Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Requiem Aeternam, WFMR

It was in the mid-1950's when Jim Schweitzer, a family friend, got a new job asa Sales Manager with WFMR Radio, a startup all-Classical Music station in Milwaukee. My hazy memory tells me that the Curtis Ambulance people were also involved as financial backers. At that time, WTMJ-AM had a Sunday morning classical show, but that was all there was to compete with. WTMJ eventually got rid of its show, and WFMR stood alone, at least as a 'for-profit' operation.

At that time, the broadcasts were about the same as they are now. Classical music, a little news, some advertising, more classical music. They may or may not have broadcasted 24x7--

No question that later in its life, WFMR broadcast at night--Ron Cuzner, a neighbor of a cousin, ran "The Dark Side," an all-night jazz show. Ron Cuzner was a George Carlin sorta guy, relating baseball results in this fashion: "Milwaukee defeated Chicago......New York defeated Boston....(etc.)" And each phrase was accentuated properly, lovingly delivered, at some length. To Ron, the numbers didn't count--only the results. But the jazz portion of WFMR's broadcast day eventually disappeared, too, and WFMR joined a network of stations which provided 'lights-out' classical music for evenings and overnights.

WFMR had a major financial crisis in the mid-1970's, and John Koss bought the station, moving the HQ to East Capitol Drive. He preserved the format (while likely parting with some of his fortune,) but eventually sold the station.

Somewhere along the line, the broadcast frequency changed, calling for a major project in my life--resetting all the preset-station buttons. Not much of a price to pay, really.

The new owners had a small gang of radio stations, and only WFMR was a classical outlet. For quite some time, WFMR broadcast Milwaukee Symphony concerts which had been recorded and nationally syndicated by Chicago's WFMT. The broadcasts proved that the MSO was, indeed, a major-league band. Recently, they added live interviews of MSO people and guest artists. Not many people get to hear directly from Doc Severinsen about upcoming concerts, but WFMR listeners did.

Then, today, it ended.

The demographics were wrong; the numbers didn't add up.

In reality, they haven't added up for a long time, albeit some years were better and some years were worse. With ownership no longer willing to live on the small part of the pie, and no "demographic trends" to support hope for the future, the format was buried.

There are alternatives, of a sort. Wisconsin Public Radio plays classical music, although during a short trip to town today I found only NPR "news" instead of music, on all of the NPR outlets I scanned and it wasn't the top-of-the-hour. Chicago's WFMT is still going strong (but not on the Internet--they couldn't afford the licensing fees demanded by the record companies.) WFMT is not a "classical music only" format station, however--they provide a number of music-and-arts discussion and commentary shows during their broadcast day. And there is a weaker classical station in Chicago, as well, which used to transmit from two geographically-disparate towers to get better metro coverage. Don't know what they're doing these days.

It's not yet time to discuss 'P&L vs. Culture,' although there's probably a lot to say about that.

It is, however, worth noting the death of WFMR. Both its start and its end were milestones for Milwaukee, and it deserves a finer obituary than this one.


illusory tenant said...

I join your melancholy. Cue Bruckner Mass.

Anonymous said...

For whatever reason, I don't the WPR stations in Milw. play much classical. One of the stations seems to follow the BBC more and the other is more talk.

I want to say it was 106.5 or around there that I listened to when I wanted classical. It is Concordia's station out of Mequon.

Terrence Berres said...

Dad, WNIZ in Zion, Illinois, simulcast Chicago's WNIB. Both gave up the classical format some years back. As I recall, when Obie Yadgar was let go by WFMR, he went to WNIB, but lost that slot with the format change there.

Sad to see the change; it made this morning's commute moody and introspective, as Mr. Yadgar would say.

Dad29 said...

IT, s'far as I know, Bruckner never wrote a Requiem.

There's Verdi, Cherubini (2 of 'em,) Mozart, Britten, the old Chant, Faure, and Durufle, not to mention Brahms.

Lotsa others, but no Bruckner...

Dad29 said...

MZ, 106.5 was WFMR.

Dunno about Concordia U.

illusory tenant said...

Those Requiems all seemed a little too upbeat for the occasion.