Wednesday Not 'Muy Bien' For Some WHFS Fans
Former Rock Station Switches Formats
POSTED: 4:42 pm EST January 12, 2005
UPDATED: 6:19 pm EST January 12, 2005
WASHINGTON -- The radio station WHFS changed its format to Spanish language dance music Wednesday after more than 35 years of playing rock and alternative music in the Washington region.
At noon WHFS became "El Zol" 99.1, playing Caribbean and Central American dance music geared toward people between the ages of 25 and 54, according to a statement from the station's owner, Infinity Broadcasting. The station made the switch to reach a growing market in the Washington area that Infinity said is underserved.
"There exists a tremendous opportunity for Infinity to launch a Spanish language format in Washington, D.C., where almost 10 percent of the population is not being directly served," said Infinity President Joel Hollander in a statement.
Infinity spokeswoman Karen Mateo, said some former WHFS employees will be offered jobs within the company's national network of 183 radio stations. She said some have been fired, but would not say how many.
Reached at home, John "Cakes" Auville of the WHFS morning show "Junkies" said he and other WHFS employees had been instructed not to comment on the format change. A woman who answered the phone at the station referred all calls to Infinity's New York headquarters.
WHFS, which stood for "Hi Fidelity Stereo" started out on the dial at 102.3 in 1961 playing classical music and jazz. But by the late 1960s and early 1970s, WHFS had shifted to a free form style where DJs were given wide choice on what they played. The station featured well known rock bands but also lesser known musicians whose tracks were not played on big radio stations.
Bruce Springsteen came to the station when he was playing in clubs and Steve Miller stopped by when he couldn't get his songs on other radio stations, according to Damian Einstein, who started working as a DJ at WHFS in 1971 and stayed there for nearly 25 years.
"Certain artists weren't being played anywhere, so they went to WHFS," said Einstein, now at WRNR in Annapolis. "We did a lot of different stuff no one else did."
In 1983, WHFS moved from Bethesda to Annapolis and shifted to the 91.1 frequency. After several changes in ownership, it was bought by Infinity in 1996, eventually settling in Lanham. It reached listeners in the Washington area, Baltimore and Annapolis.
The station sponsored an annual concert at RFK Stadium known as the WHFstival. Mateo said the Infinity "realizes the importance of the event in the community" and will "look to continue the event" if possible.
Ratings, however, have slipped. WHFS had lower ratings than Infinity's other three FM stations in the area, making it a target for a format change.
"Of the stations we own in that market, that is the one that made the most sense to make the change," Mateo said.
The switch also demonstrates the growing power of the Hispanic market in the Washington area. Immigrants primarily from Central American countries have built large communities in areas such as Silver Spring and Wheaton in Maryland, and sections of Northern Virginia and Washington.
Infinity estimated the area's Hispanic population grew 25 percent in the past four years to reach 400,000 people. The company signed a deal in October with Spanish Broadcasting System that gave Infinity inroads into Spanish language radio.
"El Zol" will be Infinity's first Spanish language station in a top 10 market, according to the company.