The move that we had been waiting for and expecting has finally commenced: WGMS will change its call letters and format - and be our classical station no more. A few minutes ago WGMS broadcast its last bit of classical music (the final chorus of Bach's St. Matthew Passion) and bid its listenership goodbye. After over 30 years of being the most listened-to classical radio station in America (as percentage of market) and the most profitable classical music radio station every of the last six years, Bonneville has decided that, after a bungled sale-attempt to Dan Snyder’s Red Zebra network, that WGMS had no future as a classical station.
WETA is able to use this opportunity to save face and take over classical music – starting at 8PM tonight. They will receive WGMS’ music library, their program director (and presumably other staff, too), its call letters, and on-air support from WTOP and whichever station will transmit on 104.1 – just as WETA (now WGMS) will promote Bonneville’s stations. Read more in the Washington Post on this.
Regrettable as this move may be, it makes sense for everyone involved. After once putting WGMS on the market, advertisers were not likely going to return and commit to an uncertain future – making the future financial success of WGMS less likely. Nor is classical music a format with a great commercial future to begin with, even if this particular station was doing extraordinarily well. Ensuring that WETA will take over the classical format will avert at least some of the negative publicity that Bonneville does not want (but was bound to get for abandoning a profitable classical music station). For WETA it makes sense, because their move to all-talk had not resulted in any of the hoped benefits that the board and GM had promised – but plenty anger among long-time contributors and public figures in Washington. For the consumer, finally, the move should be appreciated because WETA will be able to offer slightly fewer commercials (even if they are not called “commercials” on public radio), a much stronger signal, and slightly more varied and ambitious programming.