- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

The Sports Junkies have moved to the major leagues. The Junkies, four childhood friends from the Washington suburbs who became radio stars as the evening hosts at talk station WJFK-FM (106.7), moved to mornings at WHFS-FM (99.1) late last month.

Infinity Broadcasting Corp. owns both stations. The company hopes the Junkies and their sports schtick will boost WHFS, a once-mighty rock music station that now struggles in the ratings.

But wait a minute. Sports talk on a rock station? As unlikely as the jocks in high school hanging out with the heavy-metal misfits, right?

Not necessarily.

"It's pretty much the same type of listener. It's actually a good fit," said J.P. Flaim, one of the Junkies.

Consider this: In the past year, WHFS has averaged a tepid 2 percent audience share among its core demographic listeners 18 to 34 during morning drive, according to Arbitron Inc.

The Sports Junkies, however, have a firm lock on the 18-to-34 crowd. Thanks largely to the Junkies, WJFK averages a healthy 9.5 percent audience share among young adults on weeknights.

WHFS has signed the Junkies to a three-year deal. Mr. Flaim and the other members of the quartet John Auville, Eric Bickel and Jason Bishop say the show hasn't changed since moving to mornings.

"HFS hired us to do our show. We wouldn't have come if they had wanted us to change," Mr. Flaim said.

The Junkies still talk sports, although other topics surface frequently, such as a recent debate over the most attractive women age 35 or older. (The Junkies were divided over whether Sheryl Crow fits the bill.)

Because the hosts now work for a rock station, they are required to occasionally spin tunes, though they pick the shortest songs possible. "There won't be any 'Stairway to Heaven.' We're not doing opuses," Mr. Auville said.

But the big question remains: Can the Junkies draw enough young listeners to make WHFS competitive again?

The station was once Washington's premier rock outlet. In recent years, Infinity has tried to market WHFS to audiences in both Washington and Baltimore, which some say has weakened its appeal in its hometown. Annual revenue fell from $16 million in 2000 to $12.2 million last year, according to estimates by BIA Financial Network Inc.

"The Junkies have youth appeal, but it remains to be seen whether they can develop a strong following, especially among females," said Deborah Cover-Lewis, a prominent local media buyer.

They deserve a shot. Unlike much of its competition, "The Sports Junkies" sounds like a local show. The hosts sprinkle their on-air banter with references to growing up in Bowie, attending DeMatha High School and rooting for the Redskins.

It's a throwback to the days before stations relied on syndicated, out-of-town hosts like Howard Stern and Tom Joyner to draw listeners during morning drive.

With competition like that, the Sports Junkies are the new underdogs in local radio. Who doesn't like rooting for the underdog?

Replacing Owens

Classical music station WGMS-FM (103.5) will name James Bartel its new morning host Thursday.

He will replace the legendary Dennis Owens, who is retiring after 21 years on the morning shift. Mr. Owens will become a fill-in host at WGMS.

Mr. Bartel is now heard weeknights from 7 p.m. to midnight. He came to WGMS in 1993.

Longtime WGMS announcer Diana Hollander will replace Mr. Bartel on weeknights.

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

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