Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 1:00 PM
Heard or seen something on the pop culture landscape that appalled/delighted/enlightened you? Of course you have. That's what Station Break with Paul Farhi is here for. Local stations, cable, radio shows, commercials, pop culture -- they're all fair game.
Farhi will be online Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 1 p.m. ET.
Farhi is a reporter in the Post's Style section, writing about media and popular culture. He's been watching TV and listening to the radio since "The Monkees" were in first run and Adam West was a star. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Los Angeles, Farhi had brief stints in the movie business (as an usher at the Picwood Theater), and in the auto industry (rental-car lot guy) before devoting himself full time to word processing. His car has 15 radio pre-sets and his cable system has 500 channels. He vows to use all of them for good instead of evil.
Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and welcome back. ... Well, let's dispense with the preliminaries. WaPo Radio is dead, or will be shortly. So what happened, or didn't? Let's go to the phones. ...
Rockville, Md.: The Post radio thing was a bad idea from the start and many people predicted it wouldn't last. The reality is that newspaper reporters are not broadcasters and many broadcasters are not newspaper reporters. Yes, sometimes reporters cross mediums. But for most of the time, they are different breeds and often they don't do well in other mediums. No one likes to hear that, or admit that, but it's true. Newspaper reporters should, for the most part, stick to reporting the news for their newspapers -- and not appear on radio or on television. Sometimes, it's just that simple. Just report the news.
Paul Farhi: Not sure I agree entirely. Perhaps it's a question of limits -- some of us are good on radio and TV some of the time. But maybe not enough of the time to sustain a full time radio station.
Bethesda, Md.: Help, I'm confused.
Yes, I've enjoyed WTWP, but ... if there are not enough listeners to support a station, like that, what is the logic to HD radio, which, essentially, triples the number of stations?
Paul Farhi: Well, HD radio is self-cannibalization. That is, satellite radio is doing to radio what cable TV has done to broadcast TV -- dividing up the audience into tinier and tinier fractions. So, if that's inevitable thanks to technology, radio stations might as well do it themselves. They will at least have a chance making more of their listeners happy.
Falls Church, Va.: Paul: The reason Post radio is dead is because it deserved to die. Both management and The Post reporters who populated its airwaves didn't understand what makes for engaging radio. Whenever a Post reporter was asked for his or her opinion they equivocated (on the one hand, on the other hand) and they rarely spoke with passion. Generally, they came on to talk about an article they had authored in that day's paper and it was just a regurgitation of what most had read a few hours before with nothing new. An "experiment" to be sure, but with a few tweaks and changes based on this analysis, it could have succeeded in my view.
Paul Farhi: As much as I don't want to sell out my colleagues and the good people who put WaPo Radio on the air, there's something to what you're saying. Radio, especially talk radio, is about the passionate expression of opinions. We, as newspaper journalists, are committed to balance and fairness (okay, I hear your cynical hisses, but it's true). There was, in some ways, a disconnect there. ...
Blues Alley, Cellar Door, and Childe Harold fan: I'm not the biggest fan or most loyal listener to Washington Post Radio, and think that it had the potential to divide the WTOP and WFED audiences (I've never listened to WFED) but it's hard to think that an area as diverse and as in-tune with the regional and world issues the station couldn't develop an audience. It would be a shame if we added another set of conservative/right wing ranters (or, for that matter, left wing ranters). Better the station serve the community by providing quality classical music, or bringing back some of the old country music/bluegrass (such as Eddie Stubbs), etc. that WAMU used to provide; if there's a market for hip hop, there's got to be a market for older country and classical fans.
Paul Farhi: Everyone's a programmer, eh? But apropos the preceding comment about audience fragmentation, don't you think Bonneville (and the Post) had a good idea -- extending WTOP/WFED's news and information "brand" to another station? On paper, it made a lot of sense. WTOP is a gigantic moneymaker. And news and info is what the Post know best. ...
Reston, Va.: I wanted to love Post Radio, but too often I felt like I was hearing what I'd already read in the paper. There really wasn't more to the story.
Paul Farhi: Yes. I have heard that criticism. It's not unfair.
Far Side of the Dial: One of the complaints I've heard repeatedly about WTWP was that it was hard to get the signal in many parts of the Washington area. How come? 1500 AM has always been a strong signal around here, but yes, the FM side -- like many local FM stations -- was very spotty. Why do so many local FM stations have inconsistent signals? I don't recall that problem with FM stations in other metropolitan areas in which I've lived. Is it something to do with having to craft signals so that they don't interfere with government communications?
Paul Farhi: I don't get this. Isn't 1500 the strongest signal in the area, if not the entire East Coast? Supposedly, you can hear it down in Florida at night. So what was the problem there? As for FM spottiness, I don't understand the Washington area. So many FM stations come in badly. Why is this? When I was out in the S.F. Bay Area recently, every FM station seemed to come in clearly over a 40-mile range. Please, engineering types, explain. ....
Alexandria, Va.: Rest In Peace Washington Post Radio.
I think the concept was sound, the execution, pardon the pun, was somewhat lacking. On another Washington Post venture, any ideas on how Washington Post Live is doing on Comcast Sportsnet?
Paul Farhi: Comcast seems to like the show. They just got a very nice new set!
Arlington, Va.: I will miss the premise of WTWP, but not what it had become. I really enjoyed the early days (though I thought Mike, Sam and Bob had to work way too hard to keep conversations going). I liked hearing the reporters give background to stories and the regular visits by the columnists. What I don't like is going to the phones, and the more traditional "talk radio" it became. I guess it was an idea that didn't catch on as well as everyone hoped.
Paul Farhi: It was constantly a work in progress, I guess. That's both a good and a bad thing. Mostly bad, it appears, based on the outcome.
Laurel: Maybe we don't need to see the same people in print, online and over the airwaves, talking about the same thing in three media.
I read "The Economist" once a week, which I consider the only thing that really brings me news I haven't already seen in The Post and isn't written by crackpots (e.g. the OP).
Paul Farhi: Well, again, audiences are so scattered these days that the people reading the paper aren't necessarily the ones listening to the radio station or watching the news on TV or looking at your Web site. So being "everywhere" isn't a bad strategy.
Old Town, Alex., Va: IMHO, what doomed Post radio was there was too much it wasn't, and not enough that it was. That is, it wasn't NPR, in that it didn't dedicate resources for original reporting, or report (comparatively) obscure stories. On the other hand, it wasn't WTOP, in that you couldn't listen for 10 minutes and get headlines, traffic in 10 minutes. And, then, there was also the issue of re-running programming at various times during the day -- which is a fatal error for a real news station. So, I think it turned off a lot of audience, without attracting any ... except the core of Tony Kornheiser loons who tune in for the 36 hours per year he does live programming.
Paul Farhi: I agree. But you could argue that that was its niche -- more in depth than WTOP and less slickly produced than NPR. But perhaps it was too much in the middle, neither fish nor fowl (I'll take the fish, grilled). ...
Baltimore, Md.: Re: reporters on radio and TV: I must admit that I never listened to Post radio, but I have seen Post reporters on MSNBC for some time now and most of them are very good. (Dana Milbank and Dan Balz come to mind. Also enjoy Colby King on Inside Washington, although I know he's on the editorial page side.) Anyway, TV appearances make sense to me (especially on MSNBC) because they are nationwide and brand building. The radio venture, because it was strictly local, seemed a poor investment of resources.
I think that, to keep The Post-Newsweek coffers filled (which will keep the paper healthy), The Post powers-that-be should look to making more acquisitions such as the Kaplan Testing purchase, which I reckon has contributed handsomely to corporate profits.
Paul Farhi: I know the Post Co. and its shareholders love Kaplan, but as a reporter I'm biased toward investing in more journalism. In my fantasy world, you can't have enough reporters, photographers, copy editors and regular old editors on staff (okay, maybe not so many regular old editors). But, then, this may explain why I'm not CEO of the company.
Washington, D.C.: Anything going on today besides doomed radio stations?
Paul Farhi: Be patient. The self-referential portion of our program is nearly over. ...
FM radio signal: Paul,
Just because a signal is FM, that's no guarantee of range or signal strength. That element requires power. I would wager that there are not many FM stations that are allowed to operate at the full 50,000 watt limit.
But that's just my guess.
Paul Farhi: Sure. But do some cities have MORE 50,000-watt stations than ours? I've got to think it's a very limited thing. Too many stations operating at blowtorch power would interfere with all the little 'uns. ...
Chevy Chase. Md.: I liked the idea behind Post Radio, but like others, felt that I was just reading what I already read in the paper, and for a fair amount of the time, had no idea what to expect when I turned on the station. Additionally, the lack of frequent traffic and weather had me consistently flipping back to WTOP. While Post Radio shouldn't be duplicating WTOP with traffic every 10 minutes, 30 minutes is a long time between reports in this area.
And yes, 1500 AM is one of the most powerful signals on the East Coast. I would tune it in from Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Hudson Valley to catch Orioles games back in the day, and have caught parts of the Nationals games while driving around the Finger Lakes region over the past few years. I was even able to hear an entire spring training Nats game on it while driving from Ithaca, N.Y. back to Md., and it sounded like we were in DC the entire time, even though the game was over by the time we reached Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Paul Farhi: According to legend and Wikipedia (often the same thing), 1500 AM can sometimes be heard in western Europe! Which is amazing, if true. ...
Washington, D.C.: I didn't listen to WTWP very often because I don't listen to radio very often. But when I heard it I liked what I heard. Do you think part of the problem was its "NPR on Caffeine" marketing strategy? I know people who listen to WAMU religiously and nothing else, and would never think of listening to anything else. Basically, do you think the existing listening habits of 88.5 listeners was too much to overcome?
Paul Farhi: Possibly. My wife is an 88.5 zealot. WaPo Radio didn't shake her.
Post Radio: So does this mean "traffic on the 8's" is moving back to 1500 AM, where it belongs?
Paul Farhi: Unclear at this point. I think the Bonneville folks are still figuring out the new configurations, if any.
Rockville, Md.: My problem with WaPo Radio was that I never knew who was going to be on when, unless I listened all the time. I finally figured out that Emilio Ruiz, the sports editor was on at 6:50 a.m., and I would turn to listen to him right before I got to work. But it took too long to establish these patterns. There needed to be more routines set up in terms of the WP reporters at the outset.
Paul Farhi: Shows you how long it takes to build a radio station, and the value of predictability. Radio isn't like TV, where you can tell how well a program is faring after one or two episodes. But in radio it takes months to get a rhythm going and to get people to go with that flow. I'm not saying Bonneville and The Post pulled the plug too soon; 17 months is a pretty fair trial. ...
Post Radio: I live well out of range of the signal, but I have to applaud The Post for taking a shot. I've long thought that there could be a business model in bringing Fark-type stuff to the radio, if you picked your advertisers well. Less Lexus, more Metamucil, if you know what I mean.
Paul Farhi: I applaud The Post and B'ville for taking a shot, too. But, no, I don't know what you mean. More Metamucil?
Fairfax, Va.: Just wanted to be on the board saying that I unequivocally enjoyed WP Radio -- I listened to it most of the time in the car. I liked the reporters -- nice to hear non-windbags for a change.
Paul Farhi: Thanks for saying so (and I will resist adding, So you're the one!).
Special Mention: Paul,
A big congrats to Donnie Simpson on his 30 years on Washington radio.
Paul Farhi: Yes. Donnie is, obviously, a pillar of local radio. Really a pleasant presence. And he truly seems like a nice guy.
Washington, D.C.: Am I the only one who likes to read movie and TV credits? I especially like to see if the actor in that old movie is who I think it is. Yet TV stations often minimize the credits so they are unreadable, just so they can advertise some stupid show I am not going to watch.
Paul Farhi: I'm with you! I'm usually the last guy in the movie theater because I watch the credits all the way through ("Filmed in Vancouver, was it? Looked like Toronto to me.") Drives my wife crazy. And, yes, I hate the "squeeze" that stations put on the closing credits, now. Another good reason for getting an HD set -- you can read a lot more fine print.
Richmond, Va.: I like satellite radio. The songs come from outer space. This is the final realization of all our rocket-fueled, stargazing fantasies of the 1950's. Send more Chuck Berry.
Paul Farhi: It's hard to imagine that terrestial radio waves (both TV and radio) also travel through outer space, infinitely. They're probably just getting the original broadcasts of "I Love Lucy" on Alpha Centauri right about now. ...
RE: More Metamucil: What I mean is that the people you could reach with a "reading the Fark stories" format are people who are home a lot, don't go on the Internet, and are likely to read their daily paper: old people still spend a lot of money, but they spend it on different stuff. They get less and less non-essential news from their paper, because of cost and space constraints, but they would still enjoy a friendly voice reading them News of the Weird. Think about Paul Harvey's "For What It's Worth," but as a format.
Paul Farhi: Ah. Got ya. Interesting idea. But a full time station? Seems like it would get old fast. ...
Upper Marlboro, Md.: Even when she finds another job, will Victoria Jones stay with Mr. Tony's posse? She is such a great tigress! And does "Nigel" still have his job? Other than David's morning show and Mr. Tony, who is liberal but fair, the rest of the station skewed so far left that it left you off balance if you listened too long, and you would fall out of the chair. Funny and liberal works; self-righteous and liberal does not (same thing with the right, IMHO).
Paul Farhi: Bonneville is trying to keep most, if not all, of the WTWP people it hired. It will shift some to WTOP or WFED. Others will stay with the station as it makes its transition to a non-Post talk station. ...
Re: WaPo radio: So now what is Kornheiser going to do? Tell me he's going to start writing for The Post again. Or is he strictly MNF?
Paul Farhi: He's certainly MNF for the time being. I haven't heard of any plans for him to increase his output, such as it is, for The Post. The real question is what happens when MNF ends. I'm not sure he's locked in to Bonneville, but I haven't read his contract.
Anonymous: Paul Farhi: I'm with you! I'm usually the last guy in the movie theater because I watch the credits all the way through. Agreed!
Is Michael P. Catanzarite the best second unit key grip ever?
Paul Farhi: I don't know, but now I'm thinking of a Jerry Seinfeld bit about watching the credits scroll endlessly by. He asked, "Do people really care who the gaffer is? Does anyone ever say, 'Man, he gaffed the hell out of that picture?"
Terrestial radio waves:"They're probably just getting the original broadcasts of "I Love Lucy" on Alpha Centauri right about now. ..."
And probably not paying for whatever cable they're getting! Slackers.
Paul Farhi: Boy, that would be one really, really long cable hookup. I think they should just get a satellite dish. ...
Washington, D.C.: I hate that squeeze on movie credits too, but you can always look the movie up on IMDB now.
What's driving me crazy these days are those big ads that play during a show I'm trying to watch. The ones that move and take up the entire corner, just to advertise another show. It's really distracting, and occasionally blocks something you need to see. Let me watch the show I'm watching! Advertise at me during commercial breaks
Paul Farhi: Definitely. Although sometimes the animated graphics are kind of entertaining (especially if the show I'm watching isn't very good).
But do some cities have MORE 50,000-watt stations than ours?: Paul,
Don't think they have more stations. We have more in the tri-state area, for sure, and they all just can't be 50,000 watters. Some of them have got to operate at lesser power so that there's no interference.
I get WARW all the way to Breezewood, Pa. when I'm traveling, but Big 100 barely goes to the Md. state line.
Paul Farhi: Right. Nothing like driving up I-95 and seeing who fades first. WJFK-FM (106.7) is the first to tank on my presets. ...
So now what is Kornheiser going to do?: Paul,
Who cares what he'll do ? He's just a pompous gas bag. I'd take George Michael over Tony any day of the week and twice on Sunday. There's only one great sports journalist left in this town, and that's Wilbon. I'll read anything he writes.
Paul Farhi: Tom Boswell is pretty gosh darn good. As is Sally Jenkins. As is Mike Wise. That's a pretty good team right there.
Re: Wash Post Radio: While I don't disagree with the others as to why it failed, I will miss Washington Post Radio. I mainly listened when I was in the car, but I enjoyed Sam Litzinger's soothing voice while dealing with school buses and screaming children. I hope everyone at the station finds a place they enjoy.
Paul Farhi: Thanks. I liked Sam, too. A real pro. He left a while back. Which didn't help the cause. But what are you gonna do?
HDTV: Hi Paul -- Since your last chat, we took a lightning hit and had to buy a new TV. We went for broke and bought a 52" Vizio LCD and found immediately that the analog Comcast pictures were unwatchable. The digital channels aren't great, but at least you can see what's going on. They put in a HDTV converter for another two bucks a month and at least we have a dozen or so channels that are worth looking at. For the first time, I'm seriously considering a dish.
Paul Farhi: The thing I've found since getting an HD set is how bad the regular old analog channels look. And the plain old digital channels don't look all that hot, either. I've become an HD snob. ...
Bethesda, Md.: Even though it's been a couple weeks now, can you talk about the wrestling story you wrote? People in the industry think that since everyone on the Hill reads The Post, the story could have an effect on how Congress moves forward and if there are hearings involving the WWE and other wrestling companies.
Paul Farhi: I'm not sure drug-taking/death in pro wrestling rises to the level of a federal issue (someone should look into it, though). But I'm surprised that it hasn't happened yet. Reason: It's such a juicy issue for grandstanding and publicity mongering that surely someone in Washington would want a piece of it.
George Michael over Tony : Really? They're both so hard to look at I can't stand watching either.
Paul Farhi: Personality still counts, even on TV. ... And speaking of faces made for radio, would the failure of WaPo Radio suggest we reporters have voices made for ... print?
Fairfax, Va.: Paul,
Have you seen "Damages"? Excellent show if you like devious characters .Kill point was good; albeit short lived.
I can't wait for "The Shield" to start again.
Paul Farhi: Great to see Glenn Close doing a TV series. And Holly Hunter, too. This means that they've gotten too old for decent movie roles, or that the scripts/series that they're in are pretty good. Or both.
I've become an HD snob.: Paul,
Funny. Remember when we were glad to just have cable?
Paul Farhi: Hahaha. Yes! I couldn't believe there were so many channels (about 36). ... Man, all of a sudden, I feel really old.
Alexandria, Va.: Any update on what's happening with 91.9?
Paul Farhi: Last I heard, the sale of WGTS (to Minnesota Public Radio) is rolling forward. The board of Columbia Union College in Takoma Park (the station's owner) is supposed to approve the deal in a few days. ...
Dr. Who: So "Dr. Who" was brought back a couple of years ago. Many people liked the new doctor and especially the new assistant -- an amazingly beautiful blond with the type of looks that dazzle but also make you want to hug her. People tuned in, the stories were good, it was fun, and everyone was happy.
Then, the show apparently abruptly fired the guy playing the doctor and then the beautiful girl was gone.
Now, no one cares. Unbelievable.
Paul Farhi: Well, um, I kind of understand the no one cares part. ...
Washington, D.C.: Does anyone find the WAMU short promo for their podcast service irritating and grating? It starts cold with a blast of a chorus or a lyric from a Beatles song (possibly "Anytime at All"). The volume level for the ad is much higher than that of the preceding programming. It is enough to send me scrambling for the volume/mute control on my computer when I listen the the stream at work.
Irritating stuff like that makes this freeloader even less likely to provide a financial contribution to WAMU.
Thus endeth the rant.
Paul Farhi: Know what I like about that promo? That WAMU would play anything by the Beatles, even for 14 seconds (and, yes, that is "Anytime at All"). ...
Delusion, Ala.: Greetings Paul. Have you seen AT&Ts new TV commercials for wireless service? One shows a bunch of PDAs beeping away in a cramped airplane, the other in an auditorium. These are two places where I don't want to be assaulted by an army of these things. And it doesn't compel me to switch to AT&T. What say you?
Paul Farhi: Is AT&T the one that shows the bars of the cell phone in various clever ways (as a series of ever-taller buildings, as flying geese, etc.). Very clever visual. Problem: I can't remember the advertiser. Even if I could remember it, why would this make me buy their phone?
Baltimore, Md.: While folks are talking about Bonneville and WTOP, the company seriously needs to beef up its news, government and political reporting at WTOP. The news reporting at the station is somehow the worst it's ever been. The best news reporting at WTOP comes from CBS reports. Why can't they have the reporters out covering the serious news stories?
Paul Farhi: Well, I think Dave McConnell does some pretty good work on Capital Hill. I mean, does any other local station have a regular reporter on the hill? Can't think of one. And review that statement again: Not one local radio station has a reporter covering the hill except WTOP. Pretty pathetic.
Washington: As someone who wanted the station's format to work, what bothered me was that there simply was no schedule of what's on. The station may have had the schedule, but you couldn't find it in print or on the Web site. That makes it tough to decide you want to spend time with a station.
Paul Farhi: I think they tried to put it online (and in the paper) but it was fairly broad. The idea was to stay close to the news, which can be somewhat unpredictable. ...
Paul Farhi: Well, on that sad note, we'll call it a day. Or a chat. Thanks for all the input on the station and its demise. Maybe we'll get back to our regularly scheduled media bashing next time around. Let's try, just this once. See you in two weeks. In the meantime, regards to all ... Paul.
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