Public radio taking over Classical radio 

22 September 2009 tbs.pm/1100

WGBH in Boston has announced that it has bought a classical music radio station in New England, WCRB on 99.5FM. So what you say, broadcasters buy other broadcasters? True, but the equivalent in the UK would be the BBC buying Classic FM! WGBH is a public broadcasting station, which broadcasts a lot of classical music programming on 89.7, alongside NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and PRI’s The World.

This is not the first time this has happened either. Earlier this year, New York public radio station WNYC, bought WQXR, New York’s only Classical Music radio station from its previous owners, The New York Times. However, the frequency of 96.3 where WQXR broadcasted on, had been separately sold to Univision, in exchange for the 105.9 frequency. So the frequency of 105.9 has been sold to WNYC along with WQXR. Price tag, a mere $11.5 million.

So from October 8th, WQXR moves to 105.9 in New York, and becomes a public radio station rather than a commercial radio station. Now if such a move were to happen here in the UK with the BBC buying Classic FM , there would be TOTAL uproar from the commercial sector, claiming the BBC was looking to take over commercial radio, nationalise the whole broadcast sector etc. I can just imagine it happening, so how come even the totally rabid and unreasoning right wing nuts haven’t jumped all over this claiming socialised broadcasting by the back door or some other similarly daft accusation.

Maybe it would be because the commercial talk radio sector has been nationalised by the back door over the course of the last 20 years. Most talk radio stations have a local breakfast show, then everything from about 9am onwards is syndicated, or worse, syndicated and recorded from earlier.

Anyway, back to the story at hand, and WCRB’s sale to WGBH gives the public broadcaster a real mini broadcast network in New England. It already has 2 TV stations, WGBH on Channel 2 and WGBX on Channel 44, plus the main WGBH FM broadcast on 89.7, with 2 relays, and the WCAI service in Cape Cod on 90.1 with two relays. Adding WCRB on 99.5 gives WGBH a real advantage over other broadcasters. Few public broadcasting operations in the USA are both on radio and television, and WGBH is by far and away the most well known. In New York, WNYC is the big public radio service, with an FM service on 93.9, an AM service on 820 and the upcoming all classical WQXR on 105.9. But WNYC has no TV station. For that, you’d have to add the WNET operation which runs two stations, WNET on 13 and WLIW on 21.

But I am surprised that there hasn’t been a more public outcry from those on the extreme right decrying this obvious encroachment of public broadcasting into commercial territory, at least in terms of frequencies. It had been the rule that Public Radio stayed in the 88-95 part of the FM band whilst commercial radio occupied the 95-108 part. Methinks the wing nuts are too worried about to socialised medicine to have noticed. Or it could be that they’re so busy bowing down to the “god of talk radio” that is Boss Limburger, Rush Limbaugh, and defending him from his own words played back to him that again it has escaped their attention. Perhaps they are too busy attacking Air America and the BBC and Al Jazeera and any number of other broadcasters who actually do reporting rather than just parroting talking points, that again, it escapes their notice. Or maybe its because they consider NPR to be an honorary member of the conservative media, that they give things like this a pass.

Whatever the reason, it means a stronger public media is slowly emerging, a public media that is based primarily in Washington, Boston and New York. Could be a very interesting time for public broadcasting in the US. I know the BBC will be slightly envious of the lack of attention being paid to these moves.