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Commercial classical radio: a long view

After reading our story about the end of a commercial classical music radio station in North  Carolina, Fred Krock sent us this reflection on his career working in radio.

I began working for a major market commercial classical music station in 1953. All major markets and many smaller markets had a commercial classical music station in those days.

Following World War II the number of radio stations in the United States more than doubled. Many were located in suburbs of larger markets because the FCC gave priority to “first service” applications. Although the city of license was located in a suburb, the signal often was strong enough to cover most of the major market.

These new stations usually were programmed for a general audience. Many were daytime only. They had fifteen minute newscasts at 8:00 AM, noon, 5:00 PM, and 10 or 11 PM. Invariably they had a program for housewives at 9:00 AM.

They were not able to attract a viable size audience because they were competing with network affiliates and big name disc jockeys on independent stations. So in desperation the owners changed to specialized formats such as foreign language, country music, R&B for black listeners, and classical music. Some of the classical stations, such as KIXL in Dallas, played beautiful music during the day and classical music at night. Anyone remember Mantovani?

After the network radio audiences dropped precipitously beginning about 1953, a few of the small audience stations were very successful with top-40 programs.

The commercial classical music stations often were able to attract fair size ratings but the demographics were not good. They had few desirable age 18-48 listeners. However the average family income of listeners was very high. So they were able to sell time to banks and saving and loan companies or high end auto dealers.

Classical music stations had problems with commercial copy. Listeners complained about jingles and hard-sell copy. So salesmen had to convince advertisers “If you want to appeal to our audience, you’ve got to do it our way.” Some stations banned jingles and singing commercials. Try to convince an agency buyer that his big bucks jingle would not work well on your station.

Public broadcasting or listener supported stations were very rare. KPFA in Berkeley was one of the very first listener supported stations beginning about 1950. It used a failed commercial FM station. In its first years much of the support was rumored to come from the very wealthy mother of one of its announcers. (I don’t remember his name but I do remember thinking that he had a network quality voice and delivery. I wondered what he was doing working at KPFA).

Where I worked the owner of a small suburban gasoline station bought one spot a week to help support the station because he liked the music.

Over the years I have seen many classical music stations go away. Sadly, because I enjoy the music. I would prefer listening to commercials rather than pledge breaks.


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