US public radio loses a second classical chief

US public radio loses a second classical chief


norman lebrecht

August 09, 2016

First Graham Parker quit as general manager of New York’s WQXR to head Universal’s classical labels in the US.

Now Steve Robinson has quit Chicago’s outstanding WFMT after 16 years.

Steve, 69, Robinson told Tribune music critic John Von Rhein: ‘The decision was definitely mine and mine alone. I felt it was time to hand the baton off, that’s one reason. And I also feel it’s time for me to stretch my entrepreneurial wings in the for-profit world.’

Here’s the official version:

steve robinson

photo: Todd Rosenberg, at Andrew Patner’s memorial


CHICAGO – August 8, 2016 – WFMT, Chicago’s classical and fine arts radio station, today announced that Executive Vice President and General Manager STEVE ROBINSON will depart from WFMT, effective October 1, 2016. His last day at the station will be Friday, September 30.

“It is with great regret that we bid farewell to an indispensable member of our WFMT family,” said President and CEO Dan Schmidt of WFMT and WTTW. “It is difficult to imagine the station without his unflagging energy, endless creativity, and deep knowledge of classical music and radio operations. He will be greatly missed, and I know I speak for all of us when I wish him success in his future endeavors.”

“Working at WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network has been the greatest privilege and challenge of my career,” said Robinson. “When people ask, ‘Oh, you run WFMT?’ I always say, ‘No, I run after it.’ And that’s because everyone at WFMT is immensely creative, knowledgeable, and passionate about their work, and all I’ve really done is try to harness this incredible talent to move the station forward. If it has progressed at all in the 16 years I’ve been there, it’s because of them, and I will always be grateful.”

Steve has led WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network since 2000. Under his leadership, WFMT diversified its programming and increased its member base, and the Network became a leading producer and syndicator of music and spoken word programs. In 2002, Steve brought to the WFMT Radio Network a live broadcast of Princess Magogo, the first indigenous South African opera and the first with a libretto in the Zulu language. Steve hosted, and the opera was heard by more than four million listeners throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Steve created Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin in 2003, a daily series heard by more than 400,000 listeners a week, and he also instituted a comprehensive subscription website. Other popular WFMT series and programs created during Steve’s tenure include include Impromptu, a daytime showcase for local and visiting artists; Introductions, a unique weekly series that features promising young pre-college musician; and the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, which was launched in 2015 in partnership with Chicago History Museum. Last year, at Steve’s direction, the Network began exporting classical music radio concerts by American ensembles for broadcast in China and importing Chinese music performances for broadcast in the West, marking the first time a cultural exchange of this kind had happened between America and China.

In 2007, the Chicago Tribune named Steve a “Chicagoan of the Year” in the arts. His many other honors include two Peter Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism; the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award; two Westbury Awards from the Red Cross of Greater Chicago for coordinating fundraising efforts among the city’s television and radio stations in the wake of the 2004 tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake; an Award of Excellence from the Chicago Sinfonietta; a special award from the Illinois Philharmonic; the first Champion Award from the Merit School of Music; and, with Bill McGlaughlin, Dushkin Award from the Music Institute of Chicago– previous winners have included Sir George Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Placido Domingo, Yo Yo Ma, Midori, Leon Fleischer, Sir Andrew Davis, and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Steve currently serves on the boards of Cedille Records, the Merit School of Music, the Chicago College of Performing Arts and the Rush Hour Concerts. His past board service includes the Grant Park Orchestra, Chicago Children’s Choir, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and Music in the Loft.

Previously, Steve worked at WBUR, WGBH, WCRB, KPFA, WVPR, WBGO, and Nebraska Public Radio.


  • Robert Levin says:

    Steve’s departure from WFMT is a huge loss for the station and for classical radio. He is one-of-a-kind and cannot be replaced. The for-profit world will surely benefit from his many talents, but the not-for-profit world will miss his vast knowledge (not just relating to classical music), enthusiasm, dedication, and intelligence tremendously. I wish him all the best in his new endeavors, whatever they might be.

  • Carl Watanabe says:

    Steve Robinson has always been a strong advocate for public radio and how it could best benefit our listeners. He instinctively challenged producers, on-air talent and content and funding collaborators to seek new ways to deliver moving and memorable performances. Should he choose to share how his life evolves beyond WFMT, I know he will find areas of personal and professional growth that will surprise and delight us.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    WFMT is outstanding, mostly. We are lucky to have it given the state of classical radio in the U.S. However, over the past years some unfortunate programming has occurred, such as: a “Top 100” style playlist of the works everyone already knows inside out, in addition to the regular non-top-100 programming; increases in film scores; in the early morning hours a regrettable tendency to play just one movement of a work; lots of pops recordings; and during the pledge drives, one is subjected to Broadway and Beatles songs. (Inexplicably.)

    WFMT streams online, for anyone who wants to check it out.

    • Chris Clift says:

      This echoes what has been happening here in the UK with BBC Radio 3, our own (supposedly) classical music station.
      Chatty presenters, one movement sampling, readers’ requests (usually based on a ‘theme’ the most recent being gardens).
      Our own Top 100 style listings. And of course the advent of DAB, which actually narrows the broadcasting band and compresses the sound.
      Bring back the Third Programme, with all its faults.

      • Mark Fishman says:

        Even so, BBC Radio 3 is vastly superior to what I have to put up with for classical music radio in Boston. Chatty presenters, if knowledgeable, at least can teach me something about the music or the performers; instead, our local station has banned nearly all talking to the point that we’re lucky to find out the name of the piece being played, and often they don’t even mention the performers. There is no discernible relationship between pieces that are juxtaposed: no commonality in style, rhythm, era, form, instrumentation, tempo, or anything else. A “theme” would be an improvement. We no longer hear broadcast concerts from any orchestra other than our own, and I’ve heard that the station manager would prefer to edit the live concerts because the performances leave too much room for talking between pieces. It’s been a long fall, and the bottom is nowhere in sight.