Money talks, deejays walk.
On Monday, Jim Elliot and Scott Woodside, WPGC's popular morning team, gave First Media one week's notice that they'd be moving up the FM dial from 95.5 to ABC-owned Q107. Elliot and Woodside, whose services were ended by WPGC after Monday's show, will replace the Q107 team of Dude Walker (fired) and Doug Limerick (moved into the news director slot). Their long-term contract is reportedly in the six-figure range. At stake are the lucrative morning radio ratings -- or at least the ones left over by the sunrise empire of WMAL's Harden and Weaver.
"This is the sixth time ABC has come after me," Elliot said late Monday night. "Four times here, once in Houston, once in Chicago" (where he turned down a six-figure offer from ABC-owned WLS in September). "They wanted both of us and we're both well taken care of."
"I've been talking to them off and on since I got to Washington two years ago," said Q107 program director Alan Burns. He admitted that he had tried on several occasions to get Elliot and Woodside "nice jobs" with ABC-owned stations outside the Washington market "because they're very good at what they do." Of course, at Top-40 WPGC, they represented the major competition for the runner-up spot in the highly competitive morning market. Q107 is obviously counting on a large number of WPGC listeners following Elliot and Woodside up the dial.
Along with DC101's Howard Stern and WMAL's top-ranked Harden and Weaver, WPGC and Q107 account for the biggest chunk of the morning audience in terms of music stations. Claiming that WPGC's ratings tapered down after Elliot and Woodside's morning show, while the reverse held at Q107, Burns said, "If we can get a stronger start in the very important morning drive period, that should strengthen the entire station."
The ousted Walker, admitting surprise at the timing of the move, pointed back to April of 1979, when the ABC station switched formats from personality-rock RQX to the softer album-rock Q107 and "the morning show was the lowest rated thing on the station. They wanted to hire Elliot and Woodside right away, but they couldn't come to terms. Then they tried to get them out of town; it didn't matter where, just get 'em out, figuring that whatever else went into PGC couldn't be anywhere as strong as what we had and that they'd have to start from scratch."
Elliot, at WPGC since 1974, teamed with Woodside in 1978; Walker and Limerick went on the air in August of 1979. Since then, Q107's morning ratings have crept up while WPGC's have dropped and in the last year the two stations have jockeyed for second place behind Harden and Weaver while trying to fight off the mouth that roared, DC101's Howard Stern.
"It didn't look like there was going to be a clear-cut winner there," Walker said. "The only way out was to hire Elliot and Woodside, not necessarily because they're good but because they're over there. There's no one PGC can immediately put in, the numbers are going to be lost."
Steve Kingston, WPGC program director, said, "At this point, we're shopping for the best morning team in the country." (First Media president Glen Potter and station manager Charles Giddins were out of town and unavailable for comment.) Since Q107 has retained Limerick, there's no possibility of a straight switch between the two stations' morning teams. "By firing me but not my partner, it splits us up," said a disgruntled Walker, who pointed out that Limerick already held the post of news director. "I feel like they tried to mess us up with a well-thought-out plan of attack . . . and I'm on the short end of it."
"We'll still be us," Elliot says. "But I am going to have to put a big note over the microphone that says Q107; I know there's going to come a time when I'm going to open up the mike and say 'WPGC.' But then I've just got to look at who's signing the paychecks and realize that my address has changed."