February 1996: The Floodgates Open While WKTU Shakes Up New York & CHR
On February 8, 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law leading the the ownership limits we know today.
The act raised the ownership limits to a maximum of eight stations (five on one band) in markets with 45 stations or more, seven stations (four on one band) in markets with 30-44 stations, six stations (four on one band) in markets with 15-29 stations, and no more than half (three on one band) in markets with 14 stations or less. While it would take a few months for the FCC to issue rulemakings for the new law of the land (the entire act and subsequent rulemakings can be read here), dealmakers wasted no time to begin consolidating.
Looking back it is not much of a surprise that the first group to acquire an eight station cluster was led by Randy Michaels. As soon as the act was passed, Jacor Communications announced the purchase of Noble Broadcast Group for $152 million. In Denver, the purchase gave Jacor 630 KHOW, 1190 KBCO, 95.7 KHIH, and 97.3 KBCO-FM to add to their existing cluster of 850 KOA, 1280 KTLK, 103.5 KRFX, and 106.7 KBPI. The deal also gave Jacor three stations each in St. Louis and Toledo and the programming rights to XETRA AM/FM Tijuana/San Diego.
That was just the first splash for Jacor as the next week it announced the purchase of Citicasters for $770 million. That deal gave Jacor 19 additional radio stations and two television stations with 96.1 WKLS Atlanta, two each in Cincinnati, Kansas City, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Tampa, three in Portland OR and five in Columbus OH. The two deals would make Jacor the largest company at the time with 52 stations across fourteen markets.
SFX Broadcasting purchased Prism Radio Partners for $105.25 million. That deal gave SFX sixteen additional stations including four each in Jacksonville and Tucson, three station clusters in Louisville and Wichita, and an FM duopoly in Raleigh.
Clear Channel shelled out $44.25 million to add 1300 WOOD, 93.7 WBCT, and 105.7 WOOD-FM Grand Rapids from WOOD Radio L.P. Clear Channel also converted its JSA with Adrman Broadcasting’s Alternative “107.9 The End” WENZ Cleveland to a $6 million purchase.
Park Communications worked quickly to divest its holdings following its sale of 930 WPAT and 93.1 WPAT-FM Paterson NJ/New York City in November 1995. Fisher Communications paid $35 million for 1080 KWJJ/99.5 KWJJ-FM Portland. 1150 KEZX and 98.9 KWJZ Seattle went to Sandusky Broadcasting for $26 million. Nationwide purchased 950 KSGS and 104.1 KMJZ Minneapolis for $22 million. WTNT Inc. purchased 1270 WNLS and 94.9 WTNT Tallahassee for $3.5 million.
Beasley Broadcasting bought and sold in Florida. It added 560 WQAM and 99.9 WKIS Miami for $57 million to join 96.5 WPOW in their holdings, while selling Urban 101.9 WJHM Orlando to OmniAmerica for $21.3 million where it became a sister to CHR 106.7 WXXL.
Also in Miami, Paxson Communications purchased Spanish Tropical 95.7 WXDJ and Spanish AC 106.7 WRMA from New Age Broadcasting for $115 million to pair with Talk 940 WINZ, 1400 WFTL, Smooth Jazz 93.9 WLVE and Rock 94.9 WZTA.
Secret Communications paid $10-14 million to Sheridan Broadcasting to swap frequencies in Pittsburgh. Alternative “106.7 The X” WXDX Beaver Falls would move to the closer to city 105.9 signal held by Sheridan’s WAMO.
Infinity was a rare seller in February as the company sold 96.5 KYCW Seattle to EZ Communications for $26 million. EZ paired 96.5 with its existing cluster of 1300 KMPS, 94.1 KMPS-FM, and 102.5 KZOK. That cluster would end up in Infinity’s possession after American Radio Systems bought EZ, CBS bought Infinity, and the rebranded Infinity (now once again CBS Radio) purchased ARS in September 1997.
Colfax Communications purchased Oldies 960 KOOL/94.5 KOOL-FM Phoenix from Par Radio Holdings for $35 million.
American Radio Systems created a seven station cluster in Rochester NY with the $30.5 million purchase of The Lincoln Group’s 1180 WHAM, 1280 WHTK, 97.9 WPXY, and 100.5 WVOR to pair with their 990 WCFM, 96.5 WCFM-FM, and 101.3 WRMM.
Fairbanks Communications paid $23 million to add Ardman Broadcasting’s 1400 WIRA and 95.5 WCLB West Palm Beach to their 1230 WJNO, 1330 WJNX, 92.1 WRLX, and 97.9 WRMF.
Nationwide Communications bought into the San Diego market by purchasing Classical 94.1 KFSD from Lotus Communications for $23 million.
It’s not every day that a station is launched and helps change the musical paradigm. When Evergreen Media debuted 103.5 WKTU New York on February 10, CHR in general was very Modern Rock heavy. By the end of 1996, the hits format was much more balanced as pure pop music was on the rebound. One of the first songs to explode on KTU was a little known remix of a Spanish song called “Macarena”. Within months the song was a dance craze and biggest hit in the world mostly due to the early exposure on WKTU.
Everything surrounding the launch of KTU was perfectly done. The former WYNY Country airstaff announced the upcoming change a few weeks in advance and were given permission to say farewell. Then a week of stunting brought simulcasts of Evergreen Media’s top stations and personalities from across the country. The first day was WRCX Chicago morning host Mancow declaring war on Howard Stern, the next day 92.3 KKBT Los Angeles presented a one hour interview with O.J. Simpson. WXKS Boston, KIOI San Francisco, and WLUP Chicago simulcasts rounded out the week before 18 hours of a beating heart led to KTU’s debut at 12pm on Saturday, February 10. The name came from the former Disco station heard on 92.3 in the late 70s/early 80s and the time and effort put into the launch showed. WKTU quickly jumped from 21st in the market with 1.9 share of the audience in its final book as Country WYNY to the top of the pack with a 6.7 share in its first full ratings period in the new format as well as being #1 in every key demographic.
The other big format change of February 1996 was in Dallas where Infinity flipped Classic Country “Sunny 95” 94.9 KSNN flipped to All-News “94.9 K-News” KEWS to compete against SFX Broadcasting’s News/Talk 1080 KRLD. Despite launching with a bang and showing some early ratings growth, the format would be short-lived due to how quickly dealmaking would reshape the ownership groups. When Westinghouse/CBS purchased Infinity in June, it gave the combined company eight FM’s in the market forcing the divestiture of three. That included KEWS as it was swapped to Salem for 1190 KDFX and $42 million in October. That same month, the tower of sister “Young Country 105.3” KYNG collapsed and with KEWS on the way out, its programming was moved to 94.9 through the end of 1996 leaving KEWS with a 7 1/2 month lifespan.
The Outrageous FM of Nashville was no more. With its over-the-top branding no longer as sellable, CHR “Y107” WYHY Nashville moved in an Adult CHR direction as “107.5 The River” WRVW.
Compass Broadcasting launched “105.3 Sets-FM” on KCBQ-FM San Diego with blocks of two or three songs from the same artist. The format would be swapped over to 102.1 as KXST on April 1 to allow new sister “Rock 102.1” KIOZ to move to the stronger 105.3 signal.
A pair of new changes took place in Denver with a third announced. EXCL Communications purchased Alternative “92X” KNRX and flipped it to Rhythmic CHR “Jam’n 92.1” KJMN on the 29th. In a more complex deal, Tribune Broadcasting sold the intellectual property of Classical 99.5 KVOD to Chancellor Media. On February 18, the format of KVOD began simulcasting on what was Country “Big Dog 92.5” KZDG with 99.5 to debut a new format on March 4.
Palm Broadcasting began operating Alternative simulcast “X103” 103.3 WXWZ Greer/103.9 WXWX Easley in the Greenville/Spartanburg market and immediately flipped the stations to Oldies “Oldies 103“.
Format Change: 92X Becomes Jam’n 92.1 Denver
I want to thank David Gleason’s AmericanRadioHistory.com archive for the help in putting this series together. This is a resource that every person in the radio industry should know about and donate any missing content they may have in their possession.