Yes, the secret sale of Classical South Florida was unconscionable. Now how do we get classical radio back?
Classical South Florida played its final notes last Wednesday, after its parent corporation, American Public Media, sold the three CSF stations to a religious broadcaster who immediately switched the format to contemporary Christian music.
Let’s be clear. Classical radio is a business like everything else, and the American Public Media Group has the right to sell a station to any entity they like and for any price they deem acceptable.
But the manner in which the company went about doing so was wrong, unconscionable and, frankly, despicable. APMG demonstrated a blithe unconcern for its own corporate responsibility as well as disdain for the public trust, throwing Classical South Florida’s loyal listeners, local “partners” and all of South Florida classical organizations and ensembles under the bus.
The subsequent outrage, as highlighted by the volume and passionate intensity of comments on South Florida Classical Review’s news story about the sale was swift and immediate. And completely justified.
During my decade working as a newspaper music critic in South Florida, the local classical radio landscape was in constant turmoil. After the shuttering of WTMI, there was either no classical station or just hapless attempts at one, like WKAT, an ill-fated AM outlet whose initial program director spun Yanni and orchestral arrangements of Neil Diamond songs. When Classical South Florida debuted in 2007, it seemed like a breath of fresh air, even with a heavily automated and lightly programmed lineup.
Twin Cities Business reported last week that Classical South Florida was an ongoing money-loser for the Minnesota-based American Public Media Group, running a deficit of $8.93 million for the 2014 fiscal year. The sale of all three CSF stations (WKCP-FM in Miami, WPBI-FM in West Palm Beach and WNPS-FM in Naples) for $21.7 million to the Educational Media Foundation, a California-based, nonprofit religious broadcaster, represents a loss of $7.4 million on the $28.3 million they paid in 2007.
AMPG president and CEO Jon McTaggart and his cohorts clearly decided it was in their best interest to present the sale of Classical South Florida as a fait accompli to head off the inevitable critical outcry.
In fact, the ensuing firestorm of public outrage has produced just the opposite effect. Had AMPG executives truly been interested in corporate responsibility and the cultural well-being of their audience, they would have done the right thing by announcing that they were putting Classical South Florida up for sale months in advance. That would have provided valuable time for interested parties to get organized, make a business plan and corral enough financing to purchase CSF’s three stations and continue the classical format.
Instead, the ironically titled American Public Media did the deed secretly, like a thief in the night. What a wonderful example of corporate integrity and dedication to the public good.
The sale may have been presented as a done deal but it clearly didn’t happen overnight. If, as some listeners have claimed, Classical South Florida continued to fundraise and shill for donations while fully aware that the stations were about to be sold, that could potentially leave them open to a class-action lawsuit. At a minimum, the circumstances seem to require that the FCC look into the matter.
So we can all agree that American Public Media behaved with grievous irresponsibility in their backdoor sale of Classical South Florida. The question is where do we go from here?
In the short term, for South Floridians looking for a daily classical fix, there are many radio options available to anyone with a decent internet connection. Most top stations offer live streaming of their daily programming. Some of the best national outlets are WFMT, WQXR, and KING. Overseas, there is BBC Radio 3 and a myriad of fine European outlets though not all stream internationally. Those who subscribe to Sirius have two classical channels to choose from.
But what are the prospects for a new classical station arising from the ashes of Classical South Florida? To be honest, not great.
An executive friend at a large classical network was interested in filling the local void and checked into the market. Unfortunately, he said, there is no South Florida station currently available that is suitable for classical programming.
Also purchasing and/or running a classical music station requires a certain degree of patience and selflessness. Too often it seems that many local benefactors are only interested in ponying up large sums if they can emblazon their name prominently on the side of a building.
But, it’s not impossible. Hopefully, a consortium of well-heeled philanthropists and enterprising radio executives will come together to do the right classical thing.
As founder and editor of South Florida Classical Review, I have a special personal and professional interest in seeing classical music restored to South Florida airwaves. While I now live in Chicago, I have many friends and colleagues in Florida and return regularly to visit. I pledge that SFCR will do everything in its power to encourage and facilitate bringing classical music back on the air.
In the meantime, may I make a request? The next time your favorite local classical organization—be it an opera company, orchestra or chamber group—asks for a donation, please write a check. The list of Florida music institutions that have gone under for lack of financial support is a long and depressing one, from the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra to Classical South Florida. Let’s not allow it to happen again.
Lawrence A. Johnson worked as a classical music critic at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald from 2000-2008. He is founder of the American Music Project and founder and editor of The Classical Review, Boston Classical Review, Chicago Classical Review, New York Classical Review, and South Florida Classical Review.
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Tue Jul 21, 2015
at 5:39 pm