It is rare these days for a major radio market to get a new commercial radio station. Today is the official debut of WNEW-FM in Washington, DC – an all-news station begun by CBS Radio.
Back in 2009, I wrote profiles of all the major radio station owners – among them was Family Radio – a curious religious radio network started in 1958 by a man named Harold Camping, a man from the Bay Area of California now in his 80s. Prior to last year, his main claim to fame was he used numerology to predict the second coming of Jesus in 1994 and had to admit his math was wrong when it didn’t happen.
Because he got such an early start in radio – especially FM when AM stations just viewed FM as that nuisance the FCC made them run in the closet because nobody could yet receive FM – Family Radio accumulated some very valuable radio properties – one of those was WFSI-FM (107.9) in Washington DC in the commercial FM band above 92 MHz.
Of course, last year Harold Camping became a global figure by again predicting he knew when Jesus was coming and spent enormous amounts of borrowed money to put up billboards and advertisements announcing the time to repent was going to be over soon. Once again, his numerology apparently contained a mathematical mistake – but having put the ministry in debt never expecting to have to repay the loans and losing members and contributions due to the negative publicity, Family Radio has been selling off assets and put WFSI-FM up for sale – which was purchased by CBS for only $8.5 million, a jaw droppingly cheap price.
CBS moved their existing spanish music FM stations to 107.9 and renamed their station on 99.1 to WNEW-FM. With only a few exceptions, most All news, All the Time radio stations in the country are run by CBS Radio and are very profitable, but also require expensive staffs to gather, edit and read the news, traffic and weather.
Washington, DC is one of those few markets which has an all-news station not run by CBS – WTOP AM/FM was owned by the Mormon Church inside their for-profit property Bonneville Radio up until about a year ago, when Bonneville decided to got out of the radio business in much of the country – selling the WTOP and WFED stations to Hubbard Broadcasting of St Paul Minnesota, which has no experience in All News stations. WTOP has been reported to be the top billing radio station in America – bringing in revenue of over $50 million a year The target audience for WTOP and WFED are those federal agency decision makers driving to work, and influencing them to buy into IBM’s smart grid, the latest military techology revolution, or finding how to spend those leftover budget funds on 50 years of office supplies. $50 million is a tiny amount of money compared to the $3.8 trillion the government will spend this year
So CBS thinks they see an opportunity – especially this being an election year with an estimated $1 billion sitting in the Democratic Party campaigns and News radio being heard by a prime demographic of influential decision makers.
There are still a few rough edges – at 12:30 PM, they fired off the Top of the Hour time check and announced – the Time is now 12 Noon 🙂