Four on-air personalities at WAMU-FM have been fired, effective July 1, including longtime Washington radio personality Ed Walker and 20-year WAMU veteran Edward Merritt, host of concert music and reading programs, according to general manager Susan Harmon.
In addition, classical, rock and big-band music will be eliminated from the station's programming as of July 1, in favor of news/talk, bluegrass and jazz. "I think this will make our programming more consistent," Harmon said.
"The changes are the result of the economic climate," Harmon said. "We want to make the station as money-saving as we can. I haven't sat down and calculated exactly how much we will save, but financial reasons certainly were a deciding factor."
In addition to Walker and Merritt, two part-time weekend personalities were fired: Marc Farre, host of "Overnight Express," one of the area's few havens for experimental and progressive rock, and Rick Colom, host of "Big Band Saturday Night."
"I feel shock more than anything," Walker said. "In a way, I was sort of expecting it. Everyone knows that public radio is in a financial crunch, and WAMU is trying to save some salaries. But it's not the first time this has happened and it certainly won't be the last. But you know that, when you get into this business."
Walker said that he had no plans yet, but that he would continue his weekend big band shows for WMAL. A founder of the 21-year-old WAMU, Walker has had an early afternoon big band show there for three years.
"They only told me Tuesday, so of course I haven't had time to think of what comes next," Merritt said. "There are such things as good manners, and there are such things as none. And you just have to read it as you see it.
"I think this has to be viewed in the whole context of the idea of what public radio really is," Merritt said. "I've been involved in public radio for over 35 years, and as I see it, it is something that gets a lot of lip service, when it is supposed to provide an alternative service. The 'Bookmark' show, for instance, I think is the only one in the market, and as far as I know it is very popular, as is the concert music. So you're losing two services from this market, and both because they are viewed as noncommercial."
Other changes: a new local morning news program, "Early Edition," will air from 5:30 to 6 a.m., preceding National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." Daily bluegrass programming will expand to 6 1/2 hours, with Lee Michael Dempsey from noon to 3; Jerry Gray will continue "Bluegrass Country" from 3 to 6:30 p.m. daily. Jazz will take over nightly from 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., and modern drama will be paired with "Vintage Radio" on both Saturday and Sunday nights. "We'll also be doing newscasts both weekend days. We haven't previously been consistent about that," Harmon said.
Walker was critical of the format changes. "Whatever I say is going to sound like sour grapes and I don't mean it that way, but I think adding three hours of bluegrass programming is an overkill. Certainly the bluegrass community can't be expected to give them any more money. And I don't think big band has to go. All this does is shift more people to WEAM an AM big band station ."
"I wish them well with whatever they do," Walker said. "Of course, I don't agree with it, but then they never asked me."