- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Radio listeners are still adjusting to lineup changes that saw WTOP switch to 103.5 FM, classical music station WGMS move three clicks to 104.1 FM, and the death of modern rocker Z104.

Bonneville International, owner of the three stations, has received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from listeners, some confused, others angry, about WGMS moving to a weaker signal and the loss of Z104, said Joel Oxley, general manager of Bonneville Radio in Washington.

Strong listener reaction to last week’s announced changes was expected. The surprise was how some employees learned of the changes.

Radio rival Elliot Segal, host of the “Elliot in the Morning” show on WWDC-FM (DC101), started talking about the Z104 changes at about 9:45 a.m. last Wednesday, 20 minutes before the meeting to inform staffers and more than two hours before the switch occurred.

Mr. Segal said Matthew Blades, host of Z104’s morning show, would be gone. “We have no idea how (Segal) knew,” Mr. Oxley said later.

Jeff Wyatt, regional vice president of programming for Clear Channel Radio, which owns and operates DC101, WITH-FM (Hot 99.5) and WMZQ-FM (98.7), said he heard about the shake-up the day before it was announced.

When asked why Mr. Segal would mention it before the Z104 employees may have known, Mr. Wyatt said: “Elliot is free to comment on the world as we know it.”

While many Z104 and WGMS sales staffers were blindsided, some Z104 programmers were not, said Jeff King, executive producer of Mr. Blades’ morning show.

The Z104 staff received an e-mail Jan. 3 about an emergency meeting with a Bonneville executive coming in from Salt Lake City. Those meetings had happened before, but “there was a weird tension at work,” Mr. King said, adding he also started getting phone calls after Mr. Segal’s announcement.

The final straw came when Bonneville engineers asked the morning team to reboot their computers last Wednesday, vaguely citing “changes.”

But Mr. King, 32, did not fault his former employer for keeping the decision private.

“They can’t show their hand. What’s the incentive for you to show up to work?” he said. “It’s almost better walking in without knowing.”

Mr. King said he felt no animosity and understood the business reality. Z104 was not a ratings winner and WTOP is the biggest profit maker for Bonneville’s radio group.

Putting WTOP on the strongest signal and moving WGMS just a few clicks away enabled the company to better distribute its strongest product and perhaps maintain the ratings and revenue from its classical station. “It’s a nasty little chess game and unfortunately we got caught in the crossfire,” he said.

Bonneville is still negotiating a deal to carry Washington Nationals baseball on both 1500 AM and 107.7 FM, the future home of Washington Post Radio, Mr. Oxley said.

Both Mr. Segal’s show and 99.5’s “Hot Morning Mess” are trying to lure former Z104 listeners and displaced Howard Stern fans, Mr. Wyatt said.

As part of that effort, homemade TV commercials for Mr. Segal’s show are airing throughout the area. The spots feature him describing the show and then introducing its cast, all while experiencing “technical difficulties.”

Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. Call 202/636-3173 or e-mail dcat@washingtontimes.com.

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