To the editors,
I love classical music. I grew up with it and studied it in school. When I began my graduate studies at Indiana University, it opened the door to my first full-time job as music director at WFIU in Bloomington, Ind.
But I was disheartened to read that WFIU recently rolled back weekend schedule changes that had been long overdue, reverting to a long-underperforming lineup of live opera and classical music.
The station reinstated Metropolitan Opera broadcasts and other music programs in place of news-centric programming it had implemented under the revised schedule. That move allayed classical music fans organized by Peter Jacobi, music critic at the Bloomington Herald-Times, who also sits on WFIU’s Community Advisory Board (CAB). The reversal may have been a victory for classical-music lovers of Bloomington, but I see it as a serious setback to the station and new evidence that WFIU is being held captive by a small group of listeners who put their own interests over the station’s public-service mission.
Jacobi has served on the advisory board since its inception, and he played a significant role in establishing the CAB in 1989 — the last time that WFIU attempted to change its weekend classical-music programming. The outcry over those changes more than two decades ago was even more dramatic: The program manager was reassigned, the program changes were reversed and the CAB was established and stacked with prominent members of the local arts community, none of whom are subject to term limits.
To the credit of WFIU’s current management, a few new members recently joined the CAB, making it more representative of the communities it serves.
It’s no coincidence that both campaigns were sparked by columns published in the Herald-Times. In covering the dispute this summer, a reporter quoted an off-the-record source — a “member of the station’s community advisory board who’s also a music critic” — who found the programming changes “deplorable.” In the same edition of the same paper, this “music critic” also contributed a column criticizing the new schedule and urging his readers to write to the WFIU management to complain.
Conflict of interest, anyone? Even if we pretend that the local newspaper doesn’t have a vested interest in pressuring a competing media organization to focus on music programs instead of news and talk, readers of the local newspaper — particularly those who write letters to the editor — are hardly representative of the community at large.
Classical music is a big part of the cultural fabric of Bloomington. But WFIU wasn’t aiming to eliminate local music programming. It had canceled live broadcasts of a prominent New York–based opera company that has itself embraced the multiplatform world by distributing its content in any number of forms.
Bloomington is a well-educated, mostly affluent, highly connected college town. But WFIU broadcasts to a large swath of southern Indiana, with translators extending its reach to largely rural communities such as French Lick. Many of these communities are, or are in the process of becoming, news deserts, with limited local news coverage, lower broadband penetration and less access to online news. Over-the-air broadcast still really matters to these communities.
Even if we ignore the metrics-based, hard-business case that calls for WFIU to introduce more news coverage to its broadcast service and focus solely on its public-service mission, the station management’s decision to devote more of the weekend schedule to news and information was the right one.
Classical music over the air is great, but not if it comes at the expense of access to information for underserved communities.
Director of Technology
Investigative News Network
Adam Schweigert worked various jobs at WFIU from 2003 to 2010, including as music director and director of new media.
Copyright 2013 American University