IN: News & Features

Brian Bell Gone From WGBH: UPDATED


BMInt has recently learned that Brian Bell has lost his job at WGBH. We are very saddened that we will no longer be able to hear his distinctive voice that has charmed the airwaves for so long. Brian began working for WGBH 26 years ago, in 1985. Since 1991 he has produced the broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra; he has also contributed tremendous quantities of extremely high-quality programming to the station both on the air and on the Classical New England website. His interviews with major performers, conductors and music personalities are legendary. His command of the history of the BSO is beyond anyone else’s. He continues to sound as young and enthusiastic as he did at the beginning of his broadcast career.

After failing to negotiate a contract with AEEF-CWA Local 1300 in March of 2010, we understand that WGBH imposed work rules based on the Foundation’s last, best offer that allow the station to “separate from employment” certain employees “without cause.” Brian Bell may be but one conspicuous example of such a termination. Managing Director of Classical Services Ben Roe explained, “We are grateful to Brian Bell for his 26 years of dedicated service to WGBH. We all have benefited from his vital role in producing our broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Brian’s breadth of knowledge has enriched the experience for listeners and we wish him all the best.”

Clarification: BMInt may have given the impression that we knew the terms under which Brian Bell lost his job. Because no one would tell us, we did not know the whys or wherefores when we published this article and we are sorry if readers inferred that we did. We were incorrect when we stated that certain employees were currently working without a contract.

According to Vice President for Community Relations at WGBH, Jeanne Hopkins “Brian Bell’s departure is related to budget considerations. As you can imagine, producing live concerts is an expensive undertaking, and we, like everyone else, have to work within limited resources.” She also wanted BMInt to correct our misstatement that local AEEF/CWA  LOCAL 1300 was working without a contract.* According to the union’s secretary, John MacGibbon,  “After more than a year without  a contract one was ratified in May of 2012 retroactive to  March 15th, 2011.” That contract apparently includes some of the same language found in the expiring final, best offer imposition:

D. Artistic Discretion

Reporters, News Anchorpersons, Correspondents, TV Directors, TV Announcers, Radio Producer/Announcers, Radio Board Operator/Announcers, Radio Reporter/Announcers, World Editor/Reporters, World Radio Studio Directors, World Reporters, and World Senior Radio Producer/Hosts may be separated from employment without cause, provided that they are given a minimum of four weeks written notice (or pay in lieu thereof) and severance pay owed, described below.

When asked whether Brian was offered the chance to take a pay cut or asked whether he would undertake increased responsibilities, Kirkpatrick said she was not privy to the discussions. So BMInt stands by its statement that management has the right to fire certain employees without cause. In Brian’s case though, we have learned from union spokesman John MacGibbon that Brian’s termination was in the form of a layoff. “We were notified that Brian would be laid off, and we made an official request for information. That request is still pending.”

*For the record, on March 15, 2011, Jeanne Hopkins wrote to me, “As WGBH confirmed with the AEEF/CWA today, we are at an impasse, and we are implementing our best and final offer, effective today.”

The new contract is here.

BMInt ‘s interview with Brian is here.

Seiji Ozawa and Brian Bell in 2008 (Michael J. Lutch photo)


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

  1. I’d like to have someone from WGBH try to explain this serious error rather than give us boilerplate exit interview material.

    Comment by de novo2 — September 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm

  2. This truly sucks. Also it comports with the general feeling that WGBH muckety-mucks don’t care a hoot about WCRB and and/or classical music.

    Comment by clarkjohnsen — September 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm

  3. This is truly shocking. What, if anything, can station management have been thinking?

    I’ll be very interested in what Brian Bell can tell us about it.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — September 19, 2012 at 7:59 pm

  4. Well, it is what it is. Many of us who work in corporate environments are accustom that brainless corporations commit one stupidity after another. Brian’s departure from WGBH is unquestionably one of the many entries in the long list of the recent WGBH’s ridiculousness. The snips that started years back keep sniping chunk by chunk from the listeners quality programming. I hope the WGBH executives would choke with their wonderful bonuses….

    About Brian. I am sure many of the readers would express his sympathies but that is kind of cheap. Let face it – with his skill set there is not a lot of stimulating work out there. So, I wonder can the BMI readers to help Brian to find a new interesting job, the job that would continue to benefit public.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — September 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm

  5. Wonderful suggestion, Romy. I hope someone in our readership can help. Brian Bell deserves a job that will not smother his abilities – and his voice!

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — September 19, 2012 at 9:16 pm

  6. We are founding donors of WGBH.
    As of now, we have written our final donation check.

    Comment by perry41 — September 19, 2012 at 10:09 pm

  7. Please do not continue to block my comment. When great minds are at play, a fresh viewpoint should not intimidate, merely stimulate. Thank you:

    Wake up. Brian’s work was good, but it was so old school you could smell the erasers being beaten together on the blacktop. Anyone who truly cares about the future of the BSO will rejoice in the opportunity for an influx of fresh energy and a refined approach to these valuable broadcasts. And how could you be so quick to turn on ‘CRB’s management? They’ve done more in the past year to enliven and enrich their product than in the sum of decades prior. Be patient. Something great could be in the works. You’ll make fools of yourselves if you pass judgement too quickly. Besides, who wants to listen to another BSO broadcast that’s just a laundry list of premiere dates and other orchestral stats? Don’t allow the past broadcasts limit your imaginations. If these shows were in your hands, what would you change? If the answer is, “Nothing!”, shame on you.

    Comment by Annie — September 19, 2012 at 10:14 pm

  8. Annie, you may well be right that “something great could be in the works,” but then maybe not. It’s a hope, at best. I wonder what your imagination, unlimited by past broadcasts, hopes for in the post-Bell era. But you have certainly misrepresented the BSO broadcasts by suggesting that they were “just a laundry list of premiere dates and other orchestral stats.” There were also Brian’s knowledgeable interviews of composers, conductors, and performers. It will take considerable doing to replace them with something better.

    Better no change than change for the worse.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — September 19, 2012 at 10:53 pm

  9. Mr. Whipple. I have no interest in dissecting Mr. Bell. However, suffice it to say there is a higher quality of interview to be had. Frankly, Mr. Bell lacks the ability to remove himself from the center of the interview. A truly great interviewer learns how to launch a question and then stand back to allow his companion to bloom into the space created by the question. Mr. Bell seemed more often intent on proving how much he knew or on getting pats on the back for having noticed say, a tempo change during rehearsal, than on sharing the full spectrum of his interviewee’s thoughts with his audience. What might we learn from a great conductor or musician if this were not the dynamic? Have you considered what you’re missing because of Mr. Bell’s need to be acknowledged as knowledgeable?
    I have great respect for Mr. Bell’s depth of knowledge. I know he cares deeply about his subject and that care will serve another institution very well. I do believe, however, that he is doing that very thing he loves a great disservice by indulging himself far too often and losing sight of the service he should provide his subjects and his listeners. Broadcasts are about the crackle of the here and now. There is a time and a place for dwelling in the dusty archives, but our public airwaves should not be used every weekend for such a thing. Have you considered now musty we must sound to our children and grandchildren? How can we blame them for being disinterested if all we have to offer is old news?
    I don’t mean to be harsh. I say all of this because I care to my core about the future of this art form. Adapt or die.

    Comment by Annie — September 19, 2012 at 11:20 pm

  10. >> I hope the WGBH executives would choke with their wonderful bonuses

    Cat man, do you have substantiation for this charge?

    I too found Bell to sound like a bit of a pill (Charlie Rose-like self-indulgence, yeah), but am sad and dismayed that he and his historical knowledge will be gone.

    Comment by David Moran — September 20, 2012 at 12:12 am

  11. Annie, I do understand your comments. You have a valid point about Brian’s overexcitement over own material, a minor flow in my estimation. I disagree with your estimation how the public airwaves have to be used. To have once-twice a week a musical program that would put the things in some kind prospective is a good things to have and if our children find it musty then we need to do better job with our children.

    The point I am trying to make is that all “imperfection” of Brian’s work you will find very few people who would be able to do his work and who have proper enthusiasm to do the work. I would like that enthusiasm and that capacity not to be lost for Bostonians.

    I do not share also your vision about need to be adapted or die. To adapt to what? To indifferent and mostly inapt play that BSO demonstrate nowadays? How many performances from the last season will be worthy to re-played in 50 years? Unfortunately, if we drop our parochial supremacy then it would be obvious that “past” is the only interesting thing that BSO has and the people like Brian Bell is a great gateway to that past and I hope it will be the same for our children and grandchildren.

    It is possible that WCRB was in fact a too suffocating environment for Brian’s interests. Who know, he might be lending at new now exciting opportunity. It would be nice if the BMI readers and contributors would help him or perhaps would CREATE the opportunity for him. One door is closeting, another is opening…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — September 20, 2012 at 6:20 am

  12. In this world of desperately needed climate for classical music Brian Bell has shown us the way it can work with interesting stories, interviews with classical musicians, and user friendly stories of composers. From the days of William Pierce and the very formal and stiff presentations from Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, Brian freshened and deepened the experience for the listeners.

    I’m saddened and shocked that this producer and personality has been shown the WGBH door. What’s next?

    Comment by Bill Cosel — September 20, 2012 at 8:40 am

  13. Given the track record of WGBH–i.e. relegating the BSO broadcast to the weak-signal of WCRB and eliminating the Friday afternoon broadcasts, it is not difficult to predict, alas, that what they elect to replace Mr. Bell will not be as good as Mr. Bell. Of course they might revert, in an effort to save money, to what was done in the 40’s and 50’s: simply nothing. The intermissions were just that. What one heard was the sound of the hall, effectively “dead air”, and that’s not such a bad thing. Head out to the kitchen; fix a new martini; take the Clumber Spaniel for a walk; read some letters to the editor in the NYRB–any and all done in the relaxation of knowing that you won’t miss anything! In terms of replacing Mr. Bell, believe me it’s our last best hope, and not a bad one.

    Comment by Dan Farber — September 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

  14. This really stinks, to put it mildly.
    Brian’s work makes the music live. Gives insights and his interviews draw out the soloists and conductors .

    Brian’s loss, and the fact that Mr. Roe, from the beginning has blamed my lack of good reception on MY radio and MY insufficient computer skills, (when others are having the same problem,) and now taking Brian Bell from us, I think I will cease to contribute to WGBH and 99.5 after December 31st. I have been giving what I can and in the past donated artwork for the auction, but….enough is enough.

    Comment by Leslie — September 20, 2012 at 9:46 am

  15. I would love to comment but WGBH can’t be heard well in Dorchester, so ignorance is bliss.

    Comment by Aaron — September 20, 2012 at 9:47 am

  16. Romy, thank you for your reply. I agree: Mr. Bell is of great value to the musical community. I am certain he will land on his feet. Let’s see to it, as you and others here have suggested, though I suspect our intervention will not be needed.

    Yes, we could do more to make the symphonic experience a given in our children’s lives. But in the case of younger ears upon which these sounds have yet to land, who is the best handmaiden? Is it someone focused on the past, or someone focused on the present and future (who is knowledgeable of the past). I find Mr. Bell’s obsession with historical statistics rather stifling. The approach is interesting every now and then, but every week? It makes me feel like I’m hearing my grandpa tell the same joke over and over, thinking it’s the first time he’s telling it. I’m happy to indulge grandad in his lack of self-awareness. I’m not so patient when it comes to the professional whose job it is to deliver the best representation of what’s happening in Symphony Hall (and at Tanglewood) to his or her audience. Mr. Bell is delivering a small sliver of a very large and wonderful pie. I for one am hungry for more and am excited that I just might get to hear it. I do hope management makes good choices about how to proceed.

    I doubt that WCRB is a suffocating environment for those with Mr. Bell’s gifts and interests and would go so far as to suspect the one doing the smothering was Mr. Bell himself. Have you listened lately? I perceive a livelier interest in and devotion to the music than ever before and suspect it is trickling down from the top and spreading nicely across the airwaves. I do not get the sense that employees are being discouraged from tending to their craft and serving the art form. I hear the opposite: fresh approaches and energized thinking. Remember the Bach month? Have you heard Keith Lockhart’s morning segment lately? It’s not the squirm worthy affair it once was. Are we being bombarded with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons non-stop? No. The approach to programming is thoughtful and varied – sometimes too varied! As I’ve commented on this site before, we don’t know how lucky we are.

    The assumption that Brian Bell was the only person who could do this job well is short sighted. Yes, we will miss him. Bill Cosel asks, “What next?” I suggest we find out before dishing out the customary doom and gloom.

    All to say, I’m surprised that the majority of the bright people commenting on this post have fallen prey to the usual knee-jerk reaction to news of change. Shouldn’t we wait and hear what happens to these broadcasts before we assume it’s all over, all gone down the tubes because of The Man, Evil Empires, and VPs bathing in bonuses? I would contend that anyone jumping to such conclusions simply hasn’t been listening.

    Comment by Annie — September 20, 2012 at 10:45 am

  17. Someone at WCRB should explain why Brian Bell’s role needs to be part of a union contract at all. Where is the line of demarcation between union and non-union personnel at WCRB/WGBH? Were other on-air personalities part of the change? I’d have parted with a few of them. There is now a chasm in the broadcasts, because Ron Della Chiesa, despite his love of the BSO and BSO history, isn’t averse to missing details and mispronouncing names.

    Comment by Dave Saucier — September 20, 2012 at 11:56 am

  18. What folks perhaps don’t realize is that a large part of Brian Bell’s job was to write the scripts that Ron Della Chiesa reads for BSO and Tanglewood broadcasts. So his ability to set the stage for each performance, with his deep knowledge of players, conductors and BSO history, will now be missing not just from the intermission interviews, but the entire presentation. It will be interesting to see how effectively that will be replaced. Unfortunately, Brian was “on the list” of WGBH employees who had been there more than 20 years, all of whom it seems are systematically being eliminated from the payroll. I think the decision is primarily a fiscal one. For better or worse, that management approach is changing the personality of the organization and alienating many of WGBH’s loyal, long-term supporters – an assett it will not be able to recover, and ultimately will cause it to lose more money than is saved by these layoffs.

    Comment by Patricia — September 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm

  19. I am saddened by the news that Brian Bell and WGBH have parted company. Mr. Bell was the one who gave me my introductory crash course in the equipment at WOSU-FM in Columbus OH many years ago. Boston music lovers, you have my condolences for your loss.

    Comment by Boyce Lancaster — September 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm

  20. “To have once-twice a week a musical program that would put the things in some kind prospective is a good things to have and if our children find it musty then we need to do better job with our children.” Bravo Romy! Brian has been criticised here for his historical detail-work (“The BSO first performed this work in 1914 under Karl Muck.”), but to many of us classical music IS history and therefore better appreciated in that context. Let the children learn!

    As for quiet time during the intermissions, I always greatly enjoyed those minutes too.

    Finally, while I’m here, I think the booth announcers come in way too fast after the end of the music. Speak of “obsession”, why does airtime need to be always filled with words (a la WGBH)?

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — September 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm

  21. O, for the days in the previous century when WGBH was worth listening to, including G. Wallace Woodworth giving his introduction to the next day’s BSO broadcast. Brian Bell was a worthy successor and I will miss him.

    Comment by Corno di Bassetto II — September 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm

  22. Annie, thank you for your reply and thought – you are stimulating collaborator. The question you raised is valid: who is the best teacher the one who is focused on the past, or someone focused on the present. My answer, or at least the teachers that I would chose for my children, would be the one who focused on the best musical, cultural and esthetic values, and unfortunately BSO now and BSO in past are entities of very different magnitude.

    I do not find Mr. Bell’s obsession with historical statistics stifling. Yes, it is in a way boring to hear the same program every week but that is not Brian problem but rather the shortage of his employer imagination, something that I blamed CRB/GBH for years. WCRB kept Brian’s in the BSO closet and there is not too much room in there to breathe. Can you imagine of Brian unlashed his interest and his talent in the subjects of let say: best Barbirolli legacy, or Knappertsbusch, or Krauss, or Scherchen. We could have weekly WHRB-style thematic programs with fantastic retroperspective and with great Bell’s presentation…

    Yes, I do agree that today WCRB is not WCRB 3 years back and the programming is more stimulating. I however did not see Brian program to be more stimulating. They run his old introductions and his typical populist, ticket-selling interviews. Was it Brian Bell fault? I do not know. I think he delivered what was requested by the framework he was vibrating in and I think to a great degree your dissatisfaction with his was the failure of imagination of his employers. That how I feel about his “obsession” with BSO past – they said “to push red wine”, so he did. Of cause I might be wrong but very few very short interaction I had with Brian outside the BSO scope did suggest that he is well balanced musical devotee.

    I do not feel that any knee-jerk reaction is going on in here and presents or your comments is a good evidence for it. I personally do not want to hear “what happed” story but I more concerned what Brian Bell will be doing next and what WCRB will be doing next. Brian used very right spot during the live broadcast and now I will be very afraid if WCRB will fill it with WTKK-style retarded commercials.

    Also, Annie, my comment about WGBH bonuses was not my tribute to the conspiracy theories. WCRB is a little “stinky” station that is absolutely lost in ocean of public radio corporate apathy. I am huge fun of NPR/PRI/APM but let face it: if successes or failures that WCRB is able to pull get destroyed by WGBH/NPR stupid corporatism then how much does it make sense to talk about WCRB and an independents entity? We donate money to WCRB or “sell artworks at actions” to their benefits but in the end of the day we do very little to benefit WCRB. Our donations go to big WGBH pot, get devaluated by many questionable and non-profitable programming they unfortunately do lately, get shattered by the money-losing WGBH-TV and the rest few drops get propagated to WCRB’s needs. I do not think that WCRB would get rid of Brian if everything would be fine financially and otherwise under their roof? I do know however that WGBH corporate executives do feel very comfy….

    Comment by Romy The Cat — September 21, 2012 at 8:14 am

  23. Romy, I enjoy your perspectives, also. Thank you for the thoughtful response. You’re an awfully good typist for a cat. I read your comments frequently but don’t often chime in with my own. I’m glad to engage on this topic.

    Though I tend to view this change as positive, I think you have drilled down to something potentially troubling about the bigger picture. It has never been clear to me whether my donation dollars were going directly to WCRB rather than into the coffers of the mother ship. It is an important distinction and I wish they would make it clear to us. It leaves me wondering if it’s even clear to them, and begs the question of which wing of the ship is behind this decision.

    That said, the easy assumption to make is that the release of a long-time employee is a cold, financially driven decision. But having witnessed a similar layoff in my own company just weeks ago, I have to introduce the notion that there’s usually far more that meets the public eye at play when someone with that much institutional knowledge and history is let go. Such people are often invaluable. Their worth is evident even to the cold, calculating eye of a CFO. I think it’s rather lazy to assume from the outside that Brian Bell’s departure is entirely about the bottom line and/or small-mindedness from the top.

    I must also argue with you that his employer might have been short on imagination. From the sound of it, Mr. Bell had a great deal of freedom – perhaps too much – in how he went about his craft. (I work for a designer/manufacturer in an audio related industry, so I am keenly aware of the inconsistencies in his recording environments and production techniques. That and the broadcast sound of the BSO are in a whole other can of worms for a future discussion.) I agree that his wealth of knowledge could be capitalized upon and funneled into a program of a different sort and like your suggestion.

    What it comes down to for me now is that those of us who want to keep this part of our culture thriving have an important job to do: treat it with dignity and affection. You do. I see it. I wonder if extending that same warmth and benefit of the doubt (within reason) to the one broadcast entity which delivers the music I wish to hear isn’t a good idea, also.

    I’ve gained far more trust in WCRB in the past three years than I have lost. I’m delighted you’ve noticed the improvements, too. I’m willing to extend my trust until proven wrong. I don’t think it will be long before we know one way or another.

    Comment by Annie — September 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm

  24. Annie, the subject of donation was very interesting to me as well. When I spoke with WCB/GBH people who solicited the donation there were very confused themselves. I have absolutely nothing against WGBH but my interest was to donate money with well-defined destination. As WCB/GBH did NOT offer that opportunity I dropped my WGBH/CRB membership. If you remember in past the same question was posted to Ben Row who was not able (or did not want) to say how the cash flow routed under the hood of that proverbial NPR mothership.

    Regarding the Brian Bell’s departure. I hope you understand that it is not about him personally. If it was then no one would make his departure public. The deBell-ization of WCRB is metaphoric event; the cancelation of Friday broadcasts was also a metaphoric event. Where will these event leads – to improve or worsening WCRB programming and – that is the question that concern, I am sure, most of the posters in here. Brian Bell event is just one of many syndromes, but it might also reflect the health of the whole body. The answer will be very clear as WCRB will open a new season and we will hear how Ron Della Chiesa will be prepared and how WCRB will fill the “space” between music. Preparing material for live radio is very tricky things and we the listeners take it for granted despite that in reality it sometimes taking a LOT of efforts to do. I certainly do not think that Brian Bell is irreplaceable. But we all were there when the old WCRB used guys with my-like phonetic capacity, verbal infliction of some emblematic cab drivers and intellectual magnitude of Fenway Park’s beer reseller… and those people were trying to comment the BSO broadcasts…

    Let agree that Brian Bell did have ability to present a quality of context. Will Brian-less WCRB be able to top the Brians’ quality material? If they do then Brians’ departure was perfectly justifiable. I personally do not feel that anybody at WCRB will be able to fit the Bell’s shoe and I am afraid that instead of live music and Bell programs we will have the typical apathetic syndicated NPR crap from satellite. I am very pessimistic in my expectations but we Cats always are….

    Comment by Romy The Cat — September 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm

  25. Wishing you a crystal dish full of Fancy Feast for the ears, my dear pessimistic Cat!

    One quick quibble: Who do you suppose made Mr. Bell’s departure public? I’ve scoured the internet for a press release of some sort and have come up empty handed.

    Comment by Annie — September 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm

  26. Annie should not be quibbling about the propriety of BMInt’s breaking of this news story a scant day before the official WGBH press release. Annie should improve her scouring technique.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — September 21, 2012 at 5:42 pm

  27. Thanks for the update. I guess we can “thank” all the people who decided to withhold support from WCRB over the past couple of years for Brian’s departure.

    As for where the money goes, I seem to recall asking about that in these “pages” a year or so ago and having a response from WGBH that all contributions designated to a particular service (e.g. classical) were strictly reserved to the designated service.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — September 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm

  28. “According to Vice President for Community Relations at WGBH, Jeanne Hopkins “Brian Bell’s departure is related to budget considerations.”

    This is hard to believe. Organizations with budget problems are often forced do layoffs. But the termination of one person is not a layoff program. What’s Brian’s salary in the context of $78 million in salaries WGBH reported last year? Look at their reports on their own website.

    Comment by de novo2 — September 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm

  29. I assume they compartmentalize things. So it’s probably a question of a separate budget for Classical New England, and within that a budget for BSO live broadcasts, which is probably related in some way to the funding raised during the BSO time slots. Speculation (informed by what they used to say during on air fundraising at times), I know.

    As for bringing Cathy Fuller in to fill Brian’s place, we’ll see how that works soon enough. It sounds as if she and Ron Della Chiesa will be co-hosting during the concerts. That part should work fairly well. But I’ll be very pleasantly surprised if the pre-concert and intermission features are up to the level of Brian’s.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — September 21, 2012 at 11:35 pm

  30. *** I guess we can “thank” all the people who decided to withhold support from WCRB over the past couple of years for Brian’s departure.

    Joe, come on, do not act as a simpleton. Yes, putting your children in a pawn shop would address your budget problem and it is exactly why it is about priorities and recognition of what is important. Friday’s broadcasts along with the Brian’s live programming were very recognizable products of Boston classical FM skyline. For sure there is nothing “important” and sacred and everything is evolvable. Still do not attribute the changes to objective factors. When WCRB killed Friday broadcasts they claimed that it was due to 22K budget shortage. Right there was a person with signed 22K check in his pocket but there was no person at WCRB who was willing to take it. You know the result, do you?

    What is next? I very much see that is 2 years they will stop live broadcasts and live recordings. Instead they will deploy a lady with sentimental name “Annie” who will tell you story that young children want to download from iTunes and insist that BSO play more rap music.

    It is about proprieties and specific decisions of specific individuals. If people want something than they look for opportunities, if they do not want then they look for excuses. Brian has become the latest excuse. I do feel that Brian’s contribution was valuable. I do feel even that he was greatly underused. Well, let see how it goes. I only wish Mr. Bell lend at some place when he would compete with WCRB for the quality of context. We the listeners will be benefited, even you Mr. Whipple…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — September 22, 2012 at 1:37 am

  31. Romy’s comment, “If people want something then they look for opportunities, if they do not want then they look for excuses,” is an excellent summary of the situation.

    Comment by perry41 — September 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm

  32. Mr. Eiseman, casting doubt upon my abilities is a charmingly small thing for you to do.


    Unless something utterly scandalous or illegal has occurred, when any employee’s termination is announced, the public receives one of two explanations: “…in order to spend more time with his/her family” or “due to budget considerations”. Does anyone really expect to hear, “because so-and-so was an insufferable tosspot”? We’ll never know the whole story. I just want to know what’s next and dare to trust it might be good.

    The drone of negativity here bores me. See you on the other side of the broadcast.

    Comment by Annie — September 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm

  33. I think we’ve heard things like “differing visions for the future of the organization/activity/etc.” or “to pursue other career opportunities.”

    Comment by Joe Whipple — September 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm

  34. First symphony down. I have always liked Cathy Fuller. Respected her and listened, when I could get reception. They moved her all over the place.

    Last night the BSO broadcasts have gone the way of the repartee of the Metropolitan Opera. Cathy and Ron sounded just like all the sportscasters we hear in baseball, the Olympics, Ice skating.
    The management obviously think the public wants “sound bites.” Nothing in depth. Cathy’s morning program used to be very different from this scenario. I was disappointed.

    99.5 did something correct. The whole broadcast was uninterupted. The station cut out just as they were beginning the end of the program playing of the new Perlman CD. I rebooted, as Roe always says to do (why should this be necessary? the bbc3, kusc, Hawaii PBS, WQXR, Detroit PBS,and other don’t have this problem.) and got some music that came from an earlier program. By the time 99.5 allowed me back in the CD spot was almost over.

    I can only hope Cathy takes the reins and gives us more in depth information and interviews during the BSO broadcasts.

    Comment by Leslie — September 23, 2012 at 9:14 am

  35. Fuller and Della Chiesa seemed okay to me and certainly could’ve been worse, but dialing back the smarmy-cutesy tone will improve things going forward (I hope everyone missed the New Yorker joke discomfort). Bell tended to smarm too, but at least always also strove toward musical and historical and interpretative substance. CF and RDC will do well just to include longer readings from the usually excellent program notes.

    Comment by David Moran — September 23, 2012 at 8:17 pm

  36. I had been expecting something a bit less scripted in the Ron and Cathy show. To me it sounded as if for the most part they were reading their parts rather than conversing with each other. You don’t need to have two people reading the script — Ron is quite capable of doing that by himself. He is also quite capable of having a real conversation with someone on the radio. The above mentioned New Yorker cartoon and Ron’s story about being picked up by a music-loving bus driver seemed like the most spontaneous moments, and Cathy quickly squelched them. Hopefully her on-air chemistry with him will improve.

    The brief interview with Maestro Perlman was okay (although the “What’s the worst thing that can happen?/No rhythm” exchange was silly). Future weeks, with full intermissions to fill, will be more telling. I’m especially wondering if she’ll be able to bring the sorts of insightful questions Brian Bell did about new works from studying the score and attending rehearsals. We’ll see.

    Change is unwelcome when what went before was very good. The piece of this that makes sense to me is bringing in a co-host. Much as I love, respect and enjoy listening to Ron Della Chiesa, there will inevitably come a time — far in the future, I hope — when he will no longer be available to announce the broadcasts. Having tryouts for someone to take over when needed is prudent. I just hope this isn’t part of a plan to push Ron out the door before he’s ready to leave.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — September 23, 2012 at 11:14 pm

  37. Has anyone listened to the 75 selections from the Tanglewood archives that were available over the summer on the BSO website? A goodly number of the selections had some of the broadcast announcing left in, and it’s quite interesting to note the variety of voices and styles. Ben Grauer (NBC, I think), Martin Bookspan, William Pierce, Brad Spear, Dave MacNeil — every one brought something different to the job.

    It seems to me that a prerequisite for announcing live concerts, apart from good timing (i.e., knowing when to shut up, something that is usually missing from some of the WQXR/APM broadcasts we get), is both love of and respect for the music. Respect for the music allows you to ask probing questions without insulting the musicians being interviewed. If you can’t do that, your other option is obseqious deference, often painful to hear, and always a waste of time.

    The next most important thing is to be informative. A good script can help. If you have a wealth of knowledge and experience, you can usually wing it: Bookspan and MacNeil could cope, most other announcers benefit from at least having notes and an outline. Listo Fisher was an example of what happens when you don’t have a script, don’t know the music, and try to get by on affability. Nice man, in over his head.

    And you need self-confidence and a pleasant voice.

    Ron della Chiesa loves the music; he grew up with it. He respects the musicians, and has been doing this so long he is comfortable expressing his affection and enthusiasm. He uses a script. The question is, who is writing the script now that Brian Bell is gone?

    Cathy Fuller plays piano, has years of radio experience. and can talk about music to musicians. But she’s sharing the job; ping-pong announcing is to be expected. Huntley-Brinkley never delivered the news as smoothly as Walter Cronkhite did alone.

    This is one situation where another change might be an improvement.

    Comment by Mark Fishman — September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm

  38. With all my respect and appreciation of Cathy Fuller I can’t go over her “excessive politeness”. She is so cheerful and so enthusiastic with ANY performer and ANY peace that sometimes her announcements are painful to hear. I heard her a few times hosting Fraser events when play was substandard to say the least but she ran the shows as they were the most exiting performance of her life. For sure, the radio announcers in the business to fake universal happiness but I personally would like to hear a real person in there, not some kind of cardboard-cut silhouette but a normal person with his own normal reaction to events. Ironically the best NPR hosts uselessly are very good with that but I think WCRB does have some room to grow in this direction…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — September 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm

  39. And tangentially related to this discussion….I just received an email today from a firm convening a focus group to discuss listeners’ opinions about local classical radio. I don’t know who is sponsoring the research.

    Comment by Bob Domnitz — September 24, 2012 at 11:08 pm

  40. To have two voices — one male, one female — is clearly an attempt to ape the MetOpera broadcasts. The problem is, with two voices, one of them giving color commentary (Ira Siff), you lose the thread of the plot synopsis that was so well presented by Peter Allen and Milton Cross. You also now have the MetOpera with so much commentary that we just have endless chatting and company promotion. That’s what we’ll probably now get with the BSO.

    Come back to the five-and-dime, William Pearce, William Pearce, Ben Grauer, Ben Grauer. Even when dead, you’re still better than the rest.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm

  41. Annie writes: “(I work for a designer/manufacturer in an audio related industry, so I am keenly aware of the inconsistencies in his recording environments and production techniques. That and the broadcast sound of the BSO are in a whole other can of worms for a future discussion.)”

    We actually had that discussion here a year ago, in discussing the BSO broadcast audio. In it, I brought up the matter of what I call The Church of the Sacred Spaced Omnis. Quite a thread!

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm

  42. Annie writes: “Such people are often invaluable. Their worth is evident even to the cold, calculating eye of a CFO. I think it’s rather lazy to assume from the outside that Brian Bell’s departure is entirely about the bottom line and/or small-mindedness from the top.”

    Nonsense. Nine years ago, four full-time announcers were dismissed by WMHT-FM/Schenectady’s Chris Wienk when he took over, and he kept on one behind-the-scenes guy whose knowledge of music was non-existent, and he had a speech impediment to boot. Since then, WMHT-FM has carried nothing but that speech-impeded morning man, and numerous hours from the Classical 24 service in Minnesota. 20 years before that, almost the entire WMHT-FM staff resigned to protest the appointment of a radio director who had no broadcasting or musical experience, whose background was in the Rensselaer County Social Services department. Where was the meritocracy there?

    Talent is routinely suppressed and even destroyed. Or, as B. H. Haggin used to say, You can’t keep a bad man down.

    You assume the United States is still a meritocracy.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm

  43. Brian Bell was more than a producer-having been an acomplished french-horn player from
    Eastman. His insights into the performance aspects of music and the technical aspects of playing gave many fascinating insights into the particular works being played on the program.
    Instead of the usual- “sing-song” – interviews -Brian seemed to have a unique ability to delve into the particular artists conception of the technical aspects of their interpretation and then to be able to contrast that with the historic performance record. Not in a sophomoric way -but within an engaging and stimulating format.

    To my mind -this action by WGBH bodes as ill for them as Mitt Romney’s recent attack on PBS.

    Comment by Ron Barnell — October 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm

  44. Arnold Schoenberg to Alban Berg, August 1931:

    ” … Yes, wireless is a fine thing; but still, the greatest pleasure it gives is switching it off. Being able, on the instant, to shake off the incubus of those frightful, ghastly sounds, and after a short while having one’s ear free again, is a liberation and a relief not too dearly bought by what went before …”

    — from Arnold Schoenberg, Letters, selected and edited by Erwin Stein, translated from the original German by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987)

    Comment by Richard Buell — October 10, 2012 at 3:15 pm

  45. Later, however …

    Arnold Schoenberg conducts Mahler on American commercial radio:

    Yesm you read right.

    This may or may not open, depending on I know not what. In any case persistence and ingenuity will be rewarded. What a find.

    Comment by Richard Buell — October 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm

  46. Three cheers it does open. (And above, that should have been “Yes, you read that right” rather than “Yesm you read right.”) Any comments forthcoming on what’s going on interpretively in this extract? It’s a priceless document.

    Comment by Richard Buell — October 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

  47. A history lesson, from this very site:

    Comment by perry41 — October 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm

  48. The commentator for this broadcast is none other than Milton Cross, so it was probably NBC, on the west coast.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm

  49. Slight correction: the history lesson begins at the top of the linked page, not at the comments.

    Comment by perry41 — October 10, 2012 at 11:31 pm

  50. ***Richard Buell: wireless is a fine thing; but still, the greatest pleasure it gives is switching it off…

    Unfortunately they are absolutely irrelevant testimony, and the most important that they are testimonies about nothing. The fact that one or another prominent person in music history did not appreciate sound reproducing media brings absolutely nothing new and nothing relevant to the table. Also, I have to note that in 1931 there was no frequency modulation yet and AM broadcasting did live a lot of room for sonic improvement.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 11, 2012 at 8:36 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.