Classical Radio Continues Shift to Public Model

03/24/2010 1:22 PM |

Youre hangin with Big Bach and the Mad Moz!
  • You’re hangin’ with Big Bach and the Mad Moz’!

Is classical music no longer a commercially viable enterprise? KING-FM, a classical radio station in Seattle, announced yesterday that it would shift from a commercial radio station into a listener-supported one, the Times reports. Last year, WQXR in New York (now 105.9 on your FM dial!) and WCRB in Boston did the same; only 18 commercial radio stations across the country still adhere to a classical format.

“Classical stations tended to have older listeners than other formats and an audience that is less appealing to advertisers but are more likely to have dedicated and passionate supporters,” Joseph Plambeck reports. I’m glad that classical stations can still survive in a popular music culture, but these sorts of shifts don’t bode well for classical’s long-term prospects. Older listeners tend to be more conservative, which serves to alienate further the medium from new listeners. What do kids care about Mozart?

“Classical music is in crisis,” the director of the Grand Street Community Band recently told me. Of course, stalwarts like The Metropolitan Opera aren’t in imminent danger of going under, but smaller organizations, from that amateur Williamsburg-based group to Lincoln Center second-tier organizations like New York City Opera, do struggle for attention (and funding and survival) in a field increasingly dominated by titanic institutions. And it’s the smaller groups that are more likely to shift the focus to new and radical music, the sort of things that could define classical music by its future, rather than a musty gaze backwards at its past.