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Tuning in: What does it mean to be 'local' radio?

Kate Botello and musicians from IPR's Sound Garden Project at Traverse City's Dairy Lodge (2022)
Kate Botello and musicians from IPR's Sound Garden Project at Traverse City's Dairy Lodge (2022)

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

What does it mean for a radio station to be local?

Years ago, when I was new to my role as IPR’s music director, I met with several different leaders in the field of classical radio for advice. What one person told me completely reshaped how I thought about what we do on Classical IPR.

He said, “Too many classical radio stations claim they’re ‘local,’ but they’re all playing from the same commercial recordings. The only thing ‘local’ on their station is the weather.”

That comment hit me between the eyes. If I listen to WQXR in New York, Classical KING in Seattle, or Symphony Hall on Sirius, I could probably hear the same recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.

Don’t get me wrong, we play plenty of Bernstein’s recordings on Classical IPR too, because they’re great. But what else can we do to sound local?

First and foremost, we make a number of our own recordings here at IPR, at Interlochen Center for the Arts, and around northern Michigan.

Every day on Classical IPR, you’re likely to hear performances recorded in our Studio A at the station or at venues around the region like the Cathedral Barn at Historic Barns Park or Corson Auditorium.

These recordings feature Interlochen students, alumni and faculty, visiting guest artists, local ensembles like the Traverse City Philharmonic. If I can choose from 50 different recordings of a Beethoven symphony to broadcast, why wouldn’t I choose the one made by the TC Phil right in our own backyard?

We also make it a point to promote local classical music performances on the air and in our email newsletter. We want people to get out and hear the TC Phil , Manitou Winds, NMC ensembles and Interlochen student and faculty performances.

We want to be a part of the local and regional classical music community not only by broadcasting classical music recordings but also by encouraging people to attend concerts in person.

Finally, and maybe this is stating the obvious, but we sound local because we ARE local. We’re a part of this community, and we reflect this community on the air and at in-person events.

Our Kids Commute Live event at the Dennos Museum Center last fall brought 150 children and families to experience classical music live.

I've given pre-concert talks ahead of Traverse City Philharmonic and Interlochen concerts.

Our Sound Garden Project ensembles bring classical music performances to unexpected places all over northern Michigan.

So yes, we do play those classic Bernstein/NY Phil recordings on the air because they’re important.

But, just as importantly, we highlight our local and regional musicians and music events.

Otherwise, the only thing “local” you hear is the weather.

Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director. Reach her at amanda.sewell@interlochen.org

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.