Members of the board of directors of AMPPR (pictured left to right): Beverley Ervine (Photo by Jo McCarty); Chris Kohtz; Boyce Lancaster (Photo by Jo McCarty); Robert J. Lurtsema; Deanne Poulos (Photo by David Crowle); and Lois Reitzes.
A conversation with:
Beverley Ervine, Outgoing AMPPR President (1997-2000) and Current VP Sponsorship (until 2003) and Music Director of WOSU-FM (Columbus, OH);
Chris Kohtz, AMPPR Board Member (until 2002) and Program Director of WGUC-FM (Cincinnati, OH);
Boyce Lancaster, Host on WOSU-FM;
Robert J. Lurtsema, AMPPR VP Publications (until 2003) and the Host of Morning Pro Musica, WGBH-FM (Boston MA);
Deanne Poulos, AMPPR Treasurer and Publicity Director (Until 2002) and Announcer and PSA Director for KBAQ-FM (Phoenix AZ-area);
and Lois Reitzes, Outgoing VP Programming (1997-2000) for AMPPR and Program Director and Announcer at WABE-FM (Atlanta, GA).
Recorded by Frank J. Oteri during the 2000 Conference of the American Music Personnel in Public Radio
at the Double Tree Hotel om New Orleans, LA
Wednesday, February 16, 2000, 3:00-5:00 p.m.
Transcribed by Karyn Joaquino
How is Public Radio Different from Commercial Radio?
LOIS REITZES (WABE-FM, Atlanta GA): I got into radio by way of being an insomniac. This is for real! I grew up in Chicago, and I was a very serious, young piano student, and always had a lot of difficulty sleeping. And I used to turn on my little General Electric clock radio and listen to WFMT, or what in those days was WEFM, and I would feel sufficiently soothed, and eventually relaxed, but more often stimulated by hearing the repertoire, and I don’t know how much sleep I gained, but I sure enriched my perspective and my listening.
FRANK J. OTERI: How long have you been on the air at this point?
LOIS REITZES: Two years in graduate school, and 20 years in Atlanta. Half my life…
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA (WGBH-FM, Boston MA): I was in the Navy, about 18 years old, doing a job I really didn’t like at all in French Morocco. And passed an open Quonset hut, there was some beautiful music coming out of the door and poked my head in to see what it was. And the guy inside said, “Are you applying for the announcer’s job?” and I said, “Yes.” [Everyone laughs.] And he said, “There’s some news copy in the other room. Want to read it over?” and I went in and read it over and he said, “Okay, you’re on the air in 5 minutes.” And I read the news cast, he said “What outfit are you with? I’ll get you transferred.” The next day I was in the radio station, a month later, he got word that his mother was dying back in Texas so they sent him back. And I then, having the most experience at that time, became the station manager. [Everyone laughs.] When I got out of the Navy, some 3 _ years later, with the G.I. Bill of Rights, I went to college, and decided to study journalism and communication arts, which included theater and radio. And when I couldn’t get a job as an actor or director, and I still needed money to buy paints and canvas and clay and stuff, I’d go down to the local radio station, apply, work 3 or 4 months, as an announcer, and then I’d go back to my studio or to a play. Tht’s how I got into Morning Pro Musica. I’d planned on being there about 2 or 3 months, weekends. And they asked me to take weekdays, but I didn’t want to give up the weekends, so I started doing it 7 days a week. And that was almost 29 years ago. I forgot to leave.
FRANK J. OTERI: [Laughs.] Have you always been in Boston?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Almost always in Boston, yeah. French Morocco, Rhode Island, New York and Boston, but primarily in Boston.
CHRIS KOHTZ (WGUC-FM, Cincinnati OH): I was an undergraduate music student at university and was looking for a job. I saw a 3×5 card hanging on the bulletin board at the music school. It said, “Announcer wanted weekends.” And I thought, what the heck. My mom said it would get me in trouble. So I applied and got the job, and did a variety of things there. Mostly I was interested in it because as a musician I had a lot of listening lessons, and this was an access to a great classical library. And I kept doing various positions and things while I was trying to be a professional musician and a few years ago, they were just tugging each other to be full time, so I opted for radio. So, I’ve just been climbing the ladder and trying different suits on, so to speak, over the last 13 years.
BOYCE LANCASTER (WOSU-FM, Columbus OH): Music might be one of the few things in which it’s more difficult to make a living than radio. My story’s not nearly as romantic as those. My dad was in television my entire life. I grew up climbing around the prop room, and playing with the cameras and punching buttons. All I ever wanted to do was be a broadcaster. My parents were both very active in music, they were both church musicians, they were majors in broadcasting and music in college. So I had an exposure to both fields and a love for music of many different kinds. So I just got into speech classes and doing little radio things in high school, and took broadcasting courses and said, “I’m going to be a radio announcer” and now I are one! [FJO laughs.] About as straightforward as you can get… It’s all I ever wanted to do, and I was lucky enough to be able to do it.
FRANK J. OTERI: How long have you been doing it?
BOYCE LANCASTER: About 25 years, including a couple of years in college.
BEVERLEY ERVINE (also WOSU-FM): Well, I’m in a position that I never had dreamed or aspired to, initially. I thought that I would end up teaching music at a college someday. While I was working on my doctorate in music history and literature at Ohio State University, I was a graduate teaching associate, which I thrived on, but it paid very poorly. And so, to compensate that, I was hired by a public library in one of the suburbs of Columbus as the audio-visual cataloger. And my duties increased. I was typing the 3×5 cards and all that kind of stuff. And it got to the point where I was doing all the purchasing of the recordings. And eventually it worked into a full-time gig, because once I left Ohio State, they just said “We’d like to keep you full time,” and I kept just learning more and more and moving up through the ranks. Well, I began to realize that unless I went back to school to get an MLA I was at a dead end course, and at that time I didn’t want to go back to school. So I thought, what can I do? And I found out about a job opening at WOSU, they were looking for an announcer, and I said, what the heck, I’ll go give it a try. Well, I was pitiful. [laughs] I blew every word that I could imagine. So I did not get that job. But it just so happened that Mary Hoffman, the program director was quite taken by me and my skills that I had acquired as a librarian, and my knowledge of the music, and she decided that she wanted to create a position for that, and hire someone to come in, because we were moving into the CD age, and she knew I had all the contacts. So, eventually, I got a phone call out of the blue one day: “We’re creating this position of a music librarian at WOSU. And I want you to apply for the job.” So I did, I got it, and next thing you know, she wanted me to upgrade and get us into the computer age, so with my expertise, we wrote the program. And one thing led to another through the years. I’ve evolved now to be the music director. But I have never been on the air.
BOYCE LANCASTER: One time you’ve been on the air. You did one fundraising gig with me. And that’s the best I could get her in there… it was one time.
FRANK J. OTERI: Did you meet each other there?
BEVERLEY ERVINE: Yes, we met at the station. And got married at the station!
FRANK J. OTERI: Wow! Was the wedding on the air?
BEVERLEY ERVINE: No.
BOYCE LANCASTER: We talked about it a lot on the air. Now, we didn’t honeymoon at the station, but a few people tried… They said, “Get ‘em to stay here.”
DEANNE POULOS (KBAQ-FM, Phoenix AZ): Well, I’m a neophyte in radio, compared to everybody. [Laughs.] I’m an insomniac also, but that had nothing to do with radio. I was living in Los Angeles, and a friend worked for BMG Classics/RCA Victor. They were trying to create a position of National Classical Radio Promoter, and he thought I was gregarious and just sort of brought me in to do it. In that capacity, I met the music director of a small station in a suburb of Los Angeles… He had a person doing a musical theater show just one hour a week, and I had a background in that, because I used to perform. So he enlisted me to do that, taught me how to run the board, and I made a lot of mistakes. [Laughs.] Well, I knew I wanted to return home to Phoenix, my hometown, so I went to the AMPPR Conference in 1994, and made it a point to meet the people from the local classical station. When I did move back to Phoenix, I just kept in communicado, was hired part time and then was just hired full time a year ago. So I’ve been doing this about 3 years.
LOIS REITZES: I just wanted to add that, as the fulfillment of my insomnia dreams, when I entered graduate school at Indiana University, I intended to go for a PhD in musicology and a minor in piano, and I knew they had a wonderful classical station there that also was an NPR affiliate. And I was feeling a rare surge of self confidence, knocked on the door and said, “Need any announcers?” thinking “Wouldn’t that be fun? They just get to play the music they love all day.” And the program director said he didn’t have any openings but they always take auditions. And I auditioned, and I was quite delighted that he told me that, well, actually, they probably could use one more employee. And I was hired, and in my years there, I came to realize that as privileged as I felt to be studying music there, I was a whole lot more comfortable and felt that I was making a greater impact on people’s lives in my small way at the radio station than I could have felt, I mean, at that time, than I would have felt coming up with some esoteric dissertation topic on why a mordent should be played a little bit differently during Rossini‘s time than it was in Bach‘s! [Everyone laughs.] And this is not in any way meant to be anti-intellectual. I think there’s a need and a reason for advanced academics. I’m married to one, and adore him, but in our little way, you know, we make people’s lives better, happier. How many other jobs do people have where those with whom you interact call and thank you for what you do? And so, 2 years there, and then 20 years in Atlanta where we moved because of my husband’s job. And this is it, this is the only place I’ll ever be.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Most of you have spent most of your radio life in public broadcasting. And the greatest percentage of mine has now been there. But I started out in a little town in South Carolina playing southern gospel music, and went someplace else and played jazz, and went someplace else and spun records in nightclubs and played rock and roll. And I went into radio to get into radio. But Mary Hoffman has really caused problems for us…[Everyone laughs.] She knew we were going to get married, I think, before we did. I was hired as a technician. I was hired by the operations department. I was running equipment and things of this nature, and one day… “Would you be willing to do a couple of newscasts?” “Sure.” She said, “Well, why don’t you make me a demo tape?” So I made a demo tape and she comes back and says, “Well, I think we can do this.” And just one thing led to another, “Would you sit in for this person for an hour? Would you…” And then the morning host was leaving for Oregon. “Would you like to do that for him for a while until we hire somebody?” And one thing led to another, and she, over the objection, I think, and the suggestion of the manager, decided to hire me full time anyway. As he said, I wouldn’t last 6 months. And I’ve been working on that now for about 15 years. He’s retired, so I don’t have to deal with that anymore.
DEANNE POULOS: It sounds as though nobody studied broadcasting.
BOYCE LANCASTER: I think I’m the only one.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: No, I did.
BOYCE LANCASTER: I went to school for broadcasting, but none of us, I don’t think, were looking to do what we’re doing.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: And, with regard to that, I’d say that, you know, I get a lot of people now who want to know how you get into radio. And I tell them my suggestion would be, go down to whatever radio station, get a job and start working. Four years of college preparing you for a career in broadcasting is really 4 years where you won’t get anywhere near as much experience as you get in 4 months working at a radio station.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Exactly.
FRANK J. OTERI: Lois remarked about how great it is to be able to play the music you love all day long, which leads me to a loaded question. How do you choose the music you broadcast?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Oh, boy. [Everyone laughs.]
BOYCE LANCASTER: You have a second tape for that?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: How much time you got left on this tape?
LOIS REITZES: I should say that I naively thought… [Laughs.] I was under the ridiculous impression that that’s what people do. [Laughs.] How do we choose what we do? Well, I would say that I was fortunate to have a wonderful predecessor at WABE who was the founding program director, Jonathan Phelps, and he was not from a music background. He was an actor and an experienced radio personality who had a wonderful feel for music and mood: people’s needs at different times of day. And I think that was the governing idea. You want to make the day worth facing. So, in the morning, you try to select things that make people want to face the day. And that’s pretty much been the philosophy.
FRANK J. OTERI: So, no Isle of the Dead at 9:00 A.M. [Everyone laughs.]
LOIS REITZES: No Isle of the Dead, few Shostakovich symphonies… But over the years there have been other concerns, dictates, making way for news headlines, learning more about people’s body clocks and rhythms and needs and the fact that they like to hear the weather forecasts, and a human every 10 minutes or so, in the early morning while toothbrushing and shaving, or in their cars. At my station, we start out with shorter, brighter works… We’re dual format, so we have Morning Edition… classical music and NPR News, although I consider jazz American classical music, so we have jazz as well, albeit a very conservative variety. I also think that, perhaps the most important thing Jonathan impressed upon me was not to program according to my own taste, that that’s really what could be the downfall of the station or format. But, I do want to say that it was an important evolutionary process for me, coming out of school with the conservatory and then a graduate school intensive kind of background and people were terribly snobbish and parochial, to realizing genuine, but naïve, listeners, music lovers, what that listener might expect from a radio station. And that’s pretty much to present a more balanced and perhaps more standard menu but with enough room to enhance it and expand their scope of listening.
CHRIS KOHTZ: I can boil this personal philosophy, programming philosophy down to a nutshell. That is on one hand, understand who your audience is, and on the other hand, knowing that, look for the best of the best. That when you know who your audience is and how you want to feed that audience, then be supercritical about what you feed them. You know, if, for example, they like Beethoven’s 5th, then we go out of our way to make sure we find the best Beethoven 5ths that we can offer. You could argue that, well, you should give them every one that’s out there. Well, that’s okay, but then if you play each one, you know, if John Eliot Gardiner‘s Beethoven 5th is superb, but you play every one that’s currently available on recording, John Eliot’s not going to come around for another 2 years, even if we play it on a once a month rotation.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: But who’s the god that determines which is the best?
CHRIS KOHTZ: Somebody has to. When I say that, it tends to raise people’s hackles, but I don’t think I’m raising the standard above what anybody here would do. I mean, there are some recordings that are just plain god-awful performances. The horns are out of tune, there are missed entrances, the audio is very poor. That’s what I’m saying about the best of the best. I’m not getting into saying, “Boy, you know, that 1st movement is better because he takes the accelerando more excitingly than anybody else.” Those are those kind of superficial things that everybody at an individual station could argue. We’re not so much worried about that. We’re just talking about, look at the formatics of radio, look at the technical needs, and make sure that those recordings meet those needs.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I started Morning Pro Musica back in 1971 at the time when kids were being told by teachers to hide under their desks in case there was an atomic bomb attack. And when families literally went to bed not knowing if they were going to wake up in the morning, and kids had nightmares. And it became pretty obvious that what was needed was a sort of dependability and a reliability that could only be given by the same person doing the same thing 7 days a week, kind of like another member of the family. But what I determined right away, thanks to the audience, was that they really wanted familiar cadences, familiar music, in the early hours, and so I started off with early music, because that was easy for people to take. And save the more modern stuff for closer to noon, at the end of the program, at the end of the 5 hours. And, you know, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was play Antheil or Penderecki or Stockhausen at 7 o’clock in the morning. I’d be guilty of somebody stabbing themselves in the eye with their own toothbrush… [FJO laughs.] And the one thing that I did not want to do was to inflict my own personal taste on my audience. Once a year, I grant myself a weekend in which I play my own personal favorites. That weekend is closer to my own birthday, it’s kind of a birthday present to myself. And the rest of the year it’s dictated by enormous numbers of lists that I’ve put together over the years of anniversaries and birthdays and holidays of countries and tons and tons of things that make the selection of a piece of music relevant. So that for any 5 hours, I’ve got maybe 15, 20 hours of music from which I can select a 5-hour program. And I treat every program as a 5-hour canvas on which I paint in music and try endlessly to make a musical masterpiece each day. As far as playing the best, the performance that I think might be the best possible one might be something somebody else hates. And so for years, before our library got too big to do it, I used to just play the recording that was played longest ago, if we had 5 or 6 recordings of the same piece of music. Now we’ve got too many recordings, probably 30 or 40 recordings of the Beethoven 5th, or something like that, so it gets harder to do. But…
CHRIS KOHTZ: So you do have to make some sort of determination, though. Like you said, 40 is too many. So you have to draw a line somewhere. That’s all I’m getting at.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: And, yeah, usually there will be a raison d’être for which version I choose. The one thing that I do now is I give the newest recording in the library preference over all others. If it hasn’t been aired, then that’s the one that gets played. The other thing is, over the course of the years, I have played tons of music that I can’t stand. Music I really do not like at all.
BOYCE LANCASTER: You have no choice.
FRANK J. OTERI: Are you willing to give us an example?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: There’s a lot of contemporary music that I think will fall by the wayside. And…
FRANK J. OTERI: But you feel the need to play it.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Yeah. One was Henry Brant‘s 88th birthday, or whatever it was… Obviously, I played Henry Brant. I didn’t care for it, but I played it. That’s probably doing him something of a disservice. He’s one of a great many. I could name a dozen more composers whose music I like even less. The thing is that I’m serving a very, very wide audience, and as a result, some of the things I like, I know they’re going to hate. When I did the raga series, when I went to India for 6 weeks in 1981, and brought back a whole series of recordings of interviews with all of the top Indian instrumentalists in an effort to fulfill a quest of learning about raga, and I did an 18 week series of raga on Saturday mornings.
FRANK J. OTERI: Wow!
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: And there were an enormous number of people who absolutely hated it at the start. But by the end of the 18 weeks, I got a letters from people saying, “How do I get such and such recording?” And I looked back, and they were the same people who wrote denouncing the whole thing to begin with.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now, he said something that I thought was a really interesting jumping off point for us. “Sometimes I play music I don’t like,” and when I asked for an example he gave a contemporary composer, and normally what I get from people is, “Well, I like the contemporary music, but I can’t play this, because I feel like my audience can’t deal with it.” But what he was saying was exactly the reverse, which I thought was quite wonderful.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I am a contemporary composer, too.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Do you play your own music?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: On occasion I have… [Everyone laughs.] Very rarely, but there have been a couple of times because it was mandated by an anniversary or something like that, I’ve played something…
FRANK J. OTERI: On your birthday? [Everyone laughs.]
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: No, it was actually part of a theme program. I played my Monarch Suite in a program on butterflies.
Broadcasting Contemporary Music
FRANK J. OTERI: Has an American composer, a living American composer’s music been featured on your station this week?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Absolutely.
FRANK J. OTERI: That’s very good to hear.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Every week.
FRANK J. OTERI: How much contemporary music gets played on your station?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Not enough.
FRANK J. OTERI: Why isn’t there more? Why can’t there be more?
CHRIS KOHTZ: Could I ask to be more specific? Because this comes up year after year, and we say contemporary music, and contemporary music – do you mean music by living composers?
FRANK J. OTERI: Yes.
CHRIS KOHTZ: 20th Century music?
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, now we can’t really say 20th century anymore, can we?
DEANNE POULOS: 21st century music…
FRANK J. OTERI: How about this? Music written by someone living or by someone who was alive during your lifetime or the lifetime of someone you know who’s older than you… I compiled this list a couple of years ago… [someone waves “The Century List” at him] Oh my God, there it is. I divided contemporary music into live Americans, dead Americans, live foreigners, and dead foreigners. [Everyone laughs.]
BOYCE LANCASTER: Pretty well covers the whole thing.
FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah. The idea was that all of the music was by someone whom you or someone in your life could have known.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I play a lot of it, and I mix it in as much as I possibly can. I’ve started programs off with John Cage. At 7 o’clock in the morning.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Four and a half minutes of dead air? [Everyone laughs.]
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Actually, I’ve been practicing that and I’ve got it down to 2 minutes. [Everyone laughs.] I skip the repeats.
CHRIS KOHTZ: It shows my ignorance, but we actually have a recording in our library of 4’33” and I’ve never looked into it to see who, what, when, where, why, and I know that in John Cage’s aesthetic, there’s a reason for that, but still, I just have to laugh when I look at the recording of that.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, if it’s a live recording, you get the audience sound.
CHRIS KOHTZ: Even if it’s not a live recording, there’s ambience, there’s everything else.
LOIS REITZES: How do you fit John Cage into early music? I thought you played Renaissance music…
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I had on a piece of music by John Cage which was very quiet and pleasant.
FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, was that one of the choral pieces done by the Ars Nova Vocal Ensemble? Their Cage disc is so great…
CHRIS KOHTZ: …And Stephen Drury‘s recording, the piano stuff, there’s really nice, beautiful stuff on there. The piece In a Landscape, it’s a beautiful Satie-esque little tune.
FRANK J. OTERI: And some of those Number Pieces are just heavenly…
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I try to mix as much as I can. I stick with music in the early hours that is of an early type, but not necessarily “early.”
LOIS REITZES: I see. So it doesn’t have to be confined to a particular century.
BOYCE LANCASTER: …It can have that flavor…
CHRIS KOHTZ: …very much the sound of the piece…
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Arvo Pärt is a good example.
Mixing the Repertoire
BOYCE LANCASTER: Intellectual programming works to a degree, but the problem is if you don’t program with your ear, then… I mean, that’s the only way the audience is listening, most of them, anyway. Except for the guy that calls me up and complains if I don’t play the piece from which this piece was derived immediately before I play this piece. I got that call last week, because I didn’t play the Bach that Schoenberg used for his pieces. And, but what I’m finding is, and I’ve done a lot of theme shows, and sometimes a theme show works very nicely for me, depending, anniversaries, et cetera, I’m finding because of the nature of the morning where we have, we now have NPR headlines from 01 to 04, three times in the morning, and traffic starting at 6:20 and running ’til 9 o’clock every 10 minutes, so it’s really hard to work a lot of things in there. But what I’m finding is the variety really evokes phone calls. People call up, “I’ve never heard this. I like that. I pay attention to this.” And they call in and they always ask about the things they don’t know, obviously. And we’re getting a lot of new recordings in. We’ve gotten some new women composers in of late, and the names escape me right now.
BEVERLEY ERVINE: I’m always looking for unusual and new recordings. You know, I don’t need another copy of Beethoven 5th, or whatever, unless there’s just something, you know, extraordinary about it. But, generally speaking, we do get calls from people who are excited about discovering Beethoven’s 5th for the first time, and then it’s wonderful when you hear that, because all of a sudden you kind of get re-interested and renewed yourself.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Revitalized, because you know that there’s somebody hearing Pachelbel‘s Canon for the first time ever.
BEVERLEY ERVINE: But on the other hand, you have your sophisticated audience out there who is still wanting those new challenges, and they’re wanting to experience new things, and so my goal is to find, you know, a nice variety of all styles and find a way to balance it all.
FRANK J. OTERI: But, I would dare say, that for somebody, you know, who isn’t familiar, say, with Pachelbel’s Canon or with Beethoven’s 5th, or with any pieces that we all know as masterpieces, they’ll be coming to that music with an equal footing with, say, In a Landscape by Cage, or, you know, a piece by Steve Reich or a piece by John Adams…
CHRIS KOHTZ: Or Vasks.
FRANK J. OTERI: I love the music of Peteris Vasks! Discovering his music for the first time on equal footing with Beethoven is really interesting. You know, we’re dealing with a level playing field, by and large.
BOYCE LANCASTER: Right.
FRANK J. OTERI: We always bemoan the fact that there were these years when there wasn’t a lot of music education, and now, people don’t know who anybody is, but, you know, in a way we can do something good with this.
BOYCE LANCASTER: There’s so much radio out there and there are so many sources for music in this day and age, as opposed to the ’50’s, ’60’s, ’70’s, when your sources were limited. Now they get it everywhere and they get it in commercials, they get it in television, they get it all over the place. So it doesn’t frighten them anymore if they hear something that John Lennon wrote or George Harrison or Ravi Shankar or someone wrote next to something written in the 1700’s: it doesn’t scare them. Or even koto music and things of that nature… People call up if you tell them there’s a reason to be concerned about it. When I quit warning people that new music was coming, I quit getting negative phone calls about it.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Every 3 months or so, I set one Saturday aside for a program of music and stories for kids. Morning Pro Musica is for kids always, but in this series I focus on stories and music for kids. I just finished doing one for May, coming up in May, and one of the pieces I scheduled is by Gubaidulina, her piece Musical Toys, a series of some 12 or 18 short piano pieces… That’s very contemporary, and the music is very contemporary. But I know it’s the kids who listen to this, the ones I’m after, ages 3 to 9, they’re still sponges. They’re still sopping up stuff that’s brand new, and nobody has told them what they’re supposed to like, or not like, so they’ll judge for themselves. And they’ll judge that, I think on the same program I have the Rossini Boutique Fantasque, and they’ll just, you know, one is equal to the other. And that’s really the way music should be judged.
CHRIS KOHTZ: You asked how much 20th Century music we play. Just in raw numbers, I was doing some analysis a while ago, if you just add up the raw numbers of pieces and go with the basic time periods, we play more 20th Century music than we do music from the Baroque.
BOYCE LANCASTER: I love playing the Finnish music that’s coming out now. There’s so much music coming out of Radio Nederlands, and those sources. Some of these new recordings, and sometimes, maybe for 6:30 in the morning, this symphony by somebody written in 1994 is really tough, but that 3 _ minute Scherzo from it is just perfect between a couple of other selections, so maybe you give somebody the incentive to do a little exploring, and so you can sneak something in and play something that you may otherwise need to be played in the evening, or in the early mornings. Early morning programming, as you have told us, is a unique animal. It’s a very different animal from other radio…
How Radio Differs from Other Media
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.
What Doesn’t Belong on Public Radio?
CHRIS KOHTZ: When it comes back to specifically the thorny music, something that maybe demands listening so that you get something out of it or understand it or appreciate it a little more… (With few exceptions, and in Robert J.‘s case, tradition has, he’s crafted, to some degree, a significant audience, who sits down and listens to the program, or pays more attention…) But for the most part, we are broadcasters, and it is a passive listening medium, and that’s where we make those decisions. I used to be a composer, I dabbled, and I just didn’t feel that it was fair to throw, in some ways, to, something I crafted so much time, and, you know, you gotta sit down and listen and understand how dadadadada. Radio can’t meet those needs, and sometimes I think it’s unfair. Because somebody will hear John Cage: noise, noise, noise, noise, noise, John Cage. And they may never come back to John Cage again. I’m not saying that means don’t do it. But that’s how people use radio in a lot of the cases, and so it’s, you’re in a difficult position, that if you throw this out there, et cetera, so you make a lengthy introduction, maybe a lot of people didn’t hear it. They just heard music that they didn’t like.
BOYCE LANCASTER: It’s a very difficult position to find yourself in. There have been more than, there’s been more than one occasion when I’ve found myself in the middle of the first movement of a 3 movement piece I’ve programmed, and said, “This is not going… I can’t let this finish.” It sounded great and looked good in the office. Now that I’m actually sitting here listening to it with them…
CHRIS KOHTZ: The guilt of your listeners is upon you! [Everyone laughs.]
BOYCE LANCASTER: You know, I’m wilting under this, and off it goes after the 1st movement, because it was not the right decision.
FRANK J. OTERI: Some loaded questions, then. What won’t you play?
BEVERLEY ERVINE: Aleatoric music.
LOIS REITZES: Atonal music.
BEVERLEY ERVINE: We won’t put anything profane on. We’re very careful about that…
DEANNE POULOS: You mean lyrics?
BEVERLEY ERVINE: Yes.
DEANNE POULOS: Okay. Fine, because some people mean instrumentation.
FRANK J. OTERI: So no Carmina Burana? [Everyone laughs]
BOYCE LANCASTER: Well, there’s a poem. Touché!
CHRIS KOHTZ: We just don’t have any people who know all the Latin.
BEVERLEY ERVINE: Well, there’s some that you look at, and you just look at the title of the piece, and you just say, I can’t read this on the air. So, consequently, the piece might be nice, but you could never really announce it, because, you know, it’s very questionable.
FRANK J. OTERI: Any other purely musical things you wouldn’t air?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Yeah. I probably have the most eclectic programming of any so-called classical music program in the country. I’ve played Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Jesus Christ Superstar, tons of jazz, and new age…but I will not play most, I’d say 99 percent, of hard rock and rap.
FRANK J. OTERI: Have you ever played any rap?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Once. Yes.
FRANK J. OTERI: What did you play?
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I don’t know. I mean, I played it at the time but I have no recollection of what it was.
BOYCE LANCASTER: The closest thing I played to rap was Classical Rap by Peter Schickele.
LOIS REITZES: Schickele is wonderful. That is so great! [Laughs.]
CHRIS KOHTZ: Now, that’s something we would never play, just ’cause I think for Schickele it’s just not his normal quality.
BOYCE LANCASTER: It’s not his normal quality, but it’s funny.
LOIS REITZES: It’s so clever.
BOYCE LANCASTER: And in the right setting, it’s kind of like, we got a Saturday morning coming up, and we’re playing Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, it’s a program called “A Picture Paints a Thousand Words.” And it’s on Lincoln’s birthday, so it’s the Copland Lincoln Portrait, the Schickele Bach Portrait, and so on from there. But, yeah, it’s timing…
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Frank, I should clarify playing the rap. I played that during fundraising, and it was an example of what we did NOT play on the air.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s a sample, if you don’t give us money, this is what’s gonna happen…
DEANNE POULOS: It was a threat.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: “There are a great many things that you hear on this station. There are also some things that you do not hear. You do not hear commercials, you do not hear…” then I put this rap thing on, and I put on a couple of other things that were typical of things that we did not play. But that’s the only time I ever played rap.
Who Programs the Music?
DEANNE POULOS: I don’t know if this is a significant variable at all, but the program director at our station has said that the one music director programs all the music, so none of the announcers programs anything, or there’s no special program or anything like that, and the idea is consistency.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: I did that for The Concert Network for a while. I think it’s a terrible idea. It’s a terrible idea to have one person programming all of the music for all of the announcers.
DEANNE POULOS: Well, and then the program director enlisted an expert in programming. Anyway, he felt that the music director should include more of the popular pieces more often. So, play Beethoven’s 5th more often, Pachelbel’s Canon more often, and he has been doing that.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: You know why I think it’s a terrible idea? Because I think that the person that is communicating with the audience is the host of the program. And the host of the program should be enthusiastic about what he’s playing.
BOYCE LANCASTER: He has to have some commitment to what he’s playing.
FRANK J. OTERI: Some personality.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: And it should be something that he feels for.
BOYCE LANCASTER: When I was in commercial pop radio, I was a program director for a while there, and the program director in that venue does all the programming. And the announcer has nothing to do but pull the cart out and say: “Okay, what’s next in the rotation?” and play the rotation. And all the program director does is sit there and listen to the rotation and make sure it’s right. It forces you to hire people who have enough knowledge, and enough, and are willing to work within certain parameters and can be trusted enough to program responsibly, but on the other hand, I don’t know. It limits your voice, I think, on a station if there’s one person programming. Or, God forbid, you’re using computers to program your music, which really frightens me, unless you know how to manipulate it to make it do what you want to do. I don’t know if you use it in Cincinnati…
CHRIS KOHTZ: I’ll bite my tongue, because I’m on the out of most of the comments that have been made in the last few minutes.
BOYCE LANCASTER: If you can manipulate Program Director, if you’re using it as a tool to help you do what you want to do better, that’s one thing. There’s a station, the call letters of which escape me, and I probably wouldn’t mention them anyway, but they just let it spew whatever it spews, and you look at their playlist, and it’s frightening. Because it’s so limited, and so boring, and the announcer just says, “This is making me nuts to play this.”
CHRIS KOHTZ: First, let me just reinforce, if I could be reflected that these are my personal thoughts, label me as music programmer, but you know, you don’t have to tie me to GUC. [Everyone laughs.] I mean, obviously, I’m working there, so we’re like-minded about things, but just to keep clear, that this is just me as a programmer. I was brought up in the setting where I got to choose my own music. I think it was the greatest proving ground and training ground. I got to understand it; I got to learn from my mistakes. I pulled out, I don’t know what it was, early on, and it was one of the few times the program director said, “Why don’t you stop this at the movement?” I don’t know if it was, I don’t know what it was. Stravinsky‘s The Flood, or something, at like 7 o’clock on a Sunday morning. I mean, I was 19, 20, and I learned baptism by fire. And it was a great proving ground, and I’m sure there’ll be, at least if trends are right now, there will be less of those opportunities for some people. I think it’s a great way for people who are really interested in the industry to cut their teeth. So I’m not going to judge one person doing it or the whole staff doing it. At our station I do it exclusively. I’ll tell you what the plus has been. The other really, really important thing, and the thing that’s been successful in our really growing our audience, and getting such great audience reaction, is our announcers tell stories. We bring the music to life by talking about the music, the artist, anything to add something, you know, added value. The announcers have all, for the most part, reflected that they now don’t really want the time to choose pieces. And if there’s something they really want to play, they can come to me and we can work it out. So they have that flexibility. It’s not iron, you know. I mean, if they come and say, “I want to play some Stockhausen on his birthday,” well, we’ll have a discussion on that and we probably won’t do it. [Everyone laughs.] Unless we can really find something that, you know, fits all the pieces of the puzzle…
BOYCE LANCASTER: You’ll be hearing from his agent…
CHRIS KOHTZ: But now they get time exclusively, on a daily basis, to look at the playlist and find those connections. And to them, they’re terribly intrigued, because now they have this playlist that’s not thematic, necessarily. Maybe it doesn’t have any obvious hooks: there are no birthdays or themes, or whatever on that given day. But they’ve got to sit down and look at it and go, “What am I going to weave through over the course of this day?” And they’re having a great time with it, and they don’t have to spend the time pulling the recordings and considering it, doing all those things. That’s what I’m there for.
DEANNE POULOS: Do you encourage that, as a manager, or it just kind of happens?
CHRIS KOHTZ: The storytelling?
DEANNE POULOS: Yes.
CHRIS KOHTZ: That’s a requirement.
DEANNE POULOS: Okay.
FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, wow.
CHRIS KOHTZ: That’s an expectation. That is a critical part.
BOYCE LANCASTER: You have to do that to give the music some substance.
CHRIS KOHTZ: Exactly. And, I’ll tell you honestly, it has worked so well. The comments were made about owning it, personalizing it, bringing it to life. And I’ll tell you, our audience is growing, and everyday we’re introducing somebody new to classical music and I think that’s public radio‘s mission. I don’t care what music you choose, if you are bringing more and more people into it every day, you are fulfilling your mission.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: The other advantage, ’cause I did the same thing, programming 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, for a couple of years at the Concert Network, is that you do get to balance the entire week, the entire month, the year, you know, one person overseeing the whole thing.
CHRIS KOHTZ: But we talk about it on a weekly basis. We have an announcers’ meeting, and again, it encourages them to plan ahead, which is a good thing. Not to plan your whole show from beginning to end, but to sit down and think about it so that, if you at least give it some thought, and you come back a week later to that show, it’s rattling around in your head, you know, you’ve done some of the groundwork already. But if they see down the road, oh, it’s so-and-so’s birthday, and, you know, I studied with him, and I’ve got this great story I’d love to tell. Well, fine, then come to me, and we’ll work that out in the playlist. And it’s the same thing with computer programming… That’s what we do. In fact, it’s over there on my laptop right now. But again, it’s just a tool, and if you have the right tools, you can do the job better.
BEVERLEY ERVINE: There is a movement, a problem that’s happening in radio right now, with all the downsizing, that a lot of people that are on the air are juggling several jobs simultaneously for the station. And so they don’t have the freedom of time to be able to do the research to find the stories, because while the music’s playing, they’re busy cataloging recordings, or answering the phone, and it really is a problem because on one hand, I’m sure they’re torn. They want to be able to do that, take the time, and make every break a magical moment and find a way to reach the audience. But a lot of times, it’s just life, the job gets in the way.
CHRIS KOHTZ: I find myself saying the way we do things is a luxury. And I’m starting to get a little upset with myself for coming back to that every time, that the way we do it is a luxury. I’m beginning to think, after more experience, that the way we do things is the way we should do it, and should continue to do it. And other stations could possibly benefit from doing it that way. But you have to take that big chance, you have to make the financial commitment, the time commitment, and at least try it. Because that’s the whole thing about public broadcasting… We don’t have that $23 million a year in commercial sales. Public radio can often be very stagnant, because if you change, that might mean the audience changes. And if they change, they don’t give you money. And if they don’t give you money, you don’t do it anyway. And that often stifles…
BOYCE LANCASTER: My only concern about having one person… In commercial radio, in terms of programming, you have a person who’s the program director, and he and the music director together decide what’s going to happen… Most of the time, though, in commercial radio, especially in pop, it’s all chart driven anyway. And it’s even more so now than it used to be; 20 years ago, 25 years ago, the PD would sit down, and they would use charts to guide them. When I was first programming in commercial radio, eventually I had 4 or 5 record labels that would send me pre-copies of recordings and say, “What order would you release these things in?” And there would be a couple of dozen of us across the country that would say: “This is what I think you should do.” And that’s how they would release the singles. And that doesn’t happen much anymore. Now it’s video and promotion driven, and the radio stations are told what to play, so it’s a tough comparison. But my concern is, who’s giving the program directors of tomorrow the training that you got by being allowed to go in there and do the digging, I mean, they’re learning to do it the way you’re doing it now, but there’s some…
CHRIS KOHTZ: That’s a philosophical area… this is a transition for me. And that’s the gray area. Like I said, it was a great proving ground. Was it a necessary proving ground? I just don’t have an answer to that. It was a great one for me. Is it the only way? I don’t know. We have a lot of people that didn’t in our instance that I think would be great PD’s, by the nature of who they are. They didn’t have this, although, one in particular did, but from a rock background.
How is Public Radio Different from Commercial Radio?
FRANK J. OTERI: Why would somebody choose a public station over a commercial station, and how is a public classical music station different from a commercial classical station? Because I’ve been going to these conferences now, I guess this is year 6 for me, and there has been a movement that we seem to have gotten away from, and I’m a little glad to see that we’re moving away from it, but there was a movement for a while to try and make public stations exactly like commercial stations…
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: Boston is a prime example of that. We have two stations in Boston. When I started there was something like a dozen or more full-time classical music stations. Now there are 2 broadcasting classical music. One is WCRB, which is commercial, the other is WGBH, which is a mixed format, about half of which is classical. CRB has been decried by many because it has eliminated opera, it has eliminated any vocal music, choruses, et cetera, and plays only those pieces, they have a Mozart block every morning from 9 to 10, for example. And they have a format that allows for, maybe 4 or 5 minute pieces, sometimes, they’ll actually play a full Haydn symphony or something. They started with movements for a while, and then they dropped that when the audience got pissed off.
CHRIS KOHTZ: The movement experimentation happened in public and commercial radio, and most have gone away from it for the same reasons. That’s one of the rare times that’s happened.
ROBERT J. LURTSEMA: The first thing they say after a piece of music ends is “WCRB, 102.5, Boston classical music station.” The last thing they say before a piece begins is “WCRB…” It’s the same thing. Always the station ID. The last thing I say before I play piece is the name of the composer. Almost always. And it’ll be generally somewhere close to the first thing I’ll say after the name of the piece, the composer, something like that. The big difference is they stick to a specific time schedule, they have breaks on the hour. I don’t. For the full 5 hours, my breaks come when the music ends. I’m allowed the luxury of that format, fortunately. But the major difference is they have to be concerned with cume and share, and cost per thousand. Public radio doesn’t have to be. What’s destroying public radio is the need to find more and more subscribers to make more and more money, so they can fill the coffers, and that, unfortunately, is often at the expense of the music and the format.
CHRIS KOHTZ: Your point is right, that we are not beholden to audience numbers as a commercial station is. I have friends who are program directors at commercial stations, the ax that hangs over their heads is that if somebody comes along, 5000 miles away, who owns the station and just doesn’t see the income and numbers he wants, it doesn’t matter what format it is, it gets axed, it gets changed. We don’t have that issue. But as far as, like specific tight hour clocks, and all that, none of that, there are commercial radio stations in this country that sound just like public radio stations, that are just as loose. And likewise, there are public radio stations that are just as tight as some of the tightest commercial stations. I don’t think that’s as much of an issue as it used to be.
BOYCE LANCASTER: I think there are elements of commercial radio that we can incorporate that make us sound good. Elements of breaks and the way we handle ourselves and report ourselves in terms of professionalism. But on the other hand, when I was in commercial radio, the problem was when I had managers walking in to me, and saying, “I don’t want you to play that particular piece of music there.” And I said, “Why not?” “Because the client called and doesn’t want to hear that next to his commercial.” And I said, “Who’s programming the radio station here?” Which he took exception to, and I said, “I will play that piece of music there again, because if the client doesn’t like it, the client shouldn’t have bought time on this radio station. It’s part of our format.” And that, and I’ve had managers walk in and pull music out of the studio that I had put in there because clients complained. And that is not the way to run a radio station. When listeners say something to me, and listeners who are willing to back their listening with dollars, call me up and say “I didn’t like this, and this is why,” and they’re willing to talk to me, we can usually come to a common ground, or they may change my mind.
LOIS REITZES: But Boyce, this touches on something that is unique to public stations, I think, and it is that impassioned ownership.
BEVERLEY ERVINE: Exactly.
LOIS REITZES: You know, I don’t watch much commercial television. When Seinfeld was on, I watched that. I would never dream of calling NBC and saying, “How dare you program all that dreck? There’s only one half-hour a week on your station I can endure.” And yet, they have no problem if we play a thorny four-minute classical piece… They have no problem calling us up, because they do feel that intense sense of belonging because they are contributing. And so long as we need their contributions, we have to consider that somewhat. But never to the point, thank God, that commercial stations do.
BOYCE LANCASTER: And if they’re willing to talk to you, and you can have a conversation about it with them, 90 percent of the time you can come to an understanding and they’re fine. Because then they know why.
CHRIS KOHTZ: It’s longtime dedication to the format. The few commercial stations that have stayed in the classical format for a long time are witnessing the same things we are, except that they choose not to really listen to the audience, I mean, that’s a burden to them…