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Happy Anniversary WRTI!

Dave Conant, Executive Director and Morning Host, WRTI-FM
Photo by Gary Horn
Dave Conant, Executive Director and Morning Host, WRTI-FM

WRTI is celebrating a milestone - 10 years of providing you with classical music and jazz. And looking back there's a lot to be happy about. Highlights of WRTI's accomplishments include: award-winning programming such as Crossover and Creatively Speaking!, offering NPR news and opera broadcasts, expanded service in Delaware, launching HD radio, web streaming...and of course, that's just the beginning.Ten years ago, WRTI had an all-jazz format and classical music could be heard on WFLN. That is, until September 5th, 1997. That was the day that the former classical WFLN's owners stopped giving its listeners Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff, and began offering a new radio format instead. Fortunately, WRTI stepped in to fill the void, and began offering classical music during the day and jazz at night.

The Story Goes
Back in 1997, WFLN was sold to Greater Media Broadcasting who wanted to go in a new, and more profitable direction. "They decided that WFLN couldn't survive financially as a classical station," explains Dave Conant, who was WFLN's morning host and program director, and is currently WRTI's morning host and executive director. As a result, classical music on Philadelphia's airwaves went silent for 10 days.

Meanwhile, WRTI was having sustainability problems of its own. According to Patty Prevost, current director of development and marketing for the station, "Audience was not growing, and membership and underwriting were not keeping up with expenses."

When the word got out that classical music would be leaving the airwaves, it was decided that WRTI could save classical music on the radio in Philadelphia by merging the two formats. On-air hosts from WFLN, including Jill Pasternak and Jack Moore switched over with Dave Conant. And for nighttime jazz, WRTI hired longtime Philadelphia jazz host Bob Perkins and later added Maureen Malloy as jazz music director.

"It's been a good marriage," says Conant. "For one thing, WRTI's audience has more than doubled to 350,000 listeners per week. We had 3,300 members in 1997, and now we have almost 18,000." It's also led to an increase in WRTI's operating budget to $3.2 million, with 80 percent from the community including $1.6 million in membership, $1 million in underwriting, and the remaining 20 percent from Temple University and the federal government.

Another development is that a lot of our listeners no longer label themselves as strictly classical or jazz listeners, but rather as "WRTI listeners," explains Bill Johnson, WRTI's managing director. "They now connect with both genres as a result of the station's mixed format. That's exciting news."

A Surge in Memberships
"Our fall membership drive just ended, and it was one of the most successful in our history," says Prevost, with a smile. "Over 1,000 new members joined the WRTI community. We see this surge in membership as a validation of what we do here at the station and the service we provide to our listeners. There's reason to celebrate!"

"We know that our members appreciate the diversity and high quality of WRTI's programming," adds Johnson, "and over the last 10 years we've evolved to offer more of what our listeners value. Our locally produced programming, including Crossover, which was created to explore the intersection between jazz and classical music has now grown to cover other musical genres as well and is extremely popular. Creatively Speaking! is the only radio program in the Philadelphia area dedicated to covering arts and culture and has won numerous honors. We're also proud to offer NPR news at the top of each hour, along with locally produced news by our own award-winning news team."

WRTI is Growing
To meet the needs of listeners who dream of full-time classical music and/or full-time jazz, WRTI now broadcasts in HD Radio and offers a second digital radio channel that broadcasts jazz during the day and classical music during the evening, thus providing 24 hours of classical music and 24 hours of jazz for those with HD Radios. In addition, a new WRTI website has just launched that offers expanded programming information, archived interviews, and easy access to purchasing the music heard on the air to benefit WRTI.

"As for the future," says Conant, "goals include replacing our main antenna, which has reached its 20-year life expectancy, digitizing our music library, and exploring options for expanding our facilities now that we've reached capacity in our current facility.

The technology has changed so much, and continues to change at a rapid pace?whatever happens next, we want to be there."

by Denise Clay