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From The WAMC Department Of Gray Hair

Sometimes programming decisions are mutually exclusive. Take the opera, for instance. 

We know that there are relatively few people who listen to the opera. The big “but” is that those who do listen are passionate about the art form. WAMC has been playing the opera for years. Our philosophy has always been that a great public station will feature programming that may not be readily available and that certainly is the case every Saturday afternoon on WAMC. Imagine you were drawing the audience for opera. The so-called “N” (number) circle would be pretty small compared to the circle representing the audience who listens to news and public affairs on the station. So the question is, should opera take up time during which the majority of listeners would rather be listening to something else? 

It’s no secret that I am not an opera fan so it’s ironic that as the head guy at WAMC, I have always been the one who has made the decision to keep the opera on the air. I suspect that I am not alone among our staff in my problem with this classic art form that means so much to its aficionados. Nevertheless, despite the fact that so many people complain to me about the opera, I have always believed in keeping it on the air. Sometimes I make jokes about the opera. When people call up during the fund drive to complain I always say, “Hey, you need some time for shopping.” Some argue, “If you don’t like it, just turn it off.” Some opera haters argue that the people who love opera are often in the upper classes but I reject that argument as uninformed. In fact, I get lots of mail from people telling me how their fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers religiously listened to the opera every week. I find that a very convincing argument. 

I wish I could report that the people who we deal with at the Met have been helpful, especially when it comes to the long operas, but nothing doing. Recently, for example they presented a lengthy Wagner opera. As a result, we had to preempt the news that Saturday and, in this time of Trump, that brought a torrent of complaints. Some of the calls and e-mails were just plain mean. Oh, I know you won’t be giving me a whole lot of sympathy but still, it does sting when you are on the receiving end.  

I have noticed that during the fund drive fewer people are calling in to proclaim their love of opera. Obviously, the opera itself, which can cost up to hundreds of dollars for a seat, is too expensive for everyone. The argument follows that by having it on the radio people who live outside the Metropolitan Opera catchment area can hear it. Of course, there will come a time when newer devices will permit us to have the same on-screen “supertitles” that exists in most modern opera houses. That would bring the performance closer to listeners and may actually turn some opera haters into opera fans. 

Plus, those who don’t like the opera point out that with the advent of the Internet and HD performances in movie theaters throughout our listening area, opera fans have other places to access the performances. 

So I would ask each of you who might be reading this to try to understand the other side and even more importantly, our side at WAMC. I’m sure that opera lovers know that many, if not most of the stations that played the opera have removed it from their air. We try our best to keep it going but I’d love to hear from more people who like and love it.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.
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