The flamboyant new manager of WRR

A VISITOR to WTMI, the classical music radio station in Miami, once asked WTMI’s president and general manager, Maurice Loewenthal, his official title. Without batting an eyelid, he answered, “I’m the emperor.” To support the statement, Loewenthal often points to a medieval mace and chain from England that he keeps under his desk. With a cherubic smile, he says, “Force also sells classical music.”

Selling classical music is what Loewenthal does best. Under his leadership, WTMI was voted the best classical music radio station in the country by Billboard Magazine, beating such top stations as WFMT, Chicago; WCLV, Cleveland; WGMS, Washington, D.C.; and WCRB, Cambridge, Massachusetts. What he did for WTMI in Miami is what the City of Dallas hopes he will be able to do as the new manager of WRR. He certainly has the professional qualifications for the job. He also has a personal interest in classical music and is astonishingly knowledgeable about it. More important than anything else, perhaps, he has charm.

Most people who know Loewenthal use the word “charming” to describe him. It’s the first thing you notice about the short, trim, distinguished-looking man in the Brooks Brothers suit. And you can’t be in the same room with him for five minutes without becoming aware of his puckish sense of humor.

Posing as Beethoven, Schubert or Napoleon is all part of the unusual publicity he has used to promote classical music. His flamboyance and irrepressible sense of humor contributed in large measure to WTMI’s image and follow-ine in Miami.

Loewenthal is coming from a station that runs like a well-oiled machine to one that has been plagued by many problems. WRR’s last general manager elected to resign to avert a brewing scandal; the station’s signal and equipment are less than adequate; few of its announcers sound professional; and there is a high turnover in personnel.

Beverly Gandy, director of public affairs for the city of Dallas (in whose department the city-owned station has been placed), says that all of that is going to change. She denies that the city has any plans to sell the station. On the contrary, Dallas seems committed to making WRR the premier classical music radio station in the country. Certainly, hiring Loewenthal at a competitive salary ($55,000 plus city benefits and 3 percent commission on net sales above what already exists) is a step in that direction. Gandy says that in addition to Loewenthal’s impeccable credentials, “his dynamic personality will give WRR instantaneous visibility in the community. He will also have immediate identity with the fine-arts organizations in the city because of his personal interests.”

Loewenthal became interested in classical music when he was 5 years old and heard his first Chopin waltz. He played the piano for a while, but never seriously studied music because, he says, “the moment I realized that I couldn’t be an Artur Rubinstein, I decided to become general manager of a classical station, instead.” His bachelor’s degree in business administration from New York University, knowledge of sales and finance from his years as a mortgage broker and his lifelong love of classical music coalesced to make him just that.

He often says that he runs a radio station that plays classical music rather than a classical radio station. For him, choosing between the advertiser and the audience is like “choosing between Beethoven and Mozart.” But a radio station is a business, after all, and without the bottom-line profits, there would be no Beethoven, Bach or Brahms on the air. The prospects for profit are very bright, especially for a station in a top-10 market like Dallas/Fort Worth. WTMI is one-third the age of WRR, in a market almost half the size, yet it does twice the business. Classical stations across the country offer advertisers a loyal and unduplicated audience. The listeners, for the most part, are very affluent and highly educated.

“Roughly 3 to 5 percent of the population listens to classical music,” Loewenthal says. “You’re not suddenly going to convert them to the numbers that there are in rock music.” It’s the quality-not the quantity-of listeners that classical stations sell.

Loewenthal is enthusiastic about developing WRR’s potential. Wherever possible, he will follow the model of the highly successful station that he set up in Miami. But he recognizes that there are bound to be differences: “This is a station owned by the city, so I anticipate certain bureaucratic problems that don’t exist in the private sector.”

One such problem might be the time factor. Decisions are not always up to one person; it takes longer to get things done in a governmental setup. Loewenthal prides himself on being a realist and says, “Well, I don’t have to have everything tomorrow; you learn to be a little patient.” But, he says, “I don’t want to be too patient.” One situation that might call for patience as well as diplomacy is the regular WRR broadcast of Dallas City Council meetings, which take up a valuable chunk of drive time but which some council members see as an important responsibility of a city station.

Analyzing WRR’s situation, Loewenthal says, “What makes a station successful is the philosophy that guides it, the personnel who run it and the cooperation, in this case, of the community.” He is a firm believer in community involvement.

“In fact,” says Miami impresario Judy Drucker, who brings world-class music to South Florida, “he made the classical music station a member of the community. Maurice turned the radio station over for marathons to raise money for the struggling Florida Philharmonic.” The symphony disbanded last year, but WTMI continues to espouse other local arts and music organizations.

Loewenthal rubs shoulders with visiting celebrities (and is something of a celebrity himself), partly because of inclination and partly because of his situation. Few people can resist his wit and gregariousness. Pianist Earl Wild says that what makes Loewenthal a great general manager is “not only his knowledge of both ends of the business, but also his ability to handle people well.” His eclectic interests make it easy for him to establish an immediate rapport with most people he meets.

Loewenthal inherited his diverse interests from his father, who took him to the opera as well as to prizefights when he was a child. A hand-me-down Leica camera from his dad also got him started on another passion: photography. He concentrates on unusual landscapes and has exhibited his work in Miami galleries.

Movies, especially foreign films, are another great love. He is very well-read and sprinkles his conversation with quotations from Cervantes to Shakespeare. Quick to admire a well-turned phrase, he is equally quick to adopt it himself. He refers to someone he dislikes as “a man with a mind undeterred by thought.” His philosophy of life: “Let me just say that like La Rochefoucauld, I have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others.”

A true cosmopolite, Loewenthal has traveled to the Far East, England and much of Europe, including Greece and Spain. He jokingly says that Fodor has a guide for every country in the world-and then it has one for Texas.

Regarding Dallas, Loewenthal says that he is very impressed with “the dynamism of the city, the architecture-it’s on such a gargantuan scale-and the devotion to culture.” The resurgence of the fine arts here was a strong factor in his decision to accept the job. “It’s not easy making such a big move at my age. After all, I’m going to be 35 soon.” He is 61.

He has taken to calling his wife, Barbara, “Lady Barbara Bird” ever since he decided to move to Texas. “She’ll be able to tell you how wonderful it is to live with someone as great as I am,” he says. “And,” Barbara adds, “as humble.”

BARBARA HAS two consuming passions: needlework and Maurice. “We both love to laugh,” she says, “but there’s a serious side to Maurice, as well. What I really admire about him are his values and his sense of fair play.”

Once, the Loewenthals were driving to dinner with some friends, and Maurice was speeding along while Barbara murmured, “Slow down, honey, slow down.” Someone from the back seat inquired, “Maurice, do you have cruise control on your car?” “No,” he shot back. “I have my wife.”

That’s pretty much the way their marriage works, too. He admits that her calm good sense acts as a restraint on his impetuosity. But he can also be very cautious at times.

One of the most refreshing things about Loewenthal is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His humor and relaxed style set the tone for WTMI, which is entertaining and slightly irreverent and is very different from the pompous sound of many classical stations.

Loewenthal hopes to set that unique style at the Dallas station, too. He believes that if anyone can turn WRR around, it’s him; but he also realizes that he can’t do it alone. He needs the backing of the city, a strong sales and programming team, talented announcers and responsive listeners. Given those, he is confident that he will be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. And he’ll have a great time doing it.

“Other people go to work,” he says. “I go to play.”