COMMENT:

"Taking Concert off FM is like killing a museum."

That was the view expressed recently by a particularly ardent supporter of the station that RNZ has proposed gutting in favour of a youth-themed station.

This listener isn't alone. There's a vocal – albeit highly refined – mob assembling online, calling for RNZ Concert to be maintained in its current state.

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An online petition is quickly attracting signatures, and a Facebook group dedicated to the cause is seething with discussion about the planned move.

Even former Prime Minister Helen Clark has revealed her affinity with the station, tweeting her concerns at Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Clark's view mirrors the museum analogy, calling it a dumbing down of New Zealand cultural life.

These views have been given extra weight by the impassioned post of composer Claire Cowen, in which she explains how RNZ Concert allowed her to pursue a music career.

"RNZ Concert helped me become a composer," she writes.

"I did my first radio interview on then Concert FM at 17 years old, after I had written my first orchestral piece. They encouraged my successes and broadcast my work. With the proposed switch to AM, and loss of presenters, even if my work is broadcast at this lower quality frequency, nobody will know who wrote it or the ideas behind it."

Much of the criticism levelled at RNZ Concert so far has focused on its low audience turnout over the years. The latest ratings from GfK showed the station attracted a weekly cumulative audience of around 173,000 listeners, averaging only about 77,500 in the breakfast slot (6am-9am) between Monday and Friday.

This is certainly much lower than the huge numbers who tune in to the most popular youth channels, but metrics don't always tell the full story. And this definitely isn't a case of comparing apples with apples.

The thing with the people who listen to RNZ Concert is that they're also the ones most likely to support events at opera houses around the country.

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When an upcoming opera or symphony is mentioned by one of the Concert presenters, it functions almost as a form of content marketing for the art scene. Rather than asking how many people tune into the station, we should instead be asking how much value they add to the art scene when they aren't listening.

This isn't quite as easy as looking at numbers neatly punched into a spreadsheet, but it will help to show the broader value those listeners bring to the table.

RNZ could argue that it isn't killing a museum as much as it's replacing one exhibition with another, but in doing so it's provoking the fury of an existing audience while hunting for a new group who might not even be interested in what the broadcaster is offering.

You have to question whether this is worth the risk, or if it mightn't be better for the broadcaster to find a different way to engage with a youth audience that's probably plugged into Spotify right now.