There are no "six-song super-sets," no shock jocks, no traffic and weather together on the eights. WFED-AM, which went on the air in Washington for the first time yesterday, does, however offer a bold new broadcasting concept: radio for federal bureaucrats.
If you can't get enough CSPAN-2, if you devour every issue of the Federal Register, if you know your FEC from your FERC, WFED (1050) could be your one-stop spot on the dial. It's all about the federal government -- its management, pay and personnel policy, "procurement" and people -- from morning till quitting time.
The architects of WFED are the first to say this may not be everyone's cup of USDA-inspected tea. As a matter of fact, WFED can be tough going for listeners who don't work for the federal government. Take yesterday's live mid-morning discussion about the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program with two senior officials from the Office of Personnel Management. The OPM guys really got going about the FEHBP, detailing its FSA and HSA features, plus the HMO component, and its relationship to FERS . They also warned people to stay away from HDHP programs (although, c'mon, who doesn't already know that?).
The ads on WFED are rather specialized, too. Are you in the market for "enterprise Linux?" Is your "ERP/CRM" letting you down? Well, according to their commercial, Unisys and EMC apparently have just what you're looking for (whatever they have, it has "scalability"). Another company, Computer Associates, touted its "asset optimization solutions."
WFED is the brainchild of Jim Farley and Joel Oxley, the top newsman and business manager, respectively, of Bonneville International Corp.'s local radio stations, including all-news station WTOP. The two men became convinced last year that there might be a niche for broadcast news GS-12s can use. Their optimism was fueled by the growth of FederalNewsRadio.com, a Web site WTOP launched in 2000 to cover fed-specific topics. Based on the Web site's success (it's profitable!), Oxley persuaded Salt Lake City-based Bonneville to sink $4 million into buying a Silver Spring business-news station, WPLC-AM, and to relaunch it as WFED.
The station's marquee attraction is Mike Causey, whom Farley describes as "a rock star" among the 750,000 or so civilian, military and government contracting employees in the area. We're biased on this subject because we know Causey, who worked for The Post for 36 years before leaving four years ago (to work, in part, for FederalNewsRadio.com). During his time at the newspaper, Causey wrote more than 11,000 Federal Diary columns, so we figure he knows a bit about what he's talking about twice every hour on WFED.
The station is also optimizing its assets by using material from FederalNewsRadio.com and reporting by some of WTOP's stars, such as Chas Henry, Dave McConnell, Judlyne Lilly and Amy Morris.
It's not clear how big a crowd WFED drew on opening day, or what it's potential audience might be. WFED didn't get a very big promotional send-off (actually, outside of a mention on the Web site, it didn't get any). What's more, WFED has to turn the power down after sunset to avoid interfering with other stations' signals. During the day, however, WFED has enough power to reach Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince George's counties and the District, where most feds can be found.
But as Farley explains, the station doesn't really need to capture all of Planet Gov to succeed. "Our advertisers don't care about the clerks and the typists," he says. "They want to reach the people making the buying decisions, the chief information officers" and the personnel chiefs inside federal agencies. "We're programming this for all levels of federal employees, but as long as that top tier is included, the advertisers are willing to pay," Farley says.
Apart from that, WFED's debut raises an interesting cultural-geographical issue: If an all-government station can succeed in a government town like Washington, why can't the same concept be exported to other one-industry towns?
We eagerly await, for example:
WDBT: Proudly serving the credit-card industry of Wilmington, Del.
KRPS: All-gambling news, all the time, in Las Vegas.
WBRW in Milwaukee: "Beer Never Sounded This Good."
KORN: The agriculture (and heavy-metal) station in Des Moines.
WAVE: Norfolk's naval-news leader.
WUAW: Detroit's all-auto station.
KOIL: Broadcaster to Houston's petroleum industry.
WRED and WBLU: Fair and balanced across America.
And, of course, WWWW: The radio station covering all things Internet.
Maybe they just don't know what they're not hearing.