AMPPR Board Members Talk About Radio

How Radio Differs from Other Media


AMPPR Board Members Talk About Radio
Interview Excerpt #5


FRANK J. OTERI: One thing that people don’t pay a lot of attention to is the mechanics of radio. People outside of radio fail to understand the whole notion of duration and time units, and how music, depending on how long or how short it is, is perceived differently when you’re listening to a radio, than, say, when you’re in a concert hall. Or when you’re at home listening to a recording that you’ve chosen on your own or whether you’re sitting with an instrument and actually playing the music for yourself. On radio, I think you can get away with playing something that’s thornier if it’s shorter. Would that be a fair assessment to make?

BEVERLEY ERVINE: Not always. No, because…

LOIS REITZES: You can’t “turn off” a concert hall.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, but you can walk out.

BEVERLEY ERVINE: The interesting thing about radio is that some people forget they have an on/off button. You know, if there’s something that they really dislike, they’d rather call and grumble about it and tell you, you know, “I hated that 5 minute piece and you’re never gonna get another dollar from me again.”

CHRIS KOHTZ: That’s very important. We’re membership organizations and so, if you’re doing a good job of endearing yourself to the audience and serving them well, then they take it very personally.

BEVERLEY ERVINE: Yes, they do.

CHRIS KOHTZ: And like you said, you can get away with something thornier because it’s shorter. One of the reasons you can get away with it is because through audiences coming and going, you will hit far fewer people with it. So you might raise the hackles of fewer people.

BOYCE LANCASTER: It depends on how thorny it is.

BEVERLEY ERVINE: Even weather affects the listeners. Some of our music is pre-programmed. And if for some reason someone picks a piece in a minor key, and it happens to be gray and dreary outside that day… you know, we couldn’t predict that 6 weeks ago, but the program is written down and the station airs it, and then we get calls from people¥ “Oh, please don’t play that. You’re just depressing me so badly.” [FJO laughs.] It’s just really hard. There’re so many variables that come into play. And of course, people listen so intently and so individually…

BOYCE LANCASTER: Music is a very personal thing. And they take their radio very personally.

ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I have to submit my programming for the program guide four months ahead of time.

BOYCE LANCASTER: See, that’s the delight of my program. I have 2 pieces that I program for the guide, and the rest of it I do the day before. So I can walk into the studio, sit down and say this is just not going to work. And trash the whole thing and start over. Sometimes I’ll walk over, pull a stack out, or, you know… Leonard Bernstein died: trash the whole thing, grab Lenny stuff…

DEANNE POULOS: What is the significance of letting people know ahead of time what’s going to be heard?

ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: It’s tradition.

CHRIS KOHTZ: In our case, we’ve had listeners who have been members for 30 years. When we stopped doing that, for the same reasons that Robert was citing, you know, we still have people that complain about it. But it all boils down to, everything that we’ve been talking about, listener phone calls, listener comments, it’s all anecdotal evidence, and I have yet to hear of any single instance where it wasn’t less than 1 percent of the people listening exactly at the moment.

BOYCE LANCASTER: Well, and if you cut back a little on what you list, and give yourself some latitude to be able to plug some things in and make some changes, then they still have their list. It’s not quite as comprehensive, but heaven help me if I had to do five hours of listings of air fare. It would be a page long every day. These little bitty 9-minute and 8-minute things…

LOIS REITZES: Boy, has he touched on something that’s very important in this discussion! Deanne’s younger, Chris, I guess is younger. But when most of us here started out, there was no Internet, there were no CDs, no VCRs… There are so many other means of deriving your listening pleasure and accessing it that it really has forced us to, if not redefine but reexamine our role in providing the menu, the balanced diet, whatever, of music, and it is very difficult, because until you decide “Who am I playing this for? To whom am I directing this?” you can go mad.

ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I made that decision when I first started doing Morning Pro Musica. Almost 29 years ago. I told people, “I’m doing a 5-hour program of classical music for children every day.” And they always kind of chuckle, because I said “for children.” But that, in fact, was the audience that I was trying to reach. I knew that if families listened, kids would get the music. Ultimately they would probably reject it in favor of the music of their peers, but then later they’d come back to it. Now I have people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, who come up to me and tell me, you know, “the reason I’m teaching music,” or, “the reason I play” or “the reason I love music” and so on is Morning Pro Musica. And that’s my reward.

LOIS REITZES: But, more broadly speaking, don’t you think that what you meant was that it was the naivety and openness of children that you wish all listeners, including adults, had.

ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I suppose. But what I really wanted… I didn’t have classical music when I grew up. And the only music I had was the Hit Parade. And I wanted to be able to provide a service where kids could hear a program where they might get “Hi Ho, Hi Ho” from Snow White on the very same program that they might get Tchaikovsky, you know, and evaluate them equally. And I’ve been doing that through the years.