Praise for George: Gone, or HiDing?

All right, this blog hasn’t been around all that long, but it’s already outlasted a radio format here in the RoeDeo listening area: George 104, which came – and went – in just over two months. (76 days, to be exact – from January 22 to April 7, 2007) George, (as noted earlier in this space) was the hastily-assembled pop/rock/dance oldies format that was thrown up after owner Bonneville engineered a novel play with public broadcaster WETA: Bonneville dumped DC classical icon WGMS, WETA switched (back) to all-classical, and for good measure picked up WGMS’s Program Director (Jim Allison), its extensive record library, and even its call letters – (now used by WETA’s repeater station in Hagerstown, MD). Of course, George was a pretty low-overhead operation, (“a CD player in the back room” according to some grumblings), and pledged to go ad-free for its first 104 days in a bid to build audience. It didn’t even get that far.

So wha’happen? Turns out George isn’t completely gone – it’s now available as an HD – only channel, (103.5 – 2), next door to Bonneville’s perennial ratings champ WTOP with perhaps with lamest web site in the business. George was cleared out to make way for Praise 104.1– a new gospel format from Radio One, who are now “renting” the frequency from Bonneville. Believe it or not, it’s the first Gospel FM station in the DC area, which must be some kind of first. So perhaps that will bring a little stability to a frequency that has gone through FOUR format changes and call letters in a year’s time. Ahhh, radio…a nice stable industry.

Up Off The Canvas (or, The Other Shoe Drops)

All right, it was a big deal to me, but not many other folks paid much attention to the news that I wrote about on Day One– Bonneville’s “Yankee Swop” of its frequencies with Entercom, meaning a likely sayonara for classically-formatted KDFC in San Francisco. Sure enough, the other shoe dropped today here in DC – as of 8 pm on Monday, Jan. 22, Bonneville’s WGMS (103.9) will move down the dial to WETA (90.9), effectively ending the latter station’s less-than-successful run as a news-and-information station. It’s a complicated deal, all right – the Washington Post reports that no money will change hands, but that WETA will get from Bonneville the WGMS call letters (to be applied to its repeater station in Hagerstown, MD) , 15,000- CD record library, and even its program director, Jim Allison.

But…wait! Bonneville is not selling to Snyder and Red Zebra at all…at 3 PM today they flipped to a Jack-like oldies format called George104. I promised rants in the title: Here are a couple from DCRTV:

“… a pair of rimshot signals (Waldorf and Frederick). “Well, at least it’s low overhead,” a local radio observer tells DCRTV. Pretty much a CD player in the back of the co-owned WTOP newsroom, says another. It’s kind of sad to watch Joel Oxley and Jim Farley slowly lose their minds, says yet another. Of course, it could be an “extended stunt” until Redskins owner Dan Snyder finally decides to sign the papers and buy the station.

Bonneville’s take:

Both sides agreed it made sense for their stations and their listeners. This saves classical music in this market and arguably puts it in a better place than it is now.

– Joel Oxley, Bonneville Senior VP

You bet it does – WGMS enjoyed fairly consistent ratings (hovering between 5th and 11th in the market) until it got shoved off of its longtime frequency of 103.5 one year ago (collateral damage from the “Washington Post Radio” deal) and wound up on the much less attractive spots of 103.9 and 104.1). At 90.9, WETA’s signal is one of the best in the entire DC Metro area, with 75,000 watts and a repeater in Hagerstown, MD (that’s the one that will be re-christened WGMS-FM.

Funny, for all of the talk (and I’m as guilty as anyone) these days about New Media and the levelling of the playing field in the online world, size – and positions – still matters. It was the truly wretched signal of the Redskins’s radio stations (a/k/a Triple X Radio) that got this whole ball rolling in the first place. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of how radio works would have been able to tell you that choosing a 1000-watt station that drops to 250 watts at night to as your metro DC flagship for the Redskins was going to be a trail of tears. You also knew that the stakes were too high here in football-crazed DC for that situation to go on for more than one season. (Ironically, the format change comes one year to the day that Snyder bought his three new toys).

The new “official” ID for the stations will be “Classical WETA 90.9 FM Washington and WGMS 89.1 FM Hagerstown.”

Day One

Yet one more blogstar (okay, supporting cast?) to join the billions and billions twinkling away in the firmament. But an interesting dose of news to start the day: Bonneville, the major radio-chain owned by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, has announced a “station swap” with Entercom, another media giant, essentially trading their three San Francisco frequencies for EIGHT in Seattle and Cincinnati. Why it’s big news to me is that the “swop” (as longtime Yankees would call it) involves what has long been the “jewel in the crown” of commercial classical-music frequencies – KDFC. With no public-radio competition in classical music in the Bay Area, KDFC has been a long-time ratings champ, even hitting No. 1 *overall* in the market — unheard of for classical stations! And that’s doubtless one of the reasons, perhaps why Bonneville is getting 8 stations while losing only three.

It also could be telegraphing the next punch from Bonneville – that they will indeed dump the SECOND classical “cash cow” in the business — WGMS in Washington, DC — and get out of the classical broadcasting business. WGMS’ sale to Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been rumored and talked-about for six weeks now; but when word appeard in the press that Snyder was so desperate to buy a decent station for his Redskins he was willing to pay 50% above market value, the deal suddenly cooled. Look for it to heat up again – fast.

Here’s the press release about the story: