Mourning the loss of Maine’s only classical music station
There is a hole in the dial of my FM radio. It’s on the right side at around 106.9 where for 25 years WBACH-FM has been preset to turn on at the push of a button on my bedside clock radio.
All I had to do was roll over and push the button and the strains of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Vivaldi came out. WBACH was reliable. He mostly played familiar classical music at all times of the day or night. It was the only fully conventional commercial radio station in the state of Maine.
As a bedside companion, WBACH was calming and meditative. His orchestral music evoked mental images of the past, of childhood and of peaceful times. WBACH played soft music, not shocking rock ‘n’ roll. I really like rock’n’roll, but I like it on my car stereo when I’m driving in broad daylight, not on my bedside radio when I’m trying to fall asleep or just woke up in the backyard. middle of the night.
My wife, Karlene, and I enjoyed listening to WBACH before going to bed at night. It was a good time together. I stroked his back and we listened to Strauss waltzes like Bach’s Brandenburg concertos and tried to guess the composer and the name of the tunes. Sometimes we were right and sometimes we were wrong. I used to think that every Strauss waltz was “The Skaters Waltz”, and I didn’t know there were so many Bachs in the family who were composers besides the patriarch, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Karlene rightly pointed out that most of the programming on WBACH was recorded elsewhere, with canned advertisers, but that didn’t bother me. They still played a high quality selection of good music. Some of their loud marches and symphonies were too grandiose to listen to late at night, but then I turned them off.
A few weeks ago, after the February blizzard that dropped 2 feet of snow on us, WBACH disappeared from the dial. I thought its transmitter had been knocked down by strong wind and snow. It has happened to other radio stations in Maine before. But these stations have always managed to get back on the air within a reasonable period of time. When WBACH didn’t come back for several weeks, I started to worry.
I asked my town editor, Susan Cover, if she knew anything about it, and she found a story that had been published in the Portland Press Herald, saying that WBACH had definitely closed and reopened in as country and western music. station. The station’s owning company, Binnie Media of New Hampshire, offered no explanation for the shutdown. But apparently they couldn’t sell enough ads to make WBACH profitable, and they figured they could do better as a regular country station. It really pissed me off and saddened me at the same time.
There are a lot of country stations in Maine, and I like them, but there was only one classic station, WBACH. Maine Public Radio broadcasts classical music and opera, but only for a limited time, and its signal cannot be reliably received inside our home. Maine Public can only be heard adequately in our car.
Thus, WBACH’s monetary decision to abandon classical music, which they must have thought only appealed to a small number of people, in favor of country and western, which have a large following, has left Maine listeners without access to the great and inspiring music that is our heritage.
And it’s not just the orchestral music that we’ve lost. On Saturday evenings from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., WBACH aired a wonderful show called “Classic Jazz” hosted by Arnold Olean, a friendly-sounding jazz expert who would respond to requests during the week to play revered jazz artists. dating back to the 1920s. Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, The Mills Brothers, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Joe Williams, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and the others.
Olean had a low-key demeanor, but extremely warm and competent. He spun a dozen or more artist tracks in a row, usually linked by a common theme like having three or four singers performing their own renditions of the same song, like “Summertime.” Then it would go back and identify each artist and where they recorded their work, such as “Ramsey Lewis playing” The In Crowd “at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, DC, in 1964.”
Losing Olean to the dollar and penny decision to go out of business at WBACH was another blow to Maine listeners.
There are a lot of changes going on right now in our state and our country. Some of them, like this one, are really bad because they cut us off from the rich and beautiful heritage where we come from. Our roots, in other words.
John Hale is a retired reporter for the Kennebec Journal, Bangor Daily News and Capital Weekly. He lives in North Monmouth.