You are currently browsing articles tagged WQXR.

Last July I explained Why WQXR is better off as a public radio station. One hundred and twelve comments followed, the last posted in January of this year. Far as I know, that’s a record for this blog.

Background: when WQXR, which had been New York City’s landmark classical music station since the Roosevelt Hoover administration, was sold by the New York Times to WNYC, it went through two huge changes. First, it went up the dial from 96.3 to 105.9, while dropping to about 1/10th the wattage of its old signal. Second, it changed from a commercial station to a noncommercial one. Those opposed to the moves predicted failure on both accounts.

Instead, WQXR is a success. It’s ratings briefly tanked during the transition last October, then bounced back to their old levels:

Since then WQXR has run neck-and-neck with its parent’s main station, WNYC-FM (which has a signal identical to the old WQXR, coming from the same master antenna on the Empire State Building):

(Source for both: Radio-Info.com. Click on the images for details.)

Those three columns are for January, February and March of this year. The February number, 834,400, was reportedly tops in all of public radio. That’s what Elizabeth Jensen wrote in yesterday’s Classical Music’s Comeback, on Public Radio, in the New York Times. She says WQXR is a financial as well as a ratings success, and typical of successful transitions by other classical stations from commercial to noncommercial business models, in some cases with lesser signals as well.

So, all ends well that starts well.

Tags: , , ,

The longest thread in the history of this blog belongs to Why WQXR is better off as a public radio station, which I posted on July 26, and still has comments this month. The post followed a complex deal by which the New York Times divested its legacy classical music station, WQXR — and by which the station’s format, call letters, record library and some of its personnel survived as a noncommercial outlet of WNYC, on a different channel with a weaker signal. From the comments one might gather that more listeners were unhappy than happy with the deal. My post mostly presented the upside.

Now here in Boston a similar move is underway. WGBH, “Boston’s NPR arts and culture station” will go the way of WNYC-FM, which phased out classical music starting in 2002, eventually shunting it to HD side-channels and Internet streams while populating the FM signal (as well as its AM one) with news and information programming, which tends to be more popular and to attract more money in listener contributions. By saving WQXR, WNYC returned classical music to the airwaves (although the city was still down one classical station, or two if you want to go back to the very late WNCN.) WGBH clearly had the same thing in mind when it bought WCRB, which was already weakened in the Boston metro when it moved from its old local channel (102.5) to its current channel (99.5) in Lowell. (Wikipedia has good background poop on WCRB’s own long saga.) While both WCRB signals have about the same range, the old 102.5 signal radiates from the Boston FM and TV antenna farm in nearby Needham, while the new one on 99.5 comes from a hill overlooking the I-495/I93 intersection, far to the north near the New Hampshire border.

So now WGBH plans to move its classical programming to WCRB, whch will become a non-commercial station (as did WQXR), and to do more news and information programming on its own home signal (89.7), which is grandfathered at 100,000 watts on Great Blue Hill (hence the call letters) in Milton, on the south side of Boston. In terms of wattage alone, WGBH is New England’s most powerful station. (The largest coverage belongs to WHOM/94.9 on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, which puts out 49,000 watts from the highest peak in the Northeast.) As a result WGBH can go head-to-head with WBUR/90.9, which is the incumbent public radio leader in Boston. (I’ve looked at the ratings, and WBUR has kicked WGBH’s butt for years — a fact that I am sure has rankled the latter.)

Still, many listeners are not happy. And not just about losing classical music.

WGBH is doing its best to gloss over the signal loss for classical (and other arts & culture) listeners, especially in the southern reaches of Eastern Massachusetts, where WGBH has a very strong signal and WCRB is mostly absent. To demonstrate, here is a comparison of coverage for WGBH, WCRB and WBUR, calculated by Radio-Locator.com:


Click on the image for a legible full-size version.

Still, my own take in the WGBH/WCRB case is the same as it was for WNYC/WQXR: this is the best that could be done for classical music on Boston airwaves — and it offers opportunities not possible for WCRB had it remained a commercial station. Go back to that first link if you want to see what those are.

As for me, I expect to be more likely to listen to a ‘GBH-run noncommercial WCRB than I did to the commercial one. First, the commercials were (and, at this writing, still are) annoying. Second, the WCRB repertoire was pretty close to all-hits, rather than the more varied and challenging fare found on WGBH. There should be a happy medium between the two, and I’m sure ‘GBH will work hard to find it.

But I’m privileged to live on the north side of the metro, so I get WCRB just fine. I think it’s a safe bet that more than one half of WGBH’s listening area won’t get a useful signal out of WCRB. And the area within which listeners can get WGBH’s HD stream is a subset of WGBH’s coverage area.

A digressive word about HD radio. I got one recently — a $99 Teac unit — at Costco. The tuner is remarkably good, and it gets most local stations’ HD side-channels. But “tuning” HD is a counter-intuitive chore. You tune in the partent station, wait for the HD symbol to appear, and then tune to the one or two HD channels of the station. It’s a multi-step selection process, with delays along the way. I’d be curious to know if anybody (beside those who pick a channel and stay put) has had a positive experience with tuning it.

For those who want to compare apples with apples, here’s some data:

One last thing. I for one (and I am sure there are many more) would love to hear Chris Lydon return to Boston’s airwaves. He has been a podcasting pioneer with an outstanding show. But coming on a live station would be fabulous.

Hey, how about Larry Josephson too?

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

  1. $11.5 million is a bargain for any FM signal radiating from the center of Manhattan, even in these depressed economic times.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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: , , , , , ,

Heard this morning on WNYC that the New York Times has unloaded its remaining broadcasting asset, which consists of the channel and facilities of WQXR, which has been a classical music landmark for as long as it’s been around. (One way or another, since 1929. Wikipedia tells the long story well.) The story on WNYC’s website says WQXR will become “part of” WNYC. I assume that means it will become non-commercial.

According to Bloomberg, the deal goes like this:

  • “Univision will pay Times Co. $33.5 million to swap broadcasting licenses and shift its WCAA broadcast to 96.3 FM from 105.9 FM, which will become WQXR… WCAA will get 96.3 FM’s stronger signal.”
  • WNYC will pay Times Co. $11.5 million for 105.9 FM’s license and equipment and the WQXR call letters.”

WQXR was for a long time an AM/FM operation. The AM was on 1560, with a 50,000 watt signal out of a four-tower facility in Maspeth, Queens. The FM was for many years atop the Chanin Building, where it still maintains an auxilliary antenna. I have shots of the old and new antennas here and here. In 2007 the Times Co. unloaded its AM station, then (and still) called WQEW, to Walt Disney Co. for $40 million. It’s now Radio Disney, a kids’ station.

Since the 60s WQXR has shared a master antenna atop the Empire State Building with most of New York’s other FMs. This was their status in 1967. Wikipedia has a good rundown of what’s up there today. Scott Fybush also has a comprehensive report from 2003.

An open question is whether WQXR will remain a beacon on the dial. While other signals on the Empire State Building master antennas run 5000 to 6000 watts, the one on 105.9 is just 610 watts. According to WQXR’s  Web site, the station and has an audience of nearly 800,000 weekly listeners. How many of those will lose the signal? Coverage maps from radio-locator.com for 96.3 and 105.9 are here and here.

For the fully obsessed, here is a current rundown of everything on FM hanging off the Empire State Building, or within 1km of it.

Meanwhile, says here WBCN in Boston, a progressive rock radio landmark, is also getting yanked. You’ll still hear it on the Web, or if you are among the appoximately five owners of an “HD” radio receiver and close enough to WBCN’s transmiter on Boston’s Prudential Building in the Back Bay. Meanwhile Boston will get more of the usual: talk sports and “Hot AC” music. (To me “Hot AC” always sounded like an climate control oxymoron, while “adult contemporary” sounded like a euphemism for pornographic furniture.)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,