Classical change in Washington DC

Scott Fybush
Wed Jan 24 13:11:51 EST 2007

Stephanie Weil wrote:

> Apparently WTWP's ratings have been lackluster.
> Maybe Bonneville will eventually do the right thing and move the news
> format BACK to AM 15 - probably leaving the Washington Post Radio on FM?
> Seems like that would help WTWP compete a bit more against the NPR
> stations which are on FM.
> I'm sure that AM 15's nasty pattern over the city doesn't help matters
> much, either.  Wonder if there's any way they could fix that.

Short answer? No.

Washington got the short end of the stick when they were handing out AM 
signals in the 1920s and 1930s. It was a small, sleepy Southern town 
back then, and suburbia, such as it was, extended across the Potomac as 
far as Alexandria. As a result, the city ended up with two decent class 
III signals, WMAL 630 and WRC (now WTEM) 980, plus the I-B clear on 
1500, WJSV/WTOP. Everything else is either effectively a daytimer (730, 
780, 1120) or a very limited in-city signal (1260, 1340, 1450).

Because it had to protect KSTP in St. Paul, north and west of 
Washington, WJSV went about as far north and west as it needed to go in 
the late thirties to serve Washington with adequate signal level 
(remember, the rule back then specified 25 mV/m over the main post 
office in the city of license) while covering the populated areas with a 
night signal.

They had no way of knowing back then just how much suburban development 
would pop up to the west and the north, and by the time suburbia had 
grown, it was too late for WTOP to make any really useful move, being 
hemmed in by new signals on 1520 in Brunswick MD, 1490 in Hagerstown, 
etc. WTOP did negotiate an interference agreement with the 1500s in St. 
Paul and Detroit a few years back that allowed all three stations to 
improve their night signals, but it wasn't enough.

As a result of the lousy AM signals, Washington has become one of the 
most FM-centric markets in the country, and the move of WTOP to 103.5 
was simply a case of following the listeners to the part of the dial 
where they preferred to listen. Bonneville's made similar moves in Salt 
Lake City and Phoenix, where its news-talkers were on excellent AM 
signals (1160 and 620, respectively) but where a young, sprawling 
audience was expecting to find what it wanted on FM.


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