Classical music hits high note in Arbitron ratings


February 18, 1994|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore radio listeners have a taste for classical music.

Both WBJC-FM (91.5) and WJHU-FM (88.1), the local listener-supported stations that principally play the fine-music format, report they had their biggest audiences ever in the Arbitron ratings for the fall quarter.

"I've always known that classical music is a popular format, and these numbers prove it. Our ratings are now higher than a number of the commercial stations," says Cary Smith, general manager at WBJC, which devotes about 90 percent of its air time to classical music.

About 200,000 listeners tuned in to the station during an average week, according to the "cume" rating for audiences 12 and over.

Dennis Kita, general manager of WJHU, said his station's weekly "cume" was about 108,000 listeners. In addition to classical music, WJHU carries news and public affairs programs from National Public Radio, and also programs jazz in the evenings.

By comparison, Baltimore's top-rated commercial station, country music format WPOC-FM (93.1), recorded a "cume" rating of 375,400 listeners a week during the same period.

"It does show that there is a very strong audience" for classical music, says Mr. Kita.

Mr. Smith says the ratings justify his station's decision about eight years ago to program primarily fine music.

Previously, WBJC was an NPR affiliate and carried such fixtures as the afternoon "All Things Considered" news program. But when WJHU was launched in 1986 by Johns Hopkins University, it acquired NPR news and public affairs programming and WBJC became primarily classical music.

"I think if classical music tries to find an audience, it can be successful. The most successful stations are those that do classical almost all the time. We decided to cast our fates to the format," says Mr. Smith.

At WJHU, Mr. Kita says classical music is well supported by listeners. But he notes the station's NPR programming generally draws larger audiences.

For example, the "Morning Edition" news magazine show from NPR, heard daily from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., "has twice the audience of anyclassical music show we do," he says.

* The recent behind-the-scenes battle at the Metropolitan Opera gets some air time tomorrow in the weekly "Texaco-Metropolitan Opera" broadcast, for the scheduled production is Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment" ("Daughter of the Regiment").

That is the work for which temperamental soprano Kathleen Battle was rehearsing when she was fired for "unprofessional actions" earlier this month. Replacement Harolyn Blackwell will sing the lead role of Marie in the broadcast, heard at 1:30 p.m. on WBJC.

Met general manager Joseph Volpe canceled Ms. Battle's contract on Feb. 3. Reports said her actions had included arriving late to rehearsal, leaving early and sometimes not showing up at all.

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