Public radio station WEKU hopes to soon launch an exclusive classical music station on a new frequency, once again airing the music that defined the station before its switch to news and talk. But it's a move the station's manager says will have to garner the support of its fan base, or it won't happen.
The station is mailing pledge cards to more than 2,000 past contributors asking them to specifically support the new station, not just WEKU. Station manager Roger Duvall said contributors will need to pledge about $50,000 before the station is willing to continue its plans, which would give a stronger foothold to classical.
"The reason we're asking for pledges ... is we don't have the money right now to sink into it," Duvall said, noting the request is only for pledges to pay and not actual payments at this point.
While WEKU has continued to air classical music since its switch to news and talk, it airs the music only during evening and late-night hours. It also offers the music on an Internet station at WEKU.fm.
The station's decision to switch formats had its roots in research conducted in early 2009. Management had observed that listeners of the classical music offerings, and contributions during those hours, had declined in recent years, Duvall said. During a test in which news programs aired, there was significant growth in audience and contributions, he said.
Management already has arranged to lease a new frequency from an undisclosed commercial operator in the area. Rough field tests suggest the frequency will be picked up in areas that include Lexington, Danville, Frankfort and Georgetown.
Even if the required money is pledged, the launch would not be immediate. The station would need to get approval from the Federal Communications Commission and officials at Eastern Kentucky University.
"Once we sign the agreement, the lease will be for a three-year period, and we want to take full advantage of that as soon as possible," Duvall said.
Part of the new station's programming would be the Metropolitan Opera, which previously ran on WEKU but has not aired since its new season began after the switch to news and talk.
"I would like to see the station on before the end of the season (May) for sure," Duvall said. "But we'll see. There's an awful lot of variables here."
The Met's absence was a disappointment to Lexington classical music fan Michele Catinna.
"It has been a material diminution to the quality of life not having classical music to listen to during the day," said Catinna, who added she stopped contributing to WEKU after the change.
She said she thinks she would pledge to support the new station, noting the importance of classical music to any urban area.
"The cities that are really happening places, that have a strong and vibrant urban life, have the complete range of the arts," she said. "Classical musical is an integral and necessary part of the cultural arts scene."