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.”