Under new management, the Northern Shenandoah Valley’s oldest radio station has a new name but is keeping its longtime news/talk format.
Colonial Radio Group of Williamsport LLC began operating the station at 1400 on the AM dial — previously known as WINC — on Wednesday, said Allen Shaw, president and CEO of Centennial Broadcasting II, the station’s current owner.
The station now is operating with the call letters WZFC. Within a few days, Colonial and Centennial will submit a license transfer application to the Federal Communications Commission, Shaw said. If the transfer is approved, Colonial will buy the station from Centennial for $25,000, he said.
Centennial, based in North Carolina, previously announced plans to sell its two other area stations, WINC-FM 105.5, licensed to Berryville, and WZFC-FM 104.9, licensed to Strasburg, to Metro Radio of Fairfax. The sale was completed on Wednesday, Shaw said. In a previous interview, he said Centennial decided to sell the stations because “we’re a very small company” and “it’s a challenge for us” financially to continue to own and operate them.
AM 1400 wasn’t able to keep the WINC call letters under terms of the arrangement between Centennial and Colonial, said Todd Bartley, managing member for Colonial, which is based in Pennsylvania.
The former WZFC-FM now is operating as WKDV-FM, information online shows.
In a prepared statement, Kelly Koonce, chief operations officer for Metro Radio, said the company plans to retain WINC-FM’s hot adult contemporary format, which emphasizes pop music from the 1990s through today.
The expected $25,000 sale price of the AM station isn’t a lot of money in today’s business world. But it’s hard to operate an AM station nowadays, let alone sell one.
FM has become the dominant radio band because most of its stations have stronger signals that reach more listeners. Therefore, those stations — especially ones in large metropolitan areas, like Richmond or Washington, D.C — can charge more for advertising and, in turn, make more money and have better financial stability.
“Many AM radio stations are not able to make enough money” to make buying them worthwhile, Shaw said.
Centennial offered WINC-AM to Metro free of charge, but Metro didn’t want it, he said.
WINC-AM celebrated its 80th anniversary on June 26. Having been founded by the Lewis family, the station was bought by Centennial in 2007.
Not only does the station on 1400 AM in Winchester have a place in local history, but also music and radio industry history. The late Patsy Cline, a Winchester native, sang live on the station on Saturday afternoons before she became a country music star. A former engineer there developed an alert tone used for CONELRAD, a predecessor to the Emergency Alert System.
“It’s a tremendous honor to take a legacy (station) like this one forward,” Bartley said.
Shaw said he believes the station will prosper under Colonial’s control.
“He’s very dynamic and very smart,” Shaw said of Bartley. “He believes in local programming and community involvement.”
Most of the station’s current programs are syndicated call-in talk shows. Bartley said he’s interested in putting more local programming on air. He added that he encourages listeners to contact the station, either by phone or its Facebook page, to say what shows they want the station to broadcast and contribute ideas on how it can better serve the community.
The format will continue to be “real-time news, real-time information,” he said. However, “it’s going to be bolstered and taken to a whole new level.”
Because of competition among radio stations, he declined to discuss any of his ideas yet.
With nobody else interested in acquiring the station, had Colonial not stepped forward, Centennial eventually may have had no other option but take it off the air permanently and surrender its license to the FCC, Shaw said.
“We would have hated to do that,” he said. “It would have been bad” for the community, considering the station’s history.
The sale of Centennial’s Winchester-area stations doesn’t include the building on North Pleasant Valley Road that houses their operations. Centennial is allowing Colonial and Metro Radio to occupy the building temporarily. Both companies are seeking new locations for the stations, and Centennial is discussing with real estate brokers possibilities for the approximately 7,000-square-foot building, Shaw said.
Those possibilities include demolition, he said, if the building can’t be sold and redeveloped eventually, he said.
WINC-AM’s tower on the property will be taken down at some point, Shaw said.
Colonial is in talks with another area radio station about sharing its transmission facilities, Bartley said.