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Rock Format Dies But HFStival Lives

New Venue Likely for Station's Concert

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2005; Page C01

The radio format that made it famous is gone, but the show will go on. The annual rock bacchanalia known as the HFStival will be held this year, officials said, despite the uncertainty caused by this month's sudden move away from rock by its sponsoring radio station, WHFS-FM.

The multiact extravaganza has been a Washington springtime ritual for more than a decade. Last year's show, with 36 performers, attracted 60,000 fans to an all-day marathon at RFK Stadium.


Art Alexakis of the band Everclear plays at RFK Stadium during the all-day HFStival in 1996. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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But the festival's existence was placed in doubt by Infinity Broadcasting's decision to do away with WHFS's alternative-rock format in favor of Spanish-language pop music on Jan. 12. Before the format flip, WHFS gave the concert hours of publicity and played the music of many of the featured bands.

Infinity spokeswoman Karen Mateo said yesterday that plans for this year's concert remain sketchy, but the company was committed to another go-round. Although no date, bands or venue have been chosen yet, "for all intents and purposes, yes, we plan to continue," she said. "We're working on it."

The rock show is a big moneymaker for Infinity, in contrast to the financially struggling WHFS -- a situation that prompted one local radio executive to describe WHFS as "a concert with a radio station."

Even with Infinity's commitment, several problems stand in the way of mounting an outdoor concert on the same scale as recent HFStivals.

For one, RFK Stadium most likely won't be available for another show this spring, given that the facility will be the home of the new Washington Nationals baseball team. Seth Hurwitz, owner of Washington's 9:30 club and producer of last year's HFStival, said he was working with Infinity on selecting a site but that it was "way too premature" to discuss it. "We're looking at our options. The people want [the show], the bands want it, and so does the company," said Hurwitz, who also heads I.M.P. Inc., the company that will operate Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia this season.

Further, the loss of WHFS as a rock station complicates Infinity's promotion of the event. The company late last week began airing WHFS-style alternative rock -- some of it hosted by former WHFS DJs -- on weekday nights starting at 7 and round the clock on weekends on Live 105.7, a station Infinity owns in Baltimore. In addition, Infinity and America Online have launched WHFS.com, a streaming-audio version of the defunct radio format.

But neither of these moves provides the same degree of promotional muscle in the Washington area that WHFS, based in Lanham, once provided. The signal of Live 105.7 can't be heard clearly in Washington or its immediate suburbs. And streaming-audio stations rarely capture more than a fraction of a broadcast station's local audience because they can't be heard in cars.

Mateo, the Infinity spokesman, said the majority of HFStival fans come from the Baltimore area. But as an alternative, she said the company is considering using one of its Washington area stations, WJFK-FM, to promote the concert.

It was unlikely, she said, that the new WHFS, nicknamed "El Zol" and soon to change its call letters to WZLL-FM, would be a very effective promoter of the show.


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