Friday, February 19, 2010

The CE Classical Challange - WHRO

For the third Classical Challenge, I looked at WHRO in Norfolk, VA. For a representative sampling, I used their playlist for Monday, 11/02/09.

Assuming this snapshot of WHRO's regular programming is typical, what would someone whose only exposure to classical music is WHRO's broadcasts might think about the genre?

As with the other stations I've looked at to date, classical music would seem to be an exclusively male form of expression -- no works by women composers were aired. Most were European (95%), with the other 5% being a mixture of composers from the Americans (North and South). And although no music by living composers were aired, at least WHRO doesn't dwell as far in the past as other stations -- 37% of the works aired were written in the 20th Century, most before 1950, but a goodly number after World War I.

About a quarter of WHRO's music came from the Classical era, and the same amount from the Romantic era, with only a small amount of Baroque music (8%). And there were some renaissance works as well (2%).

Although WHRO stayed with deceased composers, they played many more of them during the broadcast day than the other stations I've sampled, which is a plus. Our hypothetical listener will hear more than much more than the Three B's on WHRO.

Unfortunately, some things remain constant from station to station. Orchestral music made up over two-thirds of the music aired, keeping the sound closer to the 101 Strings side of the street. Solo instrumental works (25%) were mostly solo piano, leavened with mostly classical guitar. Chamber music was heard least often (8%), with a good portion of that also accounting for the Baroque era selections.

And although musicians played all throughout the day and night, not one of them opened their mouth. No choral music, and no vocal music. Although WHRO explores the classical repertoire more thoroughly than any of the other stations I've looked at, there are still lines that weren't crossed.

So what about people going to hear their regional ensembles? What's the correspondence between what they hear on stage and what they can hear on the radio?

Certainly nothing by the Virginia Chorale. They're singers.

On the other hand, most of the works of the 2010/2011 Virginia Symphony Orchestra concert season could be aired on WHRO. Repertoire mainstays such as Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Schumann are no problem. And WHRO's adventurous enough to air Barber, Schmitt, Glazunov, and Bantock -- they could even air the same works the Symphony's performing.

But there's an issue with Michael Torke and Lowell Liebermann, who will both have works performed by the Symphony. Is their music too wild for the radio? Nope. Both composers write compelling, imaginative, melodious and accessible works. And their recordings sell very well and in Torke's case, even have appeal outside the traditional classical market. In any other genre, that would help one's music get on the radio.

Michael Torke and Lowell Liebermann are both male, which is good -- so were 100% of the composers aired on WHRO. But they're also Americans composers (only aired about 5% of the time). And they have an even bigger strike going against them. Torke and Liebermann are both still alive. And during our sample broadcast day, 0% of the composers aired shared that condition.

Types of Ensemble
66% Orchestra (includes soloist with orchestra)
25% Solo instrumental performer (mainly piano, and some classical guitar)
8% Chamber group
0% Choral ensemble
0% Solo vocalist

Style Period
37% 20th Century
25% Romantic
24% Classical
8% Baroque
2% Early music (renaissance only)
0% Soundtracks

Composer Demographics
95% European
3% American
2% Other

100% Dead
0% Living

100% Male
0% Female


  1. I continue to enjoy this series.

  2. My goal is to do one a week. I'm already looking at North Carolina stations.

  3. Thanks for the mostly positive review of our radio station, WHRO-FM. I do have a few comments, however. I tell the staff that we're striving for listenability, whatever else may characterize the music. What matter if the composer is dead, female or blue-eyed? As to the educational component, we educate every time an entry-livel listeners hears Vivaldi and decides to stay around. We don't educate by offering the Bartok quartets, as important as they are, because they'd be no listeners to educate. We do, by the way, broadcast concerts by the Virginia Chorale, the Virginia Opera and the Virginia Symphony. Finally, WHRO-FM operates another full-time classical station that addresses some of the concerns of your article. Connoisseur Classics is available on-line at
    Below are some highlights of recent programming:

    Sunday 2/28/10 – Peter Cornelius’s Stabat Mater; duo-organists Bartelink and Kramer in Boellmann’s Suite Gothique; Carlo Maria Giulini conducts the Beethoven Mass in C; Johann Rolle’s Der Tod Abel; the Missa Brevis of William Mathias

    Wed 3/3/10 – SYMPHONIC – William Walton’s Viola Concerto and Symphony No. 2; Eduard Tubin’s Ballad for Violin and Orchestra; Szymanowski’s ballet Harnasie; E.J. Moeran’s Cello Concerto; Mahler’s 7th with Rattle and the Concertgebouw in concert

    Thurs 3/4/10 – The British Grenadier Guards; the Sellers Engineering Band plays Redhead’s A Pastoral Symphony and James Curnow’s Legend in Brass; Stanley Drucker plays Leonard Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata; Julius Rudel conducts the Amadeus Winds in an arrangement of music from Beethoven’s Fidelio

    Fri 3/5/10 HISTORICAL – Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic in Beethoven’s 5th and 7th symphonies; Leopold Wlach plays Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto; Eileen Joyce performs the Piano Concerto by John Ireland; Beecham and the LPO in a suite from Bizet’s Carmen; Sir Adrian Boult and the Concertgebouw in Elgar’s Enigma Variations

    Saturday 3/6/10 GRAB BAG – Film scores to “Elizabeth,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro;” “Jefferson in Paris;” “The Lion in Winter;” “Mary, Queen of Scots;” and “Braveheart” plus Ezra Laderman’s Piano Sonata 3 and Harold Banter’s Fairy Tale Pictures

    Sunday 3/7/10 – American Boychoir Songfest; Rogier’s Missa Ego Sum Qui Sum; Bruno Weil conducts Schuebrt’s Mass in A-flat; Josepf Flummerfelt and the Westminster Choir in Barber’s Agnus Dei and Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden

    Monday 3/8/10 CHAMBER – Martin Jones plays Turina’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin; Gorecki’s String Quartet 3; the Amadea Ensemble in Herzogenberg’s Quintet in E-flat; Shura Cherkassky in Chopin’s Variations on ‘La ci darem la mano’

    Monday 3/1/10 CHAMBER – More Haydn piano trios with the Beaux Arts Trio; Schubert’s String Quartet 15; the Prague Quartet plays Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 1; music from the 2008 Library of Congress concerts

    Tuesday 3/2/10 OPERA – Pierre Boulez conducts Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande; Norman Triegle is featured in Boito’s Mefistofele with Julius Rudel conducting; Adolphe Adam’s Le Toreador; John Eliot Gardiner conducts Handel’s Jeptha; Carl Loewe’s The Three Wishes; Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito with Sir Colin Davis conducting

    Keep up the good work.

    Dwight Davis
    Program Director

  4. Ralph1:43 PM


    Thanks for your thoughtful response. As I've tried to make very clear, I'm just looking at the playlist for a single day, partly because I don't have the resources to do more (I think a full month would be the fairest).

    As I think I've said in just about every post, I understand that the primary goal of any radio station is to have an overall attractive sound. Some classical pieces just don't make for good radio -- no question.

    What I'm trying to do, though, is to take a look at -- or at least get the conversation started about -- what seems to be a disconnect between what's heard on the air and what's happening in other parts of the classical music world.

    I'm not saying stations should be mandated to play X% of living composers, or X% women composers. But what I am saying is that there are plenty of living and/or women composers whose music would make good radio, and I'm wondering why they're almost totally excluded from the mix.

    In just about every other genre, the music being written today is heard on the radio. This doesn't seem to be the case for classical.

    I don't mean to slight WHRO. Overall your station has one of the most wide-ranging and inclusive programming I know of. But playing by my self-imposed rules, I had to go by what I saw in that one day snapshot.

  5. Hello Ralph - Thanks for the further explanation. As I thought, we realy are on the same page. It's good to know that there are folks like you and Ken who are working on behalf of classical music. By the way, Raymond Jones sends his regards.


  6. Please tell Raymond hello! It's been some time since we got together (and it looks like I won't be able to make AMPPR again this year).

    Playing the basics for entry-level listeners is an important part of classical programming, I agree. But what is there for those who are a little more advanced? I think it's one of the strengths of WHRO that you do provide more than just the top 100 for listeners -- but not everyone does.

    Part of what I'm working through is that I *think* I know what stations program. By looking at the play lists (albeit only for a single day's broadcast) I'm forcing myself to see what's actually being aired, whether or not it matches my preconceptions.