Big-band radio lives!

April 19, 1993

Anyone who listens to radio on a regular basis -- and these days most Americans do so only in their cars -- is aware of the sweeping changes that have occurred in program formats.

Gone from most markets are the Percy Faith and Mantovani-flavored "beautiful music" stations which just two decades ago were the ratings leaders.

The "urban adult" format -- anything from Diana Ross and Barry White to Whitney Houston -- is thriving, but stations featuring "contemporary hits" are declining rapidly. The new king of the airwaves is country music, which has reached its highest audience levels ever.

These shifts are due to changing demographics. The baby boomers have reached middle age. Since they are a desirable target group for advertisers, programmers do their utmost to woo them.

Meanwhile, the phenomenal spread of compact disc technology has made it possible for many drivers to do their own music selection. And a good chunk of commuters opt for non-commercial radio, which is available in the Baltimore-Washington area from half a dozen stations with formats ranging from classical and jazz to bluegrass.

As a result, today's AM and FM radio audiences are more fractured than they have ever been. Confronted with decreasing ratings, AM stations in particular are experimenting with a variety of non-music formats.

Some stations do nothing but talk, often selling their air time to hosts who are little more than commercial hucksters. This has led to a number of oddities: during the past few months, one station has been trying to create a market niche by broadcasting nothing but job-wanted ads.

That station, WHLP at 1360, has now adopted the big-band format of WITH, which had abandoned that kind of music in order to change to a format that features nothing but children's programming.

A program change usually would not merit notice on this page. But we make an exception because over the years the nostalgic music and dances WITH has sponsored have become a Baltimore tradition.

We are happy that tradition continues on a new spot on the dial.

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