Washington's WETA Radio Considers Dropping Classical Music

Classic Arts News   Washington's WETA Radio Considers Dropping Classical Music
WETA-FM, an Washington, D.C.-area public radio station with a part-time classical-music format, is considering a switch to all-talk radio, the Washington Post reports.

The Post reports that, according to sources at the Arlington, Virginia, station, management will present a programming-overhaul proposal to the board of directors next week.

The new plan would replace nearly all of the station's classical music with news and talk shows, including programming from National Public Radio. Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturdays might be retained, but the New York Philharmonic broadcasts on Thursday nights would not.

The station's move is thought to be financially strategic, because news attracts more listeners, who stay tuned in for longer amounts of time, bringing the station a concomitant rise in donations. The Post notes that the debate about whether public radio should remain true to its roots: including programming that is by definition less popular, such as jazz, classical, and bluegrass: or face the reality of financial pressures, has been going on for many years.

Dan DeVany, the station's vice president and general manager, said in an interview that the number of classical-music listeners had declined rather drastically, with the audience numbers "quite low, lower than [they've] been in several years. It's a trend we've been witnessing over time. I'm not pleased with where we're at." With fewer listeners for classical music, he said, "we have to ask ourselves if we are truly fulfilling our public service mission."

However, when WETA replaced its morning classical show with NPR's "Morning Edition," listeners responded with thousands of letters of complaint.

Maxie C. Jackson III, the station's new program director, was hired in early January. His background is in developing news and talk programs. Asked earlier this week about possible changes to the station, he said, "I haven't considered anything new," but yesterday deflected the question, saying, "I'd rather stick with what Dan said. Dan is able to articulate what's happening at the station."

WETA, which has maintained a classical format since 1970, would not be the first public classical station to make such a change. New York's WNYC ended daytime classical music in favor of talk in 2002. In addition, commercial classical stations in Miami and elsewhere have changed formats.

If WETA drops classical music, it will leave WGMS-FM, a commercial station, the only station playing classical music in the D.C. area. WAMU, another public station, already carries NPR news programming.

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