As Washington Post Radio often says: “There’s always more to the story.”
What it won’t say is why the Post’s attempt to expand its brand to the airwaves seems to be failing. Word around the Post newsroom is that listener ratings are so low that the newspaper will close down its radio operation this fall at the end of the Washington Nationals baseball season.
Post Watch could not confirm the rumors.
“No hard decisions have been made yet,” says Jim Farley, head of news and programming for Washington Post Radio and sibling station WTOP. Both are owned by Bonneville International, which is calling for a new format. “The two parties are talking and looking to making changes to boost ratings momentum and therefore revenues.”
Translation: Post Radio is hemorrhaging money; Bonneville has to stop the bleeding or kill the experiment with the Post.
Which would be a shame. WTWP, at 1500 AM and 107.7 FM, often entertains and informs. It falls somewhere between news bites on WTOP and long-form radio journalism on NPR.
Sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz is fun to listen to in the early morning. Political analyst Dana Milbank has a gift for wry insights, interrupted by the occasional wailing from one of his toddlers. Gossip Roxanne Roberts surveys the social scene with wit and sarcasm. Howie Kurtz is reliably sharp on media and politics. The weekly segment on entertaining and home design by Jura Koncius and Annie Groer is good enough to be syndicated.
But the fact is that the only thing that brought throngs of ears to 1500 AM was Tony Kornheiser’s morning gab fest about sports, music, or whatever he fancied. Tony left last month for vacation and then Monday Night Football, and Post Radio ratings tanked.
Bonneville hoped that Post reporters could provide scintillating radio commentary, which is why the radio company decided to pay the Post to provide content. But most Post reporters couldn’t perform. They might be good reporters, but many lack the gift of gab. In other words, they can be boring.
The few who can tell good radio stories are all over NPR and MSNBC, so Post Radio doesn’t seem special.
Chalk up the failure to bad management. Post editors declined to train reporters and were miserly in paying them.
Bonneville has been forced to cut staff. Talent is moving on. Sam Litzinger, a radio pro who hosted the Post’s midday program, left for CBS radio.
Bonneville wants to quit trying to turn reporters into radio commentators and fill Post Radio with syndicated shows, like ones hosted by Glenn Beck or Neal Boortz. The Post is resisting.
Bonneville and the Post have less than two years left on their three-year contract. They would have to agree to kill the radio station.
It’s more likely the station will wither away, with Post reporters giving way to professional talkers. If there’s “more to the story,” we might have to find it elsewhere.
This piece originally appeared in the August 2007 edition of the magazine.