Dominion Market Research staff <xhunter@...>
A couple of weeks ago the Fredericksburg Free
Lance-Star did a nice story on the old WCKW. That
story had some nice quotes and pictures of Red
Shipley. I was never able to find that story
on-line for posting here.
Yesterday's Washington Post printed a story on
the station's format change. It's another story
of radio doing what it does best...reinvent
itself to serve an audience.
I noticed on a trip to Richmond on Saturday that
I scanned up and down the AM and FM dials but
could not find a single station I wanted to
listen to for more than a minute or two. The
music just didn't interest me and the talk radio
seemed stupid. I ended up listening to some CDs.
On the way home Saturday night, I did find
something I liked on the AM dial. WSAI 1530 in
Cincinnati is an oldies station with a live jock.
He was taking calls and interacting with the
callers. It was interesting radio. And I liked
I guess I've just aged out of the target
demographic for most radio...at least most
From Honky-Tonk To a Latino Beat
Radio Change Reflects Population Shift
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2004; Page C03
Classic Country WKCW, one of the nation's oldest
country music stations, had been a fixture in
Fauquier County since it began broadcasting in
1960. George Jones and Charley Pride stopped by
the Warrenton studio to play their hits live, and
disc jockey Tom "Cat" Reeder occasionally invited
the station's neighbor, television weatherman
Willard Scott, into the booth to chat about the
honky-tonk they both loved.
Three months ago, the Hank Williams Jr. records
stopped spinning, silencing the Washington
region's last AM country station, known
throughout Fauquier as the Big K. Now, those who
tune in to WKCW (1420 AM) hear the accordions and
trumpets of Mexican norteña and Dominican bachata
music. Very few listeners live in Fauquier, the
Northern Virginia county with the fewest
"We'd report on cattle and hog prices at the
livestock exchange, and people called up to talk
about their aches and pains. They don't need us
now," said Reeder, 69, whose sign-off became
legendary among country broadcasters: "I hope you
live as long as you want and never want as long
as you live. Bye bye, darlin'."
Gradually, Classic Country lost advertising as
local businesses sought to reach Fauquier's
newest residents -- commuters more inclined
toward FM music and news or AM talk radio. The
new owner, Vienna-based Metro Radio Inc., now
leases the station for $20,000 a month to
Manassas entrepreneur Felix Vargas, 48. The tower and license are still in Fauquier, but Vargas
moved the studio to Manassas. Now, the same CDs
he sells at his general store downstairs are
played by the station upstairs.
"I knew the moment that I would get on air, we'd have a lot of followers, with all the Hispanics
in the Prince William area," said Vargas, who
also advertises special deals at his nearby
Mexican restaurant and travel agency.
To earn revenue, he sells airtime to 50 other
businesses of interest to his Latino listeners,
including a Falls Church immigration law firm and
a car dealership next door. His signal is
clearest in Prince William, where about 27,300
Hispanics make up almost 10 percent of the
population, and in Fauquier, where about 1,100
Hispanics make up about 2 percent of the
La Campeona -- "The Champion," as the station is
now called -- is the Washington area's fifth
Spanish AM radio station, operating under this
relatively inexpensive rental arrangement.
"Brokered programming," as it is called, has been
around for 20 years but has become hot in the
last two years in large metropolitan areas with
growing minority populations, according to Bill
Parris, president of Rockville-based Radio
Broadcast Communications and operator of WKCW
from 1997 until its demise.
"Lots of minorities don't have the financing to
own, so renting becomes a way of serving their
communities," Parris said, noting that five other
AM stations in the area have switched to brokered
programming since 2002, four of them ethnic
Vargas moved to this country 30 years ago, first
picking tomatoes in California and later working
for a beef company in Washington state before
joining cousins in Woodbridge in the late 1980s.
Soon he opened his Manassas restaurant, Mexico
Lindo ("Pretty Mexico"), featuring karaoke on
Friday nights, followed by the general store in
1999 and the travel agency in 2000.
Eventually, Vargas said, he tired of spending too
much money for radio commercials and learned
about the availability of WKCW through a friend
who works at a Spanish radio station in
Arlington. The deal's best part, he said, "is
when I have a new CD that arrives at the market,
I can play and advertise it on the air as much as
I want, and I couldn't do that before."
But for Fauquier residents devoted to WKCW's
country format, the transition from Big Al
Downing drinking songs to Los Tigres del Norte
ballads was hard. They lobbied the Board of
Supervisors to stop the switch and circulated a
But the money wasn't there. Classic Country had
an operating budget of $25,000 a month but was
earning about $8,000 a month in advertising
revenue, surviving only because Parris owned
other profitable stations in the Washington area.
"A lot of people who work in Fauquier are federal
government workers, or work for IBM or AOL. Do
they really care about the pony races on Friday
night?" asked Rob Clater, a sales manager at
Warrenton's Joe Jacoby Chrysler Jeep dealership,
which pulled its commercials off Country Classic
about three years ago. Clater used to listen as a
kid building derby cars in his garage, but he
complained that, as he got older, the music
seemed fusty and the diet of Washington area news
La Campeona went on the air Oct. 1 and is
breaking even, attracting mainly Hispanics in Prince William who listen while they work
construction jobs, Vargas said. Rather than
offering much news, disc jockeys mainly tell
jokes, talk about celebrities and play music,
which announcer Dayan Aldana said helps "soften
The music is the most popular feature because it
reminds listeners of their homelands, she said.
Regulars such as Ubaldo Perez, 30, a Mexican, who
cleans a Giant grocery store from 9 p.m. to 4
a.m., visit the general store downstairs from the
studio and buy CDs played on the air.
"I can dance and drive in my truck," said Perez,
who was at the general store recently buying some
cumbia music, a tropical upbeat style of trumpets, synthesizers, bongos and saxophones.
The studio itself is tucked obscurely into a
nondescript strip mall overshadowed by a huge
shopping center across the street. But inside, it
is all adrenaline.
"Hola! Hola! Dime amor, dime!" (Tell me, honey,
tell me!), disc jockey Karla Melgar, 23, yells at
a caller taking his time to request a song during
her afternoon show. "Que Pasa con la Raza?"
(What's Happening with the People?) Her right
foot is tap, tap, tapping, her left hand sliding
the volume control wildly up and down the console.
The caller asks for "Las Botas de Charro" (Boots
of a Cowboy), by Mexican artist Vincente
Fernandez, and then pleads to the disc jockey,
"Yo quiero conocerte!" (I want to meet you)!
Melgar blushes and shoots back, "Besito!" -- her
way of blowing a kiss over the airwaves.
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