For the second Classical Challenge, I moved down the road a little from WVTF and looked at WCVE in Richmond, Va. As a representative sampling, I used their playlist for Monday, 11/30/09.
Remember, the goal here isn't to do an exhaustive analysis of the station's programming -- I have neither the time nor resources to do that. Rather, consider this a spot-check on a (hopefully) typical programming day.
Looking at the numbers below, here's what I think a listener whose only exposure to classical music was WCVE might think of the genre.
Here's what I saw:
Classical music is an apparently exclusively male form of expression, and is a genre whose time has come and gone. Every work WCVE aired was written by a dead composer, so clearly the genre's over and done with. On the plus side, although 94% of the composers were European, WCVE did air some American composers and even some from Latin and South America. All dead, of course.
About two-thirds of the compositions aired were orchestral, which isn't too surprising. For many listeners, classical stations often fill the void left by the demise of the easy-listening format by providing nice, background music. It's an easy audience to please -- just keep it bland. But is that what classical music's all about?
Modern orchestras were the favored sound. Chamber groups performances outnumbered solo artists about two to one. Most of the chamber groups played baroque music, and most of the solo artists were pianists (primarily playing romantic music).
Not a single note was sung by the human voice.
Now take a moment and think about that. How many times do you sing each day, either in the car, or the shower, or elsewhere? How many times do you hum along, or whistle to music? As humans, we almost can't help but make vocal music. So why is it so underrepresented on air? (I have an idea, which I'll share in the next post.)
The stats indicate you might hear the Richmond Symphony on Richmond's public radio station (especially if they play something from the romantic period). But the Richmond Choral Society? I don't think so. Nor any of the music they perform.
Here's something else to consider. I attended a world premiere performance of a Steve Reich work in Richmond a while ago. The audience was packed to overflowing with enthusiastic listeners. Any chance of hearing Reich's work on WCVE? Not likely -- he's still alive. (And while I agree not all of Reich's works are ideal for radio, there are several short pieces that are engaging and quite fun, IMHO.)
In any other genre, a popular recording artist like Steve Reich would not only pack the house, but also be heard on the local radio station. In the city of Richmond, classical music is a lively, vibrant, forward-looking genre. On the city's radio station, it's a different story.
Types of Ensemble
66% Orchestra (includes soloist with orchestra)
13% Solo instrumental performer (almost exclusively piano)
21% Chamber group
0% Choral ensemble
0% Solo vocalist
28% 20th Century (mainly post-romantic)
3% Early music (late renaissance only)