While attending the Association of Music Personnel in Public Radio conference in New York, NCME took advantage of nabbing a few minutes with Terrance McKnight, host of WQXR’s All Ears.
Having on-air talent interacting and listening to people in real space in real time is an important part of WQXR’s strategy to develop new audiences for its classical music service. McKnight has a reputation for being particularly engaged in the communities WQXR serves—especially Harlem, where he lives.
In the following Q&A, McKnight describes why community engagement is an essential part of his work and explains how WQXR is a cultural convener in New York City through its Battle of the Boroughs music competition.
Is it important for hosts to be visible in the communities their stations serve?
It’s part of living in the neighborhood [Harlem]. I didn’t just want to explore it from a book. But it’s also about getting out and seeing the voices that don’t listen to us—it’s criti cal. There are so many media choices. But when you put a face on it, it’s different. I expose people to something they don’t think they have access to or know about. I see myself as connective tissue between the station and the community. It’s a two-way process.
Has the two-way interactions informed your work on-the-air?
Absolutely. I did a piece on Hazel Scott [wife of Congressman Adam Clay ton Powell, Jr. who was a music prodigy and Harlem Renaissance contributor]. No one knows about this woman. Her story needed telling. A way for me to serve the community is to bring out the highlights of the Harlem Renaissance. And she broke so much ground. To a young person [who doesn't know she is], it shows “I can do something different.”
Why is classical music still relevant?
Because human emotions don’t change. And the music they wrote—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven—speaks to that. When you listen to it, it crosses centuries and cultures.
How do you show people classical music is still relevant?
We do Battle of the Boroughs [a band competition]. The beauty of it, it doesn’t feel like a competition. Many of them know about each other, but never talk to each other.
So you’re able to act as a cultural convener?
Yeah. Like a guy who played in Battle of the Boroughs emailed me and said, “I need a violin player—the one who was from the Battle of the Boroughs.” And I can connect them. And by connecting musicians with each other, we hope the music will grow. We’re able to create a different experience of music where nobody feels like an outsider. It’s inclusive.