By David Hinkley
DAILY NEWS staff writer
Tuesday, November 11th 2008, 8:06 PM
Ten years ago next month, WQEW (1560 AM) became Radio Disney, and New York broadcast radio lost its last popular standards format. It was, and remains, a tragedy that the music of Frank, Ella, Broadway, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins – music that was born and flourished on the sidewalks of New York – isn’t heard all the time on New York radio. And now radio is losing another popular standards station. As of today, the “High Standards” channel on XM Satellite Radio will disappear, replaced with Sirius’ “Siriusly Sinatra.” Why? Because Sirius XM, now one company, is consolidating channels it considers redundant.
The problem is, whoever decided these two channels replicate each other because they both play pop standards simply hasn’t listened. Popular standards is a glorious, almost endless meadow, and “High Standards” picked a far different bouquet. “Siriusly Sinatra” has generally focused on hits, the most popular of the standards – and that’s fine. “High Standards” went deeper, finding different interpretations, fresh recordings, subtle connections among songs and sounds. It was radio at its best – music no one could ever load onto an iPod.
“High Standards” was created by Jonathan Schwartz, whose radio lineage goes back to WNEW-AM and FM and whose musical lineage goes back to his father Arthur, who wrote “Dancing in the Dark.” Schwartz has also, all along, given constant credit to his main programmer, Buddy Ladd. Ladd could string together eight songs with a common theme that was almost subliminal, yet worked beautifully. In many ways, “High Standards” – which began life as “Frank’s Place” until the Sinatra family moved its affiliation to Sirius – was the pop standards station WQEW could have been if it, too, hadn’t felt obliged to focus on the hits. “High Standards” was marvelous music, programmed by people with knowledge and passion. Its departure leaves yet another empty space where the great American songbook should be. This is not a criticism of “Siriusly Sinatra,” which also plays and respects popular standards. It’s just that there’s so much room for more. Fortunately, Schwartz will continue to be heard weekend afternoons on WNYC (93.9 FM), and there are other popular standards “specialty” shows for those with the patience to twirl the dial. But the fact there’s now one fewer home for some of America’s greatest music gives the same feeling of emptiness it did 10 years ago.