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Opinion | Canceling classical music broadcasts

a badly damaged violin

Public media services around the country are removing classical music from their daily radio broadcasts. It's a tough but understandable choice.

Note: a version of this piece originally appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle as part of the "Tuning In" series.

When Interlochen Public Radio went on the air in 1963, as some of you recall, we were simply “WIAA” and broadcast music for eight hours a day.

Over the decades, IPR grew and grew, adding more FM towers and more programming, and we began reaching more people. By 1985, IPR was broadcasting a mix of music and news across northern Michigan 24 hours a day.

This mixed format of news and classical music was and still is pretty common at public radio stations around the country. I’ve lived in several places that had Morning Edition, classical music programming, and then All Things Considered as the standard weekday programming.

In 2000, IPR divided into two separate 24-hour services: IPR News Radio (91.5 FM in Traverse City) and Classical IPR (94.7 FM in Traverse City or 88.7 FM in Interlochen). Listeners can hear all news or all classical, or they can go back and forth between the two at will. We’ve maintained these two distinct but connected services for nearly a quarter of a century.

Updated 2022
Updated 2022

IPR, like a lot of public radio stations in the 21st century, faced a challenge of meeting the needs of an FM public radio listening audience. Not all classical music listeners like the news, and not all news listeners like classical music. A split format seems like the best compromise if a station doesn’t have the resources or support for two services.

Around the country, many public radio stations with mixed formats are opting to drop classical music from their daily schedules entirely and to focus on news programming. Most recently, WCMU has made this change.

As of March 1, WCMU stopped airing classical music during its daily FM broadcasts, choosing instead to focus exclusively on news programming on its primary FM signals.

I must take full advantage here and remind everyone that Classical IPR has locally hosted classical music on the air seven days a week, both on FM and streaming platforms!

I can understand why WCMU and other public media services around the country have decided to drop local classical music, though.

Maintaining a classical music library is time-consuming and expensive.

The on-air hosts need specialized knowledge about the repertoire. Every day, we pronounce names and titles in Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish.

A pop song has a title and an artist, while a classical piece has at least a title, composer, and performer, if not also a conductor, one or more soloists, one or more orchestras or choirs, an arranger

Classical music libraries are massive and unwieldy to manage. Pop stations might have a few hundred songs in their libraries and a hundred or so in regular rotation; Classical IPR currently has about 115,000 pieces in our library and almost all of them are also in our broadcast rotation.

All that is to say that a classical music service requires a lot of resources to thrive, and I’m grateful to Classical IPR’s listeners and supporters who recognize the work required to provide and maintain this service and who are willing to help support it.

Corrected: March 21, 2023 at 10:47 AM EDT
This piece has been corrected to state that Classical IPR has locally hosted music seven days per week.
Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.