It's rare that we note the exit of a radio station's general manager. Such a thing usually means little to the listener, who has a closer bond with deejays and other personalities.
But this one's worth talking about: At the end of October, Kim Hodgson will finish 12 years as general manager of news-talk WAMU (88.5 FM). During his tenure, Hodgson doubled listenership of the National Public Radio affiliate by adding technology and talent. He groomed hosts like Diane Rehm, Derek McGinty and Kojo Nnamdi and marketed them to public stations around the country, making them national names.
Most important, perhaps, the station became a consistent moneymaker. Just yesterday, WAMU raised $38,000 in online pledges alone during "Morning Edition."
Hodgson is leaving to run WDAV, the classical-music public radio station of Davidson College, a smaller market north of Charlotte, N.C. A couple of weeks ago, I asked Hodgson what the move meant, career-wise. He said, "Career-wise, I'm 57 years old." Already, he has bought a boat, which is pretty much all you need to know.
More interesting is WAMU's future. What the station sounds like is ultimately in the hands of American University, which will hire the new general manager. It is a coveted job that should attract top candidates.
It seems likely that the new general manager will come in with one wary eye on rival WETA (90.9 FM), the classical music public radio station.
WAMU was caught off guard last May when WETA began broadcasting "Morning Edition," which until then was the sole province of WAMU. The pickup was an aggressive and unusual move within the typically collegial world of public radio.
"The fact that WETA made that change changed the landscape for us," said WAMU Program Director Steve Martin, who may consider a run at the top job. "The new GM will have to look very seriously at that to make sure it will not erode WAMU's place as the primary NPR news-talk station" in Washington.
"It shows that public radio--and public radio listeners don't like to hear this--has become a more competitive environment," he said.
Both stations are eagerly awaiting the summer Arbitron ratings reports, due later this month, to get an indication of whether "Morning Edition" listeners are leaving WAMU for WETA. Both have comparable overall numbers, consistently pulling a 3 to 4 share, meaning 3 to 4 percent of the audience is listening at any given time. Top-rated commercial stations in the area, by comparison, get shares of 6 or so.
Under Hodgson, WAMU's primary musical programming has been bluegrass. Washington was once a hotbed of the genre, and WAMU considers it a local one. I occasionally get calls and e-mails asking (hoping, actually) whether WAMU will dump bluegrass for more modern-sounding music. Will Hodgson's departure increase the chance of that?
Not likely, Martin says. Bluegrass is a reliable fund-raiser for the station and there is a passionately committed, albeit small, listenership.
Don & Mike Apologize--Again
WJFK (106.7 FM) afternoon talkers Don Geronimo and Mike O'Meara last week apologized on the air for an anti-Hispanic slur they'd made in August when they called and berated a councilwoman in a tiny Texas town for its decision to conduct municipal meetings in Spanish, owing to the area's large Spanish-speaking population.
It was their second apology for the remark, and it was written by their bosses.
"During this segment, we offended a number of listeners and subsequently a number of non-listeners who heard about the segment," the apology read in part. "We later made an on-air apology, which was inadequate. We believe racial or ethnic intolerance is unacceptable, on or off the air. We made a mistake and we want to restate our remorse for our insensitivity."
The slur was protested in the Southwest, and at least one station in New Mexico dumped the show. The Congressional Hispanic Congress, chaired by Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), protested to WJFK's parent company, Infinity Radio, which is owned by CBS. CBS defended its record in Hispanic affairs, and deemed Don & Mike's first apology insufficient.
After a decade of hosting NPR's excellent classical music magazine, "Performance Today," host Martin Goldsmith will leave Oct. 15. Goldsmith will keep a toe in the show as a senior commentator, but will spend most of his time finishing a book about his parents, Jewish musicians in Nazi Germany who were forced to perform for the Third Reich.
The show is searching for a new host; Lisa Simeone will host in the interim.
Franklin Gone, Too
Chip Franklin, nighttime talker at WMAL (630 AM), has left to take the 9-to-noon slot on WBAL (1090 AM) in Baltimore, replacing local legend Allan Prell starting yesterday. Franklin, 43, is a part-time comedian and will bring a rapid-fire wit to Charm City. Already he has been ingratiating himself with city residents, lauding the Orioles and bashing the Yankees.
Replacing Franklin will be guest hosts--including former WMAL personality Tom Gauger--until a permanent hire is made.
It's a slight move down in radio market size, but a significant move up exposure-wise: More folks listen to the radio in the morning than at night. Also, it was a nice raise for the father of two boys. He can now spend more time embarrassing them at the batting cages.
Big Story--Sort Of
Radio corporations AMFM Inc. and Clear Channel Communications yesterday announced a merger that creates a $56 billion giant with 830 radio stations--the largest station owner in the United States. AMFM's stations are in the nation's largest markets, which Clear Channel's aren't, and Clear Channel is a particularly well-run Wall Street darling, which AMFM is not.
All of this means little to Washington area listeners. AMFM already owns eight stations here--the most allowed by the FCC--so the combined company cannot acquire any more. Clear Channel owns no stations here.
Burning to talk about radio? Log on to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline today at 1 p.m. to pepper The Listener with questions, complaints and compliments.