The state of paid media, 2019

Here are the things that can be supported by advertising …

Traditional TV networks, which continue to produce high-budget shows even as ratings are a small fraction of what they were.

Cable/other TV channels, which produce high-budget shows even as ratings were never that great in the first place.

PlutoTV, which must be watched by at least 10s of people. (Seriously — it’s utterly impossible to get schedules, so who watches unless they’ve simply exhausted every other possibility?)

Some YouTube channels

Terrestrial radio

Here are the things that can be supported by a mix of advertising and subscriptions …

Satellite radio

ESPN

The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post

The New York Times

Here are the things that can be supported by subscriptions only …

Consumer Reports (phew!)

Netflix and its gazillions of original shows

Hulu’s original shows

HBO

Here are the things that no one has figured out how to support …

Newspapers

Magazines

R.I.P., XM

On the day the Justice League said XM could merge with Sirius, we let our subscription lapse. I loved it, really, but we just weren’t listening to it enough to justify the money.

Now if someone can convince me that Pandora or Last.fm is worth another shot …

(Still a Launch subscriber, but I might let that go soon.)

Overheard on Dylan’s radio show

We’re debating whether to keep our XM subscription. A couple of local radio stations have responded to the satellite challenge with outstanding new formats, and we’ve had trouble picking up the signal in the living room since remodeling.

So I’m checking out the online version this morning, and I’ve finally had a chance to listen to Bob Dylan’s show. It’s wild stuff. Snippets of obscure songs and Dylan striking a hipster comedian pose, sneaking in little jokes like this …

“A lot of people don’t celebrate Christmas, like my friend Dexter Quinn. You know his favorite Christmas movie? Coincidence on 34th Street.”

Not an original joke, but hearing Dylan tell it before seguing into a musing on how we “don’t heard much about myrrh these days” is a unique experience.

This is why XM needs to make its original shows available on demand online for subscribers. Renewing our subscription would be a no-brainer if they did that.

My new presets

Following up on last night’s post, I found time today (in other words, was stuck at enough traffic lights) to redo my car radio presets.

But first, a quick note on 96Rock, which I mentioned in passing and which is apparently still on Devil MacDawg’s presets despite the name change and format tweaking — while I was in high school, 96Rock started an ad campaign noting a major change coming up at noon Sunday. I happened to be at a chess tournament in Atlanta, and I was dispatched to a car to listen to the announcement. It sounded just like a typical format change — a surreal sound, like a commercial but longer and without any music. Then they revealed the new direction, playing some big-band music. I recall stomping with anger. How DARE they take away my music from me!!

Then … “APRIL FOOL!!!!!!”

Yeah, they got me good.

On to the post …

What’s happened to a lot of these stations is a natural transformation. The oldies stations are no longer quite as old. As Lenny once said, “How about some NEW oldies, geniuses??!!”

So as I list these, I’ll explain what they are now and what they used to be …

FM, BAND 1

1. WINC, 92.5 “Wink FM.” Supposedly “hot adult contemporary,” which means they play new-ish stuff — minus hip-hop and hard rock — for the most part. They’re not the old-school AC, which would never dream of playing Chris Daughtry or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I think they don’t fit so easily in the “Hot AC” format, in part because they’re not really in the Washington market. They’re way up in the mountains, and they have much more of a local feel. They remind me of my local AM music station growing up in a Southern college town — mostly Top 40, but a little eclectic at times, with local news mixed in. They’re owned by a small local chain (Mid-Atlantic), and yes, it makes a difference.

2. WARW, 94.7 “The Globe.” The station that prompted last night’s post. It had been getting a little newer, year by year, inching into the ’80s and perhaps into the ’90s, and it already had two former WHFS DJs. So the change in format was a natural progression. I can verify from listening today that they do indeed play the Stones and Zeppelin. And Weezer, which I think is new with this format. And Gnarls Barkley, which threw me for a loop. I can just imagine someone who’s been out of town returning today, flipping on the local classic rock station and going, “What the … Gnarls Barkley??” In their DJ-free introductory week, they’ve playing a lot of variety but haven’t worked out the kinks. When I went into Target, they were playing KT Tunstall’s Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. Thirty minutes later, back in the car — Suddenly I See. Yep, another KT Tunstall song. I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t plugged in my iPod.

3. WWDC, 101.1 “DC101.” DCRTV puts it best — they play whatever “rock” is in vogue at the moment. In the ’90s, they veered from “classic” to “alternative,” prompting WHFS ads chortling that their format prompted “101 imitators.” Now WHFS is gone, and DC101 is still going strong with a mix of various rock streams. Howard Stern started here — today’s mildly outrageous morning host is Elliot in the Morning, who’s occasionally juvenile but seems to be a genuinely good guy, chatting up D.C. United and Washington Capitals players and doing tons of charity work.

4. WBIG, 100.3, “Big 100.3.” The theme of edging ahead decade by decade continues. They were an oldies station for ages, playing sunny surf-pop and the Beatles. By my count, they’ve since done one tweaking (now adding the ’70s!) and one re-branding. Now they’re classified “classic rock,” but they’re also the area’s most reliable source of what Jason calls “mellow gold.” Checking out their current “Last 10” — conveniently on their site — they have Seals & Croft, plus Pilot’s Magic, along with the expected Who and Zeppelin. The oldies format is still on their secondary stream on HD Radio.

5. WRQX, 107.3, “Mix 107.3.” Hot AC, but as DCRTV points out, they play much more “modern rock.” They did some sort of stunt in which morning host Jack Diamond supposedly brought in his iPod to protest the narrow scope of music they were playing. Weird way to announce that you’re expanding the format. The “mix” generally isn’t bad, and the DJs are genial. They had direct competition from Z104 for a while, but read on to see what became of that.

6. WBQB, 101.5, “Magic 101.5.” Another local from the outer periphery of the suburbs — in this case, Fredericksburg. Supposedly Hot AC, though the site says it’s a “family-friendly mix of today’s hottest songs, with great ’80s retro.” Not settled on this one, and the signal isn’t strong.

FM, BAND 2

1. WAMU, 88.5, NPR. With WETA abruptly going from all-talk to all-classical, this is now the main source for all the NPR favorites, plus a handful of locally produced shows. They’re also devoted to bluegrass.

2. WETA, 90.9, classical/NPR. A public broadcasting giant that lurched violently from mostly classical to all-talk and now over to all-classical, excluding a simulcast of NewsHour with Jim Lehrer from its TV sibling.

3. WWXT, 94.3, sports talk. So Redskins owner Dan Snyder bought some local Spanish stations and tried to turn them into a sports network so he could own the stations on which the Redskins are broadcast. But they were really weak signals, and I don’t get this one with enough frequency (ouch … sorry) to keep it here. Consider this slot open.

4. WXGG, 104.1, rock mix. This is the new “George” station, replacing classical station WGMS as of Jan. 22. WGMS had just moved there two years earlier from another frequency, bumping out likable modern mix/AC Z104.

5. WASH, 97.1, soft rock. Excuse me … adult contemporary.

6. WWRT, 104.9, classic rock. But it doesn’t come in very well.

Currently off my FM bands

– 97.9, 98Rock from Baltimore. Hard rock. Had a great morning show in Kirk, Mark and Lopez until Lopez died after a long, poignant battle with cancer that had a lot of people rooting for him. Kirk and Mark have just moved to what passes for WHFS these days, as you can see on their non-functional Web site. (Supposedly, the old alt-rock WHFS format still lives on a second stream. Still a shadow of its old glory.)

AM BAND

1. WTEM 980, sports talk. Formerly Tony Kornheiser’s home, and formerly ESPN Radio until Snyder snatched it away. Not really sure what they play now. I don’t listen to AM much.

2. WMAL 630, talk. No idea why I have this on the presets — it’s your typical right-wing babble, though it has former Gopher-turned-congressman Fred Grandy.

3. WXTR 730, sports talk. The AM version of Snyder’s mini-empire, which means I’ll get rid of the FM version if I can trust this signal. Still, the only sports talk show I like is Mike & Mike in the Morning, which I watch on ESPN2.

4. WMET 1160, world talk. Or something like that. They have D.C. United games, so on the rare occasion I’m in the car during one of those, I can listen.

5. WTWP 1500, talk. Washington Post Radio. Never listened to it, but figure I should give it a try one day. They got a big shot in the arm recently — Kornheiser is going back to radio, and they convinced him to land here. You’d think that’d be a no-brainer since he supposedly still works at the Post and all, but it wasn’t. Some people apparently like him, though I’m just waiting for Michael Wilbon to explode one day on PTI and call him an ignorant slut. Must be nice to do absolutely no research on sports and be considered a top-drawer sports talk host.

6. WTOP 820, news. Ratings juggernaut despite flipping around frequencies. Traffic and weather on the eights, which is essential for commuting even though afternoon traffic institution Bob Marbourg seems to love the words “Quantico” and “Occoquan” too much to give anything related to Tysons Corner. Seriously — they’re masters of the craft.

The most recent Arbitron ratings from DCRTV will show you that WTOP is the only popular station on my presets (note that WGMS was still classical at this point):

1) WMMJ, 2) WHUR, 3) WPGC-FM, 4) WTOP, 5) WASH, 6) WKYS, 7) WMZQ and WIHT, 9) WMAL, 10) WJZW, 11) WGMS, 12) WWDC, 13) WLZL and WBIG, 15) WRQX, 16) WJFK-FM, 17) WARW, 18) WAVA, 19) WTEM, 20) WFRE and WWXX, 22) WPGC-AM, 23) WFLS and WTNT and WTWP, 26) WYCB and WBQB.

At last, a format change I like

With the dust still settling from a major radio shakeup 10 days ago, Washington radio saw another format change today. But this was more palatable, and it seems the only people fired were the horrible morning crew.

Classic Rock 94.7 WARW (“The Arrow”) is now “94.7 The Globe.” They’re hawking some sort of environmentally conscious stuff along with the basic change in tunes, and they’re issuing a 12-part proclamation of their new direction.

I don’t know about the environmental stuff — Marc Fisher raises some skepticism — but the rest of it isn’t b.s. For instance, #4 (DeeJays know the music) is absolutely true, mostly because they’re keeping D.C. radio institutions Weasel and Cerphe.

Fisher says “Bye Bye Classic Rock,” but that seems overstated. DCRTV, our local media blog that clocks in at roughly 80-90 percent reliability, says 94.7 will still play the Stones, the Beatles and all the great old stuff. (If you get lost with all this stuff, check DCRTV’s excellent station guide, which is steeped in area history.)

So we’re keeping a likable classic rock station, losing the morning show, keeping the great DJs and adding some newer music. It’s basically like the rock station you grew up with, except that
the playlist won’t be stuck in 1985. (Woo hoo hoo!)

(Hmmmm … now that I check, the radio station I grew up with has undergone a few changes itself. Atlanta’s legendary 96Rock is now “Project 9-6-1,” playing Stone Temple Pilots and Evanescence. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve never done drugs in my life, but I’d hate to see America deprived of all the great stoner rock stations pumping out a steady diet of Floyd and Zeppelin to aging potheads and a new generation of kids rebelling against emo and R&B. And they’d been 96Rock for 32 years.)

In a sense, this is a hybrid of two great old Washington radio stations — classic rock WARW and alternative legend WHFS. The latter is especially important to me. I first heard WHFS on one of my long vacation drives in the early ’90s, when I was stunned to hear XTC while flipping around the dial. Every time I was near Washington, I’d make an effort to pick it up. My buddy J.P. and I listened to it on the night the Cheers finale was on — Kath, the sexy-sounding DJ, kept complaining that no one was listening because everyone was glued to the TV. But by the time I moved here in 1998, the skate-punks had taken over. The golden age of alternative music was dying, and WHFS made especially poor programming decisions. When it flipped to Spanish in 2005, it was mourned — and it shot up the ratings.

Cerphe and Weasel had long since bailed, leaving WHFS to go through a few more weird contortions as a Baltimore talk station that dabbled in music until … well, this week, apparently. (96Rock and WHFS are apparently preserving their famous formats on their secondary digital streams.)

I’ve seen a few other disappointing format changes since moving here, some lovingly compiled here. I was especially saddened by the loss of the “Jammin’ Oldies” station, but I’m apparently the only person who’ll listen to Motown, Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire these days. And we’ve seen Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff, the great old footballers who bicker amiably through Redskins games, lose their play-by-play guy (Frank Herzog) and get booted to a trio of stations owned by Redskins commander-in-chief Dan Snyder. Three stations, and I can’t pick them up in my house. Great job, Dan.

At last, I feel like a winner here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fix my presets.

What we miss as radio dies

Marc Fisher is an erratic Washington Post columnist, clearly out of his element when he starts talking about things beyond his immediate sphere of knowledge (soccer, the Virginia suburbs, etc.). But at his best, he’s very good. And he’s best when writing about radio, which he did in this week’s Post Magazine, taking us behind the scenes of a focus group.

It’s mildly depressing, yes, to see that actual human beings can’t stand Motown, and that’s why Big 100.3 no longer plays it. You may find yourself shifting blame from faceless radio programmers and big companies to your fellow human being and his tin ear.

Highly recommended read.

The timing, as it turns out, was particularly interesting. One day later, which would be today, the 11th-ranked radio station in Washington flipped formats to the “George” format — ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, whatever.

Here are the odd aspects of the deal:

– A radio station chain (Bonneville) is cooperating with a public-radio giant (WETA). Bonneville is basically handing over its music library, and there will be more cooperation down the road.

– WETA is junking a talk format (one or two local shows, lots of NPR/PRI syndication, BBC, etc.) that it picked up only a couple of years ago, somewhat controversially.

– Have we mentioned that the format in question here is classical?

Here are the sad aspects of the deal:

– The station that flipped, WGMS, has been broadcasting classical music for nearly 60 years.

– WETA is flipping from one extreme to another. They’ve gone from classical with a little talk to all-talk to all-classical, aside from hourly NPR news bulletins and a one-hour simulcast of NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, which is produced nearby. (I once interviewed at NewsHour.) The reactions at WETA’s blog hint at the resulting mess — some people are thrilled that WETA is back and claim WGMS never played their favorites, but a lot of people don’t like being jerked around. And WETA won’t even play the NPR standards like All Things Considered and Prairie Home Companion — though the folks at WAMU are surely thrilled to be Washington’s only over-the-air source of such programming. (To folks who’ll miss all that programming — get an iPod. NPR and PRI do great podcasts.)

– For amusement, read about WETA’s decision to flip two years ago, then read today’s press release.

– We’ve had WGMS on the radio in the baby’s room. It’s a soothing, friendly presence — the music, the announcers, the ads for things like investing in gold. There’s an atmosphere to it you just don’t get on faceless XM. (And we only have one XM receiver, which we’re not lugging into the baby’s room.) I didn’t just listen to it because it’s classical. Even as a music major, I think classical these days is basically background music. I listened to it because it’s local, friendly classical. A couple of commenters on WETA’s blog make the same point — they’ll miss the WGMS announcers.

– Twelve staffers — many of them Washington radio institutions — are in limbo, though they will have opportunities to interview at Bonneville. (To do what? It’s hard to picture the same soothing voices that introduced Bach chattering between cuts from Seal and Poison, the artists Mrs. MMM heard back-to-back as she listened in shock this afternoon.) And what happens to the folks who produced WETA’s news program, Intersection? And shouldn’t a powerful public radio station in the nation’s capital produce more content?

– WGMS was a great station, well-liked. The demographics are just wrong.

– Just listen to the signoff. It’s heartbreaking, even as they spin it as a good day for classical music because it gets a more powerful signal and so forth.

The demographics are the killer. I’m a good little capitalist and all, but seeing another demonstration that advertisers (and therefore programmers) don’t care about you when your brand loyalties are established bodes ill for everyone’s future, doesn’t it?

Hope I die before I get old, I suppose. Oh wait — the three classic rock stations don’t play that song anymore. Too old.