Local 802 and its Members Protest WNYC Format Change
Volume CII, No. 4April, 2002
A decision to sharply curtail the broadcasting of classical music on radio station WNYC has drawn strong protests from Local 802, its members, and the general public.
After a closed door meeting on March 7, the station’s Board of Trustees announced major programming changes that would replace five hours of classical music on its daytime FM schedule with news and varied cultural programs, leaving New York City with only one radio station – WQXR-FM (96.3) – devoted primarily to classical music.
The new format was to be implemented on April 8, when the station planned to resume broadcasting separate programming on its AM and FM frequencies. Since the attacks of Sept. 11 destroyed WNYC’s transmitters at the World Trade Center, the station has been broadcasting the same programming, primarily news and talk, on both frequencies.
As part of 802’s ongoing Live Music Awareness Campaign, the union decided early this year to underwrite some of WNYC’s music programs. When rumors of plans to cut classical music programming began to circulate, the union contacted station management to argue strongly against any such change. After the Board of Trustees’ decision to change WNYC’s programming was announced, 802 decided to pull its underwriting.
In a letter to WNYC President Laura Walker, President Bill Moriarity said, “This decision leaves a single classical music radio station for over 8 million potential listeners.” He pointed out that “the more we expose New Yorkers to the art of music, the more their appreciation grows and the more their lives are enhanced by it.”
Several members contacted the union to voice concern over WNYC’s programming change. Lucy Morganstern has been particularly active in the campaign, and she asked 802 to reach out to members about an WNYC Community Advisory Board (CAB) meeting on March 13. Local 802 e-mailed hundreds of union activists, asking them to attend the meeting.
The Community Advisory Board, whose role is to advise the WNYC Board of Trustees with respect to whether the station’s programming and other policies are meeting the specialized educational and cultural needs of the communities it serves, was surprised to find the meeting packed with music supporters ready to state their case. CAB members, themselves, expressed concern that they had not been told about the board meeting where the decision was made.
Speaking to the CAB and about 100 concerned listeners, management defended the decision. Walker said it had been reached based on three criteria: upholding the station’s mission (to promote an active citizenry and engage people in the arts), expanding the audience served, and maintaining WNYC’s economic viability. She cited statistics that indicate that the audience for classical music has declined slightly, whereas news and talk-show audiences have increased by 20 to 25 percent. She said WNYC will probably not reconsider its programming until July 2003.
One of the most eloquent responses was made by 802 member Lucy Morganstern, who read a letter she had already sent to Walker. It said, in part:
“The reason I support WNYC is and always has been because they support classical music. If one wants to see great art, one can go to a museum. If one wants to read great books, one can obtain them through a library. Radio is to music what museums are to art and libraries are to books.
“Classical music is going to disappear from our culture if it is not broadcast. It is as simple as that. WNYC has a responsibility to promote culture, not to kill it. What is the point of having a one-hour program about culture if you eliminate the culture?”
She noted that, “After Sept. 11, after WNYC was knocked off the air, I turned to WQXR. A magical thing happened. WQXR changed its programming that day, and the next and the next. It played wonderful music throughout those troubled days. The music spoke of the larger meaning of life, when meaning seemed to have been lost due to that terrible tragedy. People needed the support that classical music provides and WQXR recognized this and met the need…I can’t give the same credit to WNYC.” Morganstern ended the letter by canceling her longstanding membership in WNYC, until the station resumes its classical music programming.
Concerned listeners who are calling for a return to WNYC’s original format have created a web site whose address is www.savewnyc.org. It is full of information and provides avenues for activism for anyone interested in becoming involved in this campaign.