(The following "Commentary"
was published Saturday, June 3, 2000 and
is reproduced here without permission. To read the interview in which Mr.
Fanto defends this WAMC Apologia, Click
Lurtsema's demise not WAMC's fault
By Clarence Fanto
Berkshire Eagle Staff
There's plenty of reason to be sad about the all-but-certain
demise of Robert J. Lurtsema's "Morning Pro Musica" after a distinguished
three-decade run on public radio in New England and New York.
As has been noted ever since it became clear early last month that Lurtsema's
severe lung ailment would most likely preclude his return to the air on
his home station (WGBH in Boston), Lurtsema bucked the cookie-cutter
tide that has dumbed down the presentation of classical music on radio.
Many public radio stations -- though not WMHT (FM 89.1) in nearby
Schenectady, N.Y. -- have adopted the Classical Lite format pioneered by
commercial broadcasters in New York, Boston
But WAMC (FM 90.3, 105.1) in Albany deserves credit for having
remained loyal to Lurtsema all these years-- as its Chairman and Executive
Director Alan S. Chartock often points out, long after public radio networks
in Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and individual stations like WFCR
in Amherst abandoned him.
An earlier era
It's true that Lurtsema represents a throwback to an earlier era of
broadcasting, and he refused to kow-tow to pressure from station managers
for a trendier approach that would avoid long-form symphonies, operas and
choral works in favor of a "Top 40" approach to the classical repertory.
His steadfastness -- stubbornness, his detractors would argue -- stemmed
from his sense of mission, particularly aimed at younger audiences, to
keep the tradition of great music alive.
But one senses that he was losing listeners in recent years, and his
progressive ailment certainly made it difficult to hear him struggle through
newscasts and descriptions of musical works.
Therefore, the managers at Boston's WGBH could not have been
too heart-broken when he began an indefinite medical leave this spring.
Despite their public statements keeping the light on the window, it would
be surprising if the 68-year-old broadcaster ever returns to his weekend
morning perch. (Though, in the volatile world of broadcasting, nothing
Tough choices Lurtsema's extended medical leave put WAMC's managers
in a tough position -- they could hang in with the substitute hosts (a
far cry from the master), or they could accede to the wishes of many listeners
for more National Public Radio news and talk programming on weekend
In a well-fashioned compromise, WAMC moved "Weekend Edition"
to prime mid-morning positions on both days (8-10 Saturdays, 9-11 Sundays),
the same time most public radio stations around the nation carry it.
"Car Talk," arguably one of public radio's most popular shows,
was given a new and better slot on Saturday mornings at 10, and the popular
"Schickele Mix" now follows it.
No decline in classics
With all the changes, WAMC continues to air 10 hours of classical
music during the day on weekends. The programs, from a Public Radio
International satellite service, are listenable, though certainly not
the distinctive, creative mix offered by Lurtsema during his halcyon days.
And Chartock has stood by the in-season live broadcasts from the Metropolitan
Opera and from Tanglewood-- again despite clear evidence of
declining listener interest and support.
WAMC is just over a month away from conducting one of its tri-annual
fund drives. Those who support classical music should put their wallets
where their whines are and turn out in droves, especially during classical
music time periods.
We few who make classical music a centerpiece of our lives (3 to 5 percent
of the U.S. population, according to the best evidence) need to support
broadcasters who continue to acknowledge the heritage of the world's great
composers and musicians.
This means also backing WMHT, which appears always hard-up for
money and conducts seemingly endless beg-a-thons every other month or so.
With WMHT airing classical music for most of its 24-hour broadcast
day -- not the watered-down format so prevalent elsewhere -- and WAMC
still holding steady with at least some music as part of its mostly-talk
format, listeners in the Berkshires are especially fortunate to have two
of the finest public radio outlets available anywhere in the nation.
So, it's time to stop the petty badgering and show some appreciation
for what survives, not for what's gone with the wind.
© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England
Clarence Fanto is Managing Editor of The Berkshire