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More Public Radio Changes

No word yet on whether WAMU will pick up Mary Cliff's "Traditions," but the public radio station that specializes in news and talk is picking up a slew of the programs that were dumped off WETA this week when that station adopted an all-classical format.

Fans of NPR's All Things Considered will be pleased by WAMU's decision to restore the newsmagazine to the 7 p.m. hour on weekdays and to add a couple of other news and talk shows--The World and WBUR-Boston's On Point-- in lieu of the longstanding evening reruns of WAMU's midday talk shows, the Diane Rehm and Kojo Nnamdi programs.

More puzzling, however, is the decision to pick up some of the BBC news programs that WETA had been running. The BBC programs are readily available online and while they sometimes showcase the best of British reporting, they often focus on obscure issues and datelines of primary interest to Brits who have a particular fascination with the nations of their colonial past. WAMU will air the BBC Newshour at 4 p.m. weekdays, replacing the first hour of All Things Considered; the BBC World Update at 5 a.m. weekdays, replacing the first hour of NPR's Morning Edition; and the BBC co-production (with Public Radio International), The World, weekday evenings at 8.

By Marc Fisher |  January 26, 2007; 3:33 PM ET
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No-o-o-o-o....! I'm often awake at 5 a.m., and the only thing worth listening to at that hour is Morning Edition. The BBC is generally good, but its programming at that hour is, as you say, almost exclusively about Africa and India. (And I don't want to listen to WMAL to see whether Andy or Grandy is the most oafish knuckle-dragger that particular day.)

Do you suppose BBC is cheaper than NPR, and that's why it gets used so widely?

Thanks for your attention to the whole WGMS/WETA thing, by the way. I was away for two weeks, got home, and there was classical on WETA again! (I just would prefer some news at 5 a.m., though.) Nice result.

Posted by: peachy | January 26, 2007 6:32 PM

Good, now the people complaining that WETA shouldn't have switched their format got what they wanted. Both sides have what they want.

Posted by: Peter | January 26, 2007 9:46 PM

Mr. Fisher says that BBC coverage deals in "obscure issues and datelines of primary interest to Brits who have a particular fascination with the nations of their colonial pasts." He's just written off half of Subsaharan Africa, and all of South Asia, from Pakistan to Myanmar. These are places that get little coverage in the American press, aside from topics like massacres (Africa) and terrorism, nuclear development, and Bollywood (Asia). Unfortunately, most of the BBC coverage that I used to overhear just before 5 a.m. while I was getting ready for work consisted of features about illiteracy, malnutrition and violence against women...but I only caught the tail-end of the hour. More international coverage on broad subjects (everyday politics, economics, science and technology, and the arts) having to do with Subsaharan Africa and South Asia wouldn't hurt American listeners at all.

Posted by: w.a. dobak | January 27, 2007 8:40 AM

I appreciate WAMU picking up much of the slack that WETA left when it abandoned news and public affairs programming.

The biggest disappointment with WAMU's new schedule is the absence of Weekend Edition Sunday. It seems like where WAMU is concerned, Sunday is off limits -- it belongs to the bluegrass/old country music fans.

I also question replacing the first hour of ATC with BBC programming, especially because the second half hour is preempted by Marketplace during the late feed. ATC's second half hour is usually where it puts its longer serious pieces, and it won't be heard at all now in the Washington market. Why couldn't Marketplace be a half hour later, so that all two hours of ATC are available?

With regard to BBC's "obscure datelines and issues . . .", I don't have any problem with coverage of Africa and South Asia, but whenever I've turned it on in the early morning, it's mostly cricket scores and results of English football matches, which is a waste of airtime.

Posted by: rmeans | January 27, 2007 10:00 AM

Perhaps WAMU-FM is waiting until after the last WETA-FM broadcast of "Traditions" on Saturday before giving the program a new home.

Posted by: Mike | January 27, 2007 12:30 PM

From the WETA-FM website on Saturday:

We've long been enriched by Mary Cliff's knowledge, appreciation of music, and generous spirit, and offer appreciation for her many years at WETA and within the community.

Mary Cliff grew up in Arlington and has been active in the Washington-area music community since high school. She is known and appreciated for her long-running Saturday night folk music program Traditions. Both personally and professionally, Mary has been a steadfast cheerleader for the Washington area's music scene and its artists, especially those of the folk community.

Please join us in sending your best wishes and kind regards directly to Mary Cliff at the following e-mail address:

Posted by: Mike Licht | January 27, 2007 9:01 PM

I endorse the comments of w.a. dobak above. I also, soooo resent the notion expressed above, by rmeans, that americans should be "protected" from hearing cicket scores.

Bottom line, the American broadcast and cable networks, plus WaPo /NYT etc. refuse to do what the BBC does. NPR, PBS, CPB etc. can't afford to do what the BBC does.

Americans should be grateful that British TV set owners are willing to pay a tax of about $200 a year, PER TV SET, to support the BBC.

Marc Fisher needs to broaden his view of the world. Six Billion, Five Hundred Million, people live on the planet. 300M live in isolated/insulated USA. Six Billion, Two Hundred Million, DO NOT. The majority of the 6.2B may not have the capacity to learn about how we live. All the more important then, that we do not reject the opportunity to learn about how they live.

A tax on TV, Computer, and Radio devices anyone?

Posted by: Count Bobulescu | January 28, 2007 1:52 AM

I endorse Count Bobulescu and w.a.dobak very much. The more I heard BBC news, the more I liked it, and felt informed about the whole world. Now I feel kind of betrayed, cut off. Is it capitalism at its worst when radio station bureaucrats can arbitrarily change formats radically without consulting the listeners at all? Yes, I'm willing to pay more taxes/fees to get excellent broadcasts.

Posted by: Lee Ware | January 28, 2007 10:09 AM

I also want to congratulate WETA for 'breaking ranks' among stations and referring listeners to WAMU for Prairie Home Companion and other shows. I had it on most of yesterday (Saturday), reveling in having the music back on the air, but was pleased to hear the WETA staff mentioning WAMU by name and by frequency so listeners could track down 'missing programs. I've never heard a station do that before, and I hope it is the vanguard of a collaborative approach by WETA and WAMU to satisfy all tastes. It's really not that hard to punch a button on your radio....

Posted by: Phil | January 28, 2007 4:38 PM

Look, no one says that what the BBC offers isn't valuable -- but should it be aired on American public radio when it is both available online and downloadable for podcasting?

National Public Radio programming should be based on offerings from this nation. I am a Francophone, and I get my news from sites like rpi and tv5 -- I don't expect WETA to offer a translation of another country's viewpoints.

Posted by: capitol hill | January 28, 2007 8:38 PM

I greatly enjoy listening to the BBC each morning as an early riser. I think it covers international news that isn't covered by the US news outlets plus I appreciate the international perspective on what is happening in the US, such as on Election Day.

I'll pass on the Sunday morning bluegrass programming, though.

Posted by: cab91 | January 29, 2007 9:30 AM

Why can't we just have Morning Edition and ATC on WETA so I can listen to the ONLY reason NPR is worth the membership drive. If you want classical, that's fine, but I can't believe you want to listen to that crap ALL of the time.

And no, I can't get WAMU where I live.

Posted by: Anglo_Rider | January 29, 2007 9:53 AM

I'll add one more voice in support of the BBC. Maybe more than in most US cities, Washingtonians tend to have a more global view. And quite a few of us have relied on the BBC World Service keeping us informed of world news while we were traveling overseas with our little short-wave radios. The 5-to-6 AM hour has always been a problem at our house -- BBC on WETA, or Morning Edition on WAMU? Well, WAMU has made the decision for us.

While I agree that the cricket and British football scores on the World Service are a bore, the BBC World Update show airing at 5 AM is specifically created for a North American audience and contains no UK-oriented content.

Posted by: Skip | January 29, 2007 10:43 AM

To quote: "If you want classical, that's fine, but I can't believe you want to listen to that crap ALL of the time."

Well, I'm sure that's a sentiment expressed regarding just about any genre of music, not just classical. And could apply to endless "chitchat" programs too.

So yes, some of us DO like to listen to that crap all the time, because it has much more variety than other kinds of crap.

Posted by: Bill H. | January 29, 2007 11:13 AM

I'm glad WETA has gone back to classical music, and I'm glad WAMU is picking up some of the programming WETA abandoned. I just hope they'll be able to find a home for Bob Edwards Weekend -- I've sorely missed Mr. Edwards's voice since Morning Edition dumped him, and I've loved hearing him again on Sundays without having to pay for XM radio.

Posted by: Mel | January 29, 2007 1:04 PM

Actually, WAMU has "always" provided BBC programming, though mostly on overnights.

WAMU's broadcasts of All Things Considered and Morning Edition have usually consisted, in part, or re-broadcasts of those programs, since each is "only" a two-hour show. I've never been able to listen to all of either show, despite a sometimes elongated commute; I'm grateful for WAMU's redundant programming.

Maybe it's time for WAMU to reconsider its commitment to bluegrass. It's webcast of bluegrass has now been added to it's HD band, so maybe WAMU Sundays could accommodate a new Lee Michael Demsey show, as well as Weekend Edition Sunday, Bob Edwards and Traditions, while letting the hardcore bluegrass broadcasts finally bid us adieu.

Pledge week is coming up, though, so if WAMU makes that change, it will probably be after it collects OUR promises before following NPR tradition and breaking faith after the money rolls in. Or is that just WETA?

Posted by: Rocco | January 29, 2007 1:30 PM

Well said, Rocco. WAMU has been carrying bluegrass programming for a long time and is obviously reluctant to drop it, especially since they produce it themselves. But I suspect that a majority of their current members would vote for Morning Edition Sunday and Bob Edwards Weekend over bluegrass.

Those living on the northern side of town may be able to get WYPR/WYPF on 88.1 from Baltimore and Frederick. It carries Morning Edition Sunday as well as repeats of Prairie Home Companion and Car Talk.

Posted by: Skip | January 29, 2007 3:30 PM

I'm glad that Cartalk is only on once per weekend, instead of four times, but we really need Weekend Edition Sunday back! WESun and the Sunday Post are what my Sunday mornings are about.

Posted by: thm | January 29, 2007 3:59 PM

I don't like bluegrass, either, but I'm glad WAMU still carries it. I think one of the most valuable things public radio can do is be a home for music that doesn't have a place elsewhere on the airwaves. I do miss Will Shortz...I wonder if NPR has a puzzle-only podcast? Or maybe I can start listening to WESUN online....

Posted by: h3 | January 29, 2007 4:44 PM

It is ironic that Liane Hansen was on the Sunday Puzzle segment with Will Shortz as a contestant, a few weeks ago while she was on sabbatical, and at the end of the segment she said her member station she listens to is WETA. I just can't believe that the Washington DC area does not have Weekend Edition Sunday.

Posted by: I1der | January 29, 2007 6:07 PM

I'd just like to associate myself with the chorus of comments urging WAMU to pick up Weekend Edition Sunday. It's sort of unthinkable that Washington, of all regions, would lack it. I like to think that WAMU could forego a couple hours of bluegrass/traditional music programming each Sunday morning in favor of filling what a lot of Washingtonians regard as a critical need!

Posted by: amb | January 29, 2007 7:15 PM

Just heard that John Chester starts at 2PM today on WETA. Former listeners of WGMS should be happy.

Posted by: Alan | January 30, 2007 7:28 AM

Someday, someone will realize what a draw Fresh Air would be at 7pm.

Posted by: Steve | January 30, 2007 10:00 AM

We are very disappointed because we loved WETA and can not receive WAMU.

Posted by: bhlayman,waynesboro,pa | February 17, 2007 9:05 PM

Why, oh why, does it have to be "all" one thing or another? There's a complete lack of proportion in decisions like this.

A bad precedent was set by WAMU a few years ago when it completely dropped bluegrass -- which, at the time, was a refreshing drivetime alternative to the other dreck on DC radio. This they did in order to institute the "all news/talk" format. Bluegrass fans were unhappy, and let WAMU know in no uncertain terms. Now listeners are stuck with WAMU's wierd remedy -- the ghettoized all bluegrass/country Sundays. It's as if WAMU thinks bluegrass fans are too stupid to want to hear Weekend Edition. Or that they must all be arch-conservatives and don't want to hear them lib'als Daniel Schorr and Liane Hansen. (Of course, if one really enjoys a good conspiracy theory, one could ask, why the Jesus music on Sunday mornings? Hmmm..... I actually like bluegrass gospel, on occasion. I just don't like being forcefed it for Sunday breakfast.)

The WETA/classical case is similar. WETA dropped its classical programming; a general howl was heard; now WETA has reversed the decision, and gone overboard in the other direction by introducing the all classical schedule. Ironic, isn't it, that they've dropped Wee-Sun, so often an excellent source of classical music reviews and interviews -- a very rare thing in the media in general.

As for the BBC on American radio, I'm in favor of it, in general. But I find it ironic that we can get news of what's going on overseas, while the coverage of what goes on in the U.S. is so poor (save for mass shootings, 4-alarm fires, and dead celebs -- for which there is always airtime).

"WAMU 88.5's focus. . . -- to be the public radio listener's source for news and information in the Washington, D.C., metro area,..." . . . except on Sundays.

Posted by: Terry | February 18, 2007 12:59 PM

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