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December 2006 Archives

December 9, 2006

Anyone In the Market for a Few Used Radios?

Until Dec. 8, 2006, I was at least a nominal Washington Redskins fan. I don't really follow sports, I have only a basic knowledge of the rules and strategy of football, and I can name precisely one member of the Skins' current starting roster--Jason Campbell, the new quarterback. But in those years, long ago, when the Redskins were doing well, I was happy as anyone would be for the hometown team. And when--long, long ago, in the glory days of Doug Williams, Dexter Manley and John Riggins--the Redskins won the Super Bowl, I was as overcome with Hog Fever as the next guy.

From now on, however, if anyone dares to say to me, "How 'bout them Hogs?" I will be likely to answer, "Roasted on a spit with apples in their mouths, they'd be delicious."

That's because Dan Snyder, owner of the Redskins, is buying WGMS-FM, the last remaining classical music station in Washington, from its current owners, Bonneville International Corp. Sometime shortly after Christmas, the station is scheduled to become the Redskins' flagship station, broadcasting regular- and off-season games with general sports-talk shows filling in the gaps.

In his Dec. 8 article on the WGMS sale, Paul Farhi, media reporter for the "Washington Post," writes, "Classical music has been a dying radio format, nationally and in the Washington area." Of course it has--because the people who own and manage radio stations have been hellbent on killing it. A few years ago, WETA-FM, Washington's flagship National Public Radio affiliate, phased out all classical programming in favor of an all-news format. I wrote a letter of protest, and was answered by a form letter signed by Sharon Percy Rockefeller, chair of WETA's Board of Directors. The letter was a politely phrased variation on, "We know what's best for you, peasant." Meanwhile, WETA actually lost listeners, at least initially, after ditching classical music, but you'd never guess that from the rapturous self-praise in which the WETA management regularly indulges.

And now, Dan Snyder, whom the city fathers would fawningly allow to bulldoze the White House and turn it into a Redskins practice field if he wanted, has commandeered WGMS. As a rank-and-file fan of WGMS, I have no recourse. It's the old Golden Rule--them that has the gold makes the rules. And it's not as if any enterpreneur could come in off the street and set up a new classical station; there are only so many frequencies in any given radio market, and the FCC guards them zealously.

The horrifying irony is that WGMS was among the most popular and profitable classical stations in the U.S. According to Farhi, WGMS boasts 3.8 percent of D.C. radio listeners--not huge, but respectable considering the number of stations in the area--and makes nearly $10 million annually in advertising revenue. It is hard to imagine that Snyder's planned format would improve significantly on that--fans with access to TVs will watch Redskins games there, and the D.C. airwaves are already glutted with sports talk programs. But what Snyder wants, Snyder gets.

I, and other classical listeners, have been drop-kicked into the gutter by Dan Snyder, and sneered at by Sharon Percy Rockefeller as she passes in her solid gold Cadillac. WGMS, perhaps, wasn't my ideal classical station--there were an awful lot of commercials, and the programmers were a little Franz von Suppe-happy for my tastes, particularly in the morning. But for my nourishing daily dose of Bach and Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, Faure and Vaughan Williams, it got the job done. Like other area classical fans, I felt cushioned from the dumbing-down of radio programming as long as I could hear the voices of James Bartels and Chip Rienza announcing the latest recordings by Joshua Bell, Alfred Brendel and Anne-Sophie Mutter. I'd already been affected by the WETA cutoff, and by the switch of WHFS-FM from alternative rock to Top 40, but I never in a million years imagined that anything could happen to good old WGMS. But the handwriting's now on the wall. If you're not Britney Spears, 50 Cent, Tim McGraw--or Jason Campbell--you're through in radio.

In other words, when they came for Elvis Costello and R.E.M., I said nothing. When they came for Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins, I said nothing. When they came for Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. I said nothing. When they came for Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, I said nothing. When they came for Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, I said nothing. When they came for Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight, I said nothing. And now that they've come for Bach and Beethoven, who is left to hear their cries?

December 16, 2006

Is That a Deus ex Machina I See?

Better news on the classical radio front: In today's Washington Post, there is a story that says WETA-FM may resume classical programming if the sale of WGMS to the Egregious Mr. Snyder goes through. If that indeed comes to pass, then I will offer Sharon Percy Rockefeller my apologies, my thanks, and--most importantly--my pledge checks, which ended when WETA became an all-talk station.

I'm off on Christmas vacation till Jan. 2. I'll be back then, to bloviate at you some more.

About December 2006

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in December 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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