Meeting the demand 

WFYI is the Nat

WFYI is the National Public Radio affiliate here in Indianapolis, broadcasting at 90.1 FM. According to their Web site, their mission is to serve as a community resource by providing educational, informational and cultural services and entertainment of the highest quality. The station is listener-supported, deriving significant income from pledge drives and underwriting - just as public noncommercial radio stations do nationwide. In essence, we pay them to better us. So how does FYI get input, aside from funds gleaned from its listeners? What would we like to hear on our public radio station? I once regarded these questions as best left unconsidered in Indianapolis and just went with the status quo for sanity"s sake. Still, you have to wonder: Why does a listener-supported radio station have classical music as its primary music? After all, classical music accounts for only 2 percent of the music-buying public, a dismal number likely to change only by going lower - and this has been true for years. A tongue-in-cheek look at the math involved clarifies: If 95,000 listeners tune into FYI every week (as the Web site claims), then Indianapolis is either the biggest collection of classical music fans in America or 93,100 WFYI listeners are getting music they don"t spend a lot of time listening to at home. The word on the classical music street is that WYFI"s classical programming doesn"t suit the serious classical fan, either. As a result, serious listeners spend more and more time getting their listening needs met elsewhere, including online. Who benefits from this? With these thoughts in mind, I called WFYI"s general manager, Jed Duvall, and asked him why the station"s music programming didn"t better represent the station"s audience. He said that each current program has its own constituency, and that new programs are added to meet needs and requests. He stressed that WFYI is very concerned with what listeners and members are interested in hearing, that the station takes their e-mails and letters very seriously. He did indicate that, logically enough, the requests of members tend to carry more weight. His perspective was that because Indianapolis has only one NPR station, it is much more difficult to change programming. Where there are multiple NPR stations in a market, it becomes easier to vary the programming on a station because listeners who tune out new programming can often find their old program on other NPR stations in the market. Thus, no alienated listeners. How do they do it in other cities? In Louisville, NPR affiliate WFPK provides popular music in the non-commercial AAA format, with a wide variety of shows and choices. The core of the format includes Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones and Steve Earle with artists like Beck representing the cutting edge. It"s a format that is singer-songwriter based and is the only radio format that is not controlled by payola. In Philadelphia, NPR affiliate WXPN has become the premier station for this format, featuring live broadcasts by household name artists every week, lots of music and many choices for the listener. They air a syndicated show, World CafÈ, that is carried by 150 stations every week, including two in Indiana: WBAA AM in Lafayette and WBRO FM in Marengo. Upcoming guests this week include: Ellis Paul, Alice Peacock and David Byrne. World CafÈ can be located on the WXPN Web site at WXPN enjoys a listenership of 300,000 in the Philly area. Nationally, NPR affiliate stations that program AAA non-commercial music have discovered a trend. When talk radio is pruned, taking care to retain favorites like Morning Edition, Fresh Air and NPR News, the number of listeners increases significantly. The non-commercial NPR stations are gaining listeners at the expense of commercial radio in their markets by offering music that isn"t controlled by record companies and radio promoters. What a lovely situation, an exercise in musical democracy that actually works. Can it happen here? It"s unrealistic to expect music programming at WFYI to change markedly, but what would be the downside in trying a syndicated program such as World CafÈ when space becomes available? The listening audience will either respond positively as audiences have in other cities, or they won"t. If no one wants to hear it, then the virtue of programming classical music will have been sustained. I asked Duvall that question and he assured me that due to lack of space in the schedule, adding World CafÈ would not be possible. He said that the most requested show not currently on the air was Mountain Stage, a live, syndicated program that offers artists like Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin and Counting Crows. Because of the show"s two-hour length, there are no plans, at present, to include it in WFYI programming. Listeners and members here want music that they listen to at home to be played on WFYI and they are making their wishes known to the station. Duvall disagreed, suggesting that listeners who wanted this music should contact the owners of other radio stations in the market. I don"t see a significant difference between World CafÈ and Mountain Stage musically. By way of an example, upcoming guests at Mountain Stage include Bruce Hornsby, Kelly Willis and Linda Thompson. Because WFYI listeners are already requesting Mountain Stage, it indicates that the demand for programming this type of music already exists at WFYI and isn"t being met. What can listeners and members do about this? That, of course, is the big, unanswered question. WFYI membership hotline (317) 715-2009.

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