Commentary: "WKMS Betrays Its Mission"

Jul 14, 2009

MURRAY, KY – I am absolutely outraged that WKMS is dropping classical music from its primary station. It's wrong and it's a betrayal of our mission as a public university to bring culture to the people of Western Kentucky. But no decision is final. We can fight this one and we must!

I fight in the name of my friend, Nathaniel.

Nate was born into a poor family in Calloway County. When he became a freshman at Murray State, he began listening, casually, to WKMS's morning programs. There Nate encountered a mix of news, talk shows and classical music. To his surprise, he found himself liking classical music; Nathaniel ended by loving it. Today, classical music is a major part of his life. Nathaniel is now on a high road to the future, and he credits it largely to the literature, philosophy and classical music he found in college.

If WKMS has its way, such transformations will never happen again at least not thanks to this radio station. College students, minorities and rural folk will not hear classical music along with a mix of other programs on this public station. Nor are they likely to hear it anywhere else! WKMS really is their "window to the world." What doesn't come through that window doesn't get seen.

WKMS has segregated classical music to a High Definition Station which broadcasts nothing but classical music. While thousands of people are listening to its Primary Station, a few dozen people are tuning in this station. To receive its signal, you must spend hundreds of dollars on a special radio which receives digital bands. But scarcely anyone is listening to that station.


Because they can't afford the radio and they have no incentive to buy a gizmo to listen to music they might or might not like!

But here's the supreme irony:

HD radios are not sold in Murray! Seriously, the market for HD radio is so weak that Radio Shack and Wal-Mart aren't even in it. This technology (which once seemed so promising), is not doing at all well in the marketplace.


Let that sink in! PEOPLE WHO DON'T WANT A FANCY RADIO CAN'T BUY IT, ANYHOW! What an irony! It's nothing but an excuse to get rid of classical music.

If you like classical music and if you believe in Murray State's mission as a public university, IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO ACT. Don't be defeated by cynicism or inertia.

WKMS is a public institution with public obligations. Join us in forming "The Friends of Classical Music," contact me right away to fight in a civil and proper way for the restoration of classical music to WKMS's Primary Station.

If you like classical music and if you believe in our mission as a public university, STAND UP FOR YOUR BELIEFS. Stand up for Nathaniel and those like him who can be won to classical music. Let WKMS know how you feel.

The management of WKMS claims to be responsive to listener opinion. Is this just a hypocritical slogan to be trotted out during fund raisers? Or is it true? We shall see.

Join us a petition campaign to restore classical music (including opera and "Sunday Baroque") to WKMS.

It's time for action. It's time for you to stand for the very best.

This is Joe Fuhrmann, commenting on WKMS.


by Joe Fuhrmann

High income and educated people have the opportunity to enjoy great books, fine art and classical music. What about other people?

Do people in rural areas deserve access to classical music? How about minorities? Should college students be able to pick up Bach, Beethoven and Brahms on their radios? If you think no one in these groups cares about that don't be so sure! Consider one of my young friends. I call him N.M.

N.M. is from Calloway County, and he had a hard and even deprived life. When he entered Murray State University, Nate began listening to WKMS-FM's news and talk shows. WKMS featured classical music at that time. My friend sampled it and quickly became a convert to classical music. He credits his promising future (in large part) to classical music.

Today WKMS is taking steps which will ensure that such conversion stories will never happen again. The station actually has two transmission bands. The first can be received by any FM radio, and has thousands of listeners. (This is where N.M. encountered classical music.) The second station is a new idea: it broadcasts a High Definition signal which can be received only by special digital radios which cost hundreds of dollars. WKMS broadcasts classical music on its HD station round the clock. Only a few people have bought HD radios to listen to this station. Radio Shack and Wal-Mart, in Murray, at least, do not even sell these radios.

WKMS once offered 20 hours of classical music on its Primary Station, along with news, talk shows and an ocean of pop music, some of it in terrible taste. WKMS is dropping classical music from its Primary Station as of July 10, 2009. From that time, the segregation of classical music will be complete. And disadvantaged people such as my friend will not have the chance to become acquainted with classical music.

Dropping classical music also flies in the face of MSU's Mission as a public university. Murray State is committed to bringing the best of world culture to as many ordinary people as possible in our corner of the Commonwealth. The PBS stations of other state universities continue to do that in their regions. If the management of WKMS has its way, Murray State will be the only regional, state-supported university to NOT offer classical music to the people of our region.

Ironically, WKMS recently conducted a survey of its listeners' tastes and preferences. As many people expressed a desire to keep the current classical music offerings as voted for dropping it. The management of WKMS is ignoring this fact. It is simply determined to drop classical music.

This change outrages me and I'm here to tell you, we do not have to take it! Whether you agree with me or not, tell the management of WKMS how you feel. And contact me to join a petition campaign to force WKMS to honor its commitments to classical music and the people of West Kentucky.

Joe Fuhrmann is a professor emeritus of history at Murray State University. You may contact him at