in: News & Features

December 10, 2009

WGBH to Discontinue BSO Friday Afternoon Broadcasts

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According to officials at WGBH, the station has always looked at opportunities to expand and extend its programming, so when it learned that WCRB was going to be for sale, it became the successful bidder. As radio listeners now know, WGBH has become a news station and spawned WCRB (now at 99.5 FM) as its all-classical arm. This is the first of two articles that will deal with the arrangements between the two stations.

Boston Musical Intelligencer learned this morning that the broadcast schedule for Boston Symphony Orchestra live broadcasts was to be cut in half with the dropping of the Friday afternoon concerts; however, the Saturday evening live broadcast will continue with the same personnel that has been bringing it to the radio audience on Friday afternoons since October, 1991.

The Friday afternoon broadcasts were part of the original format of the station and have been running continuously for 58 years. Indeed, the stations’s first broadcast was the Saturday night BSO concert on October 6, 1951, followed by broadcast of the concert the next Friday afternoon. The relationship was even stronger; for the first two years, WGBH’s office and studios were actually located in Symphony Hall, and the symphony programs listed the station’s complete programming.

The voice of no less a figure than American composer Aaron Copland was heard during intermission of that first historic broadcast on October 6 (published in the program book for the following week): “It is particularly heartening to be able to take part in the first broadcast of WGBH. I wish I had known about the plan to establish it when I was in Europe for the first six months of this year, because whenever the question [of American radio broadcasts of classical music] came up, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sheepish.It is particularly heartening that there is a station of great interest to an adult mind. The field is wide open and I cannot think of an area better equipped than Boston for the carrying out of an adventurous project of this kind.

“As a composer, I am particularly pleased that listeners to WGBH will be able to listen to live broadcasts of BSO concerts. Since each Friday afternoon program will be repeated on Saturday night, listeners will have the opportunity of hearing a new work twice. We contemporary composers like that idea. For the second hearing often tells more about a work than the first. When second impression of a new work may be more or less favorable, it is seldom is exactly the same.”

WGBH got its start through the auspices of the Lowell Institute Broadcasting Council, which founded the radio station in 1951 out of frustration from the lack of broadcast opportunities for classical music. The president of the Lowell Institute still sits on the board of WBGH, although it is not clear how these changes are in accord with the mission of the Lowell Institute.

A second concern to emerge is that a number of former listeners to classical music in the greater Boston area — indeed, even within downtown Boston, where large areas of Back Bay, for example, do not have good reception — are being disenfranchised. The WCRB signal does not reach them.

WBGH has a 100,000-watt signal, from its tower on Great Blue Hill in Milton, and WCRB runs on 27,000 watts, from its tower in Lowell. So the arc of listeners to the new WCRB basically excludes a good deal of area south of Boston.

<p>BMInt Staff Graphic</p>

BMInt Staff Graphic

Many former listeners are angry and have said they will no longer contribute to a station they cannot hear. The 32 responses to the change among readers of the Boston Globe, after its article in early November, almost all communicated dismay. One reader ‘s letter, published on November 18, succinctly noted, “Congratulations, ‘GBH. You’ve just found the perfect way to drive listeners away.”

The Providence Journal, in an article posted on November 29, quoted a longtime local radio personality, Norm Jagolinzer: “A huge area will be cut off. That’s really amazing. Maybe they know what they’re doing, but it’s a disappointment to a lot of people.”

The article, published before the change went into effect, also quoted Richard Taylor, the retired minister of Beneficent Congregational Church in Providence: “I heard them the other day on WGBH trying to raise money, saying give, give, give. I just think they want people to give before they pull the rug out from under them.”

Jeanne Hopkins, vice president of communications for WGBH, said the potential lack of support is “of concern.” She also noted that the audience for the Folk and Blues program is “universally unhappy” that it is being discontinued, but said of the the general reaction to the changes, “We had kind of a mixture, and not an overwhelming number of responses.”

Others have cited reports that belie this, that there is significant dissatisfaction.

John Voci and Jon Solins, respectively general manager for radio and program director of WGBH, said there will be a regular “Saturday presence” of the Boston Symphony, whether or not there is a live concert. They plan to fill in with tapes from previous concerts by both the BSO and the Boston Pops when no live content is available. And all three Tanglewood concerts during the summer weekends will be broadcast by WCRB.

To be sure, the Saturday evening BSO broadcast will be a much expanded program. At 7 p.m., there will be a pre-concert feature, and after the concert, related programming until 11 p.m. For example, two Pops performances from this coming weekend will be aired, Saturday’s a week later on December 19th at 8 pm., and one of the children’s performances will be aired on Christmas Eve.

Jon Solin also mentioned that much of the WCRB content is now from a syndication supplied by American Public Media, and that they hope in time to have their entire playlist developed locally.

Several questions are still out there: It is not known by the general public what is the relative increment in cost of doing both Friday afternoon and Saturday evening BSO programming, when reports are that it is minimal. Also, listener responses will be better known when Arbitron ratings are available, in about three months.

No matter what gloss the WGBH staff puts on its actions, there will be a daily net loss of almost eight hours of classical music in Boston, and the change will result in the loss of coverage to a large portion of its former audience. The changes also will deprive thousands of people of the opportunity to hear the BSO on Friday afternoons [without which a second hearing is impossible], or to, as Copland noted, to enjoy “the second hearing [which] often tells more about a work than the first.”

When asked whether WGBH was gunning for WBUR listeners when switching to an all-talk and jazz format John Voci replied that the Boston radio market has the smallest percentage of college educated public radio listeners of any metropolitan area. He is looking to those non-listeners for growth as his station cedes 100,000 classical music lovers to WCRB.

On the other hand, complaints about WGBH’s motives in acquiring WCRB and moving classical music there must be tempered by the fact that, had they not done so, 300,000 classical music listeners to WCRB would have been abandoned. Not a single bidder for WCRB, other than WGBH,  intended to operate it as a classical music station.

“WCRB will be presenting a lot,”  Voci told the Intelligencer, “It is important to remember that had we not stepped in, full-time classical service would have gone away.”

65 Comments

  1. Speculation of this development was reported in the “Supporters of folk and blues on WGBH” Faceebook group – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=201481030324 – a couple weeks ago. It looks like the other shoe has dropped. Is it just a matter of time that Celtic and jazz, in addition folk and blues, are also dropped?

    “supporters of folk and blues on wgbh” was created November 6, when members of the folk and blues community received word through the third paragraph that “Folk on WGBH” and “Blues on WGBH” were to be dropped by December 1. Group enrollment was rapid, over 600 members in just a couple days. Membership today stands about 1200.

    I invite you to mine its member postings for use in your series, as well as notes taken at the 12/10 “WGBH community advisory committee” and 12/2 “WGBH board of directors” meetings

    Additional information, including terminated folk and blues producer/host biographies can be obtained in notloB Music’s blog entry of November 6, “WGBH drops folk and blues programs” –
    http://notlobmusic.blogspot.com/2009/11/wgbh-drops-folk-and-blues-programs.html

    Comment by Jeff Boudreau — December 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm

  2. I for one am one of the listeners who can’t receive static free coverage from WCRB despite living in downtown Boston. I used to turn to GBH for classical music but will now tune in to WHRB. It’s a real disappointment because I really enjoyed Kathy Fuller and Brian McCreith. In my opinion, the new GBH format offers nothing that BUR doesn’t do better.

    Comment by Mary Runkel — December 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm

  3. WGBH to Discontinue BSO Friday Afternoon Broadcasts. This is a terrible idea. Please reconsider!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Marge Gustafson — December 10, 2009 at 11:13 pm

  4. Well, not quite. Or at least not yet.

    Signing off the last of the WGBH Friday afternoon BSO broadcasts — this was on November 27 —
    announcer Ron Della Chiesa alerted listeners to the fact that the following Friday’s concert — on December 4 — would be broadcast by WCRB at 99.5.

    And so it was.

    Comment by Richard Buell — December 10, 2009 at 11:35 pm

  5. On FM radio in the Boston area one once was able to hear every Friday, Saturday and Tuesday concert of the BSO, with a choice of two signals on Saturdays. Then one day WGBH dropped the Tuesdays. Later, when the BSO moved almost half the Fridays to the evening, ‘GBH dropped those as well. So they do have a history here.

    An unsavory history of disservice to, as Aaron Copland put it, “adult listeners”.

    The Boston Symphony is the keystone of Boston musical life. And what a wonderful experience it is (or was) to be able to hear the orchestra play through each group of two or three concerts; every performance has its points and often enough very different they are too. One could never afford enough tickets to attend these variations in person, so radio provides a unique window — one unique to Boston as well, as no other city has enjoyed such a munificence of music from and knowledge of its local orchestra.

    Now that window is to be boarded up — for no good reason save the diktat of vacuous Public Radio thinking.

    Shame, WGBH, shame!

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — December 11, 2009 at 12:42 am

  6. Okay! So, it’s not as dismal as someone finding herself 1600 miles away first assumed. So far, one can get much of this programming on WCRB on 99.5?
    But how much and how many?
    I don’t know what else to do. I’ve written in with my complaints and signed petitions. What else, really, can a person who is far removed from the geographical center of this bruhaha, hope to achieve?
    Help me if you can,I’m feeling down….

    Comment by Sallie Planty — December 11, 2009 at 5:24 am

  7. Well, this life is full of those little discoveries that trim out idealistic views about the world. First we learned that there are no Easter Bunnies, then we discover that there is no Santa Claus, then we recognized the our fathers are not the greater men in the world, then we did not merry who we intended, then we did not become astronauts, then we did not take our company public at 30th, then we did not retire when we 40, then WGBH cut the Friday Afternoon Broadcasts… That all is a chain of big life disappointments…

    Sure, as anybody who is addicted to NPR generally and to the Classical Music programming in particularly, I am hugely disappointed. The saddest part of this disappointment is my understanding that Friday’s BSO live Broadcasts were cut not because some sensible adult reasons (including the cost which is not a factor) but because a stupid decision of an NPR corporate idiot who recognize GBH’s programs as a common tradable commodity and does not understand what he deals with. The BSO live Broadcasts are a cultural event of Boston life; it is not the second listening for Bostonians but the FIRST listening, before attending the weekend concerts (I was a long advocate of BSO repeat the Friday’s BSO Broadcasts on Friday Night) The distraction of this cultural event is equal to demolishing of Cyrus Edwin Dallin’s sculpture “Appeal to the Great Spirit” in front of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and conversion the space into a parking lot. Who gave rights to that corporate cretin/ cretins to vandalize a cultural life of entire city is beyond my understanding!

    Leaving aside the GBH’s stupid decision I would like to gig deeper. In part to what happen I indirectly blame … the BSO. The BSO nowadays has no “excitement edge” and ordinarily demonstrate very mediocre performances. A very short period of enthusiasm when James Levine come to Boston was marked by BSO better play over a half of session and then BSO’s sound slide back to the sound of a secondary US ensemble. Even the presence of a wonderful Tanglewood Chorus does not save the BSO performances. How many worthy, memorable events BSO gave to their audiences over the last 10 years, 2-3 per season? Too inadequate.

    So, we have a weak BSO, we have ineffective musical director. Do not get me wrong – I am a huge fun of James Levine and consider him the greatest alive conductor. However, as a musical director who is fully desiccated to BSO and to musical life in Boston he is very fruitless (because of my many understandable reasons). I would love to see how GBH would pull out the Friday Afternoon Broadcasts if BSO was lead nowadays by somebody like Sergey Koussevitzky. Well, probably in such a case the level of BSO play would be so high that no one would ever think to short the BSO exposure to a wider public?

    Anyhow, I try to rationalize the things, perhaps I shall not do it. I do not know what kind mechanism we, the listeners, have to inflict out wish to the GBH. Stop contributing to them? Stop listening them? Are any alternatives out there? Perhaps I need to change my “hobby”? How about me turn myself to a republican, buy a dozen guns and spend the rest of my live in a shooting range? Well, then we need to rename Massachusetts to West Utah…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 11, 2009 at 9:17 am

  8. Living in Fall River, I am very sad to lose classical music in the South Coast. Fall River, New Bedford, eastern Rhode Island–classical music is no more.

    I do have WGBH, WBUR and WRNI all providing the same NPR programming, often at the same time.

    Many colleagues (along with an arrogant WGBH) have suggested that I stream the classical programming. But this proves that WGBH is no longer a local station; more so, it eliminates the possibility of casual listening in the car, at home or elsewhere.

    But the most troubling is the fact that children and young adults in the region no longer have exposure to classical music via the radio. This was, most likely, the best chance that these people would have had of happening upon classical music.

    Comment by Paul Cienniwa — December 11, 2009 at 9:38 am

  9. If I may add a second note, I totally disagree with the above writer about the quality of orchestral execution and the effectuality of its conductor. Where I hope to see more leadership from Mr. Levine, would be in his personal advocacy of continuing the Friday broadcasts.

    Also I believe the writer nailed it when he fingered NPR corporate as the villain for seeking more smoothly marketable packages from their main station. I myself had less specifically referred to that as “the diktat of vacuous Public Radio thinking”.

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — December 11, 2009 at 9:59 am

  10. This is what journalists call burying the lead. BSO presence on WGBH will be expanding overall

    Paragraph 15: To be sure, the Saturday evening BSO broadcast will be a much expanded program. At 7 p.m., there will be a pre-concert feature, and after the concert, related programming until 11 p.m. For example, two Pops performances from this coming weekend will be aired, Saturday’s a week later on December 19th at 8 pm., and one of the children’s performances will be aired on Christmas Eve.

    Paragraph 20: On the other hand, complaints about WGBH’s motives in acquiring WCRB and moving classical music there must be tempered by the fact that, had they not done so, 300,000 classical music listeners to WCRB would have been abandoned. Not a single bidder for WCRB, other than WGBH, intended to operate it as a classical music station.

    Comment by Peter — December 11, 2009 at 10:13 am

  11. Dropping the BSO and switching most music to a lesser=powered frequency was bad enough but putting Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” at 7:55 PM WCRB is just plain stupid. It was the lead-in to the next show and was a reason to switch from WBUR early so as not to miss it. Since they obviously still own the rights, what was the harm in leaving it alone? (Or switching it to ‘CRB AT THE SAME TIME!) Sorry ‘GBH, I understand your reason to switch to news (bigger audience) but certain things needed to be switched WITHOUT CHANGE. BSO and Garrison are just two of them.

    I know it is very hard to admit that you folks at WGBH are not perfect but sometimes you just have to “mea culpa” and go with “vox populi” – we “complainers” are contributors also and you are not helping your cause.

    Rick Montross

    Comment by Rick Montross — December 11, 2009 at 11:52 am

  12. Well, folks, this reshuffling of WGBH’s target audience is not the Demise of Classical Music In Our Time. Neither is it remotely an enhancement of the deeper cultural values New England’s sole public radio super-station has so recently trumpeted, in the unmistakeably self-congratulatory tones to which its lofty Greater Boston rôle entitles it. Serious music has been seen to be on the wane for quite a few generations now — about five of ‘em. Five-week pop wonders on the once powerful Billboard charts have essentially vanished, replaced by a whirl of towering online sales of the whizzbang hit of the moment, often eclipsed the following week, or morning, by something even more powerfully leveraged to those who must have it now.

    Out in that greater, spectacularly unloyal world marketplace, it’s come down to fluidly, speedily available hits and chart toppers. Their permanence can be measured by their leasers’ need for more space on the hard drive, not usually by their intrinsic value. A hard drive crash or this month’s operating system upgrade, of course, spell oblivion for cybernetically shelved intellectual properties like music, films, and audiobooks. Too, very sadly, the once nearly absolute requirement for those who acquired disc copies of performances and films was that they sound good. If you’ve absorbed any of the more honest US or UK evaluations of audio played back through our increasingly thronged USB portals, you know how substandard present day computer audio still is. You simply cannot be the Modern Consumer if you demand of your various media that they have quality and permanence. That’s not allowed these days. If you are inclined to experiential analysis (once quaintly termed “thought”), have a reliable memory for the character and quality of heard sound, or are possessed of the habit of keeping your historical rear view mirror well polished and in use, you have probably acknowledged that you, like this writer, are, kindly put, an unsalvageably paleolithic survivor of the Analogue Era.

    If you are so misguided as to insist on hard copies of video and musical entertainment these days, you are bucking much more than just market trends, mon ami(e). You are a positive danger to marketing, PR, and retail strategies carefully drawn up by forward-thinking (pardon my ironic verb) people who know what they’re about. By failing to learn that you must henceforth download for impermanent, deletable access to low-resolution files, you have really bollocksed the curves. What holds for your modern, ephemeral music collection and programmedly self-obsolescent video library has also given unmistakeable notice to all those old-fashion books that so space-hoggingly persist remaining being between covers. These librosauri, too, are slated be available under much more constrained conditions, so gird your loins. Anyhow, won’t it be nice to contemplate empty shelves?

    No, this is not getting away from WGBH’s reconfiguring of conventional, high-power airwaves to reflect modern realities. The broadcast media, as NPR has been demonstrating most ably for years, are safer when they follow than when they lead. Boston’s Voice of the Great Blue Hills, now in its 58th year, is following suit by honing its followship skills, as well. There is demonstrably no percentage in profitless militancy about marginal stuff like live or album classical music, and ditching something like two fifths of the FM classical listenership is a laudable survivalist step. Right? “Music-free by ‘93” worked for Beantown Talk Central (WBUR). Why on earth did it take WGBH, whose recently opened music studios still smell of enamel fumes and burn-in ozone from the new gear, so long to, well, follow suit?

    So bye-bye Friday afternoon BSO on the air. We no longer need a weekly reminder that we live in one of the few North American urbanities with a vibrant acoustic music tradition, amazingly much of which still finds its way into well-engineered, expertly commented broadcasts served up in copious, comforting slices of our Boston day?

    Bravo ‘GBH. You have validated media followship. What a bold and admirably contemporary embrace of ephemeral 21st-century values. We can listen online to classical wallpaper from this same provider, of course, but maybe it’s time to sweep our internet sights a bit further afield. The Kultur sector of the Deutschlandfunk is perennially amazing, as many of you know. And so is the surviving torso of the BBC’s classical department. Melbourne and Wellington loft intriguing repertoire, too, and their half-day-ahead longitudinal discrepancy is irrelevant online. We thank WGBH for another excuse to scan yet further afield in a search for the musically permanent. Why, indeed, listen locally when there have been (unconfirmed) reports Out There, cybernetically speaking, of scattered cultural outposts as yet unsurpressed?

    Christopher Greenleaf
    Avondale, RI
    Friday, 11 Dec 09

    Comment by Christopher Greenleaf — December 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm

  13. Recently, a mini-conglomerate that owns a chain of FM station on Cape Cod declared bankruptcy. Perhaps they would be willing to sell WQRC-FM 99.9 at a fire-sale price, just as Nassau did with WCRB. Then WGBH could port their all-classical format to a station that CAN be heardon the South Shore and South Coast. If the fortunes of the radio industry fail to experience and uptick, a standalone FM like WPLM-FM 99.1 might be offered for sale as well. I’m not saying either is likely, but 6 months ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that WGBH would buy WCRB. I suspected that its days were numbered, even as a severly-dumbed-down pseudo-classical station that insulted the intelligence of its audience every hour of every day…but the “smart money” was betting on a sale to Entercomm for a WEEI-AM rebroadcaster.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — December 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm

  14. For a one-time cost of an HD radio…you can pick up Classical 99.5’s programming on the HD2 channel of WGBH which goes everywhere!

    Comment by Lou — December 11, 2009 at 2:40 pm

  15. Infuriating. We do have an option: cancel our ‘GBH subscription. I have done so, for mine and the one I purchase in my daughter’s name.

    Shame on ‘GBH! If they reinstitute the BSO Friday afternoon concert and keep Saturday, I will re-pledge. I urge others do to likewise.

    Comment by settantenne amante di musica — December 11, 2009 at 5:59 pm

  16. Having listened to ‘CRB, ‘GBH, and ‘BUR for decades, it has saddened me that deteriorating budgets and music education programs have only served to provide us with the “lowest common denominator” in the broadcast news and music fields. Springstein and Sting may be wonderful in their own genre, even Michael Jackson!?! But can anyone of the “pop music idols” really compare with Yo-Yo Ma, Jascha Heifitz, Caruso, Pavarotti, Flagstad, Toscanini, Koussevitsky, etc., and the wonderful music these masters of their art have produced? Curious that these latter folks are still remembered with awe; one wonders if “The Boss” will be recalled at all 30 or so years after his demise?
    As for news… is there really a need for 24/7 news these days? One has to only view HLN to realize that there is very little worthy of wasting one’s time on regarding “breaking news”, especially when most of it is so vapid as to be forgotten by the next update to the automated programs!
    And then one has to wonder why those invested locally in “Public Radio” have to even consider competing with one another? This will only further dilute the already paltry choices for news and culture, even in “the Athens of America”, Boston. Pity the pathfinders are relegated to history, and there is so little to regard beyond the bottom line revenues. Has the proliferation of media outlets, and attempts to fill it with “content” only really served to expand the advertisers’ wallets? We shall all reap what is sown, and that means a general “dumbing down” for all in America. Is our “Golden Age” now passed? Our politicians likely salivate at the prospect of being able to dupe a non-discriminatory public numbed by media pablum, into re-electing the media populist rather than the candidate with depth of thought and mind. Life imitates art, and mores the pity in this instance. Contributors be damned, follow the lemmings over the cliff!

    Comment by Alan — December 11, 2009 at 6:06 pm

  17. To the folks in fall River: you have several options to get classical music radio: (1) Try WCRI 95.9 from Block Island; (2) Try WFCC 107.5 from Cape Cod; (3) Buy an HD radio and get WCRB on 89.7-HD2; (4) get any or all of these stations, plus many others, via the Internet.

    WCRI will be carrying the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts starting tomorrow afternoon. So will WHRB 95.3 in Boston.

    Comment by umar — December 11, 2009 at 6:21 pm

  18. I am dismayed too about the discontinuance of the Friday Symphony broadcasts, but I second umar’s comment. The lead article was extremely misleading in stating that transfer of classical programming to WCRB from WGBH results in “loss of coverage to a large portion of its former audience.”. WGBH-FM is carrying all WCRB programming including the Symphony broadcast on its HD2 digital channel. So, if your WCRB reception is poor but WGBH reception is good, buy a high-quality digital radio. There is a $90 Sony tuner getting rave reviews, and Sangean also makes a very good one.
    I also strongly counsel anyone who is serious about FM reception to install a directional roof antenna with a rotor. Many apartment dwellers don’t have that option, but might just be able to hang an antenna at a window or on a balcony facing one or the other transmitter. And beyond this, the WCRB Internet broadcast, as well as a huge selection of classical broadcasts from other cities, can be received by anyone, anywhere in the world, who has a fast Internet connection.

    Comment by John S. Allen — December 11, 2009 at 8:16 pm

  19. And the best news of all is that the obvious overbearance of WCRB on the WBACH in Maine is now gone. The station now sounds fantastic. God Bless you WGBH.

    Comment by Erich — December 12, 2009 at 9:55 am

  20. Erich, yes, if one has a good reception of the new WCRB then the sound IS fantastic, far beyond what the wormer WCRB put in air – I would give it to the WGBH. You, the folks from North, shall be grateful. Still, I would like to consider the new all-classical station as a Boston station. The new WCRB broadcasts live from Fraser and from Symphony Hall (let forget the Tanglewood). From the both locations you won’t receive 99.5 clearly even if you use a good directional external antenna. Still, it is not the point. The point is that new WCRB cuts live broadcast that violates the whole beauty of having a local FM station. There is a huge difference between playing those pre-caned recordings and broadcasting live events. If the WGBH executives do not understand the differences then they shall be in business of selling cemetery plots. I am a bit afraid that new WCRB is slowly moves to this direction. The last Friday they broadcasted a commercial DURING (!!!) the opening of Martinu’s concerto….

    Comment by Romy — December 12, 2009 at 11:14 am

  21. While it may not be good for WGBH, this is the best thing that has happened to WCRB in the last 25 years.

    In the 1970’s WCRB was a great radio station with richly varied classical programming. You could depend on it at almost any time of day. At some point the station’s mission statement changed to “Listening to classical music makes you financially successful and makes your children intelligent, as long as it’s Mozart or easy-listening and has no singers and is under 10 minutes.” Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps (unless they turned up on a BSO concert) were each played exactly once a year for the “Classical Top 40 Countdown” where the Beethoven was always Number 1.

    I listened on a recent Saturday afternoon and heard refreshing mix of pieces from three centuries. The Vivaldi “Rustic Concerto” and Dvorak “Polonaise” probably would have turned up in last year’s programming, and maybe even Sibelius’ “Finlandia” if it wasn’t considered too exciting for junior banking executives, but not Beethoven’s Sonata number 31 or the choral works by a (still living I presume) composer named Ferris.

    WCRB may never again be what it once was (unless “WCRB Saturday Night” comes back) but it’s better than it recently has been.

    Comment by Mark Lutton — December 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm

  22. Among the many comments I especially enjoyed Christophar Greenleaf’s drollery. “What a bold and admirably contemporary embrace of ephemeral 21st-century values.”

    Just a word about HD radio — the initials do not stand for High Definition, as many imagine, rather for Hybrid Digital. The transmission rates vary (they are chosen) and the sound can range from dreadful to vaguely acceptable. It is not, I emphasize, nearly so high in sonic quality as FM.

    Also, a word on, “The Saturday evening BSO broadcast will be a much expanded program. At 7 p.m., there will be a pre-concert feature, and after the concert, related programming until 11 p.m.” All well and good I suppose, but let’s face it, much of that time will be devoted to talk talk talk. That’s a poor trade for the missing Friday music. Say! Does anyone remember the time when GBH didn’t even present chatter during the intermissions, instead just playing audience noise?

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — December 12, 2009 at 3:38 pm

  23. To people who have asked what to do to restore the BSO Friday afternoon broadcasts, the best route is probably to notify both the boards of the BSO and WGBH. Letters are best, and get friends to sign them with you. I cannot imagine that the BSO is happy about this, but they must have some clout, all the more so with public outcry. James Levine probably would be less inclined to enter the fray without BSO board support. As I wrote earlier, letter writers can mention canceling or reducing contributions to WGBH, if the broadcast is not resumed.

    There also was an offhand comment in the article that the additional broadcast would not be that expensive. Can the Intelligencer find out what actually IS the additional cost? Last point on this problem: today’s NY Times had an article about the NY Philharmonic radio broadcasts, recorded once a week. THEY are syndicated to 256 stations throughout the country by WFMT in Chicago. Why can’t the BSO broadcasts be that widely sent around? Why restrict them to one station broadcasting from Lowell? Perhaps that income from the could be used to support a second broadcast here?

    Also, the possibility of hearing the broadcast a second time, which people like me often like to do after attending Thursday’s concerts, is diminished. So much for Aaron Copland’s enthusiasm.

    As for the correspondent, Peter, who said your article buried the lead, perhaps he does not understand that you can’t add the same people twice? It remains to be determined what total listener-ship is. One is grateful for WGBH’s role in classical music output, but the lack of other stations, along with the poorer signal, does subtract from the total of Boston listeners!

    Kudos to the reader, Christopher Greenleaf, who pointed out the lack of quality in streamed music. By the way, what a writer! I love his comment about WGBH’s “followship skills.” Kudos also to the people who commented on the lesser quality of HD broadcasts!

    Let’s hope something comes of this article.

    Comment by settantenne amante di musica — December 13, 2009 at 1:11 pm

  24. **** “I totally disagree with the above writer about the quality of orchestral execution and the effectuality of its conductor. Where I hope to see more leadership from Mr. Levine, would be in his personal advocacy of continuing the Friday broadcasts” -Comment by Clark Johnsen

    Ironically debating my point Clark very much amplified my point. You, Clark, would like to see more community leadership from Mr. Levine? Good luck with it! Mr. Levine is not a Bostonian and the advocacy of our provincial cultural live is not his agenda.

    I would like to stress one more time that the termination of the one of few remaining live broadcasts was not economical or any other “tactical” decision – it was a decision made by indifferent corporate idiot, who probably never listen those broadcasts and likely not even from Boston. The local low-level executives – the program directors and alike – are aboard with live programs, but they have no voice in NPR hierarchy and they afraid to open mouths nowadays – the economy touched everyone. We, the listeners, have no representation in steering the 99.5 direction – our listening and contributive votes are pretty much negligible and irrelevant. What might be relevant and effective if the leaders of the local ensembles would “lobby” the NPR/99.5 to advance OUR interests to have events broadcasted live; no one does it. Do you see Mr. Levine dropping the MET rehearsal in order to make point to 99.5? Mr. Levine probably never heard about 99.5, and good for him! He was “too big” for “just BSO” even 10 years ago…

    The point of this is that GBH do record most of the local evens, and the do it very nicely. The 99.5 is THE only one station the town that is ABLE TO CARE THE TORCH OF LIVE FM BROADCAST. Where are our Boston Chamber Ensemble live broadcasts? Where are the New England and Boston Philharmonics live broadcasts? Where are Youth Symphony live broadcasts? Where are the live broadcasts from Modern Orchestra Project, from Handel & Haydn Society, Longwood, Boston Baroque, and Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra? Just a few years ago we were able to hear some of Boston Lyric live. Benjamin Zander keep selling zillions of his Bruckner V but a few month back I asked him if he feel that his studio play with much better UK bans is equal to his live attempt with his own orchestra. You had to see his faces when I mention the “live” event… They all know an all understand what live events brings to their audiences but they NEED TO BE HERE to advance this position. Mr. Levine is not hear, physical and spiritually, and this is why I consider him as a great conductor but not so much effective music director for Boston. (I of course do not “blame” him).

    It looks like Intelligencer is formed by the people who have a lot of public credentials in music world. Can Intelligencer start some kind of campaign to arouse the Boston musical market-makers to make the 99.5 to review own position regarding the LIVE broadcasts? The whole point to have a good local FM station is to have access to local LIVE events. I do not mind to have a subscription LIVE and live-to-tape channel, but this is a whole another subject.

    Yes, one more thing – kill, kill, kill HD Radio! This is horrible barbaric format but in addition to synchronization and noise damages it also consumes a half antenna surface out of the 99.5 transmitter. It has many negative effects to FM sound and the sooner it dies the better we all will be.

    Comment by Romy The CaT — December 13, 2009 at 7:19 pm

  25. We at BMInt are astonished (need I really add “delighted”?)at the number and quality of responses to this article. As we mentioned, a second article, on programming at WGBH, will be coming out within a couple of months, and we will investigate and report on the other points raised in these responses.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton, editor — December 13, 2009 at 7:50 pm

  26. Dismayed, disheartened and disgusted.

    I went from three classical radio stations to two. I have no “classical Lite” which was how the old WCRB struck me. I have heady longer classical pieces that I can’t jump into the middle of and listen while I make a quick commute.

    In the past, if I didn’t like what WCRB was playing I could always go over to 89.7 to listen.
    Now, I don’t even keep the new WCRB locked for a preset station. Why bother?

    I lost the Church services from King’s Chapel on Sunday mornings.

    I lost the beautiful personal touch of local DJs and programming. I love 104.9 in the north shore because the describe and discuss local relevant events.

    Why does WBUR and WGBH play the same news at the same time? There is no alternative radio.

    So, in reality instead of two and half classical stations, I now have half a classical station to listen to because WHRB does a particularly wonderful job of balancing all radio musical genres and only plays their wonderful classical in the afternoons. I give them my money.

    WGBH can say they saved classical music in Boston but they could have looked at what was working about having the two channels offering classical and tweaked it for the better.

    Essentially I am left with the same bitter aftertaste that I was left with when big corporate culture like CBS bought out 103.3 and WBZ or Clear Channel bought out the other stations, fired DJs and increased advertising for affiliated TV channels. I don’t listen to their programming. I don’t buy their products and I don’t watch their hypnotic and seamlessly stupefying television programming aimed at those times when I am not in the car.

    Good bye WBG/WCRB

    Comment by Juliet Parry — December 13, 2009 at 8:47 pm

  27. Romy:

    My apologies to you for the lack of clarity in my post. I meant to say that the WBACH, or WBQW in Kennebunk which I listen to, sounds fantastic now that it no longer has any affiliation with WCRB. It is an amazing transformation. Simply great radio, not IPOD radio which I find non-commercial radio to be. I enjoy hearing news casts, locality, promotions and yes even commercials. They have clearly changed how they program the station as well. A fantstic listen.

    Comment by Erich — December 13, 2009 at 9:21 pm

  28. Regarding Clark Johnsen’s comment that FM sounds better than HD (Hybrid Digital) radio — well, that depends. HD radio produces audible changes in certain types of sounds, but is free of spurious noises. FM sounds better when received under ideal conditions, over a moderate distance with a good tuner and a roof antenna with a clear line of sight to the transmitter. But under many real-world conditions, FM gets noisy and distorted, and especially so in stereo. WCRB’s analog signal has been plagued for decades by the elevator-music subcarrier signals which kept the station solvent but which produce spurious swishes and squeals in the main signal under less-than-ideal conditions. Neither FM nor HD radio is up to the standard of a good CD or even a high bit-rate downloaded digital file.

    The best quality audio from WCRB or WGBH is the Internet stream, which has a much higher data rate than the over-the-air digital signal — but which is subject to occasional unexpected interruption due to glitches in Internet data transmission.

    The WCRB HD digital signal — if you can get it — is probably better than the one from WGBH carrying the same program but in bandwidth shared with two other programs.

    Both stations use volume compression — WCRB has been notorious for this in the past, and I’ve heard some rather appalling examples recently on WGBH as well. The past two Prairie Home Companion broadcasts have suffered from the “band flying to the far end of the room on any bass drum beat or hand clap” phenomenon. This on the digital signal, too.

    Every broadcast medium has its faults, which result from unavoidable compromises between quality and cost, and between the desires of audio purists and the need to cater to people who listen in noisy environments (particularly, cars)!

    Comment by John S. Allen — December 14, 2009 at 1:43 am

  29. In Response to John Allen:

    John, although I very much degree with your position about HD I but it is OK. You like the 96kbit sound? That is fine.

    However your position about Internet stream is something that I would like to raise my voice against. Let leave the old WCRB alone, we all know and agreed that it was garbage, program-wise and sound-wise, and if not the live BSO broadcasts then it was impolite even to mention that station.
    The new WCRB is a very different animal that has very-very good sound (if you are able to receive it – a BIG if). The HD sound of the 99.5 is very bad – it has nothing to do with the station – it is a limitation of format itself. With the internet feed is a whole other story.

    First of all the quality of internet feed from the 99.5-all classic is very poor – not even remotely compatible with air signal. If you compare the quietly of internet sound that 99.5 outputs with what other classical stations do via internet then you will recognized that 99.5 unfortunately at the bottom of the competition. For instance listen what the Australian ABC Classic FM output:

    http://www.abc.net.au/classic/audio/

    Their internet feed sounds orders of magnitude better then the 99.5 internet feed. I admit that I am a big fun of AU ABC as we have 15 hours difference and I am starting my work very early can listen there live evening broadcasts…

    There is a bigger picture however then just a poor sound quality of the 99.5 internet feeds. If 99.5 too much accents their internet feed then 99.5 stops to be Boston local radio station and their presence is deluded in the ocean of other classical stations. Here is a few links:
    In US:

    http://classicalwebcast.com/usa.htm

    In Europe:

    http://classicalwebcast.com/europe.htm

    In Rest of the Word:

    http://classicalwebcast.com/rest.htm

    Or try this

    http://radiotime.com/channel/c_57939/Classical.aspx

    The internet feed must not be a target for 99.5 distribution and when the 99.5’s hosts proposed to use internet “if you can’t get us by air” then I feel they rise a HUGE WHITE FLAG.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 14, 2009 at 11:08 am

  30. 1) Why isn’t the BSO syndicated to stations all over the country, as is the New York Philharmonic? The short answer is that the musicians’ union wants money — $10,000 per concert was the figure I was told, and that was several years ago — for broadcasts outside the Boston or Albany (Tanglewood) markets. Many years ago, Richard Kaye’s WCRB Productions, Inc. did syndicate the concerts, which local stations paid for. The syndication ended when stations were no longer willing to pay. There was talk about getting a corporate sponsor, like Toll Brothers for the Metropolitan Opera, but no willing sponsor was found.

    2) Re: Internet streams sounding better than HD Radio; in my experience, they don’t. HD Radio uses a more sophisticated codec than the mp3 used by most Internet streams, and I find it sounds much better.

    3) Re: WCRB’s background music subcarriers: these were turned off in February, 2006, several months before WCRB moved from 102.5 to 99.5. The 99.5 station added a Microsoft data subcarrier in 2008, which I believe is still running.

    4) WCRB’s HD Radio signal is a separate signal from the FM, and is transmitted above and below the FM signal by a separate transmitter connected to a separate antenna. It’s not a subcarrier, and does not affect the integrity of the FM signal. Without an HD Radio, you’ll only notice at, if at all, as a soft hiss at 99.7 or 99.3.

    5) Re: volume compression: a certain amount of it is unavoidable because anything more than 30 decibels below peak volume will be inaudible in most radio listening environments. Most classical music is not written with radio in mind; indeed, most of it predates the invention of radio. Getting classical music to sound good on the air is a balancing act between fidelity to the dynamics of the music, on one hand, and making low passages audible, on the other. WGBH’s approach sounds very good to my ears.

    Comment by umar — December 14, 2009 at 12:00 pm

  31. First of all my apologies for my multiple mistypings – it me and it is how I type.

    Regarding the HD Radio signal affect FM signal – this is well documented and well know issues – the HD does worsen FM significantly and it is well observable with ANY station that went HD. I do not want to convert this discussion into technical conversation – it is not the subject of the given publication. I will give you, umar, and few leads and if you wish you might investigate it yourself. Pay attention to the demands for post-detection filtration for a station that cars HD. With a normal FM station the subcarrier dies and it is it. With HD you need a very strong post 53kHz filtration to battle the HD noise. Not a lot of FM tuners have it (HD did not exist up to 8 years back) and practically none of the tuners have the post-detection filtration done properly. As the result ALL stations that do HD has higher level of noise. You also need to look for FCC regulation for delay synchronization between FM and HD. As the result the FM feed it being constantly yanked back and forth to be synchronized with HD. There are many other things. The point is that all stations that ever went HD have their FM signal turned worse. Just think – a half of antennas of the New WCRB transmits HD signal. If they did ONLY FM then they would be able even with the same antennas significantly improve their dispersion diagram, perhaps covering your or my town with a stronger signal. Kill the HD Radio!

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm

  32. Wow…the comment immediately above brings back memories of the time long ago when Charles River-owned WCRB-FM at 102.5 was a REAL classical station. During the seconds-long pauses between movements of longer pieces, I could definitely hear little “gurgles” of the Muzak-like fare WCRB was sending out on its SCA. When WCRB at 102.5 was forced to move to the route 128 antenna away from the WBZ-TV tower while the latter was outfitted for HD TV, I imagine the situation was made worse; but it didn’t matter, because WCRB by then wasn’t worth listening to except for the BSO broadcasts, and very often there were no breaks BETWEEN movements of symphonies, concertos and the like…those movements WERE ALL THAT WERE BROADCAST!

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — December 14, 2009 at 3:20 pm

  33. RTC points out that Mr. Levine is not a Bostonian. And Muck, Koussevitsky, Leinsdorf and Ozawa were? From East Boston? FAR East Boston in the case of Ozawa?

    The only Bostonian music director I can think of was Arthur Fiedler.

    Comment by Mark Lutton — December 15, 2009 at 12:19 am

  34. In response to Mark Lutton:

    Mark, you appeal to words but not to the expressed intentions. I did not “accused” Mr. Levine in being not a Bostonian but I am pointing out to the fact Mr. Levine is BSO part-time Musical director and he has no full dedication and devotion to Boston. A musical director is not just a person who prepares a given ensemble but it is a huge weigh, authority and publicity of classical music in a local community. BSO does not have nowadays a strong public stand and this is in my view was one of the reasons why GBH was able to go away with cutting the BSO’s Friday broadcasts.

    It is clearly auditable when Mr. Levine prepares BSO – it does sound much more appealing. Unfortunately the today’s BSO Sound does not have too strong integrity and without Levine it seldomly sound interesting (through is did happen). A few other orchestrates have the same problem when their larders are not there – the Mariinsky Theatre for instance. The BSO need a full time director of Mr. Levine’s class. The problem is that I like what Levine does with MET, in fact I like wherever he conducts… For a time being my local leading orchestra play relatively boring and my the only full-time FM station in town that that has been broadcasting BSO live for 50 years is cutting the orchestra’s time. A confidence?

    I know it sounds egotistic but it is what it is – Mr. Levine is not here and I would egotistically love him to be more “Bostonian” in order to advance the interest of my Boston community. I guess the relationship between GBH and BSO would be very different if our musical director was OUR musical director. What I am saying might sound like a criticism but it is an idealistic criticism. In the realm of pragmatic reality I do understand that we have no one better then Mr. Levine available and I wish God give him strength to continue to do what he does. However, in another 3 years GBH will cut the Saturday BSO live broadcasts and it will ignite no more reaction then a dozen obscure posts on internet blogs… I would leave you with this thought….

    Comment by Romy The Cat — December 15, 2009 at 8:55 am

  35. The Boston Globe’s ‘g’ section today (Friday 12/28) ran TWO articles on the WGBH/WCRB flip. The one authored by music critic Jeremy Eichler has so far received SIXTY-TWO comments from readers online…pretty high for a seemingly recondite subject. I’m not a sports fan so I don’t know how many responses articles on the sports pages receive.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — December 18, 2009 at 5:32 pm

  36. I found it was an extremely poor article. Jeremy Eichler did not follow up with John Voci’, comments that Friday and Saturday broadcast would constitute the “duplicative performances’’. Ether John Voci never heard the Friday and Saturday’s BSO play or he is absolutely clueless about the subject. In both cases Mr. Voci comment was in my view a fireable offence. I have no idea why Eichler let him to go away with it. I do not even mention that we have today under the Mr. Voci’s wing two truly duplicate stations: WGBH and WBUR and it look do not bother the WGBH general manager. Can somebody do something to get rid of John Voci (if it was his decisions) and reinstate him with BSO Friday broadcasts?

    Comment by Romy The CaT — December 20, 2009 at 11:24 am

  37. As an ex-Bostonian, living in Florida, you can’t imagine what a joy it is (was) to receive WGBH on the internet. (no matter the sound quality, which actually is pretty good) and what a HUGE disappointment it is that they will cease to broadcast the BSO on Friday afternoon. I, like many, am not available to listen on Saturday night – I wish i had the luxury of hearing two broadcasts – or one and the concert live, but to hear them once is -was- fantastic.

    in this part of Florida the only classical programming is like the old CRB – top 40 classical hits. The internet is a godsend. It is a great sadness to see GBH watering down. How can it be true that losing the station would lose Boston area listeners? Wouldn’t they just have moved to GBH? It appears to be empire-building rather than altruism.

    Comment by Patricia Minot — December 23, 2009 at 6:14 pm

  38. I am sorely disappointed inf WGBH’s choice and lamenting the loss of their unique radio programming which I’ve enjoyed for decades. Nothing else quite like GBH radio for special musical programs and opportunities to hear music live in their studio.
    I always considered myself lucky as a Boston resident to have a radio station offering the variety and depth of music coverage.
    No the WCRB coverage doesn’t work.
    And yes, you’ve lost my financial support!

    I hope you will reconsider your decision.

    Comment by Cynthia M Garrett — December 26, 2009 at 9:54 pm

  39. WGBH’s format of talk instead of classical music and other music programming is a listening disaster to me. I cannot get reception on 99.5 after having been suckered in to making a contribution in that amount! I have 3 times sent a “contact us” and we will get back to you message. NO RESPONSE.
    Am I disappointed and angry? YOU BET! Will I contribute again! YOU BET NOT!!!
    Kate Jackson

    Comment by Katherine Jackson — December 28, 2009 at 9:13 pm

  40. I have been a member of GBH’s leadership circle for about 5 years and question my continued support.

    I don’t need another talk show repeating all the sounds of the politicians at 7:00pm. I would rather listen to Eric in the Evening at 7:00 or even better at 6:00. Make everything the same. You can feel and hear this change everywhere in the world. Make everything the same and make the most profit doing it.

    If you want more quality FM options and audio get and old FM tuner from the 70s or 80s, set up a roof top antenna with rotor and have at it. The guys in the suits are not here to give you good music options because there is no money in it. WICN from Worcester has jazz on all day and other different stuff at night. Try it.

    The FM money is in car FM and talk radio. Very sad. People can’t understand the audio quality of BGHs LIVE BSO or Eric the Evening live broadcasts at 9:00 in your car. Sorry.

    Maybe we should all go back to $10 transistor radios and be happy.

    Comment by Peter Reagan — December 29, 2009 at 10:38 am

  41. I suggest a letter writing campaign for those classical music lovers who cannot get the CRB signal, to inform GBH management of the way we feel at being dumped. Here’s the president/ CEO’s address:
    Jonathan Abbott, President and CEO
    WGBH
    One Guest Street, Boston, MA 02135

    Comment by james hadley — December 30, 2009 at 11:35 am

  42. Internet broadcast recording. A response to to Patricia Minot and other Internet listeners: If you can’t be around for the Sat eve or other broadcasts, try installing an app which can be set to record the broadcast. I use a freeware internet radio player found at http://www.screamer-radio.com which works well.

    Comment by Peter from Newton MA — December 31, 2009 at 9:57 am

  43. Somehow, I had missed the article in the December 18 Boston Globe which verified the dropping of the Friday afternoon BSO broadcasts. Yesterday I got a letter from Mary Toropov at WGBH confirming my ongoing status as a Sustainer and a member of the “Leadership Circle.” Here’s my reply.

    “Dear Ms. Toropov:

    Thank you for confirming that my status as a Sustainer and a member of the Leadership Circle is continuing. However it is in jeopardy.

    Somehow, I missed the article in the December 18 Boston Globe in which it was stated that WCRB would not continue the Friday afternoon BSO broadcasts. This is outrageous. As I stated in feedback in November, there are audience members like me who can listen on Friday afternoons but not on Saturday evenings. Some of us use it to rehear the concert of the previous evening; some to preview the following evening’s concert; some as their only opportunity to hear a given program; and some because they want to hear the BSO as much as possible. At the time, I got a reply which implied that the only issue was obtaining broadcast rights. But clearly there has been a decision to abandon me and the other members of the audience who relied in one way or another on those broadcasts.

    Mr. Voci indicated that he considered the two live broadcasts in very different time slots ‘duplicative’ and has sent a letter to the Globe in which he claims, ‘As audiences listen to us, we’ll listen to them.’ Well, I want some evidence that he’s listening to the audience. How many audience members asked to have the Friday Symphony [broadcasts] dropped? How many have asked to have them continued? (Please don’t send me patronizing generalities. Please answer the questions.)

    Mr. Voci also tried to justify the decision by pointing to broadcasts from Tanglewood and to BSO-related broadcasts on non-concert Saturday evenings. But for years all three weekend Tanglewood concerts have been broadcast on one or both stations, and WCRB has regularly broadcast BSO performances on non-concert Saturdays (“fantasy concerts” they used to call them). So neither represents an increase in BSO availability for the audience, and therefore neither justifies dropping Friday afternoon concerts. Mr. Voci must think we’re either stupid or without memory if he thinks we’ll fall for that nonsense.

    At this point I am angry enough at the disregard for 58 years of tradition and lack of concern for the audience that I am seriously considering discontinuing my support. Certainly I must reduce it as it seems that management cares about nothing but money, and therefore the only thing that will tell them they made a big mistake is having it cost them money. But if the decision is promptly reversed I shall continue support at the current level. And if Mr. Voci soon leaves WGBH, willingly or unwillingly, I shall increase my level of giving.

    Sincerely,”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — January 1, 2010 at 2:10 am

  44. I received this article from the owner of the classical music site Africlassical. I live in Gainesville, Fl, and have lived in Chapel Hill, NC, “dark age” of neglect of high quality arts and thought is engulfing the culture. Sad, indeed.

    Comment by Gwendoline Y. Fortune, Ed. D. — January 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

  45. I am a long time listener and supporter of WCRB. In an effort to support it’s continuance after the ‘GBH purchase I joined “the Classical Club” as a “Founding Member” .
    I am greatly disappointed in the programming, and play lists which seem to celebrate obscurity. Retaining WCRB “name” announcers isn’t the same as continuing to use the WCRB standard of playing from popular, and frequently requested classical selections.
    Please consider including more popular classics in your play lists.
    Thank you,
    John Baldwin

    Comment by John Baldwin — January 1, 2010 at 5:18 pm

  46. A letter to The Globe, unpublished:

    Staff music critic Jeremy Eichler has nailed it again (“A new WCRB, and a shrinking classical dial”); the man’s a most worthy successor to Michael Steinberg and Richard Dyer. Original investigative reporting and a nuanced view of the local radio scene have produced an article both informative and prescriptive. For instance, it was news to me that the BSO charges nothing for broadcast rights, making WGBH/WCRB’s decision to drop the regular Friday live transmissions all the more perplexing. WGBH manager John Voci declared that these are “duplicative performances”, a baldly straight-faced statement given that his station has for years been broadcasting NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered simultaneously with WBUR. That’s real duplication, whereas two different live performances even of the same music by the same band are often interestingly dissimilar.

    Ironically, Alex Beam’s column in the same g advances similar arguments, and we learn too that WGBH is staffing up to compete with WBUR on the talk front. Beam drolly notes, “’BUR staffers have an almost mystical faith in WGBH’s management ineptitude, and in the past they have not been disappointed.” That maladroitness seems also to extend to WCRB, where now one can hear not just a movement ripped from the same old Brahms symphony, but from a Mahler as well. Perhaps that’s an improvement, but if management really cares to contribute significantly to Boston musical life they will restore the broadcasts of the Friday BSO concerts, afternoon and evening series both.

    Clark Johnsen

    Jamaica Plain MA 02130

    Comment by clark johnsen — January 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm

  47. Bravo, Mr. Whipple! I would sign each single sentence of your letter.

    Comment by Romy — January 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm

  48. Thank all you readers who have entered comments.
    Please make every effort to attend the panel on Tuesday. Jan. 5, at 6 pm at the Old South Church, Copley Square. Numbers do count.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton, editor — January 1, 2010 at 9:02 pm

  49. This presents an opportunity for WHRB to make another coup. Just as they picked up the Met when WCRB decided it was not suitable for their audiences, perhaps they can now steal the Friday afternoon audience for the BSO. I hope David Elliot is paying attention (and calling BSO management to arrange to use the studio on Fridays).

    Comment by Joe Whipple — January 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm

  50. I wont be able to attend this important panel, and I hope that The Boston Musical Intelligencer will follow up with a summary of the discussion. As for eliminating the first of the two live BSO performance broadcasts, I heard James Levine himself say how important is a second hearing, especially with works new to the listener.

    I’m coping with classical radio disappointment by listening to http://sites.radiofrance.fr/francevivace/prog/. Music lovers who like to plan their listening, as I do, will appreciate the 24-hour detailed listings with specific playing times. The listings are given for two weeks in advance! Many 3-hour segments are devoted to a single composer, performer, conductor, orchestra, ensemble, form or subject – all both well- and lesser-known – and definitely not the top 40 or top hundred or top thousand.

    Let’s hope that the WGBH administration can be persuaded that to restore what’s been lost is in the best interest of public radio’s mission. Until then, I’m listening to France vivace and NOT supporting WGBH.

    Comment by Jane Wolley — January 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

  51. I tried to read through all of the comments. There were so many, maybe I missed it.

    But, do you Boston Classical music lovers realize that what WGBH is giving you in fully seven of the ten on-air slots, the ones in yellow on the weekly schedule is actually canned music from Minnesota Public Radio? Go to http://classical24.publicradio.org/, check the names of the hosts, then go back to the yellow sections of the weekly schedule. Also, at Classical 24, you can see who and what is playing right now, and often it will be a different host than you have on WGBH, i.e., not only rented, but canned, what one noted Classical music critic called “musical wallpaper” designed not to intrude. Really, Boston, you deserve better.

    Comment by Richard Mitnick — January 2, 2010 at 8:06 pm

  52. And now, this further intelligence. I had been wondering where all the regular announcers had gone (from both stations) and where the new ones had sprung from. Turns out, almost the whole thing is canned. “Shows” from other PBS stations are being re-circulated by the hour (or two), especially from Minnesota Public Radio. Well hooray for them, but the result is a discombulated schedule with no programming continuity.

    One enjoys one’s local people, who can present with a fair degree of consistency, unlike the round of voices we’re now given. As for musical taste, frankly it’s minimal, with a movement here, an extraction there, a Beethoven work then a Strauss waltz, often in pedestrian performances. Exactly to whom does this mishmash appeal? Certainly not to the Boston listener who’s been raised on the old GBH and the ever-current WHRB! Where does one go for the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays? We all know the answer.

    I can’t for the life of me comprehend why anyone should want to contribute money to this GBH folly. And by all indications, they don’t.

    Well, good.

    Time remains for GBH to get its act together and become once again a contributor itself to Boston’s musical life. The best way to begin? Reinstitute the Friday BSO broadcasts, afternoons and evenings alike. That would be a great start. Then reinstitute local programming of recordings. Such moves would truly support the community, which GBH often announces as its intention.

    One more thing. For decades now my friends, family and I have ushered in the New Year with the broadcast of the Boston Pops live over one of these same stations. This year (or should I say “last”?) there was nothing. Nada. Nor on TV. We were extremely disappointed. Channel 2 featured a second-rate rock band from Times Square when we tuned in, then out. O tempore!

    At least it got us to sing together ourselves. I suppose things could be worse.

    Clark Johnsen

    PS While I’m at it: WCRB in its recent commercial phase (after Ted Jones) became highly irritating for what some called the “CRB chuckle” — a little hahaha that always sounded forced; one assumes the announcers all hated it but were made to do this, but rarely did they put it across. And who could blame them? That has now been replaced by the “PBS chirp”, a falsely merry style practiced by most of the female staff and a few of the men as well. Please, please give it up. You should be embarrassed.

    Comment by clark johnsen — January 2, 2010 at 11:10 pm

  53. I’ve discontinued my WGBH membership.(I had been a member since 1994.)

    Comment by Craig Hanson — January 4, 2010 at 4:34 pm

  54. Boston is such a musical city with top musical training and concerts and the list goes on! And we’re only 4 hours away from NY…more music and opera etc.! Why are we even having this conversation about classical music radio? We should have an abundance of classical music, including singing, on the radio…several stations even! Here we have the likes of James Levine conducting the BSO and we can’t drum up some real classical music stations? This just doesn’t add up.

    Comment by Evelyn — January 4, 2010 at 10:23 pm

  55. My comments below touch upon the following:
    * Wasting 100,000 watts of a clear channel – The only station on the east coast
    * Musical education is lost to musical entertainment “That performance was Dorian DOR-90117”
    * Leave quality music on 89.7; put the NPR talk on 99.5 (related to point #1)
    * GBH – Be true to your roots and stop trying to crush BUR; you can both be great if you choose
    * Conclusion

    =========================
    Wasting 100,000 watts….
    =========================

    89.7 was the only FM station on the east coast with 100,000 watts of output power. It was given a special dispensation from the FCC to have doubled the power of any other station on the east coast.
    I believe it was due to the fast that it was in the under-populate range of the “educational” range of the then new FM spectrum. I believe it is also a clear channel, meaning no other stations are allocated the 89.7 frequency for hundreds of miles therefore no signal contention in fringe area. (I think the first to the west is Hobart college station in Geneva, NY).

    I appreciated GBH’ attention to audio quality and for years they would under-modulate their signal to provide headroom for dynamic range instead of compressing or limiting. Yes, this made them more susceptible to noise but it was worth it. My ears could not, and still cannot, tolerate listening to CRB (I’m too far away to receive HRB and can’t comment on its fidelity (to both sound and artistic integrity)).

    Broadcasting talk programs that are carried by every other NRP station in the northeast is being a negligent steward of the precious resources of clear channel and extraordinary output power given to WGBH/89.7. I think the coverage map above is very conservative.

    =========================
    Musical education is lost
    =========================

    I am not musically trained as most of you who are reading my comments. A lot of my musical awareness came through insightful analysis offered on GBH through the years. This was not simply canned liner notes or reading somebody’s class notes read by an announcer. The people behind the mic were practitioners who communicated interest, excitement, passion and infused that into me.

    Musical education has been overrun by musical entertainment; I suppose that’s what sells .

    I sensed the end of GBH as an expository present with the passing of Robert J. I do not know the inner politics (but I’m sure it’s butt ugly) but the first thing that changed was providing detailed information about the recording, performance, the environment, and most importantly to me, the recording identifier (This is minimalist audiophile recording on the Dorian label DOR-90117).
    I scream and yell, even to this day, when a piece ends and the announcer does not tell me the recording information!!!

    I am appalled to read the comments above about the degradation to canned programming from quality original material. Please note, there are many good programs that originate from MPR/APM. I was always sad that GBH never carried “Pipe Dreams” and I was too far away to get it from MPR.

    ====================
    Put the talk on 99.5
    ====================

    I appreciate the desire to provide “classical” music 24 hours a day and not divide it up with Jazz, Ethic, and Folk (rest in peace). Dedicating one of the frequencies for that purpose seems like a reasonable idea. Wasting the high quality, high power, clear channel frequency for talk, and the same talk hear on many other stations in the area, is a foolish and terrible waste of precious resources. Others above have already made great comments on the loss of “classical” music coverage and audience regarding 99.5.

    Voice and monophonic material will be well served on 99.5 frequency (and compression) and will overcome many of the signal problems very well. Shift all the talk to 99.5 and put all the music back on 89.7. Gee, what a waste – broadcasting talk material over 100,000 watts of clear channel that I can also get on a local college NPR station a few towns over.

    ========================
    Stop trying to crush BUR
    ========================

    Hey, GBH, success does not have to limited to you. Grow up and get over your idiotic competition with BUR. Long ago, when NPR first came into the picture you claimed to be Boston’s NPR station.
    Then BUR grew in stature and began producing original material and then called themselves “Boston’s NPR new station”. Okay, they needed a way to differentiate themselves from you. That seemed to ruffle your feathers and you retaliated by calling yourselves “Boston’s arts and culture station” (as in “we’re not that low life ‘news’ dribble”). Okay, you differentiated yourself from BUR in a good way. Now you have devolved and now call yourself “Boston’s NPR station”. Hello???

    ==========
    Conclusion
    ==========

    GBH, be great again based upon what once made you great. Yes, you need to evolve but please do so with intelligence, quality for material/music and fidelity. Music intelligence is important to our lives and you are a great vehicle for communicating that awareness to the diverse public. Most musicians have all this stuff in their heads, in their private collections, or live it every day. While “they” appreciate your former glories, “they” can probably do without you. Those of “us” less musically fortunate or less directly involved need your musical offerings and enlightenment.

    Comment by Wayne Blair — January 6, 2010 at 1:23 am

  56. I believe the decision to make such radical programming shifts is mistaken and one that the directors at WGBH will come to regret as much as your loyal listeners have.

    With deep regret and sadness we are discontinuing our WGBH membership, which had been a joy to us since the early 90s.

    Comment by Matt Van Wagner — January 6, 2010 at 9:14 am

  57. excuse me, I meant to say early 80s.

    Comment by Matt Van Wagner — January 6, 2010 at 9:18 am

  58. Changes were made due to Boston Radio marketing
    WGBH: in 2008: 1.08%
    WBUR:in 2008: 3.8%
    WCRB:in 2008: 1.8%

    The results after the switching WGBH/WCRB for December 2009. WBZ AM 5.6 – (for reference)
    WGBH: 0.9 –
    WBUR: 4.5 +
    WCRB: 2.9 +

    When I was broadcasting on Cape Cod WFCC full time classical(1989-1995)my weekend ratings for the Cape Cod Market were between 5 and 8.1. Why? I did not program classical music to myself, had a full knowledge of discography both historical up to current recordings, refused to be snooty(WGBH AM was “If it ain’t French it’s piano!), did not take minutes to beging speaking(Lurtsema), did not suffer from “one-lung” delivery,(WGBH 12 to 4 PM) put chamber music programming secondary, orchestral music primary. Finally, “One does not air music played by the Iceland Symphony when you can choose the same played by Munch and the BSO, for example…
    It is simple to build and keep an audience when you know what to do ansd what to say and how to say it. Where I or any of my WFCC associates at WGBH instead of WFCC today, ratings would be much higher and WGBH would be full-time classical music with rating oh so much higher than 0.9%!

    Comment by Pierre Paquin — January 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

  59. With respect to Mr. Paqion’s data- his quoted Arbitron ratings don’t reflect the changed scene. Within a few days Arbitron’s next report will come out. That will reflect the first full month of WGBH-WCRB changes.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm

  60. Also with respect to Mr. Eiseman, When the January Arbitron ratings appear for teh Boston radio market, I am quite sure that ratings for December will not change for WGBH or WCRB. Care to bet?

    Comment by Pierre Paquin — January 12, 2010 at 8:09 am

  61. I just found this on the WGBH website:

    ” … What does this [the WCRB acquisition] mean to WGBH’s classical music listeners and supporters?

    > You can count on the same thoughtful, engaging presentation of the best in classical music by our knowledgeable hosts.

    > The additional hours will allow us to expand the scope of our service, maximizing WGBH’s alliances with the area’s premier performing organizations.

    > New opportunities to optimize the use of our state-of-the-art Fraser Performance Studio here in Brighton.”

    Items 2 and 3 sound almost too good to be true. Would John Voci be willing to sign a blood oath, in public, as to the particulars?

    Item 1, on the other hand, makes the blood run cold. Or mine at least. I cannot forgive WGBH for its willingness to let yammering “personalities” interpose themselves between music and listener. Did we — do we? — really need the blood-curdling note of bogus enthusiasm that Ron Della visits on BSO broadcasts? And would it have been too much for Richard Knisely to prepare himself for interviews or, when the last note of a live performance has barely died away, to keep himself from exclaiming “Sheer mysticism!” or some such. The explanation is clear: these people cannot hear themselves.

    In documenting Boston’s abundant concert life over the years, WGBH has been a musical good citizen of the highest order. It has helped give the musical community a sense of itself.

    Which makes the shortcomings I’ve mentioned all the more regrettable. They would not be tolerated in European radio. Anyone who has discovered the world of Internet streaming broadcasts can attest to this.

    Two cheers, then, for what WGBH says it will be doing. The rest needs work.

    rb

    PS I will now toot my own horn. The programming ideals Joel Cohen gives voice to above have indeed been realized — elsewhere. I know of no better guide to same than http://theairthisweek.blogspot.com. Its compiler, who covered classical music for the Globe for three decades, may be assumed to know what he is doing.

    Comment by Richard Buell — January 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm

  62. In paragraph 7 above, “Ron Della” should of course have been “Ron Della Chiesa.” And the following sentence, re Richard Knisely, should end with a question mark. All else stands fast.

    rb

    Comment by Richard Buell — January 15, 2010 at 2:09 am

  63. Bad idea GBH – you’ve lost another paying listener.

    Here in RI, we used to enjoy the old programming schedule – the mixture of talk and radio.

    But now, forget it. From my point of view, I used to tolerate the often one-sided NPR news and editorials. Without the music, GBH isn’t GBH.

    What will happen when the big-time underwriters learn of the diminishing listener audience?

    Comment by James Sullivan — February 28, 2010 at 11:12 am

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