With Low Ratings, Post Radio Venture To End Next Month

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Washington Post Radio, which brought the newspaper's journalists to the local airwaves, will go off the air next month after failing to attract enough listeners and losing money during its 17-month existence.

Post Radio, which is broadcast regionwide on 107.7 FM and 1500 AM, , was not able to draw even 1 percent of listeners during its first year. Although ratings have improved somewhat in recent months -- partly because of Nationals baseball broadcasts and Tony Kornheiser's morning program -- the gains weren't enough to convince WTWP's owner, Bonneville International Corp., that the station could be profitable any time soon, executives said. Bonneville and The Post had a three-year agreement.

The two companies will announce Friday that WTWP -- whose call letters abbreviate the newspaper's name -- will go off the air by the end of September. The stations will continue to carry news and talk programming without an association with The Post.

Billed as a new kind of radio programming when it began in March of last year, Post Radio, or WTWP AM-FM, featured in-depth discussions with Post reporters and editors about the day's news. The station's backers said it would be like "NPR on caffeine" for news-hungry listeners.

Some local programs, such as David Burd's morning show, will continue on the new, still-unnamed replacement station, but the bulk of the broadcasting day will be filled with syndicated talk shows. Executives declined to identify a new lineup yesterday, but they previously have said they were considering conservative-libertarian talkers Glenn Beck and Neal Boortz, among others.

Bonneville paid an annual fee to The Post for access to its journalists and for the use of The Post's name. The Post, which had no direct financial investment in the stations, will make a small profit from the fee payments, an executive familiar with the agreement said yesterday.

In addition to WTWP, the Salt Lake City-based Bonneville owns all-news WTOP (820 AM and 103.5 FM) in Washington and WFED (1050 AM), which broadcasts news about the federal government.

"It has been a good experiment during which we learned about radio as one of the platforms on which we can put Washington Post journalists and journalism," said Leonard Downie, The Post's executive editor. Downie declined to comment directly on WTWP's demise.

People close to the station said the end of the venture would result in very few layoffs because employees of WTWP will be able to move to Bonneville's other stations, including WTOP. It was unclear how the end of WTWP would affect a small cadre of producers who work on radio and TV projects within The Post.

During the recent spring ratings period, WTWP finished tied for 18th place among local stations, with an average of 1.2 percent of the audience, according to Arbitron. It was the station's best three-month performance since its inception.

The addition of syndicated programs to WTWP's lineup had been a source of tension between Bonneville and The Post when executives began meeting in June to consider changes. Bonneville, eager to cut losses that have run to about $2 million annually, favored syndicated programming because it costs a station virtually nothing to carry it. But The Post was concerned about being associated with the kind of one-sided and inflammatory rhetoric that often distinguishes successful syndicated talk hosts.

One unresolved issue is the status of Kornheiser, who hosted WTWP's most popular programs on weekday mornings. Executives expected Kornheiser, a veteran Post sports columnist, to return to the station next January after finishing his second season as an analyst on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," but the dissolution of The Post's involvement could affect his role.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company