH bought it in late 2009, to a 1.2 share this July. WCRB has bounced back to the still regrettable 1.5 share in September, but what’s going on? Is this a general or local problem?

MR: I’m not going to comment on what other stations have seen or what other regions and formats are doing. Our commitment is to have and grow support for a robust arts community in Boston. Classical music is such a big part of not only the culture but of the economy in this region. There is no reason that Boston can’t be an exemplary model of what a classical radio audience can look like. And that’s what we’re trying to do—we’re trying to make WCRB connect with the music in today’s Boston.

That’s what you said when I asked you about the Anthony Rudel consultation in the spring. To what extent is Rudel responsible for changing CRB programming?

MR: Tony’s a consultant who’s working closely with Ben and working closely with our on-air hosts to ensure that the sound that our on-air personalities and the music they are playing is excellent and the best that’s out there. He’s a consultant who’s helping with that evolution because this is a growing, living station that will evolve and continue to be responsive to this region.

We want to reach the largest, most loyal audience that we can—like every radio station. We have important institutions here like the BSO, Berklee and the New England and Boston Conservatories. This is a prime market for us to connect more people with this great music and develop a loyal audience for the genre. And we’re doing it by playing more music. As Ben said earlier: we’re playing 20% more music an hour right now and we’re reaching people where they are and playing music that fits the time of day.

I really do hope it works because we want you guys to thrive and we’d like you to be back at a 3 share and we’d like you to have more employees and more options to do more live recording, but we understand that you have to also have an audience.

MR: And we’re optimistic that it’s working.

I say this as somebody who’s more of a casual classical listener. I appreciate and enjoy the way our air talent navigates from piece to piece, and they’re staying more out of the way of the music. Which is what we’re trying to do: really put the focus on the great music that they’re playing. We’re optimistic that we are going to grow that audience. And we certainly need your help and your support to stand up and say classical music is important for this region.

We certainly agree and support that and I hope you can have more underwriters who brag less and talk less about their product but that they’re there giving you money nevertheless. That there have been articles that say attendance at all the arts – ballet, symphony, and whatnot – have been declining as well as radio audiences, especially classical. And TV audiences too because there’s so much available – I mean Netflix has taken a lot of viewers away from cable and I just don’t know what the future of GBH TV is either, but it’s taken some hits.

MR: When you look at public media’s role, across the country and Boston, we are it for classical music. Public media has preserved the arts and stood by the arts and classical music. We’ve been able to provide an increased variety of music for our listeners on WCRB, but you can extend public media’s responsibility beyond just what we’re doing for classical music. Public media is telling the stories that no one else can.

Take the example of the FRONTLINE’s League of Denial that aired last week which looked at the concussions in the NFL. No one else is able to do what public media is able to do because we are willing to make an investment in things that don’t necessarily have a commercial return. We – public media – engage audiences and bring people into a conversation they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

That’s what we’re trying to do on WCRB: Introduce and invite a broader audience to appreciate this great music that’s been produced and recorded and composed over the course of the last three, four, five centuries and really allow people to appreciate it so that they can then go out and understand and appreciate what the BSO brings to this economy and culture of Boston.

I’m a transplant to the Boston area but I’ve quickly seen how unique this city is: The arts make up more of the economy than sports do.

But it sounds like reading between the lines of what you’re saying is you want a younger audience and not just the cognoscenti who have known and loved classical music all their lives, but people who can be introduced to it for the first time.

MR: For classical music to survive it needs to reach a broader and younger audience. If you look at the traditional audience of what people assume a classical radio audience to look like, they’re in their 60s or 70s. That generation grew up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and The Who. They can and do appreciate classical music, but they have other music that they enjoy. There’s such a broad audience that can be reached and introduced to this great variety of music. And it’s vital in Boston that we also have a robust and strong classical radio station. That’s beneficial for everyone in this arts economy and arts community.

Ben told me the other day there will be more to say in a couple of weeks. Do you know what he’s talking about?

MR: That’s exactly what we’re talking about today. As I said earlier, 89.7 WGBH and 99.5 WCRB are both living, evolving radio stations, and they’re going to continue to adjust. For example, we actually have a number of program changes that are coming to 89.7 this week: Callie Crossley’s Under the Radar program is going a little bit longer, from 30 to 60 minutes. We’re extending The Takeaway on our air.

There are going to be changes and we’re going to be a responsive radio station to what our audience and our members are looking for. And I think what you will see, and what Ben was alluding to, is that we haven’t been really out in front or marketing the changes that we’ve made on WCRB as of yet because that process is ongoing. In the coming weeks or months as the evolution and other things continue to develop, you will certainly see some things coming out of our press office.

In other words you don’t want to really talk about it until you’re sure it’s going to work.

MR: That’s not accurate. We’re confident that the station will be more responsive and inviting for more listeners. But the station is still evolving. We’ll do outreach around a strong holiday programming schedule which will certainly be coming –

Christmas starts before Thanksgiving, right? 

MR: No. Let me be very clear: We have some special programming planned for the Thanksgiving holiday, and we’ll have more on this in the coming weeks as we get a little closer. Also, we are planning a lot of great programming for Hanukkah and the Christmas season.

The following summary of programming changes at WCRB was circulated to staff last week:

This week, our classical station 99.5 WCRB Classical New England enhanced its schedule to create a more companionable environment for our listeners with a lot of great music, timely information, and our signature original productions better aligned to their listening habits. Among the enhancements:

·   THE SYMPHONY AT 8 on Monday nights is the new home and time slot for our Boston Symphony Orchestra encore broadcasts.

·   A “newly retooled” KEITH’S CLASSICAL CORNER now will air Wednesdays at 8:30am. Keith Lockhart’s weekly conversations with morning host Laura Carlo are designed to be a more personal journey from the Boston Pops maestro into his musical world and mind.

·   WGBH Exec Arts Editor and Host Jared Bowen joins the WCRB morning lineup every Thursday. Jared and Laura Carlo will discuss what’s happening in arts and culture in and around Greater Boston.

·   This Sunday at 8am, WCRB will introduce BOSTON SUNDAY BRUNCH, offering a broader musical menu to accompany listeners’ Sunday morning activities. Then at 6pm, THE CHORAL MIX debuts from WQXR/New York. Hosted by Kent Tritle, the conductor The New York Times has hailed as “the brightest star in New York’s choral music world,” the program explores the vibrant and transformative world of choral music, focusing on a different aspect of the choral scene in New York and beyond. (Together in Song will return in April.)

·   From the Top moves to the family-friendly hour of 7pm on Sundays, followed by World of Opera at a new time at 8:30pm.

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28 Comments

  1. WCRB and WGBH are running scared, are they not? Revenue is down, audience is down, no hope on the horizon. And this is not just here in Boston, but all over the nation. What will save classical radio? Or is it on its way out regardless of what anyone does?

    The small adjustments made by WCRB are not likely to alter the long-term prospects of the station. Why not do some market research, find stations that are experiencing sustained growth, in revenue and audience, during the last couple of years? If they have found a way to appeal to more supporters and listeners, I am sure WCRB could learn a thing or two that would be applicable to their operations. Maybe it is time for public radio to broaden its programming, to include classic rock, along with classic folk, classic blues, classic jazz, classic world, vintage classical? And streaming of live concerts, both in Boston and beyond?

    Most of us who listen to classical music on the radio, listen to rock or blues or jazz or folk or world as well….but we usually have to change channels to get the variety. Why not provide us with the variety from one station? I’d pay for that. I’m betting lots of other folks would as well.

    Comment by Peter Terry — October 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm

  2. “Most of us who listen to classical music on the radio, listen to rock or blues or jazz or folk or world as well….but we usually have to change channels to get the variety. Why not provide us with the variety from one station? I’d pay for that. I’m betting lots of other folks would as well.”

    WCRB & WGBH used to have Eric in the Evening, Ron Della Chiesa’s American Classics and Con Salsa. Would the return of these shows, or something similar, fill that bill? Is that sort of variety even on the agenda?

    Comment by perry41 — October 20, 2013 at 1:50 pm


  3. PLEASE – the “mediocre hour” stuff regarding live performances is not a real problem – the mediocre new 24/7 commercial classical radio format is available all over the internet to the younger audience WCRB seeks – there’s no real reason for them to come to WCRB especially – THAT’S the real problem.

    There is no reason I can consider resonable that WCRB cannot dedicate a few hours per week to non-commercial recordings – complete concerts too, not a mish-mash like Performance Today. Sunday afternoons would be a good time – a REASON to gather around the radio or the digital device and listen – and not just drift off to movements, ovetures and short pieces all day.

    The archives of recordings WGBH has made over the years are public property – if WCRB and WGBH can’t or won’t be allowed to broadcast them, the recordings should be made available to a non-profit like the Internet Archive to be distributed for free in various lossless and compressed [mp3] popular formats as part of their Audio recordings collection.

    [The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet - a new medium with major historical significance - and other materials from disappearing into the past. Collaborating with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, we are working to preserve a record for generations to come. http://archive.org/index.php ]

    That’s how to get that music out to the people.
    Thanks very much for this article, Lee.

    - cranky Elom

    Comment by Elom — October 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm

  4. “That generation grew up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and The Who. They can and do appreciate classical music, but they have other music that they enjoy.”

    So is the takeaway that listeners to Beyoncé and Michael Jackson music have more plebeian tastes when they eventually turn to classical music- like five minute segments of live performances? Are they the future for WCRB?

    Then this 20% more music spiel sounds like a top-forty add for a 1950s AM station.

    Comment by denovo2 — October 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm

  5. Peter Terry, what happens if at 10:15 p.m. I want to hear some classical music on the radio, so I turn on WCRB, and they’re playing “rock or blues or jazz or folk or world?” What happens is I can’t get what I want, while those who want one of the other genres have more than one source they can go to to get it. That makes no sense to me.

    Although I never listened to Ron Della Chiesa’s American Classics program — the music’s okay but not my cup of tea — I realize that his breadth of knowledge and engagement with the scene made his program a standout. It made sense for WGBH, as a multi-genre station, to present it. I think it might make sense for WGBH to evolve in the direction of presenting such programming again. But from 10 p.m. to 1p.m., WCRB is the only game in town for classical music afficionados.

    WGBH bought WCRB with the assurance that the station would be all-classical. I think it’s too early to renege on that assurance.

    Audience share is clearly of great importance, and it makes sense to tweak the programming to try to increase it. On the other hand, if a 1.5% share produces the revenue to maintain good all-classical programming, IMO that is better than selling out the format to other genres in order to get 3%.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Ben Roe’s bosses want him to get a higher audience share. But if so, it’s unfortunate, because public radio is, by its very nature, not supposed to be in competition with commercial radio. It exists to serve the public by fulfilling its stated mission, not to make money. So, imagining Ben Roe to be between a rock and a hard place, I don’t envy him the pressure he’s under, and I wish him every success. Here’s hoping the new line-up succeeds in winning the wider audience for classical music that we’d all like to see.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 20, 2013 at 6:58 pm

  6. I have a password for All Access.com which has the most complete ratings available to the general public including the cumulative audience, and that “cume”, 176,000 for September is up from the midsummer. It’s lower than the “cume” for WERS-FM 88.9. That MAY be due to the fact that WERS transmits from downtown while getting WCRB 99.5 in Boston itself is pretty dicey and the 96.3 translator only reaches a single neighborhood, if that. I live north of Boston, and very shortly after all the leaves fall, I’ll be able to see the blinking red light at the top of WCRB’s tower in Andover from a point a short walking distance from my home (if I walk in a different direction, I can then see the blinking light at the top of the WXRV-FM 92.5 tower in Haverhill). Thus, any time I listen to WCRB over-the-air, reception is NOT a problem. In the City, if you crank up the volume at all, there may be a poor signal-to-noise ratio and “ghostly” imaging from antennas on the Pru or Route 128. WCRB might have had a 3-plus rating when it WAS a light-classical jukebox three years ago, but it was also not really a station for attentive listening, but primarily background music. That period was also prior to electronic PPM rating devices. But one thing WCRB could do to boost listenership would be to provide a PRIOR playlist. KING-FM in Seattle does, and people there can plan listening RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE all the way until Friday night.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — October 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm

  7. Mr. Glavin’s comments, about a 3-plus rating correlating with aiming at an audience that wants background music, are both interesting and saddening. There’s a rock station that has been advertising heavily recently about how much “uninterrupted” music it plays; apparently the audience for rock also doesn’t actually want to listen to music, but simply to have it playing. The human voice reminds us that we aren’t paying attention, and most people find that annoying.

    I am but one listener. There is no way that I can claim to represent “a large, loyal audience”, so if the goal is numbers, I simply don’t matter. I have been a contributor to WGBH

    Comment by Mark Fishman — October 22, 2013 at 11:44 am

  8. (well, that didn’t break where I intended — let’s pick up in mid-sentence)
    … radio (not TV) since 1975. When all the classical programming moved to 99.5 in 2009, I contributed with the express stipulation that my donations were to support classical music programming ONLY.

    If WGBH is after numbers, I hope they find people who will also send money. Aiming at an audience that doesn’t really pay attention means an audience that won’t really notice when they’re gone.

    Comment by Mark Fishman — October 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

  9. Uninterrupted means no ads, that’s all, at least for rock stations. I do like classical on for a certain level of background, as well as serious attention when warranted. And I assume most everyone here contributes to some degree or other. Heck, when I get richer I intend to do so also to FMT and QXR and KUSC and all others I mooch from for online listening.

    Comment by David Moran — October 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm

  10. If they want to call themselves a Boston Radio Station then all of Boston should be able to hear it. The signal is awful in the largest population centers in Boston: Dorchester. I speak to people of all-ages regularly who would love to hear classical music on the radio, and they are not willing to use satellite radio. It may not be a wealthy area, but the love of beautiful sounds is universal.

    Tracks to Relax and its off-shoots are awful. Classical Music is more than background filler.

    Comment by Aaron — October 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm

  11. Signal weakness is a serious problem and must contribute significantly to their problems. Thank goodness for their many streams. ‘Tracks to relax’ is long gone, though, right?

    Comment by David Moran — October 22, 2013 at 5:15 pm

  12. It’s gratifying to hear Dennis Boyer’s voice on the air again after so many years (“FM in the PM” from WBUR — oh the memories) , but it seems that a couple of programs I particularly enjoyed have been “eroded” recently — e.g., Concierto, which sometimes ran as much as 4 hours on Friday evenings and featured music and performers heard nowhere else, has been reduced to 2 hours on Friday night. Likewise, Pipedreams has been reduced from two hours to one hour on Sunday nights — on account of a rerun of From the Top. So that second hour of Pipedreams costs more than one hour of Music Through the Night??

    Comment by Mike Lebednik — October 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm

  13. Mike, that’s not a rerun of From the Top. That’s the ONLY airing of From the Top. It’s moved from Sunday mornings to Sunday evenings. As to Pipedreams, I really miss the King of Instruments, which aired for 50 years as a locally produced program on WCRB (pre-WGBH), in cooperation with the Boston chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

    Micheal Barone (Pipedreams) needs to learn when to stop talking. He talks over the organ postlude/recessional at the end of every broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College on Christmas Eve.

    Comment by Mark Fishman — October 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

  14. Mark F. writes: “If WGBH is after numbers, I hope they find people who will also send money. Aiming at an audience that doesn’t really pay attention means an audience that won’t really notice when they’re gone.”

    It took me a long time to understand that what public radio wants is high numbers NOT for increased donations from individual listeners, but FOR increased underwriting from corporations, small businesses or special events. When you put it into that context, then the elimination of smart announcers and big, dense works makes sense.

    This is exactly what happened to WMHT-FM a decade ago when four of their local announcers were fired, and they switched to the Classical 24 “service” — actually, just a classical muzak provider — and adopted the quota of 15-20 mins/hour of baroque music, no matter how dull that stuff is.

    Now in the commercial world, DJs are SUPPOSED to grab listeners’ attention a la Howard Stern, but in classical broadcasting that’s seen as a liability. Calm, soothing, relaxing voices are supposed to win over “listeners” (really, consumers). However, when those Arbitron numbers come out and they don’t fit the plans, public radio insiders blame listeners for not making the numbers work out, and then genuine classical content is reduced. It’s a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose scenario, with the long-term public radio insiders calling the shots.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 26, 2013 at 12:03 pm

  15. It cannot be good for a public radio station to make their listeners angry, but as Dan just posted: “what public radio wants is high numbers NOT for increased donations from individual listeners, but FOR increased underwriting from corporations, small businesses or special events.”

    PLEASE, WGBH – either return to operating WCRB as a creative entity participating in the New England music scene or sell or hand over WCRB to a non-profit who will operate the station as an independent PUBLIC resource that focuses primarily on the music community of New England and less on radio industry consultants’ ideas for goosing ratings above all other considerations.

    And, again, Ben – get those live local recordings in your archive back out into circulation and get back to producing more – reinstate such programming to be really “live and local” – “live and local” is not about pleasant-sounding DJs spinning CDs in the Brighton studio [or Minnesota or wherever they are located].
    – angry Elom

    Comment by Elom — October 28, 2013 at 8:14 am

  16. >> hand over WCRB to a nonprofit who will operate the station as an independent PUBLIC resource that focuses primarily on the music community of New England

    paying its costs how?

    >> get back to producing more

    all for free, presumably?

    Comment by David Moran — October 28, 2013 at 10:11 am

  17. Speaking of local music but totally OT, I trust everyone saw this writeup of our leader:

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/10/27/how-jewish-neighbor-saved-century-organ-charlestown-catholic-church/4tHGuZiNa6vnPa25AC2NYN/story.html

    Bizarre ethnicity overemphases, but I did learn a new meaning for SJ, which we can now append to Lee’s name.

    Comment by David Moran — October 28, 2013 at 4:36 pm

  18. “and over WCRB to a nonprofit who will operate the station as an independent PUBLIC resource that focuses primarily on the music community of New England

    paying its costs how?

    >> get back to producing more

    all for free, presumably?”

    Here’s an idea: fundraising from listeners! Crazy idea, eh?

    Comment by Elom — October 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm

  19. >> fundraising from listeners!

    Right. It’s worked so well, for so long now, with all such stations. And for some, *that’s* what’s angering.

    Comment by David Moran — October 29, 2013 at 12:29 am

  20. Ever since the ’80s I’ve heard the consultants say that the classical music audience is dying off, and “if we are to survive we have to reach a younger audience,” and the way they seem to think that is done is by playing fast movements from symphonies, lots of Astor Piazzolla, and John Williams movie tunes, and by limiting “boring” information like which particular Vivaldi Concerto in D is on the air. They’ve been selling this for 30 years, and I suppose they’d argue that all classical broadcasting would be gone now if they hadn’t. My (ivory-tower) contention has always been that if the music can’t be presented with respect, then it’s better not to do it at all and to let it die a dignified death.

    The only solution for genuine music lovers in these times, as I see it, is for a very wealthy individual who loves great music to buy and maintain sole ownership of a radio station as a public service and expect to lose money every single year of operation. The government has filled this rôle in the past (and continues to do so in other countries), and WHRB continues to provide superior programming (with the nonpareil David Elliott) only because Harvard simply doesn’t care about ratings. For the foreseeable future, the serious broadcast of classical music is going to require that kind of resource, a big leaking tub of money whose proprietor cares more about filling a societal need (not an exaggeration, I think) than about his hemorrhaging bank balance.

    Comment by Doug Briscoe — October 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm

  21. À propos younger audiences. At the end of last Thursday’s BSO concert, I encountered two twenty-somethings in the corridor. One had just heard “Das Lied von der Erde” for the first time and his companion was at Symphony Hall for the first time. Both were enthusiastic for what they had just heard.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 29, 2013 at 9:04 pm

  22. I agree with Doug Briscoe that information about the work about to be played needs to be given. Concert-goers get program notes; some rudimentary explanatory information will certainly help to hold a radio audience for post-Mendelssohn (and pre-Buxtehude) compositions.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 29, 2013 at 9:11 pm

  23. Just catching up a bit:
    Mr. Drewecki says, “It took me a long time to understand that what public radio wants is high numbers NOT for increased donations from individual listeners, but FOR increased underwriting from corporations, small businesses or special events.”
    In a single word, SPONSORS. In that world-view, “public” radio is just commercial radio by a (very slightly) different name.
    and:
    Mr. Briscoe (the loss of whose voice and knowledge I have lamented for years, now) says, “My (ivory-tower) contention has always been that if the music can’t be presented with respect, then it’s better not to do it at all and to let it die a dignified death.”
    It wouldn’t die, of course. It would create an economy of amateurism, in the very best sense: people who do it for love instead of because they are paid. It would be no less available than it is when commercial entities (however thinly disguised — see above) play only Trax to Relax (however thinly disguised).
    You can’t win an audience for something you don’t play. You can’t sell something that people don’t value enough to pay for.
    and:
    Mr. Whipple encountered two twenty-somethings at “Das Lied”. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t encounter some twenty-somethings, although probably different ones, at last week’s Penderecki concerto. Wow! what a composition.
    My point is simply this: classical music is so vast that most people will find something in it that appeals to them, although it is extremely unlikely that any one thing will appeal to most people. If you want a large audience, you have to play a wide variety, and admit, up front, that who is in that audience will keep changing.
    Then you will realize that the best way to attract people to radio that plays that wide variety is to (a) tell people IN ADVANCE what will be played, so they can tune in for what appeals to them, and (b) program in blocks so people schedule their favorite hosts and styles into their days. Be adventurous within that format so people can broaden their exposure and tastes.

    Aiming for the lowest common denominator will get you the lowest quality (and loyalty) of audience. And it won’t grow that audience, just consume it until it is gone.

    Comment by Mark Fishman — November 5, 2013 at 9:14 am

  24. Early this year I was, for the very first time, an Arbitron household. I was paid $13 for the experience, but in my one-week diary I made it a point of using a sharp-tipped pen and crammed in as much info as I could in various time-blocks, including listening to the BSO on the web on WCRB. Now, even though Arbitron says it does not rate non-comms, in fact, it does, for a cost, to those very non-comms, which is why I made sure I was as accurate as possible. Yes, stations like WGBH/WCRB _can and do_ access ratings from Arbitron, which is why they go into paroxyms of despair when they say “the numbers” dropped in this or that period.

    The point is that most people tune into radio because they WANT to get with something fascinating or outrageous but NEVER boring. The other day, Classical 24 (WMHT-FM/Schenectady) opened up with an overture, and then the happy-chirpy Mindy Rattner or Lynne Warfel or whomever then switched for 14 or 15 minutes to a Baroque work a la Telemann, for no apparent reason except to fulfill that quota of Baroque music that one research firm 20 years ago in the Washington, DC area said is what “listeners” to classical stations want. But, just a few weeks earlier, WMHT-FM’s latest fund drive came up way short, as they have in all their recent drives over the last ten years.

    Public radio these days is a corrupt tyranny of the stupid. People who have been in this line of work because they can’t make it in commercial radio now willingly adopt the policy of 15 mins/hour of Baroque, and when the donations drop and the numbers fall, it’s due to the listeners, not the theory, so we get still more layoffs and still more chatty Cathys and ratings drops.

    I for one would love to see the Doug Briscoes, Dave Bunkers and Steve Zakars back on the air, but they are too good and too smart in this brain-dead era. I secretly wish to see Joel Cohen and Anne Azema do a husband-and-wife morning wake up show, taking up the reins from the late Robert J, but it ain’t gonna happen.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — November 5, 2013 at 2:25 pm

  25. If it’s so awful, why do I enjoy every day cycling among CRB, QXR, FMT, and KUSC? Maybe you gotta roam. And there is always reliable backup with HRB. I even include RTI and KCME in my searches sometimes, along with other usual CRB streams including ConcertChannel. It’s true I do not leave one station on all by its lonesome, so as not to suffer the same Mozart and the too much Baroque chaff, as you say. But for me it’s rather other than ‘a corrupt tyranny of the stupid’.

    Comment by david moran — November 5, 2013 at 2:26 pm

  26. Breaking news from the publisher: A not-too-surprising shakeup has just been announced in which the author of “Classical Music Top 40″ is assigned to manage WCRB. Stay tuned for an interview with the principals- probably Thursday.

    WGBH Expanding Commitment to Musical Performance

    Benjamin Roe tapped to develop new programs, moves to WGBH Television
    Anthony Rudel will join as WCRB Station Manager

    BOSTON, Mass. (November 5, 2013) – WGBH is continuing to expand its role as Boston’s leading arts broadcaster with plans to produce additional, multi-platform content celebrating music and performance. Benjamin K. Roe, 99.5 WCRB’s managing director, has been tapped to lead this effort in a new role as a part of WGBH Television.

    As Managing Producer of Music and Performance, Roe will focus on the creation of new, original programming content for television and digital platforms, expand partnerships with regional artistic organizations, and manage off-air music events and performances for WGBH. He will report to Liz Cheng, WGBH’s General Manager for Television.

    “I’m excited that Ben will join me in the development of new music productions that we hope to bring forward in the new year,” said Cheng, who has an extensive background in concert and musical events production. “WGBH has a 60-year history of showcasing the region’s musical performers and Ben will help us build on this legacy in new ways.”

    As Managing Director of WCRB, Roe oversaw the station’s collaboration with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Landmarks Orchestra, the Handel and Haydn Society, the New England Conservatory and the Boston Early Music Festival, among others. He played an instrumental role in the formation of WGBH Music’s online music streams and video channels, which have surpassed 500,000 YouTube views in under two years.

    “I am excited for this opportunity to work more closely and collaboratively with the region’s arts leaders. WGBH is Boston’s biggest advocate for classical music and performance art, and I look forward to expanding that commitment with a focus on programs and events that connect more community members with Boston’s classical music traditions,” said Roe.

    Anthony Rudel, who started his career at 19 as an on-air host for New York’s classical radio station WQXR and later served as the station’s vice president for programming, will join WGBH as Station Manager for WCRB. He will oversee the station’s programming and on-air staff, reporting to Phil Redo, WGBH’s General Manager for Radio. Rudel also will manage broadcast partnerships with orchestras, symphonies and other arts groups to hone and improve WCRB’s live broadcast offerings.

    “Tony Rudel has an unparalleled knowledge of both classical music and audience-focused radio,” said Redo. “He is as passionate about classical music as anyone. More importantly, though, he strives every day to help all people – aficionados and casual fans alike – better understand and appreciate the beauty and emotion of classical music.”

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — November 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

  27. Mr. Fishman’s point complements mine very nicely. There are always people, of all ages, for whom music composed between 1650 and 1850 will be the most inviting introduction to classical music. But we should also realize that there are many, especially of the younger generations, who will really enjoy music of the 20th and 21st Centuries. If you want young audiences, don’t neglect the composers a lot of us grew up hating.

    I’m happy to see that David Moran is aware of KCME. I was very pleased — on a visit to Pueblo several years ago — to see and hear their mix of local and syndicated programming. For a small market, I thought it was outstanding.

    Don Drewecki’s account of fund-raising failures at WMHT-FM contrasts with what seem to be regularly successful drives at WCRB. Management should bear that in mind if they’re upset at low ratings. The current audience may be small, but we’ve been willing to pay for what they gave us over the past years.

    Now I’m waiting with bated breath for the next interview.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — November 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm

  28. David writes: “If it’s so awful, why do I enjoy every day cycling among CRB, QXR, FMT, and KUSC? Maybe you gotta roam. And there is always reliable backup with HRB. I even include RTI and KCME in my searches sometimes, along with other usual CRB streams including ConcertChannel. It’s true I do not leave one station on all by its lonesome, so as not to suffer the same Mozart and the too much Baroque chaff, as you say. But for me it’s rather other than ‘a corrupt tyranny of the stupid’.”

    Basically because so many millions of Americans have been so hard-hit by the Great Recession that they can’t afford webstreaming and iPads or smart phone apps. All my messages to this and other groups are from my work computer, while at home I listen to the radio.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — November 5, 2013 at 5:18 pm

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