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Residents of the Washington, DC area received a bit of sad news today. Venerable classical music radio station WGMS, a small island of civility, will likely meet its demise within the next few weeks. This in and of itself is not surprising. Classical music stations, especially those commercially owned, are a dying breed. It was only a matter of time before somebody with deep pockets snapped up this precious FM slot. WGMS already had been pushed out of its familiar place (103.5) into a weaker frequency band by a Washington Post media venture.

What is noteworthy is WGMS’s executioner: Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Snyder bought the station in order to further his growing sports-talk-Redskins radio empire. His current outlets have poor signal coverage in the Washington area and he had been looking to upgrade. In typical Snyder fashion, he overbid to be sure he closed the deal. “They made an offer that can’t be refused,” the Washington Post quotes an executive involved in the negotiations. “If someone wanted to buy your house and was willing to pay 50 percent more than it was worth, you’d do it.”

Do the names Deon Sanders, Bruce Smith, Steve Spurrier and Jeff George come to mind? To say nothing of Adam Archuleta, Andre Carter, Brandon Lloyd and Al Saunders.

Madison once wrote that he hoped never to have to choose between liberty and republican government; but if he did, he knew which one he would choose. I hope never to be forced to decide between classical music and football. I know how I would come down – I don’t blog on Bach – but Snyder makes the choice difficult.

When I first heard that Snyder, a wealthy young entrepreneur and lifelong Redskins fan, was going to buy the team in 1999 from the estate of Jack Kent Cooke, I thought it might be a good thing. That is, until I found out the source of Snyder wealth. I had assumed it came from something real, or at least quasi-real: technology, the boom, or maybe real estate. Uh, no.


OK, perfectly fine people work in advertising. But as I understand the story, after two or three business failures, Snyder, through hustle and chutzpah, assembled a paper advertising empire based on outsourcing and corporate acquisitions during the go-go 1990s. Then he actualized his virtual assets by selling out while the economy was still booming. Most of those assets (heavily leveraged) went into the purchase of the Redskins and their Stadium, for about $750 million.

Since then, Snyder has gone through five coaches. The team’s overall record is mediocre, even after he persuaded Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs to return. The Redskins have made the playoffs exactly once since Snyder’s first year. High-priced free agents, brought in well above market value, routinely prove to be busts. The draft has been disappointing. Ticket prices and amenities at FedEx field are out of sight.

So Snyder’s tenure has been disastrous, right? Not if you are his accountant. In 2005 the Redskins were valued at $1.3 billion, the highest in all American professional sports. More than the Yankees or the Cowboys and just below Manchester United. Snyder now looks to make a further killing through his Red Zebra Broadcasting Corporation, which is buying up radio stations in the mid-Atlantic as outlets for sports programming and live broadcasts of Redskins game. Sayonara WGMS.

A critical point – Snyder really is a die-hard Washington fan. He desperately wants to win. He is no Bill Bidwell – he spends money on the team and he’d spend more if the league allowed it. But Washington’s lack of success is surely no accident, even allowing for the vagaries of human fortune. The team’s direct and ancillary value skyrocketed because of Snyder’s promotional genius in a market with near-perfect brand loyalty (Redskins mania) – not because of the intrinsic, on-the-field value of the product. Snyder’s ethos seems to permeate the organization. And he refuses to hire and provide full authority to an experienced and knowledgeable front office type like the Colts’ Bill Polian. Every year there is a new plan, new faces, a new story, and virtually the same sorry results. To be sure, there are no guarantees in life or football. The highly-regarded Charlie Casserly, who Snyder pushed out as GM when he bought the team, was a complete bust in Houston’s front office.

Maybe Gibbs, a fine man and once a great coach, will turn it around next season. Maybe Snyder will decide to let professionals make the big decisions. Maybe the luck will turn.

Then I think about poor WGMS, a bug on the windshield of Snyder’s empire.

Discussions - 19 Comments

As a listener to WGMS for over forty yeayrs, I will sorely miss the classical music. I will NOT listen to Redskin football. Snyder may be a marketing genius but that’s about all the good will I harbor towards him. Deep-sixing WGMS just lessened that meagre amount of good will.

My new daily prayer: "Curse the Washington Redskins! May they never win the Super Bowl while owned by Dan Snyder! Amen."

Football has its scruffy nobility, and its irresitable "strategy-game with living humans" element. But one may more safely bet that 1,000 years from now, people will play Bach’s music, than that they will play football.

I join Morgan in cursing the Washington Redskins and most emphatically NOT listening to, watching, or otherwise patronizing that gang of apes and gorillas.

"Gang of apes and gorillas"???

That’s a foolish thing to say.

Well, "foolish" is one way to put it, if you’re keen on understatements.

I would take that bet Carl... but barring some serious transhumanist advances I don’t intend to be around that long...and if transhumanism advances in the theorized fashion then we will all be on computers...and I suppose it is decidely easier to conceputalize what listening to Bach from within a computer is like than what playing football from within one would be. But even as we speak the Madden video game outsells Bach. When we stop playing football in favor of Bach we might as well be on computers.

Classical music is all well and good, but there is a reason it doesn’t do well commercially...and there is a reason football does...Football is a path to greatness...listening to classical a path to geekdom. Where is the Thymos, for the last man? Football!

John, "football leads to greatness?--how so? I agree that, from a commercial viewpoint, football wins hands down over classical music. Geekness and classical music as entertwined twins?--nonsense. I am not, nor ever have been, a "geek" in any sense of the word, and even at 70 years of age, I dare you to call me a "geek" to my face. If you prefer football to classical music that’s your choice but don’t try to tar all lovers of classical music as "geeks."

Politically speaking I am not interested in the philosophical question of whether or not it is actual greatness or perceived greatness, I am also not interested in whether you are a geek or are not a geek. I am not meaning to insult anyone, nor would I count it against you if someone else thought you where a geek for listening to classical music. I am talking about greatness only in terms of the limelight...the million dollar salaries...the public visibility, the noteriety, the fame...the passion...the mud and blood and sweat...the rub some dirt on it mentality...

To clarify, in our society football is a vital non-destructive outlet for Megalothymia...while composing classical music is an intellectual persuit... Of course there are many who would prefer the selective recognition of the intellectual elite to the praise of the beer bellied hoi polloi, not to mention throngs of clueless but beautifull women...

In all reality the fact that you would take it personal makes my point. What is my point? That this is the perception...listen to classical music=geek, compose classical music=genius. Play football=stud, heroic, manly, hardcore. (Are perceptions always right? no. Should you let yourself be governed by them? probably not)A lot of people desire the type of recognition that football affords...therefore football will still be around in a thousand years. My arguement was a rebutal to Carl Scott’s hypothetical wager... with a lot of other competing activities(especially assuming technological growth at current pace) to soak up the time and praise/recognition of the intellectual elite...classical music might not make it...but I am sure Bach a quaint fashion. In any case Football is a greater force in society...and I don’t see it relinquishing ground to classical music...but make the argument if you wish. Who is remmembered today Hegel or Shaupenhauer? Who was remmembered in their own time? Who had the most students? I rest my case.

I have read that more classical music is bought over the Internet than any other kind of music, but I can’t source the information as I read the article months ago. Since classical music radio stations seem to come a-crashing at an awesome rate in recent years, it makes sense to me.

Comment 5 by Fred: "Gang of apes and gorillas"??? That’s a foolish thing to say.

Sorry, Fred. I meant to say "Gang of mouth-breathing apes and cretinous, knuckle-dragging gorillas."

Sorry, David. I meant to say you are a fool. Silly and simple-minded. Presumptious and bitter. But hey, at least you listen to classical music (though for all the wrong reasons?).

John, you are right in terms of popularity today of football versus classical music. However, if we are going by popularity alone, shouldn’t NASCAR drivers be more "stud" examples than football players? But, to each his own, I have lost interest in football because of the antics of today’s players. I refer to the dancing and other antics when a player makes a play. In my youth, you ran the ball, or caught a pass, and when the play was over you handed the ball to the referee. You didn’t dance a jig and, in general, make a fool out of yourself. I guess, bottom line, it’s not my world anymore. So I’ll enjoy Beethoeven, Wagner, et all, instead of the current antics of Mr Snyder’s over paid hired hands.

Nascar drivers also share in greatness...Nascar is almost a religion, and like football it is pretty darn american. I wouldn’t say that Nascar is more popular than football...but it is pretty darn popular...especially in red-neck working class America. I don’t think it hurts to respect the talent level of Nascar drivers...what they do is quite difficult...and racing is about more than just going around a track 500 times. So racing is definately a sport a culture and a lifestyle. I agree that football has been hurt by some of the on and off-field antics...but I suppose that if you are looking for a puritan game then neither football nor Nascar is for you. Sometimes on a Football team you need colorful players. Also a lot of players in the NFL are just being themselves...the showboating is part of the game, as they understand is is done to get on Sports Center, and it probably helps drive sales of Bengals tickets. Nascar drivers are supposed to bring the country boy hot-head fight on the drop of a dime mentality...and black football players especially are supposed to "represent". In any case I think you could make a better critique of basketball along the lines that the preocupation with player image ruins the game. Also you have to remmember that the game might not have changed that much...we just have so much sports news programming that everything that does happen gets chewed on like Cow Kud.

As Norma Desmond said, "talk, talk, talk...." Good golly almighty, what could there possibly about the Redskins in particular and sports in general that requires wall-to-wall coverage on radio? Despite their cash-cow status, the Redskins are horribly out-classed everywhere but on the balance sheet.

The FM radio dial in DC is getting depressing. WETA banished all its music in favor of NPR yakkety-yak a few years back. WAMU already had that NPR beat covered, so WAMU’s response was ramp it up with even more "public radio" yakkety-yak. (More and more their Bluegrass programs are going off the air, to webcast.) WGMS was already booted off their old more powerful frequency by Washington Post radio, more news-talk-radio yakkety-yak. Thankfully you can still get WBJC from Baltimore, at least east of the Potomac. That’s an all-classical station. C-SPAN radio is a treasure. There’s nothing like listening to the "LBJ Tapes" whilst puttering away in the workshop. WCSP was another music-to-talk transformation of about a decade ago. WCSP replaced a jazz station.

Thank goodness for satellite radio. It’s the only way to get much real music programming hereabouts.

The current programming at 104.1 is no loss. It will be refreshing to hear a radio station actually do something for real for a change. At least they don’t dumb it down. I actually learn something when I listen to ESPN. I haven’t learned a thing from any classical station in years.

If this happens, it will be a catastrophic loss for thousands of classical music listeners.

Cannot another frequency be found somewhere in the Washington DC area for a profitable classical music station?  Is there really no entrepreneur in the Washington DC region who would like to make a several million dollar annual profit by providing what WGMS’ listeners want? 

There are so many stations in the DC area with lower ratings and less cultural appeal (to put it politely). I really hope we can find a way to keep the excellent WGMS team and music library together until we can ensure their future on the air.

What do others think about putting the National Symphony Orchestra on a float and parking it outside Mr. Snyder’s house, playing symphonies until he relents and finds a home for WGMS? Even a WGMS van with loudspeakers broadcasting live from that location might help.

WGMS is an awesome station and is the most listened-to classical station in the United States. Mr. Snyder has all the hallmarks of a gauche philistine.  I know that bullies never win, and that Mr. Snyder is no exception. I do pray I am wrong about him.

We must do all we can to prevent the demise of WGMS. After all it is loved, popular and profitable. We need all the help we can get.

It is too bad that Mr. Snyder has chosen to use his money in such a childish manner rather than be a responsible member of the greater Washington Metropolitan community. A major metropolis, and the capitol of our great nation, is now without classical music on the airways so Mr. Syder can dump more money on his futile attempts to buy a trophy. Yes, classical music is only enjoyed buy a minority of the community. However the station he bought for over 150% of its worth (as reported in newspapers) was humbly profitable and doing okay. What Mr. Snyder has done only lessens himself, previously thought not possible given how low he truly is, and will not engender the Redskins to the locals. Football is a great sport, but this is truly ridiculous.

Listened to the station this morning on the way to work. A wonderful way to get through the drive with all the crazy drivers in the snow! Turned it on for the ride home and thought i must have hit the wrong button. It’s OFF the air. The website is gone. Can’t even give my condolences to anyone. Miss it already.

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