WCRB on the block

Courtesy The Universal Hub, the news arrives that one of the radio stations in Boston that plays classical is entering negotiations to be sold to a local broadcasting corporation that likely only wants it for its spectrum and transmitters. Now, yes, those of you who aren’t in the Boston media market are right now sputtering, “One of the radio stations??? How dare you complain if your market has more than one station that you’re losing one of them?”

For one thing, WCRB is that rarity, a non-public-radio station that plays classical music 24 hours a day, rather than breaking it into chunks of NPR news and other musical ghettos underserved formats. For another, it plays concerts from Tanglewood (might as well get that bit of self-interest out of the way).

But the comments thread on the Universal Hub piece raises another problem: what if your classical station only plays Classical’s Greatest Hits? Eeka put it most succinctly: “They should replace it with actual classical music that classical music enthusiasts would like to listen to.” I rambled in response:

If you want to understand the devolution of classical radio in this country, look no further than the same programming malady that has swept the rest of the radio industry.

I can’t help but think that programming outside the 18th-19th century box—early music, Shostakovich, Ives, any living composer—during prime listening hours could only broaden the audience. Hell, look at the surprise classical bestsellers of the last decade or so: Chant, Górecki’s Third Symphony with Dawn Upshaw, Arvo Pärt’s Te Deum. All outside the mainstream (yes, of course, because they’re surprises they are outside the mainstream by definition. Work with me).

Great editorial on this topic, Drawing the Classical Line, that I can’t recommend highly enough.

I’m reminded of Peter Schickele’s fictitious WTWP (Wall-To-Wall Pachelbel), whose station slogan was “We play the music you don’t mind hearing”: “Nothing written after 1912,” “Nothing longer than eleven and a half minutes,” “All music must be in a major key until after 11 PM,” and “No vocal music during office hours.”