The ambition of public radio's most inspired organizations is in the direction of becoming public service media companies, defined by the character of their content, their commitments to public service, their trusted relationships with audiences, and their capacity to move across multiple channels to achieve their missions.
S T A T I O N R E S O U R C E G R O U P
C H A R T I N G T H E T E R R I T O R Y
CHARTING THE TERRITORY OVERVIEW | SRG HOME PAGE
CLASSICAL PROJECT PARTICIPANTS | CLASSICAL SOUNDING BOARD BRAINSTORMING
READ THE RESEARCH REPORT | SUMMARY OF FINDINGS | LISTENER COMMENTS
CLASSICAL PROJECT OVERVIEW
OF PUBLIC RADIO'S CLASSICAL MUSIC
By Marcia Alvar, President Public Radio Program Directors
From the start of the Core Values Project, we have said it is reasonable to assume that the values first identified in the Core Values Summit (2000) would also emerge in some fashion in the other genres and formats offered by public radio. We just wouldn't know for sure until we looked. Now that we have looked at classical music radio from the perspective of its most loyal listeners, how do the core values sort out when viewed through that lens.
We found that the three Core Values categories:
Are all very much in play. In two of them, we found considerable resonance.
Qualities of the Mind and Intellect
First, learning for news listeners means in-depth information. When it comes to music, we have a very different story. Music listeners want information to be presented concisely. The phrase we heard over and over again was that they liked learning "a little bit" about the music. The substance -- what's in-depth about classical radio for these listeners -- is the music itself.
Second, since the music is the absolute center of what listeners value in a classical station, every quality on this list is very tightly focused on the music. The interest in learning is to learn about the music. The curiosity is about the music.
Like our news voices, our music hosts are expected to be credible, accurate in what they say about the music and sincere in their enthusiasm for the music. Listeners want hosts to talk with them not up or down to them, and to enhance their listening experience not intrude on it. That should be our central purpose every time we open the microphone. Here are some of the comments we heard about classical music presentation from members of our focus groups:
Qualities of Craft
Elements of craft that were identified as intrusive included:
The information in the breaks we played sorted out into four categories with different levels of value to listeners.
Level I: "The Basics"
Level II: "Tell me a story, give me a picture, but keep it
The value listeners gave this type of information depended very much on how well it was focused. If the information was both brief and memorable they liked it. If it gave them a picture to go with the music they liked it even better.
Level III: "I like to know what's happening…but make it
Level IV: "It sounds like a commercial. I hate
If we had to sum up what listeners said in a single phrase about the breaks we do between musical selections, it would be inform but don't intrude. We'll share some examples of several breaks and see how listeners reacted to them in the super session to follow this presentation.
Qualities of Heart and Spirit
In Qualities of the Heart and Spirit, only two values overlapped at all. The others, as described in the Walrus Research report, were almost polar opposites. The common ground was in humor - but again to be used only in a very disciplined, purposeful and respectful manner. And in generosity - an understanding by our best hosts that the content -- in this case the music-- is always the star. But now the values diverge.
From the beginning of our core values discussions we have emphasized that the three sets of core values qualities - Mind, Heart and Craft -- can be mixed in a variety of ways. It seems clear from this project that while elements of mind and craft are part of the format's value, the Qualities of the Heart and Spirit - comfort, inspiration, connection -- are pre-eminent in the classical listening experience.
This is extremely significant as we think about who our listeners are. Music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote recently that one of the biggest deterrents keeping people from classical music is a perception that you have to know a lot to get anything out of it. "Nothing could be more dispiriting and incorrect," he wrote. While taking care to point out that he was not arguing for ignorance, Tommasini went on to say that to appreciate classical music "All you need is an open mind. However minimal your music background, letting yourself respond intuitively, viscerally is the most important step."
We found that within classical radio's core audience, the power and impact of the music is shared by a great range of people -- from those who know a lot about it to those who said they knew little or nothing. To all of them, when we play classical music, we are by definition:
Differences we argue about inside public radio about how high above and about just how different we are pale in comparison to the shared core values of the classical listening experience.