WITH's nostalgia is a thing of the past

Jim Ward

January 26, 1993|By Jim Ward

IT'S been a few weeks since we were all informed about the sale of WITH (AM-1230), the only radio station in Baltimore serving the 45-plus public with music and personalities from the great years of Baltimore past.

I've received more than 300 letters from listeners, all dismayed by the news. And I've held the hands of about 20 employees fearful for their jobs.

I've even received angry threats from listeners under the wrong impression I had something to do with the sale to a radio network for children.

I had nothing to do with the decision to sell WITH. In fact, along with key personnel here, I tried to buy the station when the owner announced it was for sale.

I was a quarter of a million dollars short of the winner, Capitol Kids Radio.

Why doesn't another station pick us up? I've talked with most of the AM owners around town. I offered a complete turn-key operation: clients, staff and listeners ready to make a new opportunity grow. Nothing came of it.

On the AM band, WCAO says it is dedicated to "Heaven 600," now a leader in the religious community. WWIN-AM (1400) says the same thing: Religion is the station's ticket to profits, and it matches well with WWIN's urban FM format.

WHLP (1360) just began an experiment as a full-time help-wanted station, while WJFK (1300), the former WFBR, is banking on Howard Stern and company. WCBM's owner has a personal relationship with his talk hosts and can't bring himself to fire them. Of course, WBAL (1090) did not take me seriously when I called and inquired about replacing news/talk with our nostalgia.

So what about the FM stations in Baltimore? Most are mired in debt created in the '80s buying frenzy. These stations couldn't afford a format that yields perhaps $1 million in revenue annually, when perhaps $6 million is required to break even.

While we know there is an audience for nostalgic music, ad agencies have ignored us. If a business does well with the age group we reach, an advertising agency, hoping for a lucrative new client, designs expensive strategies to expand the market to younger consumers.

Example: If you wanted to reach the 45-plus audience, you wouldn't have to spend a lot of the client's money: a few inexpensive commercials on WITH and maybe an ad or two in Senior Digest. No large media budget, and, significantly, no large commission checks are required.

Do more mature listeners really matter? It was this audience that brought back announcers like Alan Field, Ken Jackson, Wayne Gruen and Fred Robinson. The desire to hear old favorites from the early days of Baltimore radio inspired our current format. It was these listeners who came to our big-band dances and dinners and these listeners who bought goods and services from our sponsors.

We're doing everything possible to find a way to continue. Without our listeners' support, we'd have no hope. You may be over 45 and ignored by advertising agencies, but you do matter. I'm proud we've mattered to you.

Jim Ward is general manager of WITH.

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