- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Washington’s news radio landscape will be transformed next week when WTOP leaves 1500 AM and 107.7 FM to make room for Washington Post Radio, and other local stations make moves to keep listeners’ ears.

WMAL-AM 630 has received “very positive” feedback since it started doing 20-minute commercial-free periods at the top of the hour during “The Grandy and Andy Morning Show” about three weeks ago, said Chris Berry, president of the ABC Radio-owned station.

“We see this as an opportunity to do something that will differentiate us on the dial,” said Mr. Berry. “It’s a tangible benefit that WMAL offers its listeners.”

Despite the merger of Walt Disney Co.’s ABC Radio and Citadel Broadcasting Corp., which could close later this year, it’s been business as usual at WMAL. And despite WBAL-AM 1090’s announced intention to drop “The Rush Limbaugh Show” at the end of May in Baltimore, it will remain on WMAL for years to come, Mr. Berry said.

At WAMU-FM (88.5), listeners can receive tailored traffic information delivered to their cell phones via a partnership with Traffic.com announced this week, said Caryn Mathes, the American University station’s general manager.

“People are demanding a higher level of service,” she said, adding that the National Public Radio carrier soon will conduct market research to gauge its listeners’ satisfaction levels.

The same is true at public broadcaster WETA-FM (90.9), which last month capped its first full year as a news-and-talk station after previously combining NPR and classical music.

“We’re staying the course with what we’re doing,” said General Manager Dan DeVany, adding that monthly community discussion groups are in the works.

News leader Bonneville International’s WTOP will continue to air on 103.5 FM and 820 AM when Washington Post Radio debuts, and everyone is wondering the same thing: Will the two news giants from different media complement each other or further splinter the market?

Cable rebuts FCC

The Federal Communications Commission last month issued a report that found a la carte television programming could help consumers save money.

Supported by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the report contradicted the findings of an earlier FCC report that found the current bundled system better serves consumers.

Mr. Martin said the original report’s conclusions were based on flawed methodology and bias, but the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and Disney last week released their own studies.

Steven Wildman, an economist at Michigan State University, said that while the new FCC report corrected one error from the original, it ignored another that undermines the assertion a la carte would reduce prices.

If one of his graduate students turned in the latest FCC report as an assignment for making an argument where there wasn’t one, Mr. Wildman said, he would grade it an ‘A,’ but the quality of that argument would get an ‘F.’

“Bottom line is, consumers would pay more for less,” said Preston Padden, executive vice president at Disney.

The FCC disagrees and said the two key benefits of a la carte are: new consumers could receive a lower entry price into the market if they’re not forced into buying bundles, and existing consumers can choose to pay only for those channels they watch most often.

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