Marc Fisher is an erratic Washington Post columnist, clearly out of his element when he starts talking about things beyond his immediate sphere of knowledge (soccer, the Virginia suburbs, etc.). But at his best, he’s very good. And he’s best when writing about radio, which he did in this week’s Post Magazine, taking us behind the scenes of a focus group.
It’s mildly depressing, yes, to see that actual human beings can’t stand Motown, and that’s why Big 100.3 no longer plays it. You may find yourself shifting blame from faceless radio programmers and big companies to your fellow human being and his tin ear.
Highly recommended read.
The timing, as it turns out, was particularly interesting. One day later, which would be today, the 11th-ranked radio station in Washington flipped formats to the “George” format — ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, whatever.
Here are the odd aspects of the deal:
– A radio station chain (Bonneville) is cooperating with a public-radio giant (WETA). Bonneville is basically handing over its music library, and there will be more cooperation down the road.
– WETA is junking a talk format (one or two local shows, lots of NPR/PRI syndication, BBC, etc.) that it picked up only a couple of years ago, somewhat controversially.
– Have we mentioned that the format in question here is classical?
Here are the sad aspects of the deal:
– The station that flipped, WGMS, has been broadcasting classical music for nearly 60 years.
– WETA is flipping from one extreme to another. They’ve gone from classical with a little talk to all-talk to all-classical, aside from hourly NPR news bulletins and a one-hour simulcast of NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, which is produced nearby. (I once interviewed at NewsHour.) The reactions at WETA’s blog hint at the resulting mess — some people are thrilled that WETA is back and claim WGMS never played their favorites, but a lot of people don’t like being jerked around. And WETA won’t even play the NPR standards like All Things Considered and Prairie Home Companion — though the folks at WAMU are surely thrilled to be Washington’s only over-the-air source of such programming. (To folks who’ll miss all that programming — get an iPod. NPR and PRI do great podcasts.)
– We’ve had WGMS on the radio in the baby’s room. It’s a soothing, friendly presence — the music, the announcers, the ads for things like investing in gold. There’s an atmosphere to it you just don’t get on faceless XM. (And we only have one XM receiver, which we’re not lugging into the baby’s room.) I didn’t just listen to it because it’s classical. Even as a music major, I think classical these days is basically background music. I listened to it because it’s local, friendly classical. A couple of commenters on WETA’s blog make the same point — they’ll miss the WGMS announcers.
– Twelve staffers — many of them Washington radio institutions — are in limbo, though they will have opportunities to interview at Bonneville. (To do what? It’s hard to picture the same soothing voices that introduced Bach chattering between cuts from Seal and Poison, the artists Mrs. MMM heard back-to-back as she listened in shock this afternoon.) And what happens to the folks who produced WETA’s news program, Intersection? And shouldn’t a powerful public radio station in the nation’s capital produce more content?
– WGMS was a great station, well-liked. The demographics are just wrong.
– Just listen to the signoff. It’s heartbreaking, even as they spin it as a good day for classical music because it gets a more powerful signal and so forth.
The demographics are the killer. I’m a good little capitalist and all, but seeing another demonstration that advertisers (and therefore programmers) don’t care about you when your brand loyalties are established bodes ill for everyone’s future, doesn’t it?
Hope I die before I get old, I suppose. Oh wait — the three classic rock stations don’t play that song anymore. Too old.