Listeners of Maine public radio can expect less music and more talk beginning this weekend.
Topping the list of cuts: Maine radio pioneer Toby Leboutillier, who will host his final “Down Memory Lane” program on public radio on Friday, as MPBN Radio adjusts its schedule to accommodate more news, talk and issue-oriented programming.
Four hours of weekend classical music programming and late-night jazz on Friday nights are also getting cut.
The new programs, which will begin airing Saturday, reflect recent audience surveys and public radio trends toward more news and talk, said Mark Vogelzang, MPBN’s president and CEO.
“It’s fair to say that the programming changes are really a reflection of our desires and audience requests over time,” Vogelzang said. “We’re seeing a continued strong growth of news on public radio. Public radio news continues to remain strong, and continues to be our most-listened-to hours. Listeners want more news on their public radio station. It is a national trend.”
The changes do not affect Suzanne Nance’s popular “Morning Classical” program, which airs from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.
Public radio stations nationwide have been following the lead of privately owned stations in scaling back music in favor of talk radio, often to the disdain of longtime listeners.
“They clearly have a vision for the station that is not one where music is particularly emphasized,” said Freeport listener Carl Tubbesing, who is unhappy with the changes and has engaged in back-and-forth dialogue with network managers about the schedule adjustments.
Leboutillier also lamented the changes. He began “Down Memory Lane” in June 1979 to fill airtime on Friday afternoons. In its early days, the show featured pop hits from the 1940s and 1950s, and expanded to include music from the early years of the 20th century up through the early 1970s.
Leboutillier retired in 2003, and has hosted the show as a volunteer ever since.
MPBN will mark its passing with a party on Friday, when Leboutillier hosts his final show from 2 to 4 p.m.
“I have no idea how popular the show was, but I think it’s kind of silly to go away from classical music and local programming to put on more talk,” said Leboutillier, 71, who lives in Brewer. “You can deduce where this is all headed: To more talk.”
Stephen Shiman, executive director of the Portland Conservatory of Music, called the elimination of classical music on weekend mornings “deeply disturbing,” noting that a commercial radio station in southern Maine ceased playing classical music in early September.
“From a personal point of view and from the point of view of the conservatory, we’ve already seen a huge reduction in classical music. We are seeing a general reduction in serious music,” he said.
Shiman predicted that MPBN will suffer financially because of the changes. Classical music fans are loyal and will be less likely to donate to the network, he said.
“It will probably reduce my contribution. It is the only station where you can hear classical music in this part of the state,” he said.
Vogelzang said the changes were considered over a long period of time. MPBN conducted two surveys a year ago. One, with about 1,500 respondents, reflected the opinions of members. The other, also with about 1,500 respondents, reflected opinions of listeners in general.
Programming changes were proposed based on survey results and then considered by the network’s Community Advisory Board, Vogelzang said.
Among the recommendations of the board was consistency in scheduling. “Down Memory Lane” was problematic because it was on just one day a week, Vogelzang said. In its place will be “The Diane Rehm Show” at 2 p.m. and BBC’s “The World” at 3 p.m. Both programs are on each weekday afternoon.
On Saturday morning, the classical music programming from 6 to 8 a.m. will be replaced in the first hour by Bob Edwards’ “Weekend” show and at 7 a.m. by “Only a Game,” an issue-oriented sports show.
On Sunday morning, the network will air “On Being” with Krista Tippett at 6 a.m. and “Living on Earth” at 7 a.m.
Late nights on weekdays will feature “On Point” at 11 p.m. and “Takeaway” at midnight.
“We’re not doing this to make people unhappy or angry with us or quit supporting MPBN. This is about providing content that they want and providing value to the listener. Listener value is the cornerstone to what we are doing,” Vogelzang said.
MPBN announced the changes a week ago. The network has received a “moderate” amount of feedback, Vogelzang said.
MPBN operates with an annual budget of about $11.8 million. Of that total, about 70 percent comes from memberships, corporate underwriting and other fundraising efforts. State and federal governments each appropriate about 14 percent of the budget.
— Staff Writer Ray Routhier contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: