FREDERICK, Md. - On the morning of Feb. 16, radio station WJTM broadcast its usual fare of Christian preaching and prayer. But that afternoon, the programming changed to something longtime listeners abhorred.
An anthropologist spoke approvingly of casual sex. A "gay historian" fielded calls on same-sex marriage. National Public Radio had arrived. WJTM, a 4,000-watt station reaching 1.2 million listeners on the western outskirts of Baltimore and Washington, had been taken over by radio station WYPR, a Baltimore-based NPR-affiliate.
The change, which has been challenged by two congressmen and dozens of listeners, reflects a battle being waged across the country for ears at the lower end of the radio dial. NPR and religious broadcasters, some of whom believe NPR promotes a liberal agenda, are competitors for the relatively small number of noncommercial FM frequencies between 88.1 and 91.9 megahertz. College radio stations, the other sizable group of not-for-profit broadcasters, typically lack funds to compete aggressively for licenses.