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Classical Music on the Radio

Ionarts is on record for thinking that WETA's decision to abandon classical music was, how to put this politely, a mistake. No one was happier than we when the station decided to take advantage of the format change at WGMS to return to classical programming. The need of many people for classical music on the radio -- without commercials -- can be illustrated with a personal example. I teach in a school run by a Benedictine monastery, and the monks complained to me regularly about what had happened to their classical music station. Many of the monks listen to the radio regularly during their contemplative time, while reading and studying. Yes, they could play CDs, but radio programming is so much better suited for this purpose because it requires no conscious thought beyond turning on the radio. When classical music returned to WETA's airwaves, there were some very happy monks in the abbey.

When the format change was announced, I offered a starry-eyed, pie-in-the-sky list of suggested programming. Almost none of it features in the playlist yet, but things cannot turn around immediately. However, take as an example what I heard on WBJC last night during the car trip back home from hearing Smetana's The Bartered Bride at Baltimore Opera (review planned for tomorrow). The first half of the hour was as follows (with information taken from the evening's playlist published online):

  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Fidelio Overture, op. 72, played by the Bamberg Symphony under the baton of Eugen Jochum (RCA/BMG 61212)--a pretty standard work that could be found regularly on either station
  • The commentator, Reed Hessler, then linked the style of Beethoven with one of his sources of inspiration, the strongly contrasted and emotionally charged music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, by playing Mikhail Pletnev's excellent 2001 recording of the fourth CPE Bach sonata, WQ 52 (DG/Archiv 459614)
  • The hour was rounded off with Elgar's Dream Children, op. 43 (Teldec 92374), with Andrew Davis leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra
That exceptionally fine sequence of music, a mixture of the mainstream with music farther off the beaten path, led into the regular Wednesday night program Live at the Concertgebouw (11 pm to 1 am), hosted by Hans Haffmans, the next best thing to living in Amsterdam. The broadcasts feature the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, of course, but some weeks you will hear Collegium Vocale Gent, the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland, the Orchestra of the 18th Century, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and many other visiting orchestras and chamber ensembles. Last night's concert was recorded in 2003 (I think), with Neeme Jarvi conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The program opened with Liadov's tone poem The Enchanted Lake, op. 62, followed by Alphonus Diepenbrock's Hymne an die Nacht (1899), with soprano Linda Mabbs. The second half was a complete performance of Rachmaninoff's second symphony.

This year, for the first time, the program has been extended to run 52 weeks out of the year. Feast your eyes on the programming scheduled for Live at the Concertgebouw over the next several months. WETA, Radio Netherlands distributes Live at the Concertgebouw through an American partner, WCLV/Seaway Productions. Stations wishing to broadcast the show can contact WCLV directly for broadcast details.


Mark Barry said...

We are incredibly fortunate in the Baltimore area to have BJC and as a whole the region has some of the best radio in the nation for good talk, alternative, and jazz, especially jazz.

Anonymous said...

This leaves me green with envy, since I live in a place that used to have a classical musical station, but lost it two years ago. The local NPR affiliate in what was certainly a calculated decision to blow off anyone insterested in classical music refused to resume the limited broadcasting it had already abandoned; it runs NPR news during the day, NPR and local jazz at night, and Prairie Home Companion and allied shows on the weekends. WTMI's programming choices were exceedingly tame, but they did promote the local art scene and did provide occassional glimpses of unheard composers. But even that low level is now denied to this area. The only benefit is the growth of my CD collection from 50 to 300 (to the dismay of my credit card bill).

Anonymous said...

I just discovered this blog--while searching online for an explanation about why my reception of WBJC has been unusually weak over the last few days. It usually comes in loud and clear through my Bose wave radio and dipole antenna, so I am baffled by the poor reception. From my experience as a radio amateur, I know that tropospheric conditions can affect signal propagation at frequencies above 50 MHz. When abnormal conditions ruin my reception of WBJC, I usually hear interference from distant stations, including one from Salisbury State University (which also plays classical music). However, I'm not hearing this or any other distant station on 91.5.

I haven't noticed anything unusual about my reception of other Baltimore stations: WTMD in Towson is weak and WEAA sounds good if not perfect. (Now, I would be really happy to be able to receive WYPR at 88.1. Why are Baltimore's public radio stations much better than Washington's?)

One plausible explanation for my poor reception is that WBJC is transmitting at lower power for some reason. (I guess that I should contact them to find out.) Another possible cause is a stronger signal from WGTS at 91.9 resulting from their new transmitter. When WGTS had their transmitter two blocks away from my apartment here in Takoma Park, their signal would almost obliterate WBJC on my other radio. (I have never noticed this interference on my Bose.) Although the WGTS transmitter is now located in Arlington, I still consider it a threat.

I have heard and read comments about the generally poor reception of WBJC in D.C. I certainly acknowledge that reception is poor in many parts, but I've received WBJC quite well on ordinary boomboxes while visiting friends in NW Washington--one of whom lived in a basement apartment near the Cathedral. (Unlike most people around here, however, my ears are accustomed to less-than-perfect reception because I grew up in a rural part of West Texas, where I had to accept it because my favorite radio stations were at least 40-50 miles away.) Nevertheless, for those who can't receive WBJC to their satisfaction, WETA is better than nothing.

WBJC has enriched my appreciation of classical music. I have yet to appreciate some composers, including Shastakovich, but I'm glad that WBJC plays his music because I know that many WBJC listeners love it. I feel really close to WBJC also because of its first-class staff of announcers. I especially enjoy mornings with Mark Malinowsky because he plays a wide variety of music, provides interesting comments about it, and cheers me up with his great sense of humor. I don't think that WETA will ever provide the enrichment and companionship that WBJC has given me during the nine years that I've lived in the D.C. region. WBJC is my CD player.

While searching the web, I found an interesting rave about another WBJC announcer.