IN: News & Features

Latest Ratings Show WGBH Audience Flat and WCRB Down 14%


The changes in the formats of WGBH and WCRB, which hundreds of BMInt comments lambasted, have not produced results likely to please management. The latest Arbitron reports, the first to measure the response to the changes, show WGBH with the same listenership it had in October and WCRB with 14% less. On February 3rd this writer made a presentation on behalf of BMInt to a very courteous WGBH board board of directors:

Good Evening. I am like those at the table, a director of a Boston cultural non-profit. In my case it’s the Harvard Musical Association, where I have been director-at-large for twenty years and the chairman of the program committee for all of that time. So I can speak with authority on matters of classical music programming as well as fiduciary responsibility connected with a board seat.

I am also the publisher of the Boston Musical Intelligencer, an electronic journal of the Greater Boston classical music scene which I founded with Harvard’s distinguished Professor Robert Levin and Bettina Norton. We have been on line for 16 months and have reached a level of over one thousand daily visits and 8,000 daily hits. When we launched our coverage of the WGBH-WCRB transitions, our comment rate went up 10-fold. So I know what the classical music public is thinking on the subject, and they are not happy.

I have also seen some of the feedback from WGBH listeners, and I wonder if this body has also seen them. In a matter of a few weeks, the responses numbered in the thousands. I would guess that conservatively the comments ran 6 to 1 negative.  So my educated surmise for the total would be something like 5,000 negative and 900 favorable. I understand from former WGBH staff members that the trend has continued in January, and I strongly urge the members of this board to ask for copies and analysis.

In short, your listeners, as defined by your reports and the BMInt comments, are very unhappy with what WGBH has done. What we hear most are four main complaints— dumbing-down of content (including the use of the American Public Media syndicated classical music feed), diminished signal coverage, the loss of Friday BSO broadcasts, and irritation over WGBH’s attempt to duplicate the highly successful all-news format of WBUR in order to reach a larger, younger audience.

Much has been said about the aging of the classical music audience. Yes, many are over 60, but they are often well-off and generous, as they generally are out of the child-rearing years. Furthermore, it has ever been thus. In 1900 the average age in ticket lines for the BSO Friday afternoon concerts was 60.  But those 60-year-olds were once 25… and today’s 25 year olds will someday become the prominent classical music demographic. And I should add in this context that there is a tremendous institutional overlap on board, staff and supporter levels between the Symphony and WGBH. And many at the BSO on all three of those levels are extremely displeased.

I also encourage this board to ask John Voci to explain statements that are puzzling to many people: how he claims to have increased classical music broadcasts in Boston despite having cut 50 hours per week overall. Does he include the Boston Pops, which many classical-music lovers would not consider serious music? Does he include recorded BSO concerts which are no substitute for live broadcasts? And does he include additional talk about the BSO by WCRB announcers? And why does he cite duplicative service as the reason for having cut Friday BSO broadcasts even though for many years WGBH has duplicated WBUR’s NPR programs. Both statements are truly Orwellian.

When confronted with the apparent in-defensibility of his justification for cutting BSO broadcasts he later cited costs of $25,000 to $30,000, misunderstood by most of the people in attendance at our recent panel discussion as reflecting per broadcast costs and not the entire season— a fact, I hasten to add, that, as it is becoming known, is further infuriating contributors who already feel cheated. Here are my calculations based on private discussions with former WGBH staff:  First, the BSO charges NOTHING. The marginal cost for a hypothetical Friday BSO broadcast includes only two costs —an engineer, and an announcer. The total amounts to roughly $200 per hour. If the broadcasts cost $400 each, and there are 20 each season, then the true additional cost for a year is $8,000. That would be .06% (six one hundredths of one percent) of the $13,000,000 radio budget. A rational person is unlikely to cite accept cost as a reason for the dropping of Friday broadcasts. It’s got to be a marketing-driven decision. Is it because on Friday afternoons Mr. Voci wants shorter musical stretches in his playlists to allow the placement of more infomercials? If it’s really a matter of the $8,000, then Boston Musical Intelligencer will offer to raise the funds. I could even be persuaded to write a personal check here and now if I were assured of the return of Friday broadcasts to WGBH.

I do believe John Voci’s statement that WGBH switched to the all-talk format because management was unhappy with the station’s ratings. For a 100,000-watt clear channel to be 23rd in the Boston Arbitron© ratings (used by permission) is indeed proof that something was amiss. Here are some relevant comparisons showing average daily listeners and market ranking for the month ending Dec. 9 (before the changes took place):

WQXR= 306,000, rank 23 in NYC (17.1 million market)
KUSC= 300,000, rank 19 in LA (12.1 million market)
WETA= 230,000 rank 7 in DC (4.7 million market)
WBUR= 195,000, rank 9 in Boston (4.3 million market)
WCRB= 123,000, rank 16 in Boston
WGBH= 38,700, rank 23 in Boston

However, what should be of particular interest to you is WETA in Washington, DC which rose to a rank of 7 in DC (5% of the market) after shifting its format to all classical. Their listenership doubled and listener support rose by 48% as a result of that change. And they didn’t have to borrow $15 million or hire an expensive new staff to make that happen. After ineffectually going all-talk for 18 months, WETA allowed the single DC classical music station to be sold, and without spending any appreciable amount of money, exploited the situation with some cleverness. They decided that as the only classical music station in DC they would be appreciated by a large public. They were content to let their NPR rival present news and talk. They now have the third highest number of listeners of any non-commercial station in the country.

So I encourage this board to ask some tough questions of management.

Will WCRB’s 123,000 listeners become WGBH contributors?

Will the formerly loyal WGBH classical listeners continue to make contributions?

Is it financially responsible to hire expensive additional staff simply to duplicate the successful WBUR format?

Was it a breach of your fiduciary duties to allow WGBH to deplete its $15 million dollar line of credit to buy WCRB when any additional contributions which may accrue from WCRB’s listeners won’t even come close to paying the debt service?

Let’s be realistic: the former WCRB listeners are not used to being asked for contributions and many of the former WGBH classical listeners either can’t receive WCRB, don’t like its style, or both. The result is likely to be diminished listener support. This is the clear import of the Audience Service Reports.

After forsaking its mission to provide unique content to an underserved public, which was the basis of the FCC giving the station its 100,000 watt clear channel, can WGBH survive its next license renewal hearings unscathed?

So whither WGBH? May I predict that it will wither if it continues with its current plans? The latest Arbitron reports, the first to reflect a full month of the changed format, shows that WGBH is exactly where it was in October, while WCRB has slipped 14% in the same period. WBUR has also slipped by about 15%. One plausible conclusion is that WGBH did attract some of WBUR’s listeners, but not enough to compensate for those who migrated to WCRB or left the WGBH-WCRB enterprise altogether. One could also reasonably assume that WCRB’s lost status was clearly the result of more loss of their former listeners than gain from the previous WGBH classical listeners.

Please consider learning from WETA’s lesson, but don’t take 18 months to figure it out. Admit your mistakes; sell WCRB and make WGBH radio the crown jewel that it ought to be. And let WBUR continue in its successful mission without misguided competition.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you, and thank you for listening.


F. Lee Eiseman, publisher
Boston Musical Intelligencer


49 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. One cannot — not this one anyway — think of any way to improve upon Lee’s address. Not only does it cover all the bases, but fairly challenges the Board to scrutinize management decisions. After all, WGBH-WCRB looks to be a failing business.

    I only wish there were some way of saving WCRB in addition to realigning WGBH. Perhaps it could be programmed as a light-classical and jazz outlet? That ought to capture a share of audience.

    Comment by clarkjohnsen — February 4, 2010 at 3:24 am

  2. Excellent presentation. Was this at a regular meeting of the WGBH board? How did you get on their schedule? They certainly don’t make it obvious how anyone can get their attention.

    I have noticed recently on WBUR that there are limits to content available on all news/talk stations. Their local news every half hour is quite repetitive, and after an hour or so I have to tune away in boredom. It’s like watching CNN, with the hammering away on insignificant stories and the same meaningless headlines continually scrolling by. How is WGBH supposed to add value by duplicating an already redundant format?

    I called WGBH recently to remind them that I had asked to suspend my sustaining membership. The person on the phone was very nice and said “It’s about the classical, isn’t it?” They must be hearing that a lot. They’re not likely to admit how much of an impact it’s having on their donations.

    Comment by David Ofsevit — February 4, 2010 at 8:52 am

  3. Thank you, Mr. Eiseman. “Orwellian” about sums it up…as if saying something often enough makes it true.

    WGBH has squandered its long-time status as NPR’s flagship arts and culture station to instead stand in the shadow of NPR’s flagship news and public affairs station — WBUR.

    Even among people who don’t give a damn about public radio: if you posed that scenario to 100 people in the street, a clear majority would say “hey, that’s probably a bad idea”. It just defies common sense.

    Hopefully something can be remedied before this scenario continues much longer.

    Elise MacDonald
    New Ipswich, NH

    Comment by Elise in NH — February 4, 2010 at 8:53 am

  4. The WGBH website contains some fine print about board meetings. One can ask to be invited to address the public session, which last night, was scheduled for 5 minutes. I was politely interrupted after three minutes when i was half-way through my talk even though there were no other “guest” speakers. Nevertheless, i believe I reached some of the trustees. They seemed palpably shocked when i alluded to the 5,000+ negative Audience Service Reports (I should have mentioned how many Lowell Society members have dropped their contributions. They also seemed surprised when I mentioned how little the restoration of Friday BSO broadcasts would cost.

    There was no discussion of my comments while I was there and the meeting went immediately into closed session as i left. Staff offered to distribute the text of my comments and I told the gathered trustees that the entire text would be posted on BMInt.

    Finally I can tell you from my conversations before the meeting that some of the trustees agree with our goals.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 4, 2010 at 9:04 am

  5. Good presentation. I am not sure if the advice to get rid of WCRB is the one that I would give at it would lose whatever pity we have left with. Why do you think that the very same people who made the WCRB move would know what might constitute the “WGBH as the crown jewel radio”. The problem is not with the actions of those people do but with the reference points of their judgment. As we say if the people do not know then they do not know… From what I was told they have no even own judgment but they outscore judgment and thinking to external consultancy where a bunch of typical corporate retards with cultural IQ of the size of their shoe make the “recommendations”….

    The people who “cook” WBUR do know what constitute class in radio broadcasting. I have to admit that I even enjoy to listing WBUR’s foolishness during their money raising campaign – they do with taste, class and creativeness. The new WGBH do not have this class. WGBH has a number of great legacy programs – they are wonderful – but the whole “sense” of the station is very weak. Yes, they bring interesting people to interview sometimes but I mostly do not “get” what they are trying to do and I tend to switch to WBUR , the NPR station where I feel more “home”.

    The WCRB is a totally different story and we well spoke about it before….

    So, Lee, your presentation went and gone but the most interesting in your presentation is not what you said but how they reacted upon it. Did they treat you like an annoying bug that was catapulted from another planet? Did they comprehend what you were talking about? How you were accepted? Did they ask any questions? Did you detect any interest on their faces? Was it the Board of Directors or it was the Advisory Board? As I understand the Advisory Board has only suggestive power…. Was the WGBH upper management presented during the meeting? Were any other people from public addressing the Board? Did they promise to review your submission in some kind of timely manner and promise some kind of official response?

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 4, 2010 at 9:13 am

  6. Romy-I spoke before the 33 member Board of Trustees-not some advisory group. There was no staff present and no other “guests.” I was treated with courtesy even though I was cut off after three minutes. VP, Martina Ribero thanked me for my “thoughtful remarks” and my taking the time to come and address the body. That’s all I heard. They haven’t yet offered me a seat.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 4, 2010 at 9:21 am

  7. Wonderful! Wonderful! Exactly what needed to be said!

    I have tried to listen to WCRB – to be fair – and found I cannot abide one more repeat of the Cockaigne Overture. Really, the Boston classical music audience deserves (and demands) much, much more than we are getting. Might I also note that the blues and folk shows that WGBH axed in its effort to become “new and hip” are sorely missed?

    The “new” talk and news shows on WGBH are not only merely duplicative; they are insultingly simplistic. They make no new contribution to what WBUR offers.

    WGBH, you’ve made a grave error. Correct, it, please!

    Comment by Sally Sommers Smith — February 4, 2010 at 11:10 am

  8. Excellent initiative and reporting, Lee.

    “I can tell you from my conversations before the meeting that some of the trustees agree with our goals.”

    This is very good news, if in fact the people were talked to were levelling with you.

    During my stint at the station (I ran Morning Pro Musica, 35 hours live per week, for 5+ weeks, replacing Robert J. Lurtsema in early 2001) I got the sense that management upstairs lived on another planet from the working stiffs — announcers, technicians, and immediate support staff — who actually made the station run. I assume from the further evolution of WGBH since then that the situation has gotten still worse, and that the concerns of the managerial elite are light years away both from their own staff, and from the tastes and desires of the music-and-arts listening audience that are the station’s core supporters. Otherwise, how to account for one idiotic, counter-intuitive, and counter-productive strategic move after the other?

    But if there are indeed trustees who understand something about public broadcasting, and local pride, and program quality, there may be hope for a change. Perhaps management, squeezed from below by troublemakers like us, and from above by enlightened supervision/direction, will improve and make some intelligent moves. At least, that is the optimistic dream scenario.

    Here in France, I am constantly reminded how much richer and multidimensional the public radio programming is than what we get back in supposedly-world-class Boston. I am thinking first of all about music, but the same goes for the “talk” channels here, with so much to offer about literature, theater, philosophy, social movements etc etc. These can make NPR seem, at times, o-so-shallow and monochromatic. While abroad, I can almost forget about Diane Rehm…for a while at any rate…

    Anyway, thanks for keeping up the pressure, and for fighting the good fight.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 4, 2010 at 2:29 pm

  9. I’m so glad that all of the above has actually been said, as it has mirrored my thoughts for longer than just the WCRB debacle. I used to contribute faithfully to WGBH for decades, but have given it all up now. Hardly worth watching on TV (they have a program once in a while worth watching but it’s usually at 2AM so have to record it), and not radio either. I rediscovered WBUR and I listen mainly to WHRB for classical music (so much more intelligent–they actually think you are grown up.)

    Perhaps we should all show up for the next license renewal hearings. Could you keep us informed?

    By the way, I learned about this website only when WHRB announced the information at the beginning of January, and now check it frequently.

    Comment by Renata Cathou — February 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm

  10. WGBH, you’ve made a grave error. Correct, it, please!

    Hm, I do not know if it was such a “grave” error. The error was in execution and results not in the objectives. I do not feel bad if Boston would have a full-time classical station, or if any city would have it for this matter. The problem is that “just any classical station” does not do a lot of good for me, nether foe many others. Obviously the people who run the show at WGBH have no comprehension what distinct a good classical station from any classical station and the “consultants” that they higher to advised them were just Morons. So, the old WGBH split on two and now we have semi-impotent WCRB and WGBH-Talk that straggles with identity and going to nowhere. Are those people at WGBH management so bored that they decided to spice up own existence with a glories action of self-distraction? It is hard to say….

    Still, I do not feel that it is an obvious error. It looks like it was an error because we, the consumers, got screwed. But imagine that WCRB, did not cancel Friday broadcast, but instead pick up broadcast of open rehearsals and all ALL Tanglewood events… Then WCRB start to broadcast most of the Boston large events, Opera Boston, other NE orchestras…. Pretend that programs are built not by stupid computer generators of random numbers but by the people who care about interpretation of music and about what is being play on radio. Pretend that the announcers do not sound like those overly-exuberant idiots but like a normal people. Pretend many others pretends …. why would it be a mistake then….

    Comment by Romy The CaT — February 4, 2010 at 4:09 pm

  11. I’m delighted to hear that somebody made such a professional, well-informed, value-based presentation to a board of trustees who apparently don’t have much of an ear for the quality of programming on the station they are supposed to be overseeing.
    Like many others, I attended the Musical Intelligencer’s panel last month and I’m still outraged by Voci’s condescending defense of his presumably market-driven, but certainly philistine policies.
    Robert J. Lurtsema must be spinning in his grave.
    Somehow the angry howl of classical music lovers who found all their favorite programming dumped by the radio station they supported with years of tax-deductible donations hasn’t reached the tin ears of the WGBH’s corporate managers. Maybe they need an HD outrage receiver to hear what the station’s loyal, dues-members have been saying about their format change.
    Over four hundred people attended a forum titled “What Can We do for Classical Music Radio in Boston?” and the answer from almost everyone who packed the pews that night would be “put it back on GBH!” If you want non-stop news and talk, there are plenty of places to go. If you want classical music you must now – by fiat of GBH’s management – go to WCRB.
    Only your probably can’t, because CRB’s Lowell-beamed signal is too weak to be heard in much of Boston, the entire South Shore, and all points beyond – wiping out classical radio for thousands of households where GBH’s famously strong signal is a New England treasure. Holy Fathers in Taunton found themselves excommunicated by GBH. Disabled seniors in Auburndale were deprived of the daily companionship of the music which speaks to their souls.
    Classical music lovers, many of whom have listened to the station’s first-rate programming since Lurtsema began Morning Pro Musica in 1971 (or longer) discovered that their so-called “membership” in GBH meant nothing. We made annual contributions to the station’s upkeep, but management failed to consider our interests or consult our opinions when it decided to banish classical to CRB’s radio signal Siberia.
    Many such listeners – or former listeners – packed the Old South Church forum, and about three-quarters of the house raised our hands asked how many of us could not receive CRB’s signal. Listeners told GBH’s radio general manager John Voci that his station has forgotten both its mission and its identity. GBH’s management, they pointed out, was now using Arbitron ratings to justify its program decisions just like any commercial station. A woman from Roslindale who told Voci she felt “abandoned” by GBH drew little comfort from his advice that she could listen to the station’s stream on computer. She didn’t have a computer.
    Even those who can tune in CRB aren’t happy with what they’re hearing. The new non-commercial CRB is too much like the old commercial CRB, playing single movements of symphonies, relying on a narrow playlist of classical’s top 50, and dropping the live in-studio performances by talented, young, otherwise seldom heard performers that GBH’s new, expensive, completely unnecessary studio was supposed to be for.
    GBH’s seven-hours-a-day classical programming was educational, it was a service, it furthered Boston’s vibrant musical culture, it was a daily presence in thousands of households. The station’s news and information mission was more than adequately carried out by its morning news show, its drive-time All Things Considered and The World shows. Why, GBH members wanted to know, did the station have to cut out its heart?
    Adding insult to injury, the spin GBH puts on this cruelest cut drives listeners like myself positively over the edge. The station’s happy talk promos keep bragging that GBH has “saved” Boston’s only all-classical station by purchasing CRB. To classical music lovers that’s like firebombing Boston to save Nut Island. Then they ask us for money.
    Voci let drop the real reason for the change when he dismissed an appeal for just a little bitty taste of classical on GBH. “It’s a business,” he responded. Well, no, it’s a nonprofit educational organization. Businesses don’t ask people to donate their money. A station determined to operate like a commercial, for-profit radio station has no right to its non-profit status and no reason to be considered a “public” station at all.
    I’m afraid that what Mr. Vocci is really saying is that classical music fans are old and will only get older and that as soon as they’re out of the picture altogether in GBH’s business plan the better things will be for the bottom line. But I wonder if management has calculated on a rapid withdrawal of support by a core membership.
    My wife tore up her membership card and mailed it back to GBH with a suitably scathing letter of resignation. Maybe if other listeners withhold all contributions until classical music comes back to GBH, management will figure out how to tune us in.

    Comment by R.C. Knox — February 4, 2010 at 4:30 pm

  12. I am a subscriber to BSO concerts and so attend regularly on Saturday evenings. Contrary to popular misconception, the audience is not comprised mainly of those in their dotage, but is diverse in many respects and (increasingly) consists of 20-somethings. The audience is there, but CRB is not. I sorely miss educated announcers (too few familiar voices!) and am annoyed by the weekend early-evening programming of very short pieces accompanied by unenlightened yammer.GBH purports to have saved CRB and classical programming; I wish they would.

    Comment by marie g. caradonna — February 4, 2010 at 9:26 pm

  13. Why has no one noticed a certain delicious irony? Had the WGBH brass not interrupted my address they would have heard me offer to write a check for the Friday Symphony broadcasts.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 5, 2010 at 8:43 am

  14. I would love to know how many of our readers listened to the former BSO broadcasts and, if so, on what time period: Fri. afternoon or Sat. night? Or both?

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — February 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm

  15. Lee. I don’t think they would have wanted your check. I doubt that the reason for dropping the Friday broadcast was financial, despite their proferred rationale.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm

  16. Ms. Norton, I used to listen to both the Friday afternoon and Saturday evening broadcasts (I loved hearing the same program twice, especially if it included thorny examples of both 20th-century and contemporary music). I miss both programs now, and do not receive WCRB in the Harvard Divinity School neighborhood I live in at present (is there a divinity that shapes WCRB’s ends?). I will not renew my membership in WGBH.

    Comment by Alan Levitan — February 5, 2010 at 2:42 pm

  17. Why has no one noticed a certain delicious irony? Had the WGBH brass not interrupted my address they would have heard me offer to write a check for the Friday Symphony broadcasts.

    Lee, I do not see any “delicious irony “in it and I am not particularly pleased that you have offered a fanatical assistance in this way. It of cause sounds as a good gesture but it is very much a white flag of the fight for the idea. What would be next – an ambulance would refuse to take your wife to a hospital until you pay for gas? A teacher would not teach your kid math or literature unit you buy new book for the school library? I am not wild about the precedent. I am not wild the idea that some idiots have vandalized a freely donated to public service and then someone would pay extortion to get the service reinstated. I would rather to pay money to a campaign that would target dismissing the people who were responsible for this disaster. Nazis burned books, Soviets forced composers to write stupid music, NPR canceled live BSO broadcast and replace them with sophomoric tunes and the boulevard annotations as music introduction. Do you think your check would make any dent in the indifference and empathy of the WCRB administration?

    Anyhow, I feel that it is too cheap for us, the public, to buy off our ways to have BSO broadcasts back. The Friday BSO broadcasts shall be back not because someone paid for it but because it was the law of this lend for 50 years and there was no single person who would like to kill it… not one except the people who are not familiar/appreciate nether classical music nor FM culture. Did you ask the members of the Board when they heard the Friday BSO broadcasts last time? I doubt any of them ever were listening the Friday’s matinee concerts…

    Comment by Romy The CaT — February 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm

  18. I attended the HD Telecast of the Metroplitan Opera’s performance of “Simon Boccanegra” at the Randolph Cineplex on route 139, about 20 miles south of Boston. I had a conversation with a friend who works and lives where he can no longer receive broadcast classical music. He signed up for XM/Sirius satellite radio and is therefore lost from any blandishments for contributions WGBH-FM or WCRB might initiate. (Hmmm…WBUR too.)

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — February 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm

  19. A few weeks ago, while our car was at the garage for repairs, we rented a new Hyundai with satellite radio incorporated, and checked out the classical channels. They are similar in style to the current WCRB — behold, the new American groupthink meme for classical radio — except that the sound quality was better, the works were played complete rather than in discrete movements, and the commentary was slightly less dumb.

    So, unless public service radio manages to distinguish itself from its commercial, for-profit counterparts, it is eventually doomed.

    In France, where I am just now, there are two classical choices on the FM band. The commercial choice, “Radio Classique,” provides sound bites and light listening for people who want that sort of thing. The public station, “France Musique,” provides genuine music programming, and it’s the one we and our friends tune to.

    There needs to be the same kind of differentiation in Boston if the “public” station is to continue to merit, and to receive, public support.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 8, 2010 at 5:37 am

  20. If trying to persuade the brain trust at WGBH that they have made a mistake ultimately proves unsuccessful, perhaps Harvard could be persuaded to tap listeners for support to expand the reach
    of WHRB. Sacrificing a hundred hours or so a year to Crimson football and hockey play-by-play would be a small price for classical listeners to pay for the station’s sophisticated music programing.

    Comment by Herb Gliick — February 8, 2010 at 9:24 pm

  21. The dumbing down of just about everything.

    The following, by Susan Jacoby, in today’s N.Y. Times, is about the decline of foreign language literacy in the U.S. But similar comments could be made about arts literacy, and classical music literacy. And our general, national letting go of intellectual standards is the root cause of the WGBH mess.

    ” Richard D. Brecht, executive director of the Center for Advanced Study of Langauge at the University of Maryland, told me in 2003 that “America has no long-term strategy to build the expertise we need to understand other cultures. We’ve seen, in the worst possible way because of our lack of Arabists, where this short-term thinking leads.”

    The situation is, needless to say, worse today as the recession has squeezed education at every level. But the utilitarian problem — we don’t have enough diplomats, spies and business people who know other languages — is rooted in the much larger dumbing down of the American concept of what it means to be an educated person. Most states have dropped foreign language requirements for high school graduation, and most students complete college without studying any foreign language. We’re a Know-As-Little-As-You Can-Get-Away-With Nation and proud of it.”

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 9, 2010 at 12:31 am

  22. Thank you for the full text of your presentation to ‘GBH board on a matter close to my heart (and wallet for support). Excellent comments, esp by Joel Cohen and Romy ” imagine that WCRB, did not cancel Friday broadcast, but instead pick up broadcast of open rehearsals and all ALL Tanglewood events… Then WCRB start to broadcast most of the Boston large events, Opera Boston, other NE orchestras…. ”

    Yes, I am “over 60” and I started going to live performances of the BSO as soon as I got to Boston in 1958 – and had a good program of music education in high school “back in the day” too. Classical music on FM radio has been an important part of my life – even when the WCRB signal kept deteriorating, there was WGBH and good old WHRB. The big watts of WGBH are sorely missed.

    Comment by Sarah Salter — February 9, 2010 at 2:00 pm

  23. I, also, attended the forum at the packed Old South Church. There is a fact that has generally been overlooked in all the superbly articulate responses here, so far. John Voci, whose attitude was indeed condescending (he showed irritable impatience when one of the later of many attendees who spoke out criticized the dropping of Saturday BSO) made it clear that they were buying WCRB because the station had a large listenership (around 340,000, not 140,000 as Mr. Eisman indicated) and that this was a much larger classical audience than on WGBH. The impression was that far more people could take advantage of classical music on WCRB than on WGBH. But here is what those figures (and the entirely cynical attitude of WGBH management) conceal. WCRB’s signal has 27% of the power of WGBH. WGBH’s huge reach in the community has been pointed out many times. The area served by WCRB has drastically diminished the possibility of hearing classical music for MOST of the former WGBH classical lovers. In other words, access to classical music has been shut off for most of the area in the reach of the WGBH signal. The inference of Mr. Voci’s comment is that screwing most classical music lovers in Southern New England out of any access to it will, it hopes, enrich WGBH, but, ALSO, simply blows off all those who WGBH knew from the start it has abandoned in order to make more money. They hope. I think, however, they will be rudely surprised when they ask the WCRB listeners to pay for what they are now getting.

    Comment by Michael Vine — February 9, 2010 at 7:49 pm

  24. I stand by my listenership numbers for WCRB- and Arbitron confirmed my interpretation before publishing. WCRB had a 3% share of the approximately 4 million Boston market listeners. Thus 123,000 is correct.

    I agree with the rest of Mr. Vines’s comment.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm

  25. P.S.
    I believe the “disappearing” of Richard Kniseley is a potent symbol for the precipitous decline in the quality of the classical music on the “new” WCRB. I mean relative to what WBGH was presenting. Their handling of that situation was entirely offensive. One day he was gone and there was not a word from the station about why, nor any recognition of his years of contributions. Subsequently, when many angry people inquired about why he was simply “disappeared” the form reply they sent indicated that “he wanted it” that way. That, I know, as do many others, was a bald-faced lie. His friendly and casually informative style is now a thing of the past, at least as far as the management of the “new” WCRB is concerned (which, from what I can tell, is not different than the managment of WGBH iteelf.) It seems that a campaign of lies about this whole dirty business is the policy of the WGBH brass. Another indication of the corporate-style take over there. And this at not one, but TWO, so called “public” stations!

    Comment by Michael Vine — February 9, 2010 at 8:12 pm

  26. We are rethinking our bequest in our Will. Our Florida station goes over backwards to please their audience. Maybe WEDU will use my funds better.

    Comment by Barbara hewitt — February 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

  27. First, let me commend Lee Eisemann for taking the initiative to make his presentation to the ‘GBH Board of Directors. I’m not sure they have to sell WCRB: they could make it the news and chatter station, or they could make it light classics with the MPR product (KCME in Colorado Springs does an pretty good job, mixing locally produced and syndicated programming, on a shoestring budget).

    Second, to answer Ms. Norton’s question: I used to listen to both, but the Friday broadcast was the serious one because my brother in Japan calls every Saturday evening at 9:00 for our weekly chat, and dinnertime is just before that. So I can only listen to the first hour of the Saturday concert, and that with distractions. I subscribe to 3 of the 4 Thursday BSO series, and I liked being able to give concerts a second hearing, especially when the music was new or unfamiliar. Of course it was also good to be able to listen to concerts that were not part of my subscriptions.

    Unfortunately, with the trend to Friday evening concerts, the opportunity is not always there, even if all Friday matinees are broadcast. I wonder if rebroadcasts are the answer. They could give us the Thursday concert on Friday afternoon. They could give us the Thursday or Friday (or Tuesday) concert on a Sunday afternoon. There’s nothing inherently wrong with BSO on Record or the Pittsburgh Symphony, but our locals in concert should have pride of place.

    But I’ve been thinking a bit about WCRB and listening to it sporadically. And I may be lapsing into heresy. I began listening to WCRB in the early 1950’s and I enjoyed what they played. I don’t have the playlists from the period, of course, but I don’t think there was much Prokofieff, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Mahler, Bruckner, or Shostakovich. I think it was pretty much 1750-1900, with a pretty good percentage of “light classics” of the sort that used to get played at the BSO as well as Pops but now seem to be beneath the BSO.

    What I have heard on WCRB in the past month or so has struck me as being less “dumbed down” that what they gave before the purchase by WGBH. I don’t think it would serve the audience to have it be “all Schoenberg, Shostakovich, and Szymanowski all the time.” We should get Mendelssohn’s “War March of the Priests” and Weber’s Overture to “Der Freischütz” once in a while. In other words, I think at this point coverage is a much greater problem than content.

    So the real solution is exactly what Mr. Eisemann told the directors: put all-classical on 89.7. There will always be room for improvements to the programming — more broadcasts of local performances, more in-studio performances, better balance in the recorded playlist. But the main thing is to make classical music available again to the entire WGBH listening area.

    Thanks again, Lee, for taking the cause to the people who need to hear it.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 12, 2010 at 10:42 am

  28. Here’s an example of what I mean when I say WCRB is less “dumbed down” than it used to be. I tuned in a few minutes ago and heard the last couple of seconds of a piece. After a brief silence, Cathy Fuller identified it as being from “the sound world of Charles Ives: his ‘The Unanswered Question.'”

    I don’t think we’d have heard “The Unanswered Question” on WCRB last November.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 12, 2010 at 11:13 am

  29. Lee-
    The figures I quoted were those Mr. Voci presented at the forum, from my notes. I can’t vouch for them beyond that. However, if you are reading the current Arbitron, which slices and dices the numbers in various ways, make sure it is the CUME you are quoting. That is the total number of individuals who listen, on average, every week during the quarter surveyed. If you did all that, then someone (ahem) must be skewing the facts deliberately.

    Comment by Michael Vine — February 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm

  30. I have verified my figures multiple times-In October WCRB had 123,000 average daily listeners and WGBH had 38,000. For WCRB to have had 340,000 average daily listeners they would have had to have been Boston’s top rated station. That was actually WXKS in October.

    Clearly either your notes or Mr. Voci’s pronouncements are in error.

    I have also learned that the average Friday BSO broadcast attracted 11,600 listeners while WCRB on Saturday night had 17,100. One can conclude from that data that for WGBH listeners, the BSO Friday broadcasts were statistically more popular than other time slots whereas the WCRB broadcasts of BSO were of less comparative interest to their regular listeners.

    And BTW I never mean to suggest that WGBH had “dumbed-down” WCRB- WCRB has better programming now than it has had in years, especially when Cathy Fuller is on. What people mean is that classical music overall is simpler fare at the new WCRB than it was at the old WGBH.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

  31. I agree with Lee’s evaluation of the “new” WCRB. It is smarter than the old version, but dumber than the music programming we used to get on WGBH.


    What I’d like to point out is that these comparisons, while interesting, beg the main question. A really well-conceived music-and-arts FM station would not run like ANY of these models. It would, instead, contain a rich, carefully balanced mix of live and delayed-live concerts and studio performances, carefully produced, informative segments on specific subjects by enthusiastic and well-qualified mavens (an example of this, recently overheard on France Musique, was about Vincent d’Indy’s relation to Wagner, with excellent musical examples. Another was about Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana vs. the “medieval” versions. Etc etc), current news of the performing arts in the Boston area, and, yes, a moderate dose of “canned” music here and there (I suggest 2 AM to 7 AM).

    The lack of serious thought about what a great public-service music station could be in our area is distressing to me. Sure, the old WGBH was better than the new WCRB, but remember, the old WGBH was not really fulfilling its potential, either. Rather than argue about how to make terrible programming simply mediocre-to-average, let’s go back to the drawing boards and imagine the best we can for our wonderful town. And in the process, let’s set an example for the rest of our countrymen and women.

    for some further thoughts on how to make our local radio better.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 13, 2010 at 6:29 am

  32. What I find very troubling is the statistic that WCRB lost listeners after the switch in ownership, when it should have been picking up some from WGBH. Unless this is something that happens every December (people who don’t like “music of the season”?), it seems that the slightly improved WCRB was not to the taste of some of its former listeners. Or does someone have a less alarming explanation.

    Mr. Cohen’s suggestions for programming improvements are very thoughtful, and I think I’d enjoy hearing such programming. It would be interesting to have some idea of how the costs of producing it would compare with the current budget for WGBH. Would they save money, break even, or need more?

    But in light of the loss of listeners from WCRB, I think that management also needs, if they are serving the public, to find a way to recoup the audience and expand it. As we heard at the forum, there are always new listeners who discover classical music on the radio. What they hear has to make them want to come back as well as widen their appreciation of the range of music called “classical.” If all-classical is put back on WGBH, given the expanded area covered, the audience should be well over 200,000. If it stays on WCRB, it should at least get to 130,000, shouldn’t it? What does WETA provide its audience?

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 13, 2010 at 5:46 pm

  33. Here’s an answer to Joe Whipple’s question. WETA in Washington, DC is the only classical station in a 4 million+ market. Furthermore they have a 75,000 watt transmitter with an ideal location. Have a look and listen

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 13, 2010 at 11:20 pm

  34. Here’s WETA’s playlist from last January 21 — a date I chose because it’s my birthday

    12:07 am Heinrich Marschner Hans Heiling: Overture

    12:16 am Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Concerto #9

    12:49 am Ludwig van Beethoven Violin Sonata #3 in E-flat Major, Op. 12 #3

    1:08 am Nicola Porpora Cello Concerto G Major

    1:27 am Johann Sebastian Bach Musical Offering, BWV 1079: Sonata for Flute, Violin and Continuo

    1:46 am Grieg, Edvard Norwegian Dances, Op. 35

    2:03 am Joseph Haydn String Quartet, Op. 54 #1

    2:22 am Ludwig Spohr Violin Concerto #8

    2:42 am Filippo Gragnani Quartet, Op. 8 for 2 guitars, clarinet and viola

    3:02 am Robert Schumann Cello Concerto

    3:25 am Georg Philipp Telemann Banquet Music, Part 3: Concerto

    3:40 am Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Concert Fantasy for piano and orchestra, Op. 56

    4:09 am Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony #8

    4:35 am Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade

    5:20 am Jan Zach Oboe Concerto B-flat Major

    5:36 am Franz von Suppé Poet and Peasant Overture

    5:47 am Antonio Salieri Concerto for Flute and Oboe in C Major: I. Allegro spiritoso

    5:54 am Johann Sebastian Bach English Suite #1 in A Major, BWV 806: III & IV. Courantes I & II

    6:06 am Robert Schumann Symphony #2: IV

    6:16 am Antonio Vivaldi Concerto, RV 463

    6:26 am Felix Mendelssohn Song Without Words, Op. 19 #3 in A Major “Hunting Song”

    6:36 am Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier: Waltz Sequence #2

    6:45 am Georg Philipp Telemann Concerto for 2 Horns D Major

    6:54 am Emmanuel Chabrier Scherzo-valse

    7:06 am Bernhard Henrik Crusell Clarinet Concerto #1 E-flat Major: I

    7:18 am Tylman Susato Four Dances (Tk. 8-11)

    7:26 am Richard Wagner Lohengrin: Prelude to Act III

    7:36 am Ludwig van Beethoven Fidelio: Overture

    7:43 am Franz Clement Violin Concerto in D Major: III. Rondo. Allegro

    7:56 am John Playford Dancing Master: Prince Rupert March, Masco

    8:06 am Tomaso Albinoni Oboe Concerto (C Major)

    8:15 am Johan Halvorsen Mascarade Suite: 4 Dances

    8:25 am Jean-Féry Rebel Country Dances

    8:36 am Johannes Brahms Symphony #3: IV

    8:46 am Domenico Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata (K. 475)

    8:51 am Alexander Glazunov Triumphal March

    9:05 am Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” K. 265

    9:20 am Ludwig Spohr Clarinet Concerto #3

    9:49 am Antonio Vivaldi Concerto, RV 103

    10:05 am Carl Stamitz Partita E-flat Major

    10:16 am Antonin Dvorák Violin Concerto

    10:53 am Alexander Borodin In the Steppes of Central Asia

    11:02 am Joseph Haydn String Quartet, Op. 71 #2 “Apponyi”

    11:21 am Johann Nepomuk Hummel Bassoon Concerto F Major

    11:45 am Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Violin Sonata #17 in C Major, K. 296

    12:07 pm Jean Sibelius Finlandia

    12:16 pm Franz Schubert Symphony #8 “Unfinished”

    12:45 pm Johannes Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn

    1:08 pm Domenico Scarlatti The Good-Humored Ladies

    1:23 pm Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Sonata #6 in D Major, K. 284

    1:53 pm George Frideric Handel Concerto Grosso, Op. 3 #6 in D Major

    2:05 pm Sir Arthur Sullivan Gondoliers: Overture

    2:13 pm Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony #6 “Pastoral”

    2:59 pm Frédéric Chopin Barcarolle

    3:09 pm Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Violin Concerto #4 in D Major, K. 218

    3:32 pm Robert Schumann Carnival in Vienna

    3:54 pm Richard Wagner Album Leaf

    4:06 pm Vasily Sergeyevich Kalinnikov Symphony #1: IV

    4:16 pm Joseph Haydn Symphony #43 in E-flat Major “Mercury”: I. Allegro

    4:24 pm Antonin Dvorák Slavonic Dance, Op. 46 #6

    4:34 pm François Adrien Boieldieu The Caliph of Baghdad: Overture

    4:43 pm Edvard Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16: III. Allegro moderato molto e marcato

    4:54 pm Johan Helmich Roman Oboe d’amore Concerto in D Major: III. Allegro assai

    5:06 pm Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Concerto, H 445 in G Major for Flute and Strings: I. Allegro di molto

    5:18 pm Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Swan Lake: Spanish & Neapolitan Dances

    5:23 pm Silvius Leopold Weiss Concerto grosso in B-flat Major, SC 57: I. Allegro

    5:34 pm Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 5: I. Allegro espressivo

    5:46 pm Georg Philipp Telemann Oboe Concerto in F Minor

    5:54 pm Camille Saint-Saëns French Military March

    6:06 pm Felix Mendelssohn Symphony #1 in C Minor, Op. 11: IV. Allegro con fuoco

    6:16 pm Henryk Wieniawski Polonaise Brillante #1

    6:21 pm Franz Schubert Piano Sonata, D. 960 in B-flat Major: IV. Allegro ma non troppo

    6:34 pm Ludwig van Beethoven King Stephen: Overture

    6:42 pm Antonio Vivaldi Concerto, RV 522

    6:55 pm Frédéric Chopin Etude, Op. 25 #1 A-flat Major “Aeolian Harp”

    7:00 pm News PBS NewsHour

    7:58 pm Joseph Haydn Symphony #3

    8:14 pm Benjamin Godard Concerto Romantique for Violin & Orchestra

    8:39 pm Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Concerto, H 468 in E-flat Major for Oboe and Strings

    9:03 pm Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Symphony #21 in A Major, K. 134

    9:25 pm Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Swan Lake Suite

    9:57 pm George Frideric Handel Concerto, HWV 287 in G Minor for Oboe and Strings

    10:07 pm Sergei Prokofiev Toccata, Op. 11

    10:13 pm Johannes Brahms String Sextet #1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18

    10:49 pm Michael Haydn Symphony #10

    11:08 pm Antonio Vivaldi Concerto, RV 242

    11:18 pm Johann Nepomuk Hummel Piano Concerto #2

    11:50 pm Aram Khachaturian Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia

    Note a couple of things: it’s three pieces per hour except during drive time, when it is six; and during drive time there are single movements of larger works, as indicated by Roman numerals following the titles. I’ll have some further comments.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm

  35. It seems to me that WETA is successful as a station in the mold of WCRB. To me it looks slightly better that WCRB before the purchase by WGBH, but still not up to the current level of WGBH. It appears that every piece they played was a commercial recording — although they apparently do play material from the National Symphony Orchestra on occasion, and they seem to have programs in which there is some discussion of the music.

    My take on the scene before the changes is — to use a different analogy from Dave MacNeill’s — is that WCRB was Classical Music 101: Introduction to Classical Music. WGBH and WHRB were Classical Music 311: Classical Music for the Connoisseur. (One could argue that ‘GBH was actually closer to Classical Music 205: Intermediate Classical Music.)

    What I would suggest is that the audience numbers from here and DC suggest that there is a wide audience for Classical Music 101, but not for 311. And I think that it is important to have a station that will hook on classical music the person who comes on it by chance or is deliberately exploring the field. I think for the future of classical music that it is even more important than having a station that serves the connoisseur.

    You can have a station such as Joel Cohen envisions. You can have a station as successful as WETA. I have seen no evidence that one station can be both. What I hope is that all-classical will be brought to WGBH 99.7 and that it will have enough of Classical Music 101 to have an audience proportional to WETA’s and enough Classical Music 205 and 311 to bring the listeners to be able to enjoy music beyond what is available on a typical day on WETA. First we need to get all-classical back on WGBH. Then we need to encourage the station to tweak the programming. Maybe 101 during the day and 205/311 in the evening — not a rigid separation, but a general approach.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm

  36. Correction: in my second line in the previous comment, I meant to say that WETA is not up to the current level of WCRB.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm

  37. And, for comparison, here’s the France Musique program grid for today, 7 AM to midnight (past midnight, and til 7 AM, France Musique turns into a classical sausage factory, WCRB or WETA style).

    Please note that this is a real radio station, with real programs and different producers assigned to different topics. Not everything on this station is great, but there is enormous variety and a vast horizon of subjects, some of them beautifully treated. Also, lots of live or delayed-live music. There is NOTHING comparable to this in Boston or N.Y. — I can’t vouch for other parts of the USA….

    Leur premier CD
    par Gaëlle Le Gallic

    ” Leur 1er CD ” : Yumeto Suenaga (piano)
    ” De Bach à Ravel ” (en passant par Mozart, Debussy, Schumann)
    Réf : YS 0901

    Attachée de production : Maud Noury et réalisation : Agnès Cathou
    Le jardin des dieux
    par François-Xavier Szymczak

    Le Cantiques des cantiques, chapitre III (4)

    Attachée de production : Maud Noury et réalisation : Patricia Prigent
    La tribune des critiques de disques
    par François Hudry

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart : Concerto no 23, en la Majeur, K. 488

    avec : Jean-Charles Hoffelé avec : , par Philippe Venturini avec : , Bertrand Dermoncourt

    Réalisation : Céline Parfenoff
    42ème rue
    par Laurent Valière

    A little Night Story de Stephen Sondheim avec la troupe du Châtelet (sous réserve : Lambert Wilson, Leslie Caron), enregistrement en février au studio 106.

    Réalisation : Philippe Petit
    Les invités d’Arièle
    par Arièle Butaux

    avec : Raphaël Imbert, saxophone avec : , Simon Tailleu, contrebasse avec : , Cedric Beck, batterie avec : , Trio Jourdan

    Attachée de production : Marie-Christine Ferdinand et réalisation : Claire Lagarde
    Matinée Opéra
    par Renaud Machart

    Réalisation : Philippe Petit

    14:30 : Concert

    Musset à l’opéra (2)

    Daniel-Lesur (1908-2002)
    Andrea del Sarto
    Par Irène Jarsky, Annik Simon, Raymond Steffner, Paul Finel, Jacques Mars, Claude Méloni, Bernard Cottret, Gérard Dunan, Choeurs de l’ORTF, Orchestre Radio-lyrique de l’ORTF, Manuel Rosenthal (direction)
    Enregistrement radiophonique du 13 mars 1970 diffusé le 15 avril 1970
    Note contre note
    par Martine Kaufmann

    Le centenaire des ballets russes de Serge de Diaghilev, Avec la participation de :
    Martine Kahane pour Opéras russes à l¿aube des ballets russes (1901-1013) – costumes et documents, Moulins, Centre National du costume de scène, les éditions du Mécène,
    Pierre Vidal et Matthias Auclair pour Les Ballets russes, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Editions Gourcuff Gradenico,
    et Colin Lemoine, pour Isadora Duncan, Une sculpture vivante, Paris, Paris-Musée.

    Réalisation : Françoise Cordey
    Musique en chambre
    par Stéphane Goldet

    Géraldine Prutner
    Le Jazz dans la peau
    par Antoine Guillot

    « Lover Man” (Oh, Where Can You Be?) de James Edward Davis, Ram Ramirez et Jimmy Sherman

    Attachée de production : Nelly Portal et réalisation : Catherine Prin le Gall
    Subjectif 21
    par Michka Assayas

    Attaché de production : Annick Haumier et réalisation : Bruno Riou-Maillard
    Easy tempo
    par Laurent Valéro et Thierry Jousse

    Au-delà de la limite, c’est encore du jazz (2)

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 14, 2010 at 4:50 pm

  38. Well, the France Musique programming certainly looks different from WETA, WCRB, WHRB or the old WGBH. A couple of questions for Joel Cohen:

    Based on your familiarity with the programming, even if you weren’t listening here in the pre-dawn hours, can you hazard an educated guess as to what an hour and 50 minutes on the Song of Songs consisted of and what happened during the two hours devoted to Mozart’s 23rd piano concert (comparative performances analyzed?)?

    More importantly in my opinion, are there any reliable statistics comparable to Arbitron which will tell us how many people live within the coverage area of France Musique’s signal and how many people listen?

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 14, 2010 at 10:10 pm

  39. The France Musique grid:

    Yesterday I caught a bit of the Song of Songs segment. Sunday after Sunday, they are going through the Bible text, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and playing recorded performances by Western composers. The music I heard by Palestrina was first rate, the interpretations less so in my view. But a great topic.

    The 2 hours around Mozart compared and discussed different recorded versions. I believe this “Tribune” is the most popular single feature on the station, it has been running on Sundays, with various tweaks to the format, and varying levels of perspicacity, at least since the 1970’s.

    The coverage area of France Musique, a national, public station, is virtually all of France, plus bits of Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. I believe indeed that there are ratings for the various French radio stations, including France Musique, but do not know at this point how to find them.

    My personal position is that ratings, while interesting to track and consider, are only part of the picture. They should not be the determining programming factor for a public service broadcaster. The underlying mission is the main concern.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 15, 2010 at 4:04 am

  40. Joel, thanks for the info about those programs. They both sound like things that I, and many others, could enjoy. Evidently, lots of people like the Tribune. I wonder if overall there might be more talk and less music than I’d like.

    There are two important things about the ratings, I think.

    One has to do with serving the public. If station A broadcasts classical music and reaches 230,000 people (about 5% of the population its signal can reach) and station H broadcasts classical music and reaches 39,000 people (under 1% of the people its signal reaches), I think a valid argument can be made that A is providing more of a service to the general public. You can’t educate and inform people who aren’t listening. There is a trade-off, and it is a judgment call, perhaps. But I think it is important to retain and gradually bring along the listener who is coming to classical music for the first time, and I am alarmed by the drop in audience for WCRB since the purchase (= since the programming improved slightly?).

    The second point is that somebody has to pay the costs. It remains to be seen how well the public will fund WCRB. The smaller the audience, the less the funding — even though the connoisseurs are likely to give more than the newbies. A station that gets 39,000 listeners won’t be able to raise as much as one that gets 123,000; and one that gets 123,000 won’t be able to raise as much as one that gets 230,000.

    I want WCRB to get that 14% of its audience back. I see that as part of the ‘GBH mission. And if, as ought to happen, the classical programming goes back to WGBH, I’d hope to see an increase from the 123,000 proportionate to the expanded coverage. Realistically, of course that won’t happen unless they go WETA, and I really don’t want to see that happen. But I think drive time and daytime programming has to be mostly “Classical Music 101,” and the “Classical Music 311” has to be mostly in the evenings if the station is to fulfill its mission to the general public.

    And I think it is counterproductive in the long run if contributors walk away because WCRB doesn’t give 24 hours of the best of what WGBH gave during 7 hours. I hope people realize that what we have now is better than WETA and better than what WCRB used to be. It could be better still, especially between 7:00 p.m. and midnight, but let’s not drive away the newbies in the process of improving.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 15, 2010 at 10:46 am

  41. Have you ever wondered what can classical music radio be like far, far away from dear provincial little Boston? If you’ll give me your attention …

    Across the Channel from France Musique — which Joel Cohen rightly praises — you hear such offerings as BBC Radio 3’s CD Review, whose regular Building a Library feature amounts to a vivid critical discography in sound. Whose recording, say, of Schumann’s Kerner Lieder is THE one to have? One Saturday morning a few months back that wonderful writer Hilary Finch (of Gramophone and the Times) was on hand (and for an hour!) to go through the whole lot of available recordings.

    There is nothing remotely like this on U.S. radio stations, and to the best of my knowledge there never has been. I’m streaming the latest program as I write, and at the top of the screen I see: This week it’s David Nice and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Stop press — Kitaenko has been caught out using a corrupt Soviet text!

    My point is that WGBH, WCRB, and the rest are all wedded to a dying technology — blub blub down they go — and that we shouldn’t be sad about this. Thanks to audio streaming, we’re no longer reduced to having to be grateful for small favors.

    VERY small favors if you ask me. Don’t get me going on the “presentation” by local “personalities” — the quotation marks are essential — who can’t hear themselves, are often unprepared, and have an infuriating way of getting in the way of the music. I make exceptions for Cathy Fuller and Doug Briscoe. (What ever happened to him?) As to the rest, the ducking stool would be too good for them.

    When the old WGBH was busy documenting Boston’s busy concert life — the very events you read about in the Boston Musical Intelligencer — they had me on their side, faults and all. Ditto for the live BSO broadcasts on WCRB, which I gather have been taking place over their corporate dead body but so what. WHRB is a story in itself and quite apart from the WGBH/WCRB market forces kerfuffle. For this, endless praise is due David Elliott, their resident eminence grise, but for whom I wouldn’t always be coming across something I haven’t heard before, or don’t know as well as I should, and otherwise filling up gaps in my education. The station is — can I say this? — fun. And that’s about it.

    At the Old South meeting it was pointed out — from the floor I think — that it’s only a matter of time before — patience everyone — the future arrives and streaming at last becomes a portable thing.

    As to what’s out there right now — see,, (I’m hoping these work.)

    As the Globe and BMI have observed, Collage New Music’s concert last Monday was no end enlivening, especially the Steven Mackey. Now why couldn’t we be hearing THAT on the radio? After all, this is not Podunk. Or is it?

    Comment by Richard Buell — February 15, 2010 at 5:14 pm

  42. Does anyone have any experience with table top internet radios which use a local WiFi connection? I’m interested in this solution for the tech averse.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 15, 2010 at 9:27 pm

  43. “After all, this is not Podunk. Or is it?”

    In terms of music on the radio, Boston, alas, is Podunk, with (the saving grace) a little non-Podunky suburb called Cambridge that houses WHRB.

    And D.C. is Podunk, too, unless there is an onair alternative there to the depressing WETA playlist posted here a few days back.

    Since the demise of WGBH, we listen, when at home in Amesbury, MA, to the France Musique stream over the internet. There are many ways to find good programming online, Lee, not all of them requiring a PhD in computer science. Let Buell’s prophetic cry be heard, yea unto the gates of the antedeluvian station management in Brighton: “Glub glub.”

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 16, 2010 at 3:23 am

  44. Programming notes from Paris. We’ve just gotten a TV feed added to our already existing Internet and Voip service. Cost of all this, about $45 per month, a fraction of the same services in our U.S. area.

    As a teaser, the cable company is giving us a free 30 days preview of the premium channels.

    One of these is channel 80, called “Mezzo.” They broadcast recent video films of classical music performances. I just caught the last 20 minutes of Haydn’s “Orlando Palladino,” from the little Unter den Linden opera house in Berlin, directed by René Jacobs. What excellent music, and totally unknown to me prior to this. Now there’s a Haydn quartet on, and in 35 minutes it’s Mahler #8, in toto, with Eschenbach.

    Now most of what’s on French TV is garbage, just like in red, white and blue America. Ack, those game shows… But there ARE these other choices on the tube, just as on the radio there is, besides the usual bad and ugly, ALSO programming aimed at people who love good music. Genuine art is part of the mix, part of what is going on.

    I read in the paper that our American bridges are rusting and falling down. I am even more concerned that the American mind is also rusting and falling down, gradually being emptied out of any content other than that which our corporate overlords wish us to consume.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 16, 2010 at 2:03 pm

  45. Wlhile Richard Buell is right to point to streaming radio as an anodyne for those of us despairing of ever hearing intelligent classical music programming, he makes an important error: all those wonderful stations he listens to on the Internet, to which I also listen (and thanks to Richard for aggregating so many of their URLs on his own site), are all *broadcast* stations. They create all that programming for people like us, with real radios with wire antennas that pluck the sounds out of the ether (when we can get the signal). The Internet streaming is a lagniappe for the rest of the world, for which I am eternally grateful, but without illusion that they would continue to exist without the necessity of having regular broadcast facilities.

    There are indeed streaming-only stations. Have you listened to them? With some honorable exceptions, for the most part they are execrable imitations of the old WCRB (you read that right), in the Great Square Inches of Music tradition. No, thanks. We need to keep this old technology viable, and demand that programming fit for educated adults be part of it, which means holding WGBH’s feet to the fire till the smoke comes out of John Voci’s and his directors’ ears.

    Comment by Vance R. Koven — February 16, 2010 at 7:51 pm

  46. No, it hadn’t escaped my notice that France Musique, the BBC, BR-Klassik, ORF, and the rest are all of them — gosh! — broadcasters.

    Here’s where I’m coming from. Internet streaming allows me to hear how well public-service broadcasting is done over there. Market forces seem hardly to count at all. Another thing — national pride, together with an un-American regard for the life of the mind, play a part in keeping it going as well. I think of the “Hands Off Auntie” campaigns that always spring up whenever the BBC comes under fire.

    Several years back Andrew Porter made a crack in the New Yorker about the vulgarity of our “cultural” radio. (His quotes.) He had a point. By European standards, classical music radio in the U.S. has been … well, supply your own pejoratives.

    Even if all the vexations with funding and transmitters and so on were to vanish overnight, that wouldn’t necessarily bring any improvement. To begin with, there’s no tradition here to call upon. Could it actually be that Americans just don’t know any better? You have to ask?

    With Internet streaming I can take my business elsewhere. That’s the gist of it.

    Comment by Richard Buell — February 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

  47. Richard, not only can you take your business elsewhere, you can get into business for yourself. The barriers to entry for a streaming station are low, almost as low as having a website. So why haven’t all of us know-it-alls just done it? I’d say that’s the American spirit, not the lead-us-by-the-nose-Auntie mentality, whose continuation is dependent on having all the costs hidden in opaque government budgets. Maybe, just maybe, you actually *do* need those 100MW towers (to say nothing of those enormous record libraries) to gain adequate street cred? So, while we’re waiting for WRB to come online, I still think it’s worth going mano a mano with WGBH, on terms that even a suit can understand, so that they’ll do what they are indeed capable of doing, presenting intelligent classical programming for an intelligent classical music public.

    Comment by Vance R. Koven — February 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm

  48. I found this discussion of several months ago by googling “don’t like the new WGBH”. I was afraid I was alone in this, as the only two friends I’ve talked with about the new format didn’t like classical music and were happy to see it go. I, however, miss it terribly. I’m one of those who live on the South Shore, where WCRB is not even an option. I’m not a music professional, but work at home and loved the mix of talk/news/music that used to be WGBH. And the announcement of the switch was a surprise to me. I recall no listener poll, or other opportunity to solicit input as to how, if they wanted to buy a second station, programming should be altered to improve choice rather than limit. Further, it seemed obvious that WGBH had decided to compete directly with WBUR. Why? This I found shocking, and unworthy of an educational public media source. I’m no Ralph Lowell Society member, but for the first time in over twenty years, I did not renew our family membership. So there! If they HAD asked how to handle the addition, I would have suggested they keep the same WGBH programming on WGBH as ever, but mirror the classical broadcasts as-is to WCRB. In the time that ‘GBH did not have classical programming, WCRB could have filled in with the sort of interesting, scholarly music programs and pieces that Joel Cohen and others suggested above. That way, no one would have lost a thing, extra cost would have been minimal and WCRB would have been able to build something really intellectually and artistically compelling. I’m going to try France Musique. Oh – speaking of streaming, that’s another problem: I’ve had a really difficult time over the years trying to get ‘GBH’s to work easily (and yes, I’ve always had state-of-the-art high speed connections and fast computers). They should copy whatever method WUMB uses. Snappy and clear.

    Comment by Pat Baker — May 23, 2010 at 9:27 pm

  49. This thread doesn’t seem active anymore, but I’ll add on in case another latecomer drops by. I’m a graduating senior at Brandeis University, where, in addition to running our WBRS 100.1 for a year, I’ve also hosted two hours of classical programming every week for three years. (No longer this semester, thanks to my own scheduling problems, but lots of my material is available online – search my name and school and “Fortissimo”, the name of my show.) I’m interested in entering the classical broadcast industry and I’m hunting around for what’s going on in that world.

    We’re right down the street from the old CRB, and for several years the sign still said classical 102.5. I think (but am not sure) that 99.5 had already happened by the time I entered school here, though I know that the GBH takeover was just last year. In short, classical radio in Boston is a question I’ve been attuned to for three years. Since 99.5 switched to Siberia, I’ve mostly tuned to HRB during the afternoons when I’m out of class. Besides generally having an affinity for college radio (‘my’ WBRS and UChicago’s WHPK, among the many other ones mentioned above), I really appreciate their diversity of programming and the semester-ending orgies. What creativity!

    On the recommendation from the VP of WFMT in Chicago, I went to speak with Jon Solins last week and only slightly got the sense that there was a discrepancy between the older CRB ratings and the ratings since the takeover, but I came on here and found plenty of disgruntlement. Now what city should I look for?

    So: Hey you! If you’re in charge of hiring for classical radio and you’re looking for enthusiastic, intelligent young blood with over 200 hours logged behind a mic, contact me!

    Comment by Gideon — October 27, 2010 at 4:17 am

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