Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, AL is May 16-18, 2014 - www.hangoutmusicfest.com

Times They Are A-Changin’

I’m working late, and the music is on: one of my favorite things to do is to work on graphic stuff, write and research when everyone’s left the office and I’m not obligated to answer phones, questions, or to solve problems.

Tonight I’m sitting in my perch overlooking an uncharacteristically calm Frenchmen Street—a hefty rainstorm chased everyone off the street—working on the August OffBeat.

I also like working late, early and on weekends because that’s when 1) I’m most productive, and 2) it’s the main opportunity I have to enjoy music, uninterrupted.

My musical tastes tonight are running from Davell Crawford, to Tina Turner, to Matisyahu, Allen Toussaint, Kurt Elling and Fema Kuti. But right now I’m listening to classical music on WWNO (Franz Schubert Symphony No. 5), New Orleans’ only radio station where most of the programming is dedicated to classical music.

In January 2011, WWNO cancelled its Saturday full broadcast of opera and the broadcast moved to WRBH– to the grumbling of local opera fans, one of whom is my lovely husband, who’d listened to the broadcast on WWNO for many, many years every Saturday, without fail. That move was definitely a loss for local opera lovers.

But they learned to live without it, as people do.

Come Monday, July 23, WWNO will change its format to include only news programs, NPR shows (it’s the only local source for NPR), cultural and informational shows, with classical music only being broadcast on weeknights. To be sure, WWNO also offers three stations, if you have a high-def radio receiver. Beginning on July 23, there will be 24 hours of continuous classical music on WWNO2, and jazz on WWNO3. Of course, all three streams will be available online, or on smartphone devices, all the time.

It’s admirable that WWNO is continuing its classical offerings in the evenings and on HD radio, but in doing this, it removes the possibility of enjoying classical music in vehicles and during the day (unless you just happen to have an HD radio installed). If you want to listen to classical music during days, you don’t have that choice anymore, unless you can afford to buy an HD radio, and have the money, wherewithal, and desire to own another radio.

I understand why the change has come: listenership at the station has been dropping steadily for some years, as it has at most community classical music-oriented station across the country.  According to market surveys done with WWNO listeners, news and NPR broadcasts capture a higher audience. Classical music, down. News, info and talk, up. The way radio works is that the more listeners you have, the more you can charge for advertising (in the case of community radio stations, most of which have a non-profit status, you call advertising “sponsorship,” but it’s virtually the same thing with a few minor requirements in verbiage). Fewer listeners, less money.

So WWNO, which is owned and operated by the University of New Orleans, is going the way of the rest: killing its FM broadcast of classical music during days in order to survive.

While one can understand the thought processes in this capitalistic society we live in, it’s still an indicator that we are becoming a dumbed-down, ill-informed and arts-ignorant populace.

Not to beat an (almost) dead horse, but this change is analogous to the demise of the daily Times-Picayune. It’s more about the money, than it is about creating and maintaining a well-rounded, culturally aware, educated and informed audience, which, in my humble opinion, is a damned shame, and pretty scary. I, for one, am not looking forward to living in an “Idiocracy” (check out this movie to see what I mean).

Idiocracy Trailer

I realize that nationally we are in slash and burn mode:  arts support budgets are one of the first things to go. With the lack of exposure to the arts, you create generations of children who have either severely limited or  no knowledge of music, arts and culture, and woefully ignorant adults.

Of course, the times are, as we know, a-changin’.  The days of readily accessible in-depth reporting in our local newspaper is soon coming to an end. And so is a readily-accessible source of culturally rich music for the masses.