John Sebastian, program director of WBMW-FM (106.7), is doing what most successful Washingtonians do: starting his own consulting firm. Sebastian will be marketing WBMW's format of what Sebastian terms "eclectic" music (but what we all know as "new age") to stations across the country, in direct competition with the similar -- and successful -- "Wave" format pioneered in Los Angeles and now on stations in Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Kansas City, Cleveland and Chicago.

"I'm going to do it differently," Sebastian said. "I'm going after only five or six stations, and I want to keep it a quality format, not a quantity one." Sebastian explained that rather than offer a "canned" format for sale -- as is the case with the Wave -- he intends to "offer it in the form of real radio, with warm human beings behind the microphones. They're offering it as a syndicated music service. I want to be involved in every aspect of implementing the concept."

Sebastian already has lined up KGRX-FM in Phoenix, and will begin working there Feb. 1. "I'd like to see it {the format} in New York City, and maybe a couple of medium or major market stations where they have nothing like this. Houston comes to mind ..."

Taking over the program director's duties at BMW will be production director Bob Brooks. Assistant program director Steve Allan will assume additional responsibilities as well.

Station General Manager Ken Stevens said it was known all along that Sebastian would not stay on forever. "It's been our plan for Bob and Steve to take over from John when our new format reached a point that we no longer needed John in a hands-on capacity." Stevens added that WBMW will be the first client of Sebastian's new company.

Bidding on WETA

WETA-FM (90.9) is in the midst of another fund-raising event, its fourth annual "Great FM 91 Auction," which began Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and will continue through Thursday. More than 500 items worth more than $180,000 will be sold to the highest bidder.

There are quite a few nifty goodies (not a single tote bag in the lot), including a brand new Honda Civic and a likewise new Acura Integra; a week's stay for two at a Paris hotel during Bastille Day week; round-trip airfare to several U.S. and foreign cities, resorts and such; and stays at various hotels and inns for various lengths of time. Then again, WETA is also auctioning off a script of the first episode of "The Bronx Zoo," specially autographed by Ed Asner. Mercifully, it's a one-of-a-kind.

All of the items have been donated to the station, and last year the auction netted the station about $91,000.

Dead Air for AM Stereo

And AM stereo, like Generalissimo Franco, is still dead. Recently the FCC refused to set a single standard for AM stereo broadcasting or require manufacturers to produce radios that can pick up multiple types of AM stereo signals. The FCC noted that since AM stereo was introduced five years ago in hopes of revitalizing AM radio, the types of systems available have dwindled to two. Five years ago there were five competing AM stereo technologies, all incompatible with one another.

Arbitron Ratings, Cont'd

As you recall in our last episode, we heard about the Arbitron ratings from the radio stations' point of view. Arbitron sees things slightly differently. A common complaint of stations is that the ratings are skewed to reflect the preferences of older listeners. "It's a common complaint, and a complaint borne out by nothing," says Arbitron spokeswoman Nan Myers. Though she agreed that older listeners are more faithful Arbitron diary keepers, younger listeners are courted more.

"We pay different premiums to age and demographic groups," she says. "We've found 18- to 24-year-olds are not as responsive, so we pay them higher premiums."

But don't think you're going to get rich if you're a diary keeper. The weekly premiums range from about 50 cents to $2. But the premiums are enough to secure Arbitron a response rate of better than 50 percent. And the company feels that those people are an accurate reflection of the Washington area's taste in radio.

Myers agrees with station managers that there's something in the ratings for everyone. "Even if a station is ranked lower in the ratings," Myers says, "it can find a day part {specific block of time during the day} and demographic that is attractive to advertisers" -- which means there is a certain time of day when the station may have high ratings among a certain segment of the population.

Live From AU

American University basketball fans can now hear the games on WMMJ-FM (102.3). The station is airing all home and away games until the season's end. American University alum Bob Snyder will handle the play-by-play announcing, while former AU basketball player Jim Lutz will provide color commentary.