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Stations share experiences with midday music research

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.

2 Responses to Stations share experiences with midday music research

  1. Jeff Skibbe December 19, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    Three quick comments, then some reflections…

    First, I am a bit confused how this new research model differed substantially from that “Modal Music Project” of years back.

    Secondly, you say KVNO found some of the Italianate argot a barrier to enjoyment or accessibility? I agree. The word “Opus” should be dropped from nearly all front- and back-announcements. The musical pedants already listen, while the additional people you want to attract don’t know the difference between Opus 42 and Opus 62 — AND DON’T CARE!

    Thirdly, musical excerpts or isolated sounds did not need testing when Classic FM in England already provides a consumer-driven music list that tells you that “Academic Festival Overture” is in and “Tragic Overture” is out. The annual list is called “Hall of Fame” and can be accessed at:

    http://www.classicfm.co.uk/on-air/hall-fame/

    Finally, I agree with Wes Horner’s response for the most part: the bigger picture is that while NPR/PRI News were developing lively/fascinating/intelligent news/talk replacements for midday classics, the alternative to “Intelligent Talk” –“Intelligent Music” — never blossomed to the same extent on a national level.

    Despite lively/fascinating/intelligent shows such as “Exploring Music” and Performance Today,” the demise of “Bob & Bill” should have been met with at least 2 or 3 potential pretenders to that throne. Bob and Bill were on the right track, in my humbled opinion. It is a shame that their pioneering concepts were not more inspirational to those that had the means to develop more new lively/fascinating/intelligent syndicated musical platforms.

    Too late now for many stations — go ahead and play “Tragic Overture.” It is ironically appropriate even though it is “dark”.

  2. Mike Janssen December 21, 2009 at 9:13 am #

    Hi Jeff — I haven’t personally covered modal music research, so I’m probably not the best person to respond to that particular point. But I dug up this article from Current and you’re right, they do sound somewhat similar. However, I think I heard at some point that the modal music research was focused on creating a classical service with greater appeal to NPR news listeners. Not sure if that’s accurate, but if so that differs from this midday music research.

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