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Re: Fwd: re:WCRB signal

Folks, this is going to be a bit long-winded. If classical music radio is
not something that interests you, feel free to hit "Delete" and go on to
the next message.

On Tue, 27 Jun 2000 lglavin@lycosmail.com wrote:

> Haven't pop-record executives been known to call what they promote
> "product"? 

Of course. The mission of a record company is to sell records, so it is
entirely accurate to call those records "product".

Radio stations, on the other hand, do not sell music or any other
programming; they sell ears. When you buy sixty seconds of air time on a
radio station, you're buying sixty seconds of its listeners' attention.
That's why stations with desirable audiences command high rates, while
stations with less desirable audiences command low rates, or no rates at

Mr. Glavin's perception of WCRB's attitude towards its music is erroneous,
as he would realize in a matter of seconds if he ever came to work here.
He fails to understand, however, that Charles River Broadcasting Company
is a for-profit enterprise with stockholders and directors to keep happy. 
Having read many of Mr. Glavin's prior posts in several forums, I
understand (1) that he doesn't believe a classical station's choice of
music has much effect on its bottom line, (2) that he thinks there is a
large volume of concert-going music devotees out there with money to spend
who can't find music to their liking on the radio, and (3) that he feels
WCRB did a better job serving classical radio listeners ten years ago when
Ted Jones was still alive than it does today. 

To explain why I feel Mr. Glavin is wrong, I have to tell you something of
my background, which includes fourteen years at WCRB under three
management regimes, and also a twenty five year relationship with WHRB,
where I did a regular classical music announcing shift from 1976 to 1979
and absorbed a great deal of its programming philosophy. In particular, I
believe, deep down, that great music deserves airplay because even if nine
out of ten ordinary listeners reject it, the minority that listens will
embrace it and appreciate it. WHRB is a non-profit volunteer organization;
whether or not that minority has the buying power to make a payroll and
give stockholders a return on their investments is unimportant. I believe
there should be a WHRB in every city, upholding the banner of great music
for its own sake. 

When I came to WCRB, the place felt a lot like WHRB.  There has been a
long tradition of WHRB alumni working here: Bob Goldfarb; Don Doloff; 
Martin Bookspan; and the architect of WCRB's original classical format,
former chairman Richard L. Kaye, to name just four. At the old WCRB,
announcers played pretty much whatever they liked, even the least
significant management decisions were made by committee, and the station
was divided into autonomous fiefdoms, as WHRB still is. As WHRB makes its
living on a few long time advertisers, most of whom sponsor football and
hockey broadcasts, so WCRB survived on the "public relations" money of
companies like GTE and Raytheon that bought program sponsorships to make
themselves look like good corporate citizens. WHRB never showed in the
ratings (it got a 0.3 share in the March/April/May trends just released); 
WCRB never broke a 2 share until 1989. 

The difference, though, is that nobody ever "graduated" from WCRB; it was
almost impossible to get fired, and people tended to stay there for years,
growing old in their jobs. Unlike WHRB, which sees a complete turnover in
its staff every three or four years, WCRB was a fossil. The same people
did the same things for the same arcane, illogical reasons, day in, day
out. The daily program log ended at one AM, not midnight, because a long,
long time ago WCRB used to sign off at that hour. It played "America the
Beautiful" every morning at five, because once upon a time that was when
it used to sign back on (and because Ted Jones felt "The Star Spangled
Banner" glorified war a bit too much).

There were some very talented people at WCRB who were wasted doing work
for which they were not suited. Dave Tucker, for instance, might have been
another Jess Cain or Dave Maynard, but they had him shuffling commercials
around on program logs. Just as at WHRB, a lot of energy and effort that
could have gone into making the station sound better and attracting new
listeners and advertisers was dissipated in busywork and internal

You may recall WCRB was not as highly regarded as WGBH-FM by listeners; in
those days when people thought of classical music on the radio it was
always WGBH and Robert J. We were the "commercial" "suburban"  "Waltham" 
alternative people tuned in when 89.7 was talking or playing jazz. Once I
heard a WGBH announcer tell her audience we weren't really a Boston
station, that we were really a west suburban station.  We had a
side-mounted antenna back then that directed most of our signal away from
the city. 

I remember thinking we were WHRB grown old, bereft of youthful vitality
and energy. That was in the late eighties, before everything started to

Mr. Glavin continues:

> Businessmen looking for a way to make a buck perceived that...  a few
> hundred short, accessible pieces could be stitched together to drive
> enough ratings points so a radio station would be attractive to time
> buyers at ad agencies.

But, you see, attracting those time buyers was what we were trying to do
all along; we just couldn't get our act together. We knew the "public
relations" money was drying up;  we knew Wall Street was starting to buy
up radio stations and ratchet up the competition. We also knew that the
sound systems subsidiary that helped WCRB survive the seventies wasn't
doing so well in the recession of '89, when background music was suddenly
everybody's last priority. 

> A few weeks ago, Bob Bittner on LTAR said the secret to ratings success
> is a short playlist and inane repetition;  they almost always result in
> inflated ratings. 

No; rather, you have to give your listeners what they want and avoid
giving them things they don't want. Now, if your goal is a short-term
ratings boost to make your station more attractive to potential buyers,
then I daresay Bob is right. Most of the capital invested in radio today
is speculative, so this strategy makes sense for a lot of people. They're
not in radio for the dividends; they're looking to turn a quick profit.

Playing a piece once a week, always in a different daypart, hardly
constitutes "inane repetition"; if people perceive it as such, that
probably means the piece in question should be taken off the playlist. But
of course that's not my field of expertise, and the people whose concern
it is are doing a great job; after five years of this format WCRB is still
number 6 twelve plus and probably does even better 35 - 64.

> ...in the words of Peggy Lee: say "Is that all there is?"

No, there is always WHRB, and WHRB does a pretty impressive job, even if
it's a member of its board of trustees who says so. There are also WGBH
and WBOQ. That's not counting any of the distant public stations whose
signals touch the Boston area. 

Classical listeners in Boston have many choices, and that's as it should

> And a person who has heard only the Top 40 long-form pieces repeated
> over and over will be blown away by a typical mainstream concert. 

Concert-goers and radio listeners do not listen in the same way.  Music at
a concert is in the foreground; it has the listener's complete attention. 
Radio is a background medium, an accompaniment to work, driving, household
chores, or other activities. It's unreasonable to expect radio listeners
to want or appreciate the same pieces they would go to hear in concert. 

> Read the encomia directed at Robert J this week and ask if Mario Mazzo
> or William Cambell were the deceased, would the obituaries be
> unexceptional...? 

Well, you can't justly compare a star like Robert J. with a program
director or CEO; not even Ted Jones or Mitchell Hastings ever commanded
the attention Robert J. got.

Incidentally, Bill Campbell's name is spelled like the soup, and Mazza
(MAZZ-uh) rhymes with JAZZ-uh.

Rob Landry