More than 400 classical music aficionados filled the New Old South Church Tuesday night, January 5, to voice their concerns over elimination of classical music programming at WGBH Radio. On December 1, WGBH shifted all its concert music broadcasts to station WCRB, where it has established a 24-hour all-classical format and promptly announced the cancellation of Friday BSO broadcasts. Note: The Boston Phoenix is streaming the audio from the event here.
In the weeks since then, many listeners have complained that they cannot receive the WCRB signal clearly, or at all. Chronic static is a common complaint. Others have decried what they describe as a “dumbing down” of the programming on the new classical station. Of specific concern is the decision by the WGBH management to end the decades-long practice of broadcasting the Friday afternoon Boston Symphony concerts. (WCRB will continue expanded live broadcasts of Boston Symphony concerts on Saturday evenings.)
A number of people feel defrauded that they were invited to become “founders” of the new station format, only to discover after contributing that they were disenfranchised.
The Boston Musical Intelligencer gathered a panel of public figures involved in broadcasting and the Boston classical music scene to lead a discussion of what might be done to remedy the situation. Led by former Massachusetts State Senate President William Bulger, the panel included WCRB’s former general manager Dave MacNeill, journalist and broadcaster Christopher Lydon, former Boston Globe music critic Richard Dyer and WGBH’s general manger John Voci.
Respondents were BMInt reviewers Mark DeVoto, John Ehrlich, Brian Jones, Rebecca Marchand, David Patterson, and Tom Schnauber and Peter Van Zandt Lane.
Marchand asked Voci what the percentage of favorable to unfavorable comments were in the stations’s rumored in-house 75-page document. Voci responded that he have not seen it.
Not surprisingly, many of the comments from both the panel and the audience who were invited to ask questions were directed to Voci. He argued that if WGBH had not purchased WCRB when it recently had come up for sale, then Boston would have been left with no full-time classical music broadcasting. He challenged the suggestion that the quality of classical music had declined in the move from WGBH to WCRB, pointing to the “In Performance” slot at 1:00 p.m. weekdays, as well as special broadcasting of locally-recorded events on Sunday afternoons and Thursday at 7:00 p.m. He also noted that WCRB’s programming will include 61 broadcasts of Boston Symphony concerts, as contrasted to 28 available separately on WGBH and WCRB heretofore. [Except for the 22 live BSO concets from Symphony hall and the weekend Tanglewood concerts, the balance will be from recordings] Voci said that WGBH does not have the funds to broadcast additional concerts, such as the BSO on Friday afternoon, which cost between $20,000 and $30,000 per season. [see note below] WGBH, he said, in the past year has had to lay off about 50 staff in an effort to reduce its operating budget by $10 million.
Despite Voci’s explanations, most of those present appeared to share a sentiment expressed by a Roslindale woman that as a result of the changes at WGBH/WCRB: “I feel forgotten.” Panelists and audience members strongly disputed Voci’s contention that that broadcasting the same BSO concerts was redundant. Several speakers pointed out how performances can change between Friday and Saturday, and both are worth hearing, especially for those interested in new compositions. Others noted that with the concerts being carried via the internet to world-wide audiences, different audiences tune in at different times.
“Boston is a wildly interesting city,” Lydon stated. “We should be telling the world about what is going on here.” Internet broadcasting of programs such as the live BSO concerts is one important way of doing that, he contended.
Several stated that if redundancy were really an issue, then why is WGBH broadcasting NPR’s Morning Edition and All things Considered, as well as Fresh Air and the Diane Rheem Show which are already being carried by WBUR?
Dyer told of growing up in small towns in Texas and Oklahoma where culture was limited. But, he noted, “no child in Boston today has [the exposure to classical music] that I had in Oklahoma a half-century ago.” Dyer won sustained applause when he stated “We have been told that the public is not interested in listening to classical music. That is just not true.”
Several participants expressed concern that WGBH had lost sight of its mission as an educational institution and is now being driven by Arbitron ratings which measure audience size. Others complained that classical music listeners were underrepresented in Arbitron research.
Leslie Warshaw, a WGBH producer for over 30 years and now retired, noted that the station constantly spoke in her day of “mission.” Gradually it changed from “mission” to “service” and then, she noted wistfully, became “business.”
The weak WCRB signal probably cannot be improved, as the 99.5 frequency on which the station broadcasts is shared by other broadcasters in the region. The location of the transmitter in Lowell is not going to change either.
Voci suggested that listeners outside the prime broadcasting area should invest in a HD radio and listened to a streamed version of WCRB via frequency 89.7. Audience members from Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Middleboro and several other communities stated at the meeting that they have limited or no reception from WCRB.
One woman described a shut-in sister in Attleboro who is “bereft without classical music” available from WGBH because she cannot receive the WCRB signal.
One speaker said the solution was simple, His suggestion that the classical music programming that was recently shifted to WCRB be returned to the WGBH frequency with its 100,000 watt transmitter on Great Blue Hill, and that the news programming on WGBH be moved to WCRB was greeted with warm, sustained applause.
Voci acknowledged that this had been considered at one point, but not implemented.
MacNeill, who spent more than 50 years at WCRB, provided an overview of classical music broadcasting in Boston and nationally, offering details on how technologies, audiences and managements have brought change to the amount and quality of what has been broadcast. He repeated several times that at drive-time people wanted “relaxing” music, and that it was not the time for complete broadcast of symphonies.
He explained that in recent years WCRB did have a music programmer who had little knowledge of classical music, hence a small number of familiar pieces were played frequently. That programmer is no longer part of WCRB.
Nonetheless, the quality of current programming was repeatedly skewered by many audience members who complained bitterly about WCRB’s practice of playing a single movement of a longer piece, or limiting the playlist to established favorites. “How many times can we hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,” one questioner asked to loud applause. “In the past three days,” he claimed, “the programming has not included a minor key.” Others rued the fact that a Minneapolis syndicate is creating the playlist for a sophisticated Boston audience.
Several audience members spoke emotionally about the recent departure of announcer Richard Kniseley from WGBH, praising his skills at introducing listeners to unfamiliar music. He was described as “my teacher” by one speaker, and as offering “intelligent, informed commentary” now missing from the WCRB broadcasts by another. Knisely attended the event but did not speak publicly.
In a dramatic move at one point in the proceedings, Mr. Bulger asked the audience how many received good reception from WCRB. There was a scattering of hands raised. But when he asked how many had poor reception, about three-quarters of the members of the audience raised their hands.
62 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]
I was unable to attend the meeting at Old South.
I am upset by the poor mix of music on CRB. Seems like a heavy emphasis on short pieces suitable for trimming African Violets while mildly happy on Valium in a sunny living in a wealthy neighborhood. I am upset by the option of listening to HD/WCRB as the sound is clear, but glassy and compressed. I am really upset that the BSO on Friday afternoons has disappeared as that broadcast was a staple in my home and got me set for Symphony on Saturday night. The thought that we’ve lost Friday Symphony for a syndicated talk show which can also be heard on BUR, or for Emily Rooney or Callie Crossley, , that really hurts.
In general, I am pretty sick of WGBH. Their “fan favorites” on Channel Two…..how many times can one stand “The Celtic Women” or “Ed Sullivan’s Rock and Roll.”……I think it best to curtail contributions to this outfit.
I will follow this issue closely and look forward your article this evening.
Comment by David Curtis — January 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm
I read in today’s Globe about the Old South meeting and would like to add a comment: we live in Mattapoisett on the South Coast, where we do not receive WCRB at all, so we no longer have access to ANY classical station (unless there’s one lurking out there that we haven’t found). WCAI gives us the major NPR talk shows, and what we’re now getting with WGBH’s new format merely duplicates that. We can stop contributing to WGBH, which might make us feel good, but that doesn’t get us our classical music back! Keep up the fight, be “relentless!”
Comment by Dianne Tsitsos — January 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm
Actually, it was a complete waste of time. More of a filibuster and an ego-tripping opportunity for a self-important panel, some of whom did not engage the topic at all. Senator Bulger forgot what a gavel is for. According to your press release, the “issues” were supposed to be — will WGBH reconsider? Although the GBH suit sent to represent the station didn’t have the guts to say so, the answer is clearly no. And the real reason, though nobody wanted to face it, is that GBH’s out of touch, faceless coporate management has been looking for a reason to dump classical music. They think classical listeners are getting old, growing poorer, and will put up with any crumbs the station wants to throw them. First they dump your programs and then they ask you to send them money! The GBH suit, John Voci, let the truth slip when somebody begged for just a little bitty more classical music on the station. “It’s a business,” he said. Oh? Then it’s not public radio. Do you donate your money to businesses? Public radio is apparently a term absolutely lacking in meaning. Did the public have any input into this decision? Did the so-called “members”? Public radio exists because it is a public service. Somebody should tell Mr. Voci that GBH is a non-profit. If he wants a business, he start paying taxes and stop askings us for donations.
… What was a success last night was the turnout, certainly over 400 people. When Bulger asked how many could not receive CRB, two-thirds raised their hands. That’s why we were there. CRB is meaningless. If the programming is anything like what they used to have (and we don’t know, since we can’t get it), we don’t want it. CRB’s McNeil, the dull wind from the north, also let the truth slip when he said “CRB is the Boston Pops.” We don’t want to listen to the Pops on GBH. We want real music… Mr. Voci’s patronizing response to “listeners are unable to receive a clear signal” from CRB is that we should run out an buy an HD radio, for “only” $100. Okay, first refund me my last $100 in donations to your “business.” And can you assure me that after my purchase, CRB will be worth listening to? How can I tell — SINCE I CAN’T HEAR IT! Voci told people in their eighties they could always listen to the CRB “stream” on the computer, and when one woman told him she had no idea what a stream was, did not own a computer, and saw no reason why she should be asked to listen to classical music on a computer, he did not bother to offer a reply. He offered the same stupid “helpful hints” available on the station’s website: Move the radio around your house. We’ve all done that — it doesn’t work. Connect your radio to your outside antenna. Nobody has an outside antenna any more…. I could (frighteningly) go on, but the bottom line is the only thing that will get GBH’s attention is for all classical music listeners to refuse to give the station any money until classical music comes back. I walked out of the filibuster/forum tearing up my GBH membership card.
Comment by R.C. Knox — January 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm
I recently moved from Cambridge to Providence (I am at MIT). There is no signal at all in most of Prov. for WCRB. I deplore WGBH decision to dump classical for talk, which of course has been underway for six or eight years. It was a flagship classical station, now it is superseded by the much more imaginative Harvard radio, BBC and other web broadcasters.
WCRB has a way to go. The constant repetition of call letters and snippets of longer pieces is a heavy handed marketing touch. WQXR in NYC recently went through a similar change, with poor results.
I sincerely hope we can all influence the quality of classical radio in BOston!
Comment by Gary Van Zante — January 6, 2010 at 6:03 pm
I read these comments but do not understand how WGBH cannot address the problem of reception which seems to be the greatest criticism. Some people claim they cannot get WCRB even in Boston. Well I can & always have been able to get it as clear as a bell on a large Grundig Satelitt 800 Radio. I believe some version of this is still available from Eton,Inc. the exclusive Company marketing Grindig in North America. That may be an option for listeners. Especially since they do not want to listen to the station over a “stream” on a computer. This has been a problem for people who liked the old shortwave BBC broadcasts that became impossible when the BBC withdrew from the North American market in shortwave & before XM Radio got running. Suddenly listeners to the BBC via shortwave could no longer get the BBC. The BBC was telling listeners to listen via a computer. When I pointed out to them this was not a portable option, they had no answer except to wait for XM Radio to start. So when it started I bought an XM Radio, I still have in my home & can now hear the BBC World Service all day if I choose. XM also have three fine classical stations. Of course it does cost some $13 a month. But back to WCRB. They have said they would investigate buying another station to augment & expand WCRB coverage. I guess we must wait to see what they will do. As for the schedule on WCRB, well they do have a broader range than the old WCRB by playing many pieces recorded by WGBH engineers. They have a program of this daily at 1-2, highlighting many wonderful local clasical artists. They are producing the Bach Hour that I think play twice a week, and they do still play recorded music, some of which was heard on the old WCRB, but perhaps by other artists. Yes we did lose some wonderful hosts with the old WCRB, Mark Calder, Mark Edwards, Dave McNeil overnight, Larry King & listo Fisher. But we got back Ray Brown who goes back many years on WCRB & who hosted the Childrens Classic Hour the old CRB carried long after Mr. Brown left, but now is still carried on the new WCRB, and perhaps Mr. Brown will make some new episodes (?). And of course Laura Carlo moved over in her old time slot, 5-9 AM.And she brings Mr. Pops himself, Keith Lockhart every day. And this is drive time for most people beginning a new work day.The new stuff is handled well by Kathy Fuller. I do think WGBH made two errors tho. !. Dropping the Friday afternoon BSO broadcast on WCRB and not recognizing that that Friday audiance WGBH had, would have migrated to WCRB Friday afternnon (provided they could tune in and hear 99.5) 2. The evening & overnight broadcasts that the old WCRB had, was very well listened to & dumping the old WCRB talent that did not migrate from Waltham to Allston was an error. Couldn’t afford it? Well maybe, but local hosts at night for a very large audiance, hosts that audiance was very used to & replacing that local connection with canned programming from some other area of the country just does not cut it.By 8PM every night WCRB becomes canned programming. Yes its still classical music but the local connection of a Mark Edwards, or Mark Calder or Dave McNeil is gone.
So I think WGBG’s faceless Management, who truely do not seem to understand they are not a “business” but a PUBLIC entity, has a long way to go to understand those 350,000 OLD WCRB audiance. Was the old WCRB “just” Pops Classical. Yes largely it was. But that huge audiance kind of like it that way, expecially in recorded music, and had the old WCRB hosts joined the new WCRB under WGBH, maybe there would have been a chance to expand the audiance & support for the WGBH Group, particulary if Management had not forgone such opportunities via the BSO & evening easy listening.
Comment by Gary Duncan — January 6, 2010 at 9:49 pm
A poorly designed, and poorly carried out meeting. The backgrounds of the panelists would be fun to hear about at a cocktail party but were irrelevant on this occasion. Issues were not really discussed. The problem of reception was dropped when the GBH spokesman said nothing could be done about it. It is difficult to think in this sophisticated electronic age some solution such as sharing towers would not be possible. The dumbing down of classical music was dropped when the CRB man got his dander up. The fact that GBH has got itself into a financial mess by creating a building it didn’t need only was briefly alluded to. It appears GBH has acquired CRB with the hope that CRB revenues would solve their problems, and the hell with standards or the mission of public radio. Also the absurdity of redundant programming with BUR was brushed aside. Not a pretty picture
Comment by Jon Guttmacher — January 6, 2010 at 10:43 pm
I would disagree and would hardly be calling the WGBH Panel Discussion a “great success”. In fact I am calling the event as “great disappointment”. Sure, the Intelligencer put effort in the game, thanks for that, but we judge value of the events not by fact of events but by QUALITY OF EVENTS. Was the Panel Discussion a quality event? Absolutely not!
The only quality factor during the entire event was a voice of passion coming from few hundred visitors and a few dozens of folks who come to microphone to went disappointment. What WGBH in the face of Mr. Voci offered in response? A bunch of demagogy and sub-sophomoric comprehending the subjects of public concerns! Very productive! It very much not the subject of person animosity to Mr. Voci, in fact I do appreciate that Mr. Voci had courage to show up at the meeting. However the numb, indifferent and partially deceptive reaction by Mr. Voci to the most important subjects brought to the panel did indicate the unfortunate strategic WGBH direction and this ugly direction was foggy expressed.
The Intelligencer fancies itself as a journalistic organ. Where my journalists were during the meeting when the matter of Truth Discovering was needed them the most? What was the role of Intelligencer’s Panelist? They asked lame questions (with exception of Rebecca Marchand) but not of them brought to the table their expert judgments when the clueless apparatchiks (Mr. Voci and Mr. McNeill ) expressed insulating silliness. Among the Intelligencer’s panelist were composers, musicologists and musical critics – where was their voices of rational and competence? The whole panel turned into the Mr. Voci responses to the subjects that he did not understand well and the endless moronic monologs from Dave MacNeill, a former WCRB general manager, who believes that IQ of a classical radio listener shall not be higher than IQ of a teenager pterodactyl. Why no one followed up the stupid insistence of Voci/MacNeill diet that Boston classical station shall be no more “loaded” then drive-by ratio? Why no one makes MacNeill to shut up when he insisted that classical station shall be “music that does not require attention”? Where was the demand for clarification where Mr. Voci and Richard Dyer presented contradictory information? Richard Dyer was blabbing that BSO was not happy with Friday Broadcasts and it was why our Friday Broadcasts were discontinued. In 10 minutes Mr. Voci was pulling out of his ass an argument that it would cost $20K-$30K for WGBH to transmit Friday Broadcasts. Both comments were completely idiotic. BSO willingly donate own live feed to public with no charge or fees. WGBH runs a dedicated feed from Symphony Hall, the feed that up all time and even the 24/7 live broadcast from Symphony Hall coast to WGBH ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as all recourses are in place. Why Mr. Voci went for the sage of $20K-$30K cost? Why was it not the $200.000? Why no one insisted Mr. Voci to itemize the alleged $20K-$30K additional coast for the WBH Friday Broadcasts? Was it his attempt to extort more donations from public? I am sorry but it is dirty method! Partially because as just before he informed that the reasons why Friday Broadcasts were suspended was not the cost consideration but the fact the “Friday and Saturday Broadcasts are duplicates”. Where were my Intelligencer journalists who would explain to a Mr. Voci the whole premise of “LIVE PERFORMING MUSICAL EVENTS” and why for each sane person it would be such a barbaric vulgarity to hear such a comment from a manager of classical radio station?
I was not going to but I had a few words to say at the panel and I started from stating that it is an illusion that WGBH 99.5 cares what we the listeners wants. According to the panelists the WGBH has 76 pages of customer complains since the WGBH took over 99.5. Mr. Voci said that he does not even know what that complains are all about! Furthermore the attitude with which he stated it clearly indicated that he would feel annoyed with an idea that he even might families himself with those complains.
I was listening all of it I was asking myself “What the hell we all doing in here”? It was absolutely clear that WGBH does not have cultural capacity to understand what the people were talking in that church. The complains from the public that WGBH 99.5 is more and more turns into old WCRB crap (with primitive music and idiotic hosts who had be working selling hotdogs during Red Socks games) was faced by Mr. Voci with a lack of understanding the those complains. I presume that Mr. Voci position reflects the position of the entire WGBH upper management. I am, as a listener, felt myself so much screwed, so lonely and so underrepresented! I felt this way not particularly because my voice had no representation in my city public FM classical radio but because my interests (and the interests of thousands people like me) were methodically destroyed by corporate indifference. I truly felt like I was raped and the saddest part in that rape was that I voluntary paid for this “service”!
If cause it is not the question about $20K-$30K, it never was. If the WGBH 99.5 will get tomorrow $120.000.000 as a donation from some kind of oligarch then the context of the WGBH programming will absolutely no be changing. We still will have on 99.5 airs the third movements of the same quarter, first movements of flute concerts, the same overtures from operettas, brainless selection of music and the WGBH management flipping eyes and asking “Why it is wrong?” I need to note that since the WCRB the WGBH programming is better but it is very rapidly sliding back to the “lumpenproletariat entertainment tunes” …. Very sad!
After the meeting I spoke briefly with Mr. Voci and told him that one of the ways to WGBH to stay as a “cultural program” is to development not the brainless DJ presentation of random tunes but to develop and to brew truly compartmentalized authored programs. The best classical programs on today Boston FM dialer are the highly personalized programs by David Elliott from WHRB and by Brian Bell from WGBH. I told to Mr. Voci: why do not give to Mr. Bell another 2-3 slots per week to run 2-3 new programs? For us, the listeners, it is very important to know the STRUCTURE of the programs and to know that the context of the program was well researched and selected. After all, NPR was always known and supported by many for the QUALITY OF CONTENT!
Anyhow, I am feeling worn thin to think and do not anything about the 99.5 as WHRB demonstrated a clear lack of any sanity that I would support. The only positive outcome from all of it I see is that in a few years when the 99.5 shut down the lights the upper WHRB management will be forced to work in McDonalds, where they are belong today. I have no idea who allowed to THOSE PEOPLE to manage THE CLASSICAL STATION in the city like Boston.
Anyhow, the WGBH Panel Discussion was not “great success”. The major question of the discussion was not asked by the Intelligencer panelists and the major question was the following: “The WHRB administration, how different you see your role if the WGBH 99.5 would not be a classical station but be a station dedicated to … gardening and the SKU of WHRB operation were not classic music events but the piles of organic potato?
PS: People, please kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill the stupid HD radio!
Comment by Romy The CaT — January 6, 2010 at 11:36 pm
Jon Guttmacher, I absolutely agree with your comment above. I wish the people like you made the Intelligencer panel.
Comment by Romy — January 6, 2010 at 11:45 pm
What was most disappointing to me was the apparent unwillingness of WGBH/WCRB management to even consider reinstating the BSO Friday concerts under any circumstances.
Mr. Voci harped on the $20-30,000 annual cost of the broadcasts, but when the question was put were there circumstances which could lead to a reconsideration, he failed to say there were. He didn’t directly say , “No,” as I recall, but his failure to say ,”Yes,” was eloquent. After the proceedings I approached him to verify that I had correctly understood the dollar amount. He verified it. Then I said, “So if you could get another $30,000 you could reinstate the broadcasts,” making explicit an implicit meaning of the earlier question. He would not agree that the money would suffice to make it happen.
And of course duplication can’t be the real reason either, since they broadcast the identical Prairie Home Companion programs on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday at noon every weekend.
It is apparent that the cost and duplication are merely a pretext and an excuse. They actively want the Friday BSO concerts off the station. It’s astonishing, and I can’t imagine what motivates them, but I don’t see any other explanation for the position Mr. Voci took.
Here’s an e-mail I just sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, with a cc to email@example.com —
Dear Ms. Holmes:
Please consider broadcasting the Friday Concerts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
WGBH/WCRB management has foolishly terminated a 58-year tradition by failing to continue the broadcasts when ‘GBH bought ‘CRB and dropped classical music from ‘GBH. I’m sure you’re already picking up listeners to your classical music programming as a result. But it would be a tremendous coup for WHRB to pick up the Friday BSO concerts — comparable to acquiring the Metropolitan Opera when ‘CRB dumped those broadcasts. There is an audience available for the taking. And the concerts begin at 1:30, so it’s all within your regular classical programming hours. (If you decided to broadcast the concerts which they occasionally give on Friday evenings, those would cut into “Record Hospital” but rarely if ever for more than 1/2 hour. And ‘GBH hadn’t been broadcasting them anyway.)
WCRB also used to broadcast BSO concerts (on Saturdays), and they were able to get sponsors for it. Now that they are “non-commercial” they don’t need the sponsors. Perhaps some of those sponsors would be interested in sponsoring the Friday concerts on WHRB.
Again, I think WGBH/WCRB management’s stupidity presents a golden opportunity for WHRB. I hope you can take advantage of it.
Comment by Joe Whipple — January 7, 2010 at 12:01 am
Romy the CaT —
In your last two paragraphs when you talk about WHRB management, you mean WCRB, don’t you?
I don’t think WHRB has done anything wrong.
Comment by Joe Whipple — January 7, 2010 at 12:09 am
CORRECTION: Yes, I am sorry, I did mistype. Of cause I did not mean the WHRB (they are not on the picture at all) but the WCRB/WGBH 99.5. Joe Whipple, thanks for correcting me.
Comment by Romy — January 7, 2010 at 12:18 am
I attended the meeting, which was a real downer. Mr. Voci, the manager of WGBH radio, said that the number of listeners to public radio in the USA has grown 30% over the last several years, but the number of WGBH listeners has remained the same, which is unacceptable. Of course WGBH will increase the number of its listeners by duplicating the WBUR programming, because WGBH’s signal is four times stronger. However it appeared clear that Voci wants the number of classical music listeners to increase also. If I heard correctly, WCRB had 300,000 “listeners” (in quotes because MacNeill admitted they don’t really listen, they just have the radio on 99.5)versus 100,000 classical music listeners for WGBH. Voci wants more listeners. Do the math. Voci will sacrifice the WGBH listeners, who really love and listen attentively to classical music, in order to keep the much larger number of WCRB “listeners”. What do you think Voci will do when the number of current listeners to 99.5 does not increase? Do you think he will require that more serious classical music be programmed? Or do you think he will dumb down the 99.5 programming? It’s all about the numbers. A telling fact about Voci is that he made no attempt to persuade us that he (or anyone in authority at WGBH) really personally cares about classical music in the way that the 400 attendees do. He wasn’t there to fire us up to buy HD receivers and get our friends to listen to the “great” classical programming on 99.5. He was there to tell us, between the lines, that we (who really love and listen to classical music) are a dwindling group and that WGBH (89.7 and 99.5) has to move on. I’m sure he would admit that good classical music can be one of the most wonderful things in life, but he would direct our attention back to the reality of the numbers. Christopher Lydon made the valid point that we have all kinds of wonderful classical music from around the world available streaming on the web, but that WGBH’s classical programming could be successful if it focussed on the immensely interesting and varied musical life of the Boston area. Voci did not follow up or comment on Chris’s idea. It appears that WGBH is not going to take chances to try to lead and innovate in classical music radio. This is really a tragedy for WGBH and for civilization in the Boston area.
Comment by Ed B — January 7, 2010 at 1:01 am
Steve Landrigan’s statement “He [Voci] also noted that WCRB’s programming will include 61 live broadcasts from Boston Symphony concerts, as contrasted to 28 available separately on WGBH and WCRB heretofore,” is surely a misunderstanding. Heretofore WGBH broadcast all BSO Friday afternoon concerts, of which there are 17 this season; WCRB broadcast all Saturday evening concerts, this season 25; and one or both stations broadcast the Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts, 24 scheduled this summer. So a maintenance of effort would have led to a total of 66 BSO broadcasts. Possibly the figure of 28 refers to the concerts which WGBH had broadcast in 2009, but for WGBH to “add” concerts by including the former commercial WCRB coverage on the new “public” WCRB does not represent a gain to the listening public.
At any rate Mr. Voci’s pathetic attempts to claim that more is being provided now than formerly show a terribly myopic view which looks only to what is funded from WGBH’s budget and takes no account of what the listeners actually used to get and will now get.
While I’m at it (again) let me also point out that nobody raised the important point that the Friday afternoon audience is not the same as the Saturday evening audience. Just as duplication of “A Prairie Home Companion” on Saturday evening and Sunday morning is justified by the listeners who can only hear it at one time or the other, so broadcast of both Friday and Saturday concerts is justified by the listeners who can only listen at one or the other time
Comment by Joe Whipple — January 7, 2010 at 2:27 am
Could someone please point out to me where the question of “…the Minneapolis syndicate…” supplying a lot of the programming of Classical 99.5 was dealt with?
Comment by Richard Mitnick — January 7, 2010 at 6:58 am
I thank Joe Whipple for pointing out Steve Landrigan’s mis-characterization of Voci’s comments about the so-called additional BSO broadcasts. I’ve corrected his report. I will also add a reference to the feed from the APM Syndicate in the next article. I’ve also enlarged my publisher’s notes at the end of the article.
Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 7, 2010 at 9:25 am
*** Steve Landrigan’s statement “He [Voci] also noted that WCRB’s programming will include 61 live broadcasts from Boston Symphony concerts, as contrasted to 28 available separately on WGBH and WCRB heretofore,” is surely a misunderstanding. Heretofore WGBH broadcast all BSO Friday afternoon concerts, of which there are 17 this season; WCRB broadcast all Saturday evening concerts, this season 25; and one or both stations broadcast the Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts, 24 scheduled this summer. So a maintenance of effort would have led to a total of 66 BSO broadcasts. Possibly the figure of 28 refers to the concerts which WGBH had broadcast in 2009, but for WGBH to “add” concerts by including the former commercial WCRB coverage on the new “public” WCRB does not represent a gain to the listening public.
Yes, it is very much correct: the extending of live broadcasts is not factual but purely is accordance with blind and deceptive administrative calculations. Since WGBH took over WCRB then the total amount of live broadcasts shell not be viewed against the old WGBH but as combined sum of WGBH+WCRB. Let look facts. The WGBH made “conveniently despaired” the old WGBH playlist and do not publish on line the today’s content of “In Performance” hour. But the people who know what is going on might recognize a few undeniable facts:
1) Old WGBH had 2-3 gests per week in Fraser studio with live play. The New WGBH 99.5 has one per month and play the old recording as “live” events.
2) Old WGBH had 1-2 programs per day when the live-to-tape recordings were played. There were frequent programs from European Broadcasting Unions and from other souses when the whole large symphonic pieces were played during a day. The fact of the upcoming evens was pre-announced. The new WGBH does not do it at all.
3) The old WGBH had 1-5 fragments per day with own WGBH own recording of live music around Boston and it did not considers as “in performance” – it was a normal operation of the station during the day. During festivals the old WGBH play 10-20 live-to-tape fragments per day. The 3 new WGBH 99.5 play one lazy hour from 1-2PM, the content is not announced and the selections are very questionable.
As a result the percentage of the pre-caned music from CDs vs. the live music is very much not in favor to live music. I am not a huge fun of studio recordings from CDs, I would much prefers live performances, I am sure most of listeners are in the same boat.
The only positive aspect of the changes is that WGBH extended the Tanglewood coverage – that is truly good sign. But what it has to do with abandoning of Friday afternoon concerts? The Tanglewood broadcasts and Friday afternoon broadcasts are not conflicting; they are in the different season. Also, again, there is absolutely no TECHNICAL cost of the Friday afternoon broadcasts – the BSO-WGBH dedicated link is running 24/7 and for the WGBH it is just a subject of routing the signal feed from one source to another.
It was told that WGBH hired a management consultant to help them to do the transition from WGBH to WCRB and it is presumably was the consultant’s idea to get rid of the Friday afternoon concerts. The consultant pitched the idea and the WGBH management, who has no sense of own cultural identity for own programming, did not know anything better then to follow. Did the WGBH consulted with own program directors or with own listeners – nope, they did not. One consultant-Moron proposed an idea, and clues WGBH bought it. Where that Moron now? Provided his/her “victorious” consulting services about management of DuPont chemical plans in West Virginia? Perhaps the WGBH management needs to join that person….
Comment by Romy The Cat — January 7, 2010 at 10:14 am
The Greater Boston run a program dedicated to the event. Search for the “Classical radio changes”:
With all positive or negative moment of that TV interview I can’t not understand why everyone have accepted the idiotic premises that FM radio is fragmented media meant to be used by ADD people in cars. The GBH and CRB management keep pushing this ridicules idea (because the do not know better) and people gullibly buy into it. Even Bettina Norton during the interview went into advising what kind short pieces need to be played on radio. Come on, people, that is 24-hour radio, they programs they want. With popper packaging they can broadcast even the complete Wagner operas – set a program, allocate the reserved spot, put an intelligent host in the game and you will build a network of very loyal devotees. The fragmentation of classical music, particularly without any context is converting WGBH to “Fox News with Tunes” and it is something that used to be NPR! I can only predict that is time the WGBH 99.5 will not be able to play anything longer then and anything more valuable in context then the John Cage’s 4?33….
Comment by Romy The Cat — January 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm
The most urgent question rising from the meeting was barely mentioned by the speakers. Of the 400 odd people present, there were perhaps 20 under the age of 50. Conclusion: the audience for onair classical music is rapidly headed towards extinction.
The whole system needs a total rethink, and there is nothing in the recent management moves by WGBH to indicate that there is any inhouse sense of mission or vision of the future.
The WGBH Foundation needs, if possible, to find ways to make the arts alive and present for all age segments of the population. The tired formulas of classical Muzak (I spent a chunk of yesterday afternoon listening to 99.5) will do nothing to achieve this goal no matter what the broadcast frequency.
Maybe, if WGBH management cannot somehow be awakened from its somnolence, a new foundation/public entity needs to rise up.
music director emeritus
The Boston Camerata
Comment by Joel Cohen — January 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm
The panel was scheduled for this date because it was too timely an issue for the Intelligencer to leave until I return to town on Feb. 26. My husband, dog Ichiban, and I leave Saturday. We knew that meant that the student attendance would be minimal, as most schools either are still on break or had just re-opened after the holidays, with inadequate lead-time to get out the word.
Aging classical music listeners haa been an issue for concert-going for some time; it is probably different for radio listeners, who do not have to “buy tickets,” but it is an issue that badly needs to be addressed.
Joel Cohen’s recommendation is one that we have been musing on, also. More later.
Comment by Bettina A. Norton, editor — January 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm
I think that GBH should take CRB back to it’s roots in the 1950’s. Rather than hearing a movement from a Mahler symphony with the announcer commenting that it was “bouncy”music. Or having Beethoven’s Fourth presented as” My favorite Beethoven Symphony, take a listen and tell me what you think…” music appreciation/nap time in elementary school……..I would prefer the glorious 1001 Strings, the scintillating Andre Kostelanetz, the joy of Mantovani , Ray Conniff and Percy Faith. For a taste of something more modern, a bit of schlock from Andre Rieux. All this stuff could be presented in the “wonder” of glassy, constricted, one dimensional HD broadcasting.
Such a change would “put all the cards on the table” and could enable those inclined to turn the page on GBH/CRB, relegating this entity the world of easy listening and to move on to helping HRB fill the void.
Further, I suggest that those who have decided to no longer donate to GBH consider BUR as the recipient of their NPR dollars.
Comment by David Curtis — January 7, 2010 at 4:19 pm
Could not resist sending in this:
I am right now listening to WHRB. What soul-satisfying musical selections! And all short (Mr. MacNeill):
Hovhaness, Meditation on Orpheus, Corelli Trio sonata, Myskowski, cello concerto. Wonderful listening.
who needs WCRB?
Comment by Settantenne amante di Musica — January 7, 2010 at 5:22 pm
We should take care not to let ourselves be marginalized as elitists, which terms like “intelligent programming” and “dumbing down” can play into. Romy’s reference to context is exactly on the mark. We are asking for programming that is informed by and informing of the rich contexts of composition, transmission, and performance of music, and we reject the commodified sound clips whose only context is celebrity, and which, like most commercial and political content these days, has been carefully selected and packaged to avoid waking us up. What indeed is WGBH’s mission?
Comment by Paul Rabin — January 7, 2010 at 5:54 pm
WHRB vs. WGBH: they are truly different stations. The WHRB is no recourses and no objectives to do even a part of what WGBH is able to. The WHRB is student run station their agenda is very much encapsulated in Hayward interests. The WGBH 99.5 is NPR station and in my view their accent shall be live and live-to-tape broadcasting of musical events. They do have skills and recourses to do it.
Bettina A. Norton wrote: Joel Cohen’s recommendation is one that we have been musing on, also. More later.
A few years back I have proposed a subscription- only, high-fidelity, serious music internet feed with a leasable receiver. How much would you pay to have 48kHz/20bit feed with all day long high quality musical content? Do you spend $100 per month to buy CDs? Would you give a 2/3 per month as a subscription for a need do not do it anymore. If somebody would start this operation then, please, invite me – I would like to work there….
Comment by Romy The CaT — January 7, 2010 at 5:56 pm
Here’s another negative angle to the new WCRB programming: the constant, obnoxious “I love classical music because….” interruptions. These “testimonials” have become really irritating — they strike me as all too similar to commercial ads. How much air time is taken up with people talking about music rather than letting us listen to music? Is a “selling soap” technique going to hold listeners’ interest?
Of course I’m not referring to intelligent comments about compositions by hosts Cathy Fuller, Ray Brown, and Brian McCreath. And that brings up another sore spot: the firing of Richard Knisely. That was travesty number one by WGBH, even before they took over WCRB.
I had never listened to internet radio before, but these new developments (coupled with very poor WCRB reception) have forced me into it. And now I’ve discovered that there’s a whole world of classical music out there to listen to. It makes me feel much less loyal to WCRB.
Comment by Gloria Leitner — January 7, 2010 at 6:39 pm
To echo Gloria’s thought about loyalty: Yes, there is an ocean of interesting musical programming available online, coming from many sources, from lavishly subsidized state radios to nerd broadcasters in their underwear, and a number of easy ways to make that music play on your home sound system.
The Boston stations, who could very well achieve the goal of renewal if they strongly willed it, need to counter the massive competition with intelligence and innovation.
Our local stations will create loyalty when they invest human resources, and money too, into sparkling, creative, inventive programming based largely on our enormous local pool of cerebral strength and unique musicianship. Cookie-cutter programming, done on a shoestring, whether fed from from syndicates or from the Cd archive on Western Avenue, won’t spark the needed revitalization, and will lead the once-powerful WGBH presence further down the road to oblivion. I don’t think any of us would like to see this happen.
Comment by Joel Cohen — January 7, 2010 at 7:21 pm
WGBH runs a facebook group titled “Team Classical.”
The member feedback must have been intolerable, within the past couple of days it has hidden the “wall” (the area where member comments are shared).
Comment by Jeff Boudreau — January 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm
“Here’s another negative angle to the new WCRB programming: the constant, obnoxious “I love classical music because….” interruptions. These “testimonials” have become really irritating — they strike me as all too similar to commercial ads….”
Brian O’Donovan’s “Celtic on WGBH” is similarly plagued by similar commercials.
Comment by Jeff Boudreau — January 7, 2010 at 8:43 pm
Paul Rabin makes good points. It seems as if the GBH mission is so changed as to be non-existent. Classical music which was once the showpiece on the organization is now a commercial commodity.
For a non-profit entity, a marked departure from it’s Mission statement/task should bring into play questions about it’s right to continue and to raise funds.
Comment by David Curtis — January 7, 2010 at 9:18 pm
As a classical music listener and frequent concert goer for 50 years, I am extremely disappointed in WGBH-FM and WGBH-TV. This institution which, at one time attempted to “educate” its audience now is contributing to the dumbing down of America.
The vast majority of performing arts programs on ‘GBH TV are sheer garbage… Andre Rieu, Bocelli, and Celtic Women etc. which “passes” as great art are repeated endlessly. Ocasionally an opera is broadcast or a symphony.
WGBH-FM has had some excellent classical music programming but all too little of it.
Several Years ago when WCRB dropped the Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts: WGBH refused to broadcast them. It appears that they didn’t want to upset the Celtic Music audience by moving that program to a different time slot. Fortunately, WHRB-FM, with a much weaker signal, began to broadcast the MET. This decision, along with many other programing policies plus the current WCRB debacle has made my decision to NOT renew my membership of 37 years duration.
WAKE UP WGBH..
Comment by Ed Burke — January 8, 2010 at 1:44 am
never give to ch 2 wgbh–they have plenty of cash!
Comment by Albert Coholic — January 8, 2010 at 9:51 am
Let’s stop complaining about what’s on WCRB and recognize that the problem is what’s on WGBH. News, talk, public affairs formats draw a larger listening audience than non-pop music (classical or other) so the powers that be at ‘GBH long ago decided that simply duplicating “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” was not enough. They substituted “The World” (All Things Considered light) for an hour of afternoon music; and they repeated it just three hours later. They added the embarrassing “Take Away” (yes, please do) to wake us in the morning.
Let’s acknowledge that in cities with just one public radio station, it is not inappropriate for the NPR-based news format to win out. But Boston is blessed with two public stations and one, WBUR, does an outstanding job of news and ppublic affairs. Hooray for those of us who have supported the two stations over the years. Are we not now being asked to support a pretty much identical (Emily Rooney notwithstanding) service just because ‘GBH doesn’t want to have the smaller audience?
Commercial competition is fine because it ultimately benefits the consumer, at least much of the time. But, this isn’t commercial; and we are the consumer as well as the principal supporter; and the change at WGBH is not serving us. Perhaps it is time for the Lowell Institute or whatever the institutional structure is that drives the station to get out of the radio “business” and concentrate on television.
Perhaps it’s time for the managements of all non-commercial stations in the region to sit down together and talk about how best to serve their specific “markets” as well as the public at large.
Comment by Herb Gliick — January 8, 2010 at 9:55 am
Many of us who listen to WGBH, WCRB,WHRB and WBUR are classically trained musicians who have devoted many years to the art of hearing and appreciating the infinite richness that unfolds in classical music. Why shouldn’t we, a faithful core contributing audience, demand the most informative, discriminating, scholarly, and yes, sometimes elitist! classical music programs from our Public Radio? We expect the highest quality leadership in politics and other arenas. Why not expect the same standards at WGBH? The idea that classical music doesn’t appeal to a young audience is refuted by the wonderful program “From the Top”. If they lead with an undiluted, uncompromised, quality classical voice, audiences will follow.
Comment by Jane Lewis — January 8, 2010 at 10:37 am
“a Minneapolis syndicate is creating the playlist” – can someone explain what this means? How is a Minnesota group involved with Boston public radio?
Comment by Larry Genola — January 8, 2010 at 11:15 am
Want to understand why these changes happened? The national NPR & PRI shows make more money by airing their shows simultanously on two stations in Boston. Getting rid of music makes room for syndicated shows, which means more money for them. Yes, “All Things Considered” and “Weekend Edition” are technically non-profits, but there are people that profit from increasing public radio listenership: each show has a sales team and reps get paid per station and how many listeners; NPR and PRI executives get paid for increasing listeners; local station managers benefit by boasting on their resume about growing listenership which is parlayed into a higher salary or board seat at a different orginaztion (it doesn’t matter to station managers their changes rip the culture from their station, these managers are focused soley on their career and they will leave for another city soon).
First look at the coverage maps for these two Boston public radio stations:
They are virtually identical, with towers near each other and both fully covering the core of Boston. The WGBH signal stretches farther out into the suburbs, which means it can reach more people. The NPR and PRI money makers saw WGBH as an opportunity to profit so they started pushing the shows already heard on WBUR to WGBH.
Now both stations have nearly identical programming and the NPR profiteers get paid more.
Every weekday both stations carry BBC World Service, Morning Edition, Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered.
On the weekends both stations air Weekend Edition, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, On The Media, Speaking of Faith, and Car Talk.
The people behind these shows are the ones pulling the strings.
Comment by NPR is killing Music — January 8, 2010 at 11:49 am
Larry Genola asks for a clarification. In his earlier review with BMInt, John Voci mentioned that American Public Media’s syndicated classical music syndicate is supplying the content for WCRB during much of a typical broadcast day. APM is based in Minneapolis.
Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 8, 2010 at 11:54 am
That wider world of classical music broadcasting — in existence right now — that was mentioned off and on at Tuesday’s gathering?
Check out this site: http://theairthisweek.blogspot.com/
As can be seen, they do it differently — and better — elsewhere. Market values be damned!
Comment by Richard Buell — January 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm
Just a comment about WHRB 95.3: if you live close-in to Boston proper or Cambridge, you’re in luck. But WHRB has what is probably the most troubled of the “major” station in town. It operates with just 1,700 watts atop the prominent building near the theater district, about 610 feet above city streets. Remember, a full-powered station at that altitude would be allowed thirty-thousand watts. WHRB-FM not only operates on a frequency restricted to lower power than the “majors”…it also utilizes what is called a DIRECTIONAL antenna that distributes it full signal only in specific directions. That is because there’s a station on the SAME frequency in southern Maine, and on adjacent frequencies in Providence, RI (95.5) and on Cape Cod(95.1).
Comment by Laurence Glavin — January 8, 2010 at 4:17 pm
So WCRB is mostly just playing canned music? Taped music disguised as a live deejay? Did any Boston deejays loose their job when they started playing taped music from Minnesota?
A quality community radio station would play music handpicked by local experts from that community. Someone familiar with the tastes of local listeners should be playing the music. How can a taped program from Minnesota understand what works in the Boston arts groups and venues?
We don’t need WCRB to hear that taped Minnesota show, that is already syndicated on other stations and can be streamed over the internet via computer at home or iPhone in your car. Why donate to WCRB for taped music that is already easily available to us elsewhere? WCRB needs to be providing the community something unique. Cut the canned music!
Comment by Larry Genola — January 8, 2010 at 9:11 pm
“Cut the canned music!”
Regarding the canned music issue, I raised this point after last week’s meeting with a senior member of the music production staff. He said that there was simply inadequate funding to generate individualized, locally-produced programming 24/7, thus the move towards cheaper, turn-on-the-faucet syndication.
There is plenty of depth here in Boston on the classical deejay bench. What is lacking at the station is the will to allocate necessary resources — surely quite modest by TV or big-sports standards — to consistently good cultural programming. Once again, the question of the WGBH/Lowell Foundation’s mission comes to the fore. Is that mission being honored today?
Of course, the function of a publicly funded music station in a world-class city is much, much more than spinning platters, as that used to be called back in the day of Guillaume de Machaut. The other, mainly-missing-right-now 80% — live performances, master classes, music history series, programs and mini-series on special topics, non-Western classical music, jazz and folk (yes, I believe these belong), pre-concert and intermission features, current CD reviews, blindfold comparisons, feeds from American and European festivals, a composers’ forum, a daily what’s-going-on onair journal, a young performers’ showcase minus the comedy routines, etc etc etc — also needs to be evisioned, and given room to run. We here in Boston are settling for much, much less than the best. Our public media needs to represent who we are. That is what they are there for.
Comment by Joel Cohen — January 9, 2010 at 9:26 am
What do you think William Pierce ( former voice of the Boston Symphony concerts ) would have to say about all this?
Comment by rick — January 9, 2010 at 7:05 pm
Re:rick and William Pierce. I’d like to know what Ron Della Chiesa thinks !
Comment by David Curtis — January 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm
Great! The 99.5FM that according to Mr. Voci was the “classical music saver in Boston” just broadcasted BSO live with confused stereo channels: the BSO’s first violins on right – very creative! The center image of the orchestra sonically defeated and moved God know where. The whole wooding section is like not even exist. Do I need to take yoga classes and to learn how to listen radio sitting upside down or Yo-Yo Ma did play hios Haydn concerto from the last chair of the second violins? Mind you that all of this barbarism is taking place with absolutely perfect modulations from both R and L 99.5 channels, and with perfect in-phase arival. I do not know what Mr. Voci is willing to “save” with such creative orchestra mixing.
Comment by Romy The CaT — January 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm
Does anyone know how to cancel a “sustaining” membership to WGBH. Is there a way?
Comment by Upset in Ashland — January 10, 2010 at 10:05 am
Upset in Ashland – I would either call or, better yet, write a letter stating you want to cancel the membership AND WHY. That way, it will be in writing and you can leave a paper trail. Also, look at the fine print, if there is any, on the membership materials.
Comment by Mikhaela Houston — January 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm
I do not think that it would be any problem to cancel a membership.
What interest me is if there is any chance to provide conditional donations. The bylaws article for non-profits usually allows receiving assets in a format of free donations and also in a format of donor-imposed conditions. I am not sure how WGBH operate – I presume as they are non-profit. Still, they ran commercials and do many other things that I do not feel comfortable with. So, would it be possible to donate money to WGBH and to make sure that it would go ONLY for inreaching classical programming but not for organization of NPR’s banquets or paying off the liquidation consultants after the GBH will screw the thing to the ground? Are any lawyers out there who can clear this thing up?
Also, for God sake, can somebody advise those “professionals” to get own call sign. We have two WGBH on a dialer – it is ridicules. The “99.5 all-classical” is not a standard FM name!
Comment by Romy — January 10, 2010 at 6:13 pm
Upset in Ashland – I, too, am considering cancelling my “sustainer” membership, being unable to receive WCRB (home, office, or commute) and finding 89.7 almost painful to listen to at times. All it would take at this point is for 89.7 “talk radio” to start taking on-air listener calls to appeal to the red neck demographic.
On a semi-positive note, Joel Cohen (01/09/10 suggests some very exciting classical programming options. Perhaps WGBH should consider hiring him to bail them out?
Comment by Ray Stephens — January 10, 2010 at 6:14 pm
I’m lucky enough to live where I can receive WHRB, but am so frustrated by the low level of programming and dumbed-down twaddle on WGBH that I’ve given up….now it’s BBC3 live and BBC3 iplayer (broadcasts available online for 7 days after first airing) by computer. There’s great supporting information on their website, and the radio commentary is literate and informative. Even MET Opera broadcasts are accessible in real time and (for now) on the 7 day replay.
Comment by EYF — January 10, 2010 at 6:31 pm
It’s a little disingenuous of WGBH to say that classical music gets low ratings when they are doing everything in their power to ensure the ratings stay low. Since Robert J. there has been no attempt to cultivate and promote on air personalities or to allow them to develop individual styles in programming and presentation. As Joel Cohen points out there are so many different types of classical music programming that could be developed other than simply spinning a disc.
When I came to Boston as a college freshman in 1969 I came from a small town and a family where there was no classical music. I had some interest, but I really knew nothing about it and had heard very little. It was radio that allowed me to develop my interest. I listened to those BSO and Pops broadcasts. Knowing that the performances were taking place just down the street made the performances more interesting to me than if they had been on records or some orchestra someplace else in the world. Because of these broadcasts I eventually started going to concerts. There were many Friday mornings and Saturday afternoons spent standing in the rush ticket line.
Back then WCRB published a program guide each month, similar to what WHRB now puts out, listing all the music they would be playing. I would go through it line by line and highlight the music I wanted to hear. There is so much music that I first heard on the radio. So many recordings I’ve bought and concerts I’ve gone to because of the radio. This is what is being lost and it is a shame.
I was just looking at the blurb for WCRB at classicalwebcast.com. It is really a revolting paean to banality and as far as I can tell perfectly in line with the intentions of WGBH:
“You don’t need to know anything about our music to enjoy WCRB, the music is fresh but familiar, relaxing yet invigorating.Our program hosts are warm, friendly people, not the stodgy academics you may have heard on other stations.”
Remember that WGBH tv discontinued BSO broadcasts and now gives us endless repeats of Andre Rieu. Why should we expect them to do any differently on the radio?
Comment by jim784 — January 10, 2010 at 7:08 pm
I wonder is anything might grow out all of this besides just a few frustrating posts at the numerous internet sites? The WGBH administration does not give a damn about nether your frustration nor your interests. Mr. Voci was openly annoyed during the meeting but I do not blame him: he is an accidental person in classical music broadcasting. My point: is anything actionable might be done with WGBH in order do not let the senseless bureaucrats to suffocate one of the few remaining windows of live classical music from MF?
I run a consulting company and last few month I’ve been dealing with a large local financial institution. During the last fall if was surreal in their office – each Friday a bunch of people turned listening BSO live broadcasts. It was almost funny – how people creatively planed meetings, how they put the headphones on, how they closed doors in their offices at 1.30PM. During the broadcast intermission we: the accountants, consultants, directors, lawyers, legal assistants, data administrators, project managers, compliance officers, auditors… etc… met at coffee machine and discussed BSO play. It was a unique window in another world, the world where there is something alive and more existing then in our boring corporate institution…. This week it was like a death of a family member… People asked me “Where is your BSO?” What can I say? I told them that some anonymous WGBH corporate freak decided to shine his/her intelligence and vandalized our live BSO broadcasts. It is truly same! Some people talk about demise of FM as media but if the demise is man-made then it is not demise but murder. I ask again: is anything practical might be done to stop the people who destroy WGBH?
Comment by Romy The Cat — January 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm
Romy — The call letters for 99.5 are still WCRB. They say them once in a while.
Comment by Joe Whipple — January 10, 2010 at 10:07 pm
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 12, 2010 at 8:12 am
BMInt is working on a story about two public radio stations, KUSC and WETA. They both morphed from variety format to all-talk and lost audience share. Subsequently both switched to all-classical and substantially improved market shares. This could be a cautionary tale for WGBH.
Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 12, 2010 at 8:52 am
The large gathering last week was heartening for the size of its turnout, as well as for some trenchant remarks by Chris Lydon and Joel Cohen. It remaibns to be seen whether our disappointment with the policies of GBH can be shaped into enough pressure to elicit significant change.
I would like to suggest that the “Orgy” archives at WHRB might be made available somehow — they were and continue to be truly splendid examples of classical music broadcasting. Thanks Dave Elliot.
Thanks to Lee Eisman for his dedicated work.
Comment by Robert Meyers — January 12, 2010 at 11:48 am
To Robert Meyers: My understanding is that WHRB does not keep archives of its Orgy® programs; they just play ’em, they don’t rerecord the recordings.
Comment by Vance Koven — January 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm
As regards WHRB, aside from the herculean student energies that send forth their orgies, even the daily classical programming is relatively diverse, inclusive (and more consistently provocative than the jazz). And its signal serves me better in Belmont than the eWCRB’s.
Comment by Fred Bouchard — January 13, 2010 at 3:40 pm
i live in provincetown, mass., the very end of cape cod for those of you who don’t know… and i get a clear signal on WCRB, even though technically i’m out of range of the broadcast. The fact of having cape cod bay between my radio and the tower makes propagation over salt water and unobstructed paths the key. Anyway, just wanted to say that listeners can greatly improve reception by knowing how to set up a dipole antenna, like the one that came with my radio. try different locations in your house, too. Small adjustments can be significant.
As for public radio: it sucks. It has become so commercialized and ratings oriented that i can’t listen anymore. there are programs that are good of course, but the incessant whining for money and the incessant sponsor ads and the incessant “listeners like you” bullshit is so torturing that i have gone to the internet, for good. bye bye broadcasting. the internet is the only place that will spawn the mission values that once made public broadcasting a treasure.
Comment by alannala — March 28, 2010 at 3:17 am
Would you please also do a story on KDFC 102.1 FM (www.kdfc.com) out of San Francisco, CA, and also KQAC 89.9 FM (Allclassical.org with out the 995 in front of it) out of Portland, Oregon? Both stations are doing innovative programming and are bringing the WOW FACTOR to Classical Music. That was what I hoped would have been the result of WGBH taking over WCRB.
I used to be an intern at the old WCRB, and was deeply saddened when the decline started with Nassau Broadcasting, running the station into the ground. Let’s not forget that Greater Media bought the station to steal its 102.5 FM Frequency.
If WGBH does buy another frequency, I hope that it’s Country 102.5 FM, and WCRB is allowed to return to it’s original home on the dial.I also found out that some of the great recordings that WCRB used to have were sent to WHRB. A prime example is an RCA Victor Recording of Castel-Nuovo Tedesco’s Guitar Concerto # 1, which I had requested be played on WCRB, when owned by Nassau, and I was told that it was not a reasonable request, since they no longer had the recording. However, I requested it on WHRB, and that is how I found out that ‘ HRB may have some of ‘ CRB’s recordings, as they had the recording.
Comment by Paul — April 12, 2010 at 10:54 am
So now it has been four months since that meeting at the beginning of 2010. What has happened since?
Truly, the longer I have thought about it the more I am convinced that certain institutions in Boston have made the musical community perhaps lazy and prone to take for granted that their art would always be made accessible and available to the public by the broadcasting power of WGBH or the prestige of the BSO or the conservatories. This community needs to take its fate into its own hands. The INSTITUTION of WGBH is DEAD. Everyone in the musical community from Joel Cohen to Gunther Schuller to younger musicians need to ask themselves what they would like to see in an ideal classical music, not station but disseminator, and only THEN think about the technology. Surely if all the money (from individuals or institutions)that is given to the ‘GBH empire for the sake of MUSIC and take for grated by them were to directed to clean new project, well, Mr. Cohen, let your imagination run wild.
Comment by Edward Wagner — April 13, 2010 at 1:42 pm
Is anyone reading this stream anymore?
In response to Edward Wagner (above) and others I would like to announce that I am developing a website that will do the same thing I did for 25 years at WGBH, only more focused on the music community of the Boston area. A wide variety of performances by local individuals and ensembles updated regularly, covering all periods without qualms about the contemporary!) in daily hosted segments, along with features and specials introducing the various music makers, artists and composers, venues, festivals, etc.
I am currently building the site and trying to drum up some backers for it.
info or comments welcome! -firstname.lastname@example.org
Comment by Richard Knisely — May 14, 2010 at 7:02 pm
I heard about this meeting after the fact; turns out I had another meeting at the time.
I was a listener of WCRB from ca. 1964 until recently. At age 12 I discovered “Classical” and fortunately in 1964 there were a half dozen Classical outlets on Radio. One at 107.something (WBZ-FM?); 104.1 for the flagship station of the Boston Concert Network, WBCN. 102.5 for WCRB; 96.something for WXHR(?) that carried DeKoven–they became WJIB; 95.3 for WHRB; 90.9 for WBUR; 89.7 for WGBH. On AM there was even WCRB at 1330 and WXHR at 740.
Then the Rock tripe hit. The classical stations dropped like flies to be replaced by cookie-cutter sound alike Rock drivel–a pile driver & air compressor combo would be more entertaining and might do useful work instead of John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, etc.
Bloated salaries at ‘GBH might be the real problem. Plus having an agenda..are the 89.7 nightly jazz broadcasts a piece of Affirmative Action? Is Friday Symphony too many Dead White Males?
OK. The posts are useful, though there is too much left-wing drivel out there. Corporations are Evil while non-profits are good. Hogwarsh! WGBH/WCRB is an institutional problem and this dumbing-down of Classical is a direct result of the New Left Drivel of the 1960’s and ’70’s. Marx to Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to Obama is the progression of Academia.
Wonder what has become of Richard Knisely’s “projects”? I will look into that American Public Media outfit: one needs to know what Satan looks like!
Comment by Nathan Redshield — May 2, 2011 at 12:43 am
I guess the ideal of reading this site as a respite from vitriol such as the previous comment was all too much to hope for…
Comment by Gerry — May 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm
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