Sebastian Spreng is a South Florida visual artist and classical music writer
Every time a theater, a library or, as in this case, a radio station devoted to classical music closes, a community and its people are bereaved. It sounds tragic because it is tragic, especially if the station’s finances were on the mend. After losing millions of dollars for years, it was just starting to recover, rallying with optimism. It’s true that Classical South Florida was still losing money, but it had gone from losing nearly $3 million in 2012 to $2.4 million in 2013 and $1.6 million in 2014. Prospects looked good, audiences were responding and programming was beginning to adapt to the needs and tastes of the South Florida audience, thanks to the efforts and innovative contributions of local staff.
Unfortunately, that momentum was cut short by the devastating news that the owner, Minnesota-based American Public Media, sold the station for $21.7 million to Education Media Foundation, a California-based religious nonprofit. The news struck the local music community like a thunderbolt, as it had long considered Classical South Florida an unconditional ally and an indispensable voice that informed and educated the public about its activities.
To cap it all, the proposed sale involves three stations – WKCP, WPBI and WNPS – which together cover all South Florida, an area where cultural activity thrives thanks to the contributions of locals, tourists and new residents eager to turn the area into a cultural mecca. We have the money, we have the audiences, we have the artists. We have new museums, art fairs and the musical activity includes the New World Symphony, Young Arts, Seraphic Fire, Miami City Ballet, Florida Grand Opera, Miami Friends of Chamber Music Society, Miami Symphony Orchestra, Miami Music Project, University of Miami and FIU concerts and other ensembles, plus the revitalization of the Mainly Mozart Festival and this season’s second Miami Summer Music Festival. They demonstrate the area’s eagerness for good music, built on the foundation laid by organizations that are no longer with us but whose seeds germinated against all odds: the sorely missed Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and the Concert Association, among others, not to mention the pioneering WTMI, responsible for sowing, nourishing, shaping and maintaining the passion for music of so many people, myself included.
South Florida is a fertile ground. For years it has been hosting the winter residence of the Cleveland Orchestra, and in 2016 it will welcome the Vienna Philharmonic to Naples, whose artistic future looks ever brighter. To silence the voice of a station that disseminates and promotes good music is a bad omen. Some argue there are alternatives; technology nowadays offers multiple options, not for the common aficionado or new audiences who just start to listen to classical music. Others just don’t tend to culture; irresponsibly claiming “it always manages to survive.”
Classical South Florida as a young and fragile plant needs to be propped up. Let us hope that music in Miami succeeds like the tiny plant that works its way through cement to emerge in the cracks of an expressway. It is sad to think it has to be that way in a city as young, dynamic, enterprising, diverse and multicultural as ours. Neither the city nor its cultural organizations, neither audiences nor casual listeners deserve for that sprout to be pulled out by the roots. When it happens, we all lose.