Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Note of Hope for Classical Music Fans

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Note of Hope for Classical Music Fans

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton, Times-Union columnist

For classical music fans, the news is good and bad.

Earlier this month, Jacksonville's public radio station, WJCT (89.9 FM), donated 3,824 compact discs -- basically its entire collection of classical music except opera -- to Jacksonville University's Swisher Library. The donation has an estimated value of $57,360. "We are thrilled that the radio station decided to trust this treasure trove of music to our care," said Thomas Gunn, the library's director. "Combined with our existing catalog of about 1,700 CDs, JU will have one of the best standard music collections in the area."

The donated CDs will not only be available to JU's students and faculty, Gunn said, but also to anyone with a library card through the interlibrary loan program.

So why is that bad news for classical fans?

Because it means that WJCT, which used to be known as Stereo 90, has decided the experiment undertaken three years ago is a smashing success.

Its audience is up 70 percent since August 1999, when the radio station abandoned the classical music format it had maintained since the station was started in 1972, said David Anderson, the WJCT executive who was brought in to handle the transition. The transition to predominantly talk has "been phenomenally successful," he said.

It was also controversial, at least initially. For three decades, Stereo 90 had been Jacksonville's classical music station. The fact that the audience was small and getting smaller was irrelevant to classical music lovers, who argued that the purpose of a public station was to fill a cultural niche, not to make money. But with an expensive conversion to digital television ahead and with government support in decline, WJCT executives and board members disagreed.

"I understood why they did it," said Madge Bruner Hazen, who played trumpet in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra from 1962 to 1970. …

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