WCRB-FM (102.5 in Waltham), the long-time commercial classical station serving the Greater Boston area, is "exploring a sale," according to the Boston Globe. The station, which has been in operation for more than 50 years, is finding it increasingly difficult to earn advertising revenue in the current market environment.
Before his death in 1991, station founder Theodore Jones had drawn up a trust document that expressed the "wish" that the station retain a classical music format "in perpetuity." Over the past 14 years, the station has followed this wish. However, something was lost with Jones' departure from the scene. Those of us who grew up with WCRB (for me, the 1970s) remember a station that was commercial to be sure, but also quirky, fun, and dedicated to good music. In recent years, the station really has not been any of those things. It has become very formulaic and does not seem dedicated to music as anything other than a commodity. To be fair, WCRB competes not only with other commercial stations, but also with NPR stations, like WGBH, and college stations, like WHRB, which have much greater freedom in how they program their music.
WCRB's owners, Charles River Broadcasting Co., are exploring new digital technology that would allow multiple broadcasts over the same frequency. Mary L. Marshall, Chair of Charles River Broadcasting, told the Globe that reserving one of the digital channels for classical broadcasting would be "a condition of the sale." One can hope that with multiple channels, a new WCRB might have more freedom to program its classical music with a little more of the quirky and fun spirit that characterized "the old days" at 'CRB.