William Jewell College sells air waves for the creation of a 24-hour classical music station

Courtesy of Dan Gold

Launched in 1974, KWPB 91.9 was a student-run radio station that covered the campus and some surrounding areas of Liberty, Mo., as part of a radio communications major at William Jewell College. During the day it would broadcast classical music, and at night would play music from the Top 40. The station operated like this for many years, with classical music slowly falling out of favor. It began playing more alternative and rock music in the 1990s, changing its name to KWJC to reflect the name of the college. 

KWJC’s Jewell Logo

With the rise of the internet, the station fell into decline. There were fewer daily listeners, and the programming became more oriented toward religion. Slowly losing listeners to online news and music streaming platforms, the radio station fell out of favor on campus.

In the summer of 2006, the College leased the station to K-Love, citing that the expense of its operation was too much. The station switched hands once again in 2007. This time it was leased to the Education Media Foundation for their Air1 programming, a contemporary Christian network geared toward younger generations. 

It is now time for the station to switch hands again. Kansas City’s public radio station, KCUR, announced Aug. 16 that they had signed an agreement to purchase KWJC 91.9 from the College, intending to create a 24-hour classical music station for the Kansas City area. KCUR has already filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to approve its purchasing of the station. For the past year, KCUR has been saving up the $5 million to cover the cost of purchase and the first few years of operation. The station is hoping to launch in the spring of 2020.

Twenty-four-hour classical music programming is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. New Orleans created their own station for it in 2017, bringing the number of nation-wide 24-hour classical music stations to around 70. Kansas City used to have a classical music station, KXTR, but the owner moved it from FM to AM nearly 20 years ago. This makes Kansas City one of the last major cities of its size in the United States to not have a radio station dedicated to this type of programming.

Nico Leone, general manager of KCUR, said in an Aug. 16 interview with KCUR, “Given the strength of the performing arts community in town, we think it’s a huge hole, both for audiences and performing arts organizations.” 

In an interview from the same article, the director of broadcast operations at KCUR, Stephen Steigman, confronted the claims that this new station will take listeners away from KCUR.

 “In Kansas City, about 24 percent of our core audience listens to classical music, but that doesn’t mean they will walk away from KCUR,” he said “They still want news and information. But classical music provides inspiration that you can’t get from a news station.”  

He made it clear that although KCUR and KWJC will be run out of the same building, they will be separate stations with only a few “crossover campaigns that don’t interrupt the format.” 

There have been some other concerns regarding the three hours of classical music that KCUR plays on weeknights. KCUR has made the decision to cut out these three hours and replace them with news programming. They will continue their non-classical programming on weekends, like Fish-Fry with Chuck Haddix.

The Hilltop Monitor spoke to Dr. Elizabeth Macleod Walls, president of William Jewell, about the decision to sell the station. 

“[Jewell] saw their offer as quite appealing since KCUR is of course owned and operated in Kansas City,” MacLeod Walls said. “For fifty-five years, William Jewell has been a leader in bringing world-class artists to Kansas City through our Harriman-Jewell Series. [Because] KCUR is disseminating classical music to our region through this new station [it] is an effort that aligns beautifully with our commitment to presenting classical and high-quality music in Kansas City.”

When asked about the classical programming, Leone said “There’s very little point in doing a radio station like this in classical music if you’re not intensely focused.” KCUR’s goal with the programming of the station is to rejuvenate the arts culture of Kansas City by focusing on local artists and musicians. To differentiate the station from other forms of listening to classical music the station has to have a “connection to the local community.”

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