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KUSC to widen classical audience

The radio station and NPR will distribute round-the-clock programming to subscriber stations around the country.

May 05, 2003|Steve Carney | Special to The Times

Hoping to bring Bach, Beethoven and Mozart to a wider audience, KUSC-FM (91.5) is joining forces with National Public Radio to distribute a 24-hour stream of classical music to stations nationwide.

The service, called the Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN) and created five years ago in partnership with Colorado Public Radio, offers a stable of knowledgeable announcers and a varied playlist.

Stations that subscribe to the service can use as much or as little of it as they want, either to replace weak-performing programs or to fill in gaps in their schedule.

"We want to take the intimidation factor out of it," said Brenda Barnes, president and general manager of KUSC. "You'll hear some modern music, some very early music, some challenging music in addition to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony."

KUSC listeners have already been hearing CPRN since 1998. Except for local programs such as Jim Svejda's evening show, Duff Murphy's Saturday opera program and Los Angeles Philharmonic broadcasts, the programming heard on KUSC is the same as what's offered to CPRN subscribers. KUSC and Colorado Public Radio have been testing the service at a handful of stations.

Now NPR will offer the service to its 732 member stations, 472 of which already carry classical music. "We're giving them more to work with," said Benjamin Roe, NPR's director of music. He said the service's economy of scale will enable even small outlets to have high-quality announcing and programming.

Barnes said classical-music stations often struggle to find announcers who not only know the music but also can convey that information to lay listeners without jargon or pretense.

Having the marketing muscle of NPR behind CPRN, she said, will help the service compete against similar classical streams offered by Minnesota Public Radio (Classical 24) and Chicago's WFMT-FM (the Beethoven Satellite Network).

KUSC and Colorado Public Radio also developed CPRN with an eye toward the future, when technology will allow radio stations to split their signals, simultaneously offering NPR news and talk shows on one stream and classical music, for example, on the other.

And though Barnes said the service isn't mass-market enough to draw hordes of new fans to the genre, she said CPRN's accessibility and the music information it offers will attract listeners, and perhaps help stanch a decline in the format's audience.

According to Arbitron, the radio ratings service, classical music's share of the national listening audience fell from 1.7% in 1998 to 1.5% in 2002, and remained the smallest of any of the 13 formats charted. But it's still the most popular music format on public radio, accounting for 30% of all programming.

"Classical music hasn't been a mass-consumption format for quite some time," Barnes said, but "it's always had a group of people who love it and value it."

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