I may be a bit biased about the orchestra and its place in the community. I have friends there. I worked there for a time and haven’t lost my passion about it. And I think classical music is an unparalleled art form. I’m proud that NIPR has had a partnership with the orchestra and that we’re currently still broadcasting concerts.
And, yet, last year about this time we made the decision that NIPR would put the frequencies that carry WBNI, our classical music station, up for sale and that we would only carry classical music programming on a digital stream associated with our strong signal, 89.1. It’s an economic decision – we owe about $2M (that’s million) dollars on the purchase of the classical frequency, 94.1, and really, no way to keep the financial commitments we made at the time of the purchase. In truth, the audience is declining significantly and the donors who attribute their support to our classical programming has also been going down. Looking back doesn’t help much and looking forward requires some courage. It’s a decision that I stand behind, but grieve more than a little, especially on nights like last night.
Listening last night and looking at that enthusiastic crowd on their feet – more than once – made me wonder why we haven’t been able to make classical music on the radio into a sane financial undertaking. It’s true that most communities of our size can’t and don’t, but it occurred to me that if everybody at that concert and at the wonderful Spectrum series and all the people who buy tickets to watch our fine univeristy musicians play classical music — if all those people had invested in classical music on public radio an amount similar to what they pay to attend concerts each year, we might not be in this situation. Our fault more than theirs, I think, but it certainly is easy to bypass supporting something like radio when you just turn it on and it’s there with no ticket required. It’s the expensive kind of free.
Our fault for not asking the right questions in the right ways, for not working harder at drawing in a new, dynamic audience, for overextending in capital areas and having to cut back in operational areas, for not making bold programming choices that surprise and delight, who knows?
It’s a challenging time to sell a radio frequency, so we’re always weighing alternatives. I appreciate our board because they are a courageous lot, willing to look at innovative, unexpected answers and I appreciate our listeners and members, many of whom weigh in on a regular basis with opinions, concerns, and suggestions. All welcome, always.
I’m kind of waiting for that person who wants to weigh in with opinions, concerns, suggestions, and $2M.
It could happen. (My favorite line from Angels in the Outfield.)
PS. I’m a Valentine’s Day Scrooge – but for those of you who aren’t – Happy Valentine’s Day.