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Mary Cliff is the latest longstanding D.C. media figure to be dropped from the airwaves. The gentle-voiced host of the folk-music show Traditions, heard Saturday nights on WETA-FM for nearly 34 years, was let go by the station Monday. The last “Traditions” broadcast will be this Saturday, Jan. 27.
“You’d have to ask [WETA management] why,” says Cliff. “They didn’t have to justify it. In this business, you know, when you have a contract they give you money and you go away.” Cliff says this with a laugh, though clearly the situation saddens her.
The move is a result of the ongoing D.C. radio upheaval, spurred by Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s territorial imperative. Snyder’s offer to buy classical station WGMS-FM prompted that station to change to some kind of oldies format called “George 104.” As reported on DCRTV.com on Monday, WETA is picking up the classical slack Monday evening, returning to the format it dropped for news/talk.
Looking on the bright side, Cliff notes that “there will be some arts coming back here. They’ll be playing classical music instead of just talking.” And the DJ now has her Saturdays free. “Oooh, I can go to concerts!” she laughs. (Except for vacations, Cliff only pretaped two shows in more than three decades. Once was for a memorial service for a friend, the other for a Clapton concert.)
Cliff’s soothing voice was a refuge and beacon for many in the acoustic and folk community, but she has yet to plan beyond the last show. “If I just needed to do radio, I could program my iPod. I don’t have an iPod, thank you,” she says. “But to me it’s a community thing, the community needs something to rally around, something to talk to, something to hear from, exchange information. And that’s what it was since ’70, when folk music started on WETA. I’ve been doing it since March of ’73. It’s been quite an experience. It’s a great community to be a part of. “
Cliff says she’s received a “proper severance. But that’s not my problem. My problem is that the community loses a certain amount of its focus, which I think is unfortunate.”