Wednesday, January 12, 2005

WHFS R.I.P. (even though it really died a long time ago)

When I moved back to D.C.* after college, WHFS(FM) was the centerpiece of my radio diet. Yes, I listened to WAMU(FM) and WETA-FM for NPR programming, tuned to Pacifica outlet WPFW(FM) a lot, and tried to live close enough to College Park to pick up WMUC-FM, but WHFS was the mainstay.

Today, it became Zol 99.1, a Spanish-language tropical music station [ Washington Post | Baltimore Sun | The Diamondback | Billboard Radio Monitor | DCRTV ]. There's another similarly formatted FM in the market, La Mega, but 'HFS has better coverage of the market than it does so I can see how there's room on the airwaves for such a station, but it's a shame a station with about a 30-year history as a groundbreaking alternative station.

Sure, the real WHFS died about a decade ago when Infinity Radio bought it and started tightening the playlist. In recent years, it's degenerated into a testosterone pop station with ever-slipping ratings. For the most part it was unlistenable, but there would be moments where the old spirit showed through.

It would have been nice for a corporate owner to have tried to save the station by returning to its more freeform roots with a more varied playlist with less repetition and tighter stopsets (not to mention some presenters who were more interested in the music than in hearing themselves talk), but I guess that's not U.S. radio anymore.

At least I have the memories of first hearing Nirvana, my first (second and third) HFStival, the programming the night Kurt Cobain killed himself, bitching about how they'd play some poppy Siouxsie and the Banshees song ("Peek-a-Boo," IIRC) only to have the two-fer-Tuesday follow up with Siouxsie's version of "Dear Prudence," getting busted on by some friends after they heard me on air talking to Kathryn Lauren when I was working late one night, ...

So, rest in peace, the 'HFS I remember: Dave Marsh, Damian, Bob Waugh, Johnny Riggs, Gina Crash, Rob Timm, Kathryn Lauren, Zoltar Brother from Another Planet, Neci ... even Weasel. (But not Aquaman; I still can't forgive what a bad DJ he was ...)

[ADDENDUM: has an MP3 posted of the switchover from 'HFS to El Zol, with the end of Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye," the 'HFS top-of-the-hour legal ID followed by "Transmitiendo desde la ciudad capital de América: esta es tu nueva radio! Noventa y nueva punto uno FM," a moment of silence and then the ID and stinger repeat.]

*I like saying I moved back here after college, but I never even set foot in D.C. from about the time I was one until I was 22. My dad was stationed here when I was born, but we all transferred to England while I was still an infant. Still, saying "moving back" feels right.


Jonathan Benda said...

Sorry to hear about this--I have fond memories of listening to WHFS on my winter breaks from college in the late 80s/early 90s. I could barely pick up the signal from my parents' house in Hedgesville, WV (couldn't listen to it in stereo), but what they played really gave me a new perspective on music.

Anonymous said...

It's been funny to see the different opinions about the passing of 'HFS: some bloggers felt it was long overdue and are happy that it's no longer a shell of its old self; others thought it was long overdue but still a bit sad; and others (apparently current listeners) are just plain mad.

DC101 took the reverential angle: "They were a competitor, but we're sad to see the old format pass away." 98 Rocks in Baltimore, however, was passing out free "Adios 'HFS" T-shirts ...

T. Carter said...

Stupid radio button defaulting to "Anonymous" ... that post was mine.
- Carter