After unsuccessful experiments with pop and "oldies" formats, radio station WMOD-FM has undergone a change of name - and sound. As WMZQ-FM, the station is now pursuing a "contemporary country" programming policy.

"There were at least a dozen rock stations in the Washington market, and we were about on the bottom," says Mike Cohen, general manager of the Sonderling-owned outlet for the last three years. "Our share had declined during the last three rating periods, and since there was only one other FM station playing any form of country music in this market, we decided to get off our rock 'n' roll kick."

The station's new name, says Cohen, "uses the closest call letters we could get to the word 'music'. We're identifying ourselves on the air as '98 MZQ.' That way people will know both where we are and what we are."

The new format, which went into effect one week ago today, has drawn some listener protest, according to Cohen. "The initial reaction was very strong," he reports. "A lot of the longtime listeners called to complain the first day. But the reaction since then has been 95 per cent in favor of the change."

Despite the shift of image and name, the station's personnel remains largely unchanged. Though one country music specialist from Charleston, W.Va., Gerry Paxson, has been brought in to fill the midday slot, most of the disc jockeys from the WMOD era have been retained "A lot of the fellows had country as well as rock backgrounds," Cohen explains, "so we kept them on."

The "contemporary country" format, which mixes traditional country music with songs by country-influenced pop artists such as Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Buffett, has already proven successful in several major southern cities. "We think it'll work here," says Cohen, "so you're going to be hearing a respectable share of crossover music."