Service of Mature Music

July 16th, 2009

Categories: Advertising, Media, Music, Tradition

Guest writer Jeremiah, a retired business executive and classical music devotee, wrote about this subject in May when he was bracing himself for a blow–the silencing of a longtime radio friend and access to the music he loves. The second shoe fell early this week, so Jeremiah asked to follow up on his initial post.

Some of you may recall my May 8th post in which I bemoaned the rumored soon-to-happen passing of the oldest classical radio station in the country, WQXR, from the music scene here in New York. This is now old news.

The New York Times announced on Tuesday that it had, in essence in a brilliant and creative feat of financial engineering, sold the chronically money losing radio station for a net of $45,000,000. The deal: It is selling its 96.3 FM broadcast license to a Latino broadcasting company in exchange for $33,500,000 and a license to broadcast at 105.9 FM. In turn, it will sell the call letters WQXR and the 105.9 FM license for $11,500, the public radio station, WNYC, which has agreed to operate WQXR at the new frequency as a listener supported public music station. It is a great deal for the Times! They are getting rid of a chronic looser for a bundle of cash, and get great publicity for “saving” classical music to boot!


I shall probably go on listening to the new WQXR, but I may just listen to my own CDs instead.


However, I am troubled and puzzled. Given what the demographics of the New York City area are, the old WQXR audience must have included many of the wealthiest and brightest people in the country. Why were they not enough of a target market for advertisers to keep the old station going at a profit? Is radio advertising more effective when targeted to disadvantaged people or those who have been deprived of sophisticated educations and may be less affluent?

I also dislike knowing that now my listing to classical music will be paid for, at least in part, by taxpayers. The new WQXR, no doubt, will be a tax-exempt entity and will receive government subsidies. All music is entertainment. The government should not be in the entertainment business. Further, as a matter of principle, the government should not favor one form of music over another.

And lastly, I shall miss hearing my news on the same radio station I listen to for music. Public radio news must inevitably be canted to a bias of whoever is in control of the government in Washington. Can it be trusted to be impartial?

Does anybody agree with me?

7 Responses to “Service of Mature Music”

  1. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Thank you for your follow-up post, Jeremiah. I am happy for all the classical music lovers in NYC. As the signal will be fairly weak, the music won’t be heard too far out of the city, I think, but we must be grateful for what we have.

    I also hope that the on-air talent keeps their jobs.

    I don’t think you can equate affluence with taste in music or sophistication. The folks who spend $billions on other-than-classical music earn $billions and spend it to hear it and buy things.

    And I like classical music, jazz and some country western as well. Where does that place me?

    Your comment about the potential news slant on NPR was a head-scratcher. I don’t recall hearing a conservative Republican slant during the Bush administration and I doubt that it has changed much since President Obama took office.

  2. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    I agree in part. Yes, music is entertainment and undeserving of government subsidy. On the other hand, I find the advertising on WQXR perennially jarring and annoying. Maybe all commercials are thus…but even so, the placement of radio ads on that station can be intrusive.

    And, being critical, I must say the programming has become generally bland. There was a time when knowledgeable hosts seemed to be in charge of particular segments, shaping each hour of music and presenting compelling points of view. I often switch off QXR these days because it begins to sound like Muzak, with boring announcers reading from scripts that lack pith. It will be interesting to see what Public Radio does with NYC’s only classical music station. Sometimes change is good!

  3. Matt Said:

    Hi all,
    I actually sell radio advertising, and while WQXR has a highly affluent audience, they do not do well in the quarterly arbitron ratings that both stations and agencies use to agree on a rate per commercial.

    In addition, WQXR’s audience skews somewhat older, and advertisers focus for the most part on listeners aged 18-54. The thought is that older listeners already have their brand loyalties in place.

    While WQXR is perfect for luxury cars, watches, etc, they are not a good target for supermarkets, packaged goods, cell phones, and the other products that make up the majority of the radio spenders.

    So, pardon the jargon, but WQXR is a “tough sell”, and it is much cheaper to have dj’s play top 40 music and have Coke and Pepsi buy million dollar schedules on your airtime.

    Luckily, everyone has their favorite cds, and there are free, online music sites like where you can basically create your own radio station and it will play the artists you enjoy (I do not work for them).


  4. Frank Paine Said:

    I’m afraid that I’m with Jeremiah on all counts. What can I say? FP

  5. Jeremiah Said:

    Thank you all for your responses. I’m glad you cared enough about WQXR to write.

    Jeanne, I too hope that the WQXR on-air talent keeps their jobs, not because they are as endearing as their predecessors, but because I hate to see anybody out of work in these tough times. I don’t equate affluence with taste in music or sophistication. Rather, I just suspect that the educated, and well-to-do from cultured backgrounds, tend to be more likely to be classical music listeners. I’m glad you have eclectic tastes in music because that means that you will find it easier than me to find what pleases you on the radio. Lastly, as a former government bureaucrat, I can assure you that thanks to Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s civil service reforms, entrenched civil servants are hard to budge. During the Reagan-Bush decades, the upstart right-wingers never did manage to unseat those NPR types with their left-wing bias. Now, under an administration sympathetic to their point of view, they can have a field day distorting the truth to their own ends.

    Merv, I couldn’t agree with you more! The advertising on WQXR is as pitifully misconceived as the station’s political correctness, but is it any worse than those ghastly, seemingly endless fund raising campaigns on NPR, or those supposed “public service” messages? I also agree with you about the programming and the announcers. How many times a year do I have to listen to the Donna Diana overture–20? And where are the George Jelanicks, Lloyd Mosses, Pru Devons, and Martin Bookspans of the past? I agree with you too, as much as I will miss her, that it is time for the WQXR of old to depart. Change is inevitable, usually well deserved, and not always bad.

    Matt, thanks indeed for the education! You have added a much needed dose of reality as to how radio really gets financed, and you have confirmed what I suspected, if you have money to spend, that does not necessarily make you a target for someone who wants to sell something. I’d be a fascinated reader were you to write a post about “The Service of Radio Advertising.” Go for it!

    Frank, I sense a kindred soul! Heartfelt thanks for your words of support.


  6. Ann L Said:

    Wow….powerful answers to this blog message….I am totally of the category for marketers as “over the hill.” I just love being “over the hill” ….I love getting my hands filthy while reading a newspaper, I love WQXR no matter what they do….they are simply good friends…some days boring, some days enlightening, some days kind, some days awful, some days simply there. I do not want to live my life via a computer or other gadget…I want my old friends to stay forever…

  7. Jeremiah Said:


    This evening at 8:00 PM, the WQXR I had listened to for so long and so often went off the air.

    Staff member’s spent the last hour of the station’s existence broadcasting music of their choosing and making brief comments. It was a simple tribute, performed with great taste to the death of an extraordinary radio station.

    When I heard Harold Chambers play an excerpt from the recording that he had engineered of the broadcast by WQXR of the Messiah performed at Trinity Church shortly after the destruction of the World Trade Center on the 11th of September 2001, and subsequently our national anthem, I was moved so deeply that tears flowed to an extent that they have not before for many, many years.

    My thoughts went back to my childhood, when as a little boy, I sat with my parents in their Belgrade, Yugoslavia living room listening to the BBC News on short wave radio that Germany had finally launched its 1940 invasion of France. France survived the Second World War, but it was never the same again. WQXR is being reincarnated as a public radio station, but since classical music is obviously no longer commercially viable in this, supposedly the greatest city in the world, hence forward when I do listen, I will be the recipient of largess from a public charity.

    Then I thought of the men and women that I was listening to, and how I shall not be hearing the work of most of them again. That brought me up short as I realized that all I have lost is a radio station, they’ve lost their jobs!

    I thought next of David Duval’s fine program on piano playing and hearing his last broadcast last night. To my mind, since George Jellenik’s “The Vocal Scene” went off the air, Duval’s has been the most intelligent of WQXR’s music programs. It is not being picked up by the new station. Why, I do not know – perhaps money, or maybe the new owners are trying to “dumb down” the station to reach a broader audience.

    Lastly I felt sorry for the New York Times, which had to sell off this jewel of a radio station to keep itself alive. It is a sign of the Times, that quality is no longer important in our country. Like France, we too have changed.


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