• U.S.

Radio: Chicago’s WFMT

2 minute read

U.S. listeners seem willing to spend their own money for only one sort of radio program—serious music. Last December, after two weeks of playing classical recordings, Chicago’s FM station WFMT nervously appealed for funds to stay on the air. The station’s one phone didn’t stop ringing all evening. Eleven thousand dollars was contributed by WFMT’s minute audience. Two volunteers turned up to paint the studio—a converted hotel ballroom—while others independently went out in search of sponsors.

This week Station Owners Bernie and Rita Jacobs announced that WFMT was operating in the black. Seven months ago they had run the station without help. Now there is a staff of six. Like Manhattan’s cultural (and partly audience-sponsored) WABF, the Jacobs station is unabashedly highbrow: Debussy’s St. Sebastien, Hindemith’s Herodiade, the BBC recordings of The Canterbury Tales; Verdi’s Macbeth. All works are played in their entirety and without interruption for commercials or station breaks. No work is repeated within three months.

Sponsors are welcomed, but strictly on WFMT’s terms. The sponsor cannot choose the selections to be played and can use neither attention-getting gimmicks nor endless repetition of phone numbers. Commercials are limited to one minute in length and a maximum of 2½ minutes in any hour. Despite these advertising curbs, WFMT reports good results: a commercial for a diamond-tipped phonograph needle brought the sponsor a 150% boost in sales. Says Rita Jacobs: “The kind of listeners we have have very big ears.”

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