WGRX-FM goes country

May 08, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Is this town big enough for two country music stations?

WGRX-FM (100.7) sure hopes so. Just two weeks after abandoning its modern-rock format, the Westminster-based station has embraced country music and taken on local media giant WPOC-FM (93.1), consistently the market's No. 1 or No. 2 station.

That might seem an odd move, given that WGRX swore off rock because it was never able to make headway against such entrenched competitors as WIYY-FM (97.9), WHFS-FM (99.1) and, to a lesser degree, WOCT-FM (104.3) and WQSR-FM (105.7). But therein lies much of the reasoning behind the move, says WGRX general manager Roy Deutschman. Before, WGRX was up against a slew of competitors. At least now, it only really has to worry about one.

Although both WANN-AM (1190) in Annapolis and WXCY-FM (103.7) in Havre de Grace play country, neither has developed much of a following in the Baltimore area.

"There exists format competition in urban and adult contemporary [music] and in the talk format, but there's not been competition for WPOC," says Deutschman, who took WGRX in November. "I think there's plenty of opportunity for country in this market." Baltimore is one of maybe three or four top 25 radio markets with only one country station, he adds, yet another factor in WGRX's decision.

As Deutschman sees it, success for WGRX, which is owned by Shamrock Communications, could come in one of two ways: Either it could siphon listeners away from WPOC, or the number of country music listeners could increase, with new listeners opting to listen to the newcomer.

For its part, management at WPOC welcomes the competition. "It should help keep us on our toes," says General Manager Jim Dolan.

Dolan predicts the worst that could happen would be an increase in country music listeners that would benefit both stations.

"What has happened on most occasions, when an additional country competitor comes in to the marketplace, is that it expands the market," Dolan says.

Gail Spiva, associate media director for the advertising and public relations firm of Gray Kirk/VanSant, thinks WGRX is in for a struggle. Historically, she notes, Baltimore has never been able to support more than one country station. WCAO-AM (600) played country until a few years ago, when it shifted to a gospel format.

Even Washington, a considerably bigger market, has only one country station, WMZQ-FM (98.7). "If a market that size and that affluent can't support [two stations], it could be a tough sell in Baltimore," she says. Plus, advertisers are sometimes skittish about advertising on country stations, given the music's redneck reputation.

"Even though we give them information that that's clearly not the case, it can be difficult to convince them to put their dollars in a country music station," she says. "WPOC is definitely going to be the winner here, there's no doubt about that."

Pub Date: 5/08/96

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