The featured Station of the Month for April is Hubbard Broadcasting’s WWFD (The Gamut) 820 AM. They broadcast to the sprawling and diverse Washington, D.C. market, which has a population of over 6 million people between D.C., Maryland and Virginia. WWFD is strikingly different from most AM stations for multiple reasons, one obvious reason being that they broadcast music instead of the ubiquitous political talk and weather reports.
WWFD is the product of Program Director and Station Engineer Dave Kolesar’s college days. While Kolesar was in college, he started running a free-form station on the internet as a hobby. Joel Oxley, Hubbard D.C.’s General Manager, discovered Kolesar’s online station and took an interest in it. So much so, that when WTOP was sold from Bonneville International to Hubbard in 2011, Hubbard’s management invited Kolesar’s free-form station to occupy WTOP’s HD3 subchannel. They officially dubbed the station The Gamut and began broadcasting on December 5, 2011. WWFD joined the gang in 2013 as the first Analog format for The Gamut.
WWFD – The Gamut broadcasts a very wide-ranging Adult Album Alternative format, according to Kolesar, as evidenced by the 14,000 songs that they have in active rotation. Kolesar describes their audience as “similar to those of free-form stations of old – our listeners enjoy us for music discovery.” Free-form stations are a rarity in today’s ratings-driven broadcast market, but they harken back to an era of originality that’s missing in many AM radio stations today. One of The Gamut’s programs that gives that “wow” factor that WWFD’s listeners are looking for, is a Sunday night, syndicated, free-form radio show from the New York market called Anything Anything with Rich Russo. This program is all about new music discovery and sharing that with listeners without any creative limits. It’s not surprising that this show gets the most social media engagement. Another popular show is the evening pop/dance program called The Night Pattern (AM engineers will appreciate that title). Kolesar described it as “a great party soundtrack.”
Being in a thriving metropolis like D.C. is advantageous for discovering new music, and WWFD makes a concerted effort to solicit music contributions from local artists and add them to the daily rotation. This really separates them from the average AM station, and as Kolesar put it, “creates a sense of community that can’t be “piped in” from another part of the country.”
Taking after the cutting-edge local music that they broadcast, WWFD is a pioneer in the transmission side of the radio industry as well, making headlines in 2018 for switching off their analog signal for good and going All-Digital on the AM dial. When asked about how the transition has impacted the station and its listeners, there was no hint of regret in Kolesar’s response regarding this bold decision:
The transition to all-digital AM was, by the numbers, the best thing that happened to WWFD in quite a long time. WWFD had not shown up in the Frederick Nielsen ratings since the days of being a WTOP relay 15 years ago. For five years as The Gamut there were no ratings, even with an FM translator for two of those. It was after we went all-digital and refined our transmission system so that people could hear the audio lock right away on their radios – and also in stereo! – that we started to show up in “the book.” In fact, it’s twice in a row now (spring and fall 2019) that we’ve done so. It makes sense because we are a “destination format,” and people will seek us out now that we have a pleasant sounding signal with a large geographic footprint. 25% of cars on the road in the DC market have HD Radio and can hear our signal, and as the Program Director of a AAA music station on AM, I’d rather take my chances with that 25% than the near 100% with analog radios but who refuse to tune in because of poor sound quality. So yes, digital AM has been good for us, and will likely be for the industry as a whole.