George Preston has witnessed the healing power of classical music.
The new general manager of Classical KCME 88.7 FM was an overnight DJ at WNYC, a public radio station in New York City, during Sept. 11.
In the weeks following the attacks, he put together a program called "Whole Tones: The Music of Healing," in which he talked to three composers about their musical reactions to the tragedy.
"They went back to the basics of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven," Preston, 52, said, "those pieces that represent the triumph of the human spirit, and that in the face of not only adversity, but evil, remind us of the very best of which human beings are capable of."
He replaced Jeanna Wearing last month, who relinquished general manager duties after almost 18 years. She will remain as the corporate sponsorship director.
"I've looked to music as a place where people of all different backgrounds, classes, races, creeds and political beliefs, can gather together and celebrate the diversity of the human spirit as it's represented in classical music," Preston said. "It seems we live in a time where, in public discussion, we have lost the ability to agree to disagree respectfully. Music is a safe gathering ground. It's not as though we change each other's minds, but it's a place people can learn to appreciate people's differences rather than demonize them."
Prior to arriving in the Springs with his wife and their 5-year old twins, Preston worked at WFMT, a classical and folk radio station in Chicago. He was an announcer, and the producer and anchor of Lyric Opera of Chicago broadcasts, one of the top opera companies in the country. This is his first time as general manager of a radio station, he said.
"I've wanted a chance to test my leadership and vision and run a classical music station for awhile now."
He's also been a program director, and worked in the Boston and Tampa Bay radio markets.
Though no immediate changes for KCME are planned, Preston intends to "raise the profile of the station as the whole cultural scene in Colorado Springs gains traction. I want to be out and about, and do more remote broadcasts to strike up a lot of cultural partnerships."
The station's first remote broadcast will be July 20, when the Colorado Springs Philharmonic play "America the Beautiful," the third concert in their Summer Symphony series, at Security Service Field. At previous stations, Preston broadcast major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic, from leading concert venues in New York City.
KCME listeners can also expect guest hosts to pop up on air. Preston plans to invite professional musicians to curate an hour or two of music, and talk about how those choices relate to their artistic and musical process. Don't expect the return of a regular block of non-classical music, such as the past Saturday night jazz show. He says the musicians and their blocks of music, which could include jazz, will provide some out-of-the-classical-music-box programming.
"He's a brilliant programmer, and knows classical music like the back of his hand," said Steve Robinson, executive vice president and general manager of WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network, Preston's last station in Chicago. "He knows history and has a great sense of humor. It's the ideal combination to grow the audience and get people interested in classical music. Our loss is your gain."
Not only is Preston a classical music and opera afficionado, he is also a performer. He grew up in Lexington, Ky., where he got into children's theater at a young age. He went on to graduate from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1982, with multiple musical and opera productions on his resume, including "Kiss Me Kate," in which he co-starred with Linda Weise, executive director of the Colorado Springs Conservatory.
After graduating, he accidentally fell into radio work, he said, winding up in the morning drive slot at a classical music station in St. Petersburg, Fla. After a handful of years there, he moved to Boston for 11 years to attend the New England Conservatory of Music and focus on singing. He continued to work in radio. His stint in New York City followed. He led a "gypsy life," he said, full of performing and touring, but it was also where the overnight radio gig solidified his path.
"I hadn't taken radio seriously - it was my day job," Preston said. "But when I made that commitment to the show, and overnight in New York, where people are counting on that radio and the person on the other end as a companion, I realized how meaningful that process of communication could be."
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.