Washington has a reputation as a college basketball hotbed. You wouldn't know it from the radio.
If you live in Maryland, you might have trouble hearing Georgetown games.
If you live in Virginia, you might have trouble hearing Navy games.
If you live in the District, you might have trouble hearing George Mason or Virginia games.
And if you live anywhere, you might have trouble hearing American, George Washington and Howard games.
The interest might be there, but the radio signals aren't. The notable exception is Maryland games on powerful WMAL-630 (but even some people around the Beltway often complain about the AM station's signal). The next-best situation is Georgetown games on WWDC-1260; still, despite the fact that the station has been doing some major tower work over the past couple of years to improve its signal, it remains a hit-or-miss proposition for many in the suburbs.
Besides Maryland and Georgetown, the other area schools have trouble convincing big stations' managers to cover their games.
"It's just horrible," said American's sports information director, Terry Cornwell. "It's not a marketplace for college basketball. It's an incredible radio drought for college basketball here."
"Nobody seems to care in this area," said WHUR-FM-96.3 sportscaster Glenn Harris. "Nobody wants to buy GW basketball. Nobody wants to buy AU basketball."
"We can't even get the big stations to talk to us," said George Mason's sports information director, Carl Sell Jr. "We've gone after the FM stations in Virginia -- WAVA, WBMW, WQXR. But they don't want to give us prime time. We run into a format problem everywhere."
During a Washington winter, you seemingly can't go an hour without seeing a college basketball game on TV. But around town, radio stations are reluctant to commit to local games.
"We haven't run into a college basketball fan among station managers," Sell said.
"Maybe an AU or GW hasn't had the national exposure," said WWDC's program director, Bill Scanlan. "Putting on sports involves an investment of talent and time, and stations always look at the bottom line. Maybe it's not a good bottom line for the others like it is for us."
The bottom line, apparently, is that stations, mostly with music formats, have determined they cannot make money from college basketball. For alumni and other fans of area schools, that means having to be in the right place at the right time to hear games. So the right neighborhood for your children might not be the right neighborhood for your radio. AU games are broadcast only on campus station WVAU-620. The university's public radio station, WAMU-FM-88.5, doesn't see college basketball as "compatible with their overall programming mission," Cornwell said. GW games are broadcast on tiny WYCB-1340, which has an inspirational format and an uninspirational signal. Howard games largely are ignored these days by WHUR, the school's popular station. Last season, 12 Howard games (plus the conference tournament) were broadcast; this season, the number is down to five. WHUR, understandably, prefers to air its nighttime "Quiet Storm" music show that oftens rates No. 1 in the market. Virginia games are carried by a network of nearly 30 stations throughout the state, but the closest to D.C. are WPRW-1460 in Manassas and WAGE-1200 in Leesburg, both difficult to hear in much of the metropolitan area. WRVA-1140 in Richmond, though, often can be heard at night in Northern Virginia. George Mason games have expanded to four stations -- flagship WDCT-1310 in Manassas, WAGE-1200 in Leesburg, WPWC-1480 in Dumfries and WQRA-FM-94.3 in Warrenton. George Mason buys the time from the stations and sells ad time itself. "We think we probably have the area covered, at least Northern Virginia," Sell said. Again, D.C. and Maryland listeners generally are shut out from picking up those signals. Navy games are carried by WNAV-1430 in Annapolis, another station difficult to pick up throughout most of the metro area.
It's a bleak situation, and there aren't many options.
"We get the same answer everywhere," Sell said. "If we wanted to put something on between 2 and 5 a.m., I guess we could."