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Don't change that dial

August 21, 2005|By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WPPT was WSRT, which was rock adult contemporary after it was classic rock, but before it was adult top 40.

WICL was WKMZ playing classic rock but now plays music from the '60s and '70s.

WWEG was oldies when it was WARX, but now it's new with classic hits.

WDHC was at 93.5, but now it's 92.9. Don't worry. It's still country and it's clearer.

Got it?

Several Tri-State area FM and AM stations have changed call signs, formats and even dial position in the last couple of years in pursuit of more listeners, more advertising dollars, a clearer signal or to fill a niche in the market.

The changes can be a dizzying alphabet soup to some listeners.

Others, though, aren't fazed by the changes because they haven't affected their favorite station or they just go with the flow, hitting the scan button to find the format of their desire.

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Aaron McCarter has certain stations programmed into his car radio for the commute to and from his job as a safety investigator for Independence Air at Washington Dulles International Airport, but his finger finds the scan button often.

"I'm a scanner. I'm a channel changer," said McCarter, 35, of Hagerstown. "I have preset stations in there, but as soon as commercials come over or I zone out," he scans for better music.

Radio contests don't keep him tuned into a station, McCarter said.

"I'm into content, music, good talk radio," whether it's classic rock, rock 'n' roll, classical music or National Public Radio.

Andy Johnson, 21, of Hagers-town, listens mainly to WAYZ-FM 104.7 and WQCM-FM 94.3 for country and rock 'n' roll.

He used to listen to another local station, too, but quit recently when its format changed.

"I think it's stupid. Instead of changing around, add more stations," said Johnson, adding when formats change, people might stop listening.

Or they might start.

"My mom used to listen to 106.9 because it was the oldies. I got into her car one day and noticed (the format change)," said Andrea Turner, 36, of Boonsboro.

WARX-FM 106.9 had become WWEG-FM with classic hits and became a new favorite of Turner's.

These days people listen to an average of five stations in a week, so radio stations work to become listeners' first preference, said Rich Bateman, general manager for Main Line Broadcasting.

Main Line, which bought Dame Broadcasting on Aug. 1 and owns five local radio stations, tries to retain listeners by providing local news, weather and traffic; limiting commercials to 10 an hour; playing songs in the right rotation; using nicknames like WQCM The Rock to build name recognition; and having on-air personalities with longevity such as Mix 95's Rick Alexander and Lisa Harding, Bateman said.

It's important to have a competitive edge in an industry in which 50 percent of people with Internet access have at least tried Internet radio, according to Bateman.

He envisions Main Line streaming its programming online one day because that is close to becoming an expectation of listeners.




Change works

For those listening to local radio, there have been several changes to keep up with.

Several format changes occurred early this year after Nassau Broadcasting bought two local stations from Manning Broadcasting and changed the format of a long-standing FM oldies station, said Yogi Yoder, general manager of Prettyman Broadcasting based in Martinsburg, W.Va.

In late February, when Nassau changed WARX-FM 106.9, playing oldies, to WWEG-FM 106.9, playing classic hits, and Verstandig Broadcasting changed 101.5 from top 40 to classic rock, that put two additional classic rock stations in the market, Yoder said.

"That was a bunch of people fighting for the same audience," Yoder said.

Since oldies music has traditionally had a strong listenership in the area, Prettyman officials saw it as an opportunity to gain that audience in April by changing WKMZ-FM 95.9 classic rock to WICL-FM 95.9 playing top 40 from the '60s and '70s, Yoder said.

The changes were among five FM radio stations that switched formats within about five weeks, Yoder said.

"We heard from listeners. I'm sure all the radio stations heard from their listeners. The great thing about radio is it's a passionate thing. Your favorite radio station is your favorite radio station," Yoder said.

"Radio is constantly evolving. We're always trying to do the next thing," Yoder said. "As soon as a radio station stands still and doesn't continue to evolve, it's going to die."

Within two weeks, WICL-FM 95.9 will be adding local news, Yoder said, while the local news content at sister station WLTF-FM 97.5 will increase.




'Chasing the money'

Nassau Broadcasting changed 106.9 from oldies to classic hits such as the Eagles, the Doors and Fleetwood Mac, said Randy James, operations and programming director for Nassau Broadcasting Maryland, after doing studies and seeing how well the format worked at other company stations in Allentown, Pa.; Portland, Maine; and New Jersey.

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