WGMS, Washington’s Classical Station (the moniker, insinuating “primary” or “first”, became true by default when WETA abandoned their mission and classical music last year), will soon send its last bit of classical music over the Washington region airwaves. The station, owned by the Bonneville Inc. is about to be sold to Red Skins owner Dan Snyder who has plans to convert it into one of his “Red Zebra” Redskins sports stations. (If you didn’t have much sympathy for Snyder to begin with, add to his list of achievements that he took Classical Music off the air in Washington.)
WGMS, no doubt, was not the ideal classical radio station. Far from it. They played the seemingly same music up and down the “greatest Hits” list; there was rarely an intriguing surprise; the commercials were beyond annoying. It was “Classical Music for Dummies” – but at least it was classical music. And it was a successful, profitable (!), classical radio station. (Having learned about the difficulties that go into assessing a classical station’s listenership, I have gained much respect for the efforts – if not always the results – of stations like WGMS.)
After being downgraded from the stronger 103.5 signal (now broadcasting the higher revenue Bonneville’s WTOP), WGMS was to address the holes of its coverage (ironically you couldn’t receive the WGMS signal at the WGMS station itself) with a booster. Moreover, WGMS was working on a very exciting project that would have had any Ionarts reader’s ears perk up: A Digital Radio Channel – traveling on the 103.5 frequency together with the digital “twin” signal of WTOP – was being worked on. Rather than simply copying WGMS’ program and spewing it out in a digital format (which means CD quality sound at the receiver’s end, among other benefits), it was to be an entirely different program. Under the working title “Virtuoso”, it was to be a “hard-core” classical channel – on the air as soon as February or March. Imagine late Beethoven String Quartets. Complete Bruckner Symphonies. Music by living composers, like Paul Moravec.
Paul Fahri, Redskins Owner Set to Buy Last Classical Station (Washington Post, December 8)
Alex Ross, WGMS says goodbye to good music (The Rest Is Noise, December 8)
David Hughes offers continuous coverage and updates on DCRTV.com
Under their current general manager Dan DeVany, WETA is not likely to go back to classical music because it would be tantamount to admitting complete failure of the move that he fought so hard for. WETA’s ratings are down, since; as are individual contributions. The minority audience share has, to my knowledge, not gone up… although it was a large part of the justification for the switch. (Unfortunately Mr. DeVany seems to see classical music through a racial prism.) This leaves Baltimore's WBJC as the entire Washington/Baltimore region’s classical music station. Unless you live in Silver Spring or Bethesda or have a high quality receiver and a huge roof-antenna, however, you won’t reap those benefits.
P.S. Good news for entrepreneurs? If Dan Snyder gets rid of the classical format, Bonneville is allegedly offering to donate the WGMS music library to any station that will preserve the format in the DC market.