The Sound of A Newspaper: Post Radio Hits the Air

Staffer Kim Kingsley, left, helps Jackie Spinner, who worked along Jill Carroll in Iraq, get ready for an interview about Carroll's release. Below, morning host Mike Moss inaugurates WTWP's programming.
Staffer Kim Kingsley, left, helps Jackie Spinner, who worked along Jill Carroll in Iraq, get ready for an interview about Carroll's release. Below, morning host Mike Moss inaugurates WTWP's programming. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2006

With a bit of sloganeering -- "Because there's always more to the story," the announcer said -- the station WTWP AM-FM signed on for the first time yesterday in Washington at 5:30 a.m., offering a different take on radio news.

Throughout its inaugural day, WTWP, or Washington Post Radio, mixed weather, traffic and news updates with longer discussions about news and features, quickly settling into a niche somewhere between the in-depth reporting of National Public Radio and snappy news bites that typify WTOP AM-FM.

By design, the station -- a joint venture of The Post and Bonneville International Corp. (which also owns all-news WTOP) -- relied heavily on interviews with Post reporters, making WTWP both a news source and a continuous promotional vehicle for The Washington Post Co.

The station had no shortage of variety. Reporters interviewed by the station's hosts talked about more than a dozen issues -- immigration reform, Iraq, terrorism preparedness and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Germany among them. And that was just in the first three hours.

The discussion later turned to lighter subjects, such as parenting tips, music and TV. There were a handful of non-Post-related segments, too, such as afternoon anchor Bob Kur's interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams.

The station was immediately able to take advantage of breaking news. At 6:26 a.m., less than an hour after the station began broadcasting, morning host Mike Moss reported that American journalist Jill Carroll, held captive in Iraq for three months, had been released. The station then abandoned its schedule and improvised. Moss, formerly WTOP's morning man, went to The Post's Jackie Spinner and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, friends of Carroll's who worked with her in Iraq. They expressed their elation and provided helpful background on her kidnapping. Not long after, Moss interviewed Jonathan Finer, a Post correspondent now in Baghdad, who gave an eyewitness account of Carroll's release.

The Carroll story underscored a question about Washington Post Radio: Can it sustain such immediacy and intimacy daily and evolve into what one of its managers has optimistically described as "NPR on caffeine"? The station's premise is that print journalists can be lively radio broadcasters.

Some early reviews suggest that the station was intriguing enough to find its place in a region that has one of the nation' s largest appetites for news.

"I think [WTWP] did a very nice job their first day out of the box," said Chris Berry, president of the news-and-talk station WMAL-AM, which airs the conservative talk shows of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. "Something like this takes a lot of planning, and they clearly had their ducks in a row. They should feel good about what they're doing."

Berry added: "The challenge for any broadcaster is to provide compelling programming that keeps listeners from tuning to another station. I thought they did that today. But it's going to be a daily challenge to do that."

Mark Fratrik, a media industry analyst at BIA Financial in Chantilly, said he generally liked what he heard during his morning commute. "It was exactly what I thought it would be," he said. "This can only be a positive insofar as bringing another type of format to the radio dial. It will be interesting to see how it evolves."

Fratrik said the format wasn't likely to attract young people, but he said it might draw listeners away from various local stations: WMAL, public radio stations WETA-FM and WAMU-FM, all-news WTOP, even music stations that attract older, better-educated audiences.

The Post and Bonneville announced their intention to launch the station less than three months ago. Many of The Post's journalists were interviewed on the air yesterday from a studio that was completed inside the paper's newsroom last week.

Day 1 had a few glitches and misfires.

Early yesterday, Moss enthusiastically compared the debut of WTWP to having a baby, adding, "Though not nearly as bloody."

Some of the station's roster of announcers -- a crew of professional broadcasters that shepherds the journalists -- missed cues and talked over commercials. Transitions from story to story were sometimes abrupt; an afternoon discussion about White House politics roughly pivoted to one about video games.

Miscues will be smoothed out as the station perfects its timing and adds polish, such as musical "bumpers" to signal story changes, said Tina Gulland, director of radio and TV projects for The Post.

WTWP broadcasts at 107.7 FM and 1500 AM, the frequencies formerly occupied by WTOP, which has moved to 820 AM and 103.5 FM. WTWP is also available online. The station will be the home of Nationals baseball broadcasts.

The venture between The Post and Bonneville comes at a time when most mainstream news outlets are facing declining audiences amid increasingly fierce competition from the Internet and other digital alternatives. By joining forces, the media companies seek to stem circulation and audience erosion.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company