|Beethoven will bow to Christian-based Joy FM, which takes over the Classic 99 airwaves beginning July 7.|
June 11, 2010Parting is such sadness, according to classical music fans in the Times area. Their favorite radio station, KFUO "Classic 99," on July 7 will give way to Christian Contemporary pop music "Joy FM."
Gateway Creative Broadcasting announced the takeover after FCC approval of the sale of "Classic 99" from its owner, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). LCMS, with headquarters in Kirkwood, has owned the radio station, a fixture in the St. Louis cultural world, for more than six decades.
Joy FM Radio has its headquarters in Des Peres and currently has two signals that reach the outskirts of the St. Louis area. Joy FM is listener-supported and operates signals now at 97.7 and 94.1 FM.
In reaching a deal with LCMS, Joy FM's owner Gateway Creative Broadcasting staved off letters of complaint to the FCC, questions about the financial viability of the company and also held at bay other potential buyers who wanted to keep KFUO intact as a classical outlet for the St. Louis region.
In an open letter to supporters of Joy FM, General Manager Sandi Brown noted some of the obstacles to consumating the station purchase, which she described as a "miracle." She said the amiable relationship that developed with LCMS was based on a desire "to obey God's leading."
"So, today, we have an amazing opportunity... a new stronger signal (99.1 FM) to take the God of this city to the entire city!" declared Brown. "But we can't take it for granted! We need the Christian community to rally behind this opportunity."
Two local guardian angels who helped rally behind Joy FM are past and present members of the St. Louis Cardinals. Retired pitcher Andy Benes and current Cards' MVP Albert Pujols, came across with pledges and substantial contributions to close the sale.
"I will go so far as to say that if Pujols and Benes had not stepped in to help Joy FM, KFUO Classical would have been saved," said Frank Absher, a broadcast veteran and St. Louis radio historian. "When they came forward with financing, that put Joy FM in the position to tell the FCC that they had the financial footing to go forward with the sale.
"There's lots of speculation now, including that another radio group could try to pick up the KFUO audience with a different station," said Absher. "There aren't advertisers to boycott with Joy FM, but some folks are noting that the Lutherans hold the note on the sale, so they get the station back with a default."
KWMU-FM, the National Public Radio (NPR) feed in St. Louis, is offering a digital stream of classical music on KWMU-HD3, according to Absher. The problem is getting an HD adapter or receiver tuner to pick it up, Absher said.
"People are coming into our store wanting to know where they can buy an HD adapter," said Bill Wondracek, webmaster for Webster Records in Webster Groves. "I'm also getting lots of requests about do we have this or that CD of music that is airing now as KFUO winds down."
Jim Lovins, general manager of Webster Records, said many customers are " just sick" about losing KFUO as a presence and beacon for St. Louis culture.
"It's great that KWMU is stepping forward with the HD station, but that involves a national feed," said Lovins. "We are losing the outlet that told us all about what was happening locally with the symphony or the zoo or in theatre and the arts. We've been spoiled by such a quality station and we are going to miss it for sure."
At one point in the year-long battle over the station sale, South County attorney Robert Duesenberg took up the fight through the Committee To Save KFUO-FM. In a letter to 250 Lutheran pastors, Duesenberg said the KFUO sale has been conducted with a regrettable air of secrecy.
"Here we are, heirs of the Reformation and centuries of great culture," declared Duesenberg. "And (now) we are moving to close off the greatest avenue for communicating these blessings ever available.
Duesenberg now says the fight is over, he is throwing in the towel on all fronts when it comes to trying to salvage the classical music station. A Joy FM supporter, who is glad that towel is been thrown, is regular listener Joan Cook of Kirkwood.
Cook said there are plenty of fans of Christian Contemporary pop groups, such as Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Chris Tomlin and Third Day. Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart will have to take a back seat. Fans of The Dixie Echoes, Calvary's Voice and Candy Christmas can't wait for the new music format to debut at 99.1 FM on July 7.
"It's sad. The Lutheran Church had no idea of the good they were doing with KFUO - I guess it is all about money these days," said Edgar Farmer of Webster Groves. "My wife and daughter gave me a beautiful Bose sound system for my birthday to listen to KFUO, and now I am being punished with this sale. I guess there is an Old Testament God."