IN: News & Features

WGBH Audience Plummets


UPDATE: A knowledgeable source in the broadcast industry recently forwarded detailed rating data which should help BMInt readers understand how classical listeners are reacting to the WGBH changes.

The anomalous gain the in the March WGBH’s ratings referred to in the article below was apparently due to listeners’ deserting WBUR during its fund-raising period and migrating to WGBH. Those listeners returned to WBUR thereafter and WGBH’s rating consequently dropped. On the matter of WGBH’s longer-term flatness in the cumulative ratings (PPM Reports), the “cumes” concealed the fact that the within the period when WGBH formerly ran classical  music there has been a significant decline in audience. The so-called AQH Persons rating which looks at 15-minute intervals throughout the day shows that during the 10:00 am to 3:00 pm period the average number of listeners to WGBH dropped from 3,700 in November (when classical music was offered) to 2,100 in April for the all-talk format which obtains now. That represents a 44% decline. And those listeners are not all going to WCRB which is in a 20% decline for the same time period. According to the source they appear simply to have simply decamped.

Between March and April WGBH radio lost one third of its average daily listeners according to Arbitron PPM reports.  The loss was from 64,803 to 43,202. This might simply have been because the March figures were anomalously inflated, but without being privy to the detailed numbers showing audiences by the day and hour, which WGBH steadfastly refuses to share with BMInt’s readers, we cannot but speculate. The longer term picture is no prettier for WGBH. Before the November changes WGBH’s share of the Boston market stood at 1%. Now at the end of April it remains stuck at 1% even though the worthies on the station’s board funneled tens of millions of dollars to increase the station’s share of the Boston audience.

To some extent the situation at all-classical WCRB should be even more worrisome to management. There, according to Arbitron, the station has lost 21% of its listeners since November. That’s a staggering drop of an average of 26,000  listeners per day, and proof that the merits of the WGBH classical format were lost on the former WCRB listeners.  Before the changes, and despite its much weaker signal, WCRB had nearly three times the listeners of WGBH. Now the ratio is two to one. At the current rate of decline WCRB will forfeit another 30,000 listeners and be in a tie with WGBH for 23rd place after another 18 months

Over at WBUR, there is likely poorly veiled Schadenfreude because WGBH’s imitative strategy does not appear to be working. The WBUR audience has shown no diminution from WGBH’s challenge—in fact, its share remains stubbornly higher than the combined audiences of WGBH and WCRB.

BMInt has once again asked WGBH spokesman, Lucy Sholley, for her comments on this news. And we also ask our readers: How can WGBH and WCRB induce Boston classical music aficionados to return as radio listeners?

[Click title to read comments]


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

  1. That’s too bad about WCRB. The new format is a lot better, any time besides the morning drive, I can turn it on and listen and get into the music.

    I think the last question is probably off… Boston classical music aficionados haven’t existed for years. The morning is still relentless full orchestra, which works for the dentist’s office or funeral home where you want a continuous noise level. That’s what the old CRB was. Better to ask how can we get those old background music aficionados back.

    Comment by Eric Mauro — May 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm

  2. For what it’s worth– for the last several months I’ve had a hard time recieving WGBH’s signal in Chelsea, Ma. for any extended period, without constantly readjusting the tuner. I also find its podcasts tend to crash within five minutes.

    Comment by anon anon — May 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm

  3. I’m viewing data at, and I derive a different picture. WGBH-FM’s cumulative audience grew between February and March, from 249,000 to 276,000…then dipped slightly in April to 265,000. WCRB all-classical 995’s cumulative audience has grown non-stop in the latest three rating periods. February: 307,000; March: 309,000; and April: 320,000. (WBUR duriong this period has averaged a cume of half-a-million.) The methodolgy called Portable People Meter (trademark of Arbitron Corp) now gives percentages of radio usage among populations six-years-of-age and up. Under the former diary system, the sample was drawn from 12-year-olds-and-up. So classical and NPR/News& Public affairs stations can expect lower percentages. I suspect that the young woman who was charged with killing a woman in a wheelchair on the Cape, and thereupon fled her extradition was an NPR listener.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — May 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm

  4. Ooops…I meant NOT and NPR listener!

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — May 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm

  5. Would Laurence Glavin please contrast his cumulative figures from radio-info with the average daily figures which BMInt quoted from Arbitron?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — May 22, 2010 at 5:22 pm

  6. How to get me back? Two things: (1) Reduce the incessant self-promotion and other extraneous talk. (2) Stop the old WCRB practice of playing single movements from longer works. In other words, more music, less talk. I’ve switched much of my listening to WKLB, the country station (at WCRB’s old frequency – how ironic is that?) largely because WKLB plays 30-minute segments of music with very little interruption. Now I *like* country music for awhile, but I *love* classical music, with orders-of-magnitude more variety and interest. Most of all I like music with very little talk.

    Comment by Paul Sawyer — May 22, 2010 at 10:16 pm

  7. Cumulative (“cume”) and average (“AQH”, for “average quarter-hour”) ratings are different things. The first is the number of different people who tune in at least once during a week; the second is the average number who listen for at least five minutes during a fifteen minute period. A station can have a relatively high cume if lots of people are sampling it, but a low AQH if they don’t stay tuned very long.

    Over my years at WCRB, I observed that the less eclectic and more predictable the station became, the longer people stayed tuned and the higher the AQH rose. For a commercial station that is important because ad agencies tend to buy radio by the numbers, so the more AQH you can give them for their money, the more likely they are to buy time on your station.

    WGBH’s mission is different than ours was — they have no stockholders expecting returns on their investments — and they are free to play a wider range of music than we were. They don’t need to worry so much about AQH as we did.

    Comment by ex-WCRBer — May 23, 2010 at 8:39 am

  8. Pingback:

    Comment by Keep Public Radio Public — May 23, 2010 at 11:11 am

  9. I haven’t listened to either station in years, and so maybe I’m writing out of ignorance. I have the impression that classical music radio died several years ago and it isn’t going to be coming back. I don’t want to hear single movements from a symphony or concerto. I don’t want to hear miscellaneous 18th century music as mere background music. I don’t want to hear music that is wildly inappropriate for the time of day, e.g. something terribly serious and spare at eight o’clock in the morning. And I don’t want a station that thinks vocal music is a big no-no. I always play my own CDs when I drive in the car.

    Comment by Vito — May 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm

  10. The question is: how much has the PPM methodology changed the numbers they get. During the diary days, did people write in WCRB even if they didn’t listen just because they thought having a “classical” radio station available was a good idea, as bad as WCRB was. The New York Times ran an article a few months ago on the disparity between what people wrote down in the past, and what the PPMs are reporting now. Stations can get PPM reporting if a person carrying the device walks into a store playing such-and-such a station, even if they never listen to it. If any staff members of Garden in the Woods gift shop in Framingham had a PPM device the last time I was there, they would have reported WCRB listeners.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — May 23, 2010 at 2:20 pm

  11. WCRB’s AQH numbers didn’t change much at all when the PPM method was introduced; however, average time spent listening (“TSL”) numbers went down for all stations, but less so for WCRB, leaving it with one of the highest TSL’s in Boston radio.

    None of the stations where currently I work are Arbitron subscribers, so I don’t have access to current numbers.

    Comment by ex-WCRBer — May 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm

  12. *** Reduce the incessant self-promotion and other extraneous talk.

    The self-promotional talks is truly idiotic, I wonder if they even listen what they send to air. I do feel that the WCB employees do not listen own broadcasts. Toady for instance the Bell’s Sunday Concerts went out of air for 2 houses – no one even cared that the station broadcasted silence. Anyhow, I wonder what kind of WBH retard invented this promotion “if you like this…. Then you might like this….” Sometime I even play a game, trying to guess what kind other irrelevant piece then this play….

    *** Stop the old WCRB practice of playing single movements from longer works.

    Some hosts do not do it but I agree: in a serious classical music station the broadcasting of single movement shall be a fireable offence.

    Anyhow, I have to note that WCB is getting a bit better in term of programming – more live-to-tape broadcasts from Europe means “better” in my books. The quality of sound has dropped – now we have quite high compressing and ugly limiting. The WCRB live guest are not exiting and they play a lot old tapes instead. The Friday concerts – surprisingly I do not miss them the second part of the season: the BSO is in very bad shape. I hope the Tanglewood will bring something fresh and I hope WCRB will handle Tanglewood sonically and coverage-wise better than they did Symphony Hall.

    It is sad that WCRB is losing listener but did any single person with IQ heir then size of own shoe was ever doubt that it will happen? So, the long standing of WCRB is not a secret from anybody as well – a year/two from now they will be scraping the station. The only hope that I have that the station management, feeling that it is time to type resume and return back to run the gas stations, will leave the WCRB before the lights go down. Hopefully along with them will leave all idiocy that has been vandalizing the GBH for a while. My final hope is that sometime THEN somebody sane will take over the WCRB and as result we might have a better classical station in Boston.

    Listening WCRB is like visiting you child in prison’s death row. First you know that he will be killed soon and second you know that he more than guilty and you intellectually know that he deserve the verdict… Ugly feeling but… if you like this, WCRB, then you shall like that you are doing….

    The Cat

    Comment by Romy The Cat — May 23, 2010 at 10:14 pm

  13. I’ve been a paying member of ‘GBH from the 70’s. I learned about classical music from Robert J and his birds. I learned about the American song book from Ron Della Chiesa. My sales territory (by car) was the state of Rhode Island. I can’t get ‘CRB south of Franklin on I495. In the morning drive I gag at Laura Carlo’s smarmy, self-indulgence and obvious lack of classical sophistication. I’ve dropped from a Leadership member to a lowly $5 a month member. ‘CRB is the dumbing down of ‘GBH.

    Comment by Bob Fagone — May 27, 2010 at 8:07 am

  14. “How can WGBH and WCRB induce Boston classical music aficionados to return as radio listeners?”

    Answer: Present interesting, intelligent, stimulating programs, shaped by knowledgeable and articulate radio producers, of important music, well performed. Why is this self-evident goal so seemingly unachievable?

    Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door….

    Comment by Joel Cohen — May 30, 2010 at 11:11 pm

  15. One problem with WCRB I see as reminiscent of a situation some time ago with the Boston area’s Commuter Rail. Ridership wasn’t what they wished it would be, so they cut back, limiting their schedule and reducing trips. Thus the Commuter Rail imposed more inconvenience on potential riders who decided to get where they were going in some other way: a self-defeating situation with only one predicable further outcome.

    Moving north without at very least a plan to soon expand their broadcast range was a primary error. WCRB’s recommendation that the listeners who lost out in the move – their main audience for Heaven’s sake: Boston, South Shore, etc. – buy HD radios, was nowhere near a solution and rather insulting.

    By addressing a small list of issues, all but one rather easily done, which includes the large and I imagine costly expansion of broadcast range, WCRB might do very well.

    1) As stated, expand broadcast range as far as is possible with a goal of reaching Boston, the South Shore, Cape Cod and the islands.

    2) Stop using the same ‘promos’ and station IDs over and over again, and keep them short and to the point. Perhaps something akin to MTV a couple of decades ago: MTV had built up a massive collection of station IDs and aired them at random. One could never tell what the next one would be. It made an unpalatable though necessary thing somewhat interesting, and the deeply wearing, sore element of incessant repetition was relieved.

    3) Blanket rule: no playing of single movements; play whole works.

    4) Richard Knisley, Richard Knisley, Richard Knisley. More Brian McCreath. Cathy Fuller, we love you. As Joel Cohen stated above, “Present interesting, intelligent, stimulating programs, shaped by knowledgeable and articulate radio producers, of important music, well performed.” Or as I’ve heard it expressed of the WGBH Classical approach, take “a curatorial approach” to programming.

    5) Some more attention to time of day and an abiding caution regarding the previous WCRB’s playlist. Rousing Strauss pom-pomming away at 7AM is the delight of only a select few. There are upwards of thirty ‘old WCRB’ selections rendered quite tired, if not worn out: Pick different renditions and limit their airing. They may be ‘old WCRB’ favorites, but there is so very much other fine music to take their place.

    6) No news. The station must accept that people will seek what amount of news they want elsewhere, and trust they will return after they are satisfied.

    Comment by C.P.T.L. — June 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

  16. “Richard Knisley, Richard Knisley, Richard Knisley. More Brian McCreath. Cathy Fuller, we love you.”
    Brian McCreath is tucked away at the rear of the house; he should be at the foyer or in the living room. The loss of Richard Knisley, for whatever reason, was a big mistake. If you’re going to get rid of him, then replace him with someone of similar stature. Where’s Cathy Fuller? She’s the last of the true classical music announcers/programmers. I saw Doug Briscoe’s name mentioned a while back. Where’s Doug?

    Laura Carlo introduces “Keith’s Classical Corner” [Keith Lockhart] every morning. He’s good at picking unusual pieces; but even there he’s limited to his 15-minute slot, playing only one or tweo movements of a particular piece. I don’t understand what the benefit is? Obviously, I’m preaching to the choir, though. It’s just sad for me to see the “class” sapped from classical music in Boston.

    Comment by Bob Fagone — June 2, 2010 at 6:48 am

  17. The Bunker Hill Mall has a more sophisticated playlist than CRB (when it’s in the Minneapolis mode). It’s very effective at discouraging teenagers from lingering.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — June 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

  18. True, its signal doesn’t get much beyond Boston/Cambridge but WHRB (Harvard’s station) has very interesting classical programing in the afternoon. Mornings seem designed for a younger audience. And, it’s the only broadcaster of the Met Opera live Saturday performances. David Eliot talks too much, but he knows his stuff.

    Comment by Robert Snyder — June 9, 2010 at 10:30 am

  19. For so many decades WGBH was one of the great radio stations in the world. Now, under new corporate management, they have divided into two mediocre stations, neither worth spending much effort to tune in to. This constitutes a huge loss in quality and intelligent programing, and who wants to contribute to that?
    WGBH could not be improved upon, only destroyed. And so it was. Don’t count on them seeing the light any time soon.

    WHRB has a huge opportunity here to become the classical station to listen to, if you happen to be able to receive it. The once great WGBH: RIP.

    Comment by Gary Rosing — June 16, 2010 at 11:34 pm

  20. It’s 5:30 pm on June 17th, and WCRB’s cume is the highest in the past few months. By now, we’ve moved past the Overton Window through which one could see the cumes from earlier, but the station appears to be adding listeners. Percentage seems to be about the same. WGBH-FM’s news/talk format does NOT seem to be attracting more listeners.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — June 17, 2010 at 5:35 pm

  21. Who is running the show at these stations? How could they possibly let Richard Knisley go?
    The world is now a darker place and the barbarians are knocking even harder at the door—- who will hold the line for presenting scope, knowledgeability, creativity?
    Worst of all- I understand his salary for all his erudition was around 60-70 thousand. Teachers in their 5th year earn that here in NY.
    This was a true heartbreaker.

    Comment by Jeanne Spira — June 20, 2010 at 10:23 pm

  22. I ran into a GBH staffer last week at a non-musical event. When I mentioned the loss of audience and the generally negative remarks on this site that person told me that the management of GBH, while silent in public, knew full well of their problems. According to that person their problem was financial: they cannot afford to hire on-air staff of the caliber that the old GBH enjoyed. Anyone hear a death rattle?

    Comment by Robert Snyder — June 22, 2010 at 10:11 am

  23. ..the average number of listeners to WGBH dropped … they appear simply to have simply decamped…

    Count me among them. Yes, there are times I tune in, but it used to be the dominant preset on my radio or computer during work hours. I went to the informational meeting last winter feeling hopeful and left with a sense of sadness. Kind of like learning the truth about a once-respected friend or business. “I would never lie to you” “We sell the highest quality” “You’re the reason we’re here” “We don’t want to run duplicate programs”
    There’s a void now. Would it feel more so if they totally left the air? I don’t know, but I don’t feel at all enthusiastic about listening or giving, and that’s after 35+ years of feeling pride in claiming membership in the station.

    Comment by Peter Bronk — June 23, 2010 at 8:32 am

  24. Letting Richard Knisely go may have been a big mistake on WGBH’s part, but it’s done. We all can have our dislikes of the current crop of announcers/hosts. For example, I can’t imagine how Cathy Fuller manages to come up with “Invitation to the Waltz” as the name of the Weber piece, which she said and repeated several times a good while back, or referring the other day to Carmen as “Bizet’s only opera.”

    But the question isn’t, “What have we lost?” It isn’t even precisely, “What are our pet peeves?” It’s, “Where should we be encouraging WGBH/WCRB to go from here?”

    I think Lee Eiseman is on the right track when he suggests that they should switch the all-classical programming to 89.7; which I guess means dropping talk radio or putting it on 99.5. Unfortunately that is unlikely. In my opinion Dave MacNeill spoke an unwelcome truth when he said, in effect, that there are a lot of potential new listeners to classical music who will not stick around long enough to become aficionados if they get large doses of music which is difficult to appreciate until the ear has been cultivated — like the commenter a few weeks back who was distressed at hearing Scriabin on WCRB. Bless Cathy Fuller — a few weeks later, she was playing another piece by Scriabin.

    But playing significant quantities of Scriabin in the middle of the day is not the way to build and hold the audience, in my opinion. It seems to me that Cathy Fuller’s show should be shifted to the evening, where it won’t be the background at work; and the current evening programming should go to the daytime slot. The people listening in their workplaces will be happier, and I’m guessing that the evening audience are more likely to be people who are willing to listen to something composed after 1850.

    As for single movements, considering that in Beethoven’s time it was acceptable to play single movements, or to encore them, I see no problem with single movements until we get to the late romantics. And even then, while someone sitting at home giving the radio more or less undivided attention would naturally want to hear the whole thing, the person driving around from errand to errand or at work, who just wants something good to listen to when he has a chance, isn’t really harmed by getting a single movement. The object is to get more listeners for the station. At most times of the day, the Bruckner 6th won’t do it. We have to realize that WCRB can’t just be for the connoisseur. It must also attract and hold the newcomer to classical music — which is no easy task — while trying to gradually expand his musical horizon.

    I think that if daytime WCRB is more like old ‘CRB, but with a greatly expanded playlist*, and evening WCRB is more like old ‘GBH, the station will have its best chance to attract and hold an audience for classical music.

    * An example of the expanded playlist: Sunday morning just after 9:00 Brian McCreath played a recording of Franciszek Lessel’s
    Wind Sextet No. 1 in E-flat. I asked my horn-playing brother if he had ever played it, and he answered that he had not played it or even heard of the composer. When the piece was finished, he said that Lessel deserves to be better known.

    Finally, there is the question of finances. The unfortunate fact seems to be that radio is the unwanted step-child of the WGBH Foundation. When they can’t afford the Friday BSO or Richard Knisely, it’s because TV gets the big bucks, and radio gets a pittance. Short of convincing the Foundation to reallocate their funds, the only way to improve the funding is for people to give more. I promised the station last winter that I would decrease my sustainer contribution because of their dropping the Friday BSO. But I have not done so because I realized that the programming was an improvement over old ‘CRB, and because there will be no further improvement if we do not at least “keep classical alive.” I think it is better to have WCRB on the air than to lose it, so it’s up to me to support it financially.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — June 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

  25. Joe-
    At the Old South meeting Jon Voci’s statement that WGBH “can’t’ afford Friday BSO broadcasts” was disinformation. The cost for an entire season according to Jon is $20,000 out of a $13 million radio budget. The real reason is probably marketing. They want to present shorter pieces in the Friday afternoon time span so that they can sell more infomercials.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — June 28, 2010 at 8:15 am

  26. You’re right, of course, Lee. I had asked John Voci about it that evening after the forum and he said very directly that his figure of $20-30,000 was for the whole season. So it’s not a good example. But I think the wider point stands: if we want them to do things that cost more money, we have to give them more money; and if we want them to stay on the air, we have to give them the money that will fund the operation. Listener support is the only thing that can keep WGBH from pulling the plug on WCRB. And at this point it seems to me that survival is far from assured, so that has to be the first concern of those who want classical radio in Boston.

    Peter Bronk may not be sure how he would feel if WCRB left the air. But I know I’d be extremely disappointed if it came to an end. Bad as losing the Friday afternoon BSO was, it would be a tragedy of much greater magnitude to lose Tanglewood and the Saturday BSO as well, along with the Sunday afternoon concerts and the opportunity to hear good music any hour of the day or night. So as furious as I was at John Voci for ending Friday BSO, I’ll be even more furious at any former contributors to WGBHH if their withholding of funds from WCRB causes the station to go under.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — June 28, 2010 at 9:18 pm

  27. Joe- What I would miss most are the live recordings of Boston groups. The BSO could easily start its own broadcast service over the internet. And I wouldn’t miss WCRB as a classical music juke-box. Internet streams are legion, and soon Google will be offering a music service that will allow us to have our collections anywhere- in the clouds or on our personal devices. I’d rather be my own disc jockey.

    Maybe BMInt should raise a few million and begin streaming the performances of local groups. Is your checkbook open?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — June 28, 2010 at 11:46 pm

  28. I’m not sure Dave MacNeil is a good source for “how to” hold onto long-time listeners and help create new classical music listeners. After all, wasn’t it his commercial ‘CRB that almost got morphed into another sports talk radio station? Also, I’m not so sure those of us who work through the day while listening to classical switch our “taste” receptors from short-term wave lengths to long-term wave lengths the second we get out of the car and turn the radio on at home. I think the old ‘CRB has brainwashed us (albeit with marketing statistics) into thinking short is good at some times of the day and long is good at others. This has more to do with advertising needs than with classical music listening needs. I agree that there is nothing wrong with listening to single movements (I don’t think I could ever get tired of hearing Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Thalis), but it’s the constant repetition of the same shorter single pieces that I find particularly discouraging.

    Comment by Bob Fagone — June 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

  29. Lee — I could match my annual contribution to ‘CRB. Unfortunately that’s not a lot of money.

    Bob — If I understood correctly, it was the management installed by the last corporate owners before WGBH who installed the most restrictive playlist. I don’t think he was personally responsible for its recent success or failure. I agree that the same pieces don’t need to be played over and over. There is so much rarely heard decent stuff, like the Lessel sextet I mentioned (which was only about 20 minutes long), that there is no excuse for riding the warhorses into the ground. I had imagined that the “If you like this …, you’ll probably like this …” announcements were based on a policy of expanding the playlist, with a corresponding decrease in repetitions.

    While I’m at it, I enjoy their twist on the “If you like this …,” to conclude, “why not request it?” They should also do, “If you like this … be sure to listen at …, when we will broadcast a complete performance by ….”

    BMInt — What this website needs is a way for us who post comments to be notified by e-mail when further comments are made on an article we have commented on. The blogs I’m familiar with have such a feature.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — June 30, 2010 at 7:05 pm

  30. Joe-We’ve been experimenting with a widget which shows the 10 latest comments on a panel in the right column. Would that be helpful?

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — June 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm

  31. Yeah, that would help. It wouldn’t be quite as useful as an e-mailed alert for making the commenter aware of further discussion, but with regular visits one would have a good chance of learning when somebody continued a discussion. And it would also call attention to other interesting discussions.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — June 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

  32. I thought I’d share the perspective of a former WGBH (but not purely classical) listener. While CRB was too commercial for me, the variety of programming on GBH kept me there. It wasn’t just classical – it was news, classical, folk and jazz and a few other fun programs. I didn’t get bored. During work hours, classical was perfect – then commuting or cooking dinner it was news – then Jazz after dinner….and waking up to news. Weekends I heard folk that I would NEVER have listened to if I wasn’t just committed to keeping the dial set. And I found I grew an appreciation for all types of music.

    The all-classical format bores me – the all news format bores me and it seems as if GBH has made one last fatal error….because I am wondering where Eric Jackson is? Jazz is now the ONLY reason I listen at night…and if Eric is gone, I’m going to sirius. To be fair to this ratings discussion, 99.5 is not a strong signal but I hardly listen to it…

    So… I WAS a classical listener when the classical was interesting – I learned about pieces and never heard the same piece twice in a month – but I also got other types of music in and never changed the station…..but now….the radio is off.

    Comment by Jessica — July 1, 2010 at 12:33 am

  33. I was never one to listen to the radio 24 hours a day, except the time I happened to be sick during a WHRB Bach Orgy®. But it was convenient to have WGBH’s programs available during the day, followed by news, and Prairie Home Companion Saturday evenings; WHRB for the evenings, the Met (preceded by a bit of country), and occasional Harvard football; and WCRB for overnight listening as needed, as well as the BSO Saturday evenings until my brother called at 9:00. In truth, I’m listening to the radio less than I used to, but that’s mostly because I’m spending more time on the computer.

    That’s the long way of saying, “I quite understand, Jessica.”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — July 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm

  34. Curious website. I just remembered that my mom used to listen to the Robert J. Lurtsema show from 7 till noon up at North/South Twin Lake up in Maine. He was a pretty entertaining announcer-kind of a combination of Jean Shepherd the comedian and John Birge, the classical announcer from WGUC in Cincinnati who went to the twin cities. Sorry to hear that he like my mom has passed on. Lost the camp on North/South twin to the machinations of the Ohio Comte du Butler Probate Court who also grabbed our Goncharova. Sirius radio is an alternative these days.

    Comment by Marq smith — July 7, 2010 at 11:41 pm

  35. Robert J. was certainly special, a true aficionado, always exploring. As Chaucer wrote of one of the Canterbury Pilgrims (the Clerke of Oxenford?), “and gladly wold he lerne and gladly teche.”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — July 10, 2010 at 12:19 am

  36. I have been a fan of WHRB for a long time: far more interesting music. This applies for both jazz AND classical. Sadly, the commercial classical station is probably gone now; there are too few people to support their sponsors. Both WQXR and WNCN are long gone in New York City. WGBH was never appealing to me when I was younger, but Eric came and made things interesting for a while. Now, he’s absent all the time. I, too, miss Robert J. Lurtsema and the birds. I have a feeling that the people that run the station get too much influence from Harvard (in spite of WHRB). Their management style reminds me too much of cleverness rather than REAL intelligence. Really, do we need another mistake like WBUR? And, look at those so-called “financial wizards” who are the custodians of Harvard’s endowment: they were the same as everyone else, speculating on the stock market, investing in the urban-sprawl, oil-and-auto-centric economy, instead of maintaining their fiscal pruduence. Is everyone so terribly short-sighted now?

    Comment by JD Moore — July 21, 2010 at 9:43 pm

  37. I like radio diversity, but not all on one channel. If GBH can up the power of CRB, it would be a great improvement. Unfortunately, some of the CRB announcers have superficial knowledge of music and even worse, they don’t take the time to learn more. Am I mistaken in thinking that there have been some recent little improvements at CRB? One can hope.

    WGBH is more focused on its TV broadcasts and programming which are impressive, indeed. The number of individual WGBH channels on cable TV is awesome, but this does nothing for broadcast classical music radio.

    Clearly JD Moore is showing the depth of his New York City listening experience when he mentioned one of the best classical stations I ever listened to – the quirky WNCN.
    WQXR had Nights in Latin America with Pru Devon.
    WNYC had DeKoven,
    but WNCN had Listening With Watson – nothing quirkier than Watson.

    Watson was to music what Zackerly was to horror TV (sorry, that will be lost on most readers, but other than a reference, I could never do justice to either).

    Watson played at the fringes of broadcast classical music: the entire Ring Cycle over as many nights as it took; Beethoven Sonatas from 1 to 32 in one night; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jussi Bjorling nights; Mozart mania; Bach extravaganzas. Mix in poetry readings and Ivan Rebroff’s off the chart multi-octave range drinking songs in Russian and German. Watson’s bravado must have made management wince.

    Radio has changed. I ‘discovered’ classical music radio on WQXR and learned much from Jacques Fray’s comments. Where can an independent, self motivated, inquisitive young person encounter classical music (other than the Pops and movie scores)? The pickin’s are getting mighty thin.

    Comment by Aspen Ducky — August 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

  38. Aspen –
    DeKoven, in syndication I imagine, could be heard on WBUR for a number of years in the 70s – OTW.
    Would listeners to WBCN in Boston, before the switch to uber-progressive rock (and before my time in the area), have heard the same offerings as on WNCN, being part of the Concert Network?

    Just heard WCRB promo for a new local on-air host after Kathy Fuller, with Ray Brown moving to a later slot. Which would mean … fewer outsourced hours.
    Is this in response to something – low ratings, complaints – or, (gasp) a step back from the abyss?
    Thoughts, anyone?

    Comment by Peter Bronk — August 18, 2010 at 9:23 pm

  39. Peter Bronk’s statement “a step back from the abyss?”
    Brian McCreath will be doing the 1:00 – 4:00 slot (following Cathy Fuller). This puts ‘CRB back into the intelligent person’s classical listening experience for most of our waking hours. McCreath, though young, speaks with interest and respect; I believe he is himself a brass player. This is an important move. I hope the changes along these lines continue into the future (especially the early AM slot)

    Comment by Bob Fagone — August 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm

  40. Robert J. (who took over from me when I did the Weekend Pro Musica) was a priceless New England resource for a quarter of a century. When we started Vermont Public Radio in 1976 we had nearly 1000 contributions before we signed on the air and I’d say at least half of those people gave “on the condition” that we carried his program, seven days a week. Of course, we did and it was our main source of listener income for quite a few years. As for WCRB and WGBH…more power to them!

    Steve Robinson
    General Manager
    WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network
    Chicago, Il (

    PS I was the first person in recorded history to work for WBUR, WGBH and WCRB. That and a dollar…..

    Comment by Steve Robinson — September 4, 2010 at 1:46 am

  41. I listen to the radio chiefly for classical music, and don’t mind occasionally hearing an old war-horse, but I am maddened by the preponderance of “easy-listening” music of the Baroque thru early Romantic periods that one now hears on WCRB, and shut it off frequently in haste. When Richard Knisely, and before him Robert J. Lurtsema, were announcing on the old WGBH classical music station, you could be sure that there would at least be an equal balance among all periods and styles to be heard; it was very satisfying & I almost never turned it off (except during fundraising periods!). Nowadays, you’re more likely to find me listening to WHRB-FM (despite its weak signal) or on-line to WQXR or Q2.
    So, my question is, are there other music listeners like me out there who are put off by the programming on WCRB? Next question: will Boston’s classical music radio broadcasts survive this error in judgment on the part of WGBH?
    By the way, I do listen to the new WGBH news&talk, but it’s redundant when you have WBUR.

    Comment by Tim Alexander — September 9, 2010 at 3:51 pm

  42. I would add not only is there a preponderance of baroque, but it is generally quite mediocre baroque. Only a couple of the announcers, such as Cathy Fuller, appear to have any knowledge or interest in what they are broadcasting. Often there is meaningless blather. Unfortunately WHRB, despite Harvard’s multi billion endowment has succumbed to advertising. However generally they have maintained the high quality and wide variety of the music they broadcast.

    Comment by Jon Guttmacher — September 13, 2010 at 8:40 am

  43. It seems to me that the addition of Brian McCreath to the weekday schedule is one sign that WCRB management is responding to concerns expressed since the takeover by WGBH. I am hopeful that they will also continue to add recordings made at various festivals. On the other hand it seems that the live performances from the WGBH studio are largely, if not entirely, a thing of the past. It is good to have previous performances made available over the airwaves, but there should be new ones as well.

    In short, it seems that there is some effort being made to improve the station, and I applaud it and hope it will continue.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — September 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm

  44. I have to say this all makes me sad. WCRB is the station that introduced me to classical music. I grew up in a household that only listened to AM radio in the 70’s and 80’s, if the radio was on at all. Then I discovered Robert J. It’s unfortunate that both of these stations are now shadows of their former selves.

    Now, of course, I listen on the internet…Pandora has become my primary source for music…I don’t even buy music anymore.

    Comment by Jim Olson — September 26, 2010 at 11:46 pm

  45. Having recently acquired an internet radio I have the luxury of being able to tune out Laura Carlo and the single movement nitwits. Instead I can listen to BBC 3 with broadcasts from the Proms etc., WFMT from Chicago, KUSC from California and hundreds of American and worldwide stations. Not everything everywhere has been dumbed down.

    Roy Hammer

    Comment by Roy Hammer — September 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm

  46. Anyone know a link to the Pru Devon theme on Nights in Latin America?

    Comment by Donald Sosin — March 25, 2012 at 7:18 pm

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