Thursday, October 01, 2009

WQXR - SOS

And no, I don't mean "Save Our Ship." New York City's all-classical commercial radio station, WQXR has been bought by WNYC. Initially, there was rejoicing. The venerable station, formerly owned by the New York Times, had become a cultural institution over its 70 years of existence.

So what do I mean by "SOS?" Same Old Sh*t, of course.

According to a New York Times article by Daniel Walkin, the new WQXR will have more classical music aired (because they won't be running commercial breaks), but the selection is about to get much less interesting.

In the article, Laura S. Walker, president and CEO of WNYC said new WQXR will combine "the longstanding tradition of being a 24/7 classical music station with WNYC’s curatorial point of view and passion and commitment to discovery,” she said.

Cool. So that means that WQXR -- broadcasting to the city that is the center of American classical music -- the city that gave Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Corigliano and many, many others their start -- is going to continue interviewing composers and presenting the best in current classical music, right?

Not so fast.

According to the new mission statement: “There may indeed be times when the more radical and unfamiliar pieces work, but we will not favor them over the work that speaks directly to the needs of uplift, beauty, and contemplation.... Greatness matters. Bach trumps Telemann.”

OK, so that "passion for discovery" doesn't extend to the third best composer (behind Bach and Handel) of the late baroque. Surprising to hear that Telemann's music doesn't uplift, nor inspire beauty and contemplation. So what else doesn't make the cut?

Well, according to the article, the usual. No vocal music, no choral music, no contemporary music, nothing from the renaissance, or the middle ages. No chamber music (except for some solo piano, perhaps), no American composers (save Gershwin and Copland -- but no singing!).

None of this is surprising if you look at the circumstances and decipher the code words. WNYC spent some serious money to purchase the station, and with the frequency move, WQXR is going to broadcast to a smaller potential audience. So what WNYC really wants to do is get as many people listening as possible to justify the investment. The best way to do that? The tried and true radio method is to be as innocuous as you can.

"Greatness matters. Bach trumps Telemann." - Translation: We're not really talking about the relative merits of the pieces here because there is NFW we're going to air a Bach oratorio or the Art of the Fugue. Bach is a household name, Telemann is not. Familiar is comfortable, so we're going with that.

"work that speaks directly to the needs of uplift, beauty, and contemplation." - Translation: we want to get as close to Muzak as we possibly can. "Speaks directly" means familiar tunes. "Uplift" means light and pleasant music. "Beauty" means great for background listening. "Contemplation" means music that's not too loud (see: Beauty).

So explain to me this: where's the "passion and commitment to discovery" Ms. Walker was talking about? Based on what I've read so far, it seems to be more passionless familiarity.

- Ralph

Day 170 of the WJMA Podwatch.

1 comment:

  1. I have been a member of WNYC, for music on FM, and now for music on the internet, since about 1980. I describe myself as a Public radio zealot (no one likes a zealot) and a WNYC fanatic.

    But, I felt very much alone in the "blogosphere" commenting all over the place that WNYC had made huge strides in the right direction of "New Music" and late 20th century and current composition.

    These strides were through the work of George Preston and Brad Cresswell as they built up wnyc2 and then brought the pjilosophy to Evening Music.

    I felt very much alone because the WQXR audience came into the blogs in droves, pitching for their favorite on-air hosts and other specifics.

    So, maybe we got what we deserved. Will we still have challanging music on wnyc2? One can only hope.

    For anyone interested, at http://www.wprb.com, Public Radio WPRB in Princeton, NJ, on Wednesday I hear Marvin Rosen's "Classical Discoveries" and "Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-garde" This is great stuff.

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