Wednesday, June 01, 2016

WTJU and the Long Goodbye

On-air fundraising is always a delicate balancing act.

You want to encourage listeners to donate -- without sounding like a scold.

You want to be upbeat and positive about every donation (no matter how small) -- without getting snarky with upper-middle class donors who pledge $10-$25 (really).

You want to convey the urgency of the need -- without threatening that the station will leave the airways without support (it might, but not in the immediate future).

And in the case of WTJU, we have an additional challenge. The station airs four musical genres -- classical, folk, jazz, and rock. For a long time, the classical and folk departments were the top moneymakers for the station, but no longer. Over the past two years, donations made during classical shows has dropped off.

Of course, classical music tends to skew older, so simple attrition may be at the heart of it. But we're in a university town. Not only is there a thriving music department, but there are an amazing amount of amateur ensembles -- including at least two early music groups, three orchestras, two chorales, and a community band. There are a number of arts organizations WTJU's closely associated with -- like the professional chamber music concert series, the summer opera series, the local screenings of the Met Opera broadcasts, and the fall chamber music festival.

Several of WTJU's volunteer classical announcers are members of these organizations.

So where's the support?

It's a question that we'll need to answer in the next year or so for classical programming to continue on the station. And let's be clear -- this isn't a duplication with the competing public radio stations in our market. WTJU is the only station to offer morning classical music 5-9AM Sunday through Friday; it's the only station to have any weekday evening classical programming. And it's the only station to offer programming to underserved classical audiences. We have a dedicated early music show, a vocal music show, a contemporary music show, and even a Broadway musical show -- all hosted by knowledgeable volunteers who know their subjects inside and out.

So where's the support?

Surveys tell us people are listening -- they're just not pledging.

So for our fundraising this week, we have an additional challenge.

We need to help our listeners understand that without funding, classical music will go away -- without sounding alarmist. So we need to ring the alarm very softly, yet insistently.

Of course, radio is by nature, ephemeral. If classical programming were to go away, it would very quickly be as if it was never there at all -- and newer audiences certainly wouldn't be any the wiser.

But I think our community would be the poorer.

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