I read with some sadness that the New York Times, has agreed to sell WQXR, along with its traditional position on the radio dial at 96.3 FM, where it has been for many decades. There’s no point being sentimental I suppose, business is business, and its no news that the news business has become a bad business, and I haven’t been a regular listener to WQXR for decades, long before I moved up to Rochester in 1995, seduced by hipper stations. But when I was first getting interested in classical music, WQXR was my beacon, where I turned to every night to hear some new wonders—I remember particularly my first hearing of Schubert’s Erlkonig, Smetana’s Ma Vlast, and Strauss’s Rosenkavalier as music moments that opened for me entire new worlds. There were all sorts of wonderful programs; Robert Sherman’s Listening Room and his Woody’s Children, his weekly folk music show; George Jellinick’s the Vocal Scene, from which I learned so much about opera, and of course the weekly Metropolitan Opera broadcasts themselves, which will now continue (I hope) somewhere else.
WQXR was a great station from which to learn about classical music. One of its major functions was educative, one place where everyone could turn to for classical music ranging the light classical pops in the afternoon to the sterner stuff they played in the evenings. There are a lot more resources available now, but the burden for self-education now falls to the individual. It was so much easier back then; just listen regularly to WQXR for a year or two, and you have learned the rudiments of the major works of classical music. Anyway, I know I learned about classical music from WQXR, and I know, over the decades, many hundreds of thousands of other people did as well.
The end of WQXR means the effective end of commercial classical music in New York City; and its sad that classical music is now reduced to permanent mendicancy, begging for subventions from all and sundry. I liked the ads on WQXR, from the ridiculously expensive restaurants that were advertising their snobbishnss, to the hyped announcements for the latest phenom to make a debut at Carnegie Hall. And I liked the fact that it was the “radio station of the NY Times” and in those pre-internet days, it was always interesting to hear, at 9 PM, the headlines for the next day’s paper. The demise of WQXR speaks to the fallen state of classical music in the United States, and that’s the way it goes. But it will be missed.