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public TV and radio in the United States

Look around a little — you’ll find plenty of life in classical music radio

Originally published in Current, March 14, 2005
A letter to Current from Steve Robinson,
Senior Vice President, WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network, Chicago

To the editors:

Your article, "Diminuendo: Weak audience, income blamed in classical fade" (Current, Feb. 14) made the usual points about classical music radio. But it left out much that is happening that is extremely positive.

Classical music programming is thriving on Chicago’s WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network. On WFMT, our November pledge drive hit $500,000 for the first time in our history. The WFMT Radio Network is thriving: we're producing more programs for more stations than at any other time in our history. The list of new programs we're producing is a long one, and the carriage for our programs has never been higher. Two examples:

In October, the WFMT Radio Network released Steve Rowland's monumental 11-hour documentary, Leonard Bernstein: An American Life with Susan Sarandon. This series cleared nearly 200 stations representing over 700 markets. No program in the network's 30-year history has done so well.

Your story also mentions MPR's excellent Classical Music Initiative. As it happens, the WFMT Radio Network received an NEA grant from the same fund that supported the MPR project and at the same time. To the astonishment of the NEA, our project, Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, was on the air within 12 months of the grant. In the first year we produced 195 hours (five hours a week for 39 weeks). According to Arbitron, within six months Exploring Music quadrupled WFMT's audience in the time slot it's on, Monday to Friday, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. The research shows that the growth is driven largely by younger listeners. Exploring Music is now being carried by 25 stations (not including repeaters and translators) and the fan e-mail is to die for. Last week, three new stations picked up the series, including KUHF in Houston, North Dakota Public Radio, and Blue Lake Public Radio (Muskegon/Grand Rapids, Mich).
These are only two examples. I could list a few dozen. So, from where I sit, I'm hearing nothing but a crescendo.

Web page posted March 14, 2005
Copyright 2004 by Current Publishing Committee


News eclipsed classical music as public radio's predominant format in 2000. A trickle of stations abandon classical, most recently Washington's WETA.


Cincinnati's WGUC-FM is spending $15 million, in part to provide a fulltime channel for classical music.


Chicago's WFMT-FM, a commercial station operated much like a public radio station, complete with pledging and memberships (and owned by a pubTV station, WTTW). WFMT also operates satellite networks for classical music and jazz.

Robinson is executive producer of Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin.

Leonard Bernstein: An American Life, distributed by WFMT.

What are orchestras playing? See the repertoire report (PDF file) from the American Symphony Orchestra League.

About the American Symphony Orchestra League's National Conference, June 2005 in Washington.

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