There is no mystery about WJHU-FM's format changes that have strengthened its news orientation while banishing classical music to weekends. The station, owned by the Johns Hopkins University, is going after ratings. It believes it will have higher ratings -- and a stronger identity -- as a news-dominated station.
Time was when non-commercial radio stations could ignore ratings. No longer. Today, their formats, like those of commercial stations, are determined by the Arbitron book.
"Unfortunately, this has become more and more necessary in recent years as institutional support has been cut or eliminated," says Cary Smith, general manager of WJHU's arch-rival, WBJC-FM.
Before the format changes, about 40 percent of WJHU's programming was classical music. In contrast, 90 percent of WBJC's format is classical music. Even when the two radio stations played classical music simultaneously, WBJC, with its stronger signal, usually had higher ratings than WJHU.
"The real question," concluded general manager Dennis Kita, "is whether we at WJHU are doing the best for public service by being one of seven radio stations in our signal area that have classical music on during the day? Or are we to put on programming that no other Baltimore station is airing?"
By adopting a format that emphasizes news and talk, WJHU offers an alternative to Baltimore's two commercial purveyors of such programming on the AM band.
Instead of Rush Limbaugh on WBAL, WJHU airs Diane Rehm; instead of Les Kinsolving on WCBM, WJHU listeners will soon get an expanded version of Marc Steiner. Plus snippets from the BBC and such old standbys as "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."
Andy Bienstock continues to play jazz weekday evenings, but classical music on WJHU is now a weekend phenomenon.
Will there be more changes in store? Wait until the next Arbitron ratings -- and fund raisers. Success -- or failure -- will determine what will play.
Now that WJHU has made its choice, we urge the station to become more aggressive in reporting local news. That would establish the station as what it clearly wants to be -- Baltimore's No. 1 radio choice in intelligent