The latest word at WMAL-AM is: Never mind.
The ABC-owned contemporary station is expected today to reverse a new program strategy announced earlier this month-and leave Felix Grant where he is. The plan would have moved Grant, whose nightly four-hour jazz show celebrates its 25th anniversary at the station next month, to weekends only starting on Sept. 1. Grant was to have been replaced by Johnny Holiday, whose reputation in this market is based on his voice (rather than his music), and who now does weekends for the station.
"I knew they were impressed by the public reaction," Grant, 58, said yesterday afternoon about the station management, from whom he'd heard nothing. "But I don't go and sit with them at their meetings or anything. I was just working on something for tonight's show, in fact."
Station management declined comment yesterday-they've scheduled a press conference for this morning-but sources at the city's formerly No. 1-rated station say Grant will remain in his 8-to-midnight slot. The reason: An outpouring of public comment (much of it "quite literate," said one staffer) in the form of more than 700 letters and several hundred phone calls protesting the move.
When the change was first announced, station Executive Vice President Andrew Ochershausen had put management's feelings about Grant's recently declining ratings into a simple phrase: "We've got to do a little more talking at night," he said.
The planned move was seen as a step toward the future of AM broadcasting in a city (and soon, it is said, a country) where FM has become the dominant radio medium. Some 67 percent of radio listeners in Washington listen to FM, according to recent Arbitron figures.
Grant's show remained in the No. 1 nighttime spot for some 15 of its 25 years-until about two years ago, when several FM music stations (top-40 WPGC and black-album WHUR and WOOK in particular) began to lure away listeners. Overall, WMAL now ranks second in listeners-behind WPGC.
The sudden in-with-the-old turnaround at WMAL may have had another twist: Johnny Holliday wanted out. Holliday, reached last night, says he's also been affected by the public response to Grant so much so that within the last few days, "I sort of came to the conclusion that it would not be best for me to do this new thing," he said."I don't want to appear as some kind of villian - which from all accounts I was."