Washington, D.C.'s Last Classical Radio Station Looks Set to Switch to Sports Talk | Playbill

Classic Arts News Washington, D.C.'s Last Classical Radio Station Looks Set to Switch to Sports Talk
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has reached a preliminary agreement to buy classical music station WGMS-FM, reports The Washington Post. The deal would widen his growing sports-talk radio empire and almost certainly herald the demise of the area's only classical radio outlet.
A price, reportedly very favorable to the sellers, has been agreed upon between Snyder and the owner of WGMS, Bonneville International Corp.; the deal may be completed within a few days, according to the Post.

Snyder formed Red Zebra Broadcasting early this year; it has purchased radio stations in the mid-Atlantic region for sports programming and live broadcasts of Redskins games. His three flagship stations in the Washington area (known as Triple X ESPN Radio) have weak signals and are sometimes plagued with static, writes the Post.

The paper quotes Bennett Zier, head of Red Zebra, as saying, "Red Zebra is in the buying business. We're looking at several acquisitions now ... We have nothing to formally announce yet."

The purchase of WGMS, which broadcasts at 103.9 and 104.1 FM, won't fully solve Red Zebra's local reception problems; the station reportedly has poor coverage in various parts of the metro Washington area. But in any event, the Post quotes one executive as saying that the two frequencies "are dramatically better than what they have now."

Radio stations in Washington and nationally have drastically reduced classical music over the last decade; the number of commercial classical stations in the US has dropped from 40 in 1998 to 28 last year. WETA (90.9 FM) phased it out in early 2005, and now often duplicates NPR programming also heard on WAMU (88.5 FM).

Classical music is reportedly unappealing to advertisers because it can't be broken into bite-size chunks to accommodate frequent commercial breaks. However, according to the Post, WGMS has been profitable; in 2005, it generated $9.7 million in advertising revenue and attracted an average of 3.8% of all Washington area listeners during the summer quarter.

On his blog, New Yorker critic Alex Ross writes that "For some time, WGMS, the 'good music station,' hasn't been very good at what it does, focusing on a limited repertory and indulging in a lot of inane chatter. Still, it was the last thing left, WETA having converted to talk last year. I grew up listening to WGMS, back when the programming was at a far superior level (there was a great weekly show by the late Paul Hume). It's sad to see this happen, although with so many alternatives available on Internet and satellite radio it's hardly the end of the world."

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