The DC area loses a longstanding rock station.
WHFS-FM, the Washington area radio station that was a pioneering purveyor of alternative rock to generations of young music fans, did a programming U-turn yesterday by ditching the genre for a Spanish-language, pop-music format that transforms it into the largest Spanish-language station on the local dial.
The switch reflects both changing demographics and a corporate war of attrition involving Washington's two major radio station owners, Infinity Broadcasting, which owns WHFS, and Clear Channel Communications, which owns WHFS's chief competitor, DC-101.
WHFS was among a handful of stations that developed the album-oriented format: The music was alternative and free-form, featuring such groups as Led Zeppelin, the Who and Yes, but with the occasional bluegrass or other unexpected ditty. Disc jockeys weren't confined to the strictures of a corporate-mandated playlist. They played what they wanted.
WHFS began as a classical music station, then switched to pop music in the early-to-mid-1960s before turning to rock about 1968. The moves were orchestrated by Jake Einstein, who began as an advertising salesman and became one of the station's owners in the mid-1960s.
Einstein's son, Damian, a longtime on-air personality on WHFS, said yesterday that the station's reputation as a maverick programmer began to decline more than a decade ago, at the beginning of a rapid consolidation of ownership in the industry.
"They really weren't interested in the music anymore," said Einstein, who was one of WHFS's best-known personalities and who is now the program director at WRNR-FM, a small alternative rock station in Annapolis. "There really wasn't that much creativity there. Having been there for so long and having done so many things there, of course it's sad. But I guess you gotta do what you gotta do."