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Mary Cliff Returns

Mary Cliff, the longtime host of "Traditions," the acoustic music program that lost its slot on WETA when the public radio station went to an all-classical format last week, is back on the radio.

Cliff's show will move to WAMU (88.5 FM) starting Saturday night at 11 p.m.

The move cements WAMU's decision to offer two personalities to distinct audiences in the Washington area, focusing on news and talk during the week and then shifting to a lineup heavy on what they're calling "traditional American music" on weekends. Far from killing off the bluegrass, early jazz, and traditional country that the station has over time moved from daily fare to the weekend schedule, WAMU is now adding to that lineup Cliff's show, which features blues, folk, gospel and other acoustic genres.

It's another sign that big public radio stations can be successful without adopting the 100 percent dedication to a single format that WETA has chosen with classical music. Cliff's show of course fits in much better on WAMU; hard core fans may not like the late hour of the show's new time slot, but WAMU was in a tough position: the earlier show on Saturday nights, Hot Jazz Saturday Night, also has a powerfully devoted fan base.

The text of the station's press release is after the jump:

Washington--On Saturday, Feb. 3, WAMU 88.5 will begin airing Traditions with Mary Cliff from 11 p.m., Saturdays, until 1 a.m., Sundays. Since 1970, Cliff has hosted the acoustic music show, keeping fans up to date on the local music scene. Her new, 2-hour show on WAMU 88.5 will be similar to her former, longer show, which aired on WETA-FM until their recent format change. Traditions with Mary Cliff, with its mix of blues, ballads, ethnic, and traditional music, will provide a musical bridge from the traditional jazz of Rob Bamberger's Hot Jazz Saturday Night, which airs 8-11 p.m., Saturdays, to the traditional bluegrass music heard on WAMU beginning at 1 a.m., Sundays, with Bluegrass Overnight.

"I love the continuity of bringing this show to WAMU 88.5," said host Mary Cliff. "Traditions is a community-oriented show, and I'm excited to bring it to such a community-focused radio station."

"During our recent program changes, we've heard from many, many listeners who encouraged us to add this show to our line-up," said Caryn G. Mathes, WAMU 88.5's General Manager. "I feel that the addition of Traditions with Mary Cliff is a great way to finalize our schedule, and I welcome Mary to our on-air staff."

WAMU 88.5 continues to add to its music line-up, firmly establishing it as the home for traditional American music on the Washington, D.C., dial. Traditions with Mary Cliff also links the station with the local music community of musicians and fans.

"When I started here, the only disappointing thing to me was that we didn't carry Mary Cliff's show," said Jen Hitt, Music Manager for WAMU 88.5. "Now we have her here, and I couldn't be happier."

American University's radio station since 1961, WAMU 88.5 is the leading public radio station for NPR news and information in the greater Washington, D.C., area, with more than 590,000 listeners in the region. WAMU 88.5 is "your NPR news station in the nation's capital."

By Marc Fisher |  January 29, 2007; 5:46 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I had never heard of Mary Cliff before I read about her on this blog. Now with all the adulation I've read -- as well as your column -- I can't wait to hear her show on WAMU. Too bad it's after my bedtime (as is most of Rob Bamberger's show which is about the best thing on radio anywhere, anytime.)

What technology is there for radio that's comparable to Tivo?

Posted by: Early Bird | January 29, 2007 6:06 PM

they dropped American Routes then?

2nd paragraph, i think you mean "starting", not "started".

Posted by: pete | January 29, 2007 6:10 PM

Huzzah! Best news I've heard all day.

I don't know about Tivo for radio, though -- I would suggest (a) finding a night-owl friend to record the show for you or preferably (b) hoping WAMU adds a Windows Media/Real Audio stream, as it does for "Hot Jazz Saturday Night."

Posted by: Greenbelt Gal | January 29, 2007 6:33 PM

"I don't know about Tivo for radio, though"


Posted by: Henry | January 29, 2007 8:20 PM

By the way, I don't work for the company I mentioned in the comment above. I just have read about their product.

Posted by: Henry | January 29, 2007 8:20 PM

I've never used one, but Griffin Technology makes the "Radio Shark 2" (Google it), which, when plugged into a USB port, can record AM/FM radio in MP3 or AAC formats to your computer's hard drive. It can be programmed to record at different times too... Sells for $40-50.

Posted by: Matt in Alexandria | January 29, 2007 8:26 PM

Yay!!! It's wonderful to know that Mary Cliff will be back on the air. As far as "tivo"ing the show goes, I found and downloaded a really neat Mac program this weekend specifically so I could "tape" her last show on WETA! The program, called iRecordMusic, is available here: It worked like a champ. Totally cool!

Posted by: Becky in Columbia | January 29, 2007 10:25 PM

What a relief! It's not Saturday in DC without Mary Cliff.

But now we lost the Big Easy! Where's American Routes? Juggle Sunday and put Nick Spitzer near Eddie Stubbs -- it's a natural!

Posted by: Mike Licht | January 29, 2007 11:13 PM

I was hoping WAMU would schedule Mary Cliff on Friday nights, instead of the repeats of Diane Rehm and Kojo Nandi. That way Traditions would be four hours!

Posted by: Dottie B | January 30, 2007 12:45 AM

Mark, before completely praising WAMU, note that it dropped a fine program, "American Routes," in order to air "Traditions." I feel for that show's listeners.

Posted by: Vincent | January 30, 2007 1:03 AM

WAMU continues to do the right think by Washington listeners. And they've done it in a short amount of time, so it may be that they still will find a way to keep American Routes, while bringinging back Weekend Edition Sunday and Bob Edwards. (At least I'm hoping.)

WAMU gets double my pledge dollars next time around. And, by the way, the rebroadcast of Diane and Kojo on Fridays is essential: together, those are three of the best hours of informative public radio around.

Posted by: Rocco | January 30, 2007 8:44 AM

Come-on, WAMU! Traditions doesn't have to be on Saturday night, esp given how many people you'll lose anyway at that late hour. Fit the 2 hours in on Saturday daytime for a break in the talk. Or Sunday daytime, where I think even the hard-core bluegrass fans wouldn't mind a break between 6am and 4pm. Or cut a bit out of the 4-hour Big Broadcast Sunday night.

Posted by: Steve | January 30, 2007 9:45 AM

Well this sucks. Now there's nothing hip to listen to on Saturday nights. Mary Cliff is for old people. period.

Posted by: Don | January 30, 2007 10:34 AM

I was extremely pleased when WETA went to a full classical schedule because I had confidence WAMU would import the best of what WETA had previously aired.
We haven't lost Garrison Kiellor, we haven't lost Terry Gross and now Mary Cliff lands on her feet at WAMU. And WETA is airing the most compelling variety of classical music this town has heard in two decades. Every parent with a child studying piano or violin is cheering over this, I hope.
The last two years of serious classical-free radio in Washington plunged me into the rage/despair that many WETA listeners are now tasting. What I discovered is most of the syndicated shows aired on public radio are available as web streams, and can be listened to through your computer. I bought a small FM transmitter and plugged it into my computer, and now I can listen to web-audio on any FM radio in my house. The fidelity is adaquate for table radios and boom-boxes.

I have no stake in the following link, except that I've learned most users of this product like it.

Streaming audio is how I plan to listen to Nick Spitzer in the future.

Good luck all ...

Posted by: Richard Williams | January 30, 2007 10:49 AM

Shoot, I spoke too fast. It doesn't appear American Routes has it's shows available online. So go straight to the source ...

Posted by: Richard Williams | January 30, 2007 11:07 AM

I agree with Richard Williams:

WETA's music mix has been a wonderful surprise. And contrary to Marc's concerns last week, they have even played some choral music. I have heard everything from Mozart to Charles Ives (I keep it streaming over the web into my office all day---something I simply couldn't endure with the constant NEWS replaying all day, before--talk radio does not work as soothing background music)!

I was very sorry about Mary Cliff's show, but now that isn't an issue. One of the best things to come out of this is the impression that WAMU and WETA are actually working as a team. Bipartisanship in Washington! Amazing!

Posted by: Phil | January 30, 2007 12:35 PM

I'm really glad that WETA and WAMU are no longer duplicating each other. I stopped giving to WETA when they started picking up the same shows WAMU was broadcasting. Who needed Morning Edition on two stations?

Posted by: Dottie B | January 30, 2007 1:35 PM

well some of the stations that carry american routes do stream audio, so you may listen to them over the web, though only at the appointed times (be sure to adjust for the time zone):

Posted by: pete | January 30, 2007 2:31 PM

Praise to WAMU for providing a place for Mary Cliff, Jeers to WETA for their sudden and unannounced change in format to begin with.

I've already requested my membership be returned from WETA and I'll become a member of WAMU. 90.1 might be a nice listening station but never will they have my ear or money again.

Posted by: Brian | January 30, 2007 3:12 PM


This is terrible. The block of HJSN and American Routes was PERFECT for Saturday nights. It makes complete sense for those shows to be next to one and other. WAMU should not be detroying its schedule for another station's listeners! There are so many other slots that would work better for that show rather than 11:00.


Posted by: Reid | January 30, 2007 5:36 PM

As I wrote last week, DC public radio is changing and will continue to change in the wake of WETA's return to classical. Former WGMS fans should note that John Chester is now part of the WETA on-air staff. I predict that WAMU will continue to fine tune its programming. I will be very surprised if WAMU doesn't find a spot for Bob Edwards Weekend.

I also predict that within 18 months WETA will diversify its classical programming with a mix of public affairs programming to complement WAMU.

The best news coming from these changes is that the two major local public radio stations seem to be working to complement instead of duplicate each other's programming.

Posted by: Mister Methane | January 30, 2007 6:03 PM

I agree that Mary Cliff's show would fit nicely on WAMU's Sunday schedule. In fact, 'AMU should move American Routes back to Sundays as well. Here's how I think the station should make space in its Sunday schedule:

Shorten Stained Glass Bluegrass by at least an hour (and preferably more). Three solid hours every week is an awful lot of time to allot to Christianity, especially when no other faith tradition gets a regular slot to air its music on the station.

Boot Thistle & Shamrock. I'm of Celtic origin, but Mary Cliff plays a good selection of Celtic music on her show. Fiona Ritchie's show isn't interesting enough to justify giving it a whole hour.

Finally (and I can't believe I'm suggesting this, but) . . . shorten The Big Broadcast by 30 minutes to an hour. I'm a longtime fan of the show, but too often Ed Walker ends up rerunning the same stuff he's played again and again, or airing dreck like "Lum & Abner." With a shorter timeslot, maybe Ed would be forced to be more selective about what he airs.

Posted by: DMS | January 31, 2007 3:29 PM

the irony in this whole matter, of course, is that it was WAMU that booted Jerry Gray and his western roots music show a few years ago. And I loved listening to American Routes when I knew which time slot it was on. Used to be a daytime show, then disappeared. if the station can find a sensible (and full) time slot for Traditions, I'll forgive them for booting Jerry Gray and start contributing again. Otherwise, count me out.

Posted by: one of the old farts | January 31, 2007 4:49 PM

One of us has thanked Marc Fisher ("Raw Fisher") and the Washington Post online for keeping us up to date on the WAMU-WETA- WGMS imbroglio and for offering a place for our posts. Make that *two*! (I'm sure 'most everybody else had those thanks in mind.) *Thanks,* Marc!

Olden Days Department, misc.: 1) In the 1980's I once spent *6 hours* waiting to cross the American Legion Bridge from VA to work in Chevy Chase because WETA didn't interrupt its classical programming to announce the whole bridge was shut down. That was before cell phones. Subsequently, WETA began including traffic reports. 2) The most recent time WETA was "classical," they still caarried "A Prairie Home Companion," "Traditions," then ATC and Morning Edition, and Liane Hanson, et. al., on Sunday mornings. 3) I'm *so* glad WAMU listened, and offered a home to Mary Cliff and "Traditions"! 4) I, too, hope Bob Edwards will land at WAMU. 5) I remember Jerry Gray's "Western Roots." Good show.
6) For Ron, who wrote on Jan. 30, "Well this sucks. Now there's nothing hip to listen to on Saturday nights. Mary Cliff is for old people. period," please give it a try, Ron. When Mary's fans and Mary, and I, were teen-agers and college kids, that music from Merry Olde England, from Appalachia, the 1930's was all Brand New to us, elbowing out the sugary sweet romantic waltzes of the 1950s and the ghastly stuff we then-kids were, per Dick Clark (same man), supposed to like, such as "Teen Angel." Folk was so NEW, so alive, so RELEVANT! So _eternal_. "Singer-songwriters" were New. A lot of that music was re-discovered during the Great Depression, when the federal govt paid people to go out with *primative* tape recorders and capture the songs guys working on chain gangs, moms rocking babies in Kentucky hollers (hollows) sang their babies, the music grandchildren of slaves sang, down the generations. Traditional music(s), jazz, and country, have a whole lot of cross-overs in rhythms, themes, and origins. Check out "The Yonder Mountain String Band," for instance: very *now,* pretty new, and picking up old country, jazz and folk trads, tho' they *aren't* "old"! 6.b) My college students at NVCC (English classes) are teaching me contemporary slang, and grow ecstatic over Hip-Hop, which requires originality, hard work, and imagination. They don't know how far back *it's* roots go: *way* back, to the 1930s, the 1900s, the 1800s, but, man! they *care*! Even classical, in large measure, derived from "folk" and "traditional" aires. I hope, Ron, that you find you are pleasantly surprised and that you hang in there with WAMU's Saturday nights.

7) Thanks to the folks who offered websites for software/hardware for "capturing" favorite programs. (I used to tape record Mary Cliff's Sat. nite "Folk Weekend"/"Traditions, till the tape recorder broke!) *THANK YOU,* WAMU! Marc.

Posted by: Cis | February 4, 2007 1:32 AM

I wasn't sure how this whole thing would play out, but I have to say I've been very pleasantly surprised to find some different stuff being played on WETA that I haven't heard before (and I'm a die-hard classical person). I also would like to echo some of the earlier posters that it is very, very nice that WETA and WAMU are no longer overlapping their programming.

As for what to keep/drop, I want to put in my pitch to keep Hot Jazz just as it is (my absolute favorite show on radio!), and to keep Thistle & Shamrock. Don't know if it's the fact that I can distinguish between highland, Uilleann, and other types of pipes, but things sound really different to me. I really like the way Fiona explores different themes and lets us hear the way people from many different areas interpret the concept of Celtic music. I do agree with the earlier poster about shortening Stained Glass Bluegrass.

Posted by: Happier Now | February 17, 2007 11:28 PM

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