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Top 40 station B-104 will put an end to talk about format change


Radio station WBSB-FM (B-104) will continue to mean music, as its popular slogan puts it, but what kind of music?

It's a question local radio executives and advertisers have been asking with increasing frequency in recent days.

The Top 40 station, an institution in the Baltimore market for the past decade, has scheduled a breakfast meeting with advertisers Tuesday amid speculation it will be changing to a classic rock or rock-oriented adult-contemporary format.

Talk about a possible format change at B-104 -- which has declined dramatically in the ratings in recent years -- has been around for weeks, and invitations tout next week's meeting as the day "the gossip dies" about the station.

B-104 officials yesterday denied a change in format was imminent, but said the station would have some major announcements to make at the meeting.

John Pavlos, B-104's promotions director, said the station was going to be "introducing some new things to the advertising community" but declined to say what they were.

Jim Fox, general manager, declined to comment on the meeting. Asked whether the station was changing its format, he at first said "I can't discuss it" but then added, "I'm going to deny it."

Two months ago, the industry trade publication Radio Business Report said B-104 would switch to a classic rock format -- an item to which Mr. Fox said at the time there was "no truth whatsoever."

But several local radio executives, who asked not to be identified, said yesterday they expected B-104 to make a major change in format, possibly even before Tuesday's meeting.

One noted that the station has recently begun modifying its sound, emphasizing rock-oriented hits at the expense of dance-oriented songs. A change now would allow the station to promote itself in advance of the coming Arbitron spring ratings period, he added.

But another executive, who also asked not to be identified, said the station could simply be gathering its clients to reassure them it was going to essentially keep its format.

B-104 was the area's top-rated station in the late '80s. But in the jTC most recent Arbitron ratings for the fall, it had sunk to ninth in the market with a 4.2 audience share, a decline of 25 percent from summer.

Its decline mirrors that of other Top 40 stations around the country, which have been hurt by an aging population and the growth of other formats, such as country. Last night, Washington's WAVA-FM signed off as a Top 40 station, making D.C. the largest city in the country without a Top 40 station.

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