Monday, July 14, 2008

My Own Public Radio

A couple of years ago I wrote this post about my experience working in classical radio.

Back in the 1980s the trend in public radio stations was to play music that was "scientifically designed" to appeal to the suspected audience, and stations tended to play music that was familiar as well as music that was not too long. Back in my radio daze in the 1980s, fresh from Boston and New York, where I cut my teeth (or should it be ears) on the best radio known to man or woman, I built up a library of eclectic music written by relatively little-known composers. All the selections that I programmed for the 30 hours per week of classical music on our radio station were pieces and performances that I really cared about, and towards the end of my radio life we had a large enough library to keep all of our music in about a six month rotation. It was wonderful when people stopped to talk with me in the grocery store to talk about some piece or some performance that had been on the radio that morning. Unfortunately too many of those people are no longer alive, or they have moved away. But I digress.

Since the elimination of classical music from the radio station in my community, I have been listening to the two public radio stations, one to the south, and one to the north, that we can reach in our area. I have been rather impressed over the years with the number of pieces that I have heard that are new to me, even though some of the newer announcers drive me a bit batty with their, misinformation and sometimes unwelcome comments. Then again, I have devoted a good deal of time being critical of radio announcers, both professionally and as an informed and educated musician.

I was particularly struck by one quick comment this morning that an announcer made between pieces and PSAs (which are NPR ads) stating that everyone knows that orchestral musicians make good salaries, particularly in larger cities, but many of them are out of work or have other jobs. Then the announcer pressed a button and happily played some more music. Why did she just drop a statement like that without any further discussion? Was she talking about our area of Illinois where professional musicians have to piece together a living? This may be news to many public radio listeners, and it might be the source of serious emotional turmoil for others. She might as well have said to a different radio audience that steel workers make good salaries, but there are a lot of steel workers who are out of work. I steamed about it for a while, and then drove off to get a headlight replaced (which was why I was in the car in the first place).

The electrical system had to be turned off in order to replace my headlight, so I had to re-set the car's radio buttons after the headlight was replaced. I noticed that both radio stations were playing the exact same Chopin waltz, but at different intervals, which got me excited for a moment. Then I noticed that it sounded like the same performance, which the announcement confirmed. I spent the rest of the drive home trying to figure out who was broadcasting live and who was using a feed--maybe someone was on vacation. Then it dawned on me that those people who I thought were living in one or the other community and were broadcasting the classical music on the NPR stations might be broadcasting it from somewhere else entirely.

Oh how naive I have been! A quick search confirmed that everyone seems to be broadcasting their classical music by way of Minnesota Public Radio. Maybe that radio announcer could have said something about classical radio announcers being out of work. Nah. That would only happen in my own private radio.


Michael Leddy said...

The loss of WEIU-FM is one of the great cultural catastrophes of our area. I miss classical music, jazz, and "alternative." And I miss you on the radio, Elaine.

Elaine Fine said...

I guess we were the last outpost of an earlier time. Here's a letter to the editor of our university newspaper that Michael wrote about the station, and here is a guest column that he wrote about the fate of the CDs in our station's library, which never made it, despite promises to the contrary, into our university library.

This beaten horse has been buried, and buildings have been erected over its grave, but those of us who enjoyed the good years of local classical music, jazz, and "alternative" on the radio still feel the loss.

j said...

must have been a wonderful program. maybe you could offer some recommendations here on your blog?