After several years of experimenting with different broadcast formats, owners of WASA-AM -- Harford County's most powerful radio station with 5,000 watts -- believe they have found one that will be successful.
VTC KME Broadcasting of Havre de Grace has settled on country classic, with vintage tunes of country and western entertainers that date back to the 1940s.
Classic country features the music of Hank Williams, Eddie Arnold, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Barbara Mandrell, Johnny Cash, Donna Fargo, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and the like.
According to vice president and general manager Donald Kampes, the format has been well received by the audience.
"We have to use telephone response to gauge the success o our product," Mr. Kampes said. "So far, it [audience reaction] has been good."
Since taking over Harford County's oldest station last December, KME has mounted a sustained effort to confront its competition, including WSER of Elkton, WNRK of Newark, Del., WHRF of Bel Air and WAMD of Aberdeen.
"We want listeners to tune us in early in the morning and stay with us throughout the day," said Kurt Elasavage, who bought the station from Chesapeake Broadcasting last December. At 5,000 watts, the station carries the county's strongest signal.
For years the station, which went on the air May 15, 1948, was profitable and grew. In 1960, it was granted an FM license by the Federal Communications Commission. Its popularity peaked in the late 1960s and early '70s. In the mid-1980s, the station's financial standing plummeted.
In an attempt to stem the slide, programming formats were change several times. But the financial outlook did not improve.
In 1989 Chesapeake sold the 50,000-watt WHDG-FM station to Prettyman Broadcasting of Salisbury and then, late last year decided to sell the AM station.
According to Mr. Elasavage, when KME took ownership the station was airing primarily Christian shows and music.
"I've been here for 10 years," said Mr. Elasavage. "And, during that time, I've seen this station change directions several times. We've aired all types of shows and played every type of music with the exception of classical.
"This constant change confused our audience and made it difficult to target advertisers," he declared. "Over the past several years we suffered a substantial loss of revenue."
The station operates at 5,000 watts from 6 a.m. until sunset, when power is reduced to 500 watts to meet FCC regulations governing regional stations.
"During the day, we cover all of Harford and Cecil [counties], a good portion of Kent County and reach as far away as Wilmington and Dover in Delaware and Lancaster, Strasburg and Oxford in Pennsylvania," Mr. Kampes said. "At sunset, we not only reduce power but also change signal direction, which reduces ourcoverage area considerably."
Local programming has included live coverage of Havre de Grace High School home football games and two of the school's Drama Club presentations. The station also broadcasts Washington Bullets National Basketball Association games.
Brian Farlow, the station's news and sports director, is on the air each weekday from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m. He is followed by deejay Brian Marks, who covers until 7 p.m. The final hour is a bluegrass music show show from USA network. During drive time -- 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. -- the station offers news every hour and four traffic reports an hour during drive time.
Next month, the station plans to pick up a network-produced, youth-oriented talk show to be aired at 8 p.m. on Sundays.
"I really see a need for good regional coverage," said Mr. Elasavage. "We want to give our audience the type of programming they want. As revenues grow, we will be able to expand into becoming a 24-hour operation. Right now we are breaking even."