Edward Rosten and I have been having an interesting dialog in the comment section of my last post, which was mostly about WNYC buying WQXR from the New York Times (which has owned it forever) for $11.5 million — and moving QXR’s classical programming up New York’s FM dial from 96.3 to 105.9, where the maximum transmission wattage is far less than allowed on the old frequency.
There has been much hand-wringing and prognosticating over the whole thing. What Would You Do With the New WQXR? is a post on the NYTimes site that is followed by a great many comments. Says Edward, “Post #58, I can assure you, is representative of ‘input’ from people who’ve given ANY thought to how the proposed changes will play out. (‘Power to the people’ has yielded to ‘power to the 24/7 classical music station, whatever its name!’)”
So here’s a summary of my own thinking about why this was a good move by WNYC.
- $11.5 million is a bargain for any FM signal radiating from the center of Manhattan, even in these depressed economic times.
- There will be a 24/7 classical station in New York called WQXR. It will continue to play much, if not most, of the music its current audience likes. It will also employ some of the same people and air some of the same programs. Doing even a subset of this is to buck the tide that is drowning classical stations everywhere in the U.S.
- The signal on 105.9 will pack less punch than the old one on 96.3. The new one is 610 watts while the old one was 6000 watts, from the same antenna on the Empire State Building. The difference, however, is smaller than the wattage would indicate. On FM, height matters more than wattage, and those are the same. And signal strength increases as the square root of the wattage. This means that the new signal will be about a third the power of the old one, rather than one tenth. Either way, it’s still plenty of signal for the boroughs, southern Westchester, Jersey counties bordering the Hudson, and Nassau County. Not bad, considering.
- WQXR will now be a noncommercial station owned by the top public station in the top metro market in the country. There are many upsides here that are not available to commercial stations — least of all one owned by a struggling newspaper. These include…
- No commercials, beyond the usual noncommercial radio pitches for listener support. For an example of an alternative outcome — having a legacy station and its call letters shunted to a secondary signal while remaining commercial — check out WCRB, Boston’s equivalent of WQXR. The Wikipedia entrty provides copious (and depressing) background. What they don’t say is that WCRB plays lots of commercials, in spite of a commercial free sections of its schedule. (I’d suggest checking out WCRB’s live stream, but they’ve discontinued it.)
- The opportunity for listeners to support the station directly, and involve themselves in the station’s missions. In the past one could support WQXR only by buying a car or a mattress from an advertiser. Now you can put some money where your ears are.
- WQXR can use translators to enlarge its signal, and bring it to places outside its local coverage area. Translators are low power stations radiating the same audio on a different channel from the original signal. WQXR currently has translators on 96.7 in Asbury Park and 103.7 in Poughkeepsie. Now here’s the cool deal: While commercial stations can only use translators to fill in holes in their home coverage areas, noncommercial stations can put translators anywhere they please. Of course, these have to be on unoccupied channels, and most channels are occupied in most places. There are two ways WNYC can go here. One is to buy up, swap or otherwise deal for existing translators. (There is lots of horse-trading going on in any case between public broadcasters and religious ones. The latter have been much more resourceful about maximizing coverage and spreading translators everywhere.) The other is to find open spots where translators can be wedged in. Anywhere in the country.
- The Internet is a wide-open frontier. I listen to WNYC’s classical stream (also carried on the air over the station’s HD service on FM) here in Santa Barbara. I also listen to many other stations (including a dozen or more classical ones) here as well. I use either my iPhone or our home Sonos system. Those are my radios, and they sound fine. There are no limits to the number of Internet channels WNYC/WQXR can choose to put out there. For models of station/stream proliferation (and brand extension) see what KCRW and Minnesota Public Radio do. This multi-million-dollar move by WNYC serves notice that it plans to be one of the country’s public super-stations.
I could go on, but you get the point. The opportunities for WQXR as a WNYC property are far wider than the New York Times would dream of contemplating. I advise loyal listeners of both stations to get behind the effort with cash and helpful input, rather than complaints about signal differences and what WNYC might do with WQXR. Hey, WQXR will be a public station soon. That should give you more influence than ever before.
Tags: hd, HD Radio, KCRW, Minnesota Public Radio, MPR, WNYC, WQXR
I grew up in the early 50’s in Manhassett, LI, listening to my father listening to WQXR, which opened each morning at 6, incomprehensibly, playing “Sleigh Ride” by Andre Kostelanetz, 365 days a year.
The new WQXR has an opportunity to reprise each afternoon’s suave, chatty descriptions of New York’s restaurants and watering holes. Rather than those diffident, but paid, messages so attractive in the 1950s, they could be similar in tone, derived from Zagats, blogs, etc.
Cities are cultural and commercial centers, deriving their texture from pleasing commercial efforts and accidental cultural delights. Noncommercial radio need not ignore what happy patrons are saying about the best commercial services.
Well, I hate to be the “ants” at the picnic, but boy I, never thought that “Doc” was likely to sport rose-colored glasses – certainly not on his very fine blog!
Here’s my “rebuttal,” and then I really will (try to) hold my piece – if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that “time will tell.”
1) $11.5 million is a bargain for any FM signal radiating from the center of Manhattan, even in these depressed economic times.
> Golly, I’d like some “evidence.” More importantly, “comparables” are ideal (maybe, are only really useful in those instances) when key variables match up. [Year ago prices must be deemed suspect for at least TWO reasons!] The fact that (and here I am *INDEBTED* to Doc) we are arguably very close to a paradigm shift – one where broadcast radio is a “5th wheel” makes me wonder WHAT ON EARTH NYC’s share of the $45 million purchase price got it. Again, I compare it to “walkmen” – even one in its original box TODAY only has value as a collectible.
2) [I’ll not copy/paste further] – I am not a lawyer [methinks, Doc is] but this is the kind of thing Perry M. would have risen to cry out “calls for speculation.”
Yes, we’re all doing some of that, but *I AM IN NYC* and Doc is not; I listen to WNYC entirely too much, but EVERYBODY agrees that WQXR and WNYC have diverged further and further as time has gone on. One can argue that the divide is now more like that between talk radio and music – I’m sure some “classic rock” devotees could adjust to some “contemporary rock” stations and vice versa – not so WQXR and WNYC. Both in terms of content and style the 2 are like oil and water. And here I come back to something I feel strongly about – WNYC *DOES* have a high-handedness about it. They are not about to retain either the people or the “product” in the interest of “diversity.” They’ll butcher it – rightly or wrongly – because they hold most of it in a kind of contempt.
6. (and your last sentence: “[the fact that] WQXR will be a public station soon should give you more influence than ever before.”) – Wouldst that it were so. I admit that having a vision is a wonderful thing…. But if, for example, Terrance McKnight staying in Walter Cronkite’s old chair were put to a listener vote after 6 months, I don’t think he’d have a snowball’s chance…. Doesn’t matter – just as the station consulted – tops – 5 or 10 people when they embarked on spending $15 of other people’s money, they consult even fewer when it comes to critical programming decisions. Because classical music has been the “tail on the dog” forEVER in terms of WNYC’s finances and self-image, it appears not to be worth the station management’s time to ensure that it’s not self-destructing. (A more cynical person than I am would assert that mgt. wants to see it self-destruct – honestly, I think it’s just that mgt. doesn’t give a rat’s.) EVIDENCE of this is that there have been many fundraisers where they don’t even bother to “pitch” after 7 PM when classical music goes on. In short, WNYC isn’t neglecting classical music “benignly” – they’re neglecting it malignantly. I know it’s a little ungracious to throw people’s words in their face, but Doc said that FM radio in Manhattan was barely listenable in the past – clearly, a much weaker station has got to make a bad situation worse…. and yet he seems to have “turned tail” in this regard.
I’ve predicted that post-consolidating, the number of listener-hours that the combo’s BROADCAST operation generates will decline dramatically from what WQXR and WNYC currently generate – FOR THIS, WNYC’s management spends $15 MILLION?! … This is our local version of US saves Chrysler – minus any of the RATIONAL part of that deal…. or the possibility that it may turn out well.
8) HERE, we go from agreement on one major point to the most pronounced difference on the even more crucial point – FUNDING. That is, I agree with Doc as to WNYC’s “plans to be one of the country’s public super-stations.” … But how does spending $15 million move that forward?! Answer: It doesn’t – but it’s worse than irrelevant, because management and listener focus and resources are squandered in the process. AND – when (as I obviously fear will prove to be the case) people start to compare the WNYC/WQXR “combination” with the soon to be undone Time-Warner combination with AOL, what do you want to bet that WNYC retrenches and the powers that be insist that it go back to working in concert with WGBH or KCRW or some other viable claimant to “America’s public radio station.” … Which, by the way, may be a good thing in the long run. Because WNYC in terms of its current leadership is like a bull in a china shop. UNFORTUNATELY, they will be asking (stridently, I’d bet my last dollar) New Yorkers to pay for all the damage that they’ve embarked on doing. It’s almost as if they crave a crisis, so they can alter their very tired appeals mantra (back to) “Save Our Station!”
Obviously, the Times HAD to sell. Who knows how far things (negotiations and the like) had gone before WNYC got involved, so things that appear possible may really not have been!
I know it would raise SOMEbody’s hackles, but I have to think that 820 AM (WNYC’s frequency on that dial), sandwiched in between 2 of the 5 top NY stations – 770 WABC and 880 WCBS – could have and should have been thrown in the pot to do one of these 2 good things – avoid WNYC being on the hook for megabucks (in my book) and/or winding up with a more credible (and viable) FM frequency. If the question is – “What should WNYC do with 105.9, candidly – that barely interests me. My comparison with the AOL/Time-Warner merger strikes me as more apt than ever. NOTHING will turn this sow’s ear of a “purchase” into a silk purse. A happy ending would be to offload it (105.9) – maybe in a year or 3 if things should recover and some new technology not strip it of almost ANY value – and do something intelligent with the proceeds.
Oh yes, one alternative – if I’m altogether (or mostly) wrong about the disparity between the 2 frequencies – I can’t quite bring myself to believe that WNYC had ZERO engineering input (I’m torn on that score, since the deal was obviously put together super super fast in JULY) – then even though Laura Walker (Ms. WNYC) ruled it out, SOMEbody should fight hard to have the pros and cons weighed judiciously:
Putting the almost all talk stuff on 105.9 and the music on 96.3 might make a skunk of a deal merely putrid. The station mgt’s rejoinder that THAT would be too disorienting is insulting to their listenership, but they’re serial offenders in that regard.
There’s a lot of “old money” listening to 96.3; I’ve argued as best I can that WNYC, in its arrogance, has all but kissed it off, but the “juggle” I’ve just suggested could be a financial home run for public radio.
Thanks for continuing the discussion on this, Doc. I think the thing I will miss the NY Times content on WQXR as it becomes a WNYC property. I know they got away from broadcasting the news from the floor of the Times and it’s down to a few features, but newspaper content on the radio was always a little unique because of FCC regulations and something I’ve appreciated.
I also wrote up my thoughts of the station sale last week. I agree that this was probably the only way to keep and the spirit of WQXR alive in NYC.
As a classical music lover who lives in NYC all I can say is that I hope this a save for us. QXR’s play list while comforting was pretty stale and having a heavy metal car commercial following a Chopin prelude made me turn the station off in disgust many times. NYC has reduced it’s classical music time but upped the quality of it’s “classical” programming in a way I can only think a music lover would applaud. Personally I can’t imagine a serious classical music lover would really respect much QXR’s current programming. I find it hard to understand the notion of arrogance here from an artistic point of view.
I don’t listen to talk radio and have basically turned to internet radio for day to day listening. Now I hope to have a local station I can listen to any time of day and that is worth cheering… if I can get the signal! If there is no getting this signal then I imagine everything the critics are saying will be true.
Doc – I’ve learned a lot from the back-and-forth, and for that I’m very grateful. In particular, the “hope” you hold out that 105.9 can/will be upgraded is appreciated – how you know what you do is both beyond me and very impressive. (And I stand corrected on everything I said about WNYC-AM.)
My comparison to the Time-Warner/AOL combination is, however, I believe, apt, in that any synergies there (as here) were more in the “wished for” (“it’s so *obvious* that 1+1 would = 3”) category. I’ll assert that I know more about mergers than you do, but it’s a truism (and true) that differences in “corporate culture” are the shoals on which the failures run aground. And when “culture” itself is involved, having a shared vision is always against the odds – here, the fact that WQXR “limped on” for however many years (most of the laudatory comments about it go back 2 or more decades) with a playlist with next to no overlap with WNYC’s makes me pessimistic, but let’s all hope for a good-to-excellent outcome.
Honestly, I’m not unremittingly negative. I’ve noticed that wherever this combination is discussed, almost NOBODY grapples with the financing. Because, as is obvious, you and many interested parties are smart listeners and click once or twice to avoid pledge drives and the like (MUCH tougher for folks relying on OTA), maybe it is almost irrelevant TO YOU, but public radio is not awash with $, and I’m inclined to think that the key decision makers should pick their spots/shots with care – and that they did not do so in this context.
For people who “came late” to all this, please note that on the earlier thread, Doc provided a list of classical music on the internet alternatives that is little short of being a goldmine!
This thread of conversation is enthralling, but i must tear away soon and get some music programmed. thanks to all of you for this elevated discussion of wnyc’s latest acquisition. we’re all very excited with the many possibilities.
Edward – please elaborate on your statement:
But if, for example, Terrance McKnight staying in Walter Cronkite’s old chair were put to a listener vote after 6 months, I don’t think he’d have a snowball’s chance…. Doesn’t matter – just as the station consulted – tops – 5 or 10 people when they embarked on spending $15 of other people’s money, they consult even fewer when it comes to critical programming decisions.
Why do you think i’d be voted out reality show style?
I am glad you are reading this stuff, here and I hope on other weblogs.
Please check out my post on the merger at my weblog,
I would appreciate your comments.
WOW. I’m more surprised than anything else as to being in the odd situation of having written about someone I never dreamed would actually read it.
But – as they say – I stand by my VERY off-the-cuff remark.
Terrance – if you should come back here again – I recognize that many people (like me) may have jumped to conclusions when you came on board at WNYC, … and just as athletes sometimes need a little time (sometimes, forever – i.e., they never do) to adjust to “the big city lights,” I’m almost sure that you found yourself speaking to a great deal larger audience than previously. Moreover, you wouldn’t be human if your first week was your best week.
It didn’t help, either, that you effectively displaced a pretty popular person.
TO YOUR CREDIT, and I wish it were pivotal, your programming choices are intriguing and thoughtful…. But I’m with a minority of sports-viewers and – I BELIEVE AND ASSERT – a majority of classical music listeners in thinking that the words that come before or during “the action” should be very well chosen or kept to as few as possible. No more beating around the bush – you are, of course, enormously knowledgeable about music – it’s a darn shame that you offer opinions in other spheres. Of course, “it’s your right,” and you may even have gotten encouragement from someone like a producer, but to me, those remarks are invariably superficial, uninteresting, unworthy of airtime and flow-breaking.
But, if you graze in the blogosphere, you must be aware that others find your music choices dubious or worse. Of course, it’s really not viable for anybody in your position to play music you hold in low regard instead of music you enjoy and hope your listeners will enjoy. UNFORTUNATELY, the balance between leading and following is every bit as tricky (if much less impact-ful) for a music host as it is for a politician.
I’ve mentioned that Tanglewood plays a fair-sized role in my classical music experience and enjoyment. I’d be out of my depth if I said more than 5 or 10 words about the many talented people who’ve led the orchestra there and chosen the music to be played. SUFFICE IT TO SAY, however, that SOMEBODY must look over their choices and “suggest” that they avoid alienating too many people in the audience on too many occasions.
I know it’s often cited about how almost anything novel in the arts is often unappreciated at the time it makes its first appearance – Stravinsky (in a music context) would, of course, probably be mentioned in that connection more than anyone else. HOWEVER, in some ways the public radio model of “asking the listeners to support the programming” almost forces people like you to heed at least some of the criticism that comes your way re programming choices. And, unfortunately, if and when you move to 105.9, whether or not it’s called WQXR – and almost regardless of what’s programmed on it BEFORE 7 PM – I’d assuming that that will continue to be your start time, at least initially – you’ll pick up an audience EVEN LESS OPEN to both your patter and your choice of music.
I’m thankful – of course – that yours is the furthest thing from a “reality show,” where any week could be your last week…. But you walked in on some ranting on my part that WNYC’s current leadership is “all about ratings” and empire building – and I believe I’ve provided considerable evidence on both counts. So THAT is why – while I wish you well, both personally and professionally – I think you would do well to have SOMEONE YOU RESPECT sample your WNYC oeuvre to date and suggest ways in which you could simply be a better broadcaster. Going back to sports – even outside New York – you’ve got to keep your skills up to stay in the starting lineup, and since there is no “bench” at WNYC, if after some period of time, too many listeners effectively do give you a thumbs down, … well – let’s hope that you can avoid having that sentence finished for at least a few years!
I spent literally several hundred hours in email with Brad Cresswell and George Preston in the development of wnyc2. I am just a listener, but WNYC has always taught us that members have a voice.
I was thrilled about what wnyc2 became. I was even happier that these influences drifted over into a wonderfully resurgent Evening Music.
When Terrance came on board, having the investment in time that I did, I sent him an email which basically said, don’t screw it up. George, I believe a mid-Westener, and not used to new York edginess, was pissed at me and I needed to send an apology, which George then said he appreciated.
Well, Terrance did not screw it up. He has been a breath of fresh air, making the music, as I have said before, from Bach to Bessie Smith, come alive. I hope that we retain “Evening Music” and “Overnight Music” just as they are. I hope for sure that we retain Terrance.
BTW, “Don’t Screw It Up” is a motto at either General Electric or IBM.
so much of the above discussion is moot. Because so many listeners will hear only distorted, MONAURAL hash signals! listen now to 105.9 and hear what you get, whether in midtown or the burbs. There simply is not enough power. The FCC should monitor the listening area NOW, using 105.9, and check if there is stereo as well.This deal marks the end of WQXR for lack of audience due to the technical flaws of 105.9. The promises of repeaters and translators will never be fulfilled. Why do you think univision is making the deal? They want to increase their listnership and then their advertising revenues. They’ll get their millions back in no time.CONTACT THE FCC in Washington before its too late.
You made the same comment about contacting the FCC on my weblog, http://richardmitnick.wordpress.com .
I again ask you, when was the last time you saw some sort of mass populist approach get anything done with the FCC?
Also, if the FCC was satisfied with the operation of 105.9, which it must have been to approve it in the first place, they will be satisfied, no matter who is using the frequency.
Can we get Mr. McKnight in a class on how to pronounce the composers and artists names? While he does that, I can shop for a satellite radio for my car. Laura Walker is a failure in my opinion. Her cookie cutter news/talk shows… i.e., Tell Me More/The Takeaway etc, have done nothing to enhance WNYC. They are more of the same. WQXR is doomed I’m afraid.
” QXR listeners are lucky WNYC was there to do what it could.” Sorry Doc, I don’t think so. WNYC’s programming has be horrendous.
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