Andrea Wenger (left), EMU director of marketing and communications, was consulted by WMRA/WEMC station manager Al Bartholet (right) as he explored and ultimately decided to focus WEMC's programming on classical music, due to listener interest. Visible behind Wenger is WEMC's aged transmission tower, scheduled to be replaced before 2015. (Photo by Jon Styer)

WEMC unveils new programming, rebrands as region’s home for classical music

Starting on Monday, Aug. 11, Eastern Mennonite University’s radio station will broadcast more classical music on its 91.7 FM frequency. The station, WEMC, will also begin billing itself as “the Shenandoah Valley’s premier source of classical music.”

New programming will include weeknight showcases of live recordings by well-known orchestras, including ones in Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York. On Saturday afternoons, the station will also air a classical music program, “Concierto,” hosted in both English and Spanish and focusing on Latin American composers. The full new schedule is available here.

Classical music during the weeknights will replace the evening jazz shows on WEMC. With the changes, the station will also drop its news programs from Democracy Now! and the BBC World Service (these can still be accessed via the Internet).

Station manager Al Bartholet said listener surveys showed that classical music was the overwhelming reason that people have been tuning in to the station. Adding more classical music programming will give WEMC’s audience more of the music it enjoys and help the station form a more coherent identity – an important part of keeping and growing a radio audience, he added.

WEMC will continue its Sunday morning broadcasts of services at Park View Mennonite Church, and will add a encore broadcast (Wednesdays at 8 p.m.) of “Mostly Mennonite, Mostly Acappella,” a 90-minute music show hosted by EMU professor emeritus John Horst.

“It is probably the most popular program on WEMC. It’s the ‘Car Talk’ of WEMC,” said program manager Matt Bingay. “If you’ve got a hit on your hands, get more mileage out of it. Repeat it. Give people another opportunity.”

Horst, who began recording episodes of his show more than a decade ago, said it was “nice to get the affirmation” about his show. He acknowledged that it’s getting harder to find new material – there are only so many Mennonite acappella recordings out there – but continues to follow up on suggestions from listeners and friends, and rummage at places like Gift and Thrift for rarities. He also often receives copies of new recordings of groups and Mennonite colleges and elsewhere, and plans to continue creating new episodes as often as he can.

Founded in 1955 as a gift from the class of 1954, WEMC is the oldest public radio station in Virginia. From its transmission tower on the crest of the hill west of EMU, WEMC’s signal can reach up to 88,000 people who live within a 25-mile radius of the university. By the end of the year, the station’s aging transmitter will be replaced with a new one to ensure more reliable service.

WEMC is also streamed online, and through a new smartphone or tablet app. In 2007, James Madison University’s radio station and Harrisonburg’s National Public Radio affiliate, WMRA-90.7 FM, assumed management of WEMC, with the concurrence and ongoing input of EMU officials.

“We’re pleased with the ongoing partnership between EMU and JMU to manage public radio offerings for the region,” said Andrea Wenger, EMU director of marketing and communications and a member of the WEMC advisory group. “WEMC is a gem that we want to preserve. Changing technologies and limited resources made that unfeasible for EMU alone. With the stations’ financial stability and growing listenership through careful program planning, the future of Harrisonburg’s two public radio stations looks secure.”

Discussion on “WEMC unveils new programming, rebrands as region’s home for classical music

  1. We welcome more classical music, but BBC will be a huge loss!

    Kudos to John Horst. Thanks for your program.

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