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Opinion | Legacy programs, legacy problems?

Vintage Arvin Table Radio, Model 580-TFM, Two Bands (AM-FM), 8 Vacuum Tubes, Made In USA, Circa 1951 (credit Joe Haupt)
Vintage Arvin Table Radio, Model 580-TFM, Two Bands (AM-FM), 8 Vacuum Tubes, Made In USA, Circa 1951 (credit Joe Haupt)

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

When is it the right time to change or retire a long-running program?

I confess I’ve been watching game shows in the evenings with some regularity. Both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune have been on the air for decades, but each show has had or will soon have a major change in host.

Ken Jennings, the winningest contestant in Jeopardy! history, became the sole host in late 2023, after fellow host Mayim Bialik’s departure. Ryan Seacrest will become the host of Wheel of Fortune later this year, after Pat Sajak’s retirement.

That has me thinking about the decisions that have to be made when a program has been on for decades.

How does a long-running show like Wheel or Jeopardy! stay interesting and relevant to its current audiences while continuing to grow new audiences? Do we make changes to the program to try to freshen it up, or do we decide the program has run its course and replace it?

A great example at Classical IPR is Music by Request. For decades, the program aired live on Saturday mornings, with people calling in their requests during the broadcast. When MBR began in the 1980s, asking Ed Catton to play a piece on WIAA on Saturday morning might be the only way a listener would be able to hear that particular piece “on demand.”

A quarter of the way into the 21st century, thanks to streaming audio, anyone can hear pretty much anything, at any time, and on any device. Gregorian chant? Video game soundtracks? Nelson Eddy? It’s all at your fingertips or voice command. MBR no longer serves the need for “on demand” listening that it once did.

Starting a couple of years ago, we asked listeners to make their requests a week in advance, which allows us more time to find all of the music and also lets us show the playlists in real time on our website and in our mobile app. Producing Music by Request ahead of time also means that we can air the program twice during the weekend - 9 a.m. on Saturdays, and again Sundays at noon.

During a recent listener survey, some Classical IPR listeners expressed disappointmentthat the show wasn’t live any more.

But we’ve learned that, for many listeners, Music by Request isn’t about getting to hear a particular piece on demand.

In fact, except for the 20 or so requesters who participate each week, MBR has never been about hearing music on demand. Instead, it’s about sharing music with other listeners in the community and getting to hear what other listeners have chosen - good, bad, or indifferent.

Whether live or recorded, Music by Request is about getting to know one’s fellow listeners through the classical music they’ve chosen.

The format may have changed a bit in the last couple of years, but Music by Request’s legacy as a musical gathering place still remains. The “on demand” aspect of Music by Request isn’t for a specific recording - it’s for the sense of community created during the program.

Want to be a part of it? Request a piece by calling (231) 276-4422 or email ipr@interlochen.org

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.