It's ironic. People are becoming more adventuresome
about exploring the music that has stood the test of time; some of the
hottest-selling recordings feature the music of the
Middle Ages or, of all things, opera; we're preparing
to celebrate a millenium of human accomplishment (and surely it
is music that best reveals the footprints of the human spirit); and
research into the ways in which our brains respond to music is
encouraging more attentive listening to a variety of formats. And, ironically,
right now the opportunities available to the ordinary person for just
sampling classical music are being whittled away.
Concerts require an expenditure of both time and money and are, for someone who just wants to know what's available, not a reasonable option. The CD market is saturated with offerings, but someone who just wants to browse can't be expected to launch into a CD buying spree. For the new or casual listener, the best (and for some, the only) source of classical music is the radio. And the current state of broadcasting in the U.S. is destroying the commercial (read: free) classical stations around the country.
Just last year, two venerable classical stations, WFLN in Philadelphia (which had broadcast classical music for 50 years) and WQRS in Detroit (which had broadcast classical music for 37 years) were purchased for enormous sums and converted to different formats. Neither city now has a full-time classical station. A year before that, Flint, MI, lost its classical station, and so on.
It is not that there is no classical audience or that classical music broadcasting can't be profitable. WFLN and WQRS both enjoyed a comfortable income. But stations that feature half-hour to one-hour segments of uninterrupted music can't be as profitable as stations that can carry more commercials; the fantastic sums being paid for these stations can't be quickly recovered from a classical format. And although the airwaves are managed by the government on behalf of the general public (just like water and other shared resources), the stations are owned by businesses that in too many cases today seek to maximize profit at any other cost.
Well, that's the situation. If you think there's something amiss here, you can write to the FCC about their role as the rationing board (there are only so many legal frequencies) charged with ensuring "broadcasting in the public interest".