When radio stations KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska, or WFPL in Louisville, Ky., broadcast special recordings of a performance of the San Francisco Symphony or a concert recital by Vladimir Horowitz, the listeners have Neil Currie to thank.
Currie is the founder of the Bethesda-based Parkway Productions Inc., the nation's largest producer and syndicator of classical music programming.
More than 300 radio stations carry Parkway programs, which range from chamber music to artists' series to interviews with the like of Jean-Pierre Rampal, Beverly Sills and James Galway.
Last year, Parkway produced 15 different classical music programs totaling more than 60,000 hours.
"In the last five years, there has been an explosion of interest in classical music," says Currie, who is deftly orchestrating the burgeoning market. "On the radio side, it's hard to tell there's been a recession. There has been a steady increase in the umber of classical stations -- all in the public sector."
Locally, Parkway programs are carried by WBJC in Baltimore WGMS in Washington and WGTS in Takoma Park.
Parkway's musical series, which range from five to 52 weeks, each lasting 30 minutes to two hours, are complete packages assembled at Parkway's recording studios. Some programs are created using the company's large music library of commercial recordings, and others include Parkway recordings of performances.
Parkway has 42 orchestras under contract, including the Baltimore Symphony -- which Parkway's staff records, along with Sunday afternoon concerts at the Philips Gallery -- and it recently reached an agreement with the Canadian Broadcasting Co. to record the National Arts Center Orchestra, a chamber music group.
Although classical music is its metier, Parkway also markets several nonmusical programs through an arrangement with the BBC, including "European Perspectives" with Martin Agronsky, novel serializations and mysteries.
Two weeks ago, Parkway launched a major new music series featuring such artists as Van Cliburn, Rudolf Serkin, Lili Kraus, Clifford Curzon, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Emanuel As -- those virtuosos chosen by Steinway & Sons to represent and promote Steinway Hour will be Paul Hume, classical music critic for The Washington Post.The program will feature informal conversations between Hume and John Steinway, chairman of the company. One hundred radio stations will begin to broadcast the new series in September.
Parkway makes it possible for a radio station with limited resources to present a rich variety of classical programming.
"You might have one hour of dinner music that any station with a good library can do," Currie says. "But then the next hour will be a live recital by a world-famous chamber group and then a live concert from London and then the Starlight Concert."
The Starlight Concert is one of Parkway's most popular offerings with 4.1 million listeners. Designed for late-night broadcast, the music is carefully selected so as not to put the listener to sleep nor to be too loud.
"The music is selected with key signatures in mind," Currie says. "Each piece has to complement the other. Also the announcer is very mellow.
For its regular daily programming, the cost is about $5 an hour for noncommerical stations and $15 for commercial. Recordings made by Parkway cost about $20 an hour for noncommercial stations to broadcast and $70 an hour for commercial ones.
Calling on his years of experience with network broadcasting, Currie started out in 1969 by "knocking on every in the country."
It takes a great deal of planning and cooperation to record a performance. For a series called America in Concert, which consists of a different orchestra each week, Parkway makes arrangements with the local radio station to record several performances of the same concert and then send the tapes to Parkway.
"They send us the raw sound, which is miked to our specifications. They record multiple concerts, and we pick the best evening," Currie says.
The firm has 12 machines that can record at double speed, making 24 copies in an hour. Higherspeed recording equipment is available but the quality is not as high, Currie says. "We never have gone in for electronic gimmickery," he adds. "We want to get the real sound in the hall.