Why WQXR is better off as a public radio station

In his comment to my last post about the sale of WQXR to WNYC (and in his own blog post here), Sean Reiser makes an important point:

One of the unique things about the QXR was it’s relationship with the Times. The Times owned QXR before the FCC regulations prohibiting newspapers ownership of a radio station were enacted. Because of this relationship, QXR’s newsroom was located in the NY Times building and news gathering resources were shared. In a precursor to newspaper reporters doing podcasts, Times columnists and arts reporters would often appear on the air doing segments.

It’s true. The Times selling WQXR seems a bit like the New Yorker dropping poetry, or GE (née RCA) closing the Rainbow Room. (Which has already happened… how many times?) To cultured veteran New Yorkers, the Times selling WQXR seems more like a partial lobotomy than a heavy heirloom being thrown off a sinking ship.

For much of the history of both, great newspapers owned great radio stations. The Times had WQXR. The Chicago Tribune had (and still has) WGN (yes, “World’s Greatest Newspaper”). The Washington Post had WTOP. (In fact, the Post got back into the radio game with Washington Post Radio, on WTOP’s legacy 50,000-watt signal at 1500 AM. That lasted from 2006-2008.). Trust me, the list is long.

The problem is, both newspapers and radio stations are suffering. Most newspapers are partially (or, in a few cases — such as this one — totally) lobotomized versions of their former selves. Commercial radio’s golden age passed decades ago. WQXR, its beloved classical format, and its staff, have been on life support for years. Most other cities have lost their legacy commercial classical stations (e.g. WFMR in Milwaukee), or lucked out to various degrees when the call letters and formats were saved by moving to lesser signals, sometimes on the market’s outskirts (e.g. WCRB in Boston). In most of the best cases classical formats were saved by moving to noncommercial channels and becomimg public radio stations. In Los Angeles, KUSC took over for KFAC (grabbing the latter’s record library) and KOGO/K-Mozart. In Raleigh, WCPE took over for WUNC and WDBS. In Washington, WETA took over for WGMS. Not all of these moves were pretty, but all of them kept classical music alive on their cities’ FM bands.

In some cases, however, “saved’ is an understatement. KUSC, for example, has a bigger signal footprint and far more to offer, than KFAC and its commercial successors did. In addition to a first-rate signal in Los Angeles, KUSC is carried on full-size stations in Palm Springs, Thousand Oaks, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo — giving it stong coverage of more population than any other station in Los Angeles, including the city’s substantial AM stations. KUSC also runs HD programs on the same channels, has an excellent live stream on the Web, and is highly involved in Southern California’s cultural life.

I bring that up because the substantial advantages of public radio over commercial radio — especially for classical music — are largely ignored amidst all the hand-wringing (thick with completely wrong assumptions) by those who lament the loss  — or threatened loss — of a cultural landmark such as WQXR. So I thought I’d list some of the advantages of public radio in the classical music game.

  1. No commercials. Sure, public radio has its pitches for funding, but those tend to be during fund drives rather than between every music set.
  2. More room for coverage growth. The rules for signals in the noncommercial end of the band (from 88 to 92) are far more flexible than those in the commercial band. And noncommercial signals in the commercial band (such as WQXR’s new one at 105.9) can much more easily be augmented by translators at the fringes of their coverage areas — and beyond. Commercial stations can only use translators within their coverage areas. Noncommercial stations can stick them anywhere in the whole country. If WNYC wants to be aggressive about it, you might end up hearing WQXR in Maine and Montana. (And you can bet it’ll be on the Public Radio Player, meaning you can get it wherever there’s a cell signal.)
  3. Life in a buyer’s market. Noncommercial radio stations are taking advantage of bargain prices for commercial stations. That’s what KUSC did when it bought what’s now KESC on 99.7FM in San Luis Obispo. It’s what KCLU did when it bought 1340AM in Santa Barbara.
  4. Creative and resourceful engineering. While commercial radio continues to cheap out while advertising revenues slump away, noncommercial radio is pioneering all over the place. They’re doing it with HD Radio, with webcasting (including multiple streams for many stations), with boosters and translators, with RDS — to name just a few. This is why I have no doubt that WNYC will expand WQXR’s reach even if they can’t crank up the power on the Empire State Building transmitter.
  5. Direct Listener Involvement. Commercial radio has had a huge disadvantage for the duration: its customers and its consumers are different populations. As businesses, commercial radio stations are primarily accountable to advertisers, not to listeners. Public radio is directly accoutable to its listeners, because those are also its customers. As public stations make greater use of the Web, and of the growing roster of tools available for listener engagement (including tools on the listeners’ side, such as those we are developing at ProjectVRM), this advantage over commercial radio will only grow. This means WQXR’s listeners have more more opportunity to contribute positively to the station’s growth than they ever had when it was a commercial station. (Or if, like WCRB, it lived on as a lesser commercial station.) So, if you’re a loyal WQXR listener, send a few bucks to WNYC. Tell them thanks for saving the station, and tell them what you’d like them to do with the station as well.

I could add more points (and maybe I will later), but that should suffice for now. I need to crash and then get up early for a quick round trip to northern Vermont this morning. Meanwhile, hope that helps.

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  1. Paul Lindman’s avatar

    The world is bigger than classical music and the world of public radio needs to be big enough to encompass more than classical music. Whether right or wrong, WBEZ in Chicago does not have a single hour devoted to classical music, but it is a strong station devoted to creative programming including both local news coverage as well as locally developed content. When I go to a different locale and turn on public radio, if I wasn’t tired before I turned it on, I sure was after. I am not a huge fan of classical music, but I am interested enough to subscribe to a classical music series of 5 concerts annually with a top notch orchestra (not CSO). I realize we are also blessed with another classical station (WFMT) in the region. I am simply making a case to break the reflexive association of public radio and classical music. Public radio deserves better treatment.

  2. Sean Reiser’s avatar

    Doc, thanks for the link love. I do think that on some level this will save both organizations. Like you I really enjoy and support public radio (I think I first heard about the sale listening to a program on WBAI, another NYC listener supported station).

    Paul: Even ignoring WNYC (since it’s mostly NPR) between WBAI, college stations like WFUV and now WQXR there’s a good cross section of non-commercial radio here, where we get things like local news and talk, ethnic music and the like.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Paul, we’re talking classical music on public radio here because WNYC bought WQXR — a commercial classical station — and because I thought we could elevate discussion of the topic.

    In fact public radio on the whole has been prying itself away from its classical music legacy ever since NPR was created in the early 1970s, and got its start on college and university stations that mostly played classical music. As the number of informational (news, talk, etc.) programs grew, public radio stations found that they did much better with that kind of programming than with classical alone. That’s why WNYC, WUNC, KQED, WBUR, WAMU, WYPR and other mostly-informational stations have been doing so well.

    At the same time, public radio has discovered that it’s possible to serve classical music listeners as a large niche audience, usually with a single station or network devoted to the format. That’s clearly what WNYC intends to do with WQXR. If WNYC follows the example of KUSC, Vermont Public Radio and other public radio outfits that have discovered the wonders of multiple signals, a WQXR network is sure to follow.

    I think we can expect the same for other formats as well, including eclectic ones like WFUV’s, KCRW’s, KEXP’s, WXPN’s and WERS’s. In fact, I think that public radio’s security in its open popularity as a broad collection of program types allows these niche networks to grow.

  4. Joe Andrieu’s avatar


    I have to poke a bit at the idea that public radio doesn’t have commercials. And, no, I don’t mean the fundraising drives.

    Every time I hear “ADM, supermarket to the world” on my NPR affiliate, I cringe at the blatant whitewashing of one of the worlds biggest corporations, oft-maligned for its heavy-handed shenanigans.

    Sure, the commercials are more restrained and couched in the context of sponsorship, but if you think ADM’s contributions and advertisements don’t affect NPR coverage and public opinion, we need to have a longer discussion about corporate manipulation of media.

    That said, NPR is doing a much better job than the for-profit news media at presenting a quality news stream. I think that’s less due to there liberation from advertisers, and, more to their direct appeal to listeners for funding.

    As the latest JOHO notes http://www.hyperorg.com/backissues/joho-aug18-09.html#transparency , transparency is the new objectivity. And, to their credit, public radio owns up regularly to the truth that its financial support comes from both listeners and sponsors. I think that’s the real advantage. Assure that a significant portion of your bottom line is from individuals, and you have a real advantage over companies dedicated to serving their corporate brethren.

  5. Matt’s avatar

    The real losers here are the Broadway Shows, arts groups, art galleries and others who will be unable to promote their goods and services.
    WQXR for many years has carried commercials for antique shows, concerts by lesser-known groups, art galleries with less-than-big-name artists to promote, as well as record companies promoting new CDs and artists.

    A non-comm WQXR would not be able to promote these in the way those advertisers could by buying airtime in whatever quantity they deemed necessary to fulfill their goals.

    The FCC rules on commercials on public stations prohibit mentioning price, espousing superlatives (except indirectly) (they can’t say Yo-Yo-Ma is the greatest), and so on. For the Times, the backlash from arts advertisers may be severe: they’ve threatened to boycott the Arts and Leisure section en masse.

    And besides with public radio donations dropping, I wouldn’t sneer at upwards of $6 million in annual revenues from paying advertisers. It worked for 60+ years.

    WFMT Chicago runs commercials, but it is owned by a non-profit TV station.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Running a commercial classical music station is generally a losing proposition. All the growing expertise is on the noncommercial side. In any case, the deal is done. WQXR will be a noncommercial station on 105.9. But, as I said in this post and others, this also opens opportunities. It would be far wiser for the constituencies you mention to pursue those opportunities than to boycott the New York Times. That would hurt the Times while helping nothing. The Times is moving on. WNYC is here to help. Work with WNYC. Work with other groups that support classical music in New York. There is no shortage of those, either.

  7. Stan Rogacki’s avatar

    Doc, I am afraid the whole slant of your column is to promote WNYC no matter what. I was looking for a site on the web that does not whitewash the whole affair, and I’ve only found a short sentence in the Daily News coverage that mentions the disadvantage of the frequency shift. So here’s my take on the situation: shifting off 96.3 is a lousy idea; clearly that frequency is worth more than 105.9 for a reason. Second: we don’t get MORE classical programing in this shift – we get less, as WNYC will drop whatever classical they have left in favor of more talk. (OK, they have the car guys on Saturday morning, but is that the best use of a 15 Kilohertz bandwidth high-fidelity signal?) Third: Will this mean there’s yet ANOTHER frequency in the NYC area that gives me the NPR NEWS feed at 5:00PM?
    Happy as I am to see that WQXR will remain in some form, I find it a sad commentary that classical programming (or some other form of INTELLIGENT program) cannot attract a single commercial outlet in a market as big as New York City. If I have to pay, I may as well just subscribe to satellite radio where I pay once and get lots of channels, rather than public stations that demand my contribution for each different format I choose.
    Does any one in this area remember WNCN? New York used to have TWO commercial classical stations, along with WNYC.
    I was thinking of restoring my 1960’s vintage Avery Fisher FM tuner, but now I’m beginning to think… why bother?

  8. Bert Dahm’s avatar


    Don’t know where your destination is in northern Vermont, but I have been heading to the Northeast Kingdom for some 50 years. I was astounded when I learned that Vermont Public Radio had established a translator in Island Pond. Surely there are more bears and moose than classical music fans way up there in Essex County. But this fan will enjoy listening in Charleston. Ever since WEZF in Burlington morphed into the morass of “popular radio”, it has been tough to find classical music (or even easy listening) in the North Country. CBC in Canada still offers some. I also bemoan the move of college stations away from classical music. My introduction to college radio was as the host of “Music From The Podium” on WRPI in Troy in the 50’s.

    I hope WNYC will quickly seize on translators to expand the reach of the new station. Here in Rockland County we still get a respectable signal from the 600 watts on 105.9, but I will miss the reach – and the familar NY Times “feel” of QXR.

  9. Priscilla Alexander’s avatar

    I just hope that WNYC/WQXR will remain classical in perpetuity. I am one of WNYC’s listeners that stopped listening when it switched to talk (i.e., I can read while listening to music, but talk on radio demands attention directly). I do like to listen to BBC news on WNYC, wouldn’t mind if it aired on WQXR, but mostly, I want to listen to classical music, not talk (even if it is about the music).

    Couldn’t WQXR allow concerts and theatres to run sponsorship tags that announce events succinctly?

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Priscilla, I’d suggest writing to WNYC/QXR and letting them know what you’d like.

  11. Guy Jones’s avatar

    I would add one more benefit to WQXR becoming a public radio station — an end to the incredibly annoying stock market updates provided by the hosts — as if any serious investor would be listening to WQXR for market info. For the rest of us, it was a total waste of time and transparently pretentious attempt to give the station a gloss as a “serious” radio station.

  12. ann gray’s avatar

    As I’ve said before wqxr is the first thing I turn on every morning it’s my favorite station. Will they still have our favorite announcers? I sure hope so. I remain a faithful listener. Ann Gray

  13. Alexander S.’s avatar

    If they don’t rehire Candice Agree, they don’t want to hear from me what to do with themselves….

  14. Vincent’s avatar

    Hi Doc,

    I found your Weblog very interesting and informative. Thanks.

    As someone who lives on the fringe and has listened to WQXR for fifty years I have tried the 105.9 frequency and found the reception poor. It is not even suitable for talk radio. It looks like it will be good bye WQXR unless they invest in some translators to save the 14% of their listeners on the fringe. It will really be strange to have the clock radio come on every morning as it has these last fifty years and not hear WQXR.

  15. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Vincent, where do you live, exactly? Is there nothing you can do to improve reception at your end?

    If not, consider listening on the Internet. If you have a Mac or a PC, you can listen with iTunes. Let’s see… okay, I’m listening to WQXR right now in Cambridge, Mass in the Radio section of iTunes, under the Classical section. Sounds great.

    If you have an iPhone, you can listen to WQXR with that, using many different radio applications.

  16. sheila’s avatar

    Listeners to WQXR should press WNYC to apply for a signal booster for 105.9, so that we loyal listeners can continue to receive the fine quality to which we have been accustomed. Listening on the internet or HD radio is not an option for me.

    Also, during the hours between 12 a.m and 6 a.m. I suggest that WQXR programmers please decrease the amount of vocal music selections– especially atonal or the overly dramatic opera that is non-conducive to relaxation when one is in bed for the night. Good , soothing music beats white noise for us city dwellers. Thank you for the information provided by your blog.

  17. Tom’s avatar

    WNYC broadcasts three streams on HD radio. HD2 is deemed “classical,” but carries a peculiar mix of modern esoterica. Does anyone listen? HD3 carries news and talk from WNYC 820AM. Again, is this needed?

    Why can’t WNYC broadcast WQXR as its HD2 stream? If the programmingnow on WNYC HD2 is so valuable, why not kick it up to HD3 and give WNYC AM the boot?

    Would more people listen to WQXR on WNYC HD 2 than who listen to WNYC AM on FM HD 3?

    (Adding HD Radio to 105.9 is not a great option because the digital signal will have even less coverage than the analog.)

  18. ed rosten’s avatar

    Well, it won’t be long (a week or 2!) before some of us (I certainly include myself) can shift from thinking about what might have been or what might be coming … to … what 105.9 looks like at the point in time when it “rolls out” as a classical station.

    I’ve given a great deal of thought to this, and – candidly – there HAVE been some surprises, and as typical where surprises arise, I’m sure some will be pleased and others the opposite. For example – and maybe this was more predictable than *I* think – the programming mavens at the combined WQXR/WNYC “shop” have apparently decided NOT to turn on a dime as far as WQXR’s playlist goes. That is, it’s been announced that – in essence – the composers who accounted for the majority of airtime pre-merger will retain their primacy post-merger.

    Doc, they’re using something you wrote (probably the stuff atop this thread) on wnyc.org, and while I don’t think you’ve been “used” or deceived (as I happen to think is the case with Emanuel Ax), I’d like to (again) test a couple of your points.

    #2 (above) More room for coverage growth…. This is probably the one that sticks in my craw the most/worst! … While I suppose WNYC’s engineers may still be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat, the WNYC forum is replete with complaints that people just a mile or 2 from the Empire State Building (where the signal originates) only get mono or get a weak signal or get a static-y one. Of course, people in important suburbs are reporting that they’ve essentially been “written off”/”shut down”/pick your own metaphor. One person was both eloquent and succinct – “Long Island, with a population larger than all but 12 states, will soon be without a classical music broadcaster.”

    I know the term “paradigm shift” should have been retired a few years back when it littered almost every article anywhere NEAR technology, but if it ever meant something, it does HERE! WNYC happened to make it clear that – for whatever reason – all their webcasting (with its international reach, marketing, technical competence) is still VERY far behind its broadcasting in terms of listenership. I’m sure we both predict that that will change, but it exposes my contention that WNYC (using a small number of wealthy people’s deep pockets) bought an empty box. To say we’re “saving” classical music BROADcasting in the face of a signal (remember, this is MUSIC) that isn’t even remotely equal to the demands of music lovers … while they “tune out” 20% or more of the current audience altogether (by virtue of legal limitations on 105.9’s signal) … makes me think of the “clean coal” campaign or things even more Orwellian.

    Of course, I have to recycle my old argument that if one argues that the future belongs to one’s streams, there must have been better uses for $15 million on WNYC’s part. SO, while public radio stations *COULD* do what you suggest, I suspect that most will not. Whatever the costs of repeaters, translators, etc., they surely produce less bang for the buck than internet-based initiatives. So, the reality is that people who rely on radios – whether in cars or at home – are (MOST of them) going to live to see classical music “turn out the lights.”

    #5 (above) – much more briefly – Direct Listener Involvement…. This paragraph of yours doesn’t really hold up, certainly not in connection with WNYC/WQXR. Just as Vermont’s town meetings are as different as can possibly be from our most recent (in New York) citywide vote (yes, a primary, but one essentially picking the #2 and #3 citywide official) where 10% of those eligible voted –

    WNYC’s “direct listener involvement” is a “tip jar,” plain and simple. Many have argued that here, as almost everywhere, “money talks” – if “Car Talk” “raises” $X during the average pledge drive, and some 1-hour music program raises $0.1X, you’re obviously going to marginalize or eliminate the latter. Some would argue even more strenuously than I would that this HAS already happened, and now we’re just seeing the last little bit of water in the bathtub evaporate.

    I happen to agree with you that however angry one might be with the NY Times over its divestiture of WQXR, boycotting them is pointless. Similarly, WNYC would barely notice (in terms of its all-important – to IT! – P&L) if (WHEN, in my opinion) the number of people who tune into it to hear classical music [I’m thinking of 1/1/09 # of listeners to WQXR plus WNYC] fell 50% or 90%.

    All one can do is HOPE that they serve New Yorkers and citizens elsewhere well in the coming years by virtue of HD radio, the web and whatever else proves to be viable … APART FROM the legacy operation (heading, inexorably, to near-zero) – FM classical music broadcasting.

    (Obviously, but well worth noting, ALL THIS has nothing to do with what they’re “good at” and “care about” – “talk radio.”)

    On a conciliatory note, in a VERY, VERY limited sense, you may be right – “as a public radio station,” it’ll probably take years before this or that chord yields (on WQXR/105.9) one midnight to a replacement non-classical format. But you are more full of “hope” than Bill Clinton and Barack Obama combined, and that still strikes me as profoundly self-delusionary.

    With respect – just a strong diff. of opinion! – ED.

  19. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Again, Ed, WQXR got saved. Yes, the signal is diminished. But at least it’s alive. That’s a far better fate than classical FM stations in dozens of other cities.

    As for the rest of it, we’ll see how it goes. WNYC took a lemon and is making lemonade. The difference now is that public radio is a far larger landscape than commercial radio. WNYC is in a position to plant vineyards and make wine in ways that the Times never could with WQXR.

    Bear this in mind: small commercial radio signals all over the country are being sold off by failing companies. Public radio broadcasters meanwhile are buying rather than selling stations. The WNYC move I am sure is the first in a series. Stay tuned.

    You may dismiss the future of radio on the Net, but plenty did the same with AM radio in the ’20s and FM radio even in to the ’70s. The Washington Post donated its FM station — a full-power one as big as WQXR — to Howard University in 1971, because they thought FM would never make it. Now that station (WHUR) is a landmark on the DC FM dial, while the Post’s old AM signal (née WTOP) has long since been dumped as well, and is now WFED: a news station for federal employees.

    Listening on the Net is still relatively small, but it is bound to grow. One doesn’t need “more hope than Clinton and Obama combined” for that. One needs only to see which way the wind is blowing.

  20. Edward Rosten’s avatar

    Just the quickest of clarifications. I *AM,* if anything, more optimistic about radio over the web than you are! … Which is why I’m baffled by your reading the tealeaves as you do as to this or that public radio station/group expanding via acquisitions of what to me look like “buggy whip factories.” (What you characterize as shrewd obviously strikes me as profligate! When does NPR announce that it’s bidding for GM’s Saturn operation?!)

    I’m very tempted to say that with the rarest of exceptions like the Internet, when the government or non-profits see opportunities that profit-oriented entities deem “over the hill” or not ready for primetime, the folks right of center basically have it right that no small number of tax or donated dollars are about to be “flushed.”

    It’s that “WQXR got saved” mantra – you, too, it appears, have drunk the Kool-Aid they were serving in Jonestown! … Perhaps, it’s your being a continent removed from ground zero.

    I hope this analogy encapsulates our differing outlook – if the fire department put out a nasty blaze at your vacation home and told you over the phone – “It’s not a total loss – your fireplace and chimney made it through,” methinks you’d not be much comforted.

    When a signal goes from beacon-like to candle-like in radio-land, I think the word “saved” is … not the word that best describes the situation.

  21. Resa Bellan’s avatar

    How can WQXR let go of Annie Bergen?????My 4 year old and I will NOT listen to this station anymore. Her sweet voice, knowledge of classical music and program has helped my 4 yr old daughter truly love “Annie” and the music appreciation. The men on the program are monotone and boring. Well, I guess I will need to play CD’s in the afternoon in my home. STUPID MOVE

  22. Tom’s avatar

    Well. Doc, WNYC has decided to put WQXR on WNYC HD2 after all. Not tht HD radio is superior to analog. I can (just bearly receive 105.9 in analog, living on a hill with a direct sight line to the Empire State Building.

    In my office, I can just as easiy listen to KUSC or WCLV.

    Interesting times. I have no interest in Los Angeles traffic tie-ups or Cleveland weather. On the other hand, I deeply respect Robert Conrad and his programmng.

  23. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Putting QXR on NYC’s HD side-channel is a good idea. That might have more range than QXR itself. As for 105.9, or any station, there are so many variables involved, not the least of which is the fact that most radios made in the last 10 years, other than those in cars, suck rocks. That goes especially for the radios in home stereo gear. Want to see how well 105.9 should be coming in? Listen in your car.

    If you want to avoid local trivia, there are lots of other classical stations to go after. WCPE in Raleigh, for example. Check around.

    How are the lack of ads on the new QXR doing?

  24. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Resa, can you point me to a source on the Web that talks about QXR letting Annie Bergen go? I can’t find anything yet.

  25. Edward Rosten’s avatar

    Greetings from the Big Apple…. Just tuned into the OLD (everything is in it’s “this is the last 11 AM hour where” and the like.

    I heard the kind of commercial seconds ago (on the Internet) which spoke volumes about the need to “turn off the respirator” or something.

    Right before some fine classical music came a commercial (VERY MUCH “old school”) for a sports radio station in Philadelphia. I’m not a 20th of the radio person that Doc is, but I think everyone has wondered if the “engineers” don’t raise the volume for commercials. WQXR sure did on this occasion…. Anyone else remember the “SUNDAY, SUNDAY” commercials that featured some kind of automobile mayhem. That was the sound quality of this “last day” commercial.

    Of course, WNYC/WQXR will be having a pledge drive in a week or so…. It will be REALLY interesting how that plays out. I can’t believe that “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know” in this very specific instance, but given the long history of WQXR and its (I’m pretty sure) not young average listener, there may be some who have gotten used to hanging up on telemarketers more than they change the frequency when obnoxious commercials come on….. As I say, we (all) shall see – and, realistically, over a long period of time.

    As for Ms. Bergen – she sounded “valedictory;” I hope that means what I think it does – that Change is a-comin’ and it certainly will affect her and her fans.

    Other than that, there’s just this on the facebook page entitled – ha ha – Save WQXR:

    I think Midge Woolsey is doing day times from 10:00 to 3:00. [Characterized, I think, on that site as a “rumor.”]

    [That is (I’ll give 3-to-1 odds that WAS is the more appropriate word) Ms. Bergen’s slot.]

    WNYC and WQXR are certainly doing precisely the piss poor job of “communicating” that we’ve come to expect from WNYC. The WQXR website – even more than WNYC’s – is in shambles, although they have a VERY lovely graphic (to my eyes) on wqxr.org‘s homepage.

    I’m an HD radio believer/lover, so the “last minute” decision to go that route certainly rings my bell! … Last, WMNR.org has always struck me as a fine classical outlet in the NYC area – they don’t do traffic or news, but they do do weather, and their southern CT location ensures that they’re accurately giving NY weather about 95% of the time.

    Intelligent announcers – some more verbal (providing commentary) than others – distinctly a non-slick feel, but not amateurish either. Some are “up there” in years, which is probably a good thing in terms of making WQXR migrants even more comfortable.

    Oh yes, the programming is “war horse heavy,” but not – and here, again, I bow to people who know more than I do about classical music – “top 100.” That is, there’s a very rich playlist, but it skews well “below” 1900.

    If WNYC had more brains than it obviously does, they’d have both a text-rich page AND one heavy with Flash, maybe with a voice-over … telling WQXR devotees HOW TO “do” internet radio. Most people reading these words probably think – “Nothing to it,” but I beg to differ. If they had even more brains (and a little budget), they’d set up a booth in Grand Central Station and in Penn Station (serving Long Island & NJ) to SHOW people how easy internet radio is and – if possible – how good the new HD “stream” WOULD SOUND to folks willing to spend $75 or so.

    That they will NOT do the latter is a bet-the-ranch situation, and it’s way against the odds that they’ll do the former, either.

    Regular readers (he said, tongue in cheek) know that I’m fond of analogies. There’s a lot in this acquisition that reminds me of Wall Street during its very sad last few years.

    Specifically, the decision makers in both cases were (are in WNYC’s case) swinging for the fences because there really was/is a very skewed “risk reward ratio.” That is, you were/are enormously rewarded for success and not really held to account for failure.

    WNYC got almost literally a blank check from a few people who, I guess, wouldn’t really “miss” $10 million – i.e., care a whole lot how it’s spent, … and they’ve pretty much come to take for granted everybody else – underwriters and contributors, large & small…. And they’ll “report” to all – as surely as the sun rises in the East – that they DID save classical radio broadcasting in America’s first city (especially re classical music) … AND that their listenership and supporters have increased X% and Y%, respectively.

    Just don’t trouble them with questions like “Could those goals have been achieved without spending $15 million?!” … or … “Could they have served more listeners far, far better than they did had they handled some of the details – like what programming airs on what frequencies – more adroitly?!”

  26. Edward Rosten’s avatar

    DOC – IF/WHEN you “moderate” – PLEASE change my first “it’s” to “its,” so that I don’t appear as illiterate as I would otherwise.

    ALSO, if you can/will, please add these 3 sentences to the paragraph that ends with “1900”:

    And their non-music announcements and “underwriting” are 3-4 times LESS intrusive than WNYC/WQXR’s and only half as frequent, too. NOTE to folks who like their radio over-the-air and not HD: WMNR’s 88.1 pretty much blankets most of Fairfield County in CT, and their 100.7 serves some of Long Island’s wealthiest communities. And while I could be wrong, I don’t think they do pledge drives – at all!

  27. Edward Rosten’s avatar

    Yeah, it’s official – on the 12:30 Market News Update, Annie Bergen confirmed that this IS her last show on WQXR.

    BTW, I have a nice fast “internet” at work but 99 cent headphones. I think that WQXR.org has (don’t know how the merger will or won’t affect it) an absolutely top-of-the-line sound quality. (“sampling,” “bit rate,” “Ashton-Martin db index value,” whatever.)

    I guess we all do well to remember that “capitalism” (no – nothing too “out there”) has its good points and less good ones – economic “survival of the fittest” is like the one from Nature’s kingdom – sometimes, not pretty, but MAYBE!! better than the alternative – at least sometimes.

    So maybe, the good doctor is 100% right – don’t quote me! – in saying that –

    “WQXR is better off as a public radio station.” Certainly, it’s in accord with the old saw:

    “Getting older may be taxing at times, but it sure beats the alternative!”

  28. Edward Rosten’s avatar

    VERY last thing – this from the “welcome to the new WQXR” message from Ms. Laura Walker, head honcho at WNYC:

    “… WQXR veterans Jeff Spurgeon, Midge Woolsey and Elliot Forrest …”

    Don’t know who else (besides Annie Bergen) “failed to make the cut,” but let’s hope that they all land on their feet! One hears that displaced journalists in places like Denver – some of them – are launching or joining web-only ventures, but one has to be more than optimistic to think that they are now or will ever earn what they were with their former employers – and classical music is clearly less robust than even big city newspapers. But Annie worked at Bloomberg – NOT now or ever a classical music broadcaster – before WQXR, so she and the others will join literally millions of Americans this year in “weighing their options.”

  29. Rory Callahan’s avatar

    We will miss Annie Bergen, as well. A great loss to the WQXR family. While we listen to a variety of classical music stations from around the country through the Internet, we were always drawn back to WQXR to listen to Annie Bergen’s program not only for the appealing quality of her voice, but for her intelligent, friendly commentary.

  30. Mike Stone’s avatar

    Check the new WQXR schedule on the WNYC Web site. Annie Bergen is not on it. Neither is Candice Agree. The station’s two best announcers are not going over.

  31. Mike Stone’s avatar

    Annie said on the air during her lovely sign off that she expects to do some part time work at the New QXR.

  32. Tom’s avatar

    Wll, this is it. Annie Bergen appears to be out of work as a full-time host at the “new” candlelight WQXR. She indicated, at just before three this afternoon, that she might continue be a part-time host. Hourly wages, no heath benefits … whatever. No, she didn’t say that. I did. WNYC appears to have given her the heave-ho as a full-time employee.

    This is a cultural disaster, especially for those who live more than 25 miles from the Empire State building. And for Annie Bergen! Can you imagine what Annie Bergen things of Emmanual Ax, for hyping the diminishment of the “new” WQXR.

    Annie Bergen will come out on top. After all, she survived the collapse of WNCN. She got out of Bloomberg radio (WBBR) while the getting was good. But where is there for her to go?

  33. Tom’s avatar

    Wll, this is it. Annie Bergen appears to be out of work as a full-time host at the “new” candlelight WQXR. She indicated, at just before three this afternoon, that she might continue be a part-time host. Hourly wages, no heath benefits … whatever. No, she didn’t say that. I did. WNYC appears to have given her the heave-ho as a full-time employee.

    This is a cultural disaster, especially for those who live more than 25 miles from the Empire State building. And for Annie Bergen! Can you imagine what Annie Bergen things of Emmanual Ax, for hyping the diminishment of the “new” WQXR.

    Annie Bergen will come out on top. After all, she survived the collapse of WNCN. She got out of Bloomberg radio (WBBR) while the getting was good. But where is there for her to go?

  34. Doc Searls’s avatar

    From what I gather here, here and elsewhere on pages linked to from those, WNYC needs to be more aggressive in explaining what it’s doing with WQXR: a cultural institution it saved — though not completely, and not in a way that will keep the station exactly as it was). More needs to be said about why, for example, Annie Bergin is gone, or partly gone, or whatever the story is.

    Public radio is, by its nature, far more accountable to listeners, to community, than private radio. For better and worse, WQXR is now a public station. This involves a very different institutional structure than what it had at the New York Times. This new structure needs to be much more obvious and functional. There needs to be a WQXR blog. The station needs to tweet (and not just for promoting stuff). The WQXR website needs to be current. (It still says 96.3). Most of all, WQXR needs an indentity — with management, staff and mission — that are independent of WNYC. As this happens over time, blogging and tweeting about it are essential.

    I have a feeling that the QXR folks are holding off on this kind of thing until they fix the website. If so, it’s backwards. There is an emergency going on. The station just survived an earthquake. It emerged smaller, and can only get bigger in new ways. Improving the signal is, in at least the short run, an impossibility. But other possibilities, such as ones I reviewed above and in other posts, are potentially very large and significant. WQXR has an opportunity to become THE classical music media institution of the Internet Age. So do lots of other stations, but none of those are called WQXR, and none are in New York.

    Meanwhile, community members like me, and the readers here, weigh in. We all do what we can.

    [A few hours later…] WQXR just put up a new website, complete with three blogs. Not many comments yet.

  35. Edward Rosten’s avatar

    Mostly good news on this first full day for WCAA.

    My Sony HD Radio would smile if it could – 105.9 comes in clear as a bell. J&R probably has 1 or 2 on the shelves – excellent alternative to internet radio for some. No install trickery, but I suppose results will vary in terms of one’s location, how much metal is in or near your site, etc.

    Jeff Spurgeon – 1st time ever hearing him – is delightful; a good morning person is probably a little harder to find than most slots.

    Now, some “quibbles,” and I’ll go back into “lurk mode.”
    1) The link just above my post (to WQXR… from Doc) fails to resolve, because the intern working on the QXR website didn’t make the site function unless you put www. before the W in WQ.
    2) A little irony – with my outlook going from stormy to sunny as D-Day came (or has come), Doc seemed to take the trouble to read some of my fellow grumpy New Yorkers (grumpy about this or that aspect of the “move”) and “barked” at WNYC. Oh well, who said consistency was all that virtuous?

    LAST – seconds after it aired – Jeff just announced that Annie Bergen IS a “keeper;’ i.e., she’s “on staff.” No details provided, but he said she “went through training” yesterday…. Maybe, the new person from Cincinnati went apt. hunting in NYC last weekend and bailed. Who knows?

    My “takeaway” from the deal as it’s played out – WNYC handled things not very differently from Citigroup, where I worked at one point. Heavy on the “here’s what the boss wants done – let’s get it done!” … VERY light on “let’s get some of the stakeholders on board with our plans and goals.”

    As I think I said a month or so ago – If one’s favorite restaurant closes or goes downhill, one generally can/will find a replacement. Thank heavens, WNYC really HAS arranged for 2 or 3 ways people who loved WQXR can continue to enjoy it. [Those who “drove” with the old WQXR on ??] And for those who “have a problem” with this or that aspect of the new WQXR or the new WNYC, there really are lots of alternatives, although – to be honest – most of them are web-based.

    THINK ABOUT IT – we “lost something” when horses yielded to automobiles. (Maybe, our planet is on a kind of death watch as a result – the jury appears to be out on that still.) BUT we gained many things, too. And the words “get over it” may not have been used 100 years ago, but that was probably the right thing to do – then – and it’s probably the right thing to do – NOW.

  36. Edward Rosten’s avatar

    An oddity – maybe, you can shed light.

    It’s not like a well-planned survey with top flight data, but looking at several places where listeners to WNYC/WQXR (=? 93.9 / 105.9), there seems to be a “bias” toward the West.

    That is, more people report SUCCESS in NJ. Long Island seems to have been written off.

    Actually, I suspect that those coverage maps would have predicted something like that, although one can certainly ask whether WNYC has done enough about it!!

    But the real head-scratcher is the number of people IN NEW YORK CITY who say that – some of them – “I can SEE the Empire St. Bldg., but I cannot raise 105.9 on my set.”

    This is clearly not an altogether academic question, because a fund-drive is just a few days from launch, and WNYC is not run by visionaries who take a long view – if “the new WQXR” stinks up the joint in terms of begging for $, it’s easy to imagine further changes in programming that knock some more nails into the WQXR coffin. AND it makes it that much less likely, in my opinion, that WNYC will earmark funds to whatever might improve the situation.

    I think I’ve read you, Doc, say that most radios (except autos’) made in the last 10 years have been “budget” engineered, but there are listeners who swear that theirs is exc. gear and currently brings in some other low wattage NY signals.

    WNYC seems to have settled on the response – “It’s your antenna, stupid!” Does that sound right to you? … Is there a good site – not sure whether that means detailed or “straightforward” – that you’d suggest in terms of … “try this or that and you’ll probably solve the problem.”

    LAST, there seems to be some (extra) lint in this thread – one double-post, one something awaiting moderation, maybe some other stuff. I’m sure “maintaining” a blog is more of a chore than fun, but I’m guessing that you’ve been getting TONS of traffic.

  37. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Three answers. First, New Jersey is farther from WHCN on 105.9 (same channel as QXR) in Hartford, which certainly compromises WQXR to the east and northeast. Second, Manhattan is full of multipath: reflected signals. At any given place in Manhattan space, some stations are going to be doing better than others. Take a portable radio, walk around an apartment listening to any one station’s signal and see what happens. Crappy reception happens to all signals in some places. Third, new radios are especially bad at what we used to call “front end overload” or “blanketing.” Strong signals obliterate weaker ones elsewhere on the band. Sometimes the best approach is to shorten or even eliminate the antenna. If you can see the top of the Empire State Building and not get WQXR, that’s almost certainly your problem.

    WNYC would do well to research what radios suffer least from blanketing, and recommend those to listeners in the City.

  38. Edward Rosten’s avatar


    Ever hear of this? … or its “breed?” … Sounds like – of course, I’m giving the vendor every benefit of the doubt as to functionality – it’s a good answer to the many who like listening to “the radio” in more than one room. I’m guessing that most of the people upset about the WNYC/WQXR changes (and the volume – in both senses – of upset people is still on the rise!) DO have a computer, but some combination of “low-end speakers” and “mobility” (going from room to room) have their knickers in a twist. (BTW, I learned of this gizmo – I’m not shilling for them – because somebody on a WNYC forum said it was money well spent for him. . . . Good thing, sometimes – these blogs & stuff!)

  39. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I haven’t tried this one. The 150-foot range is ambitious and possibly illegal, as it says here, “Unlicensed broadcasts on the FM broadcast band (88 to 108 MHz) are limited to a field strength of 250 µV/m at a distance of 3 meters from the antenna. This is equivalent to 0.01 microwatts.” 250 µV/m is listenable, but getting weak. By the inverse square rule, you’re looking at 125 µV/m at 6 meters, 67.5 µV/m at 12 meters, 33.75 µV/m at 24 meters and 16.9 µV/m at 48 meters. Between those last two points you’ve passed 150 feet. A good radio will hear a signal down to about 2 µV/m, but not a listenable one. And not in stereo. And there aren’t many good radios.

    I’ve built a couple of Ramsey units, which are quite good. (And, once built, not quite legal, in some cases.)

    But you’re right that something like this would be a good bridge from a live stream to a home FM radio. If it works.

  40. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    As this is the first time I have seen this blog, and new to the form, may I introduce myself. I am 72 years old and an electronics engineer, now retired, for 50 years.

    I have been listening to the new WQXR now for two weeks, and, frankly, the results are dreadful. First the audio feed has a deliberate 10-12 dB boost in the 50-300 Hz range, making both voice and music thick, muddy, and almost unintelligible. Also, something on the feed, possibly an audio level compressor, sometimes abruptly drops the level 30-35 dB, then suddenly pops up with an enormous DC transient that leaves my ears ringing with headphones on! Furthermore the webstream, formerly in stereo at 96 kb/sec., has been reduced to mono only at 32 kb/sec. I can only presume that the changes are to comply with the drastic restrictions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998.

    I discovered, from careful listening, that the old WQXR once each hour would interrupt the audio feed for 200 msec., then later the same hour would distort the feed for 200 msec. to comply with the DMCA. This was still the case, with full stereo webstream, on October 7, 2009, yet these drastic changes were needed after the changeover the next day. As a legal layman, I do not understand why the former arrangement was no longer in compliance with the law.

    Ever since I first started listening to WQXR as a first-grader in 1943, I have always marveled at the technical excellence of the entire operation. Not any more it would seem!

    Much of the problem stems from WNYC publicly reducing WQXR to a state of complete colonial dependence. WQXR’s management, half the announcers, and the entire programming department were fired, producing near chaos. Its studios at Fifth Avenue and 18th Street were closed and merged with the WNYC studios at Varick Street. There seems to be an attitude that WQXR will get whatever crumbs fall off the edge of the table, apparently including audio line equipment that actually meets specs!

    A major concern, which I have passed on to people I know at WQXR, including Jeff Spurgeon and Midge Woolsey, is that the reduced coverage, with ERP of 600W instead of 6000, will cost 25-30 per cent of listeners. High dissatifaction with the new regime may claim another 20 per cent. As pledges must come from this reduced pool, this is not a good omen!

    I have also noticed that WQXR now repeats many of the same selections over and over every three days or so. I wonder if somehow the station has put itself into a legal noose, where most of its vast record library couldn’t be broadcast in any form any more.

    If there is any of the bloggers seeing this post who could enlighten me about all this, I would greatly appreciate it, as, in addition to a queasy stomach, I am slowly pulling my hair out trying to make some sense of this.

  41. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Lewis.

    I’m amazed that this thread has been active for so long, but here we are.

    I’m not in a position to listen to WQXR over the air, but I can get it online, where it’s currently 64kb stereo (or so iTunes says). Sounds like it, too. Meaning, not too bad, considering; but not too good, either.

    They should have multiple streams.

    I find 32kb ideal for car listening, because it works on GPRS (“Edge”) as well as 3G. Less drop-out. But it’s nice to have a choice. Many stations provide that.

    Have you tried writing to WQXR on its own comments pages, or in response to any of the blogs at the website?

  42. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    I did comment on an announcers blog; the station itself does not have one. A serious problem as I see it is that WNYC’s management seems to have a well-deserved reputation of being aloof and dismissive of all complaints for some years now. That is one reason many of us were apprehensive about this merger in the first place. The attitude appears to be, “This is what you get; take it or leave it!”

    I really think that these people are incapable. They have tried to do so much at once that they can’t get their hands around this greased pig at all. Knowing our listeners as well as I should after two-thirds of a century, there is going to be heavy trouble soon.

  43. STEPHEN’s avatar

    Station is weak , but ok three miles from Empire State in N. J. Unless a 24 hr. upcoming schedule is provied on the site QXR can go fish. Cable TV has two excellent Music Choice classical stations, DirecTV has two Sirius classical stations….all are excellect…lack of old vocal recordings are the big missing part.

  44. Tom’s avatar

    I understand that many of the old staff of WQXR gathered last Saturday in Ossining. Said to be there were Lloyd Moss, Clayelle Dolfores, June Labelle, Nimet — possibly others. Was this a wake? If the new, diminished WQXR fails — lack of support, poor coverage, poor sound — how would WNYC get rid of it? Maybe some group could take it off their hands, move it down the dial into the public radio band and set up a series of translators. Meanwhile, here’s an idea for mischief: could a group challenge WQXR’s license on grounds that the station does not serve Newark, having neither its studio nor transmitter there or even in New Jersey? My feeling is that WQXR is now a lamed horse. Kill it.

  45. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    Tom’s suggestion to kill WQXR is reminiscent of Vietnam: “We had to destroy this village in order to save it!” What is needed is to break the grasp of stubborn and incompetent management, especially WQXR’s state of lowly dependence, à la Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, may we have stereo webstream? Please, sir, may we have line amplifiers with flat response?”

    The numbers suggest the mess management has blundered into. As of July 1, 2009, WQXR’s audience was about 800,000. Now with reduced coverage, a realistic figure would be 550,000, plus or minus. Intense dissatisfaction with this new regime may reduce this to 400-450,000. As typically only 10 per cent of any public-broadcast audience actually pledges, this will put management in a very serious financial bind. Need I add that both Albany and Trenton are sharply reducing aid to public broadcasting, due to their own budget shortfalls.

    Its time for people at the top to “wake up and smell the coffee.” This sorry situation can still be saved, but our listeners are already close to open revolt.

    (Incidentally, I believe the nominal Newark is there in the license to make New York Public Radio eligible for state aid from Trenton.)

  46. Tom’s avatar

    It seems like everyone wants to kill off classical music on the radio, starting with NPR. Buying WQXR allowed WNYC to dump classical music from 93.9 — something I hear they have wanted to do for years. The same situation is playing out in Boston, I believe, where WGBH has bought what’s left of WCRB. Maybe Doc can enlighten us as to what is going on there.

    I would love to see a coverage map of the new WQXR. My understanding is that FM signals are often directional, although not so much as AM signals. Betcha 105.9 is directed away from Connecticut and Long Island, maybe ever away from Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. As it is, I can’t scare up a listenable signal anywhere. That includes Brooklyn. At home, in Connecticut, WNYC HD-2 is subject to drop outs. The signal is poorly equalized and compressed. 105.9 is barely receivable. The web stream via iTunes is abominable. Never mind WQXR is better off as a public radio station. Is WQXR better off dead?

  47. hb’s avatar

    Stop complaining. We almost lost WQXR. We didn’t. So it changed, get used to it. The change is not as dramatic or ominous as I had thought. Yes I miss some of my hosts, but we have kept Jeff, Midge, Elliott and Annie. Kudos for WNYC for such an artful blending.

    There are very serious world issues. There is a serious recession. People are out of work, losing their homes and all hope. WQXR in its new format offers solace to the soul in these trying times.

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