Can Radio Be Friendlier to New American Music?
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard
This month marks the one-year anniversary of NewMusicBox and I am thrilled to say that it has been extremely successful thus far. When we launched our first issue a year ago, we had a little bit more than 5000 user sessions to the site. Not bad for a start-up, but last month we had over 20,000, which is a 400% increase!
I don’t cite these statistics to brag about NewMusicBox, although I’m understandably very proud. Rather, I offer this information as proof that the American new music scene is vital and that people around the world are paying attention to it more and more. A glance at this month’s News, our database of concert listings, or our compendium of new CD releases only begins to give an idea about just how much is going on every day. A reason for NewMusicBox being launched by the American Music Center in the first place was that there were no nationally significant media outlets covering new American repertoire on a regular basis. We were tired of bemoaning the lack of attention in traditional media outlets such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television, and decided to use the new medium of the Internet to create something that would have been unthinkable as recently as five years ago.
To celebrate this anniversary, it seemed instructive to look at another important informational medium, radio, and see how it deals with the music of our composers. This past February, I attended the annual conference of the American Music Personnel in Public Radio (AMPPR) for my sixth consecutive year. Each year the Conference is something of a battle ground between the folks who believe in public radio as a mouthpiece for alternative intellectual enrichment (music, news, etc.) and people who believe that the only way to stay alive in today’s climate is through maximizing an audience via statistical research about what listeners want to hear at any given moment. I must admit, it frequently feels a bit like a battleground to folks who believe in the cause of contemporary American composers, and this year’s Conference in New Orleans was no exception. Several members of the Board of Directors of AMPPR were kind enough to meet with me for an informal chat about the role of radio in today’s environment. Their comments, which once again are presented in a full transcription along with some QuickTime video excerpts, will hopefully provoke some comments of your own.
Jennifer Undercofler has put together a remarkable HyperHistory exploring the tenuous relationship between radio and new American music. For the first time, the HyperHistory goes beyond an intro and one set of branches to numerous branches sprouting from each set of initial branches. So read on and discover a fascinating legacy that extends back to commercial radio’s commissions of the 1930s and looks forward to Web casting. In this month’s Hymn & Fuguing Tune, we offer comments about radio from composers Milton Babbitt and Joan Tower as well as conductor Andrew Litton and music critic Steve Metcalf. As a bonus, we also present a full transcript of Gunther Schuller’s keynote address at this year AMPPR conference, one station’s list of the 52 most important pieces of 20th century music which were broadcast one a week over the course of a year, and my own “Another Century List”, another attempt at devising a means by which radio stations can program in more new music.