• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment


"Radio should furnish the soil in which a love of music can grow."
—Ted Libbey, National Endowment for the Arts

Sarah Lutman, Senior Vice President, Cultural Programming
Mary Lee, Project Director and Managing Producer, National Music Programs
Fritz Bergmann, Director of Foundation Relations
Barbara Kedziora, Marketing Manager
Don Lee, Senior Director for Arts and Culture
John Pearson, New Media Manager
Dianne Sivald, Project Manager

item Introduction
item Background
item What is the Classical Music Initiative?
item Classical Music Radio in 2003
item Stimulating a dialogue: the summer 2003 convenings
item Consumers' Connections to Classical Radio
item New Media and Classical Music: Turning Change into Progress
item Observations from participants' discussion
item Next steps: production fund
item Conclusion


  • How can radio broadcasting stimulate greater vitality in the field of classical music in the United States?
  • What creative new programming is possible using digital technologies?
  • Which performers, composers, presenters, musical organizations, and grantmakers can be engaged to help explore the potential for new approaches to programming and presentation on classical music media?
  • What new audiences can be brought to the art form through these efforts, and how?

These questions lie at the heart of American Public Media's Classical Music Initiative (CMI), a multi-year effort to develop a new generation of classical music programming for public radio, the Internet, and related digital technologies. Funded in part by a generous leadership grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a substantial investment of resources by American Public Media, the Classical Music Initiative will broker new partnerships, stimulate new productions, and provide new resources that together point the way to a fresh new body of public media programming. Through these activities, CMI will strengthen the vitality of classical music in the U.S.

This paper presents background information about American Public Media's Classical Music Initiative and reports on a series of national meetings held during the summer of 2003 that set the stage for the Initiative's implementation. Next steps are described. Readers can anticipate future Working Papers as the Initiative moves forward.

The Initiative is, in part, intended to stimulate a fresh and energetic dialogue about the relationship of classical music artists and institutions and the possibilities of reaching and serving audiences through public media. Thus, readers' comments and ideas about the Initiative are not just welcomed, they are required if the Initiative is to fulfill its mission. Please visit the Initiative's website, at www.mpr.org/cmi, and join the forum where the future of classical music, and the media's relationship to it, are being discussed. Join with us in creating 21st Century approaches to this time-honored art form, and in serving the next generation of artists and audiences.

The inspiration for the Classical Music Initiative came, in part, from a study conducted by Audience Insight, Inc. for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The study was the largest cultural audience research project ever conducted in the U.S., and concluded that radio is the dominant avenue of public access to classical music in the U.S., far ahead of live performances and recordings. To quote the NEA's Director of Media Arts Ted Libbey, "The health of musical organizations throughout the country, from symphony orchestras and opera companies to chamber groups and choruses, depends on the existence of an engaged public, and it is radio that now and in the future will provide essential sustenance to that public."

American Public Media, the nation's largest public radio network and the producer of public radio's largest body of classical music programming, took the Knight-funded research immediately to heart. The study's author, Alan Brown, was invited to APM for conversation with the APM music staff and senior leaders, and he participated in an hour-long call-in program on our statewide News and Information network.

In interpreting the research, our question to Mr. Brown was this: If radio holds the key responsibility to the health of classical music, and to fostering appreciation of the art form among a wide public, are we doing everything possible to insure the future vitality of the art form on the radio? Foundations and corporations have made substantial recent investments in news and information programming for public radio stations across the U.S., and these investments have paid off in terms of higher-quality programming and larger listening audiences. However, neither APM nor other large public broadcasting entities have sought and invested in a comparable effort for classical music radio that might build larger audiences for classical music radio, and, in turn for the art form. Brown's research concludes that such investment is central, not peripheral, to the health of classical music. And, the surge in creativity within classical music itself - new performers, composers and presenters finding new approaches and attracting new audiences, makes the context for the Initiative especially rich.

The timing of a major NEA initiative, fueled initially by the passionate interest of the late Michael Hammond in classical music radio, helped American Public Media respond to the Knight research creatively. The Classical Music Initiative was created in response to the NEA's Request for Proposals, and APM received an initial two-year grant of $500,000. APM is in the process of seeking matching funds for this grant, and is in conversation with leading arts grantmakers, individual patrons, and classical music institutions that have the capacity to join us in this effort.

The Classical Music Initiative began in February 2003, and consists of several elements.

Leadership convenings to bring together classical music program presenters, artists, performers, grantmakers, and experts in new media to discuss the current state of classical music as an art form and the public service opportunities created by new technologies, and to brainstorm new program ideas and strategies for public media.

A total of three convenings have been held thus far, in New York City (June 2003), St. Paul (July), and San Francisco (August). The ideas and inspiration resulting from these meetings are presented later in this paper.

A Production Fund that will provide new resources and incentives to station-based and independent radio and new media producers to explore opportunities for new program development. The fund will support the creation and delivery of new programs for radio broadcast, with additional distribution through the Internet or other media.

The Production Fund will distribute an initial Request for Proposals in early 2004. We hope to make approximately $500,000 available via contracts with the Fund over the next 18 months, to be used to create pilots, short series, Internet sites, and other projects that demonstrate new ideas and approaches to classical music programming.

Production Workshops that bring together the next generation of producers - station-based and independent producers under the age of 40 - with well-established leaders in the field. The goals of these workshops are to provide the benefits of experience and mentorship to the younger producers, and fresh energy and ideas to those more established.

Distribution of New Programs resulting from the Production Fund, with complementary texts, images, and Internet links. All programs will be made available to stations nationwide, and will be broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio's 17-station Classical Music Service and at least one other public radio station.

Despite outcries that classical music radio is fading from the public airwaves, the number of classical stations in the U.S. increased between 1999 and 2002 by nearly 100. As of Fall 2002 there were 516 public radio stations broadcasting some classical programming weekly, with 340 of those stations airing classical music as a very significant portion of their broadcast week.

Listeners to classical music on public radio tend to be well educated, affluent, and curious about the world around them. More women than men listen to classical music radio, and fewer than 16 percent of listeners are under 35 years old. According to the Knight study, 72 percent of culturally active U.S. adults report listening to classical music radio and nearly 60 percent report listening several times per month.

A closer look, however, reveals unsettling trends for classical music radio.

  • Stations in seven major markets were sold and changed formats.
  • Only 19 of the 30 largest markets in the U.S. have a public classical music station.
  • Total listening to classical public radio stations has been relatively flat at around 10 million weekly over the past four years, while listening to public news and information stations has increased markedly.
  • The total number of stations airing symphony broadcasts has diminished by about 100 stations in the last decade, and only 10 American orchestras now have concerts in national syndication.
  • Few performing arts organizations have discovered creative ways to reach the broadcast audience, a situation made more difficult by changes in the classical recording industry.
  • On many stations, the average age of classical music listeners is going up while the average age of news listeners is going down.

In addition, local classical music radio is threatened by the same proliferation of media choices that has affected other traditional media sources, such as newspapers.

  • The Internet offers a wide variety of streaming opportunities including broadcasts from classical radio stations around the world.
  • Satellite radio excels at music programming and has sufficient channels to create separate programming streams for niche classical audiences such as all-Baroque, all-opera, etc.
  • Adventurous artists and music organizations are reaching the audience directly via web casting, down-loadable audio files, post-concert CD distribution, and other means that bypass traditional terrestrial broadcast routes.
  • Classical stations have been relatively slow to change, evolve, or tailor their offerings to include new approaches or to target new audiences, in part because of the very high loyalty of existing audiences.

Very few new program ideas have emerged in the public radio system in classical music in recent years. Again the comparison to news and talk programming is illustrative. News stations broadcast lively and popular entertainment shows such as Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion that thrived during the 1990's. They also added such successful newcomers as This American Life, and grew the budgets for national and regional newsrooms by millions of dollars annually. Available weekly hour-long shows now far outnumber available broadcast hours on news and talk stations, creating a healthy competition among stations and producers for the best programming available nationally. This competitive fray also encourages new producers to test their wings, since some new programs have unseated "old favorites" as program directors seek ways to keep their local offerings fresh and interesting.

Classical music, by contrast, has seen little investment or innovation. From the Top is one notable exception, as is Minnesota Public Radio and Public Radio International's program stream, Classical-24, a 24 x 7 service aired on nearly 300 stations. As the nation's largest producer of classical music programming, APM has created several important new short series, such as the recent 13-week American Mavericks series produced in collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony, and World Choral Spectacular, a four-part national series of performances, features, and interviews from the Sixth World Choral Symposium. Both projects developed a significant new media presence that has remained active beyond the timeframe of the broadcast radio programs. However, there has not been opportunity to expand these offerings into full-time broadcast activities, nor has there been much experimentation in disc-based programming that is directed toward new or more diverse audiences.

American Public Media convened three national meetings during the summer of 2003 to launch the Classical Music Initiative. Each meeting involved about 25 people, who represented a cross-section of interests in the classical music field. The purpose of the meetings was to present classical music radio trends and opportunities, to stimulate a dialogue among those present about how best to invest in public radio's future music programming, and thus to inform the Classical Music Initiative direction and implementation.

Among the participants were representatives of the nation's largest symphony orchestras and opera companies, composers and performers, music educators, presenters, public broadcasters, radio producers, artists' agents, and grantmakers. Many of the nation's pre-eminent organizations and most admired smaller groups were able to attend. NEA Chairman Dana Gioia attended the San Francisco session and other key NEA staff attended in other cities, helping contribute the Endowment's rich national perspective to the proceedings. Appendix I is a list of participants. Energy ran high in these day-long sessions.

Participants heard three presentations.

  • Alan Brown challenged participants with the results of his audience research in a presentation titled " Consumers' Connections to Classical Radio."
  • Skip Pizzi, independent consultant and new media expert, spoke about " New Media and Classical Music: Turning Change into Progress."
  • Each meeting had a different presenter on the state of classical music radio.

Andrew Blau, of Global Business Networks, facilitated all of the sessions. Blau has written extensively on the public service potential of new media technologies. Copies of the PowerPoint presentations, and audio from these meetings, can be found on www.mpr.org/cmi. After lunch, participants were led through specific questions and exercises to help gather information and generate ideas.

Alan Brown's presentation underscored the central finding of his research, that consumers more often turn to electronic media, particularly radio, to experience classical music than any other route to listening.

In addition to presenting extensive amounts of data regarding consumer behavior with respect to classical music, Brown challenged his audiences with several key observations and questions.

  • More people like more different kinds of music than ever before. Diversification and fragmentation are the long-term trends in consumption.
  • Classical music audiences, in a more limited research project, stated highest affinity with jazz, opera, classic rock and oldies, and world music compared to country music, hard rock, rap, or hip hop.
  • Consumers do not use the same "boxes" for their music as the industry does, i.e. consumers define "classical" differently. For consumers, classical music includes Broadway shows, church music, and a wide range of ethnic music and jazz.
  • People associate classical music with activities, emotions, moods, and events. Many consumers describe a deep level of meaning derived from classical music listening. How can radio underscore the listener's emotional relationship to the music being presented?
  • People hear and relate to classical music on an emotional level yet it is presented intellectually. This mismatch may turn off potential radio listeners.
  • The trend in leisure activities is toward intensity and enhanced value, toward "edutainment." How can more value, and more interpretation, be embedded in the classical radio format? What might "extreme classical music" look and sound like?
  • Classical consumers represent a very broad range of sophistication levels. What's anesthesia to one listener is revelation to another.
  • Knowledge is not a pre-requisite for enjoyment of classical music.
  • Consumers want to become better listeners.
  • Radio is the place where affinity to classical music is born. It is the primary "pathway to involvement."

Skip Pizzi's role in the meeting was to inject ideas and predict trends resulting from new media and new technology. Pizzi first asked participants to consider whether the societal change from analog to digital media is an incremental or a disruptive change. He thinks that disruptive change is difficult to perceive while it's happening, and the impact of such change is often predicted to be negative. For example, movies were predicted to eliminate consumer interest in live theater; it was thought that television would "kill" radio, and that the VCR would eliminate the need for cinema. Pizzi asked whether the radio has affected the live classical music performance negatively, and how? Noting that art and science are forever intertwined, Pizzi reminded participants that the available delivery system has always affected audience access.

From these observations, Pizzi suggested that real assessment of an environment takes considerable time, and that proactive perseverance is the key to long-term success.

That said, what proactive steps should those interested in fostering vitality in classical music be taking? Pizzi recommended the following:

  • Develop a richer classical content community by blending radio with events and mixing real and virtual experiences.
  • Promote and engage audience interaction, not only via the web but also in person.
  • Develop programs that can be customized to the individual listener, building a "pull" relationship with the audience that complements the traditional broadcast "push." This might translate into "tell me more" features using the Internet or other technologies.
  • Stress the branding of public radio over other broadcasters. Stay in public radio niche.
  • Balance the management of legacy programming vs. new services. Make sure new programming "branches" do not threaten its "roots."
  • Don't scale back out of pure economic caution. Now is the time to move boldly.
  • "Content rules." Public radio can fill the ever-widening margins abandoned by commercial media.
  • Create new partnerships and be willing to make acquisitions in order to increase service.
  • Explore all new media venues, including satellite radio, broadband and wireless Internet, home networks, digital terrestrial radio, airline audio, CD and DVD, combinations of the above.

Participants had a wide variety of reactions to the presentations and to the current state of classical music radio. In addition to general discussion about their views of radio, two of the three groups of participants were asked to break into small groups and invent a new radio program or a new approach to radio broadcasting. As part of this brainstorming session, each small group had to identify potential hosts and artists for the series, and describe its intended audience and why the audience would find value in the broadcast. These ideas were shared and discussed with the larger group. Later in the afternoon, participants were asked to identify people and resources American Public Media should consider as the Initiative begins to take shape.

Among general observations from the three sessions:

  • Participants could frequently recount a single formative musical experience that occurred while they were listening to classical radio, in much the same way that people can describe compelling or transcendent live performance experiences.
  • The idea that classical radio is the principal means for audience development for the field was new to those attending. Most musicians and musical organizations in attendance had not considered the field's relationship to classical radio outside a marketing purpose for broadcasting their CDs or live performances.
  • It is likely to take significant time and persuasive marketing before classical radio is considered a key constituent in classical music's "ecology." Participants did not refute Brown's research finding, but since it was a new concept to them they were not quick to identify new ways they might consider relating to classical radio.
  • Music presenters and organizations do not yet view themselves as "content creators" - organizations whose intellectual property could be deployed in multiple ways in the emerging media environment. A few notable exceptions exist, such as the San Francisco Symphony's creative and robust media program that seeks outlets on CD, DVD, the Internet, radio, and television.
  • Those most knowledgeable about classical music find much of classical radio too predictable, and the audience-development role of current approaches to classical music presentation and play lists is neither understood nor necessarily embraced by classical music professionals.
  • Many in attendance believe that more people would listen to classical music radio, and could therefore be drawn to classical music, if the play list for classical stations were broadened to include music they view as "adjacent" to classical music, such as Broadway tunes, film music, popular cross-over artists, world, jazz, and ethnic music.
  • Participants think many classical music hosts sound "old-fashioned" and should present material with more enthusiasm and conviction.
  • Many think classical radio is stifled by the same restrictive definitions of the classical "canon" and accepted modes of presentation that are viewed as hurting symphony orchestras and other large organizations that have difficulty breaking traditional formats.
  • Participants suggested looking to concert halls, presenters, and artists who are presenting classical music as informal, hip, intellectually interesting, and "of our times."
  • Most participants knew little about the public radio business, or its trends, economics, and challenges.

American Public Media will release a Request for Proposals for the Classical Music Initiative's Production Fund in early 2004. This RFP will be distributed broadly in the field and will include a copy of this paper, the Fund's guidelines and program priorities, and instructions for how to seek support. Contracting with accepted applicants will begin immediately, so that new programming can begin reaching the airwaves by the second quarter of 2004.

Thanks to the ideas of the participants in this summer's convenings, APM now has a wide distribution list that includes not only our own contacts inside the industry and in the music field, but also an interesting and diverse group of new contacts, organizations, and others who have been recommended to us by people who came to one of the summer sessions. The RFP will also be available on the Initiative's web site, and will be disseminated electronically to bulletin boards and web sites where musicians and the musical community congregate.

Priority will be given to proposals that respond to criteria that were developed based on the ideas and findings of this summer's meetings and discussions. APM will be looking for proposals from promising young or new music producers as well as seasoned professionals, and from inside public radio, as well as from station-based and independent producers. In particular we will be seeking proposals that reflect:

  • New concepts and approaches for conveying classical music to broad audiences using radio, the Internet, and other emerging 21 st century technologies, either singly or in combination.
  • Proposals not only for music programming but also for informational, educational, and critical programming that will increase the audience's awareness, knowledge, critical faculties, understanding, and appreciation of classical music and the artists who create it.
  • Programs that aim to build new and diverse audiences for classical music.
  • Programs based in new partnerships that bring new voices and new content to the public radio system.
  • New formats and approaches that deeply exploit or transcend current formats, that exploit existing program streams in new ways, or propose new alternative formats that cross the current boundaries between public radio "music" and "news" formats or between radio and other media platforms.
  • Proposals from local stations that demonstrate creative new approaches to community programming that will help "localize" classical music content as differentiated from classical formats on satellite radio.

Classical music has been under siege in the media for at least a decade. As Bill Jamieson recently said in The Scotsman, "Welcome to the death of music." Or consider Tara Pepper in Newsweek, "Modern classical music is completely marginal to mainstream culture." Or Doug McLennan, again in Newsweek, "The art of classical music is broken."

Yet research from Audience Insight shows that large numbers of U.S. adults report daily and weekly listening to classical music. These same audiences told researchers that the value they derive from classical music is an intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally rich and satisfying part of their lives.

How can these listeners' experiences with classical music be reconnected to the artists and institutions that sustain the art form? What bridges can be found that will help instill a love of classical music in society now and in the future?

Radio, and public radio in particular, has a critical role to play. If public radio can find the programming approaches that will attract and delight new audiences, a new enthusiasm for the art form can be born.

This will require new marketing messages that describe classical music in ways that are liberating, exciting, and un-apologetic, and new programming that inspires, uplifts, and entertains broadcast audiences. The result will be not only a larger broadcast audience for classical music radio, but also larger audiences for live performances. Thus radio can provide the crucial "medium" between classical music artists and their audiences in the 21st century.

New programming will require new investment, and the NEA has taken a first step in supporting the Classical Music Initiative to help stimulate program development. In the words of author, commentator, and Director of the NEA's Media Arts Program Ted Libbey,

"The health of musical organizations throughout the country, from symphony orchestras and opera companies, to chamber groups and choruses, depends on the existence of an engaged public. We believe that music is important to individuals and to our society as a whole, as an example of what the imagination can achieve, as a guide to the emotions, and, as Aristotle observed, because it nurtures in us a sense of what is proper and becoming in life. And, we believe radio should furnish the soil in which a love of music can grow in our country."




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