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Association of Music Personnel in Public Radio 
Fall 2000



 
 You Are What You Play
An examination of playlists from diverse 
approaches to classical programming.
by Kit Pfeiffer

        Set aside other concerns for the moment. Assume you are good on the air: you project your personality, manage traffic gracefully, and say interesting and enticing tidbits about the music. All that in place, however, pales to the importance of the music you actually play. A classical show is only as good as the playlist. It is our job to put together an artful selection and then get out of the way of the music. Listeners judge us primarily by how much they appreciate the music selections. They will forgive us our human foibles on air, for the most part, but they will turn off the radio when the music does not please them. 
        At the Music Personnel Conference in New Orleans last February, I led a session on analysis of playlists and how well they fit the declared guidelines of a particular station. We investigated four diverse stations, analyzing sample playlists for how well the station does what it sets out to do. 
        Here are profiles of the four stations, with their guidelines for classical music selection and a sample playlist (understanding that one playlist cannot be fully representative). We will conclude with a comparison of the four sample playlists and a discussion of how well they fit their guidelines.

1. WWFM, Trenton, New Jersey: “The Classical Network”

        Profile: Six on-air hosts program all their own music. Theirs is a large audience (110,000 cume), stretching from Allentown and Easton in northeastern Pennsylvania through central New Jersey and Philadelphia to the Jersey shore and on into Delaware and northern Maryland. They also serve Aspen and Steamboat Springs in Colorado. The market share is difficult to measure because they appear in several Arbitron books.
 WWFM offers classical music exclusively, 24 hours each day. “That may make us a throwback in an era which has seen the demise of one classical station after another,” says music director Glenn Smith. “However, our listeners love us and pay generously for the privilege of having us.”
        Guidelines: “When anyone here programs in advance for our program guide, they submit one work per hour to the program director...for ‘traffic control.’ Who needs five Beethoven symphonies in the same day? Beyond that, all hosts program all of the music without prior approval. This works here because all of us are paid professionals with strong backgrounds as musicologists, performing classical musicians, or experienced classical music broadcasters. 

Morning Playlist, WWFM:
Friday, December 10, 1999

6:00 am
 Britten: Five Flower Songs, Op. 47
 Henschel: Oboe Concerto in C
 Tournemire: Concert Etude: Au Matin
 Haydn: Piano Trio No. 10
 Vivaldi: Concerto for Two Violins

7:00 am
 J.C. Bach: Overture to Carattaco
 Weber: 9 Variations on a Russian Theme
 Delarue: Suite from the film “Two English Girls”
 J. Strauss, II: Waltzes: Immer Heiterer 
 Schütz: Psalm of David

8:00 am
 Boresson: Romance for Piano and ‘Cello
 Bach: Chaconne from Violin Partita No. 2
 Mozart: Don Giovanni: aria
 Ziehrer: Waltzes: In der Sommerfrische
 Smetana: From My Homeland

9:00 am
 Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2
 Debussy: L’Isle Joyeuse
 Melartin: Karelian Scenes, Op. 146

10:00 am
 Berlioz: Waverly Overture
 Tchaikovsky: From “The Nutcracker”

11:00 am
 Haydn: Piano Sonata No. 50
 Bloch: Concerto Grosso No. 1

2. Maine Public Radio
        Profile: Three on-air classical hosts program their own shifts. The Portland, Maine, total survey area (TSA) is 365,000; the Bangor TSA is 338,000, the two major markets for which they receive ratings. Portland Metro Service Area AQH Share among listeners 18+ in Fall, 1998, was 6.8, and 5.3 in Spring, 1999. 
        Mission and Guidelines: “. . . A listener who tunes in to the many hours of classical music offered mornings, afternoons, evenings, overnights, and weekends will find a wide variety of selections from all periods and representing all styles.
        We strive for a mix which is consistently pleasurable to listeners of varied musical experience, while remaining accessible to listeners in various listening situations including background listening. While centered in the instrumental music of the baroque, classical, and romantic periods, these programs also include works carefully selected for radio listening compatibility from the choral and vocal repertoires; 20th century music; the repertoires for solo organ and solo harpsichord; and medieval and renaissance music. In our presentation of these works we aim above all to communicate our enthusiasm for the music, and we choose what we say and determine how to say it in hopes of conveying information of interest to a range of listeners from classical neophytes to connoisseurs.”

Maine Public Radio Morning Music
Thursday, September 9, 1999

8:30 am 
 Michael Praetorius: Pavane de Spaigna 
 Mendelssohn: Fair Melusine Overture 
 Chopin: Nocturne 
 Leroy Anderson: Sandpaper Ballet

9:02 am 
 Lickl: Cassatione (for  chamber wind     ensemble) 
  Santiago de Murcia: La Tia y La Sobrina    (baroque guitar) 
  Debussy: Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun 
  Vivaldi: Cello Concerto 
 Berlioz: The Trojans, Trojan March

10:02 am 
 Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 31 
 Piazzolla: Adios Nonino (guitar quartet) 
 Johann Christoph Pezel: Sonata-Ciacona 
 Rossini: La Cenerentola Overture 
 Stravinsky: Our Father (Otche Nash) 

11:00 am 
 Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 
 Anonymous: La prime estampie real 

3. Interlochen Public Radio, WIAA, Interlochen, Michigan
        Profile: Interlochen Public Radio (IPR) 
in northwest lower Michigan is licensed to the Interlochen Center for the Arts, a non-profit organization which sponsors the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp and the Interlochen Arts Academy, grades 9-12. The programming is almost exclusively classical, with four hours of NPR news a day and a little jazz and folk on weekends. 
Fall, 1999, Arbitron rated IPR third of 28 stations in their listening area. Cume is 33,000. TSL is 9.5 hours per week.
        Guidelines: “For music selection Monday to Friday, 8-4:50pm
 1. A solid lineup of quality, familiar, primarily orchestral music throughout the day.
 2. Other quality works for solo instrument and chamber ensembles.
 3. No more than two short, accessible, listenable vocal works per shift.
 4. Good contrast from work to work—period, nationality, instrumentation, etc.
 5. Rarely, if at all, play early music, pianoforte, etc. during the weekday. Make sure  it’s the best choice when you do.
        Music in the evenings and on the weekends should include more vocal music and lesser known works, but should still be built on a thread of familiar, quality music.”

Morning Playlist, WIAA
December weekday morning, 1999

8:00am
 Mozart: Lucio Silla Overture
 Chopin: Bolero, Op. 19
 Alfven: Swedish Rhapsody
 Schubert: Five German Dances
 Berwald: Elfenspiel

9:00am
 Mendelssohn: String Symphony No. 9
 Chabrier: Suite of Waltzes
 Verdi: Prelude to Act I of La Traviata
 Boccherini: Guitar Quintet No. 4

10:00am
 Dvorak: Slavonic Dance Op. 46, No. 4
 Delius: In a Summer Garden
 J.S. Bach: Suite in E, BWV 1006 (lute)

11:00am
 Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

4. WBHM, Birmingham, Alabama
        Profile: The station serves north central Alabama, including Birmingham, whose metro population is 814,500. Of that, the station’s metro cume is 70,700. Their metro share in Arbitron’s summer 1999 book was a 4, up from 2.4 in the spring 1999 book. The program director selects 32.5 hours of music each week for the 9 am-3 pm locally hosted shifts. He uses a computer database of music, but builds the playlists manually. 
       Guidelines: None published. In a telephone interview, program director Michael Krall said, “Generally, I program music this way: I make every effort to play both familiar and un-familiar works and composers. I try to have a good variety of styles in a three hour span (chamber music, symphony, concerto, duet, etc.). Given our format of NPR news on the hour, I try to leave some time to play longer works (from 25 to 45 minutes). I use my intuition and common sense.”

Morning Playlist, WBHM
Tuesday, November 16, 1999

9:04am 
 Telemann: Wind Quartet No. 5 in a
 Heinze: Konzertstück for Clarinet in F
 Capel Bond: Concerto No. 6 in B-flat
 Wagenseil: Symphony in g
 Sibelius: Valse triste

10:04am 
 Hoffmann: Love and Jealousy Overture
 Verdi: String Quartet in e
 Ziehrer: Nostalga Waltz
 Carulli: Concerto for guitar, two horns and strings

11:04am 
 Chabrier: Danse slave
 Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No.3 in b
 Bernstein: Magnificent Seven Highlights

Analysis

        At first blush, the above playlists seem fairly similar and within their station’s mission. All have some variety of texture from solo piano to full orchestra; time periods ranging from early music to 20th century; and true to their stated guidelines, minimal vocal or choral music, organ, or harpsichord. However, on closer examination, there are certain differences which set the programs apart. For example, WBHM is heavily programmed in favor of orchestral music on this particular day. The 9 o’clock hour opens with a wind quartet of 7 minutes’ duration. The listener then hears all orchestral pieces for a full hour, until the Verdi quartet begins at 10:08. 
        Similarly, WIAA plays three orchestral pieces back to back at 9 am before airing the Boccherini guitar quintet (probably beginning around 9:40). 
        In contrast, Maine Public Radio’s choices for this particular morning contain a liberal libation of solo and chamber sounds. An 8-minute Chopin nocturne in the first half-hour between 8:30 and 9, then a baroque wind ensemble for the first half of the 9 o’clock hour, and a 20-minute Beethoven piano sonata beginning at 10 am. Then, as if to make up for lost time and fill the ear with orchestral sonorities again, the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 fills all but 5 minutes of the final morning hour of music. 
        WWFM seems to weigh in somewhere in the middle of the orchestral/solo continuum: a short piano solo piece by Debussy in the 9 o’clock hour, and a full Haydn sonata in the final hour of the morning, with the 10 o’clock hour entirely orchestral.
        All these observations about orchestral music selections are just that—observations. The judgment about whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, lies with the programmer and ultimately with the listener. However, there is a high level of agreement among all four stations presented here that variety is an important aspect of good programming. So we need to use that measuring stick to see if they are following their own guidelines.
        To take up another issue, let’s look at the length of the selected works. Granted, in the classical realm we have the luxury of length, so it’s to be expected that there will be numerous selections of 20, 30, 40 or even 50 minutes. In between, though, is the opportunity to drop some shorter works. These short 2- , 3- , or 4-minute interludes will give you the opportunity to keep in close communication with the listener, and they offer a chance to be experimental. (When you are about to play one of these short, out-of-the-ordinary offerings, it helps to put your audience on notice as to the length of the work.) Maine Public Radio’s playlist seems most tuned in to the treasure trove of short pieces.
        For a third and final point of analysis, what about “Top 40” sound? The four stations we are scrutinizing said:
        WWFM: “Our experience has told us that radio stations which tinker with the product, play the same “top 100,” limit it to the two allegro movements, etc., are insulting their listeners and ultimately do pay the price.”
         Maine: “In our locally programmed classical segments we strive for a mix which is consistently pleasurable to listeners of varied musical experience, while remaining accessible to listeners in various listening situations including background listening.”
        Interlochen: “A solid lineup of quality, familiar, primarily orchestral music throughout the day…good contrast from work to work—period, nationality, instrumentation, etc.”
        WBHM: “I make every effort to play both familiar and unfamiliar works and composers.”
        Interlochen’s mission seems to be leaning most heavily in favor of  “the classics,” and indeed their sample playlist shows that persuasion. The other three give more emphasis in their guidelines to playing a variety from well known to unfamiliar, both in terms of the composer and the particular chosen work. WWFM fills this mission in the sample playlist by opening the morning with Britten’s Five Flower Songs—a familiar name, but not his “Simple Symphony.” Maine Public Radio also strives for variety by including Santiago de Murcia’s baroque guitar work in the 9 o’clock hour, with a modern Piazzolla tune arranged for guitar quartet in the next hour. These unfamiliar works are balanced with the ever-popular “Afternoon of a Faun” by Debussy and the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 at other times in the show. WBHM is also true to its stated intention, with selections ranging from Bond and Ziehrer to Sibelius, Telemann, and Saint-Saëns.
        In a study I conducted two years ago of the commercial classical stations in Maine (of which there were four at the time, now consolidated into just one), I noted what a narrow range of selections they played, which was their clear intent: “Consistency is one of the hallmarks of good radio,” said Louis Vitali, then owner of WBACH, one of the stations I studied. “When you walk into MacDonald’s, you expect a Big Mac. When people push the button to WBACH, they know they’re going to get classical favorites.” To that, I say, “Yes, and just as tasteless and unhealthy!” I believe that what public radio classical programs must do is dare to be different from the homogenized commercial sound— “cutting-edge” is how one AMPPR conference participant put it. The public radio news and information programs do this. Why not the music, too? To paraphrase PBS, “If not here, then where?”

Conclusion

        Careful examination of your own and others’ playlists can both challenge you and give you good insights. Are you doing what you said you would? Where are your blind spots? Your habits (good and bad) and your preferences?
        In the day to day pressures of working at a radio station, some time should be blocked out at least once a week to analyze and evaluate how well you are choosing music to suit your station guidelines. Whatever tool you use to assess your work, the important thing is to do so. Sharing playlists and discussing programming issues
with colleagues at your station can be helpful; or if you’d rather get outside help, contact a colleague at another station (you could try the AMPPR listserv to find someone, rather like taking out a personal ad in the local paper). 
        And above all, have fun! If you enjoy your work, your listeners will too.

        Thanks to Dave Bunker, Janeen Freeman, Michael Krall, Thom Paulson, and Glenn Smith  for sharing their stations’ information and sample playlists, and for being open to this analysis.

Kit Pfeiffer is a Radio Consultant based in Searsmont, Maine, maae@acadia.net
207-342-3443