Steve with Bill McGlaughlin, the host/co-producer of Exploring Music, a daily classical music appreciation program he created in 2003.
Steve with Alec Baldwin, voice of the New York Philharmonic Radio Broadcasts, at Alec's first recording session as host.
Steve with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 2017 Cedille Records Gala. Steve serves on Cedille's board of directors.
Steve with Leon Hoffman, a WFMT patron and supporter.
Steve started his professional career in 1967 at WBUR/Boston while still he was majoring in music at Boston University. As a paid staff member of this professionally operated station he produced six, two-hour classical music programs per week. He also created a Saturday morning live call-in program about high fidelity called “Shop Talk”, which became the model for “Car Talk”, one of the most successful programs in public radio history.
After WBUR, Steve held positions at WGBH and WCRB/Boston and KPFA/Berkeley. In 1976 he was appointed the first development director of Vermont Public Radio (VPR). At VPR he set a national record for VPR’s membership efforts and also won his first national award for “The Sky Report”, a five-minute daily program about astrophysics that was syndicated throughout the U.S. In one year at VPR he wrote successful programming grants to the VT Council on the Arts, VT Council on the Humanities, NH Arts Commission, NH Humanities Commission, and a total of four grants to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In 1971, Steve met multi-reed instrumentalist, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and worked with him on several projects. These included co-producing an eight-part series of one-hour programs entitled, “Radio Free Rahsaan”. After his untimely passing in 1977, Steve produced eight, half-hour programs he called, Memories of Rahsaan, and the 90-minute programs were syndicated to stations throughout the U.S.
In 1980 he became the first development director for the newly created Jazz station, WBGO in Newark. At WBGO, Steve helped establish the station as the pre-eminent Jazz radio station in the U.S.
In 1984, Steve co-founded AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, a service organization to assist independent radio producers in the United States. Today, AIR continues to represent independent radio producers and has initiated numerous projects that have helped producers in all phases of their work.
In the 1980’s, Steve produced radio portraits and documentaries with William Schuman, Elliott Carter, Charles Dodge, Lukas Foss, Roger Reynolds, Alan Hovhaness and others. The documentary on Schuman was aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and was the first of many of Steve’s programs that aired internationally.
In 1990, Steve became the general manager of the newly formed Nebraska Public Radio Network (NPRN), a nine-station system of transmitters throughout the state that reached over one million listeners. Steve’s success at management, development and programming at NPRN helped establish it as one of the most successful statewide public radio networks in the country.
In 2000, Steve became the general manager of WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network. Founded in 1951, WFMT is widely considered to be one of the most admired classical music stations in the U.S. and under Steve’s leadership many new programs were added to the local schedule including “Introductions”, the only radio series produced locally in the U.S. devoted to presenting the most gifted pre-college instrumentalists, chamber ensembles, bands, choruses and orchestras in the region; “Impromptu”, a program that presents live performances by local, national and international artists on a regular basis during prime time; and a greatly increased on-going series of live broadcasts from the greater Chicago region and beyond.
The WFMT Radio Network was established in 1975 to produce and syndicate concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) but when Steve took over it was losing money and clients. Under his leadership, the Network has become one of the most important producers and syndicators of classical, Jazz, folk and spoken word programming in the world.
In 2003, Steve created the daily, one-hour classical music appreciation program, “Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin”. Over 400,000 unique listeners per week now hear this program on 65 stations in the U.S. It is also heard in Australia, Guam, the Philippines and in Beijing. In 2013, Steve created exploringmusic.org, a subscription-based Web site that offers all 1000+ hours of Exploring Music to interested listeners. It grosses nearly $50,000 a year, which exceeds expenses by a considerable margin.
In 2014, Steve created an on-line archive for the prodigious work of Studs Terkel, who hosted a daily program on WFMT for over 40 years. Studsterkel.org will soon contain all 5500 hours of interviews he conducted on WFMT.
In 2015, he pioneered a cross-cultural broadcast relationship between America and China by exporting to China for the first time broadcast concerts by the NY Philharmonic, LA Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He also arranged for concerts from the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to be exported to the West with broadcasts in the U.S., Canada and Europe. This marks the first cross-cultural exchange of this kind between America and China. This precedent-setting exchange was featured in articles in the “New York Times”, “China Daily”, the “Chicago Tribune” and other publications. Learn More >>>
Steve’s fiscal stewardship of WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network has been notable. Both organizations netted $1.1 million in the fiscal year before Steve became general manager. Over his 16 years as manager the net over those years –which included the five years of one of the worst depressions in American history- totaled over $30 million, against only $6 million in increased expenses.
Steve has received numerous local and national awards for his work in Chicago including the Champion Award from the Merit School of Music, two awards from the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago (for his leadership in creating unprecedented day-long fundraising campaigns involving every single radio and TV station in Chicago to raise funds for victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia and the earthquake in Haiti), the Dushkin Award from the Music Institute of Chicago for Exploring Music, the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for creative programming and numerous other awards and citations.
In Chicago, Steve has served on numerous boards including the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Children’s Chorus, Rush Hour Concerts, Merit School of Music, Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, PianoForte Foundation and Music in the Loft. He currently serves on the boards of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt College, Cedille Records and as an Artistic Advisor to the Boston-based radio series, From the Top.
Steve left WFMT in Oct 2016 to form his own company, New Media Productions. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Beth Schenker.
December 30, 2007|By John von Rhein, Tribune music critic
The signature commitment to quality classical music broadcasting that has made WFMT-FM 98.7 the most cultured radio station in North America is alive and well as it enters its 57th year of broadcasting this month. Reaffirming that commitment is the man at the top — Steve Robinson, completing his seventh year as general manager of the WFMT Radio Network.
What Robinson, 60, has done is to adapt the station's offerings to a rapidly shifting broadcasting environment, making WFMT less stuffy and more appealing to a broader spectrum of listeners and listener tastes.
Under the stewardship of Window to the World Communications (the parent company of WFMT and WTTW-Ch. 11), the WFMT Radio Network has grown to become the largest fine arts radio syndication company in the nation. The array of classical, jazz and folk programs it produces and distributes is unmatched in the domestic radio industry.
Robinson's most salient achievement has been to expand the amount of live broadcasting that emanates from the station's performance studio as well as from venues around Chicago and across the globe.
"This year has brought the most live broadcasts we have ever done," reports the general manager. "Our emphasis on live music really differentiates us from any other [classical] station in the country."
He's right. WFMT is providing regular exposure to a greater number of Chicago classical groups and individual musicians than ever before. And that doesn't mean more airtime only for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera, even though both cultural behemoths resumed their WFMT-syndicated broadcast series within the last 14 months. Important smaller organizations such as Music in the Loft and the Chicago Chamber Musicians also have raised their profiles significantly thanks to Robinson's initiative.
At a time when the Internet is siphoning away customers and advertising dollars from the Old Media, including radio, in slow degrees, Robinson is working hard to boost WFMT's online presence. Three months ago the WFMT network started streaming its programming around the clock without charge. The advent of mobile broadband technology means that listeners can access high-speed, CD-quality audio online and from other sources. With this in mind, Robinson is working to make certain WFMT embraces the latest advances in radio's deepening relationship with cyber-technology.
Robinson says WFMT— an anomaly among broadcasters in that it's a station airing commercials that's run as a non-profit organization — never could have survived without the unwavering support of its audience: a cumulative weekly listenership of 367,500, according to the latest Arbitron ratings. The station's longevity and, indeed, prosperity, stand as a significant achievement amid a national classical radio market that is perceptibly shrinking in some areas of the country.
Indeed, WFMT fans appear to be more than willing to put their money where their loyalty is. According to Robinson, approximately 45 percent of the station's $8 million budget is derived from listener donations to the tri-annual Fine Arts Circle membership campaigns. The most recent weeklong fund drive last month raised more than $600,000 from fans listening via radio and the Web.