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 MLB.com 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.