In October, the member services department at WUOL Classical in Louisville received a listener letter objecting to the station’s increase in music by Black composers. The letter stated that the anonymous writer - a self-described long-time donor - was discontinuing their support as a result.
Member services shared the letter with Daniel Gilliam, WUOL program director and director of radio, who decided to read a Statement to a Racist Listener on-air, stream it on Facebook Live, and publish the statement online. We asked Gilliam about this response from the station, and about the larger anti-racism work being done at WUOL.
Greater Public: What was your reaction when you received the listener letter?
Daniel Gilliam: I don’t think any public radio station is a stranger to receiving negative or controversial letters, particularly around race. Whether it’s someone complaining that a triple-A station is playing too much hip hop, or that they dislike someone’s way of speaking or the coverage of race on a news station. But at a classical station, we’ve been largely immune to these kinds of letters because, historically, classical has not been a very diverse format. There are some people in the classical radio world who are coming to terms with that and being proactive to change it. It’s something I've been trying to work on at WUOL.
When the letter arrived, it did a couple of things. First, it signaled that somebody is noticing that we’re playing more composers that aren’t white. I wondered how they knew; did we say on-air that this is a Black composer, do they know enough about the music to know which composers are Black, or did they Google the composers to see who was Black and who was white? I had questions about why that would catch their attention. But I’m glad it did, because I want more people to recognize themselves in the music we play on WUOL. And we still have a long way to go.
But the writer of the letter also said they wouldn’t be supporting the station because we’re playing more Black composers. We often get letters at stations that threaten to discontinue support and we let them roll off our backs. But this one struck me for how explicit it was. And it angered me quite a bit. We say “listen to relax and escape” and all is fine in the world. But when you encounter a listener who’s an avowed racist, it kind of shakes you. This is not “peaceful let’s-all-get-along” listenership.