Heartfelt, sad farewell to Classic99, KFUO Radio

By Gail Appleson

In the days leading up to the end of Classic99, KFUO radio, I found myself growing increasingly desperate to find a gathering of like-minded folks who wanted to commemorate the station. My behavior was starting to scare me since I normally do everything possible to avoid crowds and I’m particularly uncomfortable being surrounded by lots of strangers.

My shyness even makes me avoid my shul’s relatively cozy Oneg Shabbat. In fact, I do my best to slip unobtrusively out the door at the end of services. But every so often, I’m intercepted by my friend (and former colleague) Margaret Gillerman, who somehow sweeps me up into an inescapable whirlwind of hugs and “Oh Gailies.” Before I know it, I’m standing in the center of the social hall, in the middle of everyone, nibbling on a brownie I never planned to eat.

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For some unknown reason, the demise of Classic99 made me want to actually be in a group. I dreaded the prospect of sitting alone listening to Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D minor” during the station’s last hour. I had even gone so far as to “friend” Facebook groups and people following the Classic99 situation. I found myself corresponding with Tom Sudholt, the KFUO announcer I listened to every morning, and other complete strangers trying to see where they would be that final evening.

One thing I quickly learned is that I was far from alone in this endeavor. There were many of us wanting companionship the evening of July 6. Earlier that day, Facebook postings spread like wild fire. Through them I learned that 18-year-old Alex Blank, a bassoon and composition student at Indiana University, was organizing a candlelight vigil outside the station on Concordia Seminary’s Clayton campus. I wanted to be there but didn’t want to go by myself. So I reached out to Margaret. Like me, I knew her love for classical music had deep family roots.

Margaret and I met five years ago shortly after I moved to St. Louis from New York City. We were both reporters at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, both belonged to B’nai Sholom Kneseth Israel (BSKI) and were both raised in homes that had been filled with the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy and Gershwin.

She readily agreed to go with me to the vigil and as we were getting out of the car to join the growing crowd, I asked her why we needed to be there. “Why do we go to a synagogue? Why do Christians go to church? Why do we take comfort in rituals?” she responded. “I think there’s special meaning in sharing with a community and we feel connected to something larger than ourselves.”

For both of us, a big part of that connection lies in music. The melodies I hear at shul and the classic music I heard on KFUO are intrinsically tied to memories of my late parents and my childhood in Memphis. When I go to BSKI on Saturday mornings, I find that if I shut my eyes and concentrate really hard I can hear my father’s endearing, but always off-key, passionate singing in his Southern accented Hebrew. 

As we stood with other fans in the lightly falling rain outside of the Classic99 studio, Margaret and I talked about how the station’s beautiful music brought back a gamut of memories. Margaret said she had grown up with KFUO as her late father loved opera and all types of classics. She recalled the many times he would stay parked in his car listening to the station until a performance ended. Her mother still sings along to “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s 9th, which was KFUO’S perennially most popular work.

In my home, vinyl was king as my Yankee mother made sure her Memphis-born daughter with her thick drawl was exposed to the classics through the family’s well-worn record player. Since there was no money for ballet classes, mom introduced me to Chopin, taught me to waltz and was always there to catch me when I jumped through the air.

At that time, there was something I couldn’t comprehend about mom’s love of classical music. Why would she purposely play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies to make herself cry as she remembered her long gone parents. It’s something I understand all too well now.

Music truly is a universal language that’s passed from generation to generation. It gives life to those memories that attach themselves along the way. It is a powerful force capable of drawing more than a hundred strangers together in the rain and uniting them as one family through the magical last strains of Beethoven’s 9th.

Gail Appleson is a writer for Armstrong Teasdale LLP and freelancer who lives in St. Louis.


ABOUT DOR TO DOR: “Dor to Dor,” is an intermittent Jewish Light series looking at various aspects of “grown-up” life and generational connections through the lens of Jewish writers living in the St. Louis area.

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