Who Likes Good Music?*
By Elliott M. Sanger
Monday, March 17, 2014 - 05:00 AM
The following essay was written for the December, 1942 WQXR Program Guide by the Elliott M. Sanger, Executive Vice President and Co-founder of the Interstate Broadcasting Company, Inc., WQXR's owner.
An acute observer of the passing scene once made the statement that everybody these days has two businesses: his own and radio. There is more than a grain of truth in that remark and we who are active in running radio stations certainly know it. All we have to do is open our morning's mail to find out what listeners would do if they were in our place.
It is those very suggestions which are our best way of finding out what the WQXR audience really wants. Of course some letters come from "cranks" who have a pet idea they think the world is waiting for, but most of our letters come from people who are deeply interested in radio as the newest means of mass communication and who sincerely believe they have ways to improve it. We welcome such letters. Many suggestions we have received from unprofessional radio critics have helped us decide what the WQXR public wants.
But who is this "public?" And particularly what sort of people like good music? What kind of people listen to WQXR?
If you ask those questions of a dozen people you will probably get a dozen different answers. We know, because for many years we tried to find out that way. Some experts even told us that only rich people liked good music. Others said that music appealed only to those who sat in the galleries of the Met or Carnegie and that the people who sat in the better seats really did not enjoy music but went only to see and to be seen. Then we were informed in no uncertain terms that you had to be high-brow to enjoy a concert and that no one really had a good time listening to the symphonies of Beethoven or the music-dramas of Wagner. Of course the opposite point of view was just as emphatic: Music had only an emotional appeal and really intelligent people never went to concerts or listened to music over the radio --they simply curled up with a good book.
After almost seven years of studying the radio audience for good music, we at WQXR think we know the answers. All those who had their own prejudices about the WQXR audience were right. Music is not the property of any one group; it is the heritage of people of all educational and economic gradations.
That does not mean that everybody enjoys great music, but included in that vast group of people whom we call "music-lovers" you will find a cross-section of the population which seems to have the same human attributes and frailties as any other mass. For want of a better word, perhaps "cultural" is the best adjective to describe the common denominator of the WQXR family of listeners. And by cultural we do not mean "high-brow." You would be surprised to know how many taxi-drivers are found with their cab radios tuned to WQXR. For every college professor who keeps his dial at 1560, there are thousands just as loyal to the station who have never seen the inside of a college lecture room.
Recently we decided to make a scientific study of the economic background of the WQXR audience. The commercial department thought it would be useful for our sponsors to know just how much money our listeners had to spend upon food and drink and taxes. So we told a research agency to analyze a random group of WQXR listeners and tell us about them.
Investigators made personal calls upon 1,348 families living in the five boroughs of Greater New York, Northern New Jersey, Westchester and Nassau. What they found out was so interesting to us that we are passing along some of the information to you, with the thought that you may be curious about other people who listen to WQXR.
The survey confirmed that all WQXR families live neither on Park Avenue nor in the slums, though they did find some in both places. In case you are statistically inclined, here are the results: Only 9.6 percent were classed as "A" incomes--the upper brackets. On the other hand, 40.4 percent were in the "B" group, which is roughly defined as "comfortable." The next lower group economically showed 37.4 percent and the lowest division, called "D" incomes, contained 12.6 percent of WQXR devotees.
Here at last we had statistical proof of our own conclusions: that there are music-lovers all over. The lovers of classical music may not be numerically as great as those who prefer jazz, but they certainly are universal. And the most gratifying result of the investigation is the emphasis it places on the great middle class of "B" and "C" incomes which give a combined percentage of 77.8.
The people who listen to WQXR don't live in ivory towers. They just live the way you and I do. The man who is hanging on the strap next to you in the subway crush, the woman in the ermine coat waiting for her car to pull up to Carnegie Hall, the traffic cop at your corner, are your fellow members in the WQXR club. It's an ever growing club, and we hope all of you are glad you are members.
Elliott M. Sanger (3rd from left) and staff at a remote WQXR broadcast during World War II. The man with the headphones appears to be announcer Charles S. Freed. (Columbia University Library and Special Collections)
*Editor note: For many years "good music" was a euphemism for classical music.