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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 9

Classical Radio News

by David Podgorski / June 4, 2008

This Issue's Classical Radio Coverage

Ongoing coverage

Sound Advice Gets 2nd Life

Things are looking up for Rick Phillips. After his popular show Sound Advice, which aired on CBC Radio for 14 seasons, was dropped by the CBC last March, Universal Music Canada picked up the radio show and offered it in a new format as a free podcast as of April 22. “When Sound Advice ended on CBC Radio, I received hundreds of letters and e-mails of support from fans,” Phillips says. “Most of them were critical of the decision to air less classical music on the CBC. Sound Advice was and is the only radio program in Canada devoted entirely to classical recordings, and they were sorry to see it go.”

The program survived the transition to a podcast format more or less intact. The first portion of the program features starred reviews of new CDs. The second portion is devoted to building a classical music library, with an in-depth look at a particular artist or repertoire. Now, the show will only feature Universal products. Furthermore, the new Sound Advice will only appear every other week to better coincide with the release dates of new CDs. The other difference is that Sound Advice will now feature more choral and operatic music than the old show did. “Sound Advice Online is still in its early days, but so far listener response has been strong,” said Phillips. “Many of our listeners like the ability to download the show to an iPod or listen to us whenever they want.”

Phillips believes that classical music is still underrated, and he feels that it’s time for this to change. “Right now, the stereotype of classical music is that it’s irrelevant or elitist, but there are more and more young people attending opera and live symphony and chamber music concerts. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s program for young people at the TSO has over 25 000 members!”

But a growing audience for the music didn’t seem to make much difference to the CBC, and Phillips saw the writing on the wall. “In March of 2007 I was dropped from Radio One,” Phillips explains. “Then the following October, Radio Two shortened my show from 90 to 60 minutes. Finally in January 2008, they told me my show would be cancelled when my contract was up.”

What motivated the CBC to act the way they did? “CBC Radio is changing to try to attract a larger, younger, and more ethnic-based audience,” Phillips says. “The perception is that classical music programming won’t achieve those goals, but I know that’s not true. I’ve been working as an educator and broadcaster for 25 years, and I’ve met many people, young and ethnic, who do enjoy classical music. It’s a language that communicates a powerful message, and we need to break down the pre-conceptions that people have about it.”

Sound Advice can be found online at umusic.ca

Mouvement Radio-Québec

The void left by the cancellation of SRC’s Chaîne-culturelle has inspired Daniel Turp, the PQ member for Honoré-Mercier, to found the Mouvement Radio-Québec (MRQ), a political organization dedicated to a publicly funded cultural and music station for Quebecers. The group is devoted to three principles: promoting a Quebec-wide radio station devoted to the arts, culture, and the humanities, getting grassroots support from artists and other public figures across Québec to speak out in favour of Québec-based public broadcasting, and funding research to study the feasibility of having a Québec-run radio station. Turp explaine, “I believe there’s a place for a radio station that isn’t subjected to ratings and that functions as a real alternative for listeners.”

Turp says he’s consulted legal specialists, who confirmed that there’s no reason Québec can’t have its own public broadcasting license if the station isn’t a news service and focuses on cultural and educational programming. “There should be a radio station that tries to work with artists in their own milieu, which unfortunately you can’t really find on the airwaves in Québec right now,” Turp added.

The idea has already succeeded in rallying many Quebec-based artists, including actor James Hyndman. “I’m happy to be associated with a movement that gives a voice to artists and supports the Arts in Québec,” Hyndman declared. “This is about moving Quebec forward and recognizing the immense cultural vitality we have here,” said Montréal-based harpsichordist Geneviève Soly, an MRQ board member. “We need a forum for all of Quebec, and we believe that creating Radio-Québec is a great way to do that.”

Hyndman has already joined forces with a number of artists in support of the Mouvement Radio-Québec. On Thursday May 29, he’s performing at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur along with the Molinari String Quartet, the Dennis Chang Trio, and pianist Louise Bessette as part of an evening of spoken-word and musical performances aimed at raising awareness for Turp’s cause.

“I would like to invite everyone in Québec to join the Mouvement Radio-Québec and help create a radio station that will become a genuine space for the Arts,” Turp concluded. www.danielturpqc.org

Classical 96 FM Zooms While CBC Radio Burns

There’s at least one person celebrating the demise of classical music at the CBC. Moses Znaimer, who owns Classical 96 FM and 103 FM, sent an appeal to frustrated Radio 2 listeners on the sides of buses to remind them that Toronto still has a classical music station. Znaimer, a self-described media-innovator and “Zoomer,” bought the station for $12 million in September 2006, and has since focused on acquiring new radio licences and establishing a presence on the Internet, saying, “the Internet is the new Television.”

The station was bleeding cash when Znaimer took it over, but it has already become profitable after only one year. The reason for this is surprisingly simple: while many popular-music stations bounce up and down in the ratings as they tinker with their formats, classical programming remains a stable moneymaker with a virtually guaranteed audience that is demographically attractive to advertisers – namely baby boomers with money to spend.

Znaimer enjoys a reputation for making smart business moves. In 1969, he quit the CBC and founded CITY-TV in 1972. Then in 1984, Znaimer founded MuchMusic, Canada’s first music-video station. In the intravening 25 years, Znaimer introduced a variety of channels to Canadian airwaves, including Canadian Learning Television, Star!, BookTelevision, and SexTV. Znaimer’s forays into new territory have always gained attention, and the CITY-TV building –the centre of his media empire- is known to media analyists as “the temple of the ultra-hip.”

Since officially re-launching Classical 96 in September 2007, Znaimer has started giving live concerts at Classical 96 headquarters, which have quickly established the station as a major promotional stop for classical artists on tour. Recent guests included pianists Lang Lang and Yundi Li, Measha Brueggergosman, Ben Heppner, The Gryphon Trio, and The Canadian Brass.

Other innovations include live streaming over the station’s website, a greater emphasis on opera and vocal music, and “The Zoomer Report,” a news program aimed at the over-50 crowd.

Easy Listening at Radio-Classique

Many Montréal residents find classical music a familiar presence on the airwaves – thanks to Radio-Classique 99.5 CJPX. Founded in 1998 by Jean-Pierre Coallier, Radio-Classique broadcasts in the Montréal area, and since September 2007, opened a sister station in Quebec City 92.7 CJSQ, which is also committed to a program of light classical music. Coallier says Radio-Classique wanted to expand to serve more people with its mission of delivering the classics. As part of this expansion Radio-Classique was recently made available worldwide, when the station launched a live streaming format to better reach out to listeners.

Coallier says he had a different vision for classical music than broadcasters were used to. “I told my station managers to avoid heavy, depressing works,” Coallier explains. “I said, ‘If it doesn’t have a tune you can sing along to, keep it off the air!’ This audacious move paid off for Radio-Classique, and by 2000, they were the Montréal’s fifth most popular radio station. The station’s marketing campaign was a simple black and white poster of Beethoven with the title “L’effect Beethoven” (The Beethoven Effect) and the tag-line “La musique qui fait du bien” (The music that makes you feel good) which has evolved to today’s “Ecoutez comme c’est Beau!” (Listen, it’s Beautiful!). Coallier soon found that his station had a strong following, as the station quickly developed a dedicated audience that was willing to tune into his station all day, every day.

Since then, the station has branched out to serious works, and in addition to reliable classical favorites such as Haydn and Mozart, listeners can now enjoy such varied works as Mendelssohn, Berlioz, as well as a variety of Baroque and Classical composers. www.cjpx.ca


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