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for January 14, 2005

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Who Killed WHFS?
by Sean Carolan

According to this article at FMQB, Washington DC's WHFS ended a long tradition as a flagship alternative station at noon Tuesday (1/12). With no warning save for the title of what was to be their final song - Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye" - the station switched to Spanish-language broadcasting. The local media reported that the change was a shock to both employees and longtime listeners.
Ultimately, however, it's best described as a mercy killing.
WHFS had switched heavily to pop-alternative - which is an oxymoron that can easily, and somewhat cathartically, be given the label "mall-ternative". Unfortunately, the audience that format targets has switched to the next new thing, leaving 'HFS to lose a critical round of the broadcasting equivalent of musical chairs. According to one longtime listener, the last song they played was probably the hippest thing on the station in a year and a half. One other indicator of lameness: their morning guys, The Sports Addicts, were fairly popular, but their presence didn't exactly connote "commitment to music" in 'HFS's programming mix.
So: Longtime listeners gave up on them, and new listeners moved on to the next new thing. Their corporate programmers, who are supposed to know a thing or two about radio, blew it. They squandered a thirty-plus year legacy to the point where nobody cared about the station's demise except the people who'd idolized the station in years past and had, mercifully, moved out of range years ago, thus sparing themselves a direct witness to the sad decay of a once maverick station.
Couple that with their bottom-line focused ownership, where failure to perform resulted in complete eradication rather than a good solid analysis of what was right before it went so wrong in the latest ratings, with no commitment to keeping the format viable, and you've got a dead station walking.
There's been a lot of mourning over the station's loss, but frankly, it was gone years ago. It had been traded between a succession of corporate owners, culminating in the one that finally pulled its plug, Viacom.
And so, a station that had, in its heyday, achieved critical and commercial success on its own terms, came to a lonely end. Tuesday at noon marked nothing more than the moment when its body stopped twitching.

©2005 Sean Carolan

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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