WMAL's Solid -- if Evolving -- Core

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2005

In three decades on the radio in Washington, Chris Core has survived five station owners, four general managers, six program directors and a revolution in talk radio.

WMAL's evening drive-time talker this month celebrates 30 years on Washington radio, the longest tenure on a single station of any program host in the area. After 20 years paired with Bill Trumbull and four with Brooke Stevens, Core now has a solo act, one of three daily local shows left on the station that carries nationally syndicated talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

In a business in which on-air talent is considered disposable and prone to spoilage, Core has survived by being enormously adaptable. "Radio's a business, and there's no business that's done the way it was 20 years ago," he says.

So when talk radio became more political, Core did too. And when conservative talk came to dominate the ratings, Core's show on 630 AM became friendlier to the right. Not that he's faking it--he says he has changed along with the medium, growing more conservative as he moved into middle age, had a daughter and became a Catholic.

"I'm not a crusader," Core says. "We're not trying to change the world. We're there to entertain people. But the neutral moderator doesn't work in talk radio. I'm better when I'm passionate. And you start to get more conservative about family values when you have a 10-year-old daughter. But I guess I did change after 9/11--that had a big impact on me."

At 56, Core, who came to Washington from Iowa after college to enter the Foreign Service and ended up covering Watergate for the Voice of America, is not afraid to break with WMAL's overall conservative approach. (The station has dubbed the room where its talk hosts work the "Ronald Reagan Studio.")

"I'm not a Democrat, I'm not a Republican," Core says. "For example, I think people who are gay should be able to have children. My audience was very mad at me over that."

But the post-9/11 Core is tougher, more hawkish than his earlier on-air persona. For many months after the terrorist attacks, he opened his 6 to 9 p.m. show with the national anthem. Despite the Washington area's Democratic voting pattern, "our audience is more conservative than liberal," Core says, "partly because Rush and Sean are on the station and partly because talk audiences just tend to be conservative."

Core's ratings grew after 9/11 and have stayed strong: Among adults ages 25 to 54 in evening drive time, his show tends to run behind only all-news WTOP, Don and Mike's WJFK talkfest and the four urban hit music stations.

When he became the younger half of Trumbull and Core in the '70s, "I was the single guy living in the city driving a Porsche, while Bill was the family guy with kids in the suburbs--that was the routine," Core says. Years later, on his own, Core became the suburban homeowner character, taking up the populist demand for lighter taxes and safer streets.

"I never lose sight of the fact that I'm an employee," Core says with a chuckle. "In this business, you've got to evolve."

This month Chris Core is marking 30 years on Washington radio.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company