[../../../_private/magazine_tmp.htm]CLASSICAL MUSIC STATIONS
MOVE INTO THE MAINSTREAM
When listeners tune to a classical station and hum along with melodies from a Mahler symphony or a Strauss waltz, it's unlikely that the business of running a classical music station occupies their attention.
But for classical station owners, salespeople and broadcasters, it was the business - not the sound - of classical music that held their rapt attention for four days during the recent Classical Music Broadcasters Association Conference in Los Angeles. (Well, maybe their attention waned a bit when the esteemed conductor Pierre Boulez stopped in for lunch.)
KFSD's Hal Rosenberg and Kingsley McLaren were conferees, in addition to classical radio luminaries from around the nation and the world. The message of the conference was clear: Classical music stations everywhere are changing dramatically.
The good news is that everyone agreed that classical music will be beaming over the airwaves for a long time. More people than ever are listening to classical music, and the audience is much broader than once thought. It's not just the elite listening to classical music stations; it's everyone from teen-agers doing their homework to teachers driving home from work.
On the negative side, the business of classical music broadcasting has become extremely difficult in the past few years. Like symphony orchestras, classical radio stations are finding that they need to appeal to a more mainstream audience to survive financially.
For years, classical stations could fill their coffers with advertising geared to a small but well-heeled audience. Smooth ads for luxury cars, banks and airlines filled the space between the music for most stations during the '80s.
Now that many of those markets have dried up for classical stations, station owners find themselves scrambling for a foothold in a radically changed marketplace. To cope, classical station owners are learning media survival skills.
"It's not the automatic buy anymore," said Cathleen Campe, senior VP and a regional broadcast manager for J. Walter Thompson. "The business [of classical music broadcasting] is definitely changing; and in order to make a living, the stations are having to get competitive."
This business attitude is strikingly different than the former belief that classical music stations were immune to the economics that affected other radio formats. But with several prominent classical stations changing format in recent years - stations in Los Angeles and San Francisco are just two examples - station owners are willing to learn how to mix business with fine art.
Judith Handman-Cobb, general sales manager of KKGO-FM, Los Angeles, assembled two dynamic panels of experts to counsel classical station owners. Brimming with ideas, the experts recommended cross-promotion with orchestras and record companies, cause-related marketing and special programming as ways for stations to both increase business and to give classical listeners the best possible service.
But the conference wasn't all panel discussions and business. A small army of record company representatives was on hand to proudly chat about their recording artists and promote their latest releases. Glossy posters of sopranos and conductors graced the walls. Sandwiched between all the record booths, men and women at blinking computer terminals demonstrated programs for managing vast classical playlists.
As expected, the crowd noise was completely different than what you would normally hear in a packed conference hall. Let's just say that all those radio voices in one place make for quite a pleasing crowd murmur.
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