Recently fired classical music host Garrett McQueen was frustrated with a static playlist -- reflecting a "sound management wanted to maintain" -- so he changed it, playing music for the moment.
"Do I acknowledge my actions were against the rules ...? Yes. Do I acknowledge wrongdoing? Absolutely not," McQueen said in a new episode of his podcast, "Trilloquy."
McQueen recorded the episode days after American Public Media fired him as a host for Classical 24 who was heard across the country on “Music Through the Night."
Listeners, musicians and composers have criticized the move, highlighting McQueen's keen ear, needed voice and important work to push for change in, as one petition put it, "a historically exclusionary field, with deeply embedded sexist and racist cultural norms."
Last week, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) President Duchesne Drew and American Public Media (APM) President Dave Kansas said their decision wasn't tied to McQueen’s choice of music, but the “manner in which he made changes.”
“We have a process in place for changing playlists,” they wrote, “and that process exists to maintain our more than 200 partner stations’ compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and to ensure royalties are properly paid for the music played.”
They reported that 24% of the music played on Classical 24 features a composer, conductor or soloist who is a woman and/or a Black person, Indigenous person or person of color.
On his podcast, which he cohosts and coproduces with Classical 24 host Scott Blankenship, McQueen argued that the process for changing the playlist, which programmers set for him ahead of time, didn't allow him to quickly respond to the news of the day with works from a more diverse slate of composers and musicians.
"I had conversation after conversation about this issue," he said, "and the resulting 24 percent of diverse programming wasn’t enough for me."
"I made a discovery … if I swapped out compositions during my air shifts, the updates would automatically populate on the website in which playlists were published," McQueen continued. "This was enough for me to trust that rights, royalties and praise would always go to and through the proper channels."
Blankenship said that he advocated for McQueen, describing him as his colleague, cohost and one of his best friends. He also reflected on his quote in a MPR News story, in which he said that changes McQueen was working for are "10 or 15 years in the future."
That's not an untrue statement, he noted. Change happens slowly in the classical radio world. Then Blankenship got choked up.
"I'm shell-shocked and I am heartbroken and just terribly, terribly sad," he said. "This is the worst situation I have experienced in my professional life. And the only worse pain I can think of is when my mother died."
Blankenship ended his statement by playing a snippet of "Fratres," or "Brothers," composed by Arvo Pärt.
The first season of “Trilloquy” was a product of APM but, amid cost-cutting, McQueen and Blankenship took ownership of the show and have been producing its second season independently. The pair will continue with the podcast, McQueen said.
In this new episode, the Memphis native and professional bassoonist also reflected on taking his first part-time radio gig and, in 2018, coming to Minnesota.
"If you’re listening to this, I want you to know that I am before you without fear," McQueen said. "The outpouring of emotional, professional and financial support from you, the listener, grounds the confidence I have in myself and in a future where so-called classical music is as colorful, dynamic, diverse and equitable as I tirelessly work for it become every single day."