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‘Ask the Utility Execs’??

Living in the D.C. area, I get to hear up close how WTOP has built such a radio success story.

Paul McLane is U.S. editor in chief of Radio World.

Living in the D.C. area, I get to hear up close how WTOP has built such a radio success story.

The latest example: Tomorrow the top-earning, highly rated news station will air a program called “Ask the Utility Execs.” It is the latest in a series of programs in which the station has conducted call-in shows featuring the mayor, the police chief and other local officials.

A Q&A with power company suits? Sounds like a real snoozer, right?

Not when your community is still abuzz over how many people lost power after the recent “derecho” storm that hit our area, and how long it took to get a lot of folks back on the air. So on Wednesday the station’s investigative reporter Mark Segraves will talk “with representatives from Pepco, BG&E, SMECO, NOVEC, Potomac Edison and Rappahannock.” Listeners can submit their questions online at and on the station Facebook page and Twitter.

When I was a radio reporter and anchor, news departments in my market of Wilmington, Del., most notably at WDEL and WILM at the time, would do coverage like this. To me it is an example of how easily a radio station can act quickly to put together informative, useful content without spending an extra dime. (I am sure though that it took some negotiating to get this show together, since power company officials know that such a program could become a bashfest if not handled correctly).

In Washington, WTOP leads by example. It is so well in tune with the unique nature of the market that it has a sister signal devoted to content just for federal employees. Sure, I hear things on the station that annoy me (like an ex-smoker, no one is more critical of radio news people than an ex-radio news guy) … but I am reminded constantly in listening to the station that radio can find a path to profit by responding to what listeners are doing and saying. This is an elemental but timely lesson in an era when radio leaders fret about their latest digital platforms and wonder what role radio should play in the age of Pandora, Facebook and iTunes.