in: News & Features

February 13, 2011

WCRB’s New Leader, Its Parent’s Old Problems

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Benjamin Roe has been hired effective March 1 as Managing Director for Classical Services at WGBH/WCRB, to replace the recently retired Jon Solins. BMInt herein looks at what Roe is inheriting, what will be his task, and what will be the effect on classical-music broadcasting in Boston.

A New Hampshire native, Roe is no stranger to Boston, having worked at WBUR and other radio stations in the area. His classical music credentials are impeccable. He was one of the most active and influential classical music figures at National Public Radio (NPR) for twenty years. For six of his most productive ones, starting in 2001, he was head of music for NPR, then the last  true active network of live classical music broadcasts in the country. It included such programs as SymphonyCast, Performance Today, and the NPR World of Opera. With local support from WGBH, many broadcasts were beamed live to the nation, including the BSO, the Boston Pops, and the Handel and Haydn Society’s Messiah.

In 2007, NPR basically shut down its music production arm, reducing its staff from sixty to six to concentrate on news and talk. Some of the musical residue is syndicated now on American Public Media out of Minneapolis. But live classical broadcasts to the nation now hardly exist.

Roe is coming to head classical services at WGBH after a three-year run as General Manager of WDAV in Charlotte, NC. According to media analyst David Boraks, Roe’s fiancée, Jennifer Foster, also from WDAV, will be joining him at WGBH where she will do, “….voice work for the news-and-info-focused WGBH-FM and be involved in other production and outreach activities.”

Roe is also coming at a very challenging time. Over the last three years, staff and management have had to deal with financial crises, the purchase of WCRB, and overall staffing reductions (including TV) which, according to sources, have lowered the number of employees from about 1,200 to 850. Labor is working without a contract and is in protracted and difficult negotiations with management, so BMInt solicited statements from both sides. Last December 22, Jeanne Hopkins, WGBH vice-president for Communications & Government Relations responded:

WGBH has a long and productive history of working with multiple unions and we want that to continue. We are currently in negotiations with AEEF/CWA, proposing a contract to reflect the significant changes that have taken place in the media industry. Our interest is in creating a fair, flexible, and responsible workplace for all of our employees, and to protect and grow production jobs here at WGBH.

Today, a statement came to BMInt from Jordan Weinstein, president of the AEEF-CWA Local 1300, WGBH’s largest union:

In fiscal year 2009, our members agreed to serious and deep cuts to their wages, some losing more than 30% of their income, while everyone else gave up nearly their entire annual wage increase, totaling collectively hundreds of thousands of dollars. Months later, after we obtained a copy of WGBH’s federal tax form, we discovered that during the same year in which our workers were making sacrifices to help WGBH solve a financial crisis, the heads of WGBH awarded themselves bonuses totaling more than $200,000. That was not the best example of trust-building, transparency or good-faith bargaining.

Despite painful concessions we’ve made in recognition of the weak economy and a tough fundraising environment; despite our members’ voluntary pay cuts, work furloughs, and numerous layoffs; despite our attempts to work collaboratively and creatively with WGBH management on solutions to the foundation’s financial problems, WGBH continues to demand concessions that go beyond financial necessity and threaten the fundamental right to bargain collectively. This is WGBH’s complete repudiation of a history of union/management collaboration that has made the broadcaster the jewel in the crown of the Public Broadcasting Service.

We hope WGBH members and the larger Boston community recognize in these union negotiations the kind of anti-union, anti-family tactics that threaten to silence public broadcasting altogether. WGBH needs to know the community it serves expects it to exercise the same principles it espouses in its programming.

On the WCRB and the WGBH radio side, we hear that the staff is particularly demoralized. WCRB is operating with a talent and production staff of only six — those six are very over-extended and local production and programming are suffering. Some sources worry that new management will be automating more of the classical playlist rather than encouraging more shows to have local concert content. At WGBH radio, now given over solely to news and talk (with some jazz), the eighteen producers and on-air personalities are laboring mightily to gain listeners. Despite their disproportionate share of the WGBH foundation’s radio budget, they have not grown their audience.

BMInt has been tracking how has the public has been voting with their dials. WGBH’s share of the 4 million-plus Greater Boston radio audience hovers between 1 and 1.2 percent— just where it was before the $14 million purchase of WCRB and the expensive growth of the news and talk machine at WGBH. On a happier note for management, WCRB’s listenership is back to where it was when the station was a commercial broadcaster sixteen months ago — about a 2.9% share. Meanwhile, Radio Operations Director John Voci’s NPR rival, WBUR, has been slipping in the ratings — from 4% a year ago down to 3.1% over the recent holiday period. What’s interesting and ironic here is that it is WCRB with its classical music format that appears on-track to overtake WBUR, rather than WGBH radio with its very expensive news and talk format. WBUR’s slippage, of course, has helped in this race. But the lesson just may be that the audience for news and talk is in decline. The internet perhaps is where the action is in that department. Another way to look at the saga sixteen months and $20 million later: with one quarter of the signal strength and one third the staff, WCRB has three times the audience of WGBH radio.

BMInt believes it’s time for the WGBH Foundation to change course. The arrival of Ben Roe may be seen as a salutary sign. Perhaps WGBH radio and WCRB can switch formats and bring classical music back to Boston with its powerful transmitter on 89.7. Perhaps recordings of local concerts will be reinvigorated. Perhaps Friday Symphony broadcasts will be back, too. From BMInt to Ben Roe, “We wish you well.”

56 Comments

  1. I certainly hope that Ben Roe will be a metaphorical shot in the arm for classical music programming at “WCRB, a service of WGBH.” I hope that his hiring indicates a willingness on the part of upper management to have the best classical programming possible.

    It’s too bad that even at a non-profit public charity, management seem to think nothing of enriching themselves by impoverishing the workers.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 14, 2011 at 2:45 am

  2. I listen to classical music all the time, and I was happy when GBH bought WCRB and became a non-commerical full-time classical station. Since that buyout, we have become sustainers for the first time. The playlist is much better than when WCRB was a commercial station. I am sorry to hear that morale is low, and I would not be happy with more automated playlists. However, my favorite internet station remains KVOD (CPR -Colorado Radio). One thing they do well is that they highlight and broadcast music from very good groups all over Colorado. WCRB needs to do the same. There are lots of very good regional orchestras in Massachusetts and New England, and CRB should broadcast some of their performances. I am sure that costs more money, but if we all want to increase attendance and listening to classical music, we need to know and hear all the great music being played around our state.

    Comment by Kincade Webb — February 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

  3. I think what WCRB needs to do is to drop the pretentious mask of the non-commercialism and to begin acting as a truly supply/demand type of a station. Hopefully the supply-demand will be applied to listeners not to the advertisers…

    Classical music listeners in their demands are much less diversified then regular radio listeners. In fact from all criticism I heard toward to classical stations very different people expressed very identical demands: better quality of programming, better reception, better quality of sound, more unique proprietary programming, more live broadcasting. I can’t imagine that a station that would follow those simple rules would lose audiences or audiences support.

    I think it is ironic that Benjamin Roe was appointed as Director for Classical Services at WGBH/WCRB as WGBH has no Classical Services. I am not sure what WGBH is nowadays, they kind in the shadow of WBUR – a perfect waste of a formerly great station as far as I concerned. It remind me a Back Bay restaurant a few years back at the corner of Dartmouth and Commonwealth that kept lazily serving customers just because thier owner did not want to lose his liquor license due to inactivity. Hey, instead of have an idle FM frequency slot in Boston let to demonstrate how open and pluralistic we are and let to lease out the 89.7 for a few year to English division of Al Jazeera…

    Contrary to Lee I question if I would like to see the “classical music back to Boston with its powerful transmitter on 89.7”. I do not think that spreading humans and technical resources across two broadcasting locations. I would like to see ONE good station instead of two straggling for identity. Sure it would be great if all classical programming move to WGBH’s much more powerful transmitter but then why did I buy a house right under WCRB antenna? :-)

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

  4. Romy-

    Contrary to your contrary- My suggestion included the assumption that WCRB would become the outlet for news and talk. No suggestions of “duplicative services” from me….

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm

  5. Hm, the WCRB and WGBH switch the duties? I guess they had this option to begin with…
    BTW, there is one thing that you Lee can do and that might work. The BMI writers do “reviews” of small concertos that take place in churches and country clubs for 80 listeners. That is certainly good. However, I am wondering why your BMI reviewers do not review the WCRB/WHRB live broadcast? The irony is that WCRB/WHRB live broadcasts have larger amount of audiences. What you read Richter’s dairy then you see his critiques about recorded and live attended events without any discrimination. So, why BMI writers do the same?

    From one side BMI is a publication that is trying to coven local musical events. From another side BMI is trying to stand for advisement of classical broadcasting culture. Why do not combine those two objectives and start to review the most interesting classical FM events?

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 14, 2011 at 11:10 pm

  6. Just now it occurred to me to check and see what WCRB/99.5 All-Classical was offering. Are you ready?

    “Autumn” from “The Four Seasons.”

    I made a similar test this afternoon with WHRB. It was Robert Simpson’s Ninth Symphony that I happened on — a towering masterpiece by the sound of it. What a discovery.

    In my not humble opinion, the new Managing Director for Classical Services would be doing civilization an awfully big favor if he’d simply junk all the canned drivetime chirpiness that’s been afflicting most of the broadcast schedule. It lowers the tone of the joint.

    And please, don’t anybody try and tell me that well, that’s the best that can be done given the circumstances etc. etc.

    Here is a list of programs that some very small and impoverished public stations elsewhere in the U.S. have on offer:

    Center Stage from Wolf Trap, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Collector’s Corner, Compact Discoveries, Concerts from the Library of Congress, Deutsche Welle Festival Concerts, Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Harmonia, Live at the Concertgebouw, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Music from Chautauqua, Music Mountain, New Jersey Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Orgelwerke, Pipedreams, Pittsburgh Symphony, The Record Shelf, San Francisco Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto Festival.

    What is one to make of this?

    Comment by Richard Buell — February 14, 2011 at 11:43 pm

  7. What is one to make of this? Rhetorical question, right? And from one of Boston’s best music geniuses. But then, I’m prejudiced. I’m also jaded. Nothing is going to come of it unless the Powers That Be feel the stings and arrows of embarrassment at being convincingly accused of intellectual pretense. But one must provide the PTB with a Graceful Exit strategy. Ideas, anyone?

    Comment by Settantenne Amante di Musica — February 15, 2011 at 12:36 am

  8. They have those during drive time?

    Or do you mean that during the evening and overnight hours we get drivetime chirpiness when we could be having some of these other things instead? Are these things done around the clock? I could certainly see them filling the 8:00 p.m. to morning wake-up period, but I’m not so sure about daytime on weekdays.

    And, as someone pointed out, only a very few hours during the week on WCRB is “canned” in the sense of pre-recorded. Just about all chirpiness is live. Is canned solemnity to be preferred?

    It seems to me that the real issue is not cihirpiness vs solemnity, but “Autumn” vs recorded concerts of good ensembles at 11:43 p.m.

    I’d hate to see our local talent displaced by recordings from elsewhere, but an upgrade to the hours already from elsewhere is not a bad idea. And if we can’t have recordings of local events, recordings of concerts from afar seems a good idea.

    What did WHRB have on offer at 11:43?

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 15, 2011 at 1:19 am

  9. WCRB management may be correct in its conclusion that Pabulum is what its listeners desire.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 15, 2011 at 9:22 am

  10. I wish BMInt’s readers and contributors — ideally, every last one of them — would check out the world of Internet audio streaming. It’s cheap and it’s increasingly accessible. And it’s a world where local broadcast frequencies, poor signal strength, and Philistine management types simply DO NOT MATTER. The gist of it is that the listener can take his business elsewhere.

    See http://www.publicradiofan.com/, http://www.listenlive.eu/classical.html, http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/, http://www.operacast.com/, http://theairthisweek.blogspot.com/

    In any case, that’s what this listener does, except when WCRB/99.5 remembers that it’s in the music-making business. Those years and years of inviting performers in to the studio, or dispatching recording crews out to concert halls, have created a precious annals of Boston musical life. If the station ever lets that go, it will be as good as dead.

    What about someone in the BMInt community posting an article on the very simple basics of Internet streaming? They will be doing God’s work.

    Comment by Richard Buell — February 15, 2011 at 1:52 pm

  11. BMInt published an excellent article from Richard Buell on this subject almost exactly one year ago.

    https://classical-scene.com/2010/02/16/is-classical-music-radio-a-dying-technology/

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

  12. Richard Knisely, we miss you.

    Comment by C.P.T.L. — February 16, 2011 at 2:25 am

  13. Many business managers have used the recent economic meltdown to consolidate and shed people, some of them inconvenient but professionally worthy. Thus it has been with GBH: for reasons most of us don’t respect, GBH management has taken a sledgehammer to its operations. It’s one thing to witness the corporate giants–the Caterpillars of the world–heave useful, productive staff over the side to dress up the balance sheet, quite another to see an institution we rely on for community, culture and even grace adopt this inhumane practice. I too miss Richard Knisely, who served as an oasis in mid-day for so long. Apparently Richard (whom I don’t know) made himself inconvenient to the management.
    The new GBH radio is an echo. While I know better than to expect a return to the long-form days of Robert J. and like others do appreciate the efforts of the current on-air classical and jazz hosts, surely Boston deserves better than this.

    Comment by John Bennett — February 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

  14. WCRB is currently running a fund-raiser with nearly non-stop “classical favorites”. Perhaps they want people who tuned in to WCRB under previous “management” to send in money. The chances are they’ve migrated to other outlets.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — February 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm

  15. Thanks for your post, Lee. I look forward to your continued coverage as this plays out.

    First off, my POV disclaimer: Ben Roe was my boss for several years at NPR, and I’ve been the host of Performance Today for the last ten years. (And thanks to Ben, I’m now also the voice of the PBS series Live from Lincoln Center.)

    Performance Today isn’t on the air in Boston, no reason you’d know me from Adam. But for what it’s worth, I think this is a great move for WCRB/WGBH. You’re right, he faces some real challenges starting March 1, you enumerate several. But I can’t think of anyone better positioned to tackle them. Ben is a creative dynamo. And in my experience he does the exact opposite of demoralize staffers: he creates a sense of possibility — “let’s dream up great ideas and make ’em happen.” He knows music, he knows media. I can’t wait to see & hear what he does in Boston.

    On another matter: Lee, you wrote that NPR was “the last true active network of live classical music broadcasts in the country.” When NPR shuttered classical music operations in 2007, Performance Today and SymphonyCast moved to American Public Media, based in St. Paul, Minnesota. PT & SC do 12 hours of weekly concert highlights & interviews, and are now heard by more listeners in more markets than ever before. Our new series “Classical Live” is doing more LIVE national broadcasts than NPR ever did, from concert halls and festivals around the country & in Europe.

    Comment by Fred Child — February 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm

  16. Fred- Thanks for letting us know more about American Public Media. Many of us only know them as purveyors of recorded music. Please point us to a link to “Classical Live.”

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 18, 2011 at 7:15 pm

  17. Lee — I must admit, while I’m excited about the Classical Live *broadcasts*, at the moment the *website* isn’t much to look at. Here’s the link: http://americanpublicmedia.publicradio.org/programs/classical_live/

    You can see a list of past broadcasts, but these don’t come with streaming rights after the fact, sorry to say. The website lists our next broadcasts as the “Spring for Music” series of concerts with American orchestras at Carnegie Hall in May. We hope to have some major events between now and then, broadcast rights are still being finalized. And we’ll soon be able to announce a big 2011-2012 season. (Count on the Last Night of the Proms from London in September, for starters.)

    Comment by Fred Child — February 18, 2011 at 7:52 pm

  18. I live on Cape Cod and would be completely in favor of swapping signals. We have suffered a huge loss since the buyout. The 99.5 WCRB classical signal does not reach us. Apparently the frequency is shared with a Christian radio frequency. I don’t know how you would get around that but I hope you try. I, for one, gave less this year to WBGH since I am receiving less and donated to WBUR for the first time in many years.

    Comment by Stephanie Miele — February 20, 2011 at 5:18 pm

  19. ‘Perhaps recordings of local concerts will be reinvigorated. Perhaps Friday Symphony broadcasts will be back, too. From BMInt to Ben Roe, “We wish you well.” ‘

    I can say Amen to that! There are SO many ways the 99.5 programming can be made interesting and creative, and not all of them need to be expensive….but devoting more resources to the operation of that station should, of course, be a very high priority for WGBH management.

    Comment by Joel Cohen — February 21, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  20. The post-holiday PPM ratings are now available at

    http://www.radio-info.com/markets/boston

    A number describing the total number of people who tune in to the station during the ratings period called the ‘cume’ indicates that WCRB has shed 34,000 listeners in the past month.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — February 23, 2011 at 5:49 pm

  21. Thanks, Laurence for the link. I would like to note that WHRB shed people as well.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm

  22. I just heard James David Jacobs pronounce Lazarus as Lazar’us. He is as reading-challenged as is Naomi Arenberg (?sp).

    I don’t claim to have the musical sophistication that many of you express, but English is my native language and I think I ought to expect that announcers on a classical music station can read that language in a fluent manner.

    Knisley was both pompous and boring, and I don’t miss him at all. Brian Mc Creath (?sp) is a wonderful alternative.

    Comment by Joseph R. Barrie — February 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm

  23. The rule that announcers seem to follow is that any proper name of three or more syllables is accented on the penult. From CarMEEna Burana to LaZAHrus, it’s the same problem: a deracinated culture (that no longer is familiar with Biblical and literary figures and stories) and an unwillingness to take the time to look things up.

    But what can you expect in a country where most people pronounce bruschetta as if it were bruscetta and ask for a biscotti?

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm

  24. >> where most people pronounce bruschetta as if it were bruscetta

    Huh? How do you think it’s pronounced? brew-sketta is correct.

    And as for whether widespread mispronunciation (once it’s widespread it eventually is no longer mispronunciation, some would argue, or do you still do flaccid and vagary and grimace old-school?)
    or failure to strictly observe declension / pluralization is really so significant, well, only in Boston do we get these wonderful sweeping extrapolations up to the level of ‘what can you expect in a country where …’.

    Comment by david moran — February 25, 2011 at 1:39 pm

  25. LOL

    “Huh? How do you think it’s pronounced? brew-sketta is correct.” Yes, but most people I hear say brewshetta, which is how bruscetta would be pronounced.

    First c hard, second soft. I’d have to look up vagary if I wanted to say it, but I’d be inclined to make the first a long. (Is “We’re called gondolieri/But that’s a vagary” correct or just Gilbert having fun with words as he sometimes did? I wonder.) Short i in grimace. Accent on the first syllable in all three. Anybody who thinks there are correct and incorrect pronunciations is welcome to point out any errors.

    I guess you’d have been happier if I’d said “What can you expect in a city where …” for my sweeping extrapolation. ;)

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 25, 2011 at 2:21 pm

  26. >> but most people I hear say brewshetta,

    Of course. It is not that anyone missed your point.

    >> which is how bruscetta would be pronounced.

    not in English, whether scent or sceptical or couscous. Perhaps you were thinking of conscious, except there it’s the ‘i’ that does the work. I mean, if you’re going to snob off as some pronunciation expert….

    >> I’d have to look up vagary if I wanted to say it, but I’d be inclined to make the first a long.

    Like Gary, used to be — vuh – Gary.

    >> Short i in grimace.

    Of course. But accent on second syllable, long a. Used to be.

    And flak-sid. Used to be.

    >> Accent on the first syllable in all three. Anybody who thinks there are correct and incorrect pronunciations

    Uh, were you not doing just that, hosing the Italian-ignorant, nationally, then locally?

    Comment by david moran — February 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm

  27. LOL

    Tell you what: if I can have CARmina and bruSKETta, I’ll let “a biscotti” go.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 25, 2011 at 4:51 pm

  28. Alright, everyone. Being of 100% Italian heritage, and granddaughter of an Italian musicologist/organist, I have to enter this.

    The letters “c” and “g” are hard if followed by the vowels “a,” “o,” or “u”; BUT if followed by an “e” or “i, they become soft. To classical music lovers, think “cello,” “Cimabrosa,” “Giovane” or “Arcangelo” (insert last name), …

    NOW the other half of the rule: an “h” BETWEEN the “ci” “ce” gi” or “ge” makes the consonant HARD:
    Think Boccherini, Cherubini, (Un Ballo in) Maschera, Respighi, ghetto (YES, an Italian word.)

    I have much fun (sadistic) ordering Pros-cu -EE-to from a store or restaurant that misspells it. They offer to correct my pronunciation, and I offer to correct their spelling…

    Pace, all
    That’s Pah-che)

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — February 25, 2011 at 6:30 pm

  29. Bravo Bettina:

    It’s infuriating that in 99% of restaurants and on the food network.. risotto is pronounced risOto, (like DeSoto) ricotta as recoata, gnocci as no key.. just to mention a few. ..”mai piu”
    My one year of College Italian 100 years ago and love of Italian opera doesn’t qualify me as an expert but really… the rules for Italian pronounciation cover half a page.

    I’ve always been envious of those with Italian genes…

    Comment by Ed Burke — February 26, 2011 at 12:49 am

  30. Ed,

    Isn’t that gnocchi?

    I agree: the real annoyance comes when Italian words are mispronounced in a supposedly Italian restaurant or by people who present themselves as familiar with Italian cuisine.

    Bettina,

    Love your “proscuEEto!”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 26, 2011 at 2:27 am

  31. Gnocchi it is! Thanx.. I was a good “speller” once.

    RE: WGBH + WCRB…. money talks.. Listeners can effectively protest by NOT renewing their membership or writing directly to express their views. The powers that be might raise their heads out of the sand and listen.

    I wonder how much WGBH TV receives from airing the endless “info-commercials like how to fix your brain or remain ageless etc?

    Comment by Ed — February 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

  32. As one who works on the front lines of classical music (as both a performer and a presenter), I second all the well-wishes for Ben Roe. When I think of the vast archive of live concert performances around New England that WGBH has recorded over the years, and which now go largely unheard on air, it saddens me. Performance Today is heard in most classical markets around the US, but not here because we have had our own rich supply of recorded ‘live’ concert broadcasts, thanks to intrepid WGBH engineers. Now that CRB has greatly shrunk its broadcast time of these archived concert tapings, one of GBH/CRB’s distinctive characteristics- “Music you won’t hear anywhere else”- has been almost eviscerated. (Not pronounced eviskerated, btw.) In any event, let’s hope that the arrival of Ben Roe will, as Fred Child suggests, energize and revitalize CRB. If not, we need to vote with our feet and send our charitable dollars elsewhere. PS: Does anyone else find the local ‘talent’ on air at the new WGBH remarkably unremarkable? Is this the best they can offer to compete with WBUR?

    Comment by David Deveau — February 28, 2011 at 11:27 am

  33. WGBH should certainly switch signals(or programming) with WCRB but that would require the management to admit to such a colossal blunder that it is never going to happen. Consequently FM programming in going to continue to deteriorate.
    When is New England Classical Online going to be launched and start broadcasting live (or at least podcasts) performances from Monadnock or Marlboro? Are we going to wait for the owners of the Great Blue Hill transmitter to take that on?

    Comment by Edward Wagner — February 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm

  34. GBH/CRB is hopelessly dumbed-down. Thank God I’ve accumulated enough CDs before that format’s demise, and can settle for that, and HRB.

    Comment by SteelyTom — March 3, 2011 at 4:50 am

  35. In fact dumbed down is being polite to GBH/CRB .. Yes, at least we have WHRB and our cd or lp collections.

    There are still some great cds being issued but mainly on NAXOS. This company is a huge success story in a time when most labels have often given up re: serious classical music. NAXOS issues 15 to 20 cds each month.

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

  36. Ed, you’re right about Naxos (have you checked out their guitar series?)…. When I was a kid trying to tune in CRB from Providence, it featured things like a lengthy series of 2-hr. programs dedicated to the complete recordings of Willem Mengelberg. That’s simply unimaginable today on any station other than HRB. I’ve taken to devoting most of my radio listening to jazz on GBH, where it seems an endangered species.

    Comment by SteelyTom — March 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm

  37. Naomi Arenberg is at it again. This time she tried to read a story about health insurance company problems and came out with the outrage of some about payments to doctors, when what she meant to say was payments to directors. Oh, well! She makes me as ill-at-ease as she clearly seems to be.

    I heard the Emily Rooney radio program with Brian Bell and Avi Nelson. I didn’t hear Nelson say that Levine was on anti-psychotic drugs, as was mentioned by another listener on a WCRB website, but rather that Levine was on pain-killers (understandably) which might have an effect on his “sharpness”. Nelson also felt that 18 new commissions in seven years was, shall we say, a bit off-putting to hoi polloi such as I am. Bell was obviously shocked, which is part of the problem.

    The persistent standing ovations about fairly ordinary stuff at Symphony Hall reflect to me the behavior of crowds at Fenway Park, who take up more and more of the TV time with similar standing ovations and the like. I have the feeling that a good bit of the audience at Symphony Hall behave the way they do because they know they are in the presence of a “celebrity” conductor.

    Decades ago William Carlos Williams wrote: “The crowd at a baseball game is delighted by its sense of uselessness.” I wish this sentiment were more obvious at Symphony Hall.

    Comment by Joseph R. Barrie — March 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm

  38. Joseph,

    I am glad that you mentioned that debate between Brian Bell and Avi Nelson. It was very emblematic. Interesting that I agree with both of them as they both resent very valid views. Yes, what Avi Nelson was suggested was in a way hoi polloish, Fenway Parkish but it is what drives sales. Hate to use as a reference but it is what it is: “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to.

    Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be.” If to forget that it was expressed in “Mein Kampf” then tell me that it is not what drives the US business for 60 years?

    So, we fancy themselves that we are “different” and we are not the “limited intelligence masses”. But I will tell you that if I have weekly concerts like we had recently “Chin’s Exquisite Cello Concerto” then I will change “hobby”…. From this perspective Avi Nelson was right – it need to be a proper balance between classical and contemporary repertoire….

    I am not against the Ms. Chin’s Cello Concertos. They are fine a spice once a while but I would like BSO to dive into the Chin-line Concertos AFTER they are able to play Beethoven, Brahms and Brinker at more or less reasonable level. When BSO played any Beethoven symphony that it was a memorable event? I do not have alzheimer’s yet but I do not remember.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — March 11, 2011 at 9:07 am

  39. Well, I thought the Sixth last season was memorable. As I have sadi a couple of times, it was what deserved the standing ovation that evening. But it ends quietly, so it was the Seventh that got the standing O. (I just got a great idea. They should program the standing-O-catcher before intermission to get the audience in the mood. Then maybe they’ll give the other piece what it deserves at the end of the evening!)

    And last evening’s Fifth was memorable, too. I don’t know if it was Maestro Abbado’s conducting or my seat location (A 17, 2nd Balcony Left) that brought out details that I don’t always notice, but I liked hearing things that I often miss, and I liked the way the strings would swell the volume on individual notes. I guess you’d say it was a Romantic interpretation, and I’m inclined to believe that it was Abbado who got the orchestra to make it memorable. I’ll hear the H&H do the same piece on Sunday. It’ll be interesting to have the contrast.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — March 11, 2011 at 11:06 am

  40. Joe, I would disagree. To my feline taste all Beethoven last season was extremely anticlimactic, those that Levine conducted and those that were by guest. If to truly activate my dilapidating memory then a last truly great Beethoven from BSO was back in the very beginning of 2008, in February 2008, where BSO was lead by Polish-born conductor Marek Janowski, it was the same Six symphony…. Unfortunately since then WCRB played 27817 times Beethoven Six and I developed permanent allergy to this music? Do you think I can sue WCRB?

    Comment by Romy The Cat — March 11, 2011 at 12:08 pm

  41. The best Beethoven VI I have ever heard, ever, was Harnoncourt-Vienna at Symphony Hall maybe 4-5 years ago. The earth moved, as the saying goes :-)

    Comment by Joel Cohen — March 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm

  42. Ah, those smells of the past earth moving….

    I LOVE those moments when the starts come together and orchestra suddenly squirts out itself a play that is remembered for years and years. I collect those moments.

    Nowadays when everyone is talking about BSO new Musical directors, the BSO past and future I have to say that I have my own wet dream. I dream that BSO build a very serious playback installation in the stage and on Wednesdays 8PM run open to public listening sessions, spinning the BSO master tapes from Transcription archive. Taking about publicizing the best from classical music!

    Comment by Romy The Cat — March 11, 2011 at 8:31 pm

  43. I like the above idea. Too bad William Pierce can’t be resurrected, but “WCRB Saturday Night” with Richard L. Kaye might be available. Many of the transcriptions Brian Bell plays have outlived their usefulness, as has Ron della Chiesa, in my opinion.

    Although I am more sympathetic with Nelson in his dispute with Bell, I suggest he might consider reading Alex Ross’s: “All the Rest is Noise”, which I think is the definitive description of classical music in the 20th Century.

    I’d like to see a shift to WCRB from Chicago’s classical music station’s staff, but I would keep Brian McCreath and Kathy Fuller.

    Comment by Joseph R. Barrie — March 12, 2011 at 5:07 pm

  44. BMInt readers may be interested in the following exchange between your editor and the classical radio station KDFC in the San Francisco area:

    Query: We were in San Mateo for six weeks, Jan. 18 thru Mar 1, and heard your station the first day or so, then not. We groped around but didn’t seem to be able to find 90.whatever.

    Can you please clue me in to what happened? Also, can you send me a brief summary of your hours of classical music broadcasts?
    Thanks,

    Response: Dear Bettina,

    We had to vacate 102.1 (a commercial radio company owns it) and we wish we could have found a solution that would have covered exactly the same territory as 102.1 but that was not possible right away. Therefore, we found a practical starting place and we will build from there as quickly as possible because there are no other classical stations in our area! KDFC is now a noncommercial classical station. We are making the same transition that happened with WCRB in Boston.

    It is heartbreaking to us that we do not immediately have a signal that serves the Peninsula and the South Bay. We are already looking for opportunities to buy stations in those important regions (we have hired a broker). I wish I could give you a timeline but we are not in control of when a station will come on the market. We are exploring a couple of possibilities right now. In the meantime, some people in San Mateo are reporting that they can receive a workable signal from 89.9 FM but that is not true for everyone.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write and please let us know if you have additional questions or concerns. Again, I am so sorry that we are not able to serve you well right away.

    Brenda

    Comment by Norton, Bettina A — March 16, 2011 at 11:27 am

  45. What a pity! Years ago I would go out there for meetings and pick up “KDFC-Palo Alto and San Francisco”, and enjoy their programming.

    They continued to have a good group of announcers and good selections, but eventually they deteriorated to a slightly better version of the last year or so of the commercial WCRB. Many old WCRB listeners will remember when the San Francisco Symphony, with MTT as conductor, was regularly broadcast here, with Diane Nicollini (the KDFC afternoon announcer) as the host.

    Several years ago I picked up a classical music station in the Monterey peninsula and heard three ex-WCRB announcers of varying quality over the course of the day.

    Let’s hope that better times are coming.

    Comment by Joseph R. Barrie — March 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm

  46. We miss Naomi Arenberg’s warm professional manner and voice on Cape Cod!

    Comment by Nannette Oldenbourg — April 14, 2011 at 7:33 am

  47. Not sure whether to laugh or cry on hearing Laura Carlo’s announcements with “Rage Over A Lost Penny” as the background music.

    Comment by perry41 — April 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

  48. Oops – James David Jacobs just announced “Baschianis Brasiieras”.

    Perhaps Naomi Arenberg is less anxious on the Cape. I hope so.

    Still, with the exception of the early morning, I feel a trend toward mature improvement. I hope I am correct.

    Comment by Joseph R. Barrie — April 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

  49. WCRB has just announced a new weekend schedule, and I wonder what others think about it.

    I find the Friday addition of a program devoted to Hispanic classical music might be interesting, although I hope it doesn’t become boring.

    Saturdays mean an extension of James David Jacobs, whom I could do without, and some sort of change in children’s programming (which was fine as it was, as I see it). Ray Brown for four hours on Saturday is fine with me, and From the Top has been moved to 5 PM. Sorry, but I find the program and its format icky. The rest of Saturday looks fine, once the Pops’ season ends.

    Sundays, however, begin with the Bach Hour at 6 AM, and then we get Laura Carlo from 7-11 AM with “Baroque in Boston”, which I think will be a poor substitute for the current 11-2 from Connecticut. Noon to 2 PM will feature Brian McClellan, on of the station’s brightest people, I am sure, but a dreadful announcer, nevertheless. The BSO on Record program persists. The records are too often scratchy, and Brian Bell is just too precious for me. The afternoon Bach hour has been moved up to 5 PM, when nobody will be home, and then opera will rule the roost until 10 PM. Lisa Simeone, who is terrific, will present Spoleto chamber music from 10 to 11, after which a quasi-re-creation of “The King of Instruments” will occur. I wish I could stay up to listen to those two offerings.

    Those are my (unsophisticated) opinions. I wonder about others’ feelings.

    Comment by Joseph R. Barrie — May 18, 2011 at 5:30 pm

  50. FYI-

    BMInt will be interviewing WCRB’s Ben Roe, managing director of classical services tomorrow. WE hope to be able to post the resulting article by Friday afternoon. Other questions are welcome from commentores.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — May 18, 2011 at 5:41 pm

  51. I continue to mourn the loss of WXHR and classical WBUR. Programs such as Piano Personalities, the Art of Song, during the mid-morning hours, and (yes) an opera program,… I guess homogeniety of orchestra playing world-wide, as some contend, might preclude programs devoted to specific orchestras, but how about letting us make up our OWN minds? How about a program that offers the same piece by two different orchestras? The prospects are unlimited, the imagination of current programming, anemic.

    Comment by Norton, Bettina A — May 18, 2011 at 8:22 pm

  52. Concerning the AEEF vs WGBH dispute: you quoted Hopkins of GBH saying that “close to half of the union members did not vote against the WGBH proposal” and “close to 100 union members . . .were not eligible to vote” (BMint 3/16). The union says “73% of members voted against the offer” and only “54 members were either ineligible, unable, or chose not to vote” (MA Jobs with Justice, Bargaining Update 3/18/11). As a concerned WGBH supporter, I wonder which of these conflicting positions is correct? If you know, I’d appreciate it if you would tell me.
    Thanks,
    Andrew Martin

    Comment by Andrew Martin — May 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm

  53. The conflicting narratives are clearly stated in by the opposing sides in BMInt’s article here: https://classical-scene.com/2011/03/02/wgbh-union-impasse/
    The interpretations (spins?) of the numbers are quite different and probably not subject to a simple explanation. Neither Jordan Weinstein or Jeanne Hopkins is doing anything other than making his/her own best case.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — May 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm

  54. Not a word about the Friday and Sunday Tanglewood concerts. I hope it’s only because the BSO won’t be playing at Tanglewood until July, but it’s a bit worrisome that they mention the BSO at Tanglewood and Symphony Hall as part of their Saturday evening programming even though they aren’t on in June. You’d think they could also mention Tanglewood on Fridays and Sundays as well as on Saturdays. IMO, dropping those concerts would be a disservice to the listeners (amounting to a betrayal) worse than the cancellation of the Friday afternoon BSO concert broadcasts.

    I am pleased to see the addition of New England Summer Festivals (although one hour per week is not an awful lot — couldn’t they give a second hour?) and Baroque in Boston.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — May 19, 2011 at 12:44 am

  55. Joe, I think partially the WGBH/WCRB express no words about the Friday and Sunday Tanglewood concerts become the BSO business is not booming. Even a few years back where BSO concerts were more stimulating I did monitor very careful what was being broadcasted and if I did not go to concert then I was sure that I will be able to hear it home. Now it is different as most of the BSO programs are not as exciting. So why would I care if the concerts are broadcasted if only in spring I gave up 3 of my tickers to Symphony Hall? Sure, in spring BSO did have some very good concerts but still my general expectation is low.

    Of cause we need to continue to fight for Fridays and Sundays. I would say we need to fight for live broadcasts of other programs, not only BSO. Where is the Handel and Haydn Society’s and the Boston Lyric’s broadcasts?

    In a way WGBH/WCRB get better – they pick up some European live-to-tape programs but as anything else the do it has some scars: they look like use that stupid PBS framework for exchange of music. Whoever designed has to be painfully tortured and then murdered by UNESCO. Hey run an exchange of hugely compressed MP3 files that makes all sound of orchestra some homogenized that it is impossible to say what interment of what section is playing. Souse they broadcast reminds a harming noise and you need among the compressed noise to find same kind of tune – who the hell needs this type of broadcasting. BTW, NPR/PBS Morons nowadays even press CDs from those surrogate sound files. I bough recently a few CDs from their “Keeping Score” series –and I was forced to trash them after first listening. The music was played fine but the amount of vandalism inflicted to it but the idiots in headphone with diplomas of electricians was too high to tolerate.

    The point is that I am trying to make is that I see a definition of success no only in highly desirable extension of WGBH/WCRB coverage but also in setting and maintaining a certain level of Sound quality. WCRB is not new station where sound quality. To a large degree is irrelevant. Sound itself is a commodity of a classical station, as much as it is a commodity for BSO. Somebody shall explain it to WGBH/WCRB leaders…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — May 19, 2011 at 7:45 am

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