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September 20, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Cumulus selling Bronxville radio station, keeping WFAS for now

Cumulus Media, the Atlanta-based broadcasting giant, plans to sell its FM radio station licensed to Bronxville as it exits the New York City radio market while, for the time being, maintaining ownership of AM station WFAS licensed to White Plains, the Business Journal has learned.

As of July 11, Cumulus owned and operated 428 radio stations in 87 markets.

The Bronxville station, heard at 103.9 on the FM dial, formerly was known as WFAS-FM and had White Plains as its city of license. WFAS-AM and WFAS-FM were acquired by Cumulus when it purchased Aurora Communications LLC, which owned 18 radio stations in New York and Connecticut. The purchase was completed on March 28, 2002, and was valued at $229.9 million, $93 million of which was in cash and the rest in stock and warrants to purchase stock.

Several years after acquiring the stations, Cumulus received Federal Communications Commission approval to change the FM station’s city of license to Bronxville. That allowed Cumulus to move the WFAS-FM transmitter to the Bronx where it would be closer to Manhattan while putting a signal of the strength required by FCC rules over the new city of license and also protecting other stations from interference by the signal. In 2014, it changed the call letters to WNBM and changed the format to urban adult contemporary music. Broadcasters generally consider a station serving the heart of a major city such as New York to be more valuable than a station which only can be heard in the suburbs.

Both WFAS-AM at 1230 on the dial and its FM sister station had been transmitting from a 7-acre site at 365 Secor Road in Hartsdale since 1947. FCC records show the AM station was first licensed on Aug. 19, 1926. Its initial broadcast from White Plains is believed to have taken place in August 1932 from the Roger Smith Hotel. WFAS refers to Frank A. Seitz, father of station founder Frank A. Seitz Jr.

Transmitting from Hartsdale, the stations could be heard in Westchester, the Bronx, parts of Manhattan, the north shore of Long Island, parts of New Jersey and Rockland. Under previous owners, they were operated as full-service community stations, broadcasting a schedule of popular music, local and national news, and sports. The stations moved their studios from downtown White Plains to Secor Road in the early 1950s. At one time, in addition to presenting a roster of disc jockeys and broadcast personalities, WFAS was an important source of local news with a staff of nine reporters and anchors. The FM station operated for a few years with an easy-listening music format using the call letters WWYD.

After moving the FM station’s license to Bronxville and changing its format, Cumulus arranged for use of a low-powered FM frequency, called a translator, at 94.3 on the FM dial to carry local programming while reviving the station identification WFAS-FM. Within a year, the local programming was dropped and the new WFAS-FM carried programs mostly from the Cumulus-owned Westwood One radio network. Recently, WFAS-FM at 94.3 was shut down and another operator began broadcasting on the translator. WFAS-AM currently carries CBS Sports talk radio. 

The studios for WNBM were established at 2 Penn Plaza in Manhattan, where Cumulus station WABC has its studios. On June 27, Cumulus announced that it had entered into an agreement to sell WABC to Red Apple Media, Inc. for $12 million. At one time, WABC at 770 on the AM dial was one of the nation’s top music stations, boasting a roster of personalities such as Dan Ingram, Herb Oscar Anderson, Harry Harrison and “Cousin Brucie” Morrow.

The Business Journal learned that Mary G. Berner, president and CEO of Cumulus, sent a memo to staff members notifying them of the WABC sale and advising that it was in keeping with a plan to exit the New York City radio market, which she said was a difficult market for the company. Selling WNBM would be in keeping with that plan. A possible asking price for the station was not released.

Cumulus recently emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in which it shed approximately $1 billion of its approximately $2.3 billion in debt. On Dec. 28, 2018, Cumulus Broadcasting LLC mortgaged the WFAS Secor Road property with Wilmington Trust, National Association, for $2,337,500, according to documents filed with the Westchester County Clerk.