Classical stations seek to boost listening with new on-air promo strategy

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Public radio’s classical stations are aiming to increase listening by building on an NPR initiative that aimed to grow audience for news.

Classical Music Rising, a project of the Station Resource Group, is following the example of NPR’s Spark project, which worked to help stations grow audience for Morning Edition and All Things Considered through an increase in on-air promotion.

The Classical Spark initiative is asking classical stations to follow best practices for on-air promotion, such as identifying themselves more consistently and airing 100 spots per week focused on increasing midday listening.

“Many listeners don’t know exactly where our stations are on the dial,” Classical Music Rising says in a document explaining the initiative. “Call letters alone don’t convey what we offer — or why listeners should come back. And with audio listening on the rise via smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, clear station identification is more crucial than ever.”

The project is focusing on midday audience in part because “competition elsewhere on the dial is often weaker midday; and our format works well with midday life-styles,” according to the document.  

CMR tapped Craig Curtis to develop a detailed guide to best practices. Curtis consulted with NPR on its Spark initiative and previously worked as a senior programming executive at Southern California Public Radio and Minnesota Public Radio, among other pubcasters. He will be available to CMR partner stations participating in Classical Spark for free consultations.

Stations will receive positioners, liners and scripts drawn from other classical stations that can be adapted locally, along with suggestions for scheduling them. Curtis will send monthly email updates with new materials through at least the end of the year, according to Wende Persons, managing director of Classical Music Rising.

The project is asking its 27 station partners to commit to putting Classical Spark principles and practices in place.

Stations that want to participate should finalize on-air promotion strategies before the fall ratings period, which runs from mid-September through mid-December. The project will track station ratings during that time and compare them to the same period in 2016.

CMR hopes that stations will continue beyond December and that “the principles of Classical Spark will become best practices at classical stations across the country,” Persons said.