- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Embattled disc jockey Doug "Greaseman" Tracht returns to Washington radio today on WGOP (700 AM), a tiny Walkersville, Md., station that is trying to boost listenership with a new format and a stronger signal.

WGOP will carry Mr. Tracht's show weekdays from 6 to 10. It will mark the first time since February 1999 that he will be widely heard in Washington. Classic rock station WARW (94.7 FM) fired him in 1999 for making a racist joke.

"I do not believe he is a racist," said program director Leonora Conotti. "If you want to have a successful radio station, you have to have a good local morning show. That's what the Greaseman will give us."

WGOP was known as WWTL until June 8, when it switched its format to conservative talk. The station previously broadcast "brokered programming" from groups that purchased airtime, but it now airs syndicated talk shows from conservative hosts such as Michael Medved and Dennis Prager.

It changed its call letters to WGOP to "reflect the conservative values of the Republican Party," Ms. Canotti said.

Mr. Tracht, who considers himself a libertarian, said his show won't change now that it is based at a conservative station. "I have a huge fan base here. It's going to be the same high-octane show the old line Greaseaholics are used to," he said.

The Federal Communications Commission has given WGOP permission to boost its signal from 5,000 watts to 25,000 watts, which Ms. Canotti says will happen in late September.

The stronger signal will allow it to reach more listeners in the District and Northern Virginia, but it will still be weaker than many of WGOP's bigger rivals, and it will still be able to broadcast only during daylight.

News-and-talk station WMAL (630 AM), for example, has a 50,000-watt signal.

WGOP is also building a studio in Damascus, Ms. Canotti said. She did not reveal the cost of the new studio and the signal upgrade.

Birach Broadcasting Corp., based in Southfield, Mich., owns WGOP. BIA Financial Network, a media research group, could not provide revenue estimates for Birach because an analyst says the 10 stations it owns are very small.

Even with WGOP's modest signal, Mr. Tracht still will have the widest potential audience since WARW fired him.

On Feb. 24, 1999, as the morning host for WARW, Mr. Tracht played a clip of a song by rapper Lauryn Hill and said, "No wonder people drag them behind trucks." The comment was an apparent reference to James Byrd Jr., a Texas man who was dragged to death behind a truck.

Listeners protested, and the station fired Mr. Tracht the next day. He had landed in hot water 13 years earlier while working at another Washington station, where he made an on-air joke about Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

After he was fired, Mr. Tracht began a lengthy public-apology tour. He openly campaigned to return to the local airwaves, but no station would hire him. Before the firing, he earned an annual salary of $1 million and was one of Washington's most popular morning DJs.

Mr. Tracht revived his show in March 2001 by buying airtime on low-watt station WZHF (1390 AM) in Arlington, something usually done only by religious and ethnic groups.

He stayed on WZHF for about six months, but a few small stations in other cities, such as Martinsburg, W.Va., and Altoona, Pa., picked up the program and continue to air it. It is based from his Potomac home, but it will move to WGOP's Damascus studio.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which has criticized Mr. Tracht, did not respond to calls yesterday.

Mr. Tracht will generate publicity for WGOP, which faces an uphill struggle against established rivals, such as WMAL, said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, an industry trade publication.

"Everyone in the industry agrees Doug Tracht is very talented. It all depends on whether the black community agrees he has paid his dues. I hope they do," he said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to [email protected].

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