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Q and A with Benjamin K Roe

by Emily Williams

September 8,2009

Benjamin K. Roe is General Manager of WDAV 89.9 Classical Public Radio, the listener-supported radio station of Davidson College.  Roe came to WDAV in July 2008 with more than 25 years of leadership in radio and public media.  He is a 20-year veteran of National Public Radio, serving most recently as Director of Music and Music Initiatives.  Roe has received numerous honors for his work, including the Chairman's Medal for Distinguished Service from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Grammy Award for Best Choral Recording, as well as Peabody, Gabriel and ASCAP-Deems Taylor awards.

Who listens to WDAV and what is your goal, each day, as you reach out to your listeners?

At WDAV, we want music to be part of your everyday life. Lots of us use music as an occasional “night out” or as background to our lives, but our goal at WDAV is to bring music into the foreground every day, in some small but significant way. In my NPR days we used to call it “watching the radio” – that moment where something you’re hearing stops you in your tracks and utterly commands your attention. So when WDAV host Frank Dominguez narrates Copland’s spine-tingling “Lincoln Portrait” under the stars at the Brevard Music Center, we hope that’s music worth stopping for. I want listeners to talk about WDAV with their family and friends and colleagues, the way they talk about last night’s ball game or today’s headlines – an important part of our listeners’ everyday lives.

How would you assess the quality and extent of arts and culture (or specifically classical music) in the Charlotte region?

Similar to the rising tide of “green” and environmental awareness, I like to think in terms of WDAV as being a vital part of a “cultural ecosystem” in this region – doing our part to promote a healthy and prosperous cultural climate. That may be more important here in the Charlotte region than other parts of the nation, because our cultural ecosystem is really fairly young. I think it’s fair to describe the audience here in Charlotte as deep but not wide: there is a relatively small group of citizens for whom cultural activity is very important – important enough to support it passionately with their time, money and ideas. But somehow the philanthropic tradition for arts here in Charlotte has not taken root broadly enough. There is an incredible musical vernacular tradition in the South generally and in the Piedmont more particularly – it really is in the soil. But it’s easy to see that there is a profound disconnect between what we play in our living rooms, in our church choirs, in our cars and in our concert halls. WDAV can help bridge the gulf – it all goes back to that notion of the arts being part of everyday life.

Where do you see the future of classical music going?

We certainly mean for WDAV to be a part of the future of classical music, whatever that might be! We’re not going to be just a radio station – our Internet streams, on-demand audio and podcasts already reach listeners around the world – far beyond where our 89.9 frequency can be heard. And on the content side, we’re going to be providers and curators of classical music and other cultural content. What I mean is, whether it’s on your clock radio, your iPhone, your Internet receiver, your computer, your car stereo or maybe your home television – something called WDAV Classical Public Radio will be there for you to enjoy. You can simply listen to a pretty piece of music by Boccherini, and that’s fine. Or you can learn about Boccherini, find out who’s playing this selection, and download the selection – or the entire catalog! We want to become the nexus for any type of musical inquiry or thoughtful discussion around music.

Where do you see the station within the next 10-15 years?

WDAV will be a multi-media company: we already have plans to offer 2 or 3 flavors of WDAV. You can sign up for our weekly eNews on wdav.org to be the first to hear our plans! WDAV will be known for the content on our blog, our videos on YouTube, our conversations on social media outlets – we won’t be radio first or radio only. We’ll be one of the best sources for classical music information, and a name brand for innovative multimedia treatment for classical music.

We will also be a cultural voice of the New South. We want to broadcast to the world the music being made here in the Carolinas – from this place and region. That effort is already well underway, as we spent this summer broadcasting live from Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, from the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, from the Brevard Music Center in Brevard. Whether you are talking about newspapers or websites or magazines or any other form of cultural media, there is less and less value in being generic – more and more value in being local.

When our schedules are at their busiest, should it still be important to visit exhibits, attend concerts and participate in the community’s cultural conversation? Certainly, I want WDAV programming to feed the ecosystem – to build recognition, appreciation, and support for the arts in our community.

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