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Classical Carousel: Shakeup in D.C. Radio

At 3 p.m. today, WGMS signed off forever, ending 60 years and three weeks of classical music programming on commercial radio in Washington. With announcer Chip Brienza at the helm, the last piece heard on the 103.5 FM was Johann Christian Bach's Symphony in E-Flat Major (Op. 9, #2).

After a few, mournful strands of "With Tears of Grief," the final chorus from the St. Matthew's Passion, WGMS program director Jim Allison called off an honor roll of great on-air personalities, led by former morning man Dennis Owens. Allison noted that to its last day, WGMS was the top-rated classical station in the country. "It is indeed with tears of grief that we leave the Washington airwaves," Allison said.

(For those who like this sort of trivia, the final pieces to air on WGMS were the Bach and Johann Strauss's "An Artist's Life." The online playlist said that the next piece was going to be Prokofiev's Symphony #1, the Classical Symphony, but it never aired.)

But classical fans actually have more to celebrate than mourn: At 8 tonight, public station WETA (90.9 FM) will kill off its ill-conceived news/talk format and go back to the classical format it dropped just two years ago. The move, a rare, possibly unique, deal between a commercial station and a public one, means classical music will be presented in more serious fashion than has been heard on commercial WGMS for some years. (The station's official history is after the jump.)

WGMS is donating its library of 15,000 discs to WETA, and the WGMS web site will direct listeners to WETA.

A moment after WGMS died, something called George 104 launched, billing itself as music of "the 70s, 80s and whatever we want."

"Change is difficult, change is hard, change is tough," the opening announcement said. "But when you look back, change is always good." After reeling off a long list of famous Georges (Harrison, Gershwin, Clooney, Takai, Allen, Burns, Michael, Jetson and of course Washington), the announcer said the new station will be "all about the music. One minute, you'll flash back to high school, then college, then you're chasing the kids." Ugh.

The station started off with Sheryl Crow's "Change Will Do You Good," followed by a mix of mostly 80s hits, mostly rock tunes, with the occasional bit of 70s stuff, such as the Bee Gees' "More Than a Woman." The new station promises to be commercial-free for 104 days and it apparently will go without deejays.

So this is yet another variation on a new, more contemporary approach to oldies. Sadly, it is not the rhythmic oldies format that is starting to pick up steam in other cities, but seems to be a more varied playlist than the classic rock oldies approach that WBIG (100.3) moved to a few months ago. Still, those who argue that FM radio is little more than a series of redundant formats have had their arguments hugely strengthened: Washington radio now has three stations playing very similar music--94.7 The Arrow, 100.3 WBIG, and the new George 104. Throw in Mix 107.3, which has a more contemporary sound but also traffics in some of the same songs, and that's an awful lot of the same thing.

WETA's move--the station's board essentially forced the hand of management-- means the end of the line for its only local news program, "The Intersection," a daily hour of talk on D.C. area issues. Reports from WETA indicate that "Out and About," an arts talk weekly show, may survive. Most of the rest of the station's programming, primarily the news magazines of National Public Radio and news and talk shows from the BBC, is available on WAMU (88.5 FM), on the BBC's online service, or on satellite radio (NPR provides programming to Sirius, while PRI, public radio's other major programming source, has a deal with XM.)

A bunch of WGMS personnel may move over to the new classical WETA, but WGMS told the Post's Paul Farhi that it will lay off 10 staffers.

WGMS's fate was sealed when Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, eager to expand his nascent network of sports talk radio stations, made a generous offer for the station last fall. After the Post reported that Snyder's offer was 50 percent more than the station was worth, purchase talks chilled and Snyder is believed to be looking at other possibilities in the market.

But Bonneville, the company that owns WGMS, all-news WTOP and Washington Post Radio, saw that it had to move if it wanted to get the most value for its 104.1 property. The new format is designed to reach a much younger audience than classical music traditionally appeals to.

This is text from the former WGMS's web site--the station's history of itself:

WGMS began broadcasting on December 29, 1946 (under the call letters WQQW) at 570 on the AM dial. The FM signal at 103.5 went on-air September 18, 1948 and the call letters were changed in 1951 to WGMS, which stood for "Washington's Good Music Station."

The station was the first FM signal in the marketplace and holds the record for the longest consecutive broadcast in the same format.

The station's broadcast from sunrise to sunset, 7:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., and the afternoon of the station's official launch on Sunday January 5th, 1947, featured greetings from Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Aaron Copland and local celebrities.

The original programming was not exclusively classical and included some jazz. The first program director said of the station, "Music on WQQW will not be music to read by or music to eat by or music to shave by. It will be music to listen to."

By early 1948, the station was devoted to the classical music program format for many hours daily and its air slogan was "Washington's Good Music Station."

Within a year, the programming was almost exclusively classical. Non-programming elements included the daily reading of a chapter from a book of current interest, a roundup of newspaper editorial opinions and a weekly compilation of foreign broadcasts.

The original station and offices were located on Connecticut Avenue, NW. The station was owned by more than 125 Washingtonians, none of whom owned more than 1% of the stock.

WGMS prided itself on "belonging to the listeners." The station was relocated to 1125 Vermont Avenue, NW in 1949, and then again in 1953 to the Hotel Harrington.

The station offered a novel service beginning in 1958 with the WGMS helicopter report which reported road conditions, traffic hazards and patterns, and route suggestions offered by traffic experts of the AAA.

In 1972, RKO announced that the format of the AM signal would be changed to contemporary music and listeners, including leaders on Capitol Hill, were outraged.

FCC regulations at the time required that no more than half the material broadcast on the AM and FM bands to be duplication. This caused an additional expense for the station due to the alternative programming required. To meet the desires of the listening audience, the station requested a waiver on the duplication rule from the FCC and it was approved.

1975 was a calamitous year for the station as the studio and offices caught fire on June 6th and were destroyed.

WGMS was temporarily housed at the transmission tower site on Bells Mill Road in Potomac.

Two months later an aircraft hit the tower and the station was off the air momentarily.

In 1992, the AM signal was sold and converted to a different format and the FM station had several owners. In October of 1997, WGMS 103.5 FM was purchased by Bonneville International Corporation.

Many famous personalities have worked at WGMS over the years including former Program Director Charles Osgood and Washington music critic Paul Hume.

A highly popular feature that began in the fifties and continues today is "Guest Conductor" which features government officials, foreign ambassadors, local cultural arts leaders, and other prominent Washingtonians.

Famous guest conductors have included Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The station has a rich legacy of recognition for excellence, winning two Peabody Awards, an Armstrong Award, two Marconi Awards, multiple AIR Awards, and the prestigious NAB Crystal Award.

In January of 2006, WGMS moved to 104.1 FM and 103.9 FM in Frederick to allow sister news station WTOP the chance to move to a full service fm on 103.5.

By Marc Fisher |  January 22, 2007; 3:24 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Yayyyyy for classical music coming back to WETA! If I understand correctly, they're dropping all NPR programming except the hourly newscast, is that right? So they're basically going back to the WETA of 15 years ago. And that is ok by me. They'll be getting my contribution in the next week!

Posted by: h3 | January 22, 2007 3:30 PM

WGMS mostly played the war horses, sliced and diced the pieces into digestible length by playing only one movement, intervened in the enjoyment with commercials (why does a classical music station inflict on it's listeners ad jingles that were soooo awful?), presented the sherry-soden (apparently) Dennis Owens as a suave sophistocate, and allowed Congressmen's staffs to present the most uninspired "guest conductor" hours to torment my Sundays.

Thank god for 91.5!

As for WETA, glad they will stop competing with WAMU but I did enjoy the BBC news for a fresh global take.

Posted by: not too much to mourn | January 22, 2007 3:36 PM

BBC news is still available on TV during both the dinnertime slot and at 10:00 on either WETA or WHUT.

Posted by: ralph | January 22, 2007 3:54 PM

Great news... I only hope that some of the wonderful dj's at GMS will find their way to WETA. And, maybe, WETA in its new incarnation will not play quite so much Alan Hovanis.

Posted by: GF | January 22, 2007 4:06 PM

Great news... I only hope that some of the wonderful dj's at GMS will find their way to WETA. And, maybe, WETA in its new incarnation will not play quite so much Alan Hovanis.

Posted by: GF | January 22, 2007 4:07 PM

Glad to see classical music is coming back, but why is WGMS's Jim Allison coming too? Does that mean GMS style banality is moving down the dial, or will we get a real classical station like WQXR in New York?

Posted by: DC | January 22, 2007 4:08 PM

Sad news for WGMS, good news for classical music.

For six decades, they were one and the same thing. A remarkable piece of Washington's cultural history is gone with little more than a snap of the fingers, which is the saddest thing of all.

But as a classical music lover, I have to admit that this is probably the best outcome that was realistically possible. Thanks, WETA.

Posted by: J.J. in Arlington | January 22, 2007 4:09 PM

Another casualty of this move is apparently Mary Cliff, whose show Traditions was axed as part of the move. That means no more folk music on the radio in Washington, and the possible unceremonious end of the career of a broadcast institution.

Posted by: Folk Music is Dead | January 22, 2007 4:09 PM

Hoorah for classical music back on WETA! I too will be renewing my memebership this week. I did however, enjoy the local programming such as the Intersection for the close up look at DC issues and people that I would not usually hear elsewhere. I am also pleased that our WETA and WAMU will again be offering me twice the content rather than duplicating each other.

Posted by: KM | January 22, 2007 4:11 PM

Folk music hasn't died. It's got a new address in a better neighborhood. Try XM radio. Channel 15, the village, does folk 24/7/365.

Posted by: Folk Music Lives! | January 22, 2007 4:18 PM

I'll miss WGMS, although I didn't always like the quality of the orchestras picked (like most, I prefer NYC Phil over Budapest). Their programs however were clever with the evening programs, Baroque weekends etc. Its fun to have some themes. However, I think it humorous WGMS and other advertising gurus think only old people listen to classical music. I'm in my 40s, do I not buy anything? According to the best places to live in the US from Money Magazine, this is a highly educated region, can't image all of them are listening to the "top hits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s."

Posted by: Nancy | January 22, 2007 4:21 PM

Is WETA going to drop ALL NPR programs? Before they dropped classical music two years ago, they still aired some programs like Prairie Home Companion. Are they going to keep any of the existing programs???

While I'm sad that WGMS is no more, I really haven't listened to it in years - it seemed like the "top 40" of classical music.

Posted by: EM | January 22, 2007 4:26 PM

Fisher's column misses a critical aspect of this story. Contrary to what he states, WGMS was not "heard on the 103.5 FM." It -used- to be. More recently, it has been broadcasting on two distant, weak signals: 103.9 and 104.1. WGMS was doomed by this frequency change - 103.9 and 104.1 barely reached into NW DC.

Posted by: Radioboy | January 22, 2007 4:34 PM

This goes down as the crudest, most ham-handed format change I've seen during my 40+ years in broadcasting, the management equivalent of those botched Iraqi hangings. No promotion, no PR, no audience preparation--just "Here, take that!" and flip the switch. Bonneville clearly has no need for such niceties, a fact they proved when they pulled that astonishing, sudden frequency switcheroo earlier and signaled (no pun intended) their true feelings about classical music.

It's sad to see WGMS go, whatever you may think of their air staff and music choices; they're a part of Washington's history. WETA will surely do a fine job, with more informed on-air personalities and no sleazy commercials resembling e-mail SPAM. I would expect them to retain Morning Edition and All Things Considered, however, so my betting is we're going to be without classical music during both drive times. That's when we'll miss WGMS most.

Posted by: John in Alexandria | January 22, 2007 4:35 PM

I was a long-time listener of WGMS on both 103.5 and 104.1 and liked the DJs and various themes they would have. From what the comments are saying here it sounds like WETA will do a fine job, but I will miss the DJs of WGMS.

One NPR news/talk station in the area is enough for me.

I also chuckled about the comment about only old people listening to classical. My wife and love WGMS and we're late 20s.

Posted by: WGMS fan | January 22, 2007 4:42 PM

Honestly, I don't understand the mourning for the way WBIG was before the format change. It never mattered what time of day my co-workers switched on the radio, we could always count on hearing "Bus Stop" by the Hollies. I don't think the station had more than 100 songs on their playlist.

Posted by: Germantown | January 22, 2007 4:52 PM

Please, please, please say that Mary Cliff and "Traditions" are not leaving WETA!! I love that show, and I was really hoping that a move by WETA back to classical would SECURE the position of "Traditions" in the lineup, NOT end it.

Posted by: Greenbelt Gal | January 22, 2007 4:53 PM

The people at Bonneville must have misplaced their copy of their mission statement. Here it is.

Bonneville's Mission Statement and Core Values

Bonneville International...winning with integrity. We are a dynamic media company driven by these passions:

People: We expect top performance of ourselves. We provide the right environment for success and growth. We communicate honestly and sensitively. We have fun.

Communities: Our products and services entertain, inform, and lift our audiences. Our communities are better because we get involved and make a difference.

Now that the deal is done, I hope the wonderful on air personalities transfer to WETA. I also hope that WETA has learned a good lesson about listening to those "wonderful" programing "experts" about format and audience demographics. I'm guessing the Bonneville people will learn that lesson in a few years and the old WGMS will be up for sale at a bargain price.

Posted by: Mike in Takoma Park | January 22, 2007 5:23 PM

I hope WETA will no longer broadcast Prairie Home Companion twice. Once is enough; nobody EVER listens to it twice! Maybe they will let Mary Cliff keep her old slot, if they get rid of the Saturday night Prairie Home Companion and make a Sunday afternoon-only show.

Posted by: Ridge Street | January 22, 2007 5:33 PM

I used to listen to WETA, but found there was too much talk for my liking. Then I discovered WBJC (91.5 FM) up in Baltimore - a public radio station that plays all classical music. If you can't pick up their signal, you can listen online at

Posted by: KD | January 22, 2007 5:39 PM

Marc: Good, fresh piece. But it's also an indication of why everybody needs an editor, including bloggers. Paul Farhi and Washington Business Journal report it's actually WGMS that's laying off 10 people, including air staffers, not WETA.

Posted by: Jon Belmont | January 22, 2007 5:50 PM

Mike in Takoma makes a significant point about Bonneville's mission. Here's more:

"Bonneville is widely known not only as a leader in the industry but also as a values-driven company comprised of [sic] values-driven people. Its mission is to 'Make a Difference' in the communities where it operates."

Boards write that kind of stuff to feel good about themselves. It's really all about money. Bonneville wanted more. WETA wanted more, too, when they dropped classical; news/talk listeners are more generous pledgers than are classical listeners. We classical fans are simply lucky WETA heard a "ka-ching" when WGMS presented the public station an opportunity to double their audience.

Posted by: John in Alexandria | January 22, 2007 5:55 PM

"But oh, heart, heart, heart,
Oh the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck [WGMS] lies
Fallen cold and dead."

(With thanks and apologies to Walt Whitman)

The recent WGMS was just a mere shadow of its former self, but it was still valuable to the community in general and its listeners in particular.

Posted by: Kevin K | January 22, 2007 6:03 PM

Although I have many many vituperative epithets which I could direct at Bonneville for this hideous & unnecessary change, I will only say that this is very poor.

I'm a transplant from NE & really enjoyed WGMS & their peppy, quirky announcers. I loved the theme weeks & contests.

I'm devastated that they've taken away my classical station. I'm sure I'll grow to love the WETA format, but for now I'll just say, as they said of Frasier & Cheers, "Thanks for the memories."
PS - I've been listening to WGMS for six years- when I moved here I was 23, so it isn't just "old fogeys" who love classical music.

Posted by: Alette | January 22, 2007 6:10 PM

I, too, felt "kicked in the head" when I turned on the car radio at 4:30 p.m. today and got "rock" ----=- I thought it was a cruel joke. After the Dan Snyder issue I thought the problem was settled and, of course, had no notice of this change. I am soo glad 90.9 will have classical. Are any of the djs from WGMS going to 90.9, does any one know?

Posted by: Alene in Rockville | January 22, 2007 6:11 PM

WGMS is transferring 15 THOUSAND discs??? That must mean there are 14,950 still in their cases, unopened.

Posted by: gitarre | January 22, 2007 6:19 PM

Is it true that Mary Cliff is out? No more Prairie Home Companion? Did WETA also cut 7 1/2 hours of black radio by dumping Farai and Tavis? Did they also kill off Bob Edwards? Again?


Posted by: King | January 22, 2007 6:42 PM

Congratulations, Marc. You bumped A Prairie Home Companion off the air in the nation's capitol.

Posted by: Wow. | January 22, 2007 6:51 PM

After being a fan of WGMS for 56 years this is a very sad day, but maybe there is a siverlining or two. First, now a strong signal for clasical music will return to my neighborhood in AU Park to provide a wonderful background to my entire home life. Next, hopefully,perhaps we will have a return to the airwaves, the sound of the most magnificant instrument of all,( the human voice. Why ever did the late management of WGMS think that it didn't appeal? On a recent trip to North Dakota, we could enjoy everything from opera to inspiring choral passages on public radio. Maybe they are more advance out there, or just need more variety to warm their hearts in the cold north. Last,may we dare hope for the return of the Saturday afternoon broadcast from the New York Met? With the return of good music will be my commitment to again contribute to NPR

Posted by: Paul Bakken | January 22, 2007 6:59 PM

I want my Will Shortz back! Idiots!

Mary Cliff can't have been nuked!

Bring her to WAMU. I can see it now: Mary Cliff's Traditions on Friday, Hot Jazz on Saturday, The Big Broadcast on Sunday.

Posted by: Who else is gone? | January 22, 2007 7:05 PM

A correction in the text regarding WGMS-FM being 'the first FM signal in the marketplace', going on the air September 18th, 1948.

Direct from the FCC's archives: WBUZ-FM was granted a Construction Permit to broadcast on 96.7 in 1947. Target date for first broadcast was January 1st, 1948 but delays caused by the failure of some equipment to arrive postponed WBUZ-FM's first airdate to January 18th, 1948, eight months to the day before WGMS-FM. WBUZ-FM later changed frequency to 95.5 and eventually became WPGC-FM.

Posted by: Large Lee | January 22, 2007 7:10 PM

"WGMS is transferring 15 THOUSAND discs??? That must mean there are 14,950 still in their cases, unopened."

OK that made me laugh.

Meanwhile WETA just started broadcasting classical. It doesn't sound like the DJ knows what she's doing.

Get Diane Hollander in there stat!

Posted by: Bill | January 22, 2007 8:14 PM

"WGMS is transferring 15 THOUSAND discs??? That must mean there are 14,950 still in their cases, unopened."

OK that made me laugh.

Meanwhile WETA just started broadcasting classical. It doesn't sound like the DJ knows what she's doing.

Get Diane Hollander in there stat!

Posted by: Bill | January 22, 2007 8:17 PM

I hate George 104 (though eponymous!) -- and I hate Bonneville -- and Dan Snyder, the founder of the feast (or perhaps just the beast) a sad day in Washington DC -- sad, sad, sad

Posted by: George | January 22, 2007 8:39 PM

Don't take away A Prairie Home Companion! Twice a week is perfect, and if WETA doesn't get it, WAMU needs to pick it up.

Posted by: Jeff | January 22, 2007 9:20 PM

WETA could take a lesson from WMHT, the classical station in Albany NY. Rather than abandon their excellent, challenging classical programming, WMHT has created a second Internet channel for more "accessible" classical programming. Now that's a commitment to classical programming.

WETA betrayed their members once, why not again in the future? Nonetheless, I am happy about the switch back to classical music. (Hope Mary Cliff and Prairie Home continue, as well.)

Posted by: Donna | January 22, 2007 10:18 PM

The first night's programming is not auspicious. Short-attention-span specials from Prokofiev, Handel, and Vaughan-Williams plus - big build up, drum roll, ta DA! - the Grandest Warhorse of them all, the Big Ninth from Ludwig Van, "in its full entirety." Spare me, mein Freude. I want to hear lesser know pieces from Heinrich Ignatz Franz von Biber, Bohuslav Martinu, and lots of obscure great composers in between...and, why not, Allan Hovhaness on his Whale Organ.

Posted by: Terry Tee | January 22, 2007 10:22 PM

The return of classical music to WETA is a good thing--better signal and no commercials. However, WETA should retain Rebecca Roberts' excellent "The Intersection" and Garrison Keillor's unique "A Prairier Home Companion." I liked that it was on twice a week.

Please do not retain Mary Cliff, with her scratchy, reedy voice, and way tooooo much talking!

Please retain David Ginder and hire John Chester from WGMS!

Posted by: John | January 22, 2007 10:34 PM

All*s well that ends well, I guess. Dan Snyder inadvertently gave us back quality, non-commercial classical broadcasts. And Bonneville, whatever else one may think of them, DONATED a small fortune*s worth of music to the effort.

Posted by: gitarre | January 22, 2007 10:56 PM

Why broadcast Prairie Home Companion twice, and not broadcast the New York Philharmonic concerts once? Or the Philadelphia Orchestra once? Or the Chicago Symphony? Or the Boston Symphony? Los Angeles? I remember when you could taped live concerts of ALL these concerts every week. Even the National Symphony got in on the act for a while. I got to hear new Pulitzer Prize works at their premieres thanks to radio. We don't need to hear Prairie Home Companion two times, for heaven's sake; we need to bring complete orchestra concerts back to radio!

Posted by: Larry | January 22, 2007 11:28 PM

"WGMS is transferring 15 THOUSAND discs??? That must mean there are 14,950 still in their cases, unopened."

Is there a comment of the day award? That's awesome.

Yes, it's true that Mary Cliff and Prairie Home Companion are now homeless. Tell WETA if you're unhappy with that decision....

Posted by: h3 | January 22, 2007 11:32 PM

WETA-FM should add two HD channels. One should be for jazz: while WPFW plays some jazz, their d.j.s often fail to identify their music tracks for 30 or more minutes! And they have an awful lot of yak-yak-yak shows.

The other could be for public affairs and news programming that does *not* duplicate WAMU's programming.

If WETA joined WAMU in broadcasting extra channels in HD, a heck of a lot more people would buy HD radios (myself included)!

Posted by: Jefferson | January 22, 2007 11:44 PM

Mary Cliff's last day at work will be this Friday. She is pretaping her last Traditions show, which will be broadcast Saturday. What can we do to reverse this terrible decision?

Posted by: Len | January 22, 2007 11:57 PM

I'm happy to hear classical music on WETA again but the WETA of two years ago excelled in offering a variety that appealed to many listeners. I realize that nothing stays the same, but is it really time for Traditions to leave us and weren't PHC and All Things Considered depended upon to bring funding to you during the pledge drives which I enjoyed participating in? When you dropped classical programming, the Washington, DC market no longer could listen to Performance Today, an NPR program that was produced in this city unless they listened on the internet or traveled to North Carolina or other places that continued to broadcast the program. I'm willing to give it time to see if your new format works for me. I'm fortunate to live in an area where I receive good reception for both WBJC and WAMU. I do however plan to listen to WETA and will eventually decide if it's worth contributing my membership money as well as my time as a volunteer in the future. Good luck to you.

Posted by: Lyle Jaffe | January 23, 2007 12:00 AM

What a surprise tonight when my usual ritual of more than 25 years was changed to 80's rock! I threw a fit like a child in protest of the change. This couldn't be I said to myself, not again. Only to find that even the website was gone. My only relief was that there will be classical music in Washington... but it will not be the same without the DJ's of WGMS. Diana's soothing voice and how about the afternoon's with John Chester's gentle laugh when reporting the traffic? I do hope they bring all of them back. It will not be the same without them. So long WGMS...

Posted by: Nena | January 23, 2007 12:20 AM

I am both greatly pleased and a bit saddened today with the radio shake-up that occurred. I have been a WGMS listener for 31 years, going back to the days when you could hear Karlheinz Stockhausen on a program hosted by Calvin LaCompt called "Music In Our Time" (talk about your blasts from the past!!). My, how much formats have changed over the years. Anyway, as happy as I am with classical music finding its rightful place back on WETA, it is a sad day seeing a commercial classical station bite the dust. People lost their jobs, and I can only hope that WETA will consider hiring the djs (Diane Hollander, John Chester, Art Gliner, Chip Brienza and Bill May) onto their staff. I think it would be the right thing to do.
Even though WGMS was a mere shell of itself, I am still going to miss it. Thanks to all for giving me a wonderful listening experience over the years!!! Cheers to you all!!!

Posted by: HENRY H. LOWMAN III | January 23, 2007 12:21 AM

Whatever happened to the "public" in public broadcasting? For some reason I have the idea that some of our tax dollars are being used to support public radio stations, which to me means that they have a responsibility to provide at least some variety in programming--not all talk, not all classical. To treat their "public" fairly, keeping us abreast of proposed management and programming moves before they've happened would also be nice.

Not offering variety programming that isn't otherwise getting air time in a station's listening area, such as Mary Cliff and Prairie Home Companion, means that there's no feeling of responsibility to the taxpaying public. Why hasn't WETA management been upfront in giving us the whole story about what is and what isn't axed? They've had plenty of time to think about it, and I would guess that all of the decisions have already been made. I think they, and all public station managers, should go to Western Europe and learn how to act more responsibly with the taxpayers' money.

Posted by: Ty | January 23, 2007 12:44 AM

Oh, such a sad time.

WGMS was a part of me through the 37 years of my residence in the Balto-Wash area. Fred Eden, Renée Chaney, Dennis Owens, John Chester (who went north and then came back to us), and the young fellers. Somebody named Chip can never be old. Such a great bunch. And it was so specially great when the various machinations of corporate ownership put WBIG right down the hallway in Rockville (AKA North Bethesda). Dennis and Goldie so admired each other! But then the corporate folk purged WBIG, and now it's happened to WGMS as well. Where do these people get their input from?

WGMS went downhill during the "Classical 1035" and "long set" era. It seemed that they had learned their lesson at the time of the recent frequency switch, as they appeared to have loosened the handcuffs they had placed on their talented air staff. "How many times do I have to say 'long set, classical 1035' before I can go home?"

And now it's gone.

I guess I should be thankful to Bonneville for the way they handled this. And I am. But I wish there had been a different conclusion to the situation.

I've now moved out of the area and switched my support to places where I now live. I long ago stopped supporting MD Public TV after what they did to Louis Rukeyser. But I think I would be happy to throw in a few bucks to WETA if they can run with this. Even if they did kill EastEnders, but that's another story.

Posted by: 3b | January 23, 2007 12:55 AM

Jefferson brings up a point. Just what exactly is WETA Radio's plan for their HD Radio channels? Is there a plan at all? I'd like to invest in a JVC to hear WAMU2 and WAMU3, and I think there are some other alternate stations in and around the region. And you guys are right about WPFW. It's not as good as it could be. Too much jibber jabber some hours, and no identification of artists.

And there's another thing. Why aren't African-Americans up in arms about the cancellation of Tavis Smiley's two-hour program and News & Notes with Farai Chideya?

Posted by: The Court | January 23, 2007 2:11 AM

And lest we forget, Afropop Worldwide and Latino USA are gone too.

What are in their places? Dead white males like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.

Thanks, Marc Fisher. The world of public radio is a much whiter place today.

Posted by: The Jester | January 23, 2007 2:41 AM

Here's hoping they return to the PRIMARILY classics format they once had (along with many other NPR stations). Keep the classics during the week and put in some variety (Prarie Home Companion and maybe Mary Cliff on Saturdays).

What I wonder is whether they'll return to the deal they once had (late 90s) with NPR to air Weekend Edition Sunday so all those interviewees could be heard in their own background. Let's count the days before that happens.

Posted by: Jessica | January 23, 2007 5:53 AM

I'm glad the board came to their senses finally. They should never have moved to all talk in the first place. Now Washington gets uninterrupted classical music all day. WAMU was a twin of the all talk WETA anyhow. Now we have the best of both. I'm sad to see WGMS go, and I do hope WETA grabs some of the talented personalities.

Posted by: R. Mimova | January 23, 2007 6:29 AM

I stopped contributing when WETA went all news. Well, music's back, and so am I. Where do I send the check? And please, don't change again!

Posted by: Jander | January 23, 2007 6:33 AM

What about the WEta supporters who enjoyed:
ON Point, BBC, Local stuff like the intersection.

I live in the Va area. I want NPC programming with Weather & Traffic for VA. NOt Baltimore.

I will miss Prarie Home companion too. I guess my Dollar would be better supporting a Satellite radio service. WETA you will not be getting any more support from me.

Posted by: boarderpatrol | January 23, 2007 7:13 AM

The switch back to classical music is great news, but it will really be too bad if Mary Cliff's "Traditions" and Prairie Home Companion disappear from WETA.

Posted by: Allan | January 23, 2007 7:29 AM

I was more than annoyed with WETA when it kicked out classical music and replaced it with non stop political blathering, most of which was available on other PBS stations like WAMU. I also remember WETA taking over the Takoma Park classical music station's frequency to use it as transmitter to duplicate WETA's programming, while cutting out another source of classical music on area radio.

Although I'll give WETA a try again, WBJC at 91.5 will remain my main radio station; look over its website [and web broadcasting] at

Posted by: bart | January 23, 2007 7:47 AM


Here are the facts: Washington is blessed with 5 full-power, non-commercial signals! As a radio buff, and to the best of my knowledge, there is no other major or medium sized radio market in America with the same claim. There are a few partnerships-both Minneapolis and Louisville have three full-time non-commercial stations (each serving NPR news/talk, classical, and progressive music niches). Cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Boston and Cincinnati have 3 to 4 non-commercial stations serving audiences with unique, niche programming. Conversely, a city the size of Chicago has only one NPR news/talk station. There are numerous hybrids (both WRCJ in Detroit and WRTI in Philly program classical by day and acoustic-jazz at night)-but again, the choices afforded to the over-the-air listener of the Baltimore/Washington region is astonishing! As evidenced by reading the comments concerning WETA, it is obvious that radio serves different listeners in different ways. True, WAMU and WETA shared similar programming; I suspect WAMU will adjust their schedule to reflect some of the changes at WETA. In closing, I firmly believe that time will show that WETA's decision will prove both culturally beneficial and financially profitable. In fact, the success of WBJC in Baltimore underscores the point that a full-time non-commercial classical station can co-exist alongside other media choices (both on and off the radio dial).

Posted by: Philip Smith | January 23, 2007 8:24 AM

The KING is dead. The crown is now at 90.9
Win some loose some.Socialism(VERY SORRY to say)is not just thriving but growing in MD and USA.Now at least our tax dollars are going to a good sounding cause!

Posted by: orion | January 23, 2007 8:25 AM

but is there anyone else who agrees that the syrupy smoothness of David Ginder and Michelle LaQuoix is grating? They always sound like they are reading to children.

(I remember one time WETA had a pun contest, and David Ginder couldn't even read out the winners decently - he told the pun backwards!)

Posted by: Don't know the WGMS announcers | January 23, 2007 8:38 AM

WGMS will eventually die as part of WETA. There is no future in classical music on local radio as listeners can get more on XM, Sirius, etc.

But good local talk radio, all too valuable, and its only heard if its on a station that is all news.

WETA will eventually change formats again, when they realize the same thing that WGMS did, classical has no new listners.

Posted by: bob | January 23, 2007 9:00 AM

WETA should continue to carry A Prairie Home Companion.

Posted by: Richard | January 23, 2007 9:13 AM

It's "Nicole Lacroix." Not Michelle LaQuoix. And she's wonderful.

Hey, how about a redux of St. Paul Sunday Morning?

Posted by: Ding | January 23, 2007 9:32 AM

At last--the great Washington Public Radio Cold War is over and I suspect WAMU has won in terms of audience size, although WETA will probably see its listernership rise with the stability of a classical format.

I sense that Bonneville was motivated in part to increase listnership for Washington Post Radio, but I don't think dropping talk at WETA will save Post Radio, which is very limited in terms of creativity. Anybody notice that Mike Moss has left his morning spot to return to WTOP?

Aside from Nationals games, Post Radio is a failure in terms of product.

Kudos to WETA for offering something, anything, different on the moribund Washington free airwaves.

Posted by: Pedro | January 23, 2007 9:52 AM

Imagine my surprise this morning when I turned on the car radio and didn't hear classical music on 104.1! Like others who have posted here, I am dismayed at the lack of forewarning provided by Bonneville that this was about to take place. I'll give them a little credit for the blurb that pointed me to WETA, but that doesn't make up for the lack of on-air publication of this change say, last week. Certainly the corporate decisions had all been in place by then.

I have enjoyed WGMS for over 10 years now. While the station may have been considered by some to have been playing only the "heavy hitters", they did manage to slide in some of the "lesser known". WGMS got me hooked on Elgar, among others.

While I imagine that WETA is capable of picking up the slack from a musical perspective, it doesn't change the fact that the on-air staff that I've grown accustomed to is no longer around. It was sad when Dennis "you want me to ask you a question, don't you?" Owens retired. There was something very personable when you heard James Bartel and Jerry Edwards banter before the traffic reports, and the same with John Chester and Jim Russ in the afternoon. And not overlooking Diana, Renée, and Chip, whom I listened to less frequently, but only because that's the way it was for me. So, while it's certainly a good thing that classical music still has a home in this area, it's not just the music that counts. At least not for me. Unfortunately for WETA, that means that they've got to start from scratch to earn my respect.

As for Bonneville, well, it's a corporation, and like many others, it's in the business to make bucks despite what its Mission Statement declares. May it reap what it sows. I'm torn between the potential good that they've done by donating WGMS' CD colletion and the thought of the potential tax-write off they can probably get for such a donation. Who's getting the better deal: Bonneville, WETA, or the audience?

Posted by: Le Bélier | January 23, 2007 10:21 AM

Re: Mary Cliff -- Oh, God -- we will not miss her and her syrupy, vapid, disjointed delivery! At our house, we refer to her as "that annoying woman."

Posted by: jsc | January 23, 2007 11:00 AM

The new WETA sounds great. I hereby rescind all my snide comments, apologize, and offer kudos to the new program director, formerly of WGMS.

Posted by: gitarre | January 23, 2007 11:49 AM

What irony: WETA-FM returns to music broadcasting and eliminates "Traditions" after 32 years. Host Mary Cliff was awarded a WAMMIE by the Washington Area Music Association as "Most Supportive of Washington Music."

The station featured classical music and "Traditions" in the past. It worked then; it would work now.

Posted by: Mike | January 23, 2007 12:13 PM

The station also featured classical music and "A Prairie Home Companion" in the past. Have the WETA board members looked at how much was raised in pledge week during the very short time (four hours) that "A Prairie Home Companion" was on?

Posted by: Roy | January 23, 2007 12:20 PM

I found WGMS when I moved to DC seven years ago, and I've listened to it ever since, even after moving away, by listening on the Web. For their great personalities, and for 24 hour music, WGMS is irreplacable and will be missed. Another thing I'll miss is Christmas music at WGMS "the way it was meant to be" - this was a highlight of the season.

I also found WETA, and was a regular listener of some of their programs, and I was irate when they dropped music, losing a wonderful Sunday night lineup, Millenium of Music and Hearts of Space. I hope they bring them both back.

Posted by: Brian | January 23, 2007 12:43 PM

I'm not worried about PHC. I'm sure WAMU will jump on the chance to do PHC, Mary Cliff Traditions, and some of the other few bits of non-duplicated programming.

Posted by: Steve | January 23, 2007 1:48 PM

Well... I see WAMU has picked up PHC. Let's hope Mary Cliff's Traditions follows shortly -- it was a perfect Saturday evening combination.

WETA's handling of this was dreadful. They should be ashamed.

Posted by: SSFSCoWA | January 23, 2007 2:23 PM

I am surprised that no one has brought up the issue of classical vocal music. WGMS and WETA (prior to dropping its classical format) played very little classical vocal music, other than the Metropolitan Opera. Is this because vocal music requires too much concentration, and the only thing wanted by classical listeners is background music? I would like to encourage WETA to include more vocal music, and I would second the nomination for a return of "St. Paul Sunday" (they dropped "Morning" from the title a few years ago.)

Posted by: Richard | January 23, 2007 3:31 PM

I am surprised that no one has brought up the issue of classical vocal music. WGMS and WETA (prior to dropping its classical format) played very little classical vocal music, other than the Metropolitan Opera. Is this because vocal music requires too much concentration, and the only thing wanted by classical listeners is background music? I would like to encourage WETA to include more vocal music, and I would second the nomination for a return of "St. Paul Sunday" (they dropped "Morning" from the title a few years ago.)

Posted by: Richard | January 23, 2007 3:32 PM

I am surprised that no one has brought up the issue of classical vocal music. WGMS and WETA (prior to dropping its classical format) played very little classical vocal music, other than the Metropolitan Opera. Is this because vocal music requires too much concentration, and the only thing wanted by classical listeners is background music? I would like to encourage WETA to include more vocal music, and I would second the nomination for a return of "St. Paul Sunday" (they dropped "Morning" from the title a few years ago).

Posted by: Richard | January 23, 2007 3:33 PM

I was so disappointed when WETA dropped ALL music a year ago. I got used to BBC's excellent world news and programs. Now another bomb shell without warning.
Why not both music and good news programs? Is that so hard to do? We had it up until Jan 2006. I listen to radio a great deal; now must look for BBC broadcasts.

Posted by: Lee Ware | January 23, 2007 5:22 PM

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to hear great classical music on WETA! Bravo! Of course, WGMS's demise is sad. However, their switch to the weak signal on 104.1 MHz and somewhat bland format presaged the end.

WETA is in a great position to offer innovative, exciting programming with a strong and clear signal. Our sophisticated metropolis desreves nothing less.

Posted by: Chris | January 23, 2007 5:53 PM

You really have to hand it to Bonneville or is it Bonne-vile. They gave 18,000 used CDs they got for free to WETA for a nice pretax write off, they get free promos for their commercial stations and last but not least they eliminated the competition for their two news stations (WTOP & WTWP) without having to spend anything. They also get some good PR for being soooo generous. They must be dancing on the pile voided staff contracts. I for one, will send in letters challenging any requests they make to the FCC. For instance, they just received a permit for a repeater for the old WGMS to be place in Bethesda. I think that should be turned back.

Posted by: Mike in Takoma Park | January 23, 2007 5:59 PM

Many years ago, while I was still driving to work (carpools and otherwise) I stopped listening to WETA because it had only All Things Considered and Morning Edition, which are extremely distracting and monotone. Then WGMS couldn't give you a complete piece and, as someone else mentioned, had jarring commercials inconsistent with its programming. And then the Takoma Park station (91.9, whose call letters I don't remember) switched to only religious programming, dropping its occasional classical. So I stuck with WBJC in between (91.5), despite only being able to receive a clear signal in my car. Their programming includes some talking. After all, public radio usually includes some form of community-relevant programming. But this is in the form of short interspersed interviews with local conductors and performers, The Book Guys (a really great show about valuing books), Prime Time Radio (for the older people among us - and for those who may someday be older), and some wine and video reviews. Most of these are 5- to 10-minute inserts, easily handled by those who must have their "classical" full time. For those looking for the musical voice, there is Vocalise, an hour on Saturday. As well as opera Saturday afternoon year-round, even when the Met isn't broadcasting. And, for some time now, no Prairie Home Companion (thank goodness). I do remember Mary Cliff (or a program similar to hers) broadcast by my local station in another state back in the early mid1970s, but haven't been listening to radio that consistently to hear her recently. So it would be a shame if she were lost to everyone. By the way, one thing I value on WBJC is that "classical" doesn't necessarily mean "old" music. Composers continue to be born and need audiences. I hope WETA will recognize that as well.

Posted by: helen | January 24, 2007 6:21 PM

If WAMU doesn't pick up Mary Cliff's Traditions program, it would be great if XM satellite radio brought her on board to create and host a national version of that show for its folk music channel.

Posted by: Mike | January 24, 2007 8:54 PM

While I enjoy classical music, I am really stunned that I have lost my favorite BBC broadcasts. To all who say that BBC is available on the net: thank you, but it is not the same, especially because it is not available when one is stuck on the beltway...

Posted by: Dida | January 28, 2007 5:45 PM

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