Sometime between December 13, 2001, and the following New Year's Day 2002, WTMI-FM, which had been providing South Floridians with classical music for two decades, spun Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and then went silent. A few moments later, a "DJ" came on the air speculating about the station's direction; then at once, he dropped Adrenaline's early-rave electronic anthem, "Shut the Fuck Up and Dance." And just like that, classical music was dead in South Florida.
Such was the way Atlanta's Cox Enterprises decided to mark the birth of WPYM-FM Party 93, with a callous disregard for the community. Perhaps that's why Party 93 lasted all of three years, eventually flipping its lid to become 93 Rock.
It would be nearly six years before our stretch of sand recovered from the classical radio silence. Then, on October 24, 2007, the formerly Christian WMCU-FM switched its call letters to WKCP, renamed itself Classical South Florida, and once again, we entered the ranks of civilized radio. The change came courtesy of American Public Media Group, parent company of both Minnesota Public Radio and Saint Paul's Fitzgerald Theater, on-air and on-site homes of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion.
Scott Blankenship: Hosting Fire on the Fourth, featuring the Greater Miami Youth Symphony and Elizabeth Caballero 8 p.m. Sunday, July 4. Eighth Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Admission is free 305-673-7400; classicalsouthflorida.publicradio.org
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One of the on-air personalities leading this rebirth of classical in South Florida is Scott Blankenship, who continues to broadcast from Saint Paul (through the summer anyway) but is itching to relocate permanently to sunny South Florida. Right now, though, he's psyched to be swinging back into town to host Classical South Florida's Fire on the Fourth, an Independence Day celebration that includes a free concert featuring the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, as well as a performance by soprano Elizabeth Caballero and a fireworks finale.
"It was amazing to me that Miami didn't have a classical radio station," Blankenship says, "what with all the various organizations devoted to the form. New World Symphony alone would be reason enough. Add Miami Symphony Orchestra, Florida Grand Opera, and the rest, and, well, it seemed to be a natural fit."
According to Blankenship, who spent 13 years "doing everything" at Omaha's KVNO before moving to Classical MPR, Classical South Florida will eventually recruit locally and tap into our on-air talent pool. His thrice-weekly (and highly regarded) "On the Town" segments (on hiatus till September) have already made him something of a name among the local culturati. And there are undoubtedly more than a few aficionados willing to join him in the cause.
Meantime, Blankenship keeps the late-night crowd classically sated, fortifying a cross section of listeners that includes "truck drivers, construction workers, students, and club kids," he says, in addition to the insomniac music buff of old. And perhaps the best thing about it all is that Blankenship's composer of choice is none other than Beethoven. Take that, Party 93.