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Correction to This Article
A Feb. 12 Washington Business article incorrectly identified the vendor selling electricity to radio station WARW (94.7 FM) as Pepco. It is Pepco Energy Services.

Radio Station Hopes Green Becomes Gold

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 12, 2007

From sock-hoppers to hip-hop, from disco to downloads, radio has always sought ratings gold in the musical and cultural trends of the moment.

Now a Washington radio station is hoping to tap into increased concerns about the environment and global warming by switching not only its format but also its source of power.

WARW (94.7 FM) is taking several steps to go green, the station manager says, steps that parent company CBS is touting to some of the chain's 146 other stations nationwide.

WARW will pay a premium for electricity that Pepco guarantees is wind-generated, rather than produced by a coal-fired plant. The station plans to build a performance studio at its Silver Spring headquarters at least partly out of green material, such as recycled flooring. And WARW's gasoline-burning cars are being replaced by hybrid vehicles. At the same time, "Classic Rock 94.7" becomes "94.7 the Globe," incorporating more contemporary artists into its playlist and Mother Earth into its name.

The move is part of a growing trend of corporations seeking positive public relations -- and perhaps profit -- in showing an eco-friendly exterior. For example, from its pro-environment television commercials and heliocentric logo, one would hardly know that BP is the former British Petroleum, one of the world's largest oil and gas companies. Major record label Warner Music Group has said it will begin using recycled paper in its CD cases.

The WARW format switch also demonstrates how environmentalism has moved to the political center. Thirty years ago, it was considered fringe. Even five years ago, it would have been highly unlikely for a mainstream commercial radio station to align itself with concerns over global warming -- too crunchy for most listeners. Now, WARW thinks such branding might increase its ratings, as environmentalism -- like recycling -- carries a positive and widely popular connotation. Even Wal-Mart buys wind power.

CBS Radio is telling its other stations about WARW's green experiment, said Karen L. Mateo, a spokeswoman for the chain, and already several have asked about taking green steps of their own.

For years, WARW was the Washington area's home to the hoary giants of classic rock -- the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Eagles and so on. From a ratings standpoint, that format has been unable to make a dent in a radio market dominated by hip-hop, R&B, news radio and light pop. The station typically finishes squarely in the middle of the regional ratings pack.

WARW's shift in format and philosophy is the result of those middling ratings, combined with recent shuffling on the local radio dial.

It began in April, when WBIG (100.3 FM) dropped its oldies format for a classic rock playlist, overlapping with WARW. Then last month, classical music station WGMS (104.1 FM) moved into the same format, becoming "George 104" as it traded Beethoven and Mozart for rock from the '70s and '80s.

WARW general manager Michael Hughes thought his station could distance itself from its new rivals and make some hay by updating its playlist to include artists such as the Dave Mathews Band and Coldplay.

But every station needs a hook, an easy way for listeners to remember it. Hip-hop WKYS (93.9 FM), run by Radio One, for instance, is "The People's Station." Top 40 WIHT is "Hot 99.5."

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