The Woodstock generation has moved to the suburbs and so has its radio station.
At dawn on Oct. 21 the syrupy mood music of 50,000-watt WLOM-FM here gave way to the counterculture clatter of "progressive rock." It was not just any progressive rock, but the rock of the station that inaugurated such programming in Washington 14 years ago--WHFS-FM.
WHFS, for those who don't remember, was the 3,000-watt underground outfit that offered a novel broadcasting format to the nation's capital at the close of the turbulent 1960s. It had disc jockeys named Cerphe and Little John and Joshua who talked slowly and softly, played controversial and sometimes raunchy music from Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa and Richie Havens and captured the fancy of a cadre of young adults of the city.
Whether WHFS had a following or a cult is a question of interpretation, but the station never wavered from its mission over the years, through Cerphe and Little John and Joshua and on to successors named Weasel and Milo and Damian.
Last week Weasel and Damian and Milo and their colleagues, silenced for three months, came to Annapolis with a U-Haul truck full of progressive rock and startled an early morning audience waiting to hear Andy Williams sing "Moon River" one more time. The change was sudden, unannounced and greeted by more than a few hoots from regular WLOM listeners, one of whom called the new music "garbage."
WHFS was sold to WTOP for $2.2 million on July 14 and when the new owners sent the one-named disc jockeys packing they evidently left a void. "We had 17,000 letters" protesting the end of the era, said Jake Einstein, WHFS' chief of operations and now head of WLOM. "We sold $50,000 worth of commemorative T-shirts in 2 1/2 months."
There was hope. Einstein had a deposit down to buy WEAM-AM in Arlington, pending FCC approval, and assured his worried listeners the WHFS mission would be renewed across the Potomac. But opposition to the transfer surfaced in the form of a citizens' group dedicated to continuing WEAM's big-band sound and Einstein "started sweating" as FCC approval was delayed for public comment.
When WLOM and its sister AM station, WNAV, came up for sale here he saw a way out. He put together a buyers group, including several local investors. The deal was closed for $2.8 million on Oct. 18 and immediately the new stations made news by hiring an old Einstein chum, former governor Marvin Mandel, to do political analysis on 5,000-watt WNAV. Now with the program shift on WLOM and a pending call-letter change to WHFS, the group is taking aim at the young adult markets in Baltimore and Washington with a powerful signal that reaches both cities at 99 on the FM dial.
The radio changes also reflect a step in the cultural greening of Annapolis, where a four-screen movie theater opened this summer sporting a French movie with subtitles, "The Return of Martin Guerre," something all but unprecedented here.
Meanwhile, the FCC this week approved the transfer of WEAM to a group headed by Einstein's son, David, but Einstein said an appeal is being pursued by the big-band fanciers. In any case, he said, he's made his progressive rock move and his ex-WHFS deejays will stay in Annapolis whatever the WEAM outcome.
The revival of the WHFS sound, while anathema to some WLOM listeners who tuned in and quickly tuned back out the first day, brightened the lives of some old listeners.
"It is wonderful to have you back. This weekend has brought an incredible positive change to my spirit and soul, thanks to you," a D.C. listener wrote on National Wildlife Federation stationery.
"Finally, after all these months," wrote another, "I can listen to the radio again."