Move over Michael Jackson. Garth Brooks, the heartthrob of country music, is replacing the King of Pop at Annapolis' only black radio station.
In another sign of the growing popularity of country music, WANN is dropping its mix of gospel, rhythm and blues, and public affairs programming for a mainstream country format Nov. 2.
The AM station is adopting a new slogan, "Bay Country 1190," to attract more listeners with the chart-climbing country songs that have become hits with suburbanites. But the switch has left many Annapolitans with achy, breaky hearts.
"You're kidding," said Tony Spencer, president of Annapolis' Black Firefighters Association and a part-time gospel singer himself. "I think that's a big mistake. I like country music, too, but I think they should just add to it, not completely change it."
Robert Z. Goldberg, vice president of sales for WANN, said changes in the market have forced the station to stop playing the black-oriented music that it's been known for since 1948. The station will continue to air public service announcements and cover Annapolis and county news.
"This is a business decision that's based on the marketplace and changes in the demography of this trading area," he said.
When Morris H. Blum founded WANN radio in 1947, he created a mix of programming that included news, sports and the big band sounds of Glenn Miller. The slogan in those days was "Everything from Bach to bebop."
A year later, he changed the format to gospel and reached out to the city's black community with offers of employment. WANN prospered, reaching pockets of black listeners elsewhere in Maryland, Washington, Virginia and Delaware, and eventually expanded from 10,000 to 50,000 watts. The station transmits its signal to five states.
An active supporter of the civil rights movement, Mr. Blum never shrank from airing controversial subjects. Now 83, he is still active in the station's day-to-day operation as president and general manager.
WANN has been "an institution" with Annapolis' black community, said Darius Stanton, who remembers listening to the popular disc jockey Charles Walker "Hoppy" Adams Jr. The dean of black disc jockeys in the region, Hoppy Adams played dance parties and summer concerts throughout the East Coast.
"I grew up on Hoppy Adams," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who used to attend dance parties at Carr's Beach Club, now an upscale development called Chesapeake Harbour. For years, Mr. Snowden said, the radio station provided a "very important and vital link to the African- American community."
Although the station has remained one of the more influential in the region because of its long history and location in the state capital, WANN has faced increasing competition from other urban contemporary and rap stations.
The move to country music follows recent market trends. Country is the fastest-growing form of music in the nation, according to industry analysts. Sales of the latest hits of artists such as Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd and Randy Travis soared by nearly a third of a billion dollars in the last year.
But while the station will attract a new group of Billy Ray Cyrus fans, it may lose many of its old listeners.
"Sometimes when I'm sitting around the house, I may want to hear some gospel," said Alderman Samuel Gilmer, who remembers the station's early days.
Asked whether he would continue to tune in, Mr. Gilmer said, "I don't think so. I don't like country music, really."