Bill Virgin's Radio Beat December 6, 2007

Includes archive of Bill Virgin's columns fromJ une 2006 - March 2009

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat December 6, 2007

Postby radiofan » Thu Dec 06, 2007 1:43 pm

On Radio: Met Opera marks its 77th season on the air
KING's audience loyal, appreciative


At one time opera was as much a part of American popular music as were the Hit Parade and show tunes.

Most people could not only name a few operas but whistle or hum a fragment of the best-known tunes, and the opera library was well-known enough that people got the joke when it was parodied in everything from cartoons (the classic Bugs-and-Elmer short "What's Opera, Doc?") to a collaboration of Spike Jones and Homer & Jethro (their own take on "Pagliacci," "Pal-Yat-Chee").

The Hit Parade is long gone and show tunes are now relegated to the occasional revival of a classic musical, "adult standards" radio or "great American songbook" albums by aging pop musicians.

Opera, meanwhile, is a small subset of another small part of the musical spectrum -- classical. Yet it still makes the occasional pop-culture appearance in movie soundtracks and high-profile concerts such as the Three Tenors. And it has enough of a loyal core following to sustain what is one of the longest-running series in radio history.

New York's Metropolitan Opera makes its season debut at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on KING- FM/98.1 with a production of Gluck's "Iphigenie En Tauride." The 22-broadcast season runs through May 3.

This is the 77th season for the Met on radio, a record rivaled only by the Grand Ole Opry (1925) and Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts (1929). The Met says its U.S. radio network includes more than 300 stations.

The future of the Met broadcasts had been in question a few years ago when longtime sponsor Texaco dropped out. Since then, though, sponsorship of the Met season has been picked up by home builder Toll Brothers.

Opera presents an interesting divide in classical-music radio listening.

"We hear very few complaints about opera unless we don't have one," says Tom Olsen, KING-FM's music director. The station broadcasts a full-length opera every week, and the local audience is both loyal to and appreciative of that. If there's a technical glitch in the Met broadcasts, "we hear about it, in numbers," Olsen says.

Yet KING plays little opera during its regular broadcast day, which suits those who like classical music but avoid opera.

"Operatic voices are very foreground," Olsen says. "They demand you pay attention to them. They are an acquired taste."

While the Met has been one of radio's mainstays over the decades, in recent years it, like popular music artists, has been experimenting with new technologies and distribution channels. Live and recorded performances at The Met are now featured on a channel on Sirius satellite radio. Last month, the Met announced it would make recordings of performances, some dating to 1936, available through Rhapsody, the digital music service that is a joint venture of Seattle-based RealNetworks and MTV Networks. And it is continuing live, high-definition broadcasts of operas to movie theaters.

In other radio notes:

A last-minute station change for Seattle Radio Theatre's production of "It's a Wonderful Life" at 8 p.m. Friday from Town Hall. It can be heard on KPTK-AM/1090.

KEXP-FM/90.3 is starting a series of mini-documentaries, "Masters of Turntablism," about the founding fathers of scratch. The seven-part series, each five minutes long, begins Thursday at 3 p.m. on Kevin Cole's show and will air each Thursday at that time and each Saturday at 2 p.m.

KPLU-FM/88.5 airs its annual Christmas Jam concert from Lagerquist Hall at Pacific Lutheran University at noon Thursday. Performers include trumpeter Lance Buller, vocalist Stephanie Porter and the University Jazz Ensemble.

Don Riggs' guests' on "Introspect Northwest" at 6 a.m. Sunday on KMPS-FM/94.1 and 9 a.m. Sunday on KPTK-AM include comedian Chris Elliott.

Lizz Sommars' guests on "Conversations" at 6 a.m. Sunday on KISW-FM/99.9, KKWF- FM/100.7 and KMTT-FM/103.7 and 7 a.m. Sunday on KNDD- FM/107.7 include Liza Mundy, author of a book on reproductive science, "Everything Conceivable."

The Sunday edition of Jim French's "Imagination Theatre," at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on KIXI-AM/800, includes a new adventure of Kerides the Thinker, set in ancient Egypt.

Author and former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is the guest on "Weekday" at 9 a.m. Monday on KUOW-FM/94.9.

New York Vinnie, late of KIRO-AM, will be filling in on Jeff Aaron's sports-talk show 3-6 p.m. Wednesday on KRKO-AM/ 1380.

P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat, Thursdays in the Seattle P-I
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.
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