WINCHESTER — Listeners of a popular local radio station will have to adjust their FM dials to continue hearing it in the future.
Centennial Broadcasting is selling its 92.5 FM frequency in Winchester, currently occupied by WINC-FM, to Educational Media Foundation (EMF) for $1.75 million, the radio industry website RadioInsight.com recently reported.
EMF intends to broadcast its nationwide K-LOVE contemporary Christian music format on the frequency, Centennial President and CEO Allen Shaw said to his understanding in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
Programming on WINC-FM, which has a hot adult contemporary music format, continues to air on that frequency. It also is now airing on two other FM stations in the Northern Shenandoah Valley that Centennial owns: WZFC (104.9 FM, licensed to Strasburg) and WXBN (105.5 FM, licensed to Berryville).
WZFC has discontinued simulcasting programming on WINC-AM 1400, which is not affected by the sale. WXBN has discontinued its classic country music format.
Shaw said he expects the sale of 92.5 FM to become final by the end of December.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also must approve the sale. A Modification of a License for FM Application submitted by EMF to the FCC is pending, an online document shows.
As soon as the sale is finalized, K-LOVE will begin airing on 92.5 FM, Shaw said to his understanding. WINC-FM’s programming will continue airing on 104.9 FM and 105.5 FM, with 105.5 FM taking on the WINC-FM call letters, he said.
No changes in WINC-FM’s programming or personnel — either on-air or behind-the-scenes — are planned, he added.
Centennial is selling the 92.5 FM frequency for economic reasons.
“Our revenues have been hurting badly” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Shaw said. Like other businesses, the radio industry is suffering, he noted.
WINC-FM continues to be successful financially.
Yet “there’s not a whole lot of revenue for radio in that (Winchester) market,” he said, as compared to a much larger market such as Washington, D.C., where there are many more businesses that can buy commercials.
EMF approached Centennial about buying 92.5 FM, Shaw said, adding that Centennial thought long and hard about the offer before deciding to sell the frequency.
“They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” he said. The sale “will help us get through this COVID situation ... and ensure we’re still around” for many years to come.
At its current frequency, WINC-FM is one of area’s most powerful radio stations. Broadcasting a 22,000-watt signal from a transmitter near Front Royal, it can be heard as far north as Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, as far south as Charlottesville, eastward beyond Washington and westward into West Virginia, according to the website radio-locator.com.
Many FM stations nationwide broadcast at 100,000 watts, the maximum strength allowed by the FCC, except in a few special circumstances. With much less power, WINC-FM can cover roughly as much territory as those stations because its transmitter tower is on a mountaintop.
“Our signal has a huge range,” Shaw said.
Except for WUSQ-FM (102.5), a Winchester-area country music station owned by iHeartMedia Inc., other area radio stations operate at much less power. WZFC, for instance, operates at 4,100 watts from a tower off Mountain Road northwest of Strasburg. WXBN operates with 3,000 watts from a tower off Springsbury Road near Berryville, radio-locator.com shows. As a result, their coverage areas are smaller.
Nevertheless, “we don’t think our loss of listenership (from giving up the most powerful signal) will be all that great,” Shaw said. “The two FMs we’ll still have are probably enough to cover ... the main population we serve.”
Most of WINC-FM’s listeners are in the immediate Winchester/Frederick County/Clarke County area, he said.
Locally, K-LOVE currently airs on WTCF (103.3 FM) licensed to Wardensville, West Virginia. Radio-locator.com shows that station is owned by EMF and operates at 350 watts.
“They offered it to us, if we wanted to buy it,” Shaw said of that station. “But we don’t need it.”
EMF representatives didn’t respond to phone calls for comment Monday afternoon.
K-LOVE’s programming originates from studios in Rocklin, California, which is near Sacramento. EMF is headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, its website shows.
Centennnial is based in Clemmons, N.C., a suburb of Winston-Salem. The company currently owns radio stations in Fredericksburg as well as Winchester.
While he is optimistic about WINC-FM’s future, Shaw said “a lot of it will depend on whether our loyal listeners continue listening to us.”
As with any type of entertainment, ultimately “the audience decides” its fate, he said.