January 13, 2005
Another rock station bites the dust

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."

We feel your pain. Greg Greene laments the loss, while Jim Henley thinks that the station's format had been dead for a long time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 13, 2005 to Music | TrackBack

As a local, Charles, the weird thing was they did it in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, with no announcements. (A comment on DCist said that they were discussing summer internships as late as this Monday.) There's got to be some sort of story here. I was too young to listen during its freeform heydey, but I can tell you that the station went downhill even from when I was in high school, when there were still shows featuring local bands and live sets. (Tsunami, the delightful band out of Arlington, VA, played on one of them, probably "Dave's Garage".)

Then the music got Korn-ized, although lately I could occasionally hear an indie crossover like Franz Ferdinand or Interpol and they killed all the individual programming (with the possible exception of the overnight weekend techno show). Thanks to streaming WFMU in the office and my iPod in the car, I won't really miss it.

Posted by: Steve on January 13, 2005 4:07 PM