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The day the music died on 'JHU


At 9 a.m. yesterday, the music didn't start at WJHU, but the telephone calls did.

It was the first day of the radio station's new weekday format -- with syndicated talk and information programs replacing classical music -- and listeners wanted to be heard. Negative calls outpaced the positive ones, but general manager Dennis Kita said he expected that initial response.

"People are reacting to what they've lost," he said yesterday, a few hours into the new schedule. "They haven't had a chance to react to what they gained."

Classical music, once heard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays on WJHU-FM (88.1), is the primary casualty in the switch, along with announcer Bill Spencer, the only full-time employee to lose his job as a result of the changes. Announcer Lisa Simeone will be working on an hourlong interview show for Sundays, to debut later this year.

Also gone from the schedule is "On Music," a locally produced show on classical music that aired on Saturdays. But the other classical music shows heard on weekends -- the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts, Bob Benson's show and "New Releases" -- remain on the schedule.

The weekday gains include "The Diane Rehm Show," a newly syndicated Washington talk show already familiar to Baltimoreans who can pick up the WAMU signal; "Fresh Air with Terry Gross"; and Monitor Radio's "Midday Edition."

Some callers yesterday were delighted with these new offerings, Mr. Kita said. One member even called in a voluntary pledge, although the station's fund-raising drive was three months ago. Four callers to Ms. Rehm's show identified themselves as Baltimoreans pleased with the change.

Others were unhappy and wanted to vent their emotions. Mr. Kita spent much of the morning on the telephone with these callers, trying to encourage them to give the new WJHU a chance.

"It's something that's very gratifying for me, positive or negative," he said. "It just shows how important radio is to people."

Mary Jansiewicz, editor of Notes, a newsletter sent to WJHU contributors, said she heard from only two disappointed listeners. WJHU has 9,000 members overall and 104,000 weekly listeners.

In the latest Arbitron ratings, WJHU (88.1) was a distant second to the all-classical lineup at WBJC (91.5). During its annual fund-raising drives, Mr. Kita said, the news and jazz programs produce more pledges per hour than the classical shows.

But while WJHU hopes to win more listeners with its new shows, the decision was not driven by financial considerations, Mr. Kita said.

"It's not a cost issue. It's an emphasis on community service," he said. "The reason we're doing this is to provide a service that's not available. If this were financially driven, we'd probably do oldies."

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