NKU Seeking Buyer For Old WPFB Studios, Grounds

Nov 24, 2020

Middletown's old WPFB studios – abandoned since WNKU-FM's purchase almost 10 years ago – finally is being sold by Northern Kentucky University.

NKU is seeking sealed bids by 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7, for the one-acre parcel with the old farmhouse where Paul F. Braden started WPFB-AM in 1947. There is no minimum bid.

The entrance from Sophie Avenue is immediately west of the Central Academy school. WPFB founder Paul F. Braden and his wife lived in the apartment built above the station in about 1970.
Credit John Kiesewetter

The surplus property at 4505 Sophie Ave. is being sold "as is" due to the building's "poor condition with a significant amount of deferred maintenance," according to NKU.

The roof needs "immediate repair" and there is "water damage throughout the building" from a pipe for the upstairs apartment which burst, resulting in a substantial mold problem I saw when I toured the building with radio engineers two years ago.

The building needs a "complete rehab or demolition," the NKU announcement says.

The ceiling collapsed in the front lobby due to water damage from a broken pipe in the second floor apartment.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Jeff Ziessman – who bought the old WPFB-FM/WNKN-FM tower, transmitter and adjacent 17 acres in 2017 – says the farmhouse contains asbestos. NKU subdivided the land because he didn't want to pay for the demolition or remediation of the building, said Ziessman, whose Grant County Broadcasters Inc. airs "Classic Country" music on Middletown's WNKN-FM (105.9) for Southwestern Ohio listeners and Dry Ridge's WNKR-FM (106.7). 

A bid package can be obtained from NKU's Ryan Straus at strausr2@nku.edu. Questions must be submitted in writing. Those interested in bidding can register here to access the bid package.

All bids must be delivered by 2 p.m. Dec. 7 to Ryan Straus, Procurement Services, Northern Kentucky University, 617 Lucas Administrative Center, Highland Heights, KY, 41099.

Most staffers entered through the red door on the west side of the building, off the 24-space parking lot.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Property tours are available by contacting NKU's Jim Kaufman at kaufmanj2@nku.edu.

Ziessman's WNKN-FM broadcasts from a new digital transmitter under the tower on Rosedale Road, immediately north of the property. The Middletown FM signal is a real blowtorch, reaching from downtown Cincinnati to north of Dayton and east to Columbus.

NKU bought WPFB-AM (910), WPFB-FM and Portsmouth's WPAY-FM in 2011 from the Braden family in 2011 for $6.75 million to reach listeners and potential donors in Ohio. Kentucky budget cuts, campus layoffs and a change in presidents resulted in NKU selling its radio properties in 2016 and 2017.

Credit John Kiesewetter

WPFB had deep country and bluegrass roots in Middletown. The station broadcast dances from a barn on the property until it burned down in 1950. Bobby Osborne of the Osborne Brothers ("Rocky Top") made his radio debut on WPFB in 1949 at age 19. Bluegrass host Paul "Moon" Mullins was so popular he hosted morning and afternoon drive in the 1960s. His son Joe worked there before buying some Xenia-Dayton area stations and touring with his bluegrass band, Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers.

WPFB alumni include Marty Thompson and country DJs Judge Roy Wakely, Bonnie Lou, Tom Bigbee, John Summers, Bracey Lee, Chubby Howard and Larry B, the former WUBE-FM DJ who hosts mornings on WNKR-FM and WNKN-FM.

Years after NKU abandoned the building, this handwritten note was still in a studio about switching from local programming to the WNKU-FM feed.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Ziessman was familiar with the station from working as a fill-in jazz DJ in 1977-78, while attending UC. WPFB also gave a start to John London, Larry Davis, Lincoln Ware, WEBN-FM fireworks soundtrack producer Joel Moss, Greg Waddell, Mike McMurray, WKRC-TV photographer Kevin Jordan and WHIO-TV sportscaster Mike Hartsock.

Long-time Middletown residents remember listening to newsmen Bob Cordray, Tom Borgerding, Jim Barrett and Tom Muchmore; preacher Kash D. Amburgy; sportscasters Warren Johnson, Dan Humphries and Jack Gordon; and program hosts Johnny Reznor, Geri Hart, Gerhard Ehrler and John Estevez, brother of actor Martin Sheen, a Dayton native.

Here is the bid description:

WNKU Middletown Property – Disposal – Sealed Bid Narrative for NKU-15-21:

The subject property “As Is” consists of a freestanding building formerly known as the WPFB Radio Station containing approximately 7,416 gross square feet situated on Sophie Avenue, in Middletown, Butler County, Ohio.

Site Description:

The subject property contains a total of 1 +/- acre of land. The site is basically level and generally rectangular in shape with 325 +/- feet along the northern and southern boundaries and 185 +/- feet along the eastern and western boundaries. The site is east of N. Breiel Blvd. south of Rosedale Road, and west of Sophie Avenue. It is estimated that the subject property will have 30 +/- feet of frontage at Sophie Avenue. There is currently access to the property at one curb cut along Sophie Avenue (at the subject's eastern boundary), which is considered adequate.

Site improvements include asphalt paved parking and driveway areas, a sign, fencing, and landscaping. The parking lot includes 24 spaces (including one handicapped space) along the west side of the building.
There appears to be sufficient grade differential to allow adequate drainage away from the existing building improvements and the property is not located within a FEMA flood hazard zone, per Butler County Floodplain map.

The subject property "As Is" is improved with one commercial building, formerly used as a radio station.

The building includes 7,416-square feet (not including the attached garage). The structure is a freestanding two story frame and concrete block building with a concrete foundation. Exterior wall finish is block, wood, and aluminum veneer with insulated windows along the sides, front and rear of the
building. The building has a shingle and rubberized membrane roof. There is a partial stone crawl space/basement approximately 350 +/- square feet in size. The crawl space is unfinished with no outside entry and a sump pump. It has a dirt floor and there is evidence of dampness.

The structure is estimated to have been built in 1811 as a residence that was later converted to a radio station. An addition was built in approximately 1955 and another addition with the apartment in 1970. The building is currently 100% vacant and has been vacant since 2011.

The building is in poor condition with a significant amount of deferred maintenance. The roof needs immediate repair and there is water damage in areas throughout the building. The subject improvements are in poor condition in need of complete rehab or demolition.