CBS Acquires WFSI, To Launch All-News On 99.1

CBS News AllNews 99.1 WNEW NewsRadio WLZL 107.9 WFSI El Zol Family Radio Stations

Update 1/22: 99.1 WNEW went live with its News programming with a soft launch at 12pm today.

INSTANT INSIGHT: CBS handled the launch of WNEW perfectly. They didn’t think they were ready for their original Thursday debut, so held off until ready. Now by launching ahead of their announced 5am debut, they have 17 hours to iron out any kinks before the publicized launch. The first anchor heard on-air was Cheryl Simone, a veteran of the format from sister WINS New York who knows exactly how the new programming should sound. Unlike recent launches by Merlin Media and Radio-One, CBS has experience with the all-news format and should come out firing on all cylinders right out of the gate against Hubbard’s WTOP.

Update 1/17: Due to some last minute engineering issues, CBS has postponed the launch of 99.1 WNEW’s News programming to Monday, January 23.

On another note, after failing to procure the CBSWashington.com domain from WTOP, CBS has acquired CBSDC.com and will be using that brand for its local Washington site.

Update 1/3: CBS has released all the details on the launch of 99.1 WNEW.

The station will debut on Thursday, January 19 at 5:00am. The daily anchor lineup is described in CBS’ press release as:

Bill Rehkopf and Amy Morris weekday mornings from 5am to 10am. Rehkopf most recently hails from Pittsburgh heritage news station KDKA, and prior to that served as the News Director of WPOC in Baltimore. Morris has anchored 1500 AM WFED in the DC area since 2005, having previously served as general assignment reporter for WTOP.

Jenny Glick and Chas Henry mid-days from 10am to 2pm. Glick joins WNEW from WBAL-AM in Baltimore where she was a lead news anchor. Henry comes to WNEW with a well-established reputation having reported for ABC-7, News Channel 8, plus reporting and anchoring for WTOP.

Evan Haning and Nancy Lyons afternoons from 2pm to 7pm. Haning is a long-established DC news anchor having worked for WTOP for nearly a decade and WRC-AM prior to that for over a decade. Lyons is locally known, as well, having most recently worked with NPR anchoring the hourly newscasts for Weekend All Things Considered.

Sarah Jacobs and Cheryl Simone evenings 7pm to 12am. Jacobs joins WNEW from the Baltimore radio market where she has spent the past 12 years. Simone hails most recently from WIOD in Miami, however she may be best known for the decade she spent anchoring at 1010 WINS in New York.

Update 12/12: 99.1 has dropped its simulcast of “El Zol 107.9” and has begun stunting with Christmas Music and teasers for the new News format. With the move, 107.9 is now operating under the WLZL calls, while 99.1 has claimed its reserved WNEW-FM ID.

Update 12/1: The first shoe dropped today as CBS began its LMA of 107.9 and began simulcasting “El Zol” at 99.1 and 107.9. The simulcast will last through the month of December until the launch of the new News format on 99.1 at a date in January to be announced.

The move has also triggered a call letter shuffle as CBS and Family Stations get the calls they want where they want. As of today the following changes have taken place.

107.9 Annapolis was WFSI now WBGR (will become WLZL)
860 Baltimore was WBGR now WFSI
1580 Morningside was WHFS now WNEW (will likely regain WHFS calls when WNEW moves to 99.1)
106.3 Jupiter, FL was WNEW now WHFS (will likely become WBGR or gain new calls)

On another note, Hubbard has quietly deleted four of the domains it registered last month to tweak CBS. 991News.com, AllNews99.com, AllNews991.com, and News991.com are once again available for registration by any party. Still redirecting to Hubbard’s WTOP is the more important CBSWashington.com.

Update 11/20: CBS has made the first moves towards establishing a brand for its new 99.1 and in doing so will be restoring former New York calls to prominence.

WNEW, which was banished to West Palm Beach in January 2007 following the rebranding of WNEW New York as “Fresh 102.7” will be the call letter brand for CBS’ news operation in Washington. A request was made on Friday to move the WNEW calls to 1580 WHFS as temporary location before moving to 99.1. CBS also registered 991WNEW.com, WNEW991.com, and WNEWNews.com for the new station.

These registrations follow Hubbard Radio’s registrations of CBSWashington.com and various News991.com domains to redirect to WTOP.

Original Report 11/16: CBS Radio has announced it has acquired 107.9 WFSI Annapolis, MD from Family Stations for an undisclosed amount.

The acquisition will trigger a shift in programming as Spanish CHR “El Zol” 99.1 WLZL will move to 107.9 on Thursday, December 1 via LMA. 99.1 which has just changed its City of License to Bowie, MD will flip to All-News in January 2012 taking on Hubbard Broadcasting’s WTOP.

“CBS RADIO’s history in all-news is rich in tradition and recognized nationwide for its excellence,” said Dan Mason, President and CEO of CBS Radio in the Press Release. “There is no one more regarded in this field, nor anyone with the journalistic expertise and capability to put forth a product with such instant credibility. We have perfected this format over many decades and we’re thrilled to expand the options for the D.C. community who have a distinct passion for news.”

Robert Sanchez, currently Assistant Director of News & Programming at WCBS New York has been named Program Director of the new station. Former WTOP News Director Michelle Komes-Dolge will be News Director.

No word yet on the fate of Family Radio’s 106.9 WKDN Camden/Philadelphia which was also rumored to be acquired by CBS.

Family Radio’s programming will continue to be heard in the Baltimore market on 750 WBMD and 860 WBGR, which were acquired from CBS in 2005.

INSTANT INSIGHT: It is a no brainer for CBS to take on WTOP head-on. WTOP was the #1 biller in the country last year and continues to dominate the ratings in Washington. If any market can sustain two all-news stations outside New York it is Washington. CBS already runs seven All-News stations across the country along with a few more Full Service News/Talkers with All-News programming blocks. It’s quite a surprise its taken this long for them to add Washington to that list.

99.1 will have the added benefit of having a city grade signal in much of the Baltimore market.

Which brings us to what we don’t understand about this move. During its run as “El Zol” on 99.1, the station wasted its coverage in the Baltimore market, especially the very affluent counties in between Baltimore and Washington. In the 90’s, 99.1 as Modern Rock WHFS garnered a 3 to 4 share in both markets. El Zol continues to generate good ratings in Washington, but is a non-factor in Baltimore. 107.9, due to an adjacent station on 107.7 in Manassas, VA is more reliant on the Baltimore market and those counties in-between the two cities. It’s a clear waste of 107.9 to focus it on just Washington where its signal will not be strongest. Would be a great spot for a Classic Hits station targeting both cities.

Comments

  1. Aaron says

    The move shows a lack of understanding about the all-news listener in DC, as well as the Spanish-language listener in DC. ‘TOP gets the most TSL from “extreme commuters”. That’s why they added the 107.7 and 103.9 relays. ‘TOP realized that the listeners on the fringe of the market, spending 3+ hours in their cars every day, represented a huge opportunity. Most of those extreme commuters are coming in from the south and west, where 99.1’s signal is weaker.

    Another problem is the Baltimore/Washington split. Even though they’re just 30 miles away from each other, Baltimore and Washington are two completely different markets. If 99.1 focuses too much on DC, they lose B’more listeners, and vice versa. Try to focus on both and you only please the listeners between the two (not to mention you’ll have 10 minute traffic reports). I understand that 99.1 isn’t meant to beat 103.5; it’s meant to occupy a niche. I just don’t think that niche is large enough to justify the investment that comes with an all-news station. If this were on one of the other CBS/DC signals, I could see it being more successful.

    107.9 does not have the penetration into VA that 99.1 does (partially due to WTOP’s 107.7 relay) and it won’t do as well as 99.1 did with its Tropical/Spanish-language CHR format. Of course, even 99.1 was not really a suitable signal for a Spanish-language format. CBS is lucky that no other operators that would try a Spanish-language format have struggling stations in the DC market. Agreed that CBS still might be better off doing Classic Hits on 107.9 though.

    • says

      There’s a seemingly overlying issue in that CBS’ Washington and Baltimore clusters appear to be in constant battle with one another as opposed to working together.

      99.1 may succeed in getting some of those extreme commuters from the Baltimore area and Eastern Shore where it will have a signal advantage over the WTOP network, but as you said they are not as numerous as those coming from Virginia, Western Maryland, and even West Virginia. Although come summertime they could rule those heading towards the Bay Bridge back from Ocean City.

      The perfect signal for El Zol in CBS’ cluster would be 106.7. But unless you were to move The Fan to 94.7 or 95.5, you’d be creating an overlap with Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan and missing many of the Northern Virginia audience. I don’t expect El Zol to be a ratings success on 107.9, but after seeing the sale price being only $8.5 Million, it doesn’t need to bill much to turn a profit.

  2. MattParker says

    This is the dumbest move CBS has made since 1976, when they flipped WCAU, Philadelphia from a very successful talk format to news against established Group W station KYW. Reportedly, Bill Paley ordered this either because his ego was out of control or old age was affecting his judgment. In any case, the idea bombed and the station returned to talk in less than a year (but was never as successful again as it had been and an FM talk station had co-opted the talk audience).

    This time CBS wants to go up against a very well established and highly successful news station, which has dominated the market for decades. WTOP left AM for FM several years ago. WTOP uses the CBS news format (some CBS stations, like 1010 WINS and KYW continue with the Group W news format). WTOP is a CBS Radio affiliate. The affiliation raises an interesting issue: Will CBS pull the plug on WTOP? Or will WTOP dump CBS?

    In any case, what is CBS (which sold WTOP in 1958 in order to buy the aforementioned WCAU) going to offer more-different-better that would induce listeners and local advertisers to switch? IMHO WTOP does a better job with the CBS news format than CBS’ own WCBS, WBBM, KCBS and KNX. It’s local reporting and production values are top notch.

    It would actually make more sense for CBS to try to do their own take on “chick news” (FM News in Chicago and New York) than to try to go against WTOP with more of the same.

  3. MattParker says

    As I think about this, maybe CBS is planning another option: Go up against WTOP’s CBS format with the tighter Group W format. Also with more emphasis on Maryland, including Washington’s Maryland suburbs and Baltimore and its suburbs. WTOP seems to target the “inside the beltway” political community; CBS could target those who want local news (not unlike what CBS does in New York).

    Granted, DC does have an appetite for news. Still, it’s hard to take people away from an established news station. This isn’t like top 40 radio where listeners jump back and forth to avoid news, commercials or songs they don’t like. News stations tend to have a higher degree of listener loyalty. WETA found that out the hard way, when they tried to do public radio news and information against WAMU (they quickly went back to classical).

    • Jeff Kamen says

      As a former staff reporter at original WNEW in Gotham, I was deeply saddened by the demise of the call letters but now, I rejoice. It will never be as it had been (Make Believe Ballroom, etc), but the call letters will be alive again and once more, associated with a great city struggling to innovate in order to survive.
      -Jeff Kamen

  4. MattParker says

    I doubt if very many people in and around Annapolis ever heard of WNEW. That may be a good thing because those who have will hold a strong association for WNEW with big bands, middle of the road standards, Make Believe Ballroom, Sinatra and William B Williams, Rayburn/Klavan and Finch. Ironic that the station calls associated with the first disc jockey show (or at least one of two and first in the East) is going to be a news station’s handle. Especially since a pint-sized guy with a ten gallon ego dropped the call, which would have worked very well on a business news station (even one that loses money and exists only to promote his real news business).

    • says

      Matt – The calls mean nothing to anybody but radio geeks like us who recognize the historical significance of the call letters.

      Please keep personal politics out of this. Bloomberg had the right to put which ever call letters he wanted on his station, just as CBS has the right to now move them from Jupiter, FL to Bowie, MD.

  5. says

    Agreed the end time scare didn’t help family radio, but the El Zol service may turn out to be much more lucrative and ratings making than you would think for that area. Be listening for more changes as time continues onward. Family Radio will keep a hold on the stations it developed and built to my knowledge though.

  6. Rich Rodriguez says

    One thing that has not been brought up in all the discussion about CBS Radio buying WFSI for such a fire-sale price or bringing a second all-news station to the DC market is why Family Stations put WFSI up for sale in the first place. Remember that Family Stations is headed by Harold Camping, the controversial Christian radio teacher who spent an estimated $100 million buying billboards and funding caravans to warn the world that the world as we know it would end on May 21.

    The Oakland-based ministry is deep in debt from this all-or-nothing stunt, donations have stopped coming in, and it cannot pay its bills. It’s selling its stations just to keep the sinking ship afloat. Virtually every Christian church and organization, liberal and conservative, have condemned Family Radio as a cult no different than the Branch Davidians or Jim Jones, and I believe WFSI was sold to CBS because back in 2005, when the economy was much rosier, the ministry sold KEAR-FM in San Francisco (now the FM simulcast of KCBS-AM) to the Eye Network for $100 million, and maybe they were hoping for a similar transaction.

    While CBS Radio is benefiting from a deal that most secular radio marketers are shaking their heads over, the seller is a discredited religious organization that will most likely fold in the next year or two and liquidate the rest of its portfolio en masse to settle its debts and lawsuits from jilted supporters over the end of the world that never happened.

    • Jeff says

      I would simply raise another question along these lines.

      If Family Radio is still truly concerned about helping to fulfill the Great Commission, why wasn’t WFSI sold to another Christian broadcaster? For example, the Bible Broadcasting Network, headquartered in Charlotte, NC; has a similar traditional Christian-music format with Bible-teaching programs throughout the day, only without any vain attempts to specify a date for Judgment Day.

      This turn of events has left many spiritual casualties in its wake.

      • says

        Over the last 20 years Family has sold off Commercial band FM’s in San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Annapolis, and Philadelphia. All went to the highest bidder, none to another Christian operator.

        It may come as a surprise, but many “Religious” operators exist simply to turn a profit off of their audience.

        • Joseph says

          Lance is correct.

          Some religious stations take in some pretty decent money by simply selling nearly all of their airtime to various religious programmers.

          You wouldn’t need a big ad sales staff (only one person to sell airtime blocks in long-term deals to religious programmers), a staff of local DJ’s or talk-show hosts, a news staff, or a promotion department.

          Minimal Staff + Minimal Expenses + Selling Nearly All Your Airtime To Religious Programmers = Big Profits

          Some religious stations are very sincere in their desire to broadcast religious programs. But too many religious stations see religion as a way to make a quick buck.

  7. MattParker says

    A little historical irony here. DC’s first all news station, WAVA, is now owned by Salem and broadcasting paid religion programs. Now a religion station flips to news.

    Another irony would be if the new WNEW decided to concentrate on business news like the station previously known as WNEW.

  8. Joseph says

    As of this writing (8:05 P.M. EST January 17th), the CBSDC.com website features the official logo for the new WNEW-99.1.

    The font is in the same style (Sans Serif??) as the letters “CBS” in the corporate logo, and of course, features the famous eye.

  9. Aaron says

    Station sounded decent, if a bit unpolished, when I tuned in last night. There were a lot of words being tripped over, but I’m sure that will go away with time.

    It’s a different model from WTOP. WNEW is more fast-paced, with a quick weather report at least every 4 minutes in addition to traffic and weather on the 1’s. WNEW is more anchor-centric, while WTOP has different reporters for each feature. This gives WNEW a straight-news, no-nonsense presentation, as opposed to the more conversational-sounding WTOP. Also, stories seemed shorter and more quickly repated on WNEW compared to WTOP.

    All in all, it’s an interesting contrast. WTOP is certainly a more entertaining station to listen to. With its constant teases of feature stories, it’s built to suck listeners in even if they only tuned in for traffic on the 8’s. WNEW feels more like a utility. I’d tune it in for the quick traffic/weather/headlines, but once I’ve heard those, I’m not sure why I’d keep listening.

    I suppose that’s what CBS is going for. They’re sacrificing longer tune-ins for what they hope will be more tune-ins. Fewer features also means fewer reporters which means lower budgets. CBS has built a station that can’t compete with WTOP on TSL, but can still turn a profit because of lower budgets. In the end, I think that 99.1 signal is going to doom them, but it should be an interesting battle nonetheless.

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