Classical Radio is Alive & Thriving in Charlotte


Classical Public Radio station WDAV-FM in Charlotte, NC says it averaged 6,100 listeners per quarter hour last week making it one of the most listened to radio stations in the market. It’s a format you don’t often see near the top of the ratings.

WDAV-FM has been predominantly classical music when it transformed from a student station to a professional public radio station in 1978. By the mid 80s, the little jazz and alternative rock that survived the transition was dropped. With the exception of a handful of national programs, WDAV is primarily locally programmed and hosted, including producing its own overnights.

During the day the station focuses on familiar classical favorites. During the evening and overnight hours listeners will hear deeper cuts as the station broadens its playlist. WDAV also produces several local concert series’, such as the Charlotte Symphony in Performance and Carolina Live (the latter in cooperation with South Carolina Public Radio).

They also produce and distribute two specialty series that have broad carriage on public radio stations: Concierto, a bilingual (Spanish/English) classical music program emphasizing the Latino contribution to classical music, and Reel Music, which showcases classic and modern film scores (that is co-produced with Classical K-BACH in Phoenix).

WDAV General Manager Frank Dominguez tells Radio Ink the station has been successful because listeners turn to classical music as an oasis from the stress of modern life. “WDAV positions itself as Your Classical Companion, and we present the music with authority, but without the academic or elitist trappings sometimes associated with the format. As a result we enjoy tremendous loyalty from our most devoted listeners, who spend long stretches of time with us as company. It also doesn’t hurt to be in a rapidly growing market during a time of domestic division and, up until recently, pandemic isolation.”

Frank Dominguez with a visiting chorus from Cuba.

Why does WDAV stand out? “Unpretentious but devoted hosts who care about classical music, but also care about their listeners,” Dominguez says.

As far as growing the format that seems to be fading all over the country, at least on radio, Dominguez says listeners who are already fans can usually be found attending performing arts events and gallery showings. The challenge is introducing new audiences of any age to the benefits of classical music radio. “We’ve had good success by taking a chance on presenting concert series at a local brewery, and also putting on a virtual concert series, NoteWorthy, that teams pop musicians of color with classically trained musicians. The response has been impressive and has won a lot of new ears to our format.”

Dominguez believes there are several reasons the format is not thriving elsewhere in the country. “Relying too much on satellite, nationally produced programming without developing their own distinctive voices and visions; trying to present the entire breadth of classical music, rather than emphasizing the most enduring classics; and hanging on to an academic, exclusive approach that alienates people who fear they’re not welcome in the format.”

How does that change? “I think we need to embrace digital platforms to produce podcasts and streams that explore facets of classical music that don’t lend themselves to broadcast, and we need to be proactive about reaching out into communities we’ve neglected in the past.”

Check out the WDAV website HERE.
Listen to the station HERE.
Reach out to Frank to congratulate him on the success of WDAV by e-mail at [email protected]

If you believe you have a great radio story to tell, contact Radio Ink Editor Ed Ryan by e-mail at [email protected] or call 239-247-3833


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