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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Important Panel Discussion

Last month I blogged about the upcoming changes on classical radio in the Boston-area market.


Most of my dire predictions about the merger of WGHB and WCRB radio - and then some - have come true. On December 1st, 2009 the surviving station (WCRB) has cut the Friday afternoon live-broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The programming has become less adventurous, and at least during the day has an easy listening "tracks to relax" feel. I actually heard them play Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D the other day. You can't get any more kitschy than that.

The hybrid commercial-public station seems to embody the worst of both worlds, with never-ending fund-raising AND blatant commercials (under the guise of "a message from our corporate sponsor").

What I didn't predict or foresee were the technical issues of broadcast signal-strength that have all but blacked out access to classical music for many former WGBH listeners. Fortunately, from my geographic location in the State, I can receive the signal well enough. However, WCRB appears to have some major issues with their transmission equipment. The other evening it inexplicably dropped off the air for a period of about 20 minutes. There was no explanation.

Now, the small but dedicated Boston-area classical music listening public is expressing their outrage. The fire of discontent is being fueled by The Boston Musical Intelligencer (found online at http://www.classical-scene.com/ ). The Intelligencer is an independent and professionally run music blog about activities in the vibrant musical culture in and around the Boston area. The Boston Globe has also recently published a story about this on-going controversy.

Last evening I received the following email from a third party announcing a public forum organized and sponsored by The Boston Musical Intelligencer under the title of :

WHAT CAN WE DO FOR CLASSICAL MUSIC RADIO IN BOSTON?

It will be in the form of a panel discussion held at Old South Church in Copley Square on Tuesday, January 5 at 6:00 PM.

I quote from the email:

Recent articles in the Boston Musical Intelligencer and elsewhere evoked widespread dismay over the changes in WGBH and WCRB programming and the lack of signal strength from the recently-designated station for classical music, WCRB. Come hear what the experts think, ask your questions and have your say.

The panel discussion moderator will be William M. Bulger (formerly President of the Massachusetts Senate, president of University of Massachusetts, and trustee of the Boston Public Library and Boston Symphony Orchestra. He also is the brother of Mafia boss on the loose"Whitey Bulger").

The panelists will include Richard Dyer (former classical music critic of the Boston Globe), Christopher Lydon (broadcast journalist on WBUR and WGBH), Dave MacNeill (announcer & former general manager of WCRB) and John Voci (general manager of WGBH radio).

Boston Musical Intelligencer reviewers Mark DeVoto (a composer and musicologist), John W. Ehrlich, Brian Jones, Peter Van Zandt Lane, and Tom Schnauber have been vocal on this subject and may be on hand.

What are the Issues on the meeting agenda to be discussed?


· Friday afternoon broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra are cancelled.

· In Boston's Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and areas south of Boston, listeners are unable to receive a clear signal from "all-classical" WCRB.

· Much of the music on WCRB is programed by a Minneapolis syndicate.

· Area listeners have lost fifty hours a week of quality classical music.

· Do we really need more talk radio and duplicative NPR programming?

· Are WGBH contributors pleased with the changes?

· Are WCRB listeners pleased?

· Will the administration at WGBH reconsider?


While I don't expect the meeting to result in a Boston Tea Party, there is a discernible mummer of outrage in the normally acquiescent local classical music scene.

But I've been through all of this before. The trend that Public Radio has taken in recent years to become more populist has inevitable consequences. Even though the WGBH charter is "not-for-profit" - they act and function like any large corporate entity. They are profit-driven.

While members of the classical music sub-culture in Boston are expressing their outrage, the feeling of being in the minority is something I've long grown use to. As a producer, participant, and follower of so-called "modern classical" I'm already a victim of circumstances. Before WGBH ended their classical music programming, I rarely heard interesting contemporary classical music programming on their airwaves. I'd have to listen to countless hours of standard fare to finally hear a new work that I was interested in. Out of 100 hours of programming, perhaps I'd hear 15-minutes of really interesting and relevant new music.

When one of Boston's greatest composers died (Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Donald Martino), WGBH hardly acknowledged the fact. My understanding is that they only played a short recording of one of his very early clarinet and piano works. Their response wasn't in concordance with the true sentiments of the classical music community, let alone the values of new music enthusiasts such as myself.

I've long grown accustomed to living in a cultural ghetto. The new music ghetto is a sub-genre that acquires its classification as a fringe subgroup under the marginally larger (but declining) classical music ghetto. As the larger system collapses under the weight of commercialism, so too will the new music scene suffer. New music interests are generally parasitic, and their biological host (mainstream classical music) is gravely ill.

The good news is that living in a micro-subculture has always been challenging - to say the least. You can't destroy something that hardly exists in the first place. The new music community is, and always will be, a small but zealous minority. We don't need "all-classical" radio to find our sustenance.

Perhaps I'm a Nihilist, but news of the demise of WGBH classical music radio is a symptom, not the disease itself. While WCRB is better than nothing, it can't be much worse than the inept programming that came before.

WGBH did not pay enough attention to local composers, and I had long abandoned them as a source for my musical fix. While WCRB is currently featuring inspirational sound-bytes about music from composers such as Andy Vores and Michael Gandolfi, the gesture is directed more toward fund-raising than as an act of sincere musical discussion and engagement.

WCRB, the remaining station should put their programming where their mouth is, and broadcast more than a smattering of adventurous and challenging new music. When that happens, I'll consider becoming a supporter.

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