‘A new flow for the Concertzender’

sun 3 feb 2019
Theme: General

Radio is changing enormously, says Concertzender director Sem de Jongh. ‘Everyone who works for us is a music enthousiast and we all work together to make music programs for a channel that is broadcast 24 hours a day. We are driven by a love for music and we are always looking for new things. Our biggest challenge now is to generate more publicity. 2019 is make or break for the Concertzender.’

Our regular listeners know it already: The Concertzender is a radio station that broadcasts classical music, early music, jazz, world music, chanson, new music and pop music. It is a radio station that is not limited by popular taste and that follows the less well-trodden paths. Director Sem de Jongh is a sound technician and music producer, he followed a music recording course (Art of Sound) at the conservatory and has been working at the Concertzender since 1994. He started as a volunteer, became a part-timer in 2000 and in 2009 became director. Sem: ‘With radio, my love for music and for technology come together. I am proud that we do so many things with so few resources. I like to make people enthousiastic about working with us. Working with so many music lovers and working in collaboration with so many organizations.’

The Concertzender started 35 years ago as a local station in Amsterdam. The channel subsequently became part of the National Public Broadcasting network (NPO). Sem: ‘The idea was that we would be complementary to Radio 4. After a lot of changes in the organisation we had to leave the NPO again in 2009. Since then we have continued with very limited funding, with volunteer staff and and only a paid director. In 2011 we moved to Utrecht. It is great what we do, but our resources are limited. It is always a struggle. Too few people know about us.’

You say: 2019 is make or break for the Concertzender.

Sem (laughs): ‘I say that every year. Financially it is never easy for us. From 2009 to 2011 we did not have any subsidy at all, only the contributions from our friends and donors. From 2011 to 2014 we were sponsored by Muziekcentrum Vredenburg and business service provider Conclusion. We have about 1500 friends and donors, who we contact twice a year. We get half of our turnover from their contributions. We try to supplement the donations with subsidies and funds. There are no more structural subsidies and project subsidies. There are only ad-hoc subsidies available these days. Last year we made a start with sponsorships. What keeps us going, apart from our own enthusiasm, are the e-mails that we receive every day from listeners with compliments about our programmes. Recently, an Italian listener e-mailed: “We do not have this in Italy, please go ahead, here you have 20,000 euros to support this”. There is always hope.’

Who listens to the Concertzender?
‘Every two years we do a listener survey with our friends and donors and we also have an online survey form. This shows us that it is mainly middle-aged people. In general we can identify three categories of listeners: the educated culture enthousiast who also often goes to concerts, the specialist (professional musicians and enthousiastic amateurs) and the eclecticus, the music lover who listens to all styles of music. Our listeners identify strongly with the Concertzender. We receive a lot of compliments and also some criticism via e-mail.’

What about the numbers?

‘We do not take part in the national listener surveys because that is too expensive for us. But we do know that on average about 9,000 to 10,000 people listen to the Concertzender each day. By the way, it has always been about this number. I reassure myself by saying: That is about ten concert halls full of people. However, when I meet people and tell them about Concertzender, they have often not heard of us. I would love to see familiarity with the Concertzender increase so that music lovers in the car or in the train also tune in to our station.’

What do you think of the competition?

“Radio 4 does good things. They have traditionally had a lot of budget to make their own recordings. But there is a tendency towards more and more games, a lot of talk, news, current affairs and Wikipedia facts. They also have a difficult task: they have to meet targets for the number of listeners. News helps with that, but is at the expense of diversity.

Classic FM is very popular. They have 1000 tracks and transmit them all day. People love that, but there are also those who say: it eventually gets boring. They provide background music, we have foreground music. In recent years, we have also seen the rise of popular streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. These are now our biggest competitors. All radio stations have the same problem.

Radio 4 is now being cut back on its budgets and as a result they are making fewer and fewer recordings. This means that we are getting more and more opportunities. That is a big benefit for us. For example, we are now working more intensively with the Muziekgebouw aan het IJ in Amsterdam because Radio 4 is no longer so active there.’

How do people listen to the radio? What rules apply? 

‘People turn on the radio at some point but they switch it off again if there is something that they do not like. The art of making radio is to have as few of these moments as possible. If there has been Mendelssohn in the morning and this is then followed by Balkan music, chances are that listeners turn off. We are working on a new format with a more logical flow between music styles and fewer turn-off times.’

Radio is your life. What do you prefer, making radio programmes or listening to the radio?

‘It is indeed great fun to make radio programmes. That’s why we still exist, there are so many people who like to do it. I listen to the radio all day. I listen in the car and in the train. And I listen more and more to podcasts. People talking, people telling stories. I work a lot at home and I have the Concertzender on throughout the day. I do not always listen actively. I will listen actively when I get triggered. I also listen actively when I am doing the ironing. I can listen very well when I am doing household tasks. I can listen to our Jazz theme channel and the Bebop channel for a very long time. ‘

What is your ambition for the coming year?

‘We will promote our expertise. The message is: the people at the Concertzender choose the best music for you. Furthermore, we have just started with podcasts. They have more text than our regular broadcasts that have no more than five minutes of text per hour. In our programs, the relationship between text and music is always a point of discussion. We want a lot of music and few words. But we want to let listeners know what is going on. Our listeners do not want talk programs and they do not want non-stop music. So we are working on a new format, a new flow for the Concertzender. During the morning and early afternoon, classical and early music, with something more experimental at the end of the afternoon, thematic programmes in the early evening, and experimental music, jazz and world music from 22.00 onwards.’

Lucie Th. Vermij