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Laurie Niles

Commercial radio denies young classical fans

February 26, 2007 at 8:02 PM

It's a sad day for classical radio in Los Angeles, California.

K-Mozart [KMZT-FM 105.1] was pulled from the FM dial today, relegated to the obscurity and lesser sound quality of the AM dial. In a nutshell: LA lost one of its two classical FM radio stations.

After 18 years of classical programming, owner Saul Levine chose to change the format of KMZT to country music. KMZT is one of the few commercial classical stations in the country (as opposed to viewer-funded stations), and Levine changed the format for business reasons, according to the LA Times.

I don't have a problem with Levine making a business decision, but I resent the fact that he chose classical music as the fall guy.

"It's something we haven't done on the spur of the moment," Levine told the LA Times. In fact, LA's only country station, KZLA, changed its format and left country fans marooned last August. Levin "called the void left by KZLA's departure 'an act of God' which gave him a chance to improve his bottom line, as well as slide into a comfortable format," said the LA Times.

"Levine said much of the KMZT audience is in its 60s, whereas advertisers covet the 25-to 54 ages group. He added that KMZT revenue had dropped 80 percent in the last year, losing accounts with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and AT& T," said the LA Times article.

I'm 39. I listen to nothing but classical radio. I own this website. Our readership breaks down like this: The average age of readers is 32. Their median household income is $80,000. You can read more about it if you like.

Yes, we are a niche website, so we attract mostly people interested in the violin and classical music. But all radio is niche as well. And, no matter what anyone outside our niche might believe, this niche is not old and dying. Can it be supported commercially? It is on this website. Maybe all the young classical fans have given up on radio and flocked to the Web.

Losing 80 percent of one's revenue in one year sounds a lot like a tank job to me. I could do a great job of losing 80 percent of's revenue, too, I'm sure, through sheer neglect.

But don't tell me there's no market. Don't tell me there are no listeners for classical music or that all classical music fans are senior citizens. Don't tell me there are no possible advertisers.

Don't worry everyone, we will NEVER change our format. It is up to every single one of us to spread classical music to the world, because we apparently believe in it more than our elders do!

From al ku
Posted on February 26, 2007 at 8:19 PM
it may have something to do with the impulsive buying habit of the younger age group that attracts certain advertisers or the advertisers are trying to target. i suppose it is a business decision backed by market research. the bottom line means not only number of listeners,,,but number of listeners willing buy,,,and amt of money each willing listener ready to spend.

still, a great loss, at least culturally speaking. every time i travel to a new city, it takes me hours to locate a classical station.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on February 26, 2007 at 9:08 PM
Laurie, I sympathize with your feelings of outrage. We've had a similar experience in the Washington DC area but, happily, with a better outcome. About a year ago, WETA, the one noncommercial classical music radio station in this area was bought by a different company and changed to an all talk format. The local classical music community expressed outrage and said they would withdraw financial support. At this time, I learned that public radio stations do NOT receive most of their financial support from their listeners. The great majority of their financial support comes from their underwriters who, in turn, make their decisions on what they perceive to be the largest listening population. A few months after WETA switched from classical music to all talk, the owners of the one remaining commercial music station in this area decided to switch their programming to another station with a much weaker signal. This change had little effect because I and most other classical music lovers never listened to the commercial radio station anyway because it spent more time on commercials than on music. The situation was so bad that they could only play one movement of a symphony or concerto, and they only played the Top Twenty classics, anyway. The good news happened about three weeks ago. The weak signal station and the public radio station (WETA) are owned by the same company, and that company decided to resume an all classical music format at WETA and do something else with their weak signal station. I don't know enough about marketing to explain this, but I'm sure that the large outpouring of calls, letters, and emails from classical music fans in the area had an effect.

Last year, I wrote in my blog about the demise of the last public radio station playing classical music in the nation's capitol, a change which has been reversed recently. One of the comments to my blog was from Carlos Majilis, of Buenos Aires, who said that that city has *4* classical music radio stations, and two of them operate 24 hours a day.

From Karin Lin
Posted on February 26, 2007 at 9:31 PM
Right on, Laurie! I'm so sorry to hear of LA's loss. KDFC, the Bay Area's commercial classical radio station, has also been sold recently, and I hope it doesn't suffer a similar fate. I and many fellow listeners are doing what we can, but you're right; sometimes it's all too easy just to buy into stereotypes like "classical music is dead" and leave it at that. There are tons of young people out there who love and buy classical music, and we owe it to them to recognize that.
From Vince V.
Posted on February 26, 2007 at 10:02 PM
I'm from CaL and I can't believe it!

That was such a good station, with great hosts. I understand the commercial reasons but L.A. for Country Music??!?!? Was this a Mid-life crisis type of move?

Oh my, things change so dramatically when you live somewhere else.


From Man Wong
Posted on February 26, 2007 at 10:48 PM
That is too bad. Is country music really more popular in the LA area??

I should probably listen to our local classical stations more often (in NYC) and check up on their status as well though I have long prefered to just listen to CDs I buy (and nowadays, conveniently ripped/accessible on my iPod for the most part) -- and use various non-radio resources to explore and look up composers and pieces of interest.

Actually, I wonder though. Is radio in general really all that "alive" nowadays? I know MTV didn't really/quite kill the radio back in the 80's, but a lot has happened since MTV first hit the "air". For instance, even w/in the radio medium, you've got digital satellite radio now. I wonder if classical music doesn't actually do great in that format, which probably delivers good revenue -- possibly much better than regular radio -- though I don't subscribe to it and am not sure if there is much of any advertising revenues involved. Also, last time I tried (digital) cable TV a few years back, Time Warner also offered tons of digital music channels, including some devoted to classical music, IIRC.

Personally, I'm much more saddened that classical music at the retail B&M level seems to have died almost completely now. I haven't gotten around to dropping by the downtown Tower Records in the Village in a very long time, but apparently, they're closing down for lack of solid business. And J&R Music World had shut down their dedicated classical music store a long while ago, downsizing it to just a small section w/ very limited selections w/in the larger music store. And even though relatively new formats like SACD are primarily surviving on classical music, I don't actually see much of that available at these stores either. And no, I don't really care for iTunes, et al, and their low quality pay-per-song approach.

I guess it's a good thing my family is taking up stringed instruments now. If things don't improve, we'll at least having our own playing to enjoy and be edified...


From Corwin Slack
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 12:11 AM
It is too bad. Houston is down to half a classical station (the other half is devoted to NPR and that at drive time which is when I am most likely to listen).

I think the solution is satellite radio. XM radio has three classical stations and no commercials.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 12:14 AM
It's not a market issue, it's personal preference. Everybody knows those guys at BMW and AT&T and Mercedes are hillbillies.
From Richard Hellinger
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 1:50 AM
Rochester only has once classical music station left, and it plays about one piece every 20 minutes... the rest is non classical talk shows.
From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 2:01 AM
It's true. Don't the Daimlers and the Bavarians build cars in the Bluegrass State or somewhere thereabouts?
From Chris Dolan
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 3:34 AM
I happen to be fortunate enough to have one of the better publically-funded classical music stations in my area, and I contribute to the station as I feel I must. Also, I do not take this precious resource for granted.

I feel for the people of the LA area and the loss of their station. A similar thing happened here in the Minneapolis area some time ago (some 30 years ago, I suppose), and I still remember having lost that station to another genre, even though I was but a youth at the time and knew very little of classical music and seldom had the opportunity to listen. Even then I recognized the loss of this classical station for what it meant, which was not so much the loss of a station as the loss of something more and a sign of the times.

From Richard Goldman
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 3:36 AM
Two summers ago in New York a similar situation took place, although not with a classical station. The station in question was WCBS fm which was the last remaing oldies station within my radio range. The owner who I believe may have been clearchannel, but I am not sure, decided to switch it to a random shuffle style station. They had several other frequencies they could have instituted this new format upon, but instead decided to force it on their longest standing.

Despite an outpouring of fan support, and the mayor of New York speaking out against the change, nothing was done to remedy the problem. The motto of the station is "Playing what we want" and that is exactly what they are doing. Radio has lost is splendor as entertainer of the masses.

From Marty Dalton
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 5:19 AM
It's a shame. Here in Lawton, Oklahoma we have KCCU which is classical music in most of the time with NPR shows in the evenings. I can't believe that my town can support classical music, but in L.A. it's a problem. Shame.
From Erin Rushforth
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 7:50 AM
What?! This is terrible. I didn't know until I read your blog, Laurie. Well, at least there's still KUSC, but I am very sad to lose KMZT.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 10:35 AM
Yes billbo, and what they do is a pure disgrace. They capture wild ones in the jungle and chain them to a giant wheel.
From molly moriarty
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 2:17 PM
A similar thing just transpired here in Omaha this past fall. We had 2 classical/jazz stations. Now we have 1 totally classical(KVNO) and one totally jazz(KIOS). At least we didn't lose one to pop or country, but KIOS used to tape the Omaha Symphony concerts, and broadcast them the following week. That no longer happens, which is really sad. And it appears that KVNO has no plans to tape them. As a player in the symphony, I really enjoyed listening to our concerts on the radio.
What a shame that a much larger city, like LA would be down to only 1 classical station.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 2:56 PM
It really had an immediate effect for me; I turned on my car in the morning and there was country music blaring! Not that I have anything against country music, mind you. But KMZT had that kind of listener loyalty: people whose radios were permanently tuned there. I went to a recital in the evening and heard many of the same stories, turning on the car to find another station.
From Carolyn Ohlbaum
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 2:56 PM
Like Pauline, I also live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. I was shocked, angry and heartbroken when they killed WGMS, my very favorite classical music station. WMGS was an institution. I had listened to it for many years! The programming was wonderful! The WGMS staff members were terrific. Now they have converted it to all talk. That's all we needed is another talk station! Personally, I think that listening to talking, and sometimes arguing, all day long is very unsettling. Beautiful music is much more relaxing and also much more healthful! Fortunately, WETA is playing classical music now. And they have the live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons, which I love. Some, but not all, of the WGMS staff members have moved over to WETA. It's not WGMS, but at least we still have classical music here.
From Charles Bott
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 3:23 PM
Laurie: Was listening to my favorite KMZT on Sat while driving to Newport Beach and noticed that the station now said KKGO. Has KKGO taken over the classical programing from KMZT. There's still KUSC in So Cal. but KMZT was the best. If KKGO has taken over perhaps the programing will be the same--at least let's hope.
From Alison Smith
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 6:11 PM
Here is the UK, Classic FM is the largest commercial radio station. That has its problems too though, as Classic FM has a really strong signal over a wide frequency range, so it knocks out other interesting stations.
From Ray Randall
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 6:51 PM
At least Classic99, KFUO, here in St Louis is doing well.
From Darcy Lewis
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 5:39 PM
We are fortunate in Chicago to have the jewel WFMT, a non-commercial, non-profit classical station. Not only is it thriving financially (collects about $450+k from listeners three times a year)it is one of the chief producers and distributors of significant classical programming in the U.S. including Bill McLoughlin's delightful "Exploring Music" and producing live concerts from the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic and others. And it airs other programs such as the Met, From the Top, etc. As such, it has a large national support base thanks to its subscription streaming service. Might be worth investigating for those of you whose classical radio coverage is not what it should be or used to be.

I typically include notes in Violin News about classical radio issues as I run across them, but have never gotten much in the way of comments. Now I know that people are interested, I will continue to include these items.


From D Wright
Posted on March 2, 2007 at 12:26 AM
I worked in market research for 7 years. There are so many things i could say about the format change, but i won't get into all of that now. To make a long story short, i will point out that classical stations changing formats are part of a much bigger problem. I'll leave it at that for now.

I will say this much: anyone in the LA area who worked in market research could probably see the format change coming for months if not years before it happened. On the business side, the demographic data supported the change, and i'm willing to bet that the station owner most likely resisted the format change until it almost put him out of business.

Here in Toronto our best classical music station was CJRT. I grew up listening to that station which broadcast out of Ryerson polytechnic, a technical university in downtown Toronto. CJRT had a unique budget and even had an orchestra of its own in the old days. They programmed enormous amounts of repertoire: it wasn't unusual to have their DJs play live concerts directly from Lanaudiere or Banff, or for them to play complete Bartok or Mahler cycles with NO commercial breaks!

In 2001, CJRT switched to an all-jazz JazzFM format. I remember telling my supervisors at work that they should strongly consider the switch a full YEAR before they actually did it! It was painful for me to listen to the classical music station knowing full well that a format change and the loss of Toronto's only real classical music station was actually a good business decision. The market share data became glaringly obvious from that standpoint. Btw, after CJRT switched from classical to jazz, their listenership doubled, which is exactly what the market data indicated would happen (much to my chagrin). Classical music's loss turned out to be a gain for Jazz. In Toronto we now have only one classical station left (CFMX 96.3 and 103.1FM) and they play mostly encores and showpieces instead of the heavy repertoire CJRT was known for.

The only answer to this pressing problem is for a classical music listener to stock up on CDs or make the move over to sattelite and internet radio. KING FM in Seattle is a fine, fine classical station and i hope they can resist the trend of removing classical music programming from the airwaves.

I honestly hope that satellite and internet streaming radio technology can develop walkman/ipod-type devices which would allow for free-range programming to be heard away from our computers. Such a technological advancement would remove the barrier now erected at commercial radio stations across North America.

From Eun Hwan Bai
Posted on March 2, 2007 at 7:46 PM
It's so sad to see the classic music is treated secondary...even at the church service programming.

Music in radio station can be in many forms...but we ought to keep up "the classic" with 1st choice.

I rather not listen anyother music if there is no classic music around.

That's why we need to be active playing live concerts to motivate young children...for the future generation sake.

So, teaching little kids at K12 is so important and I give support 100% what Laurie is doing now for the kids.

We have to act now to save "classic music"....or we will regret later.

Eventhough, there is a big declining demand for classic...there is a hope...! the answer!

Let's teach kids "violin"...even for free for needed children.(especially for disable kids at the church, I do teach them at my church for free at

I am willing to teach any under previleged children for free if they come to the church.

Because the Gospel(the good news)is for free...we should minister our "violin gospel^^" to needed children.

If anyone want to join this movement, please do so at your church...!


Eun Hwan Bai

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