Dear ‘RTI: Letters to the Station

Letters were sent to WRTI by the public primarily during the months of September and October of 1997 concerning the format change. Of the 455 letters catalogued for Temple's Public File, eight were unreadable due to xeroxing problems. All of the letters were sorted into three main categories "For the format change," "Against the format change," and "Mixed" (meaning letter writers who didn't know if they liked the format change or not). The letters were then sorted as to gender, couples, and "unknowns" (when the letter writer couldn't be identified as to sex by name or who didn't sign the letter). All letters were coded as to geographical origination (if stated), i.e. PA suburbs, city residents, New Jersey and Delaware, age (if stated), profession (if stated), alumni (if stated), and whether they were emailed, faxed, or sent by regular mail. Twenty unintentional copies of various letters were discarded so as not to be counted twice. The numerical breakdown for the three main categories were: For the change-183, Against the change-231, and Mixed-13. Most of the writers addressed their letters to development coordinator Kristina Palmer, station manager Tobias Poole, Peter J. Liacouras, Tom Maxey and classical DJs Dave Conant and Jill Pasternak. Forty seven letters were written on fundraising letters that had been sent out by the station to subscribers (2 were pro and 45 were against).

Letters for the change in format (Classical fans):
78 men
40 from the PA suburbs
19 from the city (1/3 of which were places of business so it is unknown if they lived in the city.)
10 from NJ
6 elderly
29 professionals (5 church affiliated, 4 alumni, 7 in health care, 1 lawyer, 3 in education, 10 others in service positions i.e insurance, printers, photographers, appraisers, etc.)
12 were sent by fax
2 emails

74 women
42 from the PA suburbs
12 from the city (˝ places of business)
2 from NJ
3 from DE
18 elderly
11 professionals (1 church affiliated, 2 in health care, 3 alumni, 1 musician, 4 others in service positions i.e. secretaries and receptionists.)
7 faxes

20 Couples
9 from PA suburbs
2 from the city
3 from NJ
1 from DE
2 elderly
3 professionals (2 in health care, 1 alumnus)
1 Fax
1 email

11 Unknowns
3 from PA suburbs
1 from the city
1 alumni
1 fax.

Letters against the change in format (jazz fans):
129 Men
48 from PA suburbs
19 from the city (1/3 places of business)
3 from NJ
4 from DE
1 outside area
2 elderly
49 professionals (9 in health care, 4 alumni, 3 in education, 1 lawyer, 3 directors of arts groups, 7 musicians, 22 others i.e. research centers, banking, insurance.)
21 faxes
5 emails

70 Women
31 from PA suburbs
18 from the city
10 from NJ
3 from DE
2 elderly
37 professionals (2 musicians, 2 alumni, 5 in education, 1 church affiliated, 4 in health care, 4 directors of arts groups, 19 others.)
16 Faxes
1 email

12 Couples
5 from PA suburbs
1 from the city
4 from NJ
No stated professionals
1 Fax
No emails

20 Unknowns
7 from PA suburbs
3 from the city
3 from NJ
6 professionals (1 in education, 1 in health care, I arts director, 1 alumnus, 2 other)
2 Faxes
2 emails (Discussion among numerous people was sent to the station from Jazz Online and was counted as 1 email)

Letters with mixed reaction:
13 letters
8 men
4 women
1 unknown
6 from the PA suburbs
1 from the city
2 from NJ
2 from DE
6 professionals (1 church affiliated, 1 in health care, 1 musician, I business owner, 1 alumnus, 1 other)
2 Faxes
1 email

Men and Women for the change in format:
The overwhelming sentiment expressed in these letters was deep gratitude that classical music would be back on the air in Philadelphia after a one week hiatus and many letters were addressed directly to the classical DJs who had been a part of WFLN for so many years and who were now installed at WRTI. Most of the writers had followed the drama closely in the local papers and were aware of the controversy surrounding Temple's decision; others lambasted WFLN's new owners calling them "Greedier" Media instead of Greater Media and scolded them and the city of Philadelphia about the corporate short sightedness that was destroying classical music. Some writers empathized with the jazz listeners on losing their station because the classical listeners had recently experienced their own loss of WFLN, and years earlier, WHYY. However, a lot of these same empathetic men and women would turn right around a line or two later to plead that the station should get rid of jazz and go all classical. Many, many letters requested the station to go 24 hour classical, or at the very least asked the station to cut the hours of jazz to accommodate the Metropolitan Opera on the weekends or to provide soothing classical music at bedtime.

The announced air-time split between the two musical genres was also a source of contention with jazz listeners, and rightly so, since classical was played all day while jazz got the nighttime slot, a further signal that jazz programming was immediately taking a cultural backseat to classical at the station and many writers against the change got the distinct impression that a social stereotype was being proffered: that hardworking classical people went to bed early every night and jazz people could sit around all evening because most of them didn't get up to go to work in the morning. In radio, the daytime programming is considered more important than any other since most people listen to the radio at work, and because it also contains the lucrative "drive times" when people are in their cars going to and from work. Advertising rates are higher because more people are listening. Giving up half of their station to classical was a heavy blow, but for classical to make itself comfortable on the best real estate on the air seemed doubly unfair to many jazz fan writers.

There was an underlying theme throughout measuring the value of one genre of music against the other in both camps. The letters written by the people for the change also contained suggestions about radio reception, programming, and some commented on the city politics of the situation, but for the most part all of the letters said thank you. One heartfelt response from a woman living at the Academy House in town described her feelings of loss about WFLN:

My husband and I cried--not sniffed, but bawled--when WFLN signed off on Friday, Sept. 5. We wee [sic] truly depressed for more than a week--we loved WFLN and miss it deeply...I was delighted to wake up with Dave Conant on the air last Monday--it's a 22-plus-year old habit of mine which is hard to break. Another woman wrote, Hi. My name is Nellie...and I'm writing to tell you that I'm simply thrilled with your new daytime programming! I work at home, and couldn't concentrate with all of the talk on Whyy, so I switched to WFLN. Jazz is okay, but I'm "the Dave Brubeck type," and couldn't bear the noise...I've heard through the grapevine that some of your faithful members are unhappy with your classical music format, but I and several friends are simply delighted!...cheerio & blessings.

One woman from Wilmington compared the loss of WFLN to the death of Princess Diana and expressed her gratitude that "Dave" and "Jill" had returned to the radio with their "familiar voices," and a man faxed a poem from his place of business at Lockheed Martin,

Away despair! Begone thou dingy gloom!
The wounded sonic spectrum has been healed!
Euterpe has returned our spirits to console
With the happy fruit her inspiration spawns;
And St. Cecila smiles again,
Uplifts our hearts and blesses those
Whose pain she lately shared.

Many felt that the city of Philadelphia should have been able to support a full time classical and a full time jazz station, but most writers on this side of the fence conceded "that is not the real world." A few though expressed downright anger; like another gentlemen from the Academy House who said that although he appreciated that Temple had picked up the classical format,

...there is still anger that this is not WFLN. We do not listen to jazz, but we have deep empathy for those who do like jazz and got shafted. We feel sorry for the former staff of WFLN whose life is in turmoil and maybe devastated. All because someone is not happy with a few million dollars and has to have more millions--may MAX [the new rock format at WFLN] and their millions burn in hell, and that is being very kind.

Other letters lashed out at the jazz fans who were asking for better time slots, with one man from Media writing "now the jazz supporters, not satisfied with the present compromise, greedily want it all," and a woman from New Castle, DE lambasted the jazz announcers who, justifiably, signed off their doomed shows with sadness.

We listened to the final (or before the changeover) broadcasts on both stations [WFLN and WRTI]. In making their adieus to their listening audiences the WFLN announcers were regretfully sad as were most of the WRTI people. But, I must say, a few of the jazz announcers, especially the man who did "Shades of Blue," were the biggest crybabies that I've ever heard!

Other new classical listeners to the station complained that jazz was being played on the weekends and that classical fans were being shortchanged by not having the former WFLN shows they were accustomed to listening to on the air. Many warned Temple that the classical audience had enormous economic clout that would most likely be withheld if even more space wasn't given to classical music. One woman from West Chester wrote:

Although it is a guess, I feel I am not too ill-informed regarding the socio-economic level of this audience. They might well bring abundant funds to your station when your pledge drive occurs. However, I also feel they will be watching you to see how sensitive your station will be in presenting a fair coverage of classical music on the weekends.

This same woman criticized a particular student's work on the air and thought more professionals should be brought in.

For a school of higher learning, it would seem to me that Temple University would make every attempt to have someone delivering the news who had made certain she/he did so smoothly and pronounced words correctly. In the past three days, I have heard an inordinate number of words mispronounced, hesitations in delivery and an overall naivete which reminds me of high-school-level cable channel programming.

One Abington man blamed "greedy capitalists who felt that [their] profit was insufficient," calling Greater Media executives "Philistines" and then a few lines later lionized the economic virtues of the classical audience according to market research, a tool those same greedy capitalists financially live and die by.

...the classics play to a higher income, more erudite, and more selective and critical audience. For example, I have a well-paying position and am an amateur equestrian on weekends and vacations; just the sort of person the marketers would target....

A few of the classical fans seemed to place jazz music totally outside of the Philadelphia cultural milieu saying things like "We have no use for contemporary music with its harshness, discordance, violence, sadness, moanings, groanings and screeching," or "It won't hurt those modern jazz buffs to hear some good classical music; they might even grow to like it. It certainly will broaden their horizons and isn't that what education is about?" One self-described former student of Temple ticked off all the cultural institutions she felt were important.

I would be proud if my university would fill the gap in the cultured city of Phila. with the music of the cultured and classical world. Phila. Is known for (as you know) the orchestra, our outdoor sculptures, the Curtis School of Music, Settlement Music School, the Academy of Fine Arts (the first in the country!) Moore College of Art...and let us not forget the Phila. Watercolor Club...we are outstanding in the arts. These professionals listen to classical music. It is a part of our life. Please make Temple a full time classical station.

Race was mentioned in quite a few letters due to news coverage of public charges the jazz fans made against Temple, linking up the Strategic Initiatives Report and the Abu-Jamal cancellation to the format change. Reggie Bryant, a popular talk show host of the program Catharsis on WRTI [which would fall victim to the axe] was one of the most vocal in the opposition camp. One man from Exton, on stationary emblazoned with a fiery quote by Thomas Jefferson, wrote in so many words that he felt Bryant was a bigot. This man saw himself totally outside of the black dialogue about a subject that was very important to all of the local community and, like other writers for classical, took a culturally combative stance while aurally enjoying his voyeurism of the jazz format's last days.

I had "eavesdropped" on the Catharsis show of Reggie Bryant on Monday evening Sept. 8 and been more or less appalled by the emotional and vitriolic defense of the status quo led by Bryant. Though he was careful to leave the charges of racism to his listeners ("Is this the decision of Whitey?" said one), it was a carefully orchestrated defense of WRTI as North Philadelphia African-American "turf." Alas! ...I am happy to see that there is someone in charge now at WRTI thinking as I was in 1957. After all "UNIVERSITY" does suggest a broader world of thought than the interests of one ethnic group in one neighborhood.

One writer told station manager Tobias Poole to change the website for the station because the "texts suggest RTI is schizophrenic [it says] ‘we are stone African-American classical and we just LOVE diversity.' (Check it out Tobias, I'm not exaggerating.)" One writer who described herself as a former Masters degree student in the Department of Music at Temple said,

I have read several articles about the complaints regarding your new format of half classical, half jazz and I honestly do not feel there is any reason for all the "noise." ...North Philadelphia is not the only community Temple serves...Keep doing what you're doing and do not become dissuaded in your decision by the shrill cries of some who need to expand their listening skills.

Several writers picked up on the word "classical" as it is popularly used with jazz these days to make their point which "classical" they wanted. A Lansdowne woman wrote, "We need ‘European' classical music day and night!" One couple from West Chester under the assumption that there was no other classical music programming in the Delaware Valley (there is), said that "It is with much regret that we hear the charges leveled by some that the change to WRTI's format was racially motivated. Is there no consideration given to the fact that classical music lovers were left with absolutely no radio venue in the local listening area?" One unknown letter writer singled out a popular African-American WRTI host whose show wasn't canceled telling the station that, "the very first thing you should do is get rid of that complete idiot _________ and fill his....slot with classical music."

The most prevalent themes of the letters from the people who were for the change in format were gratitude, requests to dump jazz and go all classical, the socio-economic status of the writer, how much money they were sending in and how much more would be forthcoming if WRTI made their format more like the old WFLN format, and complaints about the ineptitude of the student announcers. Many echoed Tom Maxey's line about "diversity" finally coming to Temple, easily seeing themselves as the political underdogs (one said there was "plenty of jazz on the air!") and how the professional and familiar "voices" of Jill Pasternak and Dave Conant needed to be heard for their educational value. I wondered what some of the classical fans who demanded precise articulation by the student announcers at Temple would have thought of one of the very few young writers that sent in a letter praising the change to classical.

I am 25 years old, because of my young age people do not understand my appreciation for classical music. I love music. I enjoy many varieties of music. I listen to rock, alternative, some reggae, salsa and merenge [sic] (I am latino), but my true love is classical. For me, there is nothing better and more relaxing than listening to Guershen's [sic] Rhapsody in Blue in the middle of the afternoon or while eating dinner (that happens to be my all time favorite and I actually know the name and who wrote it!)

Most of the music this bright young writer referenced in her letter used to be on WRTI, whose musical diversity incorporated cultural forms from many different ethnic groups, not just African-Americans. The "diversity" that had come to WRTI in September by the addition of classical music served to, in reality, lessen the number of musical voices on the airwaves, not increase them. Her stated love of George Gershwin's piece Rhapsody in Blue is ironic, because it was performed originally with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, a collection of segregated America's finest white jazz musicians, including cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. When the piece debuted at the Aeolian Hall in 1924, in what was then considered to be the stronghold of classical music, it was slammed as "trite," "feeble" and "inexpressive" by one well respected classical critic. [More]

Next: Men & Women Against the Change
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