DISK JOCKEY Johnny Dark, an institution on Baltimore radio for more than 30 years, got his pink slip yesterday from WCAO Radio 60 as the station prepared to switch from country music to an all-gospel format Monday morning.
Today was Dark's last day on the air.
The changeover, dictated by fading ratings, according to station officials, has also cashiered on-air personalities Ron Matz, R.C. Allen, Brenda Bissett, Tom Conroy and Danny Reese.
They will finish their work for the station with their final shows today or this weekend.
Sports commentator Bob Bartl will continue to do some on-air sports programming, but his full-time position has been scrapped.
Carole Brown, the station's human resources director, said the format change will not affect WCAO's sister station, WXYV-FM (V-103), which now has an "urban contemporary" format.
WCAO was one of Baltimore's premier AM rock 'n' roll stations during the 1950s and 1960s. Its format changed to "adult contemporary" in the late 1960s, but as ratings sagged, the station changed to a country format in 1982.
The new 24-hour gospel format will begin at 5 a.m. Monday.
"The ratings were just not there" to continue with the all-country programming, Brown said. In its most recent ratings "book," WCAO had fallen to a 1 percent share of the Baltimore listening audience.
"With the new programming, it's going to be a lot better combination to sell to advertisers," Brown said. "We're going to be able to reach an audience that ties in with our FM audience, and that puts us in a stronger position."
The FM station's urban contemporary format reaches mostly black listeners, Brown said. And while people who listen to gospel music don't necessarily also listen to urban contemporary, the two formats will compliment each other, "so advertisers will have a tremendous advantage trying to reach that group of people."
Station personnel were doing their best today to cope with the changes, which were announced to them yesterday afternoon.
"It's rough," Brown said. "People had to have a sense that something had to happen because of the . . . ratings and the economics of this business."
"Still, you're surprised, because once you hear something, all of a sudden it hits and you're shocked. But they've all handled it beautifully. They're all pros and we're very proud of them," Brown said.
All the current on-air personalities have been offered a chance to apply for positions under the new gospel format, Brown said, but none have yet responded. "It's certainly different, but we want them to consider it if they're interested," she said.
Not all the talent has been hired as yet for the new programming, Brown said. "Anyone interested in employment in the new format should contact Roy Sampson," V103's program director, she said.