For the past 26 years, virtually the only oasis from the noise, blather, and general chaos of the radio airwaves in the Toledo area has been the soothing strains of classical music on FM 91.
Even as news and talk programming has gained ground at public radio stations, WGTE - in concert with WGLE in Lima, WGDE in Defiance, and WGBE in Bryan - continues as a dependable stronghold of the classics, averaging 14 hours each broadcast day.
So it is with a sense of alarm and sadness that we learn that old-stalwart FM 91 has been losing listeners to the point where it must decide whether to continue, cut back, or - it hurts to even think about it! - switch to something else.
For public radio around the country, something else has been decidedly less Bach and Baroque and more news, talk, and entertainment. A decade ago, 80 percent of all public stations broadcast classical music at least part of the time. Now the proportion is down to 67 percent.
In this area, Ann Arbor's WUOM went all-talk six years ago and reportedly is prospering. But it goes without saying that Toledo is not Ann Arbor, and listening preferences don't necessarily coincide.
A persuasive case can be made that a radio station that lives (or dies) by public contributions ought to give its audience at least an approximation of what it wants to hear. It was disconcerting to learn that, as listenership has declined over the past five years, WGTE has not conducted the kind of market studies that ought to make its programming choices easier.
Nonetheless, WGTE, the radio-television parent of FM 91, should not be too quick to abandon a quarter century of quality music on the whim of the latest survey.
Classical music deserves to endure, not for some perceived snob appeal but simply because it is a significant element of a heritage we lose at our cultural peril. And, to be blunt, it is the perfect, pleasing, and precise antidote to the babble of hip hop, rock, and country tunes that assault the eardrums on the commercial airwaves.
At this crossroads in its history, WGTE owes it to devoted radio fans to do some listening of its own and discover what it needs to do to regain its audience.
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