WEKU format change means a switch in classical music offerings

In a bid to attract more listeners and contributions, public radio station WEKU-88.9 FM has dropped most of its classical music offerings in favor of news and talk programs.

It might not be the last change for the Richmond-based station, though. Its management hopes to find a home on FM radio for a second listening stream that would be the only station in the Bluegrass to play primarily classical music.

WEKU2, as it would be called, is available online (go to and click on "Listen Live" in the navigation bar at the top). Station manager Roger Duvall said there has been a "significant uptick" on the WEKU2 Internet stream since the on-air programming change took effect Aug. 1.

"We're pursuing putting this second station on because we knew there were listeners out there," he said. "It's not that we didn't have anyone listening, and we've heard from quite a few of them."

The station's staffers are forming the "WEKU Tech Team" to individually visit the homes of listeners who have called and expressed difficulty in understanding how to access the Internet broadcast.

"We've had a half-dozen people inquire so far," Duvall said. Anyone interested in the tutorial should call the station at 1-800-621-8890, he said.

The station's decision to switch formats has its roots in research conducted in the early part of 2009.

Management had observed that listeners of the classical music offerings, and contributions during those hours, had declined in recent years, Duvall said. A consulting group performed a demographic study of WEKU's market and suggested that it drop all classical music in favor of news programming. Rather than do that, the station added a couple of news programs as a test.

"The response was significant growth in audience and significant growth in contributions during those programs and for those programs," Duvall said.

The station will continue to play classical music during the overnight hours and is working to strengthen its other music programming. For example, it's adding a weekly opera program, the NPR-syndicated World of Opera, instead of just seasonal offerings as it had in the past. It's also looking to do more local music programming with a show called Kentucky Center Stage.

Duvall said that such moves, as well as WEKU's plan to soon have a second station that's all classical, have tempered the critical responses from longtime listeners.

Among those is Wayne Gebb, music director at Beaumont Presbyterian Church, who said the new classical music station "would be the best of all possible worlds."

"It would a shame for that to disappear," he said.