BYU and Classical Radio

BYU has just announced that it is planning on dropping Classical 89, the classical music radio station that it runs.

I’m going to be tremendously blunt: this is a terrible idea, and it betrays the school’s educational mission.[fn1]

I understand that classical music doesn’t have the listenership it did once upon a time: in 2013, less than 3% of album sales were of classical music. And there has been a trend for a while of classical stations shifting to alternate formats.[fn2] And I get that consultants and industry professionals recommended the change. But BYU’s in a unique position that allows it to ignore consultants.

A quick personal story:

Years ago, after I had my mission call but before I went to the MTC, my family took a vacation to San Luis Obispo. Sometime on that vacation, I was waiting in the car while my family was doing something, and a song came on the radio. The song blew my mind, with a remarkable, and beautiful, cello over an orchestra. I ended up calling the radio station a couple days later to ask what I’d listened to. It was Joaquín Rodrigo‘s “Concierto como un divertimento,” they told me.

I immediately started looking for the CD. This being long-pre-Amazon, I went to the local Sam Goody (remember those? they didn’t really have very good classical sections) and the slightly-less-local Tower Records, but had no luck. I left on my mission, returned home, and eventually found it, and the concerto is still in my CD collection.

And for me, this is one of the tragedies of losing a classical radio station. The radio station is apparently going to spend the last 8 months of its life “educating” listeners on how to find classical music on Amazon Prime and Google (and, I presume, Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music). Which is fine and good, but it loses the serendipitous encounter music that you didn’t know you’d love. On Amazon, you have to search for what you want to hear, which means you need to know in advance. On Pandora, you have to give the algorithm a starting point, but that doesn’t do much for allowing you to discover what you didn’t know you’d love. Those services are fine for what they do, but I find them ultimately unsatisfying.

And sure, there’s satellite radio and streaming classical stations from elsewhere, but those, too, are ultimately unsatisfying. There’s something valuable about local radio. I wrote, years ago, about KSDS, a San Diego-based jazz station that I loved. It turns out, though, that I haven’t listened to them in years, because I’ve started listening to WDCB, a Chicagoland jazz radio station. Is it better than KSDS? Probably not. But it’s local: it will spotlight local artists, it has its thumb on the pulse of local jazz listeners, it provides information about local shows and festivals, and I can pick it up in my car. And it, too, allows for serendipitous discoveries of musicians and songs I otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

So that’s at least part of the value of local radio. And why should BYU provide it? Two reasons, at least:

First, BYU is an educational institution in Utah. Its mission is to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.” In pursuit of that mission, BYU says that “[a]ll instruction, programs, and services at BYU, including a wide variety of extracurricular experiences, should make their own contribution toward the balanced development of the total person.” That is, BYU’s not there just to give individuals what they want; it’s there to give them what they need to become a total person. That includes providing cultural and artistic experiences that individuals might not seek out on their own.

Second, BYU and other colleges and universities are in a unique position: they don’t need their radio stations to be self-funding. The school has other sources of revenue that it can use to subsidize noncommercial endeavors. Schools are not unique in that regard, but they’re pretty close. Standalone classical radio stations might face significant pressure to change to a more popular format, either for advertising dollars or to appeal to donors or otherwise to raise revenue. At BYU, though, a classical station is mission-appropriate, and, in pursuit of its mission (as well as the education of its students who want to pursue careers in radio), the school can afford to participate in an endeavor that consultants and industry insiders recommend against.

In the end, I don’t have a significant dog in this fight. I don’t live in Utah, so I don’t listen to Classical 89. But as an educational, cultural, and moral matter, taking away the state’s only classical radio station is a terrible move. The only good news is, BYU has eight months to change its mind.

[fn1] It’s also dropping KBYU, its PBS affiliate, which is also probably a terrible idea, though, because Utah apparently has another PBS station, may not be as cataclysmically bad a move.

[fn2] Heck, we only have one classical station in Chicago.


  1. I listen to this station almost every day! It’s where I discovered The Wasps by Ralph Vaughan Williams! How infuriating, and yes, a betrayal of the school’s mission.

  2. WFMT is one of the greatest stations ever, and I advise Utahns relegated to internet radio to seek it out.

  3. I agree. Classical 89 provides a valuable service to the entire state. I understand the move for the television station–KUED already provides a good PBS station. But there is no alternative for classical music radio programming.

  4. Last Lemming says:

    Terminating the relationship with PBS may not have been entirely voluntary. PBS has been under a lot of pressure to ditch KBYU and the church may have simply taken preemptive action.

  5. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    This isn’t just part of BYUs mission, it’s part of the mission of nearly every University. Stations such as these, whether they be classical, folk, jazz, serve to connect academic institutions to the surrounding communities they inhabit. They offer an alternative to the market-driven programming residents would otherwise be stuck with. They also allow students to learn broadcasting, journalism, programming, in an environment that is informed by the principles of integrity that should accompany good broadcasting and journalism. This is another example of BYU distancing itself from traditional models of academia (which, admittedly, have their own flaws), and becoming more isolated. Will there be outcry when BYU next targets the student newspaper? (and we need another police beat roundtable, by the way)

  6. Just Visiting says:

    I love classical music, but is there a chance that it’s simply an issue of demographics? I’m 30, and literally can’t remember the last time I tuned in to a traditional radio, other than when my Bluetooth disconnects accidentally from my car. I could see the draw of a family-friendly radio station with a broader appeal (if I lived in Utah), and might actually tune in. But I personally would never have that “serendipitous” experience because a classical music station isn’t a draw for me; if I want to listen to classical music there are plenty of other more convenient ways to find it. Just a thought.

  7. Absolutely, Turtle. I thought about throwing in how KSDS is associated with San Diego City College and WDCB with College of DuPage. It’s a unique opportunity that universities have, providing value to students and the surrounding community, and that they can do it without regard to market forces is tremendously important.

  8. Just Visiting, there may be a demographic issue, but I’m not convinced that’s a primary driver. BYU’s not shutting down its terrestrial radio station; it’s just getting rid of the classical format and moving to something different (a talk format, I think).

  9. As a parent, when the kids are driving me crazy and being noisy, I turn on the classical station. I find it engaging and it lulls the children to sleep. A win for us both.

  10. Jack Hughes says:

    This news is disappointing, but not terribly surprising. Utah already has a reputation as a cultural desert, and this move only reinforces it.

    I’m fortunate enough to live far outside of Utah, in a market area with reputable non-commercial jazz and classical radio stations, both operated by nearby universities. I particularly enjoy listening to the classical station on Sunday morning on the drive to church (about 30 minutes) as it helps me get in a better frame of mind. Then I listen to it again on the drive home to unwind from the boredom and occasional anger. I don’t know what I would do if all I had was that banal “Sounds of Sunday” format that seems to be a staple of Utah radio.

  11. AlexTheYounger says:

    Another interesting item from the news article linked in Last Lemming comment stated that PBS stations aren’t allowed to have advertisements (which are different then underwriters). In my watching of KBYU-TV during the previous year, KBYU-TV has changed to commercial breaks every 15-20 minutes … similar to network TV. The commercials are from local car dealerships, hotel chains, etc. Not sure if this was part of the LDS church’s decision to drop the PBS affiliation.
    The other PBS station in Utah (KUED) is operated by the University of Utah and continues to only show underwriters (but not advertisements) at the beginning and end of their programming.

  12. Jack Hughes says:

    Also, it is unfortunate that, on the TV side, they are cutting ties with PBS. There is value in having more than one PBS affiliate overlapping in the same market, such as more variety in programming, and one station can fill coverage gaps for the other. Another loss for Utah.

  13. east of the mississippi says:

    First Coca-Cola on campus… now this… I’m tellin’ ya… beards are coming…

  14. I’m flashing back to the first episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. I just hope they don’t decide to drop turkeys from a helicopter as part of a Thanksgiving Day promotion.

  15. In Philly we had a 24 hour classical station and then it became an adult rock station. Temple University absorbed the classical station and now their college station broadcasts half jazz and half classical. It’s not the same.

  16. Jennifer Thomas says:

    You are spot on. The loss of classical music on radio impoverishes our culture.

  17. It will be a loss for the Wasatch front. Have to admit sometimes Classical89 played 1940’s symphony music that sounded like the soundtrack of a silent movie. I won’t miss that. But I enjoyed the classical “top 40,” the ocassional choral pieces, and devotional talk replays. But I agree they have an obligation which they now will not fulfill. Now that KUER, University of Utah’s station, has discontinued Jazz, there are no jazz stations on the Wasatch front either!

  18. Jack Hughes says:

    In college, I once dated a girl from Utah who seriously did not know that jazz is a genre of music. She thought I was talking about basketball. Clearly, Utah has unmet needs for public radio.

  19. Wait, KUER stopped playing jazz at night? Back when I was in college, I didn’t listen to NPR, but I did turn over to KUER once the evening jazz started. That compounds the tragedy of potentially losing the classical station.

  20. What you don’t understand, is that BYU, like all other institutions of higher education, has foregone any educational objectives. Their Boards of Directs and Dept of Education has forced a business model onto universities and they are now all about one thing: Money, Money, Money. Have you seen the new BYU bookstore. Jaw dropping. Other than text books upstairs there are almost no books to be seen. A few children’s books and a few Deseret Books, hardly anything for people who just like to read.

  21. JA, I’d be cautious about overstating that case. Certainly, universities are looking carefully at revenue. But a not-insignificant number (I suspect a vast majority, though I don’t have proof of that) are holding tightly to their educational missions at the same time. And there’s no reason BYU can’t, or shouldn’t, too.

    Yes, the BYU bookstore is terrible qua bookstore, though in fairness, the university bookstore model is not in a great place right now. In any event, I have faith that BYU, missteps notwithstanding, is committed to its educational and cultural mission. Losing its classical radio station would be a huge step in the wrong direction with that, but I hope that the university recognizes that over the next several months and reverses course. There’s plenty of time to keep—and even to improve!—what it already has.

  22. The change at BYU’s broadcast stations is not about making money. They’re changing because the church likes the idea of channels that more directly promote the church and its ideals. BYUtv is now in about 60 million homes, reaching far beyond the Wasatch Front. They’ve built up BYUtv to create programming that showcases BYU and the general image of BYU/Mormonism as doing things that are uniquely “good.” (Their tag line is “See the good in the world.”) Dropping PBS indicates that the local broadcast channel is now subordinate to the more ambitious goal of building a national and international presence for BYU’s TV operation.

    Again, they are not making money on this. As they see it, this is entirely driven by BYU’s unique mission, which is not as much about the conventional ideals of a university as it is about the way BYU’s purpose is enmeshed with the church’s purpose.

    Now, whether all of this justifies dropping classical music on the local radio station is an entirely different question, because I don’t think that the people who run BYU Broadcasting have thought nearly as hard about radio as TV. Management’s comments about radio, as reported this week, suggest as much. Compared to the TV plan, their plans for radio have yet to be extracted from the ether. I don’t think they know how valuable their classical music format is, and they certainly haven’t thought enough about its possible value in the big picture of BYU Broadcasting’s future.

    Their plan, as far as it goes, is to replace classical music with the talk format that they’ve cobbled together for the online operation called BYUradio. Or maybe they’ll change it all up. It’s pretty vague. I’m skeptical about how well that will work out.

    I too will miss classical music on the radio here in Utah. And Sam, KUER has indeed dropped jazz at night.

  23. Brian L Rostron says:

    I think Loursat is completely right – “As they see it, this is entirely driven by BYU’s unique mission, which is not as much about the conventional ideals of a university as it is about the way BYU’s purpose is enmeshed with the church’s purpose.”

  24. Martin James says:

    So, I went through this in a small way already when Classical 89 dropped Met Opera. I had been a small time donor each year. They called me last weekend and I told them that I didn’t donate because they dropped Met Opera. Next thing I know the whole thing is gone and I think it is a good think.
    Classical music as some kind of marker of an education is as dead as mandatory Latin. There is nothing special about classical music from a religious point of view and very little from an educative point of view in today’s world. Like Warren Buffet’s sister says, she doesn’t donate to the SOBs -symphony, opera and ballet. And Jazz is even worse. Anyone who has been to a jazz performance In Utah knows that it is mainly blue hairs attending.
    I would think that the people here who see in other areas how the church is unfortunately tied to a certain culture that doesn’t have a religious necessity – say white shirts or suits for missionaries, would get it that classical music is an outdated middlebrow cultural marker. If the church is going to have any relevance culturally at all, educationally or otherwise it needs to produce original content and not waste time and resources on what can be found elsewhere.
    It’s over! You get nothing!!!

  25. Sam, I generally love your stuff, and I am sad to say that I think this is an example of what Elder Neal A. Maxwell would call the “narcotic of nostalgia.” I believe changing the format to a talk station is the right decision for the following reasons-

    1- Few people listen to classical 89 because technology has provided us with ways that are both more enjoyable and more educational than classical 89. On the enjoyable point, my parents would occasionally change to classical 89 when I was a child. It. Was. Torture. But in college I found it difficult to focus while studying so I typed “Mozart” into Pandora. Whenever a song I didn’t like came on I just hit the thumbs down. Something strange happened: I discover I liked classical and baroque music. Now this was way back in the day in which there were no smart phones, and I didn’t want to go buy a bunch of classical CDs so I started listening to Classical 89. One problem! As Bro B. says, “Classical89 played 1940’s symphony music that sounded like the soundtrack of a silent movie. I won’t miss that.” The other problem with the Classical 89 format is that it was difficult to figure out who I was listening to. I had difficulty having the types of experiences Sam had because a song I had never heard would come on that I loved and then I would arrive at my destination! What to do? Be late to class and hear who this is? Pandora was a better experience. It skipped the “soundtrack of silent movies” music and gave me music I liked. If I was working around the house and heard a song I really liked, I could just scroll back and see who it was. My point is, even as someone who listens to classic music I never listened to classical 89.

    3- Technology has changed the way people listen to music (at least in my experience.) My friends know that I am into 70’s and 80’s country so they ask me for recommendations. I do the same with my friends who are in the Jazz scene or the folk scene. Or I type into google “Best Operas” or “Best Symphonies.” I’m not just saying that people can find classical music online, I’m saying that for my generation if I want to find music I’m going to do it online, I’m not going to do it through a radio station. It’s not A (listen on a station) or B (listen online) there is no A. I believe the shift away from radio will only continue as technology develops.

    4- By switching to a talk format BYU will provide content that no one else is providing. While I highly doubt they will rival NPR anytime soon, I do think that more people listen to BYUradio than Classical 89 because you can’t just get BYURadio content through Pandora. And when places like Facebook, iTunes and other places play content from BYURadio they are simply increasing BYURadios footprint. The same is not true with say Mozart. If I find myself listening to Mozart on Pandora I am shrinking Classical89s footprint. However, if BYURadio creates a really interesting show on science, history, or technology whether I listen on the radio, stream online, or via iTunes, BYURadios footprint increases. Rather than competitors these other media become affiliates in a strange way.

    5- It’s all about the podcasting baby! Truth be told, even if BYURadio had a show I liked I wouldn’t “tune in” I would download the podcast. BYUtv’s most successful program (as far as I can tell) is Studio C. I believe this is because sketch comedy can be cut down to 3-5 minute segments that go on youtube and are easy to share and post via social media. Even though I have enjoyed other BYUtv content such as Fires of Faith, a documentary on the King James Bible is a lot more difficult to share than sketch comedy. This is not so with podcasting. Podcasting means that any show on BYURadio could be the next studio C if they have good content.

    6- A confession of my bias: I was a BYU Broadcast Journalism student. I would have found this VERY exciting while attending the Y. BYUtv was exciting for a lot of my friends and fellow students (especially sports news gals and guys) because 1- it provided them a paying job (though not high paying) where they did what they loved doing. 2- It gave them material for their resume reel. 3- It allowed them to work with other professionals as they honed their craft. 4- It allowed them to pitch ideas for shows and other projects. Although BYUtv is NOT ran by students, it was by far the closest ear you had to pitch a project idea to. Having a radio station would be AMAZING! I am very excited to see what ideas the professionals and students come up with. Again, I don’t anticipate them competing with NPR. But one semi-viral podcast would be incredibly helpful to the career of an aspiring journalist and frankly one semi-viral podcast can educate and edify more people than Classical 89 would.

  26. Michael H says:

    I’d be interested to know if the BYU football team is operating at a financial loss like the majority of FBS programs. If it is, then I think that program should be the first to go.

  27. Thanks for your thoughts, JasonB and Martin. I don’t have time to go through everything you’ve talked about (I’m getting ready to go to tonight’s Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society concert), but one or two quick thoughts.

    First, I’m not arguing that the church needs to run a classical radio station. (I would argue that the church should introduce members to important works of art and humanities, but that’s a different argument and, if I think about it, a separate post.) Rather, I’m arguing that BYU, in its role as educational institution and Provo/Utah community member should. (As a side note, while I recognize BYU’s national and international ambitions, it is, in the first instance, an important Provo resident, and it has some responsibilities to the Provo community.) That’s different from its role as a church-owned school. It’s not contrary to that role—in fact, in most cases, the two are complementary—but it is a different role.

    Second, while the radio station doesn’t have an enormous listenership, it clearly has a devoted one. And it’s one of the top five or so classical stations in the country by listenership, according to what I’ve read.

    Third, Pandora and other online music platforms are great for some things. But I’m not sold on their ability to introduce us to stuff that we didn’t know we’d like. It’s awesome that Pandora helped you learn that you loved Baroque music. But I doubt typing in “Mozart” would land you on Ethan Wickman or Roger Przytulski or Vijay Iyer at the Ojai Music Festival, or even some lesser-known Classical or Baroque or Romantic composers.

    Terrestrial radio may be on its last legs (or it may not be); for now, though, given that BYU is going to keep its radio station, I believe its giving up on classical music betrays one of its important missions.

  28. Mormon Soprano says:

    Thank you for this post! Yes, it is absolutely a TERRIBLE no God very bad idea that is causing complete distress and panic here in Utah. There are so many reasons why they must keep Classical89 that I can’t put them all into 1 comment. I need to follow your lead and blog them. Perhaps if enough people raise their voices and beg them to reconsider we can reverse this tragic misguided path.
    Thanks again.

    P.S. Classical music is STRONGLY supported and loved in Utah, and Classical89 has a huge following. It has the distinction of being ranked one of the top 5 Classical stations in the entire nation. There is no rational explanation to end it’s life. Its unconscionable.

  29. Martin James says:

    Even more as an educational institution than as a church, you haven’t defended why classical music is the right mission. Its just one genre, of one art, in one great big cultural world.
    I weep myself for not only my lost Met Opera, but Pipedreams, Peter Van de Graaff, Exploring Music and all the local hosts. But we classical lovers are no longer the mission educationally or culturally. We are the burden of the past. The rest is silence.

  30. Martin James, that’s nonsense. Classical music is not some kind of dead remnant of the past. Classical music is a perfectly good and viable radio format, and it is especially appropriate for an educational institution to use its non-commercial radio license to create a presence for classical music in the community.

    A radio station can’t be all things to all people. It has to pick its patch in the garden and cultivate it diligently. Of course there are many ways to use a radio station to fulfill an educational, public-service mission. But BYU has fifty good years invested in this format, and it is dumping that investment without having a clear idea of what to do next. They have served the community well with classical music, and they have given us no reason to believe that what replaces it will serve the community nearly as well.

  31. Martin, you’re absolutely right that there are worthy genres in addition to classical. (Though I wouldn’t read classical out of contention—the fact that it’s not the most popular doesn’t mean its relevance is gone.) Like I said, my leading of choice is college-affiliated jazz, and there certainly may be other genres equally worthy of university engagement.

    But I’ll proffer three reasons (of perhaps many more): first, BYU currently has a classical station. That is, it has expertise in the format. Sure, it could shift to jazz, but that would require a new music collection, new DJs, new branding and outreach. Starting from scratch, classical may not be the obvious choice, but starting from where it currently is, classical makes the most sense.

    Second, it’s the only classical station in Utah. Like I said in the OP, it’s uniquely positioned to provide a format that doesn’t make sense commercially, but that is mission-appropriate.

    Third, classical music is relevant and important. It’s not easy; it generally doesn’t have a hook or a 3-minute-single-friendly format. So it takes work to learn, to contextualize, and to understand. And BYU has the intellectual resources, in addition to the financial ones, to provide that education and context.

  32. Also, I endorse everything Loursat said.

  33. I’m not a classical musical lover like Martin but I agree with his point. I am however a lover of Scouting but believe that it is clear that in 2017 it is not a program that meets the needs of the youth in a worldwide Church. And though I am not at all confident that if scouting were eliminated we would come up with a better program, it is clear to me that something better for the youth is clearly needed if the church is to thrive in the future and that by hanging on to scouting we are preventing something more effective from growing to replace it. I think the same argument applies to classical music and BYU radio.

  34. I’m sorry to see it go. I listen when I get stressed.
    Michael H.–Looks like the football team already went . . . they just don’t know it yet.

  35. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I didn’t even know there was BYU classical radio. However, I came to love jazz listening to Jazz on Chicago radio. It was far superior to the San Diego station which featured smooth jazz without the rawness of what Chicago offered. It taught me to avoid smooh jazz whenever I can. Just my two bits.

  36. Sam, I appreciate your response and I think your abbreviated response caught I’d say 4/5ths what I was getting at. (Brevity has never been a skill of mine. I’m always quite envious of how you say so much with so little.)

    I do wish to offer one point of clarification and then discuss the one big thing I feel you skipped from my original comment.

    You wrote: “Terrestrial radio may be on its last legs (or it may not be).” I’m not entirely sure if that was part of your response to me, but I do want to make clear that I was not predicting the end of terrestrial radio. Pandora will not be the end of terrestrial radio any more that TVs and VCRs (or DVDs, or Netflix) were the end of people watching movies in the theatre. However, those new technologies changed how movies were made and marketed and that is essentially my argument with radio stations. I believe terrestrial radio will always exist, but we should allow other technologies like spotify, Pandora and podcasting to impact how we utilize radio. I would actual use KSL’s online classifieds as an effective example of this. KSL was able to take advantage of evolving technologies and create something that I have dearly missed as I’ve gone to other states and countries.

    I imagine we could go back and forth and never agree about how effective Pandora and the internet in general will be at introducing people to classical music. But I do feel like you skipped my point about how the change in format could benefit students and BYU as a University has a duty to its students. In fact, I will say that if BYURadio is does not employ BYU students and other locals I change my vote and completely agree with you. So my stance is based on the belief that this will be like BYUtv but for but for radio. As a former student myself I think this would be a huge opportunity lost. Thanks again for the thought provoking passionate OP and for your reply to my comment.

  37. Left Field says:

    What the heck is terrestrial radio? I’ve never heard of it. Radio waves transmitted through the ground instead of “on air”? Radio programming not worthy of Celestial Glory? Any radio transmission broadcast from Earth? Radio intended for an audience of earthlings? Radio of earthlike planets?

  38. A petition from Utah Cultural Alliance that currently has about 8,800 signatures:

  39. your food allergy is fake says:

    Martin wrote: “There is nothing special about classical music from a religious point of view and very little from an educative point of view in today’s world.”

    I violently disagree with this. Classical music is the closest thing to the presence of God that one can experience on earth (IMO). From an educative (?) point of view, do you not consider the great works of classical music among the most important art that western civilization has produced? I do, and I believe I am not alone. Nothing special about great art in the education of today’s world?

    An important argument for keeping classical 89, which Sam makes repeatedly and with which I strongly agree, is its support of local classical music. If classical music is an art form that we value, that we think elevates a culture, we should seek to strengthen its local performance and prevalence. A local radio station serves this purpose through publicizing, broadcasting, advertising performances and opportunities locally in a way that streaming services can’t. The Philadelphia station, though it has been watered down somewhat as mentioned above, does an excellent job of this.

  40. sidebottom says:

    I’ve always loved classical music but found classical radio decidedly meh. The two Los Angeles stations I grew up with were heavy on classical guitar and ‘fan favorites’ and, outside of the occasional Copland and Gershwin, almost nothing from the 20th century. There were a couple of late night programs that focused on niche subgenres and new music discovery but beyond that it didn’t serve much purpose beyond noncontroversial Sabbath soundtrack.

  41. Martin James says:

    Ok, time to get serious. Let’s talk about the historical arc of classical music. Does it really show the presence of God. If that is true why is the historical arc of classical music exactly parallel to the historical arc of central-European elitist secularism? At a superficial level, classical music looks safe because it is the opposite of the prurient interest of popular music with its sex, drugs and rock and roll, but I would say it is just out of the frying pan of popular music and into the frying pan of enlightenment, nationalistic post-modern doom.
    As for education, you and I may not like it, but no the great heart of western civilization doesn’t have a particularly large role to play in higher education today. I would venture that certainly less than 5% and probably more like 1% of the educational hours are spent on it. That culture was lost. Business and the sciences won and other cultural forces came in second. Classical music has basically been relegated to the technical school category as something for specialists.
    It is not a question of what is better art, it is a question of education priorities and historical trends. I don’t like it, but my team lost. Game over.

  42. Martin James says:

    Let’s get even more serious about the very difficult place the church is in culturally with MJP’s comments about the boy scouts. The post 1960’s boy scouts was about citizenship and personal development. Of the 13 required merit badges only 1 is directly related to camping out.
    We have the social group: citizenship in the community, nation and world,communications, and family life (5), the preparedness group: first aid, lifesaving, environmental science, (3) and personal development group cooking, swimming(or hiking or cycing), personal fitness, personal management, (4).
    So, if MJP is right that this doesn’t work anymore, then what cultural background can possibly work at all?
    Let’s look at the cultural situation Jeff Flake is in: there is no political culture that combines, small government, free trade and support for immigration.
    Educationally, there is a very small cultural space that is scientific, international and religious.
    The strategy of BYU radio seems to be that the best cultural space to operate is family life. That seems to make perfect sense to me given the limited options culturally going forward. It can universalize to some extent, fit in with the religious values, and fill a niche that isn’t already crowded.

  43. Again, I’m not sold on the idea that Team Classical Music (or Team European Elitist Art) has lost. Another anecdote: last night I took my tweenage daughter to see a chamber music performance of arias, ranging from 19th-century German quartets to late-20th-century American duets. A couple observations: (1) The audience was largely (though not entirely) really old. But my daughter wasn’t the youngest kid there, in spite of the fact that it was late (ended at 9:30 pm) on a school night. And she was entranced. That doesn’t mean, of course, that she chooses classical music all the time—she loves tween pop, which is just fine. But she’s capable of enjoying and appreciating art music, too (she also goes to the opera and modern and ballet dance performances and Broadway theater and watches Disney Channel and Nickelodeon tv shows.)

    (2) Classical music is not safe. And it’s not praised for its safety. It’s hard: the melodies, the harmonies, the rhythms, the lyrics. (One of last night’s pieces was a 1988 Leonard Bernstein piece that included sex, God, nihilism, family, absurdism, etc.) It is, however, canonical and important. And its canonocity and importance doesn’t mean that it’s the One. True. Music. As I’ve made very clear over my time blogging, by choice, I listen mostly to avant garde jazz. And African and other non-European music and art styles are extremely important. But they haven’t displaced or replaced classical; rather, they’ve added to the necessary canon.

    (3) I dispute your take on higher education. I’m not aware of any school that has dropped humanities general education requirements (and, for that matter, K-12 haven’t either). The percentage of students majoring in English is down, but it’s still above 10% of graduates. Moreover, non-humanities programs incorporate humanities into their education. The law school I teach at has an annual Shakespeare performance/discussion that incorporates a Shakespearean scene into a discussion of the law. And many of the tax cases I teach involve writers and musicians (and hockey players, believe it or not).

    (4) Again, your primary argument seems to be that classical music isn’t popular, and thus we should give up on it. But I hope that education (and religion, for that matter) can stand as bulwarks against the vicissitudes of popularity. There’s no reason why they can’t incorporate and use what is popular, but they should also provide us with what we need, irrespective of popularity.

  44. The idea that the classical music “team” has “lost” is ridiculous. Of course classical music isn’t the popular music of our day, but it has almost never in all its history been the most popular type of music. (I suppose that Italian opera in the late 19th century might have a claim to this. There might be a couple of other examples, but they are vanishingly few. Furthermore, the very idea of “popular music” is really a product of the era of mass media, so it’s probably irrelevant except for the last hundred years or so.)

    Bach and Verdi and Debussy have not “lost,” any more than Homer, Cervantes, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rodin have “lost.” It’s not a game. Great art will endure.

    The issue here is whether a radio station is an appropriate vehicle for preserving and sharing this type of art. More specifically, the question is whether classical music is an appropriate format for a non-commercial radio station that’s owned by a university and charged with a public-service mission. Obviously, one of the core functions of a university is to preserve and share great art, so in principle, classical music fits the mission of the school and the purpose of the non-commercial license.

    The objection that the audience is too small has no basis, at least in the Salt Lake City market. Though I have not seen the latest ratings information, to the best of my knowledge the audience for Classical 89 has increased over time, and the station’s share of the radio audience has at least remained steady. No one in a position to know has suggested that there is not a solid core of listeners for the station.

    I could go on about the internal problems that BYU Broadcasting has always had with defining its identity and, especially, with understanding the unique value and character of radio. But I won’t. I’ll just say that BYU Broadcasting has a responsibility to do better than it is doing now in giving proper consideration to the future of its radio station.

  45. Sorry to read about this, but thank you for this post. Classical radio is something I enjoy. Thank you to WKAR in Lansing Michigan in my case. Nice to have on during dinner as a break from podcasts, for instance. When I attended Weber State University, I made good use of Utah Symphony’s student ticket rate. Hopefully that and similar options remain available.

    One of the benefits of a nearby classical radio station is they often broadcast concerts from regional symphonies, a reminder of the world-class talent one need not go all they way to New York or L.A. to track down. Bottom line, if we want the programming, we have to pay for it. For me that means personally supporting public radio and accepting ads as part of my streaming service. It’s not much and I wish I could do more.

  46. Loursat: Homer, Cervantes, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rodin. Really, that’s the best you’ve got? I think you’re proving Martins point.

  47. your food allergy is fake says:

    Martin wrote: ” Let’s talk about the historical arc of classical music. Does it really show the presence of God. If that is true why is the historical arc of classical music exactly parallel to the historical arc of central-European elitist secularism? ”

    The historical arc of christianity parallels that of European secularism. That doesn’t mean christianity does not house some of the divine. Classical music’s history parallels the history of western art, because that’s what it is. Yes there are examples of garbage classical music but there are also examples of the sublime. This is still true of contemporary art music, whatever one’s opinion of the current postmodern state of aesthetics. If God is a glorified human, then man at his creative, aesthetic, inspired best approaches divinity.

  48. MJP, you’re welcome to disagree with me or Loursat or anybody else on this thread; I appreciate Martin’s engagement even though we clearly have a couple points of disagreement.

    But I’m not interested in attacks on other commenters, even as benign as yours is. If you have a substantive response, please feel free to make it. But you haven’t highlighted any issues with the art and literature Loursat has raised. Perhaps you’re not a fan, but Rodin and Rembrandt and Raphael enjoy huge respect, are taught and displayed and are valuable. Ditto Cervantes and Homer. (In fact, in the pop culture world, the super-popular Rick Riordan books, as well as the wildly popular Wonder Woman, owe huge debts to Homer.)

    So if you believe these artists and writers are somehow indicative of why classical music should no longer be taught/broadcast/whatever, you’re going to have to explicitly explain your point.

  49. Also, thanks for your comments, food allergy! I, unsurprisingly, agree.

  50. Martin James says:

    Sam, Loursat and others,
    My primary argument is about values and a living culture.
    1. Loursat, I agree that classical music is great art and always will be. I don’t mean that it lost the “great art’ popularity contest. I mean both that its best days artistically are in the past and that it isn’t a vibrant, living culture for the majority of today’s educated students.
    3. The typical 2 humanities courses (roughly 5 percent of total undergraduate credits) includes all the humanities. Literature, visual and theatrical arts, across all the cultures. Most students can fulfill these requirements without exposure to much if any classical music. Classical music has to share the 5% with the whole world’s artistic output.
    3.. There seems to be an obvious contradiction to me that classical music is a vibrant, active community and that there is only one radio station in Utah with a classical format. If there is the demand another station will quickly take the place of classical 89. Sirius has both a classical channel and an opera channel. Plus all the other options that JasonB mentions.
    4. The big issue to me is not whether classical music is a good and viable format(and I think it is), it is “what best represents the cultural values of BYU on the radio?”. Despite the personal disappointment I have, I think the people who made the decision are squarely recognizing that my tastes and those of my fellow listeners are not the best thing for BYU radio going forward. The right fight is not to keep the format, it is to figure out what cultural heritage is best for the BYU community in the future.

  51. Sorry if my irony was misunderstood as an attack. Those writers and artists listed are obviously great, and sublimely rewarding for those who devote time to them. Ditto classical music. You, I, Loursat and Martin all agree about the greatness of classical music. We disagree about its relevance, importance and usefulness to the LDS church as it attempts to fulfill its mission in the 21st Century.

  52. Okay, thanks MJP.

    One point of clarification: though their missions are related, BYU’s mission does differ from the church’s in some important ways. While I’d be willing to affirmatively argue that art and humanities should be part of the church’s mission, I’m not making that argument here. Rather, I’m arguing that they are part of BYU’s mission qua educational institution.

  53. Okay, let’s talk about BYU Broadcasting and its purpose.

    The tag line for BYUtv is “See the good in the world.” That’s fine, I suppose, even though it doesn’t clearly tie into any academic or religious purpose. Let’s think about how well their programming fulfills that goal: see the good in the world. BYUtv’s breakout hit, the evidence that they’re ready for the big time, is “Studio C,” a sketch comedy show. Their big viral video is a sketch about a doofus who gets his face pummeled by a soccer ball. It’s a funny sketch, and good on them for having a great success with it. (And they’ve also done other funny stuff.) But how does this kind of thing serve the school’s and the church’s mission better than sharing classical music with the community?

  54. Loursat: Studio C serves the mission better because it delivers something that is good (not great) and distinctively Mormon (because it is relentlessly “clean” and created by young Mormons) to a large number of young people. This is better than delivering classical music ( which is great but not distinctly Mormon) to a small number of older people.

    The hope (by no means certain) is that by changing the format more good and distinctive offerings (perhaps even occasionally something aspiring to greatness) will be produced serving more and more young people. No doubt there will be lots of dreck produced along the way.

  55. Not a Cougar says:

    Loursat, change “world” to “LDS Church” and the mission statement becomes a lot more accurate. It helps to normalize us. Same with football.

  56. your food allergy is fake says:

    Is normalizing a good thing?
    Should a university’s mission be the normalization of its sponsoring church?
    If it were good and an appropriate university mission, why did I get busted at the testing center for having 5 o’clock shadow?

  57. Well, there is is, MJP. I guess people can decide for themselves whether the radio equivalent of Studio C would be an improvement on classical music in terms of quality and mission.

    Not a Cougar, I’m not that cynical. However, I have to admit that if we think that being “relentlessly clean,” as MJP says, is enough to make something “distinctively Mormon,” then I am very disappointed. It means we are setting our sights far, far too low.

  58. Martin James says:

    I’m not quite as optimistic as MJP, in that I think it is extremely difficult to see a clear and successful path forward. The world has changed so much artistically and technologically. There is not a clear pecking order of quality. I think BYU and the church have difficulty responding to the amount of choice there is and all the new directions when the LDS culture has been more one of safety and control, than one of artistic innovation and adaptation.
    But I agree with MJP, that technology puts a premium on original content or at least original repackaging of it.

  59. Not only are the ranks of classical music and jazz listeners quickly dying off, but for those who used to listen to such things on NPR and PBS affiliated public stations now listen via streaming using Spotify or Apple Music. As much as I enjoy KUER’s late night jazz programming, for instance, I can get a mix tailored exactly to what I want right then immediately. Esoteric radio is an artifact of the time when it was too expensive to have a diverse library of music.

  60. Not a Cougar says:

    Food allergy, I don’t quite understand your example, but I don’t think it’s completely anathema for a church-sponsored university to serve as an ambassador for its sponsor (Bob Jones University springs to mind – whether that’s the company we want to keep is another question), and to the extent that I believe the Church to be a force for good in the world, then yes, the normalization of the Church and its beliefs in wider society is a good thing.

  61. Martin James says:

    “I can get a mix tailored exactly to what I want right then immediately.”
    Sure I was raised a 1970’s mormon, so I see the apocalypse everywhere, but if you read that sentence and don’t see what a problem it is for LDS culture you aren’t facing reality.

  62. Brian L Rostron says:

    “I’m arguing that they are part of BYU’s mission qua educational institution.” But, Sam, aren’t there elements of intellectual and academic freedom for students and faculty that are generally considered among the most essential characteristics of educational institutions at the university level that are not generally observed at BYU? Among other things, isn’t that the reason AAUP censured BYU and Phi Beta Kappa repeatedly rejected BYU’s applications for a chapter, even though other religiously affiliated institutions such as Catholic University were granted chapters decades earlier? I’m surprised that BYU had a PBS station for as long as it did.

  63. Clark Goble says:

    Martin James, no idea what you’re saying unless you think LDS culture entails being forced to listen to someone else’s playlist of music.

  64. Sorry folks, classical music is wonderful, but as several have noted, the listeners are dying off. If that genre was popular, there would be commercial stations lining up to broadcast the stuff. There isn’t. BYU Radio is trying to develop a multicultural and international audience. Classical music will not do that.

    Goggle “BYU Radio.” I bet we see a talk format, streaming podcasts and an international audience. Streaming Classical music would not get you that large of an audience. BYU-TV is about eyeballs. BYU Radio is about listeners. The Church wants a voice and it wants global exposure. I’d be shocked if the petition had an effect.

  65. BYU Employee says:

    I will confess that I rarely listen to Classical 89 and am not a big fan of classical music. What really disappoints me about this decision is that it is another step along a path that the university seems to be taking to privilege alumni and visitors more than students and local community members. . As someone mentioned, the BYU Bookstore was reinvented as the “BYU Store”, with the main floor mostly devoted to BYU-themed merchandise and other stuff that appeals to campus visitors (not students or BYU employees). It used to be a great local bookstore, and now it just feels like part of the giant BYU marketing machine. Twenty years ago, BYU and Provo were much more intertwined and BYU seemed much more in tune with the local community. Now it feels like BYU is trying too hard to sell itself to the world.

  66. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I have difficulty understanding the argument that “classical” music is no longer applicable to a younger generation, or that listeners are “dying off”, etc. Admittedly, I am from a different generation than the current millennials. However, it’s not like I am of the same generation as Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, Copeland, Chopin, etc. I’m much younger than those guys (all guys, unfortunately). Also, they all weren’t even of the same generation. The difference is that my generation was taught to value certain genres for the sake of art, and aesthetics, and culture. I learned these values from venues that offered programming in classical music (and jazz, and folk, …). A diversity of cultural influences was prized, and there was effort to expose us to these influences. This focus is shifting, and dismantling the venues that offered this exposure is hastening the demise. And, if for no other reason, it’s necessary for current generations to understand that whatever their musical tastes may be, they have been heavily influenced by, and even made possible by, those composers who lived decades/centuries ago. Classical music is the history of music, and we all know what happens when we stop teaching history.

  67. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    …and, yes, I realize how much that last comment makes me sound like an old fart!

  68. As a former student employee of BYU Broadcasting and Classical 89, I have to say that I was saddened and disappointed by the news that Classical 89 was closing its doors.

    As a newly returned missionary and BYU student, Classical 89 was a haven for creative thought and constructive growth for student employees. They were given opportunities by full-time employees to write programs, record news and informative radio spots, and even participate to some degree in the leadership and direction of the station, by constantly interacting with and having the ear of the full-time staff. The staff loved and cared for their student employees and gave them every opportunity to learn, grow, and be challenged.

    It was not uncommon for students to turn work at Classical 89 into a mini-career, becoming fully invested in the radio station for the entirety of their undergraduate and graduate experiences at school.

    I suppose that whatever new format fills the place of Classical 89 may maintain that energy and mission. But it will not be the same, and I’m sure many staff members will elect to leave rather than continue with a drastically altered environment. And that is a true loss for everyone.

  69. Martin James says:

    Clark, Do you pick the hymns in the 3 hr block? How can it not bore the socks off of anyone used to picking their own music?

  70. nobody, really says:

    1. Petitions to BYU will only convince them that they are right. They will dig in their heels that much harder. It’s hard to convince anybody to change their course when they are convinced that The Lord Is Their Navigator. Every policy, every rule, every decision, is Scriptural Revelation Itself. The attitude is consistently “If you disagree with me, you fight against Jesus.”

    2. If you send them your money and/or children, they will continue to believe that you approve.

  71. I thought I was done with this thread, but it’s still on my mind today. I’m struck by the way that a lot of the confused thinking among commenters parallels the confused thinking in BYU Broadcasting about the organization’s mission.

    Here’s a principle that applies to scholars, scientists, artists, universities, churches, and public non-commercial broadcasters: they don’t do their best work by asking what’s in it for them. All of these activities are service-oriented. People do these things in service to other people and in service to great ideas. These activities get perverted or hopelessly watered down when they are undertaken for selfish gain.

    The motivation to polish the church’s or the school’s image counts as selfish gain. The motivation to make people like us or think we’re cool and “normal” counts as selfish gain. (It’s also pathetic: Enter to learn. Go forth to lick boots.)

    The motivation to use a broadcast channel primarily as a supplement to the educational curriculum also counts as selfish gain. The primary purpose of a mass communication system is to communicate with a large mass of people, not to be a sandbox for students. (That might sound harsh, but it doesn’t rule out the education of students as a secondary purpose.)

    Most broadcast operations are run purely for profit. Non-commercial radio and television stations were created as a way of using a small part of our radio and television systems for public service. That’s also one of the core reasons for having a university. And if a university operates public broadcasting channels, its responsibility is to operate them in the public interest.

    BYU and the church are fundamentally confused about this. They have always been reluctant to embrace public broadcasting purely as a public service. They got really excited about it only when they started to see it as a way to get something they wanted. As long as their TV and radio operations are primarily about making the church and the school seem shiny, special, and different, the effort will not meet the highest standards of quality or integrity.

  72. Years ago I watched BYUTV. I watched devotionals, scripture roundtables and so on. I contributed to the station. Then they went from meat to pablum, pablum being seeing the good in the world. I was so disappointed and haven’t watched or contributed since. I just shuddered when I read the new hire’s bubbly explanations. And don’t waste a minute on a petition.

  73. When I lived in Utah as a high school student in the 1970s, KBYU FM still played jazz and other genres, along with classical music. The change to focus only on classical music was disappointing to me, but dropping classical music is even more disappointing.

    In the San Francisco Bay Area in California, where I now live, Bonneville International once owned three radio stations, including the successful classical station KDFC. A few years after Bonneville traded KDFC to Entercom, the University of Southern California rescued KDFC’s classical format by buying two existing stations and the assets and call letters of KDFC. Although the 102.1 MHz transmitter that used to cover much of the Bay Area stayed with Entercom, KDFC has been able to acquire additional transmitters to become a non-commercial classical radio station with a large broadcasting reach. Maybe KBYU also needs an outside rescuer.

  74. Martin, I don’t listen to music in the car the way I do Church. I think you’re making a false equivalence (as are many other in how they perceive the service IMO). Radio is fast dying. People just don’t listen that way. Wishing they would is pointless. People saying this is no longer servicing people just are neglecting the extreme changes in how people consumer media the past 5-10 years.

    Professors who wish to communicate with the public should be doing it with Spotify and Apple Music playlists along with commentary on the music. Maybe a good blog. Wishing it was still 1970 isn’t going to make the radio stations come back.

  75. Martin James says:

    I agree with you about radio, but you aren’t addressing m point. I don’t think that people that are accustomed to personalized choice in other areas of their life can turn those brain-changing habits off when they go to church. Why isn’t substituting “church” for radio an professors in your sentences legitimate?
    “Church is fast dying. People just don’t listen that way. Wishing they would is pointless. People saying this is no longer servicing people just are neglecting the extreme changes in how people consumer media the past 5-10 years.

    Church leaders who wish to communicate with the public should be doing it with Spotify and Apple Music playlists along with commentary on the music. Maybe a good blog. Wishing it was still 1970 isn’t going to make church attendence come back.”

  76. Radio is not dying. It just isn’t the only game in town anymore, so it’s not dominant in the way it used to be. There are still massive amounts of money to be made in commercial radio. As a non-commercial enterprise, radio remains a powerful medium of influence. The responsible way to run radio stations now, both commercial and non-commercial, is to integrate broadcast content with the kinds of content that the internet makes possible.

    The principles for creating good programming have not changed. You pick the field you’re going to work in. It must be well defined and limited to something that you know about and that you do well. If you’re trying to create a public service, as universities and non-commercial broadcasters should be, then your programming ought to be driven also by considerations about the public interest. All of this is true whether you’re creating programs for broadcast, for the internet, or both. And none of this leads necessarily to the conclusion that classical music programming is obsolete.

    Any argument against the classical format that says classical music is available elsewhere is equally applicable to any other kind of programming. It’s all available elsewhere. What matters most is, first, the principles that led you to choose a particular kind of programming, and, second, how well you do it.

  77. Martin James says:

    The classical format is a public service and may be non-commercial in that sense, but what it mostly delivers is music recorded for commercial labels. It is niche-commercial content and as the costs of accessing that content have come down the public service is less valuable. As Sam, points out there still is value in terms of curation, community, convenience etc.
    You say”Any argument against the classical format that says classical music is available elsewhere is equally applicable to any other kind of programming. It’s all available elsewhere.”
    But in the judgment of the people running BYU’s properties there is not sufficient “good news”
    content. I know you are doubtful that there is enough of this content available in high quality, but that strikes me as disappointing or at least odd. I know where to find classical music without classical 89, but where do I find now what the new BYU radio might produce?

  78. Martin, it’s true that you can’t find elsewhere what the new BYU Radio might produce, because not even BYU Radio knows what that’s going to be. I think it’s irresponsible of them to make changes in that fashion. They’re jumping out of the plane and planning to pick up a parachute on the way down.

    The best guess for what they might do would be based on the programming that they’re already producing for BYUtv and the online BYUradio. As other commenters have pointed out, a lot of that TV programming amounts to “clean” programs in popular genres. Studio C is sort of a “clean” version of Saturday Night Live. They’re currently doing a scripted science fiction series. A game show and a situation comedy are in the works. There are reality shows with a BYU or Mormon twist, and of course there’s quite a bit of BYU sports. On the radio side there are lots of conventional talk shows that are distinguishable from a ton of other stuff only because they’re produced at BYU, by people at BYU. In my opinion, none of this content is distinct enough to show that BYU can do something special and unique in these areas. At this point there’s no reason to believe that BYU Radio (or whatever they’ll call it) is going to be all that unique when they change formats.

    In principle, I think it’s possible for BYU Broadcasting to honorably fulfill a public-service mission with programming produced in-house. I’m not immovably opposed to dropping classical music on the radio. But I am offended by the way their actions slight the good work that Classical 89 does; by dropping classical without knowing what comes next, they’re saying that anything they come up with will be better. And, as I’ve tried to explain in previous comments, I’m skeptical that their priorities are in the right place. Rather than doing good work and letting the consequences follow, they’re making image-building and self-promotion the raison d’etre for BYU Broadcasting.

  79. Martin james says:

    Well said, I agree.

%d bloggers like this: