A Few Important Notes on WQXR’S Move to SoHo.

Photography By Marili Forastieri and Oleg O. Lugovskoy

On July 14, 2009, the New York Times Company announced that the 96.3 FM frequency would be transferred to another station and that they were selling WQXR. What followed is an amazing story of the power of classical music and classical music lovers to save one of the landmarks of live classical music for New York City and America. 

WQXR Began With The Birth Of Radio
WQXR-FM is the outgrowth of a “high-fidelity” AM station also called WQXR (1560), which was founded by John V. Hogan and Eliot Sanger in 1936. In 1944 WQXR was sold to the New York Times. It was one of the first radio stations to experiment with stereo broadcasts in 1953. The New York Times was a terrific custodian of classical music and WQXR to the very end. The hard work by the people there is what is making the success so bright at its new home.
The new WQXR was reborn as the public radio station in October 2009 at 105.9 frequency instead of 96.3, where it had been for 61 years. Together with WNYC they form a safe haven from what has become a monolithic maw of sports talk or a Top-40 juggernaut. In fact after 8 months the station has more listeners than any other public radio station across America. The closing of classical stations in Connecticut and all over New England makes the success of WQXR a beacon of culture. The casualties of the pop music steamroller have been great. Essentially jazz is but a mere whisper in New York City. But the dumbing down of radio did not take down WQXR.
WNYC intends to continue two of WQXR’s most listened to live programs – Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and The Philharmonic This Week – on WQXR.
Important sponsors from around the metropolitan area, large corporations, small businesses, and individuals that give as little as $75 a year are what makes WQXR work. It is a commitment across a full business and consumer landscape that shows that classical music is about the diversity of New York. “It’s not just about radio the new WQXR is a media outlet with events at The Green Performance Space, music and a musical conversation on the air and a world of discovery and interaction on Q2” says Jeff Sturges WQXR host and producer.
The Green Space
The Jerome Greene performance space is WQXR’s live performing space ‘An intimate setting for music lovers to hear classical music but also new sounds, jazz and other music.’ The concert space gives you ‘a new context for classical music’ when you hear it with other musical forms,” says Indira Etwaroo, Executive Producer of The Greene Space, ‘A space where you hear the music and also go behind the music’ to hear its story.
One of the most successful events at The Greene Space hosted the New York premiere of Twin Spirits, a poetic meditation on the passionate relationship between Robert Schumann and his wife Clara Wieck. Following the film, WQXR’s Elliott Forrest hosted a conversation with the film’s leading couple, Sting and Trudie Styler. An event that brought to life one of classical music’s great composers. “More local musicians and institutions will be featured”, said Dean Cappello, the senior vice president for programming for WNYC. “We’re about the music first,” he said. “We want to have a reliable, companionable place for people to experience classical music.”
On Thursday, June 24 at 7:00 PM, WQXR presents a live sneak preview of the 2010 Caramoor International Music Festival, a summer extravaganza held annually at a distinguished 90-acre garden estate in Katonah, New York, in a live broadcast and video webcast from The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space.
WQXR: A musical dialogue that enhances listener experience
“It’s about the music that’s the first demand of anything, but it’s going to sound different because commercials are going to come off. “You can play longer pieces… We want our listeners to be musical community” says Chris Bannon, Program Director, WNYC + WQXR, “We want to get our hosts out in front of the audience like our Meet Midge program at City Opera Concert. It is a fascinating adventure that the station is on letting the audience experience a new era of classical music with extraordinary innovation, and that translates to getting a better narrative of the classical tradition and its living presence today in America and around the world. Beloved classic American composers are front and center in the programming: George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein as well as cotemporary composers like Philip Glass, John Cage Steve Reich John Williams and new artists and composers.
The music is brought to life with little bits of history like the fact that Leonard Bernstein made his conducting debut on last-minute notification—and without any rehearsal—when Bruno Walter came down with the flu. The day after, the world of classical music had a major new star, or that Jean Sibelius released his personal feelings in the symphonies, unlike Beethoven who reserved his intimate emotions in smaller musical forms.
The most important victory for WQXR and the listeners that support it is the dispelling of the ‘out of step with the times’ view of classical music. As the musical program unfolds on any given day on WQXR, listeners hear why that isn’t true. Philip Glass’s intensity, Gershwin’s swagger, Copland’s honesty, make the case as they share the air waves with Renaissance court music, Mozart, Brahms,Wagner and Puccini. The tapestry of the classical tradition is rich and filled with a breath of styles and subject matter that even a down turned economy and a rough necked New York City couldn’t silence.
Q2: A Streaming musical discovery that reaches out to a younger audience.
Q2 with Terrance McKnight is a weekly show that is about musical discovery. The show cultivates a strong relationship between its host, Terrance McKnight, and the listeners on a direct and personal level, using the shared experience of music listening through a dialogue that takes place on the WQXR blog. An incredible creative way to build a new Classical music community today.
New composers like DBR composer and violinist, Mika Miko, funk and Gavin Bryars give Q2 a distint vibe that as Terrance Knightly says “ Q2 knows no boundries.”
Music on a lake at Central Park ‘Xenakis in a Boat’ Waterfront Premiere of ‘Xenakis Persephassa’ in Central Park Boating Lake With six percussionists, including founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars Steven Schick and former So Percussionist Doug Perkins, the afternoon’s concert invites audience members to row out to the center of the lake for a surround-sound experience unlike any other.
Or how about this.
The Gratitude Project: ‘Music We’re Grateful For’ an online and program idea that has listeners explain why you’re grateful for a particular piece of music. Did a Mendelssohn quartet make your wedding complete? Did a Bach partita help you cope with the loss of a loved one? Has Mahler been with you through an interminable air travel delay? The basic idea is to surround listeners with a musical culture that includes all types of music and generations.
The result of my tour through the last 8 months of the new WQXR is that it has found a permanent home that not only protects the classical music tradition but will help as Midge Woolsey puts it “ build a new generation music making. After 60 years as a commercial radio WQXR fearing its extinction, has instead landed right at the very heart of the new media landscape and it is alive and well.


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