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After a week on air, new HFS draws mixed reactions

Last Monday, one of the most famous sets of call letters in the history of Baltimore radio was resurrected on local airwaves. And so far, listeners are split about the new HFS.

Broadcasting on 97.5-FM, the newest incarnation is patterned closely after the influential alternative rock station once found at 99.1 on the dial — until its abrupt switch to Latin pop station El Zol in 2005.

"The music made popular by HFS has lived on long after the station went off the air," CBS Radio senior vice president Bob Philips said last week when announcing the new station, noting that the brand had been kept alive as a streaming Internet station over the past six years. "HFS has built a loyal following online, and now those listeners can have more access than ever before as we bring back one of Baltimore's well-known brands to radio stations across the dial."

In the past week, Maryland rock fans have been abuzz over the news of HFS' return — particularly those old enough to be nostalgic about the station's glory days of the 1980s and '90s.

"I'm so happy it is back," said Juliet Ames, who owns a custom jewelry company in Baltimore. "Now I can expose my kid to Sublime and Nirvana in the same way my mom made me listen to her oldies station. Now we need an old-school hip-hop station and my life will be complete."

Mat Leffler-Schulman, who co-owns a recording studio in Charles Village, has also enjoyed hearing artists who had been missing from Baltimore airwaves in recent years.

"I have many of fond memories listening to HFS in my younger years," he said. "It's almost like the station didn't go off the air, from Fugazi to White Town to the Ramones ... not bad. Or should we expect them to push it more?"

The new WHFS has received mixed reviews, however, from fans of the old station who are still bitter about the way CBS suddenly changed 99.1 in 2005, or felt it had lost credibility well before that.

"HFS was the soundtrack for my high school years, so the music will always hold special meaning," said Matthew McDermott, a copywriter who lives in Lauraville. "But toward the end of its run, the music had shifted more toward 'alterna-pop.' It lost its way. When HFS disappeared, WTMD stepped in to fill much of that void."

McDermott does appreciate CBS' efforts to staff the new HFS with DJs from decades past — including Chris Emery and Neci.

"Honestly, the most intriguing part is hearing some of the radio personalities I grew up with," he said.

Bill Pigott, a Bel Air native who works in sales, was a little apprehensive about HFS' staying power.

"CBS radio changes formats more than I change underwear," he said. "99.1 went to El Zol overnight. Then 105.7 tried their hand in alternative rock. Everything is about ratings and I understand. So do I like it? Yes. Am I thinking this will go away in 6 months? Yup. Sorry to sound cynical."

Overall, feedback seems to be more positive than negative — even from HFS fans outside the state.

"For years I would have friends tape HFS for me," says Rich Russo, a marketer who lives in Union County, N.J.

Russo noted that the station's return could be a good omen for the future of the long-faltering alternative format outside Baltimore as well.

"The fact that rock stations are leaving the dial is depressing, but HFS coming back may signal a renaissance of rock returning to radio."

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