90.1/WABE-FM cutting classical music during the day

Lois Reitzes hosts an arts talk show on WABE-FM while keeping her First Cup show on the HD2 channel. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

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Lois Reitzes hosts an arts talk show on WABE-FM while keeping her First Cup show on the HD2 channel. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

By Rodney Ho

In a move that news/talk fans have long hoped for, 90.1/WABE-FM has decided to cut classical music during the daytime hours on its FM station in favor of more news and arts programming.

Changes are going to be made in late 2014 or early 2015, affecting 30 hours a week of programming from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Creative Loafing broke the story earlier today.

For years, WABE has resisted dropping its daytime classical music programming, clearly a sign of respect toward beloved on-air host Lois Reitzes, who has been at WABE more than 35 years. But the station, which recently held a very healthy fall fundraising campaign, is ready to invest in the shift.

The most notable programming change will be Reitzes debuting an arts program from 10 to noon on weekdays on the FM dial to talk about a wide range of music, dance, fine arts and plays in metro Atlanta.

At noon, WABE will introduce a local news/talk program with an as-yet unnamed host. It will run at least one hour and may go two. The station is still hunting for a specific nationally distributed show to fill the 2 p.m. hour. At 9 a.m., WABE will air an extra hour of "Morning Edition." The rest of WABE's schedule will not change.

Chief Operating Officer John Weatherford said in an interview today that WABE has spent several years doing research and strategic planning to set these changes in motion. He downplayed the impact of Georgia Public Broadcasting airing news/talk programming on 88.5/WRAS-FM since June.

"This was not a knee-jerk reaction to whatever GPB is doing," Weatherford said. "It was protracted and well thought out." (WABE's chairman Louis Sullivan blasted the deal in July, calling it "an unwarranted duplication of service.  It is a waste of Georgia's tax dollars that could be better allocated elsewhere.")

He said focus groups began in 2009 and strategic planning went on from 2010 to 2012 with board approval in 2013.

Weatherford also said classical music will be available on the HD2 channel, with Reitzes expanding her Second Cup show from its current 9 to noon to 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The only difference: far fewer people listen to the HD2 channel than the FM dial.

He said the current news staff of about 12 people will expand to 19 to accommodate all the new programming. Some folks have already been hired.

Weatherford, since he arrived at the station a decade ago, has greatly expanded WABE's local news staff over that time period while growing the station's budget. The station overall has held up well financially under Weatherford's stewardship.

Although there will likely be grousing from classical music fans, the ratings for WABE's talk programming has always far exceeded that of its classical music, often by 3 to 1 margins.

In September, among 25 to 54 year olds, "Morning Edition" garnered a 5 share, ranked sixth overall. The mid-day classical music? a 1.6 share, ranked 21st.

WABE even cut fundraising during its fall campaign from 1 to 3 p.m. each day with no real adverse effect.

Stories about WRAS and WABE:

Explore10/31: WABE exceeds fall fundraising goals
Explore7/11: GPB rebuts WABE's criticisims
Explore7/3 Bill Nigut discusses two new WRAS programs
Explore7/2: WABE chairman blasts GSU/GPB partnership with WRAS
Explore6/30: GPB releases WRAS schedule, faces protests
Explore6/27: GSU seeking another FM signal for WRAS, gives students 8 hours back
Explore6/26: WRAS alumni offer alternative to GPB deal
Explore6/7: What does the GPB/GSU radio deal mean for Atlanta?
Explore6/6: GPB release preliminary schedule
Explore5/30: GPB delays GSU deal by a month
Explore5/12: Will protests of GPB/GSU deal work?
Explore5/7: GSU president Mark Becker justifies GPB deal
Explore5/6 GSU announces deal with GPB over WRAS
ExploreList of Atlanta radio stations

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