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

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 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.


  1. This looks/sounds a lot like what happened to KMOZ-FM [K-Mozart] in Los Angeles. I loved listening to their all-classical programming. One morning with no advance notice, it was gone, totally. Replaced by CW. I removed them from my car radio settings. When WPR’s Sat. afternoon classical music host opening came up last year, I submitted an application. I have an MA/ABD in serious classical music, have played in professional symphony orchestras. I was a broadcast journalist in Tokyo for several years on TV-Asahi, NHK-TV, NTV as well as Japan correspondent for Colored Stone magazine. I didn’t even make the interview cut. I have nothing against the female member of the Madison Symphony who got the job, but their hiring processes look questionable at best. I think the Madison Symphony is a terrific organization. I audioned for a sub trombone job with them a couple years ago. I didn’t learn of the audition until it was really too late for me to prepare as well as I’d have liked & the competition was fierce with guys half my age from as far away as Cleveland. And the audition was totally objective: judges were behind screens, auditionees were barred from talking to remove gender issues. It was just play, period. So I have nothing against the symphony but WPR’s hiring/firing processes could stand some reform.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — January 12, 2013 @ 11:48 am

  2. Madison listeners have been blessed with an above-average amount of classical music on their public radio station. Don’t believe me? Just listen to NPR’s Milwaukee affiliate. I don’t believe there is any classical music on that station at all, meaning they must see their mission very differently. But then Milwaukee has WFMR with its 24/7 all-classical format, so that may be that station’s rationale. That said, I would prefer classical music to one more talk show on WPR. We have no other outlet.

    And, as much as I love jazz and world music, I could support dropping Riverwalk in favor of more Bob Parlocha and leaving Jonathan Overby at his current 3-hour slot. Mae West may have said that “too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” but in some cases too much may simply be too much.

    Comment by Michael Muckian — January 11, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    • I believe that WFMR in Milwaukee is off the air and has been for a number of years.

      Comment by Richard Séguin — January 12, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

      • Thanks, Richard. it’s been some years since I have lived in Milwaukee and i did not know this. This is too, too bad for local listeners and a loss for the city.

        Comment by Michael Muckian — January 14, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

  3. I do believe lots of people are in fact still in their cars at these hours. There is now a 2 hr. morning slot, the noontime Gilliland and after slot, and one more hour after that. Then, no more local classical music for the rest of the DAY…it’s gotta be money, or perhaps there are just not any willing and qualified persons who want to to the classical DJ thing for whatever peanuts they are paying. By the way, isn’t Kristen Durst the WORST newsreader you EVER heard! She flubs a line every single segment, and cannot pronounce the names of local towns correctly. Doesn’t she read the copy ahead of time?…anyway…
    Lots of the staff at WPR have two, even three different tasks there. TTBOOK, and Zorba Pastor, and shows like that are making money for WPR in syndication. Perhaps this is now their biggest priority.
    Classical music IS being relegated to HD radio, it would seem. For those of you who have not experienced HD radio, it is easy. An HD receiver costs about 75 USD, Sony makes a great little one, that hooks up to any stereo or any other speaker system, such as a Bose Wave or “boombox”, that has RCA inputs. I recommend one. And, I recommend contributing to WPR for the news and information, not the music, in the future, since the future seems to be taking on this shape. I dig their news, although it is getting to be a bit less progressive in its choices. Classical music, like all other broadcast formats, is under a LOTTA pressure from online freebies. So, blame the environment, not WPR. They have to cope just like everyone else. Donate during a music show if that is your primary reason for listening.
    I actually find most of the classical MUZAK old and boring, or not right for where I am at in my day. I would find most music radio that way as well, so it’s not just them, it’s ME. MBB

    Comment by Michael BB — January 11, 2013 @ 10:12 am

    • I doubt it’s money — Maine’s statewide public radio station has a very small budget, and last time I was there, the programming was: Tell you what they were gong to play, play it, tell you what they played, repeat. I loved it — no ‘personalities’ no silly chatter, just good music. All those syndicated talky shows cost a lot more than a music library does.

      Comment by Susan Fiore — January 11, 2013 @ 11:58 am

    • That Sony receiver you are referring to is no longer made but can be found on eBay selling for hundreds of dollars. Sangean no longer seems to be making HD component receivers, although they do make HD table radios. I’m not aware of anyone currently making receivers designed for hi-fi systems. At the moment, HD radio seems to be a wasteland for audiophiles, and may be dying in the general marketplace. On the other hand, there are many quality analogue FM tuners available on the used market, and some with excellent sound quality. I would much prefer that WPR broadcast their extra musical content from several low power FM transmitters in the Madison area, as they do with the Ideas Channel, rather than relegate it to HD. That extra content would reach far more people and would be a better investment.

      Comment by Richard Séguin — January 12, 2013 @ 10:26 pm

  4. I, too, am greatly disappointed at the “whittling away” of classical programming. The cumulative effect of “slight reductions” is large reductions. To say that you can stream classical music from the internet is of course, true, but who wants to listen to Bill McGlaughlin or Marika Fischer-Hoyt (a great addition to the WERN programming staff!) on their computer? HD radio is a nice alternative, but if you don’t have such a radio, you’re out of luck. I really cannot understand why WPR would actively work to disenfranchise those of us who have trusted them with our dollars, assuming that they would continue the kind of programming that we are obviously interested in supporting. Interesting that the programming changes were announced AFTER the recent pledge drive, isn’t it?

    Comment by Kathy O — January 11, 2013 @ 9:37 am

  5. Message sent to WPR/org this morning:
    I, and a number of other listeners, would like to get a straightforward explanation for the reasons you have been changing program times. Is it financial? Is an expanded ATC less expensive than what it is replacing?I’m really wondering how many listeners you consulted before making these changes– and how random a group they were. Is there a large group of people who are still commuting between 6 and 7 pm? Did they request an extension of ATC? If some answers aren’t forthcoming, I am going to ask Isthmus to do a piece about this. I’m really steamed, and I’m not the only one. Ann Boyer

    Comment by Ann Boyer — January 11, 2013 @ 9:24 am

  6. I stopped listening to WPR at least fifteen or twenty years ago, when chitchat got out of hand. I’m interested in music — and not just “music for people who don’t like classical music.”

    Comment by Susan Fiore — January 11, 2013 @ 8:56 am

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