Note: This piece originally appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle as part of the “Tuning In” series.
When Interlochen Public Radio (or WIAA as it was called then) went on the air 59 years ago, its main competitors were other FM stations in northern Michigan.
Today, in the third decade of the 21st century, the list of competitors is endless thanks to online streaming services and commercial downloads.
With just a few clicks, listeners can have just about any recording they want at their fingertips, thanks to streaming services like Spotify and YouTube.
People can also download recordings of the music they want from iTunes, Amazon Music, Bandcamp, and dozens of other providers.
Moreover, with internet streaming, people can listen to just about any radio station in the world at any time of the day or night. (My husband and I particularly like an Italy-based station that airs funk B-sides.)
Occasionally, a listener will criticize IPR’s hosts or programming, advising us to emulate other stations and hosts. A recent example: “Tell Amanda Sewell to listen to WFMT’s Lisa Flynn if she wants to know how a real host sounds.”
Except in reality this listener can just stream WFMT instead of telling me I need to be more like a WFMT host.
So how can a small local radio station in the woods of northern Michigan compete with a whole world of other music services?
First, we had to accept who we are and who we are not. We are certainly not a huge world power like WFMT, WQXR, YourClassical or Classic FM. These are massive operations with huge budgets: in fiscal year 2020, WFMT’s revenue was more than 40 times that of Interlochen Public Radio.
These operations can afford 24-hour in-studio live hosts, a full bench of backup hosts, dozens of syndicated programs, and several in-house podcasts and online features. We can not.
We have also chosen not to try to be a global station with universal appeal. It’s not realistic for us with our resources.
Instead, we chose to rely on our local identity here in Northern Michigan. I hope when you listen to Classical IPR you hear a station that sounds like it came from the land of the majestic pines on the Interlochen campus.
We certainly play classic hits conducted and interpreted by the most famous artists in the world. But we also include lots of local and regional music, like the Traverse Symphony Orchestra, Manitou Winds, the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra and, of course, students, faculty and guest artists from here at the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
We can’t be a New York, Chicago or London station, and that’s okay because we’re an Interlochen station.
Amanda Sewell can be contacted by emailing [email protected]