DATE: Tuesday, July 15, 1997 TAG: 9707150311 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: 78 lines
THE GRANDDADDY of Virginia radio stations swapped frequencies with its kid sister this morning.
Just after midnight, WTAR 790 went up the AM dial to 850. WNIS 850 headed south to 790.
The change is meant to boost WNIS' already good ratings by giving it the stronger signal.
Both stations broadcast from Dominion Tower, where they moved about a year ago after their owner, Sinclair Communications, brought its stable of four local stations under the same roof.
The stations' programming won't change, except in the fall, when Redskins and University of Virginia will be carried on WNIS, and Virginia Tech football will be heard on WTAR.
However, the swap disconnects WTAR from the numbers that carried it during its heyday, when the radio mike was a metal altar capped by call letters and DJs wore ties.
WTAR became Virginia's first radio station in 1923, and for decades it was the king of local radio.
Until the FM era, that is.
Now the station is firmly entrenched in the ratings basement, though it dominates the local sports market by airing Hampton Roads Admirals and Norfolk Tides games, as well as Virginia Tech football starting this fall.
WTAR once thrived on clean news and humor. In recent years, it has turned to irreverent morning jocks.
For a brief time, Pat Murphy's acidic poli-talk anchored the all-important morning drive, and the oft-foul-mouthed, New York-based Don Imus had a shot on WTAR. The departed Imus' slot is now held by John Boy and Billy, a pair of Charlotte-based jocks who serve up a healthy dose of redneck humor and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
WNIS is the ratings contender among AM stations in the Sinclair collection, and management believes it deserves a signal that will get it to more listeners.
``The 790 signal is the strongest AM signal in the market,'' said Jerry Del Core, general manager for Sinclair's local stations.
``It'll help WNIS fill in a little in Chesapeake, Suffolk, parts of Yorktown and parts of Williamsburg,'' Del Core said. ``It also has stronger in-office penetration. It gets into buildings better.''
That will help more office-bound folks hear afternoon talk such as Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura. Those shows have higher office ratings than WTAR's programming.
The decision has been about two months in the making, Del Core said. WNIS has boosted its ratings in recent months, and the dial-switch move may help it reach the top five locally.
Del Core said there are no tears being shed over WTAR's 55-year connection with its old frequency.
``Most people aren't listening to the station,'' he said.
However, John B. Zaun, who worked as WTAR manager when the station was held by Landmark Communications, which owns The Virginian-Pilot, sees the switch more sentimentally.
Zaun has a collection of WTAR memorabilia in his Virginia Beach home - including a mike from WTAR's golden years.
``I hate to see that radio station go,'' Zaun said. ``It's a sad day for one of the oldest radio stations in the country.'' ILLUSTRATION: Graphic
6-9 a.m. - Macrini's Morning News Team
9-11 a.m. - Tony Macrini Talk Show
11-noon - The Dean Edell Show
noon-3 p.m. - The Rush Limbaugh Show
3-6 p.m. - Dr. Laura
6-8 p.m. - Ask the Expert Show
8-midnight - The Michael Reagan Show
6-10 a.m. - The John Boy and Billy BIG Show
10-3 p.m. - The G. Gordon Liddy Show
3-7 p.m. - The Don & Mike Show
7-midnight - One-On-One Sports
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