For almost two years, a small set of classical public radio stations have been trying to draw more listeners during middays by changing the music they play. The casual listener might not even be aware of the changes, but station programmers are aware that the process is systematic and grounded in extensive research backed by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
I wrote a few posts about this some time ago, and just recently I wrote an update for Current, the trade newspaper that covers public broadcasting. I hope you find it enlightening — its starting point was a session at the Public Radio Program Directors’ conference in September, where station programmers shared their results due to the changes. As I learned, it’s made a big difference for some stations.
WDAV in the Charlotte, N.C., area, saw the biggest increase in midday listening by far, with a 40 percent gain since all the stations began following the research in January 2008. Program Director Frank Dominguez said he felt “guilt in retrospect” — he realized that before the change in strategy, the station simply hadn’t been playing enough music with broad appeal to its audience.
At the PRPD Conference, Dominguez cited pieces the station no longer airs regularly during middays: Brahms’s “Tragic Overture” (too dark and stressful); George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” variations (too schmaltzy, not classical enough); and Henryk Wienawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (too virtuosic). Like other participating stations, WDAV also reduced crossover classical, choral music and contemporary selections in middays.
Here’s the full story in Current. My earlier posts on the subject included a summary of the research behind this, how stations were using the findings as of June 2008, and a critic’s response to the research.