Washington oldies station WBIG-FM, 100.3, laid off half its on-air staff Tuesday, including nighttime DJ Jeff "Goldy" Gold, as the station struggles with a shrinking audience and a format that is less appealing to the younger listeners advertisers crave.
Along with Gold, the Clear Channel-owned station handed out pink slips to midday DJ Kathy Whiteside, weekend personality Johnny Dark, news anchor Ira Mellman and creative services director Bob Karson.
The five staffers joined WBIG in 1993 when the station dropped its jazz playlist in favor of the oldies format that was gaining popularity on radio stations across the country.
"We're all kind of devastated," said Gold, whose last day on the air was Friday. "The greatest thing for me was that the kids that started listening to me and calling me when they were 6, 7, 8 years old, they're now calling me from college."
Gary Murphy and Jessica Cash will continue to host the morning show "Murphy & Cash," and Tom Kelly will remain as the afternoon DJ, according to program director Bill Hess.
Murphy and Cash could not be reached after messages were left at their office yesterday, and Kelly declined to comment.
Weekend personality Paula Kasey will fill in for Gold and newcomer Stephanie Wells will take over Whiteside's midday show.
Hess said it is to be determined whether Kasey and Wells will become permanent replacements. He added that there has been no discussion at this point as to whether some of the shifts will be replaced with programming that is syndicated or DJ-free.
Hess said the purge is a result of "challenging" times for the station. As oldies radio listeners have aged and moved out of the stations' targeted audience, WBIG has begun shifting its programming. "We've been expanding the playlist and moving into the '70s, and as you adjust the brand of a radio station, certainly personalities are . . . part of the change that takes place."
However, Hess said, the changes in its on-air talent do not mean WBIG will be radically changing its format anytime soon. "This radio station has been evolving and there's been a continuation of that, but I think the big hits of the '60s and '70s, which is where we are now . . . is going to be the core of this radio station."
Former WBIG program director Steve Allan, who hired the five staffers in 1993, said it's rare for a radio lineup to stay the same for as long as the WBIG crew did. "It became more than a job for those people," said Allan, who is now the programming head at Detroit's WOMC-FM. "It's the end of an era, and that is sad."
WBIG placed 13th out of nearly 30 Washington radio stations in the most recent Arbitron ratings measuring total audience. The winter numbers weren't much better: The station tied for 12th place, down considerably from the previous winter.
As part of that decline, the station has seen a drop in younger listeners.
Warren Kurtzman, vice president of the Raleigh-based research firm Coleman, which provides programming advice to radio stations, says oldies stations nationwide are facing ratings challenges.
"While the appeal of the format remains very strong, it's starting to be increasingly concentrated in the age groups that are outside of the 25-to-54 demographic that most radio advertisers target," Kurtzman said. "If the stations' ratings in the 25-to-54 demographic get lower, it's more difficult for the stations to reach the revenue target."
Programming to that targeted demographic is difficult because those listeners are looking for a more diverse playlist, according to Hess. " '60s music was pretty . . . homogenous," he said. "In the '70s is really when music and radio really began to splinter.
"It is harder to find a coalition of songs, but it's a task we have to undertake in order to build and expand our audience within the advertiser demos."