The Journalistic Ripples of a Radio Deal

By Deborah Howell
Sunday, January 29, 2006

Several readers have raised questions about The Washington Post Co.'s business deal with Bonneville International Corp., which is shaking up the local radio airwaves and will create a new station featuring Post content.

A few are upset that classical music station WGMS-FM now has a weaker signal in much of the Washington area and several wonder about The Post's independence in covering the Washington Nationals now that the team's games are to be carried on the new station, WTWP.

Bonneville Senior Vice President Joel Oxley said the decision to move WGMS to a new frequency was made before the company began its negotiations with The Post, which resulted in all-news WTOP moving to 103.5 FM, with its old frequencies (1500 AM and 107.7 FM) to be given to WTWP.

Oxley said, "We considered dropping classical altogether, but decided to keep it. The Post was opposed to dropping it." As for the frequency change, he said, "the number one reason was to widen the WTOP market to reach the whole metro area." Oxley said Bonneville is "upgrading our distribution" of classical music and opera -- on the FM band and online.

Several readers asked whether The Post will have a financial interest in broadcasting Nationals games or has a conflict of interest in the resolution of the dispute over a new baseball stadium's costs. The Post's editorial page supported bringing the team to the District. Stephen Ellis of Chevy Chase said, "It is . . . with great concern that I read that The Post is negotiating to carry the Nationals on their new . . . radio outlet. The Post has, therefore, a demonstrable financial interest in the successful resolution of this issue in favor of [Major League Baseball]."

Oxley and Post Publisher Bo Jones say Bonneville, not The Post, reached the broadcasting deal with the Nationals and The Post won't have anything to do with broadcasting the games. The Nationals will control game broadcasts, including choosing the broadcasters, Oxley said. The Post would benefit indirectly from this deal because Nationals broadcasts would raise WTWP's profile, Oxley and Jones said.

Beyond the game broadcasts, the Nationals would have no control over what is said on WTWP, and Post reporters and columnists would report and comment as they wish and do in the newspaper.

A Richmond reader asked how The Post can write editorials on the stadium dispute when the Post has an indirect financial interest in the Nationals' future. Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor, said: "We have not written any editorials about the stadium since the news was announced about the radio deal. When we do so again, we intend to remind readers of this relationship and they can form their own judgment. It will not affect our opinions."

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Takoma Park resident Patricia Knight, a Post subscriber for 40 years, doesn't like the new index on the front page of the Metro section because it moved columnists Marc Fisher, Courtland Milloy and Donna Britt from their usual perch. Well, the columnists don't like it either. Fisher says his e-mail from readers has fallen 80 percent. "I used to spend two to three hours a day interacting with readers. Now people e-mail to wonder what happened to my column and why I'm only online."

Robert McCartney, assistant managing editor for Metro, regrets that these three columns will now "float" on the front of Metro and sometimes appear inside. But McCartney said the index "aims to improve navigability for readers by calling attention to stories inside the section and to local coverage elsewhere in the newspaper."


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