Shaking up the repertoire: Part I

Jason E. Kaplan
Suzanne Nance, president and CEO, All Classical Portland

All Classical Portland president and CEO Suzanne Nance discusses live radio, launching a children’s channel and diversifying the classical canon.

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Don’t call All Classical Portland an ivory tower. The Portland-headquartered radio station grew its audience by 35% in the past four years, and the station has the largest per capita market share of any classical music station in the country, according to Nielsen. 

I caught up with Nance in the station’s Portland Opera building offices. In the edited interview excerpts below, she discusses live radio, launching a children’s channel and diversifying the classical canon.

Click HERE to read our companion interview with Scott Showalter, president of the Oregon Symphony. Showalter talks about revenue growth, the multimedia symphony and how he said no to Edward Snowden.

Why we’re so popular

“We are changing the way we sound. We strengthened our on air team. We have 10 on air producers and hosts; it’s a luxury in this day and age. Rather than voice tracking it, All Classical said that’s where we are going to differentiate ourselves. We want to make sure if we invite people to the party, they are going to enjoy it and we have plenty of refreshments.”  

studioAll Classical live: Host Warren Black, in the studio 


“We catalogued thousands of pieces of music with appropriate “dayparts.” Dayparting helps us share music that complements our listeners’ biorhythms: What sounds right at noon might be too exciting at midnight. We craft our playlists with dayparting in mind and pay close attention to local, national and world events.” 

New digs

“We moved from Benson High School in 2014. The move has been transformative — and great timing with the opening of TriMet’s Tilikum Crossing.

Here we have a performance space.  Every week we bring in artists that are performing; we have community members come in. And they’re free. If you fly in from Colorado, you can come in, meet your favorite host and take a tour. There’s no other classical radio station in America I know of that does that.”

performancespaceA performance space in the All Classical Portland office area

Global appeal

“We have 6 million listeners coming from 150 countries; I think it’s because of Portland, being what it is. It’s also our branding. We went from KPBS to All Classical Portland, and when you Google ‘classical music,’ we are a top search. I love to hear people say: ‘I ask Alexa to turn on All Classical Portland all the time.'”

Diversity, equity and inclusion

“We talked about Black History Month: Why aren’t we able to play more black composers?  Well, the truth is the recordings don’t exist. So I went on the air, and so did staff and said: “We want to play more of these recordings, and can you please support those artists who need to make those recordings.”

End game

“We put in motion a plan to renovate our recording space with a new wood floor that would give it a better sound. Oregon Lumber donated the wood to make a recording studio. We will have a place for artists to come to make those recordings in our studio so we can play them. We saw a need and filled it.”

The next generation

“We are going to launch a second channel in September, a children’s classical network. It will be a stream; we feel it will attract a global audience. That’s an opportunity for national and local sponsorship.  I just think about all the different languages; ‘this is a waltz, one, two, three, un, deux, trois’ — all the different languages. We have poetry and storytelling that you never hear on the radio.”   


“We’re 94% publicly funded. That’s individuals, some foundation grants and underwriting. We make sure if we’re growing the budget, and we did, that we are spending every dollar wisely. It’s a balancing act; a few of the hosts are part-time. Our rent hovers around $23,000 per month; it’s a big expense, and because we’re radio, we have expenses that others don’t.  Look at our operations center; you can see all the wires and there are things we have to do to ensure we’re on the air. That ‘s an expense of broadcasting.”

Those on air fundraising marathons

“The goal is to shorten the fundraisers; one of my biggest goals is to grow the endowment, so that the interest of the endowment takes some of the burden of fundraising. I think on air fundraising is a thing of the past.”

Soothing the tech beast

“The All Classical vision is there is a human being in there. So when the pendulum swung to:  “everyone is on their iPhone, on their mobile devices,” here is a place you can go for humanity, for connection.”


“We’re lucky with community — that’s how we’ve gotten this far.  This is the little station that could. We broadcast at 5,900 watts, and we have a 4.6% market share. There are classical music stations that would kill for 2% market share.  There are people in Portland who do embrace the arts, and they have seen that without All Classical Portland, the cultural economy would not be what it is.  I give credit to the people who started this in a tiny room in Benson High School and now it has grown into world renowed classical music station. So I credit the community.”

A version of this article appears in the March 2018 issue of Oregon Business.


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