A classic game of switcheroo greeted listeners of Baltimore's 104.3 FM yesterday morning, as the radio station prepared to change its format from classic rock to smooth jazz.
For two hours before the switch was made at 10 a.m., the station played artists as varied as Christina Aguilera, Frank Sinatra and Metallica while teasing: "B104.3. What will it be?"
"The stunt worked," said Scott Lindy, operations manager for the station's owner, Clear Channel Baltimore. Or at least it got attention. The station received more than 50 phone calls and 100 e-mails from confused listeners during the transition.
The format switch came after the city's only classic-rock station, formerly known as WXFB, finished at No. 10 in recent Arbitron ratings, its management said.
"B104.3 didn't have a lot of growth in the past year," Lindy said. "We had to think of something."
Jim Dolan, vice president and market manager for Clear Channel Baltimore, said consistent top-five rankings for smooth-jazz formats in similar markets, such as Chicago and Philadelphia, prompted the station to introduce the format - under the new call letters WSMJ - to Baltimore.
"This format has never been done here," Dolan said. "When we saw a home-run opportunity [with smooth jazz] ... it was an easy decision to make."
Other industry executives also predicted the change will be positive for 104.3.
WTMD 89.7 FM underwent a successful format switch in December 2002, from an adult-contemporary and smooth-jazz blend to an adult-acoustic-album format, which is a mix of rock, blues and popular music.
Steve Yasko, WTMD's general manager, said "I think [smooth jazz] will be financially a successful format for Clear Channel."