- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

What happens when a radio station that reports the news finds itself making it?
Ask WTOP.
The station is grabbing headlines with its "Ask the " program, which airs most weekdays at 10 a.m. On each edition, a local newsmaker visits the WTOP studios in upper Northwest to field questions from its anchors and reporters as well as listeners.
The title of the hourlong show changes with each guest. When D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams visits, it's called "Ask the Mayor." When Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner guests, it's called "Ask the Governor."
There's also "Ask the Chief," "Ask the County Executive" and the one-size-fits-all "Ask the Experts."
The program has become a local version of the Sunday talk shows on the major television networks.
When Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld or another government official says something newsworthy on CBS' "Face the Nation," other networks pick up the sound bite and run it on their newscasts. Similarly, local news operations frequently cite WTOP when someone makes news on "Ask the ."
"It's turned into quite a franchise for us," said Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming for the radio station, which broadcasts at 1500 and 820 AM and 107.7 FM.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose made his monthly appearance on "Ask the Chief" last week. Local television news crews also showed up, and the chief's remarks on a recent shooting in Silver Spring became a top story on the evening news.
"Ask the " has given WTOP a bump in the ratings, but its real value lies in the free publicity it generates a big benefit for a broadcaster feeling the pinch of tough economic times.
When D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey visited "Ask the Chief" at the height of the Chandra Levy disappearance last summer, CNN and Fox News Channel camera crews showed up to simulcast the interview live.
Not surprisingly, camera crews that visit WTOP these days find the station's logo unavoidable. It is plastered on the walls of the studio and wrapped around the microphone that the "Ask the " guests speak into.
The show has irked some listeners who think WTOP should stick to delivering headlines round the clock. "Ask the " is virtually the only time the station strays from its all-news format, although Mr. Farley said it airs weather and traffic reports every 10 minutes, no matter what.
He said he would never attempt an "Ask the " program during the crucial morning- and afternoon-drive times, when listeners crave an uninterrupted cycle of headlines, traffic and weather.
Will the station run out of people to inteview? Is it just a matter of time before it resorts to airing "Ask the Dogcatcher"?
"There is no shortage of newsmakers in Washington, especially during an election year," Mr. Farley said.

This just in
George Willborn joins the morning show on WHUR-FM (96.3) Monday as the new comic foil for hosts John Monds and Sharon "T.C." Pitt. He replaces actress Mo'Nique Imes-Jackson, who left the show in April. Mr. Willborn will split his time between Washington and Chicago, where he hosts an afternoon-drive show.
Welcome to the '90s: Lanham-based Radio One Inc., the nation's largest radio broadcaster for black listeners, has finally gotten a Web site, www.radio-one.com. It went live last week.
Got a tip for Channel Surfing? Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected]

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