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Classical music fans nervous about WGBH snarfdown of WCRB

It’s official—public radio station WGBH in Boston is buying up Waltham classical signal WCRB 99.5 FM and will turn it into a non-commercial outlet. You know the GBH announcement is serious because it comes with a pitch for money. Plus cellist Yo-Yo Ma has endorsed the move, so it’s got to be good. “This is a truly exciting development,” he says (on the fund raising page, of course). “As both a performer and a listener I applaud WGBH for making this significant investment in our community to ensure that the classical music genre will remain alive and well on Boston radio.”

WCRB to be bought up by WGBH

WCRB to be bought up by WGBH. Will the station's air sound get more adventurous or even tamer?

The deal, it should be noted, is just a little more complicated than the WGBH version. The Boston Globe reports that GBH itself will switch to a news station, competing with its all talk/news neighbors WBZ and WBUR. That’s probably why the Globe‘s reader/commenters are less happy about this than Mr. Ma.

“News is more exciting to produce than music, so music will be getting short shrift, I’m afraid,” writes DKB50. “I expect that WGBH’s programming will get even tamer than it is in order to retain WCRB’s audience. I expect that music that requires listening, such as longer pieces and vocal music, will be pushed out. I depend on radio to expose me to music I haven’t heard before and I fear that the new WGBH classical format will be one-movement-at-a-time Vivaldi, Pachelbel, etc.”

Ditto, says taxpayer20009.

“I am really disappointed in this,” s/he says. “Classical music should be the priority—not more news. We already have more than enough news and talk shows in the Boston area. But now we will be reduced to only one full-time classical radio station.”

“WGHB classical had good music programming—however WCRB was much more limited in the range and scope of the music they played. Now we will undoubtedly have less diversity in the range of classical music. What a shame. I will never contribute money to this in the future that is for sure. I hope that others let their voice be heard on this. Maybe someday when WGBH has changed their leadership will decide that it is in the public interest to support the arts!”

zircon has other worries. “Will this mean the end of WGBH’s HD Radio channels, especially channel 2 which is all-classical?” s/he says. “I love that station. Also, will they up the transmit power of WCRB (which is now in Lowell, I believe)? Can barely pull in ‘CRB here in Cambridge, now.”

Interestingly, classical music maven Matthew Guerreri at The Faster Times thinks the deal might liven WCRB up. “It will be interesting to see what WCRB’s regular listeners, accustomed as they are to the station’s Baroque-heavy classical-lite playlist (which I’ve poked fun at in the past), think of a re-boot by WGBH,” he wonders. Especially since the buyer just ran a show about “thorny atonalist Leon Kirchner.”

In any event, classical music fans are right to be nervous about any changes in over-the-air classical radio broadcasting, which has been losing audience share for years. Take a look at this Arbitron Format Trends report. Classical listening has dropped to about one percent of the overall radio audience market, as measured in Average Quarter Hour shares (“The average number of persons listening to a particular station for at least five minutes during a 15-minute period,” as Arbitron defines it). One more point down and the genre will have migrated almost entirely to, Pandora, and other streaming services.

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