Format Uncertain As NKU Sells Middletown’s WNKN-FM

Jul 19, 2017

UPDATE 7/19/17  9:00 p.m.

Jeff Ziesmann, buyer of WNKN-FM from Northern Kentucky University says there was no agreement to keep the Triple-A format on the station, as said after the Wednesday afternoon NKU Board of Regents meeting. "Very early on in negotiations, we discussed keeping the format provided NKU would finance the purchase of the station. It quickly rejected the proposal," Ziesmann said. 

After the board meeting Wednesday, Rich Boehne, Board Chair and Eric Gentry, NKU Vice President, said that Ziesmann would keep a Triple-A format on the station for one year. Ziesman told WVXU Wednesday night he is exploring all options for a station format. He owns country WNKR-FM in Dry Ridge. 

"We have to do what gives us the biggest audience and the most advertising revenue," he said. Ziesmann said he talked to the broker Wednesday night, after the broker had spoken to a university official about the miscommunication on the station's format. According to Ziesmann, the broker characterized the response as "oops."

Original Story:

Buyers of Middletown’s WNKN-FM (105.9) have agreed to keep the Triple-A format for one year after the closing, expected in October or November.

The Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents Wednesday agreed to sell Middletown's old WPFB-FM to the owners of country station WNKR-FM (106.7) in Dry Ridge for $4 million cash and $1.3 million in advertising time.

Jeff Ziesmann, owner of Grant County Broadcasting, volunteered to keep the Triple-A format for the first year, said Eric Gentry, NKU vice president for advancement.

Adding Middletown's former WPFB-FM gives Ziesmann two signals that reach from north of Dayton, Ohio, to Dry Ridge, Ky.

"We're excited we have a local buyer," said Rich Boehne, NKU regents board chair.

In late August, the Triple-A format is expected to vanish from the university's original station, WNKU-FM (89.7), after the Federal Communications Commission approves the license transfer, said Gentry said.

On Feb. 14, regents voted to sell WNKU-FM for $1.9 million to Bible Broadcasting Inc, which primarily airs spoken word religious programming. The format on FM 89.7 will switch immediately after FCC approval, expected to come in August.

The sale of the Middletown's commercial band FM – originally WPFB-FM – had been in the works since May, when Louisville Public Radio was informed that its offer had been rejected by NKU. Louisville offered $3.5 million in cash, plus $1.5 million in services, in hopes of preserving the unique Triple-A format.

Wednesday's action completes NKU's 16-month quest to divest the university's radio network and assets that ran a $1.1 million deficit in 2015.

In 2011, NKU bought Middletown's WPFB-FM and WPFB-AM (910) and Portsmouth's WPAY-FM (104.1) for $6.7 million to reach 2 million more listeners across Southwestern Ohio, and increase membership revenues. The goal was to make the public radio stations self-sufficient in four years, said Chuck Miller, WNKU-FM general manager at the time. Instead the radio operation has been subsidized $4.4 million in the last six years, university officials have said.

The first piece to go was Middletown's WPFB-AM. It was sold in April last year to the Catholic Sacred Heart Radio based in Norwood.

On Valentine's Day this year, regents announced the sale of WNKU-FM, which has been on the air since 1985, and the Portsmouth station to religious broadcasters. The Portsmouth signal, now called WNKE-FM, was bought for $700,000 by the Educational Media Foundation, which broadcasts the contemporary Christian K-LOVE and Air-1 formats.

Bible Broadcasting Corp. literally will stop the music on FM 89.7. It airs mostly Christian teaching and devotional programs such as a "Daily Bible Reading," "Bible Study Time," "Our Daily Bread," "Bible Quiz Question," "Prayer For Our Nation," "Words of Praise" and "News and Good News."

"We're going to receive about $6.4 million. After we retire a debt of $5.1 million, we'll clear a little money," Boehne said. "It's been long, and difficult, and complicated, but very beneficial to our students."