Return to Classical Was Good Business Move for Washington's WETA

Classic Arts News   Return to Classical Was Good Business Move for Washington's WETA
Classical music has proven a goldmine for Washington, D.C. radio station WETA (90.9 FM). Since replacing news and talk programming with classical music in January, ratings for the Arlington public station have doubled and contributions soared, reports the Washington Post.

In February 2005, the board of directors of WETA voted overwhelmingly to replace almost all of its classical music programming with talk and news. Last December, however, WETA's board said it might revert to music programming if the area's only remaining classical outlet, WGMS, dropped the format — which it did in January after 60 years as Washington's commercial classical station.

The Post reports that WGMS's demise has likely prompted the outpouring of support for WETA, which is owned by a nonprofit foundation. WETA enjoyed its most successful spring pledge drive ever this year, raising $590,000 last month and attracting 6,150 new members — double its total from a similar campaign last winter.

WETA's immediate success is a bright light on a landscape that often looks bleak for classical music radio stations. The genre has long been declining on commercial stations nationwide; a recent National Endowment for the Arts study found that only 28 commercial stations in the U.S. had a classical music format in 2005. Public radio stations have similarly been axing classical and other niche musical genres for news and talk.

The Post writes that during the January-March quarter WETA captured 4.9% of the metropolitan D.C. radio audience, up from 2.1% in the preceding three months when the station focused on news and talk, according to the ratings service Arbitron. The result means that WETA is the region's fifth most popular radio station of any kind.

"It looks like a combination of things are working for us," Dan DeVany, WETA's general manager, told the Post. "People have realized that classical music on the radio resides here. It appears that WGMS listeners have found us."

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