Friday, June 24, 2016


We have been reporting about Classical Music Rising (CMR), a new initiative sponsored by the Station Resource Group (SRG) to help shape the future of classical music radio. CMR recently held a meeting in Seattle with the four founding partner organizations to assess the project so far.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation committed $400,000 to support CMR over an initial two- year period. Participating stations also have provided funding and resources for CMR.

The meeting was the first opportunity for folks from the four founding stations to sit down with Wende Persons, the Managing Director of CMR. Persons began her work with CMR in March. We had a chance to talk with Persons and Tom Thomas, CEO of SRG after the Seattle meeting.

[Key who is speaking: “WP” is Wende Persons; “TT” is Tom Thomas.]

Wende Persons

KEN: What was vibe like at the meeting?

WP: It was very upbeat. I think we have made tremendous progress since the project was announced earlier this year. I feel like a kid in the candy store because I get to work with all of these talented folks. It is nice mix of stations.

KEN: The founding partner stations are some of the biggest and most successful classical stations.  Is CMR only for big market stations?

WP: Not at all. While it is true that the organizing stations are some of the biggest classical broadcasters in the nation, the work we are doing is for all stations regardless of market size. We have added partner stations in multiple sized markets such as KCME in Colorado Springs, KMFA is Austin and Vermont Public Radio.
[Scroll down to see the current list of announced participating stations.]

WP: A number of stations – including big market stations - have spoken with us about their feelings of isolation. That is a major theme we are addressing. This is a chance to focus on classical stations. Classical has gotten a session or two at system meetings but this is a tighter focus. I lot of station people say “I wish we knew how we are doing compared to other stations. What is working for them?”

KEN: Beyond perceived isolation, what other themes emerged at the meetings?

WP: Much of our work is in five key topic areas: (1) Revenue and business models; (2) Determining who is our 21st century audience and how we reach them; (3) The role of digital platforms and experimentation, particularly on-demand services and content; (4) Developing and nurturing talent; and (5) Ways to build awareness and engagement.

They are are intertwined and impact each other.  Tom Thomas calls them “the matrix.” Overall, we are looking at station effectiveness, value and appeal and sustainability.

KEN: This is a big assignment.  What stage in the process is CMR at now?

WP: Right now we asking the questions and we don’t presume we have all the answers. We need to ask them to share their wisdom and experiences. Then,we will take what we learned and plot out CMR’s next steps.

WP: Station folks are telling us they want to share practical things like fundraising practices.  And, there is a lot of interest in what other shops are doing with digital platforms. For instance, Vermont told us they had 7,000 downloads for an on-demand feature recently. I know that is anecdotal but how they did it is important.  Plus, we want to share digital metrics so stations can compare their performance to others.

TT: There are two tracks to measure success.  One is hard data that is fairly familiar to everyone in the public radio system such as ratings and financial performance.

TT: Then there are things that apply to classical stations in particular like metrics and information that increase self-awareness. 

This second area includes assessing the value that classical stations bring to their communities. We are asking questions like: What are our the shared aspirations and responsibilities?  How we can tell if we are making a difference?

WP: Nurturing and developing talent is one of the reasons we are so excited about “second services” such on-demand files and podcasting. Digital platforms are opening new opportunities to develop new talent.

TT: We are working with the CMR stations to define the “value points” that stations deliver individually and collectively to their communities. It has been a while since there has been a high level strategic conversation among classical station leaders about the “value proposition” we offer. We need to start this conversation.  What values do we offer? What tools do we have to deliver what we offer? For instance, we know that engaged local hosts have sensibilities that they share with listeners. Another value is providing a consistent, professional on-air presence. 

KEN: Are there roles for the music biz, the labels, artists, etc?

WP: Yes, they have important roles. They are all part of the ecosystem of the classical music. I spent over nine years working in Polygram’s Classical division, working with programmers, publicists and artists. Classical stations are cultural hubs. We are all dependent on each other to help classical music succeed.

KEN: How important are hosts and the curation they provide?

WP: The curation process is a music discovery process.  The role of the host is vital in building connections with listeners.  There is a segment of the classical audience that some call “monks” (though I hate that term).  We refer to them as “music exclusives.” They are prime potential customers for digital services. 

What I’ve always loved about radio is that it is more than just a music service. There are some jobs that radio does best. The host is a valued companion. They provide the context, information and excitement that are unique attributes of radio.

Learn more about Classical Music Rising at their website [link].


1 comment:

  1. Very interesting!! We have just lost a significant portion of out classical music in Athens GA, on our local Public Radio Station WUGA, 91.7 FM. It's a loss felt by many of us, in this town with such a great music tradition. A group of concerned long time listeners has started a webpage/blog to update Friends and Listeners, about the changes and what has led to these ( I will share this on that page, with proper attribution - because Athens with out local classical music on our radio station is just wrong. Thank you so much for sharing this!