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Middletown's 'The Oasis' FM station being sold to Catholic broadcaster

WNKN-FM switched from classic country to 1970s rock hits as "The Oasis" in July 2022.
WNKN-FM switched from classic country to 1970s rock hits as "The Oasis" in July 2022.

Five years after buying the former WNKU-FM affiliate, Grant County Broadcasters selling WNKN-FM to Relevant Radio.

For the past year, Middletown's powerful WNKN-FM (105.9) has promoted its 1970s rock hits as "Where The Music Went."

In a couple of months, loyallisteners of "The Oasis"format will be asking that question — where did the music go? — when new owners Relevant Radio fills the airwaves with a daily Mass, rosary and other Catholic Church programming.

Grant County Broadcasters, whichbought the Middletown station in 2017 from Northern Kentucky University for $4 million cash, is awaiting Federal Communications Commission approval to sell it to Relevant Radio based in Lincolnshire, Ill., for $4.5 million, says Radio Insight.

"The offer for WNKN was unsolicited. Relevant Radio was looking for a station that could reach both Dayton and Cincinnati. It came as a complete surprise," says Jeff Ziessman, owner of Grant County Broadcasters, based at WNKR-FM in Dry Ridge.

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The WNKR-FM studios are in Dry Ridge, Ky.

"The $4.5 million was more than we paid for (WNKN). We were under no pressures from lenders to sell it, but it gets us completely out of debt as we navigate these rather sketchy economic times," Ziessman says.

Radio trade publications noticed Ziessman's FCC filing about the sale. "The Oasis" format won't change until the FCC approves the deal, expected in about two months, he says.

Ziessman will continue operating his classic country station, WNKR-FM (106.7) in Dry Ridge. Until July of last year, both the Dry Ridge and Middletown FM stations simulcast the same music hosts and classic country tunes.

"The Oasis" format — featuring hits by Chicago, the Beatles, Beach Boys, Doobie Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Earth Wind & Fire, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel and many others — was aimed at listeners 45 and older who didn't hear those artists on Cincinnati's WGRR or WDJO, or anywhere on Dayton terrestrial stations. WNKN-FM's powerful signal reaches from Florence to Piqua.

Relevant Radio, founded in 2000, "has been bringing Christ to the world through the media, providing informative, entertaining and interactive programming 24 hours per day, seven days per week," according to its website. It owns and operates 200 stations coast to coast. Programming can also be heard worldwide via streaming audio at and on a free app.

Relevant Radio broadcasts a daily Mass at noon and 7:30 p.m., and the Family Rosary Across America daily at 7 p.m. Other programs include Morning Air, The Patrick Madrid Show, Inner Life, The Faith Explained and Father Simon Says.

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The old WPFB radio tower on Rosedale Road in Middletown broadcasts WNKN-FM (105.9) and WPFB-AM (910).

Ironically, the new Catholic programming will compete with Catholic programming on Cincinnati's Sacred Heart Radio broadcast on Middletown's AM station (910) from the same tower.

The Middletown stations operated as WPFB-AM/FM from the 1950s until 2011, when Northern Kentucky University bought the AM/FM combo and Portsmouth's WPAY-FM (104.1) for $6.7 million to expand the WNKU-FM adult album alternative (Triple A) format throughout Southwestern Ohio.

Sacred Heart Radio also simulcasts Catholic programming on 740 AM.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.