NPR CLEAR CHANNEL
I am a big fan of NPR talk shows. Every time I get in the car I turn
on the radio and head straight to Michigan Public Radio. I was also
thrilled when they decided to start airing BBC World Service. In pre-
internet days I was one of those geeks who had a shortwave radio,
mainly for the purpose of listening to the BBC. I also enjoy other
NPR-syndicated programs such as "All Things Considered", "The Diane
Rehm Show", "Talk of the Nation", "Morning Edition", "Car Talk", etc..
Being such a big fan of NPR (except for a few shows such as "Prairie
Home Companion"; Sorry Garrison but I have no nostalgia for small
town life) it was very difficult for me to see that NPR had done to
classical music what Clear Channel had done to popular music. It used
to be that every major and not so major metropolitan area had access
to one or more classical music stations. Each city had a certain
"flavor" of classical music. Growing up in Chicago in the 70s, the
"flavor" was brass. WFMT, the largest classical music station in
Chicago played a glut of baroque brass ensemble pieces. In the late
80s I spent a year in South Florida, the "flavor" there was "lite
classics". WTMI was the largest classical music station in Miami and
featured a request hour. I remember that a request was made to air
ANY piece written in the past 20 years and the only thing they
managed to produce was Corigliano's "Pied Piper Fantasy". Then there
was WVGR, Michigan Public Radio out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, but
broadcasting throughout the state of Michigan. For years, my favorite
DJ was a guy named Gerald Brennan. He played all kinds of new music
from all different genres; classical, jazz, world, etc.. Even if I
did not happen to like the music he played some of the time I would
still listen because what he had to offer was different.
Then came the invasion of Talk Radio. All the sudden, my beloved WVGR
started airing the BBC. Great, I love the BBC. Then they started
airing all kinds of talk shows I liked, which was also great. In fact
I was not really noticing the diminishing music. Then one day Gerald
Brennan was let go. In fact, every DJ on WVGR was let go. Before I
knew it there was no more music. I soon discovered over the course of
several long road trips over the years, what happened at WVGR also
happened to many public radio stations. All those radio stations soon
realized the same people who like listening to classical music also
like NPR programs. And ... purchasing NPR programs is a lot cheaper
than hiring qualified classical music DJs.
What is the result? All NPR affiliates air most of the same shows,
just as Clear Channel stations play the same music. Many NPR
affiliates claim to bring us "information and perspectives we cannot
hear anyplace else." I would agree. But, has attempting to make their
listenership more intellectually informed improved the moral and
intellectual conscience of the USA more than airing classical music?
Definitely NOT. We still elected a delusional president who leads us
into wars for fictitious reasons. Do we really get more perspectives?
After all, many NPR stations' advertisers and underwriters are from
IT - "We help you get IT done", an outsourcing company, Wal-Mart and
Target. Many claim this is not the fault of NPR and the vast majority
of regular NPR listeners did not vote for our current president.
This, of course, is true. But would these same people have voted for
Bush if they did not listen to NPR. I doubt it.
Of the three radio stations mentioned only WFMT remains a classical
music station. WTMI, like the Florida Philharmonic, is now defunct.
After so many years of voting differently, who did Florida clearly
vote for in 2004? There is no doubt in my mind the extreme reduction
of classical music over the airwaves is directly related to dwindling
audiences for live classical music. Being an NPR junkie, I am in no
way suggesting we eliminate NPR programming. Staying informed is
important. But, "killing off" classical music programming for the
benefit of NPR is too high of a price.