He’s been a KING FM listener since he was nine years old, and now longtime KUOW 94.9 FM host and producer (and accomplished cellist) Dave Beck has moved 3.2 megahertz up the dial to join the staff of Seattle’s venerable classical music station. (Editor's Note: Feliks Banel is an independent journalist who occasionally freelances as a reporter/producer for KUOW.)
Beck, a KUOW fixture since 1985, will now be heard spinning classical discs on KING, weekdays from 1 to 5 p.m. And, thanks to the magic of recording technology, he’ll also be the voice of KING’s Symphonic Favorites program stream, available online and locally via HD Radio. Maxine Frost, who covered a similar day shift at KING for the past four years, has been let go.
The Dorothy Bullitt-founded KING FM (no longer associated with KING TV) has been a reliable purveyor of classical music in Seattle since the late 1940s, and appears to have weathered its major financial crisis of a few years ago. In the wake of that turmoil, the station switched from commercial operations to the listener-supported model of other local public radio stations including KUOW, KEXP, KPLU and KBCS.
Bryan Lowe, KING’s program director, is clearly excited to have Beck join his broadcast team. As Lowe describes it, Beck was already doing so much high visibility work in the classical music community, it made sense for KING to make Beck an official ambassador of sorts for the station.
“Dave is really well known within the community, with his participation in all of those orchestras and these pre-concert lectures and all that stuff going on,” Lowe says. “That’s really what attracted me to him.”
According to Lowe, a big reason for KING’s switch to a listener-supported model (in addition to financial reasons) was the station's renewed commitment to growing the audience for classical music and making itself more visible locally. Lowe says Beck is the perfect guy for the job.
Few people nowadays remember that Beck actually hosted KUOW’s classical music daytime programming until 1993. That's when it was scrapped to make way for news and information programming, including the locally-produced Weekday and NPR’s Talk of the Nation. At the time, Beck weighed a classical music hosting job offer in Eastern Washington, but decided to stay put. Over the past 20 years, he’s produced and hosted arts and other segments for KUOW’s various cultural programs including Weekday, The Beat and KUOW Presents.
Beck says he first tuned into KING FM in 1969, when his family moved here from Hunstville, Alabama where his engineer father worked on the Apollo program. Family is another reason Beck says it’s tough to leave KUOW after 28 years.
“There is a real family sense of being at KUOW, and that’s the thing that I’ll really miss. I had some tough times at KUOW. I lost a son in 2004 and had heart surgery in 2010. [But] the sting of leaving KUOW is taken out a bit by the warm embrace I’m getting from colleagues from KING already,” Beck says.
A National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2008 galvanized Beck's love for radio, journalism and classical music. “I went to New York for 10 days. I went to the Met, and to the New York Philharmonic and hung out with arts journalists from the Washington Post, New York Times and NPR,” he says. Beck came away from that experience energized about the challenge of telling “the story of classical music to people who have been immersed in it all their lives” and to people not yet familiar with the genre.
Meanwhile, Beck’s first day on the job at KING is also the first day of a new programming lineup at KUOW that includes a two-hour local show called The Record from noon to 2 p.m. each day. The Record replaces Weekday and The Conversation, but familiar KUOW voices Steve Scher, Ross Reynolds and Marcie Sillman are all part of the new program. KUOW also said farewell to longtime station manager Wayne Roth who retired, and whose last day on the job was this past Friday.
At KING, the schedule has also shifted somewhat along with addition of Beck. Brad Eaton will continue to host the morning drive; Lisa Bergman is heard from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm; Lowe and Marta Zekan host from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm; Sean MacLean is on from 7:00 pm to midnight; and Mike Brooks continues the overnight shift.
Lowe says the addition of Beck and schedule changes are “not a ratings fix, just an opportunity [to hire] such an amazing talent in Dave.” And he says Beck’s voice may yet be heard on KUOW; though details remain to be worked out, interviews and features that Beck will produce for KING eventually may also be heard on KUOW.
That Lowe sees the value in having Beck out and about representing KING FM at concerts and other events that directly support the station’s format is perhaps old-fashioned, but it also seems to be one of the few remaining effective methods besides traffic and weather to keep the “local” in local radio.
It’s an old chestnut that anyone under 40 gets their music, news and other audio material from just about any source other than local radio these days. The stations that successfully associate their brands, programming and their living and breathing hosts with the communities in which they operate are the stations most likely to remain recognizable, relevant and maybe even indispensable to listeners, donors and advertisers.