WHFS-FM, the Washington area radio station that was a pioneering purveyor of alternative rock to generations of young music fans, did a programming U-turn yesterday by ditching the genre for a Spanish-language, pop-music format that transforms it into the largest Spanish-language station on the local dial.
I don’t know what to say.
Just like that, my radio station of choice when I was younger goes off the air.
WHFS has had a long history and has changed from a free-form throw it against the wall and see if it sticks format to a much more corporate and competitive format. They got picked up by Infinity Broadcasting somewhere along the way. Even when they had to change to the Clear Channel format to stay competitive, music director Pat Ferrise who has always had an ear for hits has kept things as fresh as possible in the monotinous neometal everything-sounds-the-same world of modern rock.
I mean honestly, the only place I’ve ever heard anything from The Streets on mainstream radio in the US is when Pat played it during a segment on the latest HFS morning show. Speaking of the morning show, I used to listen to Aq and Kath and then later Lou Brutus. Every once in awhile on weekends I’d catch some random up and coming electronica on Trancemissions.
Ever since I could remember, HFS has been the underdog station. They were always a little smaller and a little less popular than DC101, the “big” rock station in town. I’ve still got the ticket stubs to HFSTivals of years past that I camped out for, back when it was the big show of the summer. I didn’t realize that their numbers were so bad that it required a complete 180 degree format switch.
It’s not that HFS didn’t suck. Of course they did. Radio in general in this city (and from what I can tell nationally) sucks. Stations must stick to an extremely tight playlist aimed specifically at their demographic, and under no circumstances shall they deviate at all. You can figure out the programming on any station in the DC area by listening to it for 20 minutes or so.
Then there’s the Clear Channel factor. They own the “big” rock station, DC101, which sucks too. Not that I don’t listen to Elliot from time to time. But their programming tends to suck just about as much as any major radio station in the area.
The sad thing is that this format change happened yesterday at noon and I only realized it because it was front page news on the Post. Why’s that? Because I tend not to listen to commercial radio much anymore. I’ve switched from well-tuned morning shows aimed directly at my demographic to listening to WAMU, my local NPR station and CDs while on my way to and from work. I tend to listen to Morning Edition on my commute in and The World or All Things Considered on my way home. I usually listen to CDs or listen to the radio in the mid-afternoon if I’m out and about. Of course that’s contingent on finding a song that doesn’t suck that I haven’t heard a million times.
I guess that there are a couple of things to be learned from this format change:
- “Independent” (and by independent I mean non-Clear Channel) radio is dying.
- Spanish pop is The Next Big Thing. 99.1 El Zol is nudged between two big CC stations: 98.7 WMZQ and “Hot” 99.5. That’s prime time dial space in the DC area.
- Radio conglomerates like Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting will do anything it takes to make a buck and exploit untapped markets.
I’ll stop rambling now. Now I understand what my father must have felt like when Eddie Gallagher and WWDC/WGAY AM1260 was replaced by “business talk” and later “sports talk” 1260.
I’ll probably point my HFS button on my car stereo to WRNR, a low powered station with awesome eclectic programming run by some of the old old school WHFS staff. WHFS, may you rest in peace.