One Way for WQXR to Make a Go of It: Go Global

Last Updated Jul 15, 2009 1:46 PM EDT

So, The New York Times Company has finally sold WQXR, its classical station, for $45 million. For the station's management and listeners, there's a change that is at least as big as a shift of ownership to WNYC, and a shift to a weaker signal, at 105.9 from its customary 96.3. That's the shift to being listener-supported, just as WNYC is. While the story by its about-to-be-former owner went into great detail about the shift from a 6000-watt to 600-watt signal, I kept thinking, based on what I've noticed in listening to my own favorite public radio station, that the new WQXR should put a lot of emphasis on its streamed offering online, and go global. Screw those nagging wattage issues!

The station I've become a big fan of over the last year and a half is WFUV 90.7, the public radio station of Fordham University, which has roughly one-third the listeners that WQXR does. On iTunes they call it eclectic, I guess because it dares to play Moby. But that's beside the point. One thing that strikes me in listening to it -- especially during its fund drives -- is how many people from outside the New York area, and indeed, all over the world, contribute to it. That's not a market that was open to it before the Internet, and though I've no great insight into the geographic breakout of contributors, it's got to help. In case you're thinking that its outside-of-New-York user base is totally made up of former New Yorkers, it's not, and the ability to promote the station cheaply, using social platforms, keeps increasing, giving it the potential to be a global (if niche) brand. Every song and artist is tweeted as it's played. Right now, at least, on Twitter, WQXR is rather undeveloped.

If you're wondering why the national or global opportunity hasn't been exploited by commercial radio stations, it's a different situation. Have you ever listened to a local commercial radio station online during the commercial breaks? For whatever reason, you usually don't hear the commercials you would if you were listening to it over the airwaves. You get a lot of filler, and maybe you always will, since so much of radio advertising is local, online listeners aren't necessarily local and it's not that attractive as an online-only buy. If you're fundraising, this isn't an issue. People can contribute from wherever they're listening, and it really doesn't matter where that is, as long as what they contribute is green and can be deposited in a bank.

(For those of you who were wondering, the selling of WQXR also ends the appearances of New York Times reporters on the station. Truly the end of an era.)

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