Houston Symphony Broadcasts

The Houston Symphony and Houston Public Radio: 25 Years Strong!

The beginning of the new Houston Symphony broadcast season on Classical 91.7 in September will mark the 25th anniversary of the first Houston Symphony concert broadcast on Houston Public Radio.  That debut occurred on KUHF 88.7FM, in September 1986 (long before the 2011 acquisition of 91.7FM as a full-time classical station). The relationship was born […]

The beginning of the new Houston Symphony broadcast season on Classical 91.7 in September will mark the 25th anniversary of the first Houston Symphony concert broadcast on Houston Public Radio.  That debut occurred on KUHF 88.7FM, in September 1986 (long before the 2011 acquisition of 91.7FM as a full-time classical station). The relationship was born as part of KUHF’s transition to a dual-format classical music/news public radio station, begun in March 1986, following the loss of KLEF, the city’s commercial classical music station and previous home of the symphony broadcasts.

In addition to recording and broadcasting virtually every concert from the classical seasons at Jones Hall and the summer seasons at Miller Outdoor Theater (more than 600), KUHF has aired dozens of special gala performances, the annual Star-Spangled Salute broadcast live July 4th, and tour concerts from around America and abroad. A number of KUHF recordings have been released as CDs, both commercially and privately by the Symphony itself.

Much water has passed under the bridge in those twenty-five years. We have seen and interviewed many times three music directors–Sergiu Comissiona, Christoph Eschenbach, and Hans Graf–not to mention a Who’s Who of guest conductors and soloists.

In 1986, the concerts were recorded on tape and editing was quite a challenge; General Manager and recording engineer John Proffitt did the music edits on what now seems hopelessly primitive software while I dealt with commentary and interview segments the “old-fashioned” way with “open-reel” audio tape and a razor blade.  Combining it all into a seamless broadcast was quite a feat, involving cables strung down the hallway in our old studios!

Since September 2000 however, when KUHF moved to the Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting on the University of Houston campus, we have had fully digitized studios, so that everything from recording to broadcast is done seamlessly via computer hard drive, keyboard and mouse.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Houston Endowment, we even have a state-of-the-art digital recording studio at Jones Hall where senior recording engineer Brad Sayles works his magic, mixing sound from as many as 40 microphone inputs to get the outstanding audio you hear each Wednesday evening.

KUHF’s first live broadcast of a Houston Symphony performance originated from the Jackie Gleason Center in Miami Beach, Florida in March 1990.  Christoph Eschenbach conducted, Tzimon Barto was the soloist.  I hosted the broadcast as part of a small team that included two KUHF engineers. 

A few years later we produced a live transmission from Symphony Hall in Chicago, again with Maestro Eschenbach on the podium, which was broadcast nationwide on NPR.  Two additional national broadcasts originated in Jones Hall and featured Eschenbach’s farewell concerts in May 1999. 

In 2001 we broadcast live the Gala Opening Night Concert inaugurating Hans Graf’s tenure as music director, as we did the concert opening his 10th season at the helm.

For the past several years KUHF has also broadcast live the finals concert of the annual Ima Hogg Young Artist Competition from Rice University’s Stude Concert Hall.  The competition is open to musicians between the ages of 16 and 29 enrolled in American colleges and conservatories, and the finals concert features the top four candidates performing a complete concerto on stage with the full Houston Symphony.

Over the more than two decades that I have hosted the weekly broadcasts, I have accompanied the Houston Symphony on two national and four international tours, both to produce concerts for broadcast and to present live on-air reports as the tours progressed. Our broadcast series has included concerts from Queen Victoria Hall in Singapore, from Chitose, Sapporo, and Tokyo in Japan, and in Europe, from the famed Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the legendary Musikverein in Vienna, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, and the new concert hall in Lucerne.

The partnership between Houston Public Radio and the Houston Symphony is a long and deep one, outlasting music directors, concertmasters, recording engineers…even hosts! The regular weekly broadcasts (Wednesday evenings at 8 on Classical 91.7 FM, 88.7 HD Channel Two, and online at Classical917.org) and special concerts are a centerpiece of our programming and an important part of the Houston Symphony’s outreach to the Houston community and beyond. 

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