Looking for an Extra Violin? Need a Video of Your Performance? Classical KING Has Got You Covered

noncomMUSIC AllianceClassical, Community, Discovery, Performance

Photo: Twelve year old cellists, Anthony Kim and Winston Yu at the Venice is Sinking Masquerade. Photo credit: Rory Lynch

Seattle’s classical station is transforming itself into a central community hub, exploring new ways to share what listeners want to hear while also addressing public media needs of the city.

Seattle’s rich musical heritage is well-documented, celebrated for its grunge and indie contributions of the ‘90s, so classical music might not be the first genre in people’s minds when they think of the city. Not to be deterred, the public music station Classical KING has been on a mission to not only be a purveyor of classical music, but also establish itself as another part of the city’s history of fierce community spirit and support.

“Number one, we have to make good radio,” says Michelle Maestas Simonsen, chief content officer and host at Classical KING. “So everything else has to come from that.” To do this, the station ingrains itself into the city’s arts ecosystem. “We engage directly with local artists and cultural organizations through our community advisory boards to create programming that’s not only responsive, but actively supports the artistic community here,” Simonsen explains.

These advisory boards play a crucial role in shaping the station’s outreach and programming. “We regularly gather insights from our community—artists, ensemble directors, and listeners—which inform our initiatives. Through partnering with the Live Music Project, we promote free musical performances and create specialized concert calendars that highlight local ensembles, many of whom might not afford traditional advertising.”

For some stations, supporting the arts scene can come largely in that form: public promotion and curation of standard operating procedures like event calendars and media sponsorships. Classical KING further commits to supporting the needs of composers and ensembles in smaller, more personal ways. “If someone says, ‘Hey, I run this orchestra and the one thing that is causing a big struggle for us right now is I just need one more trombone’ or something like that, we will often be able to connect them to somebody who can help that kid get a trombone at least for the season.” Noncommercial music stations are often a connective tissue across the arts world in each city, and Classical KING takes that responsibility seriously, committing itself fully to making sure needs are met, no matter how specific or small they might be.

Knowing the needs of the community fills the station itself with people that actually represent that community, especially those underrepresented in the classical world. Classical KING finds success starting at the ground level, nurturing new talent in the broadcasting industry. For example, the station collaborated with Bellevue Community College for a program for neurodivergent students in their final year of school to work with the station and support a passion for music and radio. There are also programs in place to help train the next era of on-air talent. “Through our host fellowship program, we aim to break down barriers in broadcasting by providing hands-on training to diverse voices,” Simonsen states. “This initiative not only enriches our own programming but helps cultivate a new generation of media professionals who might otherwise not have this opportunity.”

Recent host fellows, Leona Oliveros and Myah Rose, can be found not only on-air, but across the station’s social media channels. Innovative, fun, and educational social media campaigns  like What You Don’t Know About highlight the station’s dynamic approach on how to reach listeners outside of the local airwaves. “Our social media strategy is carefully crafted to engage our listeners and reflect the vibrant, inclusive nature of our programming,” Simonsen notes. Part of that project has been to have the audience get to really know their announcers, not just in the small sections between music on-air, but in video profiles and features like Know Your Host the Most. The personal narratives of Classical KING’s hosts, most of whom are musicians themselves, enrich the listening experience. “Sharing personal stories and musical insights allows our hosts to create a deeper connection with our audience, making classical music more relatable and engaging,” Simonsen says. It certainly helps that what they’re playing can connect with a more diverse audience. “We make it a point to feature composers of color, women, and performers from underrepresented groups every hour,” she explains of the station’s, aligning it with some in the format pushing to better address the varied demographics and tastes of the listeners, and broaden the scope of talent across classical music today.

With a wide-ranging multi-channel media strategy and a new campaign detailing updates of upcoming programming, as well as providing musicians with additional production assistance, the broad goal is always to offer something more for audiences and artists alike. “We are creating content that highlights performances that we’re also talking about on-air,” says Simonsen. “And that means if you’re an organization that doesn’t have maybe an in-house person who does your social media or someone who creates graphics for you, you might end up getting picked one day and you’re going to get a little extra boost out of that.”

Through these efforts, Classical KING remains a vital cultural force in Seattle and beyond. “We want the listener to feel that this music is relatable, it’s not old, and it’s for everyone,” Simonsen says, reaffirming the station’s commitment as an arts hub for its listeners and the broader cultural landscape. It’s heard by the audience in the city on-air, with those across the world on its new app, and through new generations of listeners tuning in from places like TikTok. It’s a station filled with new ideas and a staff ready to make them happen. Together, they’re working to redefine classical music broadcasting and ever-evolving needs of the listening public for the entire Puget Sound region.