PRPD's Core Values™ Implications - Classical Radio Study (2002)
Copyright© 2002 by Public Radio Program Directors Inc. - Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
From the start of the PRPD Core Values™ Project, we have said it
is reasonable to assume that the values first identified in the Core Values Summit (2000) would also
emerge in some fashion in the other genres and formats offered by
public radio. We just wouldn't know for sure until we looked. Now
that we have looked at classical music radio from the perspective
of its most loyal listeners, how do the core values sort out when viewed through that lens.
We found that the three Core Values categories:
- Qualities of the Mind and Intellect
- Qualities of the Heart and Spirit
- Qualities of Craft
Are all very much in play. In two of them, we found considerable
Qualities of the Mind and Intellect
In Qualities of Mind and Intellect, there is broad overlap but with
two very important distinctions:
First, learning for news listeners means in-depth information.
When it comes to music, we have a very different story. Music listeners
want information to be presented concisely. The phrase we heard
over and over again was that they liked learning "a little bit"
about the music. The substance -- what's in-depth about classical
radio for these listeners -- is the music itself.
Second, since the music is the absolute center of what listeners
value in a classical station, every quality on this list is very
tightly focused on the music. The interest in learning is to learn
about the music. The curiosity is about the music.
Like our news voices, our music hosts are expected to be credible,
accurate in what they say about the music and sincere in their enthusiasm
for the music. Listeners want hosts to talk with them not up or
down to them, and to enhance their listening experience not intrude
on it. That should be our central purpose every time we open the
microphone. Here are some of the comments we heard about classical
music presentation from members of our focus groups:
"You hear music and you get into a state and you want to remain
in that state. You don't want to hear anything, like the previous
station that you played. That was irritating. It draws you out
of the state you're in."
"I expect the announcers to be intelligent and to be able
to communicate in a way that brings that intelligence out. And
also in a tone that is consistent with what you're listening to."
"I think I would like to distinguish between educated and
reading from notes. Sometimes I feel like the person really knows
what they're talking about. It's almost a human tone in their
voice. It's like we're here talking here tonight."
I want them to talk to us in a way that sounds like they're
talking to you like a conversation, and not reading something
from a script or just giving information out."
"I think announcers have to have some expertise…they need
to know about the piece, be familiar with it, but they need to
present it in such a way that if you're the casual listener, it's
not talking down to you. I'm a casual listener, but I don't want
to be lectured to. "
Qualities of Craft
Participants in the focus groups told us that they want the hosts
to talk with them, to be conversational, which lines up with the
values we've seen to date in Qualities of Craft. Listeners said
they want the pacing and tone of our breaks to be congruent with
and appropriate to the music so that the state the music creates
for them is sustained. And they want us to pay attention to detail
- to language, pronunciation and production style.
Elements of craft that were identified as intrusive included:
- Multiple voices in a break - confusing, hard to keep straight
even in focused listening setting
- Talking over music-heard as "competing with" the music/hard
- Voice levels louder than the music -- seen by some listeners
as the station or host thinking they're "more important than the
- Too much information
- Information not delivered clearly and concisely
- Information and commentary that does not focus on the music
The information in the breaks we played sorted out into four categories
with different levels of value to listeners.
Level I: "The Basics"
The information listeners told us they most want is the basics of
what is being played.
- Name of the Piece
Level II: "Tell me a story, give me a picture, but keep it short"
Other information that enhances the listeners enjoyment of the
- Date when piece was composed or first performed
- Concise/compelling fact/story about piece, composer, performer
The value listeners gave this type of information depended very
much on how well it was focused. If the information was both brief
and memorable they liked it. If it gave them a picture to go with
the music they liked it even better.
Level III: "I like to know what's happening…but make it snappy"
Classical stations are seen as a valued pathway to the music and
arts community but we need to carefully structure and streamline
the information we provide. Listeners consistently preferred very
basic on air information that gave them the essence of the event
or activity, then referred them to a place where they could get
- Phone number
- Station website
Level IV: "It sounds like a commercial. I hate commercials."
Commercials, fundraising messages, underwriting spots, PSAs, station
and event promotions are all regarded as intrusions for which there
is limited tolerance. We make distinctions in-house among these
messages but listeners hear them all as commercials, they call them
all commercials. These messages are vital to a station's well-being,
but we need to be mindful of how we produce and place them or we
will quickly reach a point of diminishing returns with these listeners
- again those most loyal to classical music radio.
If we had to sum up what listeners said in a single phrase about
the breaks we do between musical selections, it would be inform
but don't intrude. We'll share some examples of several breaks and
see how listeners reacted to them in the super session to follow
Qualities of Heart and Spirit
The third and final set of Core Values is Qualities of the Heart
and Spirit. It is in this category that the path between news and
classical music listeners divides sharply.
In Qualities of the Heart and Spirit, only two values overlapped
at all. The others, as described in the Walrus Research report,
were almost polar opposites.
The common ground was in humor - but again to be used only in a
very disciplined, purposeful and respectful manner. And in generosity
- an understanding by our best hosts that the content -- in this
case the music-- is always the star. But now the values diverge.
News: Timely Engagement
The connection core news listeners have with our programming is
shaped in large part by a particular political and social vision
-- a sense of global citizenship driven by idealism, civic involvement
and civility as they search for solutions to the timely problems
of our world.
Classical Music: Timeless Inspiration
For core classical listeners - both public and commercial - the
relationship to music programming is largely emotional, inspirational,
even spiritual and experienced on a very personal, individual
level. It takes them out of their stressful lives and taps them
into something they find timeless and enduring.
From the beginning of our core values discussions we have emphasized
that the three sets of core values qualities - Mind, Heart and Craft
-- can be mixed in a variety of ways. It seems clear from this
project that while elements of mind and craft are part of the format's
value, the Qualities of the Heart and Spirit - comfort, inspiration,
connection -- are pre-eminent in the classical listening experience.
This is extremely significant as we think about who our listeners
are. Music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote recently that one of the
biggest deterrents keeping people from classical music is a perception
that you have to know a lot to get anything out of it. "Nothing
could be more dispiriting and incorrect," he wrote. While taking
care to point out that he was not arguing for ignorance, Tommasini
went on to say that to appreciate classical music "All you need
is an open mind. However minimal your music background, letting
yourself respond intuitively, viscerally is the most important step."
We found that within classical radio's core audience, the power
and impact of the music is shared by a great range of people --
from those who know a lot about it to those who said they knew little
or nothing. To all of them, when we play classical music, we are
- Above the common fray
- Different than most everything else they hear and experience
- Of higher quality
Differences we argue about inside public radio about how high above
and about just how different we are pale in comparison to the shared
core values of the classical listening experience.