The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music: Is Wisconsin Public Radio trying to cut back on classical music to expand news and talk? Look at the schedule changes in its weekday lineup that start Monday, and decide for yourself.

January 11, 2013
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Will all the schedule tinkering by Wisconsin Public Radio ever stop or slow down? And what does it all mean? Could WPR’s New and Classical Network (WERN 88.7 FM is the Madison area) be moving bit by bit from classical music to news, talk and popular music and more towards the programming on the AM Ideas Network?

Well, one can hope not, but I fear so. The future will tell and I hope I am wrong. But it sure seems like a good time to raise the question — especially given the remarks at bottom of this posting by WPR’s new director Mike Crane about how easy it is to find alternative sources to radio for listening to music.

WPR Logo

True, Wisconsin Public Radio already boasts more hours of classical music programming than many, maybe even most, public radio stations around the U.S. And we who live in the area and state are deeply grateful for that.

But could it be that after a very successful year of fundraising, which now WPR even trumpets often in ads, that WPR is adopting the salami tactic of gradually reducing its music programming by cutting away thin slices of classical music in order to expand news, talk shows (like the call-in Joy Cardin Show, below) and more popular forms of music?

joy cardin at wpr studio

It sure seems like a solid possibility, given some of the new schedule changes that start Monday and that put one hour LESS of classical music per weekday on the air.

And that comes in the wake of other recent schedules changes that cut back on early morning classical music on the weekends in order to add in “Whad’Ya Know Radio Hour” with Madison celebrity Michael Feldman (below) and “To the Best of Our Knowledge” – not what I like to wake up to. Give me music!

Michael Feldman

Is all this happening because of budget cuts? Staff cuts or staffing changes? Reducing on-duty late afternoon and night hours for local hosts and engineers? It would be good to hear some reasons along with certain of the changes, especially the complete repeating, and then some, of “All Things Considered.” (I love ATC, but enough is enough and I fear somebody has been doing too much focus-grouping with the wrong group.)

It seems like each year brings too much tinkering. In scheduling, predictability would seem a plus, something to strive for in order to build reliable listening habits and popular support.

We’ve been down this road before, many years ago when WPR tried to nix the Saturday afternoon live broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera (below). The public protested strongly, and WPR backed down. But that was two or three directors ago before the affable Mike Crane, and it took place in a different political climate or context.

metropolitan opera 1

These days, many state and national politicians, especially Republicans, want to defund and privatize NPR. They want to make public radio not an alternative to mainstream commercial radio, as it was originally intended to be, but as a competitor with it. Bad idea, says The Ear.

Of course, we all have our personal preferences. I would also like to hear “Exploring Music” during the regular hours of classical music programming; the always entertaining and enlightening “Fresh Air” interviews by Terry Gross (below) interviews seem a greta fit for mid-afternoon when I am most alert: and music rather than talk seems better background during dinner. What are yours?

terry gross Fresh Air

Anyway, here is a summary of the changes, according to a WPR press release:

“Starting, Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, Wisconsin Public Radio will make some changes to the schedule on its News and Classical Music stations to provide better service to listeners.

“On weekdays, the afternoon news block will expand until 7 p.m. to provide news for listeners who commute later in the day.

“On Saturday evenings, WPR will extend “Higher Ground” with Madisonian and Edgewood College professor Jonathan Overby (below) an additional hour, to 11 p.m. (Editor’s note: The show features ethnic and world music.)

Jonathan Overby in radio studio

“These changes include an extra hour of NPR’s “All Things Considered” in the afternoon. Currently, the popular NPR news program runs from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. The new schedule extends the program from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to help more listeners stay connected to the latest local, national and global news stories that affect their lives and communities.

“The afternoon news block will conclude with “Marketplace” from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“The additional hour of news on weekday evenings will shift other programs later in the evening. “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” which currently airs at 6 p.m., will now air from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“Exploring Music” with Bill McGlaughlin (below top),” which currently airs at 7 p.m., will now air from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. “Overnight Classical Music” with Peter Van De Graaff (below bottom) will start at 9 p.m.     

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

Peter van de Graaff color mug

“Here are News & Classical Music Schedule Changes at a Glance:

“No programs are being cancelled or replaced with these changes — only the scheduled start times are changing. While we are making slight reductions to our music hours, we remain committed to both classical music and jazz programming. You can find more information about these changes, along with answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here.”

New Weekday Schedule

3 p.m. – “All Things Considered”

6:30 p.m. – “Marketplace”

7 p.m. – “Fresh Air”

8 p.m.  – “Exploring Music”

9 p.m. – “Classical Music with Peter Van de Graaff”*

New Saturday Night Schedule

7 p.m. – “Higher Ground”**

11 p.m. – “Jazz with Bob Parlocha”

On Friday evenings, “Exploring Music” will be followed at 9 p.m. by “Riverwalk” and “Jazz with Bob Parlocha.”

** Listeners to WHAD – WPR’s Ideas Network station in Milwaukee – will also hear an additional hour of “Higher Ground” on Saturday nights. However, the program will be followed by “Tent Show Radio” at 11 p.m. on that station only.

“Let Us Know What You Think” 

“We at Wisconsin Public Radio are excited about the new schedule and hope that you tune in and let us know what you think. Please listen and share your thoughts with us by emailing listener@wpr.org or by calling Audience Services at 1-800-747-7444.”

Please let them know what you do indeed think.

And please let me and other readers and WPR listeners know too.

The Ear wants to hear.


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