Why I'm suspending donations to KDFC

Why doesn’t KDFC play organ music? This question has been bugging me for a few years now. KDFC is a listener-funded classical music radio station based in San Francisco. With multiple transmitters scattered around Northern California, its signal reaches from the Monterey Peninsula up to Santa Rosa and beyond. Here on the Monterey Peninsula it can be heard loud and clear at 103.9 on the FM band.

KDFC began broadcasting locally almost six years ago. After a couple of years I began to realize that I had never heard any organ music on the station. Oh, now and then they play music that has an organ mixed in with other instruments, most notably Saint-Saens famous “Organ Symphony,” but never any pure organ music. What tipped me off was Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which is arguably the most famous organ piece ever written. I noticed that KDFC always played the 20th Century orchestral arrangement that Leopold Stokowski put together for the Disney movie Fantasia. Bach’s original organ composition was nowhere to be found.

A few years ago I started asking why this was, but none of my e-mails were answered. Finally, last summer someone from KDFC’s programming department got back to me. He said that their experience and research indicated that most KDFC listeners don’t like organ music. I found that hard to believe. I also questioned their research because I had at one time filled out a KDFC survey asking what I wanted to hear. Organ music wasn’t offered as an option, so I had to write it in the comments section of the survey, something most survey takers probably wouldn’t think to do, hence its supposed unpopularity.

The fellow wrote back and said, well, that survey wasn’t the basis of their programming decisions. Instead they rely on focus groups and “other methods” which made me wonder why I bothered with their survey at all.

Meanwhile, I noted that since KDFC hadn’t played any solo organ music in at least five years, their assessment of its popularity or lack thereof hadn’t been tested in real world conditions, at least not recently. So I proposed an experiment: play an organ recording of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue and see what kind of reaction they got. My guess was that KDFC listeners would find it to be a refreshing change from the Disney version. This suggestion was met with a stubbornly rigid response saying that KDFC does not play solo organ music. Period. End of story. I was told that some people want to hear accordion and tuba music, but they don’t play those either, as if those compare to the full range of sounds possible from a magnificent pipe organ.

As much as I like KDFC, their uncompromising attitude towards organ music left a bad taste in my mouth. In my 62 years on Earth I’ve never encountered a classical music station that didn’t play a little organ music from time to time. Except KDFC. I don’t think I’m asking too much. Just a little organ music sprinkled here and there to acknowledge the role the organ played in the history of classical music. After all, part of KDFC’s function is to inform and educate, not just entertain.

So I have launched a one-man protest. I have informed KDFC’s membership and programming departments that I will not be making any further donations to support the station until they end their ban on organ music. It seems petty, I know, to withhold donations to what is otherwise an excellent radio station. After all, I listen to it throughout the day and would be lost without it, so I have often felt I should contribute to keeping it on the air. But this is the only way I can think of to protest what I feel is a ridiculous policy for a first-class classical music station. Realistically, however, the loss of my small annual donations will probably go unnoticed.

I’m not asking anyone else to withhold their donations. But if you agree that a proper classical music station should play organ music now and then I hope you will contact the station and let them know how you feel. Maybe, eventually, the message will sink in.


Anonymous said…
WRR, in Dallas, Texas, runs a syndicated programme called "Pipe Dreams" which is all organ music, once a week. It's sponsored by the local chapters of the American Guild of Organists. Surely KDFC could find a time-slot for that, even if they don't want to mix organ music into their regular lineup (which, I agree, is strange and questionable). On the other hand, I recently bought a 45 of a French organist performing a couple of pieces by Buxtehude, so I may be no judge. (It only cost me a dollar, though.)
Anonymous said…
When I expressed a similar view, the answer was that they follow the preferences of their listeners. I also challenge that, and I also noticed the bias in the surveys. WQXR (NYC) hosts Pipe Dreams Sunday nights. KDFC hosts Modern Times (to which I seldom listen). Its host now hosts what used to be the Sacred Concert Hall Sunday mornings. There are still some great choral music on that program, but it's being edged out by modern works, thanks to its new host being the same as the Modern Times host. So KDFC is changing. Perhaps it really is following its listeners. We stopped attending SF Symphony concerts because they phased out classics in favor of new works. Perhaps KDFC is simply a victim of the same trends that have made churches phase out 'traditional' church music in favor of pop rock 7-11 music (7 words repeated 11 times). At least we old folks still have recordings!

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