- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Radio listeners around the metropolitan area expressed shock yesterday over WHFS-FM’s sudden switch from modern rock to Spanish-language music.

“I grew up with HFS,” said Meghan Seymour, 23, a sales associate at Tower Records in Rockville. “I went to turn it on [Wednesday] on my way home from work and was, like, ‘What is this?’”

Students at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville called the station’s programming change a “sore subject.”

“I’m kind of angry because all throughout its history HFS has kind of been that underground radio station,” said Kevin Landsman, 15. “Now it’s a Spanish station owned by executives.”

At noon Wednesday, WHFS-FM (99.1) flipped its format to Spanish-language music, ending nearly four decades of broadcasting an eclectic mix of music dominated by modern rock. The station has been renamed “El Zol,” an unorthodox spelling of the Spanish term “el sol,” which means “the sun.”

One of five stations in the Washington area owned by industry giant Infinity Broadcasting Corp., it had struggled to gain listeners for years, and rumors had abounded that it would move to take advantage of the region’s increasing Hispanic population.

“There are other radio stations pertaining to [Hispanics] — like 92.7 and the AM stations, as well,” said longtime WHFS fan Raul Ramirez of Columbia, Md. “It was an excuse for Infinity saying, ‘We don’t want HFS anymore and we want to try something more diverse.’ But they didn’t have to lie about it.”

Stations up and down the dial paid tribute to WHFS yesterday, providing some comfort for fans who found themselves in mourning.

Longtime rival WWDC-FM (101.1), which has competed with WHFS for years for the loyalty of rock music listeners, spent much of the day playing the songs that WHFS played in its heyday.

Fans also were encouraged to call in to share their memories of WHFS and the HFStival, the station’s annual summer music event. The tribute will continue today, said a spokesman for Clear Channel Communications Inc., WWDC’s parent company.

Listeners could also find tributes at WRNR-FM (103.1), a small Annapolis station that features many WHFS luminaries and has adopted its old free-form, progressive style.

“We talked about how great it was, and how good it was, and how oh-so-typical it is in the world of corporate radio for a great heritage station to go away without any acknowledgement,” said Bob Waugh, WRNR’s operations director and its midday host.

The Junkies — the four-person team that had hosted WHFS’ morning drive show since 2002 — posted a message on its Web site, thanking fans for their support.

“Much like the Terminator, we’ll be back,” it read.

A spokeswoman for Infinity Broadcasting said the station’s new disc jockeys will be announced soon.

Meanwhile, employees at Record and Tape Traders in Towson, Md., said they were caught off guard by the radio station’s change.

Chris Wiezorek, 22, a manager at the store and a film student at Towson University, was at work when a truck driver on delivery came into the store.

“He was like, ‘Dude, you guys know what’s going on with HFS?’” Mr. Wiezorek said. “We were all pretty shocked.”

Wootton sophomore Anna Tulchinskaya said she signed an online petition to bring back the station.

The petition, hosted at www.petitiononline.com, already has more than 1,500 signatures.

“It just upset me, it’s been around so long and so many people like it,” said Anna, 16. “And honestly, the other stations don’t compare to HFS as far as music quality.”

Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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