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Why WNKR-FM changed its tune

"The Oasis" 1970's rock format replaced classic country on Dry Ridge's WNKR-FM (106.7) in late August.
Middletown's WNKN-FM switched from classic country to 1970s rock hits as "The Oasis" in July 2022.

"The Oasis" 1970s rock format will remain available to Cincinnati radio listeners next month after a religious broadcaster purchases Middletown's WNKN-FM (105.9)next month from Grant County Broadcasters.

Faced with declining ratings for country music in Cincinnati, and a slowly building audience for "The Oasis," WNKR-FM (106.7) owner Jeff Ziessman dropped classic country music after 20-plus years to play the Beatles, Beach Boys, Bon Jovi, Allman Brothers, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Steely Dan and others.

"I wanted to get out of having one of the six country music stations," says Ziessman, whose Dry Ridge station competes for listeners with WUBE-FM, WYGY-FM, WNNF-FM, WSCH-FM and Dayton's WHKK-FM.

The Oasis was ranked 15th in the August Nielsen radio ratings for Greater Cincinnati with a 2.4 percent audience share. Listenership has grown this summer from 2.0 percent in June and 2.1 percent in July.

"The ratings for The Oasis in Cincinnati and Dayton have been on a steady trajectory the last six months. It's been a slow, steady climb," Ziessman says

The station's Dayton audience has tripled since Ziessman dropped country music to debut The Oasis in Augustlast year. WNKN-FM's powerful signal reaches from Florence to Piqua.

After Ziessman sells WNKN-FM for $4.5 million to Relevant Radio, a Catholic broadcaster based in Lincolnshire, Ill., listeners north of Cincinnati can continue hearing The Oasis by streaming. The Federal Communications Commission is expected to approve the purchase in October.

The Dry Ridge station, about 35 miles south of Cincinnati, "covers the vast majority of the I-275 loop," Ziessman says. "We figured it would be smart to take that growth and transfer it to WNKR."

Grant County Broadcasters bought the Middletown station for $4 million cash in 2017 from Northern Kentucky University as the school was selling off its WNKU network stations and getting out of broadcasting. Relevant Radio's unsolicited offer "allows us to pay off 100% of our debt," Ziessman says.

The Oasis format — featuring hits by Chicago, Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Cyndi Lauper, Earth Wind & Fire, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, the Carpenters, the Doors and many others — is aimed at listeners 45 and older who didn't hear those artists on Cincinnati's WGRR or WDJO.

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.