Classics by Request

One of the joys of my life right now is tuning in to “Classics by Request” on Wisconsin Public Radio each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. This program has been on the air at WPR since 1980, and Ruthanne Bessman has been superbly hosting the program since 1999. When Ruthanne is away, Anders Yocom fills in and he is outstanding as well.

What makes this program work is that it occurs at a convenient time for most people, is a live call-in request program, offers a web form for your request with an area for a short narrative that can be read on air, and allows you to use the web form or call in at any time in advance of the program. And, importantly, the host reads your first name and city immediately before and after each request is played.

During a lifetime of listening to classical music, I’m bursting at the seams with great music I’d like to share with others, so I’m a regular contributor to “Classics by Request” and identified on air as “David in Dodgeville”.

We should never take for granted our classical music stations. During my years in central Iowa 1970-2005, WOI-FM 90.1 in Ames was one of the best classical stations in the country. I will never forget Doug Brown, Jake Graves, Mike Gowdy, Karen Bryan, Curt Snook, Hollis Monroe, and Rachel Jeffries, and the profoundly positive effect they had on my life and my love of classical music. I fondly remember the live request program on WOI-FM where they devoted an entire evening each week (7-11 p.m.) to classical music requests and played entire works and not just excerpts. Tragically, the WOI-FM I knew and loved is no more. It was absorbed a few years ago into Iowa Public Radio and the special magic is gone. A few listeners have tried to pick up the pieces and recreate some of the magic of the original WOI-FM on KHOI-FM Community Radio 89.1.

In my opinion, every metropolitan area and geographic region should have a radio station that primarily plays classical music and has at least one “local” on-air classical music host. (Depending on a national feed for all of your music depersonalizes the experience for me and many other listeners.) Each of these stations should have a “Classics by Request” program.

To be most effective and enjoyable, a “Classics by Request” program should have the following features:

  • Air at one or more convenient times for most people (Saturday or Sunday mid-morning to early afternoon, or Monday-Thursday evenings)
  • Be long enough so that an entire work can be played in addition to movements or sections of a work
  • Web request form that includes a section for notes about the work being requested (WPR has a great example of this)
  • Offer both phone-in and web-form options during a live call-in program, and at any time before the program
  • Play any particular work no more often than once per month
  • Identify the requester on air before and after the work is played, by first name and city, unless the requester wishes to remain anonymous
  • Include relevant and accurate information about the work and composer that the requester provides, on-air
  • The requester should know when their requested work will be played (date and program)

As I prepare to move to Tucson, Arizona to be closer to family and an active classical music scene with volunteer music education and symphony support opportunities, I am disappointed to see that Arizona Public Media Classical 90.5 FM does not appear to have a call-in request program. Hopefully, I can successfully encourage them to add such a program. If not, I’d be interested in working with others to create a listener-supported classical music station in Tucson that frequently features requests, including recordings provided by listeners. I’d also like to host an on-air program each week, and I have a large classical music library to draw upon for that program.


Here is a list of U.S. classical stations that have request programs.

WFMT • Chicago, IL
Saturdays 8-9 a.m.

Interlochen Public Radio • Interlochen, MI
Saturdays 9 a.m. – noon

Illinois Public Media
Saturdays 9-11 a.m.

Wisconsin Public Radio
Saturdays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. (noon during Metropolitan Opera season)
Plays shorter works or portions of longer works
Host: Ruthanne Bessman (sometimes Anders Yocom)

WFYI, HD2 • Indianapolis, IN
Sundays 6-7 p.m.

KHOI • Ames, IA
Mondays 8-10 a.m.
Rebroadcast Sundays 6-8 a.m.
“Paul is the one Morning Masterpieces host who will take music requests during live shows. He likes to play music by living composers, obscure works of classical music, and works that push the boundaries of ‘classical music’.”

WRTI • Philadelphia, PA
Wednesdays 12-3 p.m.

Radio Kansas • Hutchinson, KS
Fridays 9 a.m. – noon

Nebraska Public Media
Fridays 1-4 p.m.

KVNO • Omaha, NE
Fridays 2-4 p.m.

Minnesota Public Radio
Fridays 3-7 p.m.

WWNO • New Orleans, LA
Weekdays 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

WSMC • Collegedale, TN
Southern Adventist University
Weekdays 12-1 p.m.

KUSC • Los Angeles, CA
Weekdays 3-5 p.m.

KFMA • Austin, TX
Weekdays 6-7 p.m.

WCPE • Wake Forest, NC
Fridays 9-10 p.m.
Saturdays 6 p.m. – midnight

WNED Classical • Buffalo, NY
Weekdays 7:30 a.m. – one “Off to School” request
Weekdays 5 p.m. – one “Oasis of Sanity” request

Iowa Public Radio
“On the last Friday of the month IPR Classical plays requests”
1-5 p.m.

KDFC • San Francisco, CA
“Due to the volume of requests, unfortunately, we won’t be able to let you know when your request will be played.”