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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113 comments

  1. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Tom, if it weren’t for public radio, there would be almost no classical music on the air. (Plenty on the Net, of course, but that’s because the Net isn’t a band. There is no limit to what can be put onto it, which is why it will eventually obsolete AM and FM. But let’s not go there. Yet.)

    What’s happening to public radio in the U.S. is that it’s coming increasingly to resemble a cross between the BBC and podcasting. The BBC has services for news, fine arts (including classical and jazz), popular music, sports, news and features of many kinds. Podcasting is programs as you like them (in both content and time — you listen when you like, rather than when it is broadcast).

    News and information is far more popular on public radio than classical music. That’s just a plain fact. WNYC will do far better — and bring in far more money to do stuff like saving WQXR — by being primarily a source of news and information programming. All across the country, public stations that have moved from partly or mostly classical to information programming and have done much better with the latter. KQED, KUOW, WUNC and WNYC are just four of them. In each case they made these moves when there were other sources of classical music on the dial. KQED had WDFC in San Francisco, KUOW had KING in Seattle. WUNC had WCPE in Raleigh, and WNYC had WQXR in New York. So, when WQXR went on the blocks (the NY Times was shopping the station for sure), WNYC did the right thing by scooping up as much as they could, bad new signal and all. In the process, WNYC with its AM, FM, Net, HD and WQXR outlets is becoming like the BBC, and like, say, Minnesota Public Radio.

    By the way, are jazz fans complaining about WBGO’s signal? It’s much smaller than WQXR’s new one. Are indy music fans who like WFMU and WFUV complaining about those stations’ signals? Well, yes; but that’s beside the point: something beats nothing, and that’s what New York was going to get if WNYC hadn’t bought WQXR.

    As for the signal, for what it’s worth, WQXR is non-directional. It the nearest station on the same channel (105.9) is WHCN in Hartford, which transmits from a point much closer to New York than Hartford itself. It’s worth noting that WHCN origially stood for Hartford Concert Network, and was a sister of WNCN, the classical station long gone from 104.3 in New York City. Follow that last link and you’ll get some perspective on classical music on the radio in general. It has been a losing proposition for many years as commercial service.

    Where WQXR is just weak, WHCN is directional, to protect WQXR’s signal, to some degree.

    Here is a WQXR coverage map: http://radio-locator.com/cgi-bin/pat?call=WQXR&service=FM&status=L&hours=U

    Here is WHCN’s technical info, including its directional pattern (scroll down).

    And here is WHCN’s coverage map.

    Note the overlap in Connecticut and Long Island. That’s the main problem.

    For what it’s worth, nearly all FM stations in the East are weak.

    That’s the way the FCC set things up in the first place. The strong stations are in the small cities. Check this coverage map for WUNC in Chapel Hill:

    http://radio-locator.com/cgi-bin/pat?call=WUNC&service=FM&status=L&hours=U

    Its antenna is at about the same height as those on the Empire State Building: 1370 feet or so. But instead of being 600 or 6000 watts (the power of the old WQXR on 96.1), it’s 100000 watts. You can get it well from Winston-Salem to far beyond Raleigh to the East. And stations like WUNC can go up to 2000 feet before they need to cut the power.

    HD is nice enough; but it is a gimmick: a proprietary add-on that very few people listen to, with good reason: it’s not easy. I have an HD radio here, and you have to wait for the HD symbol to come up and then tune again to get HD-1 and HD-2 (if stations bother with the second one). Yes, we do listen here (near Boston) to WGBH-HD1, which is the classical service. But it sounds much better over the Net. My wife finds it easier just to tune in WCRB.

    For what it’s worth, WCRB was supposed to be saved once before. And it is being saved again, this time for real, by WGBH. If you want to know the stories behind both, good reports are on Wikipedia.

    By the way, it’s worth noting that WGBH has stuck with classical and fine arts broadcasting in Boston despite having its butt kicked in the ratings by WBUR, which has a weaker signal but a format like WNYC’s. (WGBH is grandfathered at 100000 watts at 650 feet — by wattage alone the top dog in the Northeast.) has totally kicked butt in the ratings by broadcasting news and information. Now, will WGBH change, since it has WCRB to cover classical? Probably not, since WCRB is in Lowell, up near New Hampshire, while WGBH is on a hill south of Boston. Here’s WGBH’s coverage map. But, I dunno. The smart thing for GBH to do, financially, is drop classical from the big signal and put it on the smaller one. Then maybe beef up to the south by buying failing small FM stations and making a network out of it. I suspect we’ll see more of that.

    I’m looking forward to a noncommercial WCRB, by the way. The commercials on it now are annoying.

    I’ll pay to support it too. Never did that with the commercial version.

  2. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    Doc’s comment is well taken, but I should amplify a bit. If WNYC had made WQXR a co-equal, with its own autonomous management, under the overall umbrella of New York Public Radio, and kept it as intact as possible, all might have been well, especially with its tight-knit staff with hundreds of years of experience. I believe that with a reduced but fiercely loyal audience, pledges could have exceeded 20 per cent of listeners, instead of typically less than 10 per cent for public broadcasting. That would have been over 100,000 pledges or $6 million minimum right there.

    Instead, WQXR was made a colonial dependency of WNYC itself, with wholesale firings of staff and moving WNYC’s people in, creating something akin to a foreign-occupation regime. One has only to look at the station’s blogs to see how furious many listeners are already. On top of that is the poor quality of sound transmission, something I’ve never experienced before in 66 years as a listener. The FM feed is very badly equalized, and the webstream is pathetic–only 32 kb/sec in mono only! It almost seems that WNYC is trying to drive away as many WQXR listeners as it can. (I think now that active WQXR pledges could fall below 30,000.)

    Yale historian Paul Kennedy describes the step too far that ends in disaster as “imperial overstretch.” This appears to be what has happened in this case. Such mergers are extremely demanding of management, and many fail badly, like AOL-TimeWarner. To this long-time observer, no emulsifier will make WQXR and WNYC’s management mix in the same container. By the end of 2010, one or the other will have to go.

  3. Tom’s avatar

    It’s Halloween. Boo! The station at 105.9 FM is masquerading as WQXR.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Lewis, for what it’s worth I’m listening to the audio in Palo Alto, CA right now over iTunes. It’s 64kb, for what that’s worth. Might be mono. Not sure. It’s a solo piano piece. The data rate may be chosen so it works on iPhones over 3G connections. Frankly, I think they should offer multiple stream rates. What do you hear when you go to http://www.wqxr.org/stream/wqxr/mp3.pls ?

  5. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    Doc, this webstream address, above, does not work for me, probably because I only have dial-up here. That’s why I use the FM feed. Other bloggers have found 64 kb/sec, but no better sound than 32k.

    My larger point is that, except for the demise of grating commercials, absolutely everything about the new WQXR is demonstrably much worse than the old one. That is why so many listeners are really steamed up. There is only one reason for this: really bad, incapable management. I was in aerospace electronics for over 30 years, and I know what lousy managers look like. The problems these people have created and the thousands of listeners they have alienated show first hand just how incapable they have been. I expect little or nothing good from them at all.

    Frankly, I worry what will happen in a year’s time when with rising internal problems and dwindling pledges, management blithely asserts that WQXR no longer has any listener support.

    I am a stubborn loyalist who would rather keep the faith. However, the WQXR blogs report so many other classical webstreams free of all these headaches that I may try one of those if I ever get a high-speed connection back here so far from the main road.

  6. Tom’s avatar

    Actually, Lewis, WQXR might turn into a cash cow for WNYC, with “support” from arts organizations, in exchange for commercials — er, announcements. It looks like there will be plenty of non-commercials on so-called WQXR, maybe so many it won’t matter how many dollar bills listeners tuck into the tip jar. You’ll pay for WQXR each time you buy concert tickets. Doc should be prepared up in Beantown: there may be more non-commercials on the new WCRB than there were commercials on the old. This could be a pretty neat business model. I do miss Annie Bergen and her wrinkle cream, however.

  7. Myron Sywak’s avatar

    I am pleased to know that I am not alone after all in dealing with this disastrous fiasco concerning the take-over of WQXR by WNYC. We have been abandoned here on Long Island. I suppose it’s better than having lost it altogether but there should have been more thought given to the consequences. It was bad enough when WNCN went out and then WNYC converted to talk but this is disastrous. The one bright spot for us on LI is the fact that we can just about get WSHU from across the sound (which got the old WNCN music library). The signal is weak here in mid-Nassau County but it’s the only alternative for us. We have a multitude of Academic stations (Stony Brook, Hofstra, CWPost, Nassau Community) but they primarily broadcast talk and rock and the signals are weak. Considering NY Metropolitan area as a cultural center is laughable when you can’t get decent classical radio.

  8. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Given the economics of both commercial and noncommercial radio, WNYC buying WQXR and keeping it alive on a second-rate channel was the best that could have been done. It would have been great if the New York Times had sold WQXR to as wealthy benefactor, who in turn would have kept it alive as-is. But the number of potential benefactors — at least the ones who like classical music — has been shrinking. WQXR’s old channel (96.3) brought $33.5 million. That’s a lotta dough. On top of that the new management would have had to operate the station at a loss as a commercial station or with reduced expenses as a noncommercial station.

    But the worst problem for a potential buyer is the fact that FM is the new AM, and that both AM and FM are ancient technologies kept alive by the automobile industry, which still installs radios by default in new cars. If that were to stop tomorrow, the business would be toasted.

    There are better ways to distribute radio programming.

    I’m listening to WQXR right now in Boston, over iTunes. I can listen to it anywhere in my car or while traveling within cell range on my iPhone. That’s the future. The past is still available, within a limited range of space and time, on over-the-air radio.

  9. Tom’s avatar

    Here’s a suggestion for Myron on Long Island. If you are listening through a component hi-fi system, get yourself a Sony XDR-F1 HD tuner for as little as $74. I find that I can receive both 105.9 in analog and WNYC HD2, which broadcasts WQXR via hybrid digital (HD Radio). I agree with Doc that HD Radio is a gimmick. But the tuner is great. I am 48 miles from the Empire State Building as the crow flies (it helps that I live on a hill), in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I shouldn’t be able to get WQXR on 105.9 because of WHCN in Hartford on the same frequency; but I do. A good antenna is a must. For an indoor antenna, I suggest the C. Crane Reflect for about $30. It works better than an ordinary dipole, but I don’t understand why. I also pick up WQXR at 105.9 on a Sangean WR-2 table radio. All these products, including the C. Crane antenna, are available from Amazon. Myron, unless you live in a gulley, you should be able to get WQXR in Nassau County. You just have to work at it. A crappy tuner or table radio won’t cut it. By the way, it does seem like Doc is eager to bury over-the-air radio. Not so fast, Doc. This isn’t like shortwave.

  10. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Good advice, Tom.

    For what it’s worth, I’m not eager to bury over-the-air radio; I’m just treating it as the post-mature technology that it is. To Myron, I’d go beyond the C. Crane indoor antenna, and put up a roof antenna like one of these. On Long Island you can also use a directional outdoor antenna such as one of these to null out Hartford and get WQXR just fine.

  11. Myron Sywak’s avatar

    Thanks guys. I appreciate your advice and comments very much. Actually I can get WQXR out her on Nassau/Suffolk border fair-like using my home made antenna (better then my old S-shaped multi-directional) but it’s my friend who lives in Garden City and is closer to the transmitter by 10 miles. She lives in an an apartment house facing East with another apartment house in between. She is the reason we need AM/FM. Her radio is on all day. She thrives on classical music and non-constant news. She is technologically illiterate. Like me (we’re in our 80s) we can just about master the cell phone although I do use the computer constantly I find it difficult to keep up with developments. She can’t put up a roof antenna because the building won’t allow it. HD radio is new to us but I guess I’ll have to look into it for her sake. Thanks a whole lot for the suggestion. By the way, I understand the commercial realities but I still believe a region of 8mil + should be able to provide its cultural minority a cultural outlet.

  12. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I understand, Myron. Other possibilities…

    1) WSHU. In addition to their main transmitter in Connecticut on 91.1, they have a bunch of translators, including one in Huntington Station on 91.3. Unfortunately, it has a dent in the signal in the direction of Garden City. Still, if she’s in an apartment building facing that direction, she may get it well.

    2) Sirius/XM satellite radio, which has a number of classical streams. Set it up once and let it sit.

    3) A laptop. If she has anything better than dial-up, even a used Macintosh computer should do the job. iTunes is not very complicated, as computer stuff goes.

    Anyway, good luck to you.

  13. Tom’s avatar

    Doc’s Sirius/XM suggestion is serious, Myron. I am a 67-year old geezer. My more grizzled friend is 79 and a technophoble. He loves his satellite radio. HD Radio might work for your friend in Garden City better than it does for you 10 miles further away. If you have something to connect it to, the Sony HD tuner would be my choice. You absolutely need an external antenna to pick up HD. You can start with the one that comes with the Sony — or the radio. Try moving the antenna around — a matter of inches can mean you get HD or you don’t. Try the usual stuff, like siting the radio and antenna near a window even if it faces the wrong direction. HD Radio is said to work well close to the transmitter and in crowded urban environments. It works much less well 30 or more miles from the transmitter. My guess is that Garden City is about 20 air miles from the Empire State. Lots of luck and let us know how this turns out.

  14. Sean’s avatar

    The incorporation of WQXR into WNYC is a disaster in my opinion.

    As of this week it is true their internet streaming is now improved and offered in 128 Kbs stereo, but that is hardly making up for the inadequate hosts on the station, some of whom cannot pronounce composers’ names properly.

    Today there were many deletions of comments placed by critical listeners on the WQXR blogs. The erasures are sure to anger people further. It is a total nightmare.

  15. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Sean, is the the current (your metaphor here) not preferable to WQXR going away in a sale to a typical commercial operator (which would be sure to get rid of the classical music)?

  16. Sean’s avatar

    Thank you for your question, Doc.

    I don’t know for sure if a typical commercial operator would get rid of classical music when it comes to a purchase in the New York market, because I think the New York market is somewhat different than the other models discussed earlier. But I’m clearly no expert. I defer to you, and of course time will tell us what will evolve… or disintegrate.

    To the people who are not happy with WQXR now and who have turned it off in favor of other audio streams and music players like Last.fm, it already seems that the New York market is not offering them classical music (post purchase of WQXR) as they want it. They have already moved on. That is the feeling I am hearing and reading from those people, because they already see classical music as extinguished from their radio listening.

    I will keep reading your blog for more insight and understanding.
    Thank you again!

  17. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, Sean.

    There are very few commercial classical stations left in the U.S., and the simple reason is a combination of ratings and income. Even if the ratings are there, there is less inventory to sell because a classical audience won’t tolerate the ad load typical of news, sports or popular music. So if you’re going to hear classical music in a major market, you’re going to get it from a noncommercial station.

    As for WQXR, I’m hoping that WNYC didn’t waste the money. But, we’ll see.

  18. Tom’s avatar

    Thanks, Doc, for keeping this going. This may be the only uncensored bulletin board/discussion group for the new WQXR. I agree with Sean about at least one of the announcers, who lectures listeners on composers and their music … and then refers to Sergei Diaghilev as “surge,” as in troop surge. (I believe that Koussevitsky DID anglicize his name to “surge,” but that’s another Sergei. Duke Ellington, his friend, called him Surge, and wrote a composition, “Blue Serge.”)

    Meanwhile, surprise, surprise, WCRB DOES appear to be better off as a public radio station. It may be my new Internet favorite. It doesn’t hurt that I’m originally from Massachusetts and grew up on WCRB and WGBH. The programming is intelligent; the announcers are amiable; there aren’t many interruptions; and the Internet stream (on both I Tunes and Real Player) sounds way better than what I’ve been able to scare up for WQXR. So based on three days on the air, Bravo, WCRB. Listeners disgusted with WNYC/WQXR take heart!

    Here’s another mischievous idea. Could WGBH set up a network of repeater stations along the I-95 corridor — all the way to Greenwich, say, “Gateway to New England”? (They could cover most of Long Island, too.) THAT would give WNYC the comeuppance they deserve. It could be like the old Concert Network, when you could drive from New York (WNCN) to Connecticut (WHCN, Hartford — on 105.9, heh heh), Providence (WXCN) and finally Boston (WBCN.)

    Doc’s comments on the non-viability of classical radio are well taken, but he omits the biggie: twenty-something and thirty-something year old media buyers hate old fogey demographics. Years ago, they sold all sorts of stuff on commercial classical radio and delivered commercials for Mercedes Benz and Jaguar automobiles; Bose, KLH and Acoustic Research speakers; books and records; hotels and restaurants; departmen, clothing, and jewelry stores; financial services and insurance. Not retirement homes and cemetery plots. This is why commerical classical stations with very strong ratings — WGMS, Washington, and WTMI, Miami, for instance — could not make a go of it. It was less a shortage of “inventory” than an inability to sell inventory on hand. I was asked if I had interest in an announcer’s job at both stations; good thing I didn’t pursue the matter.

  19. Sean’s avatar

    Tom,
    I’m delighted to learn about WCRB from reading your comment, and I will add that station to my new list of Internet radio choices.
    I have been searching for alternatives since October 9, 2009 – the day WQXR seemed to expire.

    Hope you don’t mind that I quoted parts of your comments on a Twitter page: http://twitter.com/classicalmewsny
    Perhaps I should have asked you for permission to do this.
    Let me know if you want me to erase them, and I will gladly comply.

    I must say how I DO love your idea to send a WGBH signal down to Greenwich, CT.
    That made me smile.
    Cheers,
    Sean

  20. Tom’s avatar

    It’s Friday afternoon and I am listening to the BSO live from Symphony Hall on WCRB via the Internet, with better sound that I can get over the air from WQXR. What does WQXR offer “live” this afternoon? Shabbat services from Temple Emmanuel underwritten by Manhattan’s largest Jewish undertaker? Someone should say Kaddish or sit shiva for this station. Look what has become of the call letters associated with Lloyd Moss and Nimet!

  21. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    It has now been over ten weeks since WNYC took over WQXR–time enough to conclude that this episode has been a disastrous fiasco. The numbers tell a grim story. The Arbitron ratings for WQXR show Dec. ’08, 2.1; Sept. ’09, 1.8; Nov. ’09–after the changeover–1.6. The effort to offset this bleeding by “dumbing down” the franchise to pander to classical dabblers, rather than serious listeners, has failed completely.

    A number of observations come to mind:

    1)-The FM audio feed is dismal. The 10-12 dB bass boost used is a gross disservice to the music and may well be illegal. The audio chart shown in Sec. 73.333 of the FCC Regulations indicates a flat response from 50 Hz to 2120 Hz, with rise of 6 dB/octave from 2120 Hz to beyond 15,000 Hz. (This corresponds to first-order pre-emphasis with time constant of 75 µsec.) This bass boost can only appeal to casual listeners with inferior receivers having little audio response below 200 Hz.

    2)-The dismissal of WQXR’s entire off-air staff has been catastrophic, gutting the operation and virtually destroying its institutional memory. Now no one knows how to program properly, or even determine the station’s best long-term interests. This is the direct consequence of becoming a conquered province, subject to being squeezed and exploited by its new imperial masters.

    3)-The demise of advance playlists is a major grievance. Because of the change of ownership, the grandfather clause in the law no longer applies. Now some classical outlets may have advance playlists and others, including WQXR, may not. It should be possible to distinguish these outlets from hard rock and pop stations with brief tracks and webstreams, where piracy has really been rampant.

    I believe that it is time for the Board of Directors of New York Public Radio to step up and take action. On a smaller scale, the incompetence of management has been every bit as glaring as what flattened Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, GM, and Chrysler. Believe me, it will be much cheaper in the long run to buy out contracts and send these twits packing than to let this hemorrhaging continue. It is clearly time for a reboot and do-over completely from scratch!

  22. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Lewis, are the new ratings ones derived from Arbitron’s changed methods? See here. Obviously, the changes were not kind to classical listening in general.

  23. Tom’s avatar

    It’s official. The New York Times company’s workforce is 20% less than it was a year ago. It was nice of WQXR to do its part.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/NY-Times-lays-off-18-workers-apf-1129047802.html?x=0&.v=4

  24. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, I’m in New York for the first time since The Change, and I’ve gotta say that, from what I’ve heard so far, the critics are right: the signal is pretty bad. I’ve only listened in cabs (on a small walkman-like Sangean portable radio) and here in an apartment on 43d street (with buildings blocking a view of the Empire State Building). In both cases the strong singals spill over and obliterate WQXR on 105.9. But on my friend’s stereo tuner, it sounds fine. With no antenna. Quite pretty, in fact.

    I also listened in a cab this evening to the live stream, and was surprised to see it identified on the tuner (Wunderadio’s) as WNYC, and to hear the WNYC ID and promo when the stream came up. But it was a WQXR stream, and sounded fine.

  25. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    From what I can tell from Arbitron’s website, the ratings for 2007-08 were from diaries; most of ’09 has used the people meters. Still WQXR has been quite ill for some two years now, ever since the “Times” began laying off station staff and using abrasive ads. A drop from Dec. ’07, 2.4 to Nov. ’09, 1.6 is ICU territory!

    WQXR clearly needs a lot of TLC, but mass dismissals, destruction of autonomy, and plain bad management have put it on a fast track for oblivion in a year or so. Doc, you mentioned that the station sounded “pretty” on a friend’s stereo system. That is my point exactly! The exaggerated bass boost below 350 Hz on the FM feed is designed for receivers with limited bass response–strictly for dabblers, not serious listeners. Ironically, the better the equipment, the worse it sounds! (I use a Denon DRA-635R receiver and Sennheiser HD580 headphones–strictly top of the line.)

    As I mentioned earlier in this space, I was an aerospace electronics engineer for over 30 years, a field where lousy managers are as common as crabgrass. The schmoes running New York Public Radio are as dismal as I’ve seen in a long while. This whole complex merger and swapping transmitters would have taxed the abilities of Bill Gates or Lee Iacocca. These twits are, as Washington wonks say, way, way beneath their pay grade.

    Trivializing a great franchise always end in disaster for two obvious reasons: a)-the loyalists and bed-rock supporters are outraged enough to go over the hill and never come back, and b)-the “great semi-washed” being pandered to come to resent the patronizing tone and leave in disgust at a race to the bottom. Who would go to Tiffany if it sold rhinestones or Steinway and Sons if its market were electronic pianos? Unthinkable. These are sterling franchises to be protected at all hazards. WQXR should be the same. A member of WNYC’s Community Advisory Board told me last month that if WQXR proves too much of a headache, management might consider “flipping” the station to another non-classical buyer at a handsome profit and wash its hands of it. This would be utterly scandalous, but perfectly legal, unless the FCC were to step in and block such a sale as contrary to the public interest. Under the circumstances, management has little incentive to respond to complaints.

  26. Tom’s avatar

    Lewis, WQXR is dead aleady. If WNYC decides to flip it — it is a commercial license, after all — would any listeners be left to notice?

    As for handsome profit, who would want the license? Univision couldn’t wait to be rid of it. I suppose someone could use 105.9 for Chinese or Russian language programming. New York could really use a full-time Russian FM station.

    Can a station die twice?

    It happened before with classical radio in New York, with WNCN. Killed off, revived, then killed off again for good.

    If WQXR is likewise killed again, it could be a good ting. Because then maybe some New York City arts organizations will band together to start an all-classical Internet station. Also, the much despised WNYC would reap tons of well-deserved bad publicity.

    As they used to say in 1950s horror movies: this monster must die!

    Merry Christmas from Uncle Scrooge!

  27. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Okay, I’m listening now to WQXR in the Bronx, on the Bruckner Expressway, in stalled traffic, where I can look down, right now, at the butt-ugly empty lot that was once the site of the home where my grandmother grew up, at 173 East 142nd Street. I’m on a bus bound for boston with a window seat, typing in the dark. The signal is solid and in stereo , and not much different than the rest of the signals from the same antenna on the Empire State Building — a big contrast from its oblitertion in midtown, where the stronger signals overwhelmed it on the portable radio I’m using (and which, typically of radios of this type, has no resisance to “blanketing” of sweak signals by srong ones). The sound got much better as the bus went north alongside Central Park, then quite clear in Harlem. Been that way since. We’ll see how far it goes. Still in the Bronx.

    Meanwhile, Tom, what makes you think WQXR is dead? And what makes you think WNYC is “much-despised” (except by unhappy classical listeners on this thread)? It’s one of the most productive and successful public radio stations in the country, still. True, WQXR is on a crappy signal, and it’s scaled back in other ways from what the NYTimes did with the station. But hey, it’s alive, on the air and on the Net. Under the Times a scaling back was going to happen anyway, Or an outright sale to somebody.. As for the Internet, there are dozens of excellent classical stations. One of them could be WQXR, and prehaps already is. I’ve heard nothing to dislike yet.In fact I’m enjoying it right now.

    Lewis, just a quick note to say that the audio system I heard WQXR on last night is a high-end audiophile one For whatever that’s worth. And my one-word description — “pretty” — refered to clarity at the high end. But I was not listening critically, and not on headphones.

    Passing Mamaroneck on I-95. Still sounds okay. Same as the others, anyway.

    Now passing through Rye and heading into Port Chester. The signal is fine, but is now mixing with another station, which I assume is WHCN from Hartford. Confirms my belief that the problem in this neck of the woods is less a weak signal by QXR than interference from Hartford. Unavoidable, alas. I should add that, at least on my portable radio, all the New York stations are starting to sound like crap. A good car radio would probably have all of them sounding fine, Except for QXR, which would play pop-in-and-out with WHCN.

    And now we’re in Greenwich, CT. All the NYC stations are starting to sound bad, WQXR among them. The surprising thing is that they actually sound pretty good when WHCN doesn’t pop in. Clearly they’re the stronger of the two, which surprises me a bit. But then, WHCN has a directional signal, with a dent in this direction.

    And now we’re in Darien, and QXR is still there. So is WHCN, but WQXR is the stronger of the two. Amost listenable. Surprising. Checking around.. WLTE is there, but barely. WNYC-FM is sounding good. WCBS is okay. WBAI, which has a weaker-than-others signal, is bad… worse than QXR. 97.1 is strong. So is 96.3, QXR’s old transmitter. But all are less than ideal.

    Now we’re coming into Norwalk, and QXR and HCN are splattering each other. About the end of the line for this exercise.

    Bottom line, it’s about what I expected. Worse in midtown, better on the perimeter, but still a second-class signal.

    And now, approaching New Haven, I’m listening to WQXR’s live 32kb AAC stream. Not bad, considering. I listened on and off to its 128kb .mp3 stream and its 128kb Windows Media stream (all over Wunderadio on the iPhone). The bit rate on both the latter is too high to sustain on 3g.

    And now I’m sampling WFMT from Chicago, both 48kb Quicktime and 128kb AAC. The former is not good for classical. the latter is okay. I can still hear the compression, though.

    And now WCPE from North Carolina, which has a pile of streams of various bitwidths…

  28. Tom’s avatar

    Gee, Doc, you could have stopped off at my place in Connecticut and heard WQXR. You’ve got it right as far as reception goes. On the coast — along I95 — reception gets dicey after Stamford and WHCN starts nipping at its heels in
    Darien. Just north, sustainable reception stops before the Merritt Parkway. In Greenwhich, for instance, WQXR comes in without interference in the southern part of town. Drive into back country Greenwhich and once again WHCN nips at its heels. Strong station, that — broadcasts from a mountain in Meriden about 22 miles SOUTH of Hartford.

    Welcome back home after your trip.

    It must be nice receiving WCRB in the car. I find the programming infintely better than WQXR’s. I can say the same about WCLV, WFMT, and KUSC. At 128 kbps the compression is obvious, as you say. But for casual office listening it’s fine. I am very pleased with what WGBH has done with WCRB so far — including restoring the Internet stream.

  29. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Tom, I think QXR and other NYC stations do well along the CT shore because there’s still line-of-sight to the ESB, and there’s always a bit of advantage to stations traveling across a relatively flat earth.

    As for comparing classical stations, I listen to so many of them, with so little loyalty (hate to say) that I don’t have a critical orientation toward any of them.

    The main advantage with the new WCRB is that the advertising load is gone. There are still promotions, but not the endless annoying cavalcade of ads that the commercial version of the station had.

    Gotta say that I was spoiled by years of living in North Carolina and California. Some stations there go for hundreds of miles. If you superimposed the coverage area of KNBR/680am in San Francisco on the east coast, it would stretch from DC to Boston. And if you took one of the biggest NC FMs (100kw at 2000 feet) and put it in NYC, you’d get it well from Philly to Hartford. (Preventing the 50kw AM giants in the East from having more coverage is awful ground conductivity. Long Island and most of New England are really bad: 0.5-4Mhos/m compared to 15-30Mhos/m in California.)

    But the FCC decided early that FM was essentially a medium for covering popultions, not territories, so all the heavily-populated places were limited to 50kw at 500 feet. There are a few grandfathers, such as KQED in San Francisco and WFMT in Chicago. But none in New York. And lots of short-spaced examples, such as WQXR/WHCN.

  30. Tom’s avatar

    You raise an interesting point about AM stations and ground connectivity. It’s why so many AM stations, including in the Notheast, are located on islands (WBSM New Bedford comes to mind) or in swamps (WSAR Fall River). WCBS 880 AM is on a spit of land in the Bronx, near City Island. Many other New York City stations are in the Meadowlands, just off the New Jersey turnpike. Half underwater. You don’t put an AM radio transmitter atop the Empire State Building. You couldn’t properly ground the thing.

    Fall River, New Bedford, Cape Code and the islands were phenomenal places for AM radio reception. Almost all NYC AM stations came in during the day, including 5,000 watt WMCA. It was the water that did it. And still does.

    I remember reading that WSM Nashville had (and may still have) such great coverage because the transmitter was drilled almost deep as the tower went high. Hats off to radio engineers of the 1930s.

    As for FM stations, some of them stretched pretty far in the Northeast before the dial got so crowded. In central Connecticut, for instance, I received WGBH, Boston, WFCR, Amherst, WAMC Albany, and WHYY Philadelphia. Maybe they were all grandfathered. Of course, I had a roof antenna, a rotor, and a state of the art FM tuner Happier days for AM and FM listening.

    The programming on WCRB is awfully good. It’s like Santa delivered an unexpected present after the demise of you-know-what. Try CRB more often, Doc. Your loyalty might grow.

  31. Lewis Shrady’s avatar

    Here’s an idea. Since so many outraged WQXR loyalists have turned to webstreams from out-of-town classical outlets, why not lean on cable services to provide wide FM service? If, for instance Verizon FiOS provides Iranian state TV in Farsi amongst its 630 TV channels, why not a little more bandwidth for FM? (Thirty FM channels have the same spectrum space as one analog TV channel.) A modified cable box translating 30 FM frequencies per cable channel could do this easily. (WQXR could even get its beloved old 96.3 MHz slot back again on cable!) There could be one package for rock, another for classical, etc., etc. Then no need to tie up CPU and RAM on webstream.

    Admittedly, some might not notice the exaggerated bass boost on WQXR’s FM feed without a good deal of critical listening. I do know what WQXR sounded like not only three months ago before the changeover, but 10 years ago, 40 years ago, even 60 years ago on 1560 AM. I wonder if possibly the previous Univision owners doctored the main FM feed for their particular programming, and WNYC’s engineers either never noticed or did nothing about it?

    The wholesale dismissal of WQXR’s off-air staff has destroyed most of the station’s institutional memory. Consider, if you can, if Harvard College were to fire nearly all its tenured faculty and that henceforth most instruction would be by first-year grad students. The effect on undergrads, the college, and alumni can readily be imagined. Consider us bloggers to be “WQXR alumni” and many of us are equally incensed. Its management was very successful in weaning WNYC from city ownership, but this highly complex maneuver was way beyond its capabilities. In aerospace, I saw many bright engineers who became terrible managers in over their heads. I submit that is exactly what has happened here.

  32. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Lewis, you should contact your local cable company (or companies) to see if they’ll add WQXR, or whatever else you’d like. I know that many cable companies have stopped carrying FM stations; but maybe that could be reversed in your case. As for FiOS, good luck. Bandwidth isn’t the issue there. it’s what Verizon feels like doing. We have FiOS here and it’s great for Internet (we have 20Mb symmetrical service), but we dropped TV a while back, along with the set top box, which had a terrible UI and a number of interfaces (e.g. USB) turned off. I’m guessing that Verizon would say “Hey, we have two classical audio channels you can look at.” But, I dunno. For what it’s worth, FiOS, with its high bandwidth, makes listening to high quality streams from online stations pretty easy.

    As for the Harvard comparison, I understand. The difference is that the demographics and economics of education are quite a bit different than those of commercial FM radio. At this point in its long history, classical music is tanking in the commercial radio marketplace. It’s a shrinking niche. Today the value of an FM signal is much higher to its owner if the signal is carrying forms of programming more popular than classical (and with younger demographics). This is why there are no longer any commercial classical stations in New York — or dozens of other cities that used to have them. I don’t like it either, but that’s life.

    I won’t defend whatever WNYC has done with WQXR’s people and programming since the purchase (I don’t have time to follow it), but I do stand by my original assessment of the situation: that this is the best deal the listeners are going to get, and it’s a lot better than nothing.

    WQXR is now a public station, which makes it a lot more accountable than a commercial one. Have you tried engaging the people there? Does WQXR have an ongoing forum to deal with this stuff? If not, it should. I see the air talent’s blogs, but noting more. But maybe I’m missing it.

  33. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Tom, I’ve been listening a fair amount to CRB, which is especially nice now during the holidays. (Boston Pops right now.)

    Sea water is an amazing ground for AM waves. The funny thing about the Cape and islands is that the ground is poor, but the surrounding sea is perfect for AM reception.

    WMCA was my favorite top 40 station when I was growing up in New Jersey. WNYC-AM now shares its 3-tower rig in the Meadowlands, beside the Turnpike. I’m told you can get MCA and WINS in Bermuda by day. The old WINS signal was a headlight across the middle of inner boroughs and out to sea. The new one is a bit more spread out.

    WCBS shares the same tower with WFAN, formerly WNBC. My old ’66 Volvo had a Becker radio that could get WNBC all the way to North Carolina in the middle of the day. WABC nearly as far. If you’e ever at Cape Hatteras, you can get pretty much all the New York stations (including WMCA) and WBZ from Boston, plus WQAM and WIOD from Miami, all across open sea water.

    The only AM radio I listen to these days is whatever is carrying Boston sports. Even some of those (e.g. Patriots) are on FM now.

  34. Tom’s avatar

    I’ll try to explain why others might share my animosity towards WNYC.

    On October 8, 2009, there were TWO disasters for classical music listeners in the New York metro area. WNYC was key to making both happen.

    In an instant — at precisely 8 pm in the case of WQXR — classical music left the airwaves at TWO of New York City’s strongest FM signals — 96.3 AND 93.9. It was a win-win situation. WNYC got rid of classical music on 93.9. And The New York Times got rid of WQXR — something they couldn’t have done without widespread public opproprium until the survival of the newspaper itself (as an independent entity) came under seige.

    The more paranoid among us — especially those of us with friends in New York radio — suspect that both parties (WNYC and The New York Times) were just waiting for the right moment to kill off classical on 96.3 AND 93.9.

    I think Lewis is right on with his suspicious about the WQXR signal on 105.9 — specifically the matter of the bass boost. Did Univision boost the bass in order to make a weak station sound more powerful, to give it more thump-thump, as it were? It is plausible. It is known that WNYC acquired not only the frequency (105.) but also the transmitting equipment from Univision. Did WNYC’s engineers notice the poor sound quality? Did management care?

    I can understand Doc’s point of view,but I do believe that WQXR is better off dead than as part of WNYC, just as I believe that WCRB is way better off as a public radio station. It’s a matter of the custodian — WGBH being a better custodian than WNYC. Besides, WCRB was diminished (license moved to Lowell) three years BEFORE WGBH bought it. WGBH was not party to diminishing WCRB; WNYC was an active party in the diminishment of WQXR. Reason to despise WNYC? As for The New York Times, I won’t even touch a copy, let alone buy one. There is real ANGER here, and it’s not going to appear on any listener forum controlled by WNYC.

    By the way, the City of New York still owns an FM station. It’s WNYE. When WNYC FM lost its transmitter in the World Trade Center attacks, the city allowed WNYC FM to broadcast on WNYE 91.5, using that station’s transmitter in Brooklyn. The City has never known quite what to do with this station — owned by the Board of Education — whose signal is not so bad — better than 105.9 in Southwest Connecticut for sure.

    Classical 91.5 anyone?

  35. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Tom, wasn’t classical already all but totally phased off 93.9 by the time the WQXR switch happened? Just a question. I don’t know.

    As to bass boost, I’ll take Lewis’ word as an expert. As an old low-level broadcast almost-engineer and transmitter maintainer, I know that all FM audio has been problematic for engineers for the duration. The need to reconcile pre-emphasis curves, dynamic range and other factors (including signal strength and typical listening conditions) require art as well as science.

    It could be that WQXR audio went out at first over WCAA settings (optimized, no doubt, for popular — in this case Spanish — music and the need to maximize volume and minimize dynamic range, given the weak signal) and not whatever WQXR’s settings had been on 96.3. But I dunno. I would be very surprised if WNYC/WQXR engineers are anything much different than classical FM engineers do everywhere else in the U.S. Still, I could be wrong.

    As for WNYE, moving classical music there is a political impossibility. It’s a collection of many programs, of which more than a few are no doubt politically strong (within the station’s administration as well as the city government — not to mention their communities). I remember back in the early 90s, when KPFA cut back the huge number of different programs they had been running up to that time, and the outrage was enormous. The station, which had terrible numbers in the ratings, was (and still is) very connected to many communities. Around the time this was happening, I was a guest (with two others, including Brad Kava) on a show covering local radio, and every call-in was from an irate KPFA listener. I doubt the city or WNYE’s management would welcome that.

    As for WNYE’s signal, it’s 2kw on the master antenna atop the Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square. That’s a lot better than it was with 20kw on a short mast atop Brooklyn Tech, where it lived for many decades before the move. Its height above average terrain is 281 meters, or 921 feet. WQXR’s is .61kw atop the Empire State Building, with a height above average terrain of 416 meters, or 1365 feet. As a class B1 station (max of 25kw at 100 meters or 328 feet), WQXR could be 3.2kw coming off the same antenna as WNYE at 4 Times Square. (Do your lookups here and your calculations here.) In other words, in terms of equivalencies, WQXR is a stronger station than WNYE. And that would be evident if they radiated from the same antenna at the full power allowed.

    By the way, even though WNYE is also a class B1, it operates at less than the maximum allowed for that class because it’s in the noncommercial “educational” band, where coverage is limited by interference calculations rather than by an old table of assignments and minimum spacing requirements, which obtain on the commercial band (and by the terms of which WHCN and WQXR are “shortspaced”). No doubt when WNYE moved north to 4 Times Square it dropped power to avoid short-spacing, but rationalized the move by gaining height and a more central transmitter location. I can tell you that the old signal was actually quite bad outside Brooklyn and Queens. And where I grew up in New Jersey the signal was highly obstructed by the Manhattan skyline.

    Still, this brings up a great suggestion — one I would heartily endorse: moving WQXR down from the Empire State Building to 4 Times Square. There would be some shadowing from the ESB and other skyscrapers, but the signal would have much more punch in its local coverage area. It would be in a much better position versus the 6kw stations on the ESB master antenna.

    In fact I would be very surprised if the WNYC/WQXR engineers aren’t looking into this already. There is already a 1kw auxilliary antenna for WQXR at 4 Times Square, where the master antenna serves as a primary one for WNYE and an auxiliary one for many stations whose mains are on the ESB. WQXR has a second auxilliary antenna on the Chanin Building, roughly across from the Chrysler on East 43rd Street. Here is a picture I shot of it in 2003. What you see there is a two-bay for 96.3, plus the original 6-bay cloverleaf antenna system for 96.3. That one dates from the late 40s or early 50s, I’d guess. It’s horizontally polarized. Very retro. If I were WNYC/QXR. I’d drop this one unless the cost is close to nothing. (Could be that’s grandfathered too.)

    In any case, moving the main transmitter to 4 Times Square is the best alternative, I would think.

    Last but not least, I would like to see some folks from WNYC/WQXR weigh in here, or pick this thread up in a less obscure location on the Web.

  36. Tom’s avatar

    Merry Christmas, Doc. No, classical was not all but phased out on 93.9 before the BIG DEAL — in which everyone (WNYC, The New York Times, especially Univision) got what each wanted … except classical music listeners. And who cares about us? We are too old anyway…

    I am joking, sort of. I don’t recall how many hours of classical there were on WNYC FM at the end. There was Jazz from Lincoln Center, some other programs. But basically, classical was from 8 pm until around 5 am. It used to run 24 hours a day. WQXR was NOT classical 24/7. The cheapskates signed off between 1 am and 6 am. WNCN was classical 24/7 and home to two of the greatest all-night classical hosts: Listening with (Bill) Watson and (Harry) Fleetwood. Six and a half feet tall. Fluent in French. For a time you had Fleetwood on 104.3 and Nimet Habashy with her Cairo-inflected English on WQXR. Whaddya got now?

    Two other observations:

    I doubt that WNYC would allow free discussion. Freedom of the press is guaranteed to the person who owns one. I think A.J. Leibling said that.

    You have done a tremendous service by keeping this blog thread open, and responding to posts. This blog entry is not obscure at all. I know of no other place online where WQXR can be discussed free of WNYC control. Do you?

    And when you Google WQXR, guess who still comes up on the first or second page? Doc Searls. Thank you, Doc, for allowing others and me to vent and not closing down this thread.

    I still think Classical 91.5 is a great idea. As is your idea to move WQXR to the Conde Nast building. This probably would not solve the problem of reception in Southwestern Connecticut (where we have WSHU) or Northern Weschester (where they got nottin). But it might address the issue of crappy WQXR reception while driving around the boroughs. By the way, Doc, I believe the only “inner” borough is Manhattan. Of course, that’s the WNYC mindset. I get crappy car radio reception on WQXR driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in sight of the ESB. On Ocean Parkway, where my mother-in-law lives, forgeddabout it.

    I wonder how Myron and his friend are doing in Garden City. And a Merry Christms to Sean and Lewis.

    Actually, I think 105.9 should be moved to Newark and operated as a 24/7 jazz station. I say that as a jazz buff, too. Mayor Booker, care to weigh in?

  37. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Tom. Merry Christmas to you too.

    Not much time this round. And agreed about the likelihood of no difference on the Condé Nast building in the Connecticut direction. But I do think it would be a big improvement within the city, where a big part of the problem is the power discrepancy. Big signals overwhelm the little ones on radios that can’t handle overload. Raising QXR from 610 watts to 3200 would go a long way to reducing that problem. And the lower radiation altitude wouldn’t make much difference.

    I’m curious now how WNYE does. Because what one would get from WQXR on the same antenna is a slight improvement on that. I’ll be there tomorrow and the next day, so I’ll check it out.

  38. Richard Mitnick’s avatar

    Geez-

    I just discovered this discussion. I have an alert set for WQXR and today you guys popped up.

    I have read through all of the two pages of comments. I wish some of you had been commenting on the ‘blogs’ at WQXR. The tone is civil – which is not true of a lot of what has been posted at WQXR. The arguments are for the most part cogent and valid.

    I certainly agree with Doc that we are better off with the WNYC ownership that with no WQXR. I have not been a WQXR listener. I am a WNYC music fanatic. So, these days, I listen a lot to Q2, the successor to WNYC2, the 24/7/365 eclectic music stream. But I have been monitoring 105.9 on FM and the computer waiting to hear the on-air hosts pitch the nice new 128kbit stream for 105.9. I was told that it will happen. Why it is taking so long i cannot fathom.

    If any of you have read my comments at “Whither Public Radio and serious music, http://richardmitnick.wordpress.com , you know that I see the future of Classical music, and Jazz also, to be on the internet. I do not believe that terrestrial radio will die, but all of the dynamism is in the web streams. And, there are so many to choose from, check Shoutcast for lists of the terrestrial PubRadio outlet web streams; look at AccuRadio. A good paid service for Classical music is Live365.

    But, I still try to hope for a successful WQXR under the management of WNYC. As Doc said, WNYC is a top drawer organization. The new music director is extremely bright and able.

    There have been many adhominem attacks on a couple of WNYC on-air hosts, and some just plain pure vitriole. I think that the attacks are not serving any purpose. I think that the WNYC on-air people are very knowledgeable and doing a great job, in spite of some weaknesses.

    Thanks, Doc, for providing this very valuable venue for these discussions.

  39. Tom’s avatar

    It’s 10:05 am on Monday morning, Dec. 28. WCRB has just started playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The other morning, at about the same time, they played Mahler’s Third. Not just bits and scraps of music — overtures, single movements, etc. — but serious longer works — symphonies and concertos — complete — during the day. The programming — WCRB vs. WQXR –is day and night.

    So are the Internet streams. WCRB was available the morning of Day One of WGBH ownership at 128 kbps. I choose between iTunes or Real Player. Under the old WCRB ownership, when there was Internet streaming, it was patchy (hard to receive), rinky-dink and miserable sounding — a little like what WNYC provides for WQXR now. What’s the excuse? They had months to prepare.

    WCRB brought back Ray Brown in the afternoon. WNYC let Annie Bergen go as a full-timer. From Day One, WGBH has worked to restore WCRB, expand its listenership and build good will.

    WCRB broadcasting from the Great Blue Hills on WGBH HD-2 has remarkable reach for HD. With a little antenna fussing, some people can receive it in Fall River, New Bedford and Providence. I have to agree with Doc about HD Radio in general. A 128 kbps Internet stream sounds just as good and the signal is often more stable. No surprise. HD FM is 128 kbps. Maximum. Correct me if I am wrong, Doc.

    As for ad hominem attacks, I can’t speak for other posters. I bear no personal animus — which I take as the touchstone of whether a comment is an attack or not … or, let’s have it out, biased. I would not welcome someone who mangles the names of jazz musicians — or gets his or her jazz history wrong as a presenter of that genre, either. This is why KCSM is my favorite jazz station: great programming and knowledgeable hosts.

    As for WNYC doing a great job — yes, they have done a great job of taking classical music off 93.9 and 96.3 and marginalizing it on 105.9. Low power, poor sound quality, no 128 kbs Internet stream, bits and scraps of classical music, no Annie Bergen except on weekends …let’s see, is there anything else?

    Oh, yea, they have taken almost ALL music off 93.9 in favor of incessant talk. Chew on that, WNYC buffs.

    Happy New Year.

  40. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Tom. You’re clearly listening to these stations a lot more carefully than I am. Does QXR not play whole symphonies? CRB used to do that and it drove me nuts. I think they did it so they could insert the maximum number of commercials. No longer required.

    Two small additional notes.

    One is that 96kbps AAC is (engineers tell me) higher fidelity than 128kbps MP3. In any case, WQXR and WCRB should offer multiple streams.

    The other is that WNYC/WQXR listeners are the ones with the leverage, and should exert it with money. “Hey, WQXR. Sign me up for $100 if you play whole symponies and offer true hi-fi on your Internet stream.” Specifics are required. Not “stop being lame” or “stop being typical.” In fact, I suggest that a listener association form, and propose a very small number of specific actions.

    Happy New Year to you too (form the slopes in Zermatt).

  41. Tom’s avatar

    Zermatt, eh? I’ll spend New Years with the Russian relatives in Brooklyn. Not that I’ll have much time for WQXR.

    I don’t want to make too much of this good guy/bad guy stuff but WCRB is great. It’s 11am on Tuesday mornng. They just played the Byron Janis/Antal Dorati 1960 recording of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. How do they know which recording to play? They know, just like they as they did when they played Leinsdorf’s Mahler 3 the other day and Szell’s Beethoven Ninth. Both in the morning, without underwriting from an undertaker.

    They also get what classical radio is largely about: companionship. I miss Annie Bergen. And Lloyd Moss and Nimet, too — retired, like me. Ray Brown in the afternoon on WCRB helps make up for the loss. Could WQXR rehire Annie Bergen and maybe put Steve Sullivan back on the air? If they don’t know how to reach him, I do. Could WQXR hire David Dubal and restore WNCN, too? Or bring back Mario Mazza from Mobile, Alabama?

    Could WGBH/WCRB?

    I’m beginning to think that WGBH may fill in WCRB from the south — Taunton, Attleboro, Fall River, something like that. There have to be distressed stations or vacant licenses.

    Could WCRB hire Annie Bergen? As a native of Massachusetts, I am sure she would love Boston. It IS the hub of the universe, after all. You’ve lived elsewhere. Right, Doc? Symphony. Fenway Park. Brigham’s ice cream. Peretti’s tobacco shop. Paradise. WCRB, too.

  42. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, I grew up in New Jersey and New York. Back then, the City was the center of the universe for me. Then I moved to North Carolina, got into tech, and realized that for tech Silicon Valley was the center of universe. Then after a couple decades we moved to Santa Barbara. After a few years there, I got the fellowship at Berkman, and we’ve been temporarily in Boston ever since.

    As David Weinberger told me before we moved there, Boston is the most intellectually stimulating place on Earth. And it’s true. We love it there.

    I’m sure Public Radio Capital is all over the WCRB coverage issue. Same with WQXR, too. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have real RDS here in the U.S. With RDS you tune in a station, not a frequency. When a station has multiple transmitters, it picks the best one. Standard in Europe. Not implemented in the U.S.

    The Annie Bergen idea is a good one. Next time I see some GBH/CRB folk, I’ll bring it up.

  43. Richard Mitnick’s avatar

    I just took a look at the line-up in the schedule at WGBH’s Classical music service, to which I got by entering wcrb.com in the address bar.

    Funny thing is, Lynn Warfel, Gillian Martin, Scott Blankenship, Valerie Kahler, Bob Christiansen, Ward Jacobson, and Mindy Ratner, come up in a search as Minnesota Public Radio personnel.

    Only Laura Carlo, Cathy Fuller and Ray Brown, come up as Boston people.

    So it’s Minnesota Public Radio (Classical 24?) 7, Boston 3.

    Mindy Ratner shows up in MPR as a weekend host. So, is all of this stuff “canned” on a hard drive like the old and not missed Classical Public Radio Network from KUSC and Colorado Public Radio? I think I will listen for a while to see if there is a time given, any local to Boston comments, whatever.

  44. Tom’s avatar

    You appear to be right, Mr. Mitnick. It does seem like WCRB is “staffed,” at least on weekends, by people from Minnesota Public Radio. Remember Jack FM — WCBS FM 101.1? Jack’s name was Howard and he recorded his snarky comments in Toronto. Almost all of my WCRB listening has been on weekdays when the announcers appear to be “live” and local. Good detective work!

  45. Richard Mitnick’s avatar

    Hey Tom-

    First of all, it is Richard.

    If you go to the WGBH site and look at the weekly schedule, you will see the names in Yellow, weekdays 6:00PM-4:30 AM, and weekends most of the blocs of time. All of those people in the yellow are MPR people. So, like, it is not being hidden, but it is not made plain.

    I caught on to this when I was a member of KUSC, Los Angeles (even though I live in New Jersey). I wanted direct email access to the on-air personnel and could not get it. So I searched up the names and discovered that they were Classical Public Radio Network people. Even though this was owned in large part by KUSC, these people at least left the impression that they were not live on the air.. I found them to be listed on stations from Alabama to Alaska. They never gave the exact time, just “x minutes before the hour” What hour? Flipping between stations all over the country, the same programming was on at the same time.

    What this resulted in was dumbing down the music to the lowest common denominator. That is my objection to the Classical 24 type of thing.

    I am an old WNYC fanatic. So, now I am a Q2 listener. But I am also a WQXR cheerleader because I want the station to succeed. This thing is only a couple of months old. I suspect that what we have in a year will sound very different.

    I think that WGBH has protected themselves from some of the vitriol we have had at WQXR by not having comment pages on their site. But, I criticize them for not making such pages available so that what is going on can be discussed back and forth by the listeners.

    Stay hungry, my friend.

  46. Richard Mitnick’s avatar

    You know, if one is willing to listen to Classical music, Jazz, or any other form of music on the computer, then there really is no need to worry about any terrestrial radio. I want terrestrial radio to stick around, but…

    When WNYC dumped day time music on FM, we all were forced out on our own and left to our own devices. I found my way to http://www.publicradiofan.com, a fabulous resource.

    I wound up joining KUSC, WCNY, Syracuse, NY, and WCPE, Winston-Salem, NC. Their programming was not dissimilar to what had been on WNYC prior to the shift. But for someone schooled by Tim Post’s “New, Old and Unexpected” and John Schaefer’s “New Sounds”, both on WNYC, this fare was pretty timid.

    One very respected Classical music critic called it “musical wallpaper”.

    I also found my way to the paid service http://www.live365.com and its niche streamers. I enjoyed and still stream New Music streams: Kyle Gann’s “PostClassical”; American Music Center’s “Counterstream”; American Composers Forum’s five Innova.mu streams; and Iridian. All of these stream music you will never hear at WGBH, KUSC, WCPE or WCNY. But, at least some of it, you will hear on Q2 from WQXR.

    And, of course, there is the free service Shoutcast, a unit of AOL which is an aggregator of all sorts of terrestrial and internet only streams.

    One last source, now Public Radio, in Princeton, NJ, WPRB ( http://www.wprb.com ), remains below everybody’s radar. Great Classical music week days 6:00AM-11:00AM with great people, some from the university; and Jazz, great Jazz, weekdays generally 11:00AM-1:00PM and a bit on Sunday mornings. The stellar experience at WPRB is on Wednesdays, Marvin Rosen’s two shows, “Classical Discoveries” early in the day and “Classical Discoveries Goes Avantgarde 11:00AM-1:00PM .

    I guess I spend way too much time with this stuff.

  47. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Richard,

    Quick one… MPR does provide a great deal of programming and management help to stations that need it. I don’t know the details, but I believe they were the ones who got KPCC on its feet in Los Angeles, providing that metro with its first 24-hour all-info public radio station. (KCRW is at least as much a music as an information station.)

    While I don’t know exactly what roles MPR plays in WCRB (or any station), I am sure it’s probably a Good Thing. For now, at least.

    It’s still early for both WCRB and WQXR. We’ll see how it goes.

  48. Richard Mitnick’s avatar

    Doc-

    You are correct about MPR, via their American Public Media arm (succeeded Public Radio International, also mostly really MPR, with a few others thrown in a bit) purchasing KPCC and propping it up. When I visit my daughter in L.A., if I am listening to terrestrial radio, it is very often KPCC.

    The thing about the music, MPR cans and distributed “Classical 24” This is music for rent, basically on a hard drive, I think the intros are out of a book, I think they do what is called “tips and tails” (George Preston taught me that expression) where they record the intros and the verbiage at the end of a piece, and then those tips and tails are merged with the music.

    It is what is called “plausibly live” (I read “Current” and get PRPD’s RSS feeds). The result is musical pablum aimed at the lowest common denominator. A lot of stations subscribe to “Classical 24”. But, just listen for a time check, or weather, or local calendar of live events.

    WNYC and WQXR are constantly giving these things. WBGO and WPRB both present local Jazz calendars, and WPRB also presents a local Classical music calendar.

    You are certainly correct, this stuff is way too new for anyone to jump to conclusions. And, I have made it very clear at WQXR that while I am out here supporting them on sites like yours, and being a cheerleader, it is not because I enjoy their traditional Classical music. I am a Q2 listener, I want to hear Glass and Reich, Terry Riley and David Lang, David del Tredici, the Bang On a Can All-stars, Ethel, David Diamond, etc. But I want WQXR to succeed on FM, and on the internet with the 105.9 feed, along with Q2.

    And, you, my good sir, have provided a terrific venue for this discussion. For this, I thank you.

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