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The Market Within A Market

“It’s sure hard to punch around this market.”

That’s an industry friend talking about Nashville radio. The fast growing city and home to the upcoming Radio Show 2016 is also growing as a radio market, in a way that many people may not realize.

More than 25 years ago, Nashville became one of the first markets where an FM translator was used to do something other than help an FM station extend its coverage over rough terrain. WAMB-AM, then an anachronism as a station running a true Big Band format in the ‘90s, was given an FM frequency for nighttime only use. In doing so, it became a talisman for radio’s future as well.

Now, Nashville is home to numerous FM translators and a handful of Low Power FM stations. Together, the LPFMs and translators comprise nearly twenty additional broadcast choices. In other words, market No. 44 has enough additional radio for a market unto itself. Punch the scanner button like my friend did, and you don’t get very far without coming upon another local FM station. Several, he notes, don’t seem that different from Class A FMs when you drive the signals.

A few of the translators are traditional repeaters of regular FMs in the market, but many are not. Many of the additional choices are outside the usual purview of this column and many industryites—Christian talk and teaching; block-programmed community radio. But there is also the market’s second Classic Hits station, two all-Sports stations, two Spanish-language FMs, and two different gold-based Country stations, one of them just launched by iHeart Media.

In other words, the stations—the translators particularly—are a microcosm of how those low-powered FMs have been used around the country. They are used by community broadcasters, smaller regional groups, and the largest broadcaster. Some are unique services that wouldn’t likely be heard on a full-fledged FM. Some are mainstream formats that already exist, seemingly with the primary aim of flanking a successful rival.

Here’s a rundown of the Nashville FM dial within the FM dial:

89.9 Way-FM – Simulcasts the programming of longtime Christian broadcaster WAYM, one of the first Christian CHRs (as opposed to ACs).

90.7/105.5 Calvary Satellite Network – Twin Falls, Idaho may be several days’ drive from Nashville, but you can hear it mentioned in the legal ID for these repeaters of Christian talk/teaching KAWZ.

92.5 Air 1 – Christian AC giant K-Love is heard on a regular FM in this market. Its Christian Hot AC sister, “Positive Hits” Air 1, is on this translator rebroadcasting the HD-3 signal of iHeart Media’s Classic Rock WNRQ.

Classic Hits 93.3 – WHPY (Hippie Radio) does its quirky (and worth hearing) brand of Classic Hits on suburban frequency 94.5. Cromwell’s new rival carries Westwood One’s Classic Hits format and simulcasts 830 WQZQ. The WW1 format is less eclectic than WHPY, but still with more depth/variety than the typical PPM market Classic Hits station.

94.9 The Game 2 – An ESPN Radio companion to Cromwell’s WPRT (The Game), originated on yet another sister station WBUZ-HD-3. The local home of Dan Le Batard.

95.9 Nashville Sports Radio – The FM translator for long-running 560 WNSR and home for Vanderbilt Football and CBS Sports Radio.

El Jefe 96.7 – As America’s demography changed, Spanish-language radio became a stealth player in Nashville with a handful of little-known AMs sporting what would have been a pretty good-sized FM share between them. Now, two are available on FM, including this Regional Mexican outlet for suburban 810 WMGC.

The Big Legend 98.3/97.5 – On Sept. 1, Cumulus’ WSM-FM (Nash Icon) had its second straight PPM month as one of the market leaders with its yesterday-and-today Country mix. The next day, iHeart unveiled a yesterday-and-today country station of its own, with a station name referring to mainstream country sister WSIX (The Big 98) on the two translators that used to Modern Rock as “Alt 98.3.” When heard earlier this week, the station was using the same Premium Choice log as iHeart’s KXXY Oklahoma City.

98.7 Moody Radio (pending) – Bringing things full circle, the current successor to WAMB, Moody Bible Institute’s 1200 WFCN is planning a translator on this frequency.

Real Country 100.7 – Suburban 1010 WHIN Gallatin has hung in for years on the edge of a market with no shortage of country. It, too, has just moved to FM with a yesterday-and-today format, this one from Westwood One’s Real Country network.

101.5 WXNA-LP – The freeform successor to Vanderbilt University’s WRVU, mourned when it was sold and switched to Classical five years ago. The best show names anywhere, including “The Plural Of Vinyl,” “The Inconsiderate Mixtape,” “Set Records to Stun” (“breaking the musical space-time continuum), and “Recommended If You Like” (“connecting the pop dots, four chords at a time).

102.1 The Light – Nashville was always a candidate for R&B Gospel on FM, limited only by the number of available traditional FMs. As translators started to proliferate, The Light came to FM carrying Sheridan’s gospel network, originating on AM 830. Now, it is fed only by sister WPRT-HD-2. The highest ranked of the translators (although not all are reported), it got to a 1.8 in July.

103.7/107.1 Radio Free Nashville – The 107.1 is WRFN-LP in suburban Pasqo. The 103.7 is its closer-to-town translator. This is the Nashville home of “Democracy Now” and Thom Hartmann, but also eclectic music shows like “The Haggard & Haggard Radio Hour” and “Choral Music from the Hardt,” featuring choral music from the Middle Ages to today. The station t-shirt promises “low power for the people.”

103.9 La Radio Sinai – Spanish-language Contemporary Christian LPFM WHQV.

104.3/104.9 WMOT Jazz (Pending) – The most interesting format change in the market recently took place on a full-power non-commercial outlet, as longtime Jazz outlet WMOT segued to full-time Americana in the market that is the format’s effective capitol. That left the Jazz format to live on a translator in Murfreesboro (beyond the boundaries of the market) and on HD-2. But there’s also this pending translator in nearer-by Brentwood, which the station Website says will be on 104.9, although locals have heard it teased on-air as coming to 104.3. It can be heard now on 92.3 in Murfreesboro.

105.1 Radio Activa – The just launched FM translator for Regional Mexican WNVL (and so new that it wasn’t on the Website at this writing, although locals confirmed it being on the air). The flagship of a format heard in a half-dozen Southern markets.

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Sean Ross is author of the Ross on Radio newsletter and VP of music and programming of Edison Research.

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