Trackback: WETA & The Globe, and the O’s

When I first wrote about the George/Globe/’GMS-gone-down-the-pubradio-block events I mused that “DC Radio was about to get a lot more interesting.” True that…the latest Washington ratings (for Winter 2007) had a Spanish-language station (“El Zol,” formerly the legendary alternative pioneer WHFS) at the top of the heap; we’ve got the corporate “greenternaltive” of the Globe, a brand-new Gospel station (see below), and the invariably-amusing Mr. K on board to breathe life into the stuck-in-the-blocks Washington Post Radio, which is still mired at number 20 in the DC ratings derby, below a country music station 40 miles outta town. (Oh, and now that baseball season’s here, I was shocked to discover the mighty (clear channel) signal of WBAL 1090 in Baltimore, which brought me the vivid exploits of Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, and Andy “Eyebrows” Etchebarren in my formative years in New England, is no longer the Voice of the O’s! that distinction now belongs to an FM station at 105.7 in Charm City with the call letters – get this – WHFS.) Whoa. Missed that one – but plenty of O’s fans didn’t.

So, how’s it all working out?

A) In their infinite wisdom the Baltimore Base Ball Franchise, in their effort to win the hearts and minds (back) from the “tweener” fans in the Balti-Wash-imoreington metro area who have defected to the Nationals, have effectively disappeared from the radio. They claim to have a “16-station network,” but good luck finding them: if you type in “Orioles Radio Network” into your search engine all you get are the bios of its play-by-play announcers on the official O’s site. God forbid you’d actually want to LISTEN to a game. (Or perhaps now that we’re in the era of all radio and TV broadcasts of games available via subscription from the supersite, the local broadcast information is either deemed to be superfluous – or being deliberately downplayed? Hmmm…)

B) WETA’s road has had a few bumps, most notably from former WGMS listeners with lots to say about the music selection, hosts, and the lack of any special programming, but nothing soothes like a major RATINGS bump: Public stations cannot report them officially, but according to the DCRTV blog from May 4:

WETA-FM (90.9) has seen a surge in its ratings since flipping from news and talk to classical music in January. The non-commercial outlet posted an overall (age 12+) 4.9 percent audience share during the winter period, way up from a 2.1 last fall. The station has seen higher ratings across the board, with almost a five-fold increase in middays and a doubling in afternoon drive. WETA attracts a 50/50 split among the genders, but now attracts more older listeners with classical music than it did with news and talk, with 66 percent age 55 or older. Before, about 50 percent were 55 or over.

WETA has abandoned the blogs and listener comments in favor of a “Classical Blog” of news and reviews, and added a few syndicated programs to its lineup: From the Top, distributed by my old place of business, and a year-round opera lineup, adding a combination of NPR’s World of Opera with a consortium of productions from WFMT in Chicago to its usual Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. DCRTV’s comment: Bonneville look like utter fools for throwing away a very profitable station like WGMS”…..

C) The Globe also seems to be finding its feet, getting decent-enough ratings for its initial “book,” but still struggling to find its voice. In his blog the other day (“
The Complete Radio Experience and a New Station in DC” – 4/22) the ever-astute and legendary programmer Lee Abrams (now at XM) noted the Globe has

“….the right idea, but they’re still saddled with radio baggage that weighs them down… The music is pretty cool. Covers a lot of genres but with the same psychographic type in mind. DJs are kinda ‘there’ and focus their raps on the music instead of trying to sell you on how cool they are… But the Globe just didn’t take it far enough… The music was too obvious which ultimately will lead to a disappointing experience. You just knew it was computer selected – it had that feel… I think it’s a case of slapping a format on instead of creating a mission plan. A trend in the past 20 years has been to launch a station with a condensed game plan. Music library, morning show, put up some billboards, and you’re done. The great stations were assembled with more of a complete plan – a mission”…..

“Mission,” eh? Interesting choice of words for a dyed-in-the-wool commercial programmer. PUBLIC radio programmers are spending a lot of time these days discussing the merits of “misson-based” programming, which is often as not has become a derogatory term.

The Globe, By George!

Cruising around the DC radio dial after a few days away to discover another shakeup on the radio dial…WARW, the longtime “classic rock” station has become The Globe, a station blending “world class rock” with an environmental message. The format flip happened on Friday (2/2) at noon, same day, of course, as the U.N. Report on Climate Change was released. Since then, the station has played a slightly tweaked version (read: more stuff from the 90’s) of its classic-rock format, and ditched the deejays in favor of left-leaning eco-and-call-to-action messages (soundbites of Al Gore, bromides to save energy, and even an anti-focus group rant!). The deeejays are supposed to be back within a few days, as well as presumably a better-developed website – right now, all you get on their site is the option to listen to their stream, IM or E-mail “the studio,” and a read of The Globe’s 12-Point Mission Statement [Number 10: WE WON’T INSULT YOUR INTELLIGENCE – The Globe will have commercials (got bills of our own to pay) but we will try to keep them to a minimum and present them in a way that respects our listeners and our advertisers.”]. There’s even talk that the station will bring back the call letters WHFS, recalling the glory years of the once-legendary “alternative” station in the DC – Baltimore area. (Corporate parent CBS radio still owns those call letters.)

The RoeDeo Reaction? Fascinating, but preposterous. Very nice of them to tell us that flourescents save 70% more energy that incandescents, that we all can make a difference, and that they are now “partially operating on alternative fuels.” (Where? Are they lighting candles in the control room?). And the playlist is at least veering more towards the sound of excellent non-commercial stations like WXPN in Philly or WTMD in Towson (Baltimore), MD. But this is a station, as noted above, that’s owned by CBS. It’s all thoroughly unconvincing, and to my mind, creepily artificial. Maybe it’ll be better once the live air staffers return, and the sound becomes less canned and calculated. We’ll see.

The DC market has suddenly gotten a whole lot more interesting for us radio junkies, however…I’ve mentioned Dave Hughes’ DCRTV blog (stands for DC Radio and Television) before, and if you like this sort of stuff it makes for pretty entertaining reading. Sample:

OK, maybe The Globe is not real “adult alternative” like what’s heard in other markets and on some non-comm stations. Maybe it’s a bit “harder” and a bit more “commercial.” And, OK, yeah, maybe the “green” sloganeering will grow tiring. Still, it’s a great mix of powerful music that can (and should) only get better. CBS and Michael Hughes have planted the seed for a powerful force in Washington area radio. It’s energizing and thought provoking. Not moldy oldie and turgid, like some some area rockers have become.

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher had a lengthy take-out in the Sunday Arts section on George 104, the new oldies-plus format adopted by the formerly-classical WGMS:

George is a 44-year-old white guy who lives in the suburbs and likes Foreigner, Journey, Billy Idol, and David Bowie. When George was in high school, he loathed disco and the soft soul sounds of the ’70s”…..

Fisher’s blog on also has more background on the the Globe, including some more reactions about eco-awareness become a trend in the radio biz, including this observation from my friend Steve Yasko at WTMD:

“Public radio is the authentic green radio network and not the corporate hacks at CBS.”

As I said, radio in DC has suddenly gotten a whole lot more interesting….