Wake Forests's classical radio station wants to share its love | The Wake Weekly
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Wake Forests's classical radio station wants to share its love

Posted on July 14, 2021

Updated on July 19, 2021

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WCPE The Classical Station broadcasts its radio programming from this transmitter in Wake Forest, which is 2 feet shorter than the Empire State Building.

Amber Revels-Stocks | The Wake Weekly

WCPE The Classical Station broadcasts its radio programming from this transmitter in Wake Forest, which is 2 feet shorter than the Empire State Building.

Production Direct Elizabeth Elliott works in one of the two broadcast studios at The Classical Station in Wake Forest.

Amber Revels-Stocks | The Wake Weekly

Production Direct Elizabeth Elliott works in one of the two broadcast studios at The Classical Station in Wake Forest.

WCPE The Classical Station broadcasts its radio programming from this transmitter in Wake Forest, which is 2 feet shorter than the Empire State Building.

Amber Revels-Stocks | The Wake Weekly

WCPE The Classical Station broadcasts its radio programming from this transmitter in Wake Forest, which is 2 feet shorter than the Empire State Building.

Production Direct Elizabeth Elliott works in one of the two broadcast studios at The Classical Station in Wake Forest.

Amber Revels-Stocks | The Wake Weekly

Production Direct Elizabeth Elliott works in one of the two broadcast studios at The Classical Station in Wake Forest.

Production Direct Elizabeth Elliott works in one of the two broadcast studios at The Classical Station in Wake Forest.
WCPE The Classical Station broadcasts its radio programming from this transmitter in Wake Forest, which is 2 feet shorter than the Empire State Building.
Listen live

WCPE The Classical Station broadcasts in Wake Forest at 89.7 FM. It is also translated across the region at these FM frequencies: 88.3, 90.1, 91.1, 95.3, 88.9, 90.9 and 89.9.

The station can also be accessed through its smartphone app, available in the Apple and Google Play stores, and online at theclassicalstation.org/listen

arevels@wakeweekly.com

WAKE FOREST — Between Wake Forest and Rolesville on Chalk Road is an 80-acre campus around a transmitter the same height as the Empire State Building.

It serves as home for WCPE, The Classical Station.

Founder and general manager Deborah Proctor started the radio station in 1978 with hand-built army surplus equipment in Raleigh, according to membership director Dan McHugh. It’s been in Wake Forest since 1984.

“People either assume we’re in Raleigh or at Wake Forest University,” McHugh said. “We’re in a great location here because we get the whole Triangle all the way to Greensboro and up to Virginia. With the apps and listening online, we have listeners all over the world.”

The Classical Station is completely donor funded. It also prides itself on always having someone live in the studio, McHugh said. It broadcasts classical music 24/7, every day of the year.

It produces all of its programming except “Sing for Joy” and “Metropolitan Opera,” McHugh said.

“Everything else is created here at the radio station,” McHugh said. “We have a lot of music lovers here who get to be on the radio. We have a lot of volunteers who come in and get to participate in it.

“We want to have the best programs we can, but we also want to be part of the community and have people come in and share their love of music.”

Deciding what to play

The Classical Station only plays classical music. It doesn’t play jazz or news broadcasts like many other classical music radio stations.

To do that, the station combines database software with human expertise, according to music director William Woltz. The station has 15,000 CDs, more than 1,000 full-length operas and almost 33,000 songs on hard drives.

“You need some digital tools to be able to manage all that, but there needs to be a human being driving, someone who knows and loves music,” Woltz said. “We have a very powerful scheduling program called Music Master, which we’ve got set up with all the kinds of rules.”

Employees survey listeners and look at requests to determine how popular certain works are. They also determine the best time of day for the works. For example, a boisterous piece like Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” shouldn’t be played at 10 p.m. while people are starting to wind down for the night, Woltz said.

The rules also determine how long it should be between when a piece is repeated.

“With all of these rules in place, our software will generate a draft playlist for 24 hours,” Woltz said. “Then we go through and we manually edit that so we’re not just using the computer to create the playlist. It suggests a playlist based on the rules we have set up, and then we make it better.”

He and his coworkers also create specialized playlists for special events, such as a playlist that features violinist Hilary Hahn on her birthday or American-themed works on Independence Day, Woltz said.

“We do have some pretty powerful software, which are good tools to have so we can get all this work done in a reasonable period of time. But it’s not like Spotify,” he said, referencing the online music streaming service. “We have a lot of powerful digital tools, but we still rely on people. It’s a combination of art and science.”

Requesting music for Friday

The Classical Station only plays requested songs on Fridays, on takes requests again on Saturday evenings. Most of those playlists are created by assistant music director Naomi Lambert, who also hosts the “As You Like It” show.

For Fridays and Saturday evenings, people can request specific songs through the app and website or over the phone. Some people request songs for specific times. Lambert schedules others based on when they fit the schedule.

“If you’ve got a 30-minute piece, that’s probably going to be in the afternoon or evening,” she said. “We try to fit them together to match the moods we have for each time of day and then to make sure things are the right length. It’s a puzzle.”

If some requests a song early in the week, Lambert tends to place that song earlier in the day since they were looking forward to hearing it.

“Some people request the same piece every week,” Lambert said. “Other people will hear something during the week and say, ‘I really love that. Can we hear that again?’ That’s great. It means people are learning new pieces. That’s what we hope will happen.”

On Fridays, Lambert has 13 hours of music to fill from requests. Occasionally, she’ll ask an announcer to make an appeal for more requests if she doesn’t have enough to fill up the entire time. Quite often, Lambert will get enough requests from Friday that she can start creating the playlist for Saturday.

While she enjoys creating the playlists, Lambert thinks hosting her own show is fun. She compared her hosting style with that of Nick Robinson, who hosts the show before “As You Like It.”

“The announcing is partly about personality,” she said. “My voice is very different from Nick. His voice is deep with an interesting tonality. Mine is partly about me being English.”

She also likes to develop a slightly quirky playlist that reflects her interests. Lambert tries to highlight songs that aren’t as well known.

Sometimes announcers get recognized in public. Dick Storck, who has hosted “Allegro” for several years, and Bob Chapman, who hosts the “Thursday Night Opera House,” probably get recognized the most, Lambert said.

“What I find is that people I know in other areas of my life will suddenly say, ‘Are you on the radio?’” Lambert said.

Producing the Opera House

Most of The Classical Station’s programs go out live. However, the “Thursday Night Opera House” is prerecorded by Chapman and production director Elizabeth Elliott.

“It’s really a privilege to be able to work on these specific shows that have hosts that have such deep and specialized knowledge about their topics,” Elliott said. “The Opera House is a blast. Bob Chapman summarizes an opera, and the stories are fascinating. It gives context to this music that can be intimidating and unfamiliar to people. But when you hear the story, it really makes you want to listen to the whole opera.”

Elliott produces all of the prerecorded material people hear on the station. In a commercial radio station, Elliott would mostly produce commercials, she said.

“Here, it’s different. I edit a lot of our interviews. We’re lucky to have wonderful connections and access to some of the world’s greatest talent,” Elliott said.

She said it was inspiring to see talented people reinterpret music that has been around for so long. She said that after listening to an explanation of an interpretation, someone can hear a story in the music.

“After hearing those stories from those artists, you’ll listen to works that are hundreds of years old with a completely new perspective,” Elliott said. “It seems like a new work.”

Elliott said she’s worked in several formats in many different markets, but her experiences at The Classical Station are unlike any other.

“The work is unique,” she said. “Where else would I produce an opera show?”

Connecting with the community

Program director Kristine Bellino said connecting with the community is the best part of her job.

“Being a nonprofit broadcaster has challenges, but also a lot of really great rewards,” Bellino said. “You get to work in an environment that gets to produce really relaxing, great music all day. ... Whatever the stresses of the day are, this is truly a really great oasis of relaxation.”

As the host of the morning show “Rise & Shine,” she gets to speak with people from around the world.

“This is a really great resource right in Wake Forest’s backyard. A lot of people don’t know this really great resource exists,” Bellino said.

Elliott, the production director, agreed.

“Listener-supported radio has a level of interaction with listeners that I’ve never experienced before,” Elliott said. “That’s wonderful to be able to be responsive to listeners. We have a very special relationship with our listeners. It lets us know that our work is meaningful.”

Sharing her love of the music with the community is Lambert’s favorite part of her work as well.

“We’re very accessible. We’re a great community,” Lambert said. “We have people who like to pick up the phone and say, ‘That was a great piece of music. Have you ever thought of programming this?’ I love that because it’s like a conversation.”

Woltz, the music director, said it was a privilege to share music he was passionate about with people who are equally passionate.

“Even though we are reaching listeners literally around the world online, we are very community-oriented radio station,” Woltz said. “It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be able to be in people’s lives like that and bring them something they enjoy. All of us, the staff, the volunteers and the listeners, are really like a family. We’re all working together to make the music possible.”

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