How can classical music radio in the U.S. become more welcoming to listeners of color?
This 2022-23 research study was commissioned and funded by Classical King FM, Seattle’s classical public-radio station, and was undertaken in collaboration with three other listener-supported stations representing large and small U.S. cities and disparate regions: KUCO in Oklahoma City, WRTI in Philadelphia, and WQXR in New York City (a division of New York Public Radio). The working group also included the League of American Orchestras, and additional perspectives were provided throughout the project by an advisory group of four innovators working at the intersection of classical music, racial equity, and media engagement.
Slover Linett’s Tanya Treptow, PhD, Michelle Ernst, PhD, and Matthew Jenetopulos, MBA, began the project by conducting open-ended interviews with 24 people of color living in Seattle, New York City, Oklahoma City, and Philadelphia, none of whom listened to the classical radio station in their city. They then designed and administered an online survey of 1,662 adults across the U.S., evenly split across Asian, Black or African American, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latinx, and White respondents.
The study revealed that Americans of all major racial and ethnic groups listen to classical music at roughly similar rates, countering longstanding assumptions in the field that classical music is enjoyed largely by White Americans. The summary report, titled “Taking Another Listen: Audience Research With People of Color To Make Classical Music Radio More Welcoming” (download free PDF here), offers new ways of viewing longstanding audience-diversity challenges in classical music radio (and, by extension, in other media-based and live classical music settings) and identifies five directions for change to make the field more inclusive and welcoming to listeners of color — including younger adults.
The report also features candid quotes from the four advisors — Jade Simmons, award-winning pianist, speaker, and podcast host; Quinton Morris, violinist, educator, entrepreneur, and lecturer; Lara Downes, recording artist, producer, curator, and host; and Emilio Alvarez, cellist, composer, broadcaster, and advocate — about the role of race and identity in classical music’s recent evolutions.
“Classical music and the arts have a long history of exclusion born from racism,” notes Brenda Barnes, CEO of Classical KING. “This study shares some very important positive news: People of all races and ethnicities are enjoying classical music. We’re just not welcoming and serving people of color as well as we could. What needs to change is us. The research demonstrates that we can and must do more to ensure that everyone feels welcomed by our stations.”
We at Slover Linett are grateful to Barnes and the other members of the working group: Ed Yim, chief content officer and senior vice president of WQXR; Bill Johnson, general manager of WRTI-FM; Brad Ferguson, recently retired general manager of KUCO; and Karen Yair, vice president of research and resources at the League of American Orchestras. We also deeply value the insights and energy provided by the four advisors named above and the creative support of Henry Yiu of States of Matter, who designed the summary report.
REGISTER NOW for a free webinar presenting and discussing this research on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 at 12 noon Pacific / 3pm Eastern. Click to register via Zoom
We welcome your questions, suggestions, and ideas for further exploration and collaboration. We would also be happy to provide the dataset from the national survey to qualified researchers interested in analyzing it in additional ways. Please email the report’s lead authors, Tanya Treptow and Michelle Ernst, or Classical KING’s Brenda Barnes.