Classical-music fans politely protest BYU decision to change radio format

<b>Radio • </b>Listeners line up to express their displeasure with impending change at KBYU-FM.

(Scott D. Pierce | The Salt Lake Tribune) Classical music fans line up to protest the impending changes at KBYU-FM.

Provo • In a particularly polite display of outrage, some 60 classical-music fans turned up at the BYU Broadcast Center on Friday to protest the decision to drop the all-classical music format at KBYU-FM.

Members of the public had to wait their turn, however, while various members of the Community Volunteer Council voiced their objections.

Amiably and respectfully, of course.

Classical 89 has been a gift that will be deeply missed,” said chairwoman Marian Howe-Taylor, Salt Lake Community College manager of Community Outreach and Strategic Initiatives.

As of June 30, KBYU-Channel 11 will terminate its affiliation with PBS and become an over-the-air outlet for cable/satellite channel BYUtv in Utah. On the radio side, KBYU-FM will become an over-the-air outlet for BYUradio, currently available on Sirius XM and online, and switch from a 24-hour classical-music format to a mix of talk, sports and — still in the planning stages —some classical music.

BYU Broadcasting’s managing director, Michael Dunn, said the changes have been approved by Brigham Young University’s board of directors — which includes several general authorities of the LDS Church — but that his team will spend the next eight months finalizing what BYUradio will sound like come July.

(Scott D. Pierce | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU Broadcasting managing director, Michael Dunn explains the decision to make major changes at KBYU-FM and KBYU-Ch. 11.

That wasn’t what most of the people in the room wanted to hear.

I know how many of you are feeling here,” said Fred Wenger, the retired rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, adding that it would be a “disservice if you dilute the classical music content of BYU Broadcasting.”

Amanda Peterson, another member of the CVC — a board mandated by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — grew tearful as she said her children plead with her to turn on Classical 89, saying, “Mom! Mom! Turn on the songs!” Board member Randy Booth said his daughter “just burst into tears when she heard” about the impending changes.

Friday’s meeting often sounded a lot like an LDS Church meeting, with talk of the gospel and Mormon leaders and missionary work. And small children making noise and running around unattended.

At times, the conflict broke into the open. Board member Drew Browning said he was “not delusional” about the impending changes; he knows they will happen. But he asked if there was a “definitive plan to keep classical music” on FM-89.1 after June 30.

Dunn said he doesn’t yet “have all the answers” about what the percentage of classical music will be on BYUradio, but he vowed it will have a presence. “I’ve heard loud and clear … about the love of this great station and the music that’s there. This decision was not borne out of some evil, nefarious plan to take away this treasure. It really was about having to make hard decisions.”

Browning sponsored a motion urging BYU Broadcasting and those who oversee it at BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make classical music a “substantial part” of the BYUradio lineup. It passed, with several in dissent.

Dunn said several times BYUradio will include classical music, but that it’s too early to say exactly how it will be programmed.

I don’t know, to be honest with you and realistic, that it will ever quite be the same as what you know and love right now,” he said. “That’s the reality of it.”

Not surprisingly, that did not mollify everyone. Sixteen people were given time to address the board, and they ranged from older people speaking somewhat haltingly to young mothers holding children — including one accompanied by her 5-year-old son who “took money out of his savings and gave it to Classical 89.”

There were impassioned pleas. There were a few tears. There was humor — Dean Sessions said he listens to Classical 89 throughout the day, adding that when he gets home, “My wife loves it. She says, when we leave the home, ’Leave it on, because the plants love it, too.’”

Several speakers pushed back against the idea that there are plenty of other outlets for classical music, asserting that what will really be missed will be the commentary by the hosts.

What a loss it will be to this community. To families. To individuals,” said one woman. “Where will children learn our classical, cultural heritage?”

Our world is noise and vulgar and we need the peace and the beauty the classical music brings to our world,” said another.

BYU student Adam Blackham said he was there representing “about 20 of my friends” who are all 18 or 19 years old. “They’re all in class right now. I volunteered to skip class and come,” he said.

Judith Rasband, director of the Conselle Institute of Image Management, was more heated than most, calling the decision “a descension into the worldly way. It’s all about business, marketing, money and the drive for fame.”