January 1996: Starting The Year That Everything Changed

1996 The Year That Changed Radio

Next week will be the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 by Congress. With now two decades in the rear view mirror there have been millions of words written on the positives and negatives of the changes brought on by the passage of the bill.

Over the course of this year we will look back at 1996, as it took place. We’ll look at the programming changes and deals that paved the way to the radio landscape we know today. And we start with where we were in January 1996.

When 1996 began the big news in technology was the reveal of the digital versatile disc. The first DVD’s held 133 minutes of video per side of the disc and players were set to hit the market later in the year starting at $500.

The radio industry buzzword was duopoly. A 1992 revamp of ownership rules allowed companies to own up to 18 AM and 18 FM stations and was then raised again to 20 on each band in 1994. More importantly, for the first time since the 1940’s, one company could operate more than one station in a market on the same band as duopolys of 2 and 2 were now possible. As 1996 began some of the first big consolidation deals were preparing to close as Evergreen Media purchased Pyramid’s 12 stations for $306.5 million, Infinity purchased Alliance’s 7 stations for $275 million, and what was then the largest pure radio group deal as Chancellor Media bought Shamrock Broadcasting’s 19 stations for $395 million.

Group W Westinghouse BroadcastingRadio also played a part in two major deals announced on consecutive days in 1995. On August 1, Disney announced the acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC for $19 billion. Disney acquired ABC’s 21 radio stations as part of the deal, but outside of a handful of purchases and building a network of mostly AM stations for its Radio Disney network never became a power player in radio. The same would not be true when Westinghouse Electric agreed to a purchase of CBS Inc. for $5.4 billion. The combination of Westinghouse and CBS created the then-largest radio group in the country with 39 stations and duopolies in major markets including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston.

Other deals made in January 1996 included:

Evergreen Media agreed to purchase Sports 1130 WDFN and Country 105.7 WWWW Detroit for $30 million pending approval of the Chancellor/Shamrock deal. Secret Communications filed a similar $27 million option and began a Time Brokerage Agreement for Alternative 107.5 KTBZ Houston. All of those companies would end up being rolled-up into AMFM and later Clear Channel.

Jefferson Pilot paid Bruce Walton’s KIFM Broadcasting $28.75 million for Smooth Jazz 98.1 KIFM San Diego. The deal created a duopoly with Jefferson Pilot’s Country 1240/97.3 KSON. Those two FMs are now part of Entercom’s San Diego cluster.

John Douglas sold his 8 remaining Douglas Broadcasting stations to Par Broadcasting (also controlled by Douglas). The stations, which all aired Brokered programming, included 1430 WNJR Newark NJ, 103.1 WVVX Highland Park IL and 750 WNDZ Portage IN in the Chicago market, and 1450 KEST San Francisco.

Osborn Communications purchased Country duo “Kickin’ 98” 97.9 KNAX and “Froggy 101.1” KRBT Fresno from EBE Communications for $7 million.

Panache Broadcasting, owners of Urban AC 1310 WTLC and 105.7 WTLC-FM Indianapolis, purchased Easy Listening 93.9 WXTZ Fishers IN for $4 million and flipped it to Urban Oldies as “93.9 Gold” utilizing ABC Radio Network’s Solid Gold Soul satellite network.

Format Changes

92.3 KRock K-Rock WXRK New York Howard Stern Alternative Over the course of 1996 the biggest market in the country would see seven FM’s take on new formats mostly due to station sales and a chain reaction from previous changes. The first change took place on January 5 as Infinity brought their top managers and programmers to New York and relaunched Classic Rock “92.3 K-Rock” WXRK as a current intensive Alternative stations along the lines of sister stations 106.7 KROQ Los Angeles and 98.5 KOME San Jose. The flip at WXRK was intended to fill the vacancy of Alternative Rock in the New York market that was being partially filled by Alt leaning CHR “Z100” WHTZ and AAA leaning Rocker 102.7 WNEW, while giving a musical format more in line with the younger demographics tuning into the station for Howard Stern in the morning. The flip of K-Rock would lead to a shift in the Alternative format to a more divisive male focus and harder rock songs and a splintering off of Modern AC for the softer pop leaning Alternative products following that format’s debut in late 1995 at 100.7 KFMB San Diego.

By the end of the month two more changes would be on their way to New York. Spanish Broadcasting Systems began LMAing 93.1 WPAT-FM while awaiting FCC approval of their $83.5 million purchase of the Soft AC “Today’s 93.1” from Park Communications. The station would flip to Spanish AC as “Suave-FM“. Evergreen Media announced that Country 103.5 WYNY would drop its format, but we’ll get to the end result of that next month.

Other format changes that took place in January:

AC 107.5 KMXB Salt Lake City flipped to Alternative “107.5 The End” KENZ.

102.7 KQMB Salt Lake City signed-on as “Star 102.7” with Westwood One’s satellite AC format.

Rock “105.9 The Bear” WWBR Birmingham flipped to Alternative “106X” WRAX.

Cox Media’s new-to-air 94.7 WAJE Louisville debuts as Rock AC “94.7 The River“.

Country/Southern Rock 102.9 WYCQ Nashville rebranded as “Moo 102” WMMU.

Urban “The New 107.5” WJZA Columbus debuts to compete against “Power 106.3” WCKX. The two stations would merge under the Power identity on 107.5 in December 1997.

All 70’s “Mix 96.3” WMXF Madison flipped to AC “Lite 96.3“.

CHR 102.9 KGLE Reno flipped to Alternative “102.9 The Zephyr” KZZF.


KPWR Los Angeles 10th Anniversary Special

B96 Chicago – 1/27/96

  1. Robert Keil says

    ahhh yes…I remember being a lowly weekender on a Mom-and-Pop country station in Western Oklahoma asking my now former radio boss (now Oklahoma State Representative) what that would mean to smalltown radio. He essentially told me don’t worry about it.

  2. firepoint525 says

    I got around the changes by being willing to work as a board op, and by voluntarily doing some voiceover work on the side for the station that I was working for. I extended my broadcasting career by 11 years, just by doing that. Meanwhile, stations that I had formerly worked for either went off the air, were sold to new owners, or just went to satellite-based formats.

  3. firepoint525 says

    “Moo 102” would rebrand again about a year later as “PC 103.” That had to be confusing for listeners, since the station was (and still is) on 102.9, and even has a sister station at 102.5, and at the time, had a translator for it on 102.1.

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