Yes, the secret sale of Classical South Florida was unconscionable. Now how do we get classical radio back?

By Lawrence A. Johnson

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.

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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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26 Responses to “Yes, the secret sale of Classical South Florida was unconscionable. Now how do we get classical radio back?”

  1. Posted Jul 21, 2015 at 6:26 pm by xavier

    Absolutely DISGUSTING…on every level imaginable….and the way it was done as well…simply DISGUSTING that this was allowed to happen…..under handed…quietly behind EVERYONE’S back…TYPICAL corporate america at its FINEST.

  2. Posted Jul 21, 2015 at 9:46 pm by Sylvia

    Excellent piece.

    I think the way to solve this problem is a variation on what the University of South Florida does in supporting WSMR, a classical music station in Tampa. We’ve got a lot of universities in this area, and they could gain a lot of local goodwill by partnering on a station. (Such force could also persuade one of the existing “unavailable” stations to be pried loose, perhaps.)

  3. Posted Jul 21, 2015 at 11:24 pm by Nancy

    It is both regrettable and sad that a tri-city area as large as Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/West Plam Beach can not sustain a philharmonic orchestra or classical music station. But what APMG did was despicable.

  4. Posted Jul 22, 2015 at 11:06 am by warren g

    I am ready, and willing to give as much support as I can to that idea of university sponsored classical radio or, any other version of classical FM radio. Radio in South Florida is almost non-existent now.

  5. Posted Jul 22, 2015 at 11:41 am by Suzanne Stevenson

    A shock: returned from short trip out of town to turn on radio and hear … A terrible vacuum has been created. This area is now officially a cultural wasteland. What kind of society allows beauty and enlightenment to be supplanted by … ?

  6. Posted Jul 22, 2015 at 11:43 am by Sara

    Sylvia has a great idea! I hope UM, FIU, Barry, Nova Southeastern or some other university will sponsor a classical music station soon. I’m already suffering from withdrawal!

    When you combine Miami-Dade’s, Broward’s and Palm Beach’s populations, then you probably have at least 7,000,000 people. There’s got to be enough of a percentage of that number who will support a Classical Music station in our area. It’s embarrassing to not have one. We do have symphony orchestras and lots of other classical musicians who perform here, so why can’t we support a radio station?

    The Miami Summer Music Festival has been spectacular!

  7. Posted Jul 22, 2015 at 1:07 pm by Sid Fein

    Mr. Johnson’s article is extremely well written. It expresses my sentiments so well that there is not much that I can add. I agree with him 100%.

    I have lived in this area for many years and, unfortunately, have seen classical music vanish from our airwaves before. It is pathetic that our diverse tri-county area cannot support a classical station.

    I will help, as best I can, to bring it back and support it when the time comes.

  8. Posted Jul 22, 2015 at 2:12 pm by Joy

    I tried to tune in a few days ago, unaware of the sale of the station and was totally confused. I just had a moment to go online and now I know why.

    I am heartbroken. I love this station and was a member. No more classical music while driving….the hosts did a great job of enlightening listeners with interesting background tidbits on the music.

    This is a great loss for south Florida. The writer mentioned WQXR as an alternative. It is a poor one. I refer to it as the 100 greatest hits of classical music. They just keep repeating the same pieces. How boring. Oh, how sad!

  9. Posted Jul 22, 2015 at 3:47 pm by BobbiRaasch

    I’m as religious as the next person and I think we have enough gospel stations, especially when Classical South Florida was one and only station of its kind – I agree with all above comments – But, we’ve been through this before, haven’t we?

  10. Posted Jul 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm by IRA COHEN, ESQ.

    I concur with Mr. Johnson’s observations and sentiments. Moreover, I personally sympathize, and empathize, with the laments of many of his readers.

    I have only recently returned from a summer break with my family in Boston and New York (where the arts are still flourishing) only to find my drive time in Florida bereft of classical music. Perhaps Sirius can be convinced to add more classical music fare. 2 or 3 stations is but a token offering. This may solve the situation in the car, but if one owns multiple cars, that raises another issue.

    Furthermore, CDs are not the best answer because, apart from the expense, and the need to carry around a “library” of offerings, one would be missing one of the greatest aspects of classical radio, namely, knowledgeable and entertaining hosts and hostesses who serve as the layperson’s guides to this magical realm of music.

    Quite correct is Mr. Johnson that radio is a business and over 33 years of practicing law has shown me, again and again, of the selfishness, greed, and avarice of people and entities alike. I do think that advertisers and sponsors are being quite myopic here; from my perspective, the average classical music listeners generally speaking are older and well-heeled.

    I believe that one of the answers may lie in a surcharge to theatre/concert tickets. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts (which cost, I believe in excess of $54 Million Dollars) has truly become one of the USA’s most visited theaters, ranked number four in the world and seven worldwide (as of 2007). As of 2011, the Broward Center had received over 700,000 patrons annually covering 700 different events.

    Meanwhile, in Miami, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is Florida’s largest performing arts center (costing over $470 Million Dollars, I believe). The Arsht Center is the second largest performing arts center in the United States, and boasts over 400 performances and events each year which attracts an average of approximately 450,000 people.

    If you combine the annual figures for Fort Lauderdale and Miami, you come up with well over a million people. And this does not include the many fine smaller venues (in Coral Gables, Naples, Sarasota, Fort Myers, etc.) or the school venues.

    What if $10 or even $5 were added to ticket prices? People would still, doubtless, attend. In so doing, that surcharge would raise $5 Million or $10 Million, per year, for a classical music radio venture, a non-profit venture by and for the people. Perhaps that would just be start, but a most excellent start to be sure.

    In any event, let us hope for, and work towards, the best. And rather than listen to Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus,” let us boldly play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and show APM that we have “not yet begun to fight.”

    Ira Cohen
    Intellectual Property/Entertainment Lawyer, Esquire of Miami, Florida

  11. Posted Jul 23, 2015 at 4:34 am by Gene Ledbetter

    I have fled to Austria over the Internet, and I have become a musical refugee at

    http://oe1.orf.at/musik/

    Wunderschoen! Their music and their German are both exquisite.

    Gene Ledbetter

  12. Posted Jul 23, 2015 at 10:01 am by warren g

    What we need is university radio with a strong signal.

  13. Posted Jul 23, 2015 at 1:33 pm by Rich

    RE: Joy’s comment on WQXR – The station used to be owned by the New York Times, but transferred ownership to WNYC a few years ago. It now has broad original classical programming, and their website is terrific.
    Try their stream and prepare to change your mind.

  14. Posted Jul 23, 2015 at 9:40 pm by Lorraine sonnabend

    I agree with warren g. What we need is a university sponsored and based classical station. Even in tiny New London NH where I spend my summers we have a classical station based at Colby Sawyer college right here in this small town.

  15. Posted Jul 24, 2015 at 3:17 pm by Nancy Ganyard

    I have been listening to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays since i was 23 years old. We also have had the classical music station on here in Boca night and day. Our house is silent. Who can help? Just ask and you will be amazed at the response.

  16. Posted Jul 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm by Mario Aguero

    Well, it’s done. It’s no use dwelling over the thoughtless greed of others. I, too, feel assaulted, especially since I had been a donor, like many of you out there I’m sure, since the station’s inception. The question is, where do we go from here?

    I believe Ira Cohen’s thoughts above are realistic. There are other resources — universities, including Warren G’s thought that this should be either a single university project, or co-sponsored with various universities in the South Florida area. We have our choice of them – UM, Nova, FIU, Miami Dade College, St. Thomas U., and many more as you head north.

    Maybe one of these can spare a signal, or all of them can agree to buy one. The station can be a beacon of advertisement for these schools, can broadcast classical music events at these colleges, etc.

    Doing this would require qualified people (i.e., attorneys) meeting with influential people (i.e., the board of the AA Center, the BCPA, the university presidents) all organized by a volunteer entity willing to broker the whole thing. Any other thoughts?

  17. Posted Jul 24, 2015 at 7:01 pm by Kenneth Latsch

    Oh WTMI all over again. South Florida has again put itself in the extreme backwater of culture. The way classical so fl went about this is despicable. As snowbirds we have supported CSF from its inception even though we only listen for the 4 months we spend in the winter. It was vital to us. It is a very sad day for the arts.

    Funny thing though, we spend some time in Parkersburg WV and can listen to WV public radio, Ohio U, and Marietta radio, all of which play classical music. There is more classical music in the Ohio river valley than one can deal with. So yes two are college supported. Listen up universities in so Flo, step up.

  18. Posted Jul 24, 2015 at 9:07 pm by Diane B. Shearon

    I am so disappointed to learn that Classical South Florida is gone. The past few times I tried to listen while driving, I thought there was a problem with my radio. After searching for information on the internet, I find it was secretly sold.

    While not wealthy, I too, would be interested in supporting efforts to find a way to bring classical music back to our area.

  19. Posted Jul 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm by john adams dix

    Like others listed above,I have been away and recently notified of this horrific bait and switch. As a recent refuge from the Chicago area (with wfmt) that was a bit too chatty, I was delighted to at last find a wonderful classical radio station in South Florida.

    Writing from Seattle, I can attest to the worth of King-FM 98.1 FM. What can we all do to re-connect with a responsible and sustainable classical music provider?

  20. Posted Jul 26, 2015 at 9:10 pm by Thelma

    The Universities will probably want to help and the public has been giving, so perhaps we can import from another state. I miss the music in the car and at home.

  21. Posted Jul 28, 2015 at 2:26 pm by Kathy

    Here’s an idea. How about a Christian Classical station? Plenty of classical works that would qualify.

  22. Posted Jul 29, 2015 at 12:08 pm by Judith Wimber

    I can’t believe we now do not have a classical music station in S. Florida.
    I moved here from Santa Fe NM where culture
    is always a priority. I feel like I now live in a great wasteland with no radio station playing classical music. We don’t need more Christian music. Couldn’t the station have been sold to anything else?
    My house is now silent with no music to enjoy and it’s sad.
    Such a pity!

  23. Posted Aug 01, 2015 at 2:22 pm by Andrea Phillips

    My third post. Obviously, the loss of Classical vitamins is getting to me. The University of Miami has, I believe, a thriving music department; Palm Beach State College used to have an active music dept., and I believe they still do. There must be a substantial number of educational bodies in South Florida which could lend kudos if not hard cash to a south Florida Classical station. What is required is a group of interested bystanders who would be willing to form a ‘club’, so to speak, to approach these bodies with a plan. That is my idea for the day. (Help! I need the music!)

  24. Posted Aug 08, 2015 at 8:57 pm by Jean

    Thank you for the informative article Mr. Johnson. It is very upsetting that Classical South Florida went away like a thief in the night. Hopefully some individuals will fill that need and bring back classical music. When that happens I will write a check!

  25. Posted Aug 12, 2015 at 1:57 pm by Rachel Katz

    We were very saddened to hear about the demise of this station.

    In addition to the stations mentioned above, I wanted to suggest our station, WWFM (wwfm.org), as another option for quality classical programming online. And we do not limit ourselves to to the Top classical ‘hits’ – you’ll hear a lot of opera, choral and vocal music, as well as contemporary classical music and concert performances by contemporary ensembles and ensembles from some of the leading music schools and conservatories in the U.S.

    And for those interested in reviving classical music radio in South Florida, we are committed to making our in-house produced programs available at no cost to other public radio stations and community stations looking to complement their programming schedules.

    We wish you luck in bringing classical music back to the region on the airwaves in the near future!

  26. Posted Aug 13, 2015 at 10:02 am by Joseph F. Mibelli

    I have been listening to classical music in Miami since the days of WVCG (60′s and 70′s). Went through its death and rebirth as WTMI and then again as WKCP. South Florida is an area where tourism and sports dominate the media interest. Classical Music will always be a distant contender. But, there is always hope.

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