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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Suzanne Nance – singing CEO of All Classical Radio – leads the station to a new studio and into the future

All Classical Radio is on a roll. Actually, it’s more of a grand crescendo. The station at 89.9 FM, formerly known as All Classical Portland, is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new name, a new logo, and a massive move of its offices and broadcasting services to downtown Portland.

To top that off, All Classical Radio now has bragging rights as the number one classical music station in the nation. Talk about keeping Portland weird!

“We’ve received our ratings from Nielsen, and they said it is not even close,” said All Classical’s President and CEO Suzanne Nance. “We’ve been pulling a 6.5 market share, and the closest competitor is 3.0.”

Those numbers are supported by an increasing membership for the non-profit station, which now boasts over 12,000 members and a local audience of over 250,000 listeners in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

“We have a massive local following,” remarked Nance, “and internationally we have more than a hundred countries streaming through our online platform. In addition to our listeners and supporters across the United States, we are reaching people in Norway, Scotland, and beyond.”

And the station’s success continues to build. When Nance became the head honcho in 2017, its operating budget was $3.8 million. Since then, it has grown to $4.9 million.

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What’s going on here? While classical music stations elsewhere are struggling – New England Public Media’s WFCR at 88.5 FM just announced that it is moving to news and talk programming – All Classical Radio has been on the ascent.

One reason is that Nance has led the charge with innovative programming, which gives All Classical Radio a unique voice among classical stations. Programs like “Sunday Brunch,” “Notebook,” “Club Mod,” “Played in Oregon,” “On Deck with Young Musicians,” and “The Score,” which is marking its 17th year, have helped to build All Classical Radio’s brand. In 2019, the station launched a radio network, for children. The International Children’s Arts Network (ICAN) is a 24-hour radio service and the first of its kind in the U.S.

“Our station cares about its community and you can really hear it,” said Nance. “Digital platforms use the word radio on their playlists, but for them it is an algorithm. We have humans who program and share the music. When someone is able to share a laugh with you in real time, it is so special. Or if our host might say, ‘Wow, the fog is rolling up over the West Hills,’ you are not going to get that on a digital platform. We make radio. People can feel the emotion. Twenty-one percent of the people who listened online last year are under the age of 24.”

Building on the surging wave of support, All Classical Radio is looking ahead with big plans. In May, Nance announced that the station would relocate its headquarters and services from its current location near the Tilikum Crossing in Southeast Portland to KOIN Tower in downtown Portland.

“Our new place will have more space,” explained Nance. “We are adding more than 3,000 square feet that will include a performance hall. The hall will be 45 percent larger than our current performance space. It will be state of the art, with acoustical quality, and will seat 100 people. It will also have an LED screen for musicians who have a visual component. Currently we have our ‘Thursdays at Three’ program, but we hope to offer more performance events. Off the back of the performance hall will be a state-of-the-art recording studio. We will be able to make recordings in real time and get them on the radio.”

The recording aspect will expand All Classical Radio’s current projects.

“We launched a recording initiative a couple of years ago called the Recording Inclusivity Initiative,” Nance said. “With that in mind, we reached out to record labels around the world, asking if they would consider making recordings with us. We ended up partnering with Navona Records, which is part of the Parma label. We have a three-year contract with Navona Records to release a CD every year. In fact, pianist Yoko Greeney and violinist Emily Cole just did a recording for us. This is a great way to get our local musicians on the radio, and it will help to change the national playlist.

“We will take some of our current computers and equipment with us. Right now, you see a lot of racks with a lot of wires – well, technology has evolved so much that we no longer need all of that. The building is wired for sound. But we are going to bring our CDs. There will be a wall of CDs with a ladder that slides back and forth.”

The station will be on the third floor of KOIN Tower in the old Regal Cinemas space, and it can take advantage of the escalator that goes right there.

How did Nance, a classically trained soprano with an undergraduate degree from Syracuse University and a masters from DePaul, get into the radio biz?

“At DePaul, I helped to build the classical library for its radio station,” explained Nance. “I went on to WFMT in Chicago and then became the program director in Maine at the NPR affiliate. But it has all been on the job training and surrounding myself with really good people. I am very curious. I always ask a lot of questions. With budgets, I went to financial advisors and auditors and learned everything that I could. Governance is very important to me. I feel very responsible for this treasure. Being a musician, the dedication, commitment, and the incredible attention to detail that I learned in getting my masters in music has served me as a CEO.”

Along with the move to KOIN, Nance has aligned the station’s new name with a new logo. The colorful branding was inspired by the Orphic Cubism Art movement, which envisioned art as the unification of sensation and color.

With a goal of moving into their new quarters in March of 2024, Nance sees a bright future coming to fruition.

“We will together strengthen the city and arts sector,” she said with a smile. “There’s a lot that needs to be done to best serve the community and the region. So, we’ll shine our spotlight on our local creatives and send it out to the world and back to Portland.”

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