If anyone had told J. Michael Barone a quarter-century ago that the radio program about organ music that he was starting would still be going strong today, he might have dismissed the idea.
But this month is the 25th anniversary of “Pipedreams” as a weekly national show, distributed to public and commercial stations by American Public Media of St. Paul. Even Mr. Barone sometimes has trouble believing it.
“I feel as if I had walked down a corridor past an open door, gone in and started doing the show, and been waiting ever since for someone to return and kick me out,” he said the other day on a short visit to New York to attend a concert by the young virtuoso Cameron Carpenter (on a digital organ).
The radio audience is not huge but it is devoted and steady. Appearing on more than 150 stations (down from a peak of 180) across the country, the show draws about 250,000 listeners, Mr. Barone says, and more worldwide who listen on the program’s Web site, pipedreams.org.
“Interestingly, my two largest listening audiences are on commercial classical music stations,” he said, with those stations drawing an average quarter-hour audience of about 9,000 each in Chicago and Dallas, where the 90-minute program is broadcast on Sunday evenings. He hopes to pick up a few more stations after January by making the program available in one- and two-hour formats.
In some places it is hard to find. In New York in recent years, devotees have had to chase it across the lower end of the FM spectrum, where at 10 on Saturday nights it can now be found on two Long Island stations, WLIU (88.3) and WCWP (88.1); in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, it has no radio home at all. XM Satellite Radio Channel 133 carries “Pipedreams” on Sundays — at 5 a.m. Eastern time.
“I suspect organ music will always be a niche,” Mr. Barone conceded. “If a million people listened to ‘Pipedreams,’ I’d be thrilled. I don’t think there’s anything about the organ that should get in the way of its being embraced by many more people than it is today.”
Well, I shall try to play my Casavant less badly tomorrow in honor of the Day of Organ Spectacular decreed by the AGO, and also, to ignore those who habitually complain about the volume -- you want scharf, I'll give ya scharf....