Bekah S. McNeel

For many of us, local public radio personalities hover somewhere between celebrity and family. We know them, we trust them, yet now we are being told to bid them farewell.

Turn on the radio, and amid the Beethoven, Brahms and Sibelius, you will soon realize they are already gone. Since Thursday, KPAC-FM 88.3 Texas Public Radio aficionados have been listening to syndicated classical music.

Did they even notice the change? Click here to see the program listings for classical music and you’ll get the idea. The space is empty.

Where have our on-air personalities — Randy Anderson, John Clare, Deirdre Saravia, James Baker, Ron Moore and others — where have they gone? The answer, presumably, is they are gone because there is not enough money to continue operations as usual. Who will talk to us between musical performances, who will host San Antonio Symphony personas for on-air conversations? The prospects are not good.

KPAC 88.3, the classical music station of Texas Public Radio (TPR), is losing its local voice. Behind every one of those on-air voices, of course, is  a familiar persona, someone loyal listeners and donors have known and trusted for years, even if they never actually met. No doubt they will be sad to see those voices go. 

Wayne Coble, vice president and interim general manager of TPR, said the change has been “a heartbreaking move forward.” Much of the staff at TPR have been together for 20 years. Some even longer.

The station has been taking a long look at where to put its human and financial resources. “We decided to refocus the resources we had on local content,” Coble said.

KPAC-FM funding has failed to meet expenses for some years now,  and has always been augmented by funds from KSTX-FM, the public radio news station. Calling the model unsustainable, TPR management decided to refocus its manpower. Now, the local connection on KPAC will take the form of brief, pre-recorded announcements of San Antonio area happenings, interviews, and features inserted into the syndicated programming.  

TPR’s directors want to cover more local arts and artists, and feel that this is best accomplished by the news arm of the organization KSTX-FM. They also want to generate more online content.

KSTX

Station management has selected “Classical 24,” which already has debuted nights and weekends, as well as a live broadcast from Minnesota Public Radio. Those who listen to  KPAC’s sister station KSTX 89.1 already embrace highly branded national programming, such as  The Diane Rehm Show (WAMU-FM, Washington DC), On Point (WBUR-FM, Boston), and Fresh Air (WHYY-FM, Philadelphia).

But those programs are clearly identified as unique national programming with high profile hosts. KPAC’s syndicated programming is presented without context or disclosure that it is being hosted elsewhere, which some listeners are finding a disappointment.

Local on-air personalities whose jobs were cut were offered part-time positions as “cultural content producers.” The work, in theory, would focus on local arts coverage and online content. Many of the announcers, however, have not declared their intent to stay or go, but station employees say few are likely to remain.

For those anxious to hear about the  particular voices you love the most, we can now report only that Deirdre Saravia appears to be staying with her World Music program that airs Saturday nights on KSTX. Hosts Randy Anderson and John Clare are leaving. We were unable to confirm the decisions of other announcers.

One question now is whether KPAC’s intensely loyal audience will drift in the face of nationally syndicated programming with no local voice, or whether listeners will begrudgingly accept the economic realities cited by management and stay tuned.

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.