Last Thursday, Colonial Media + Entertainment completed its acquisition of two Cumulus Media spinoff stations in the Myrtle Beach, S.C., market. The pair gives the company led by Jeff Andrulonis a cluster boasting two FMs, two AMs, and two FM translators — with a third set to debut this summer.
In this exclusive RBR + TVBR INFOCUS report, Andrulonis shares his excitement over owning a Gospel station in this unique coastal city, and how he’s poised to compete against three national radio companies in one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.
By Adam R Jacobson
RBR + TVBR
It’s a chilly but cloudless Friday afternoon along U.S. Highway 701, and Jeff Andrulonis is traveling from Georgetown, S.C., to the city of Conway, some 40 minutes to the north.
He’s presently listening to a long, long, long block of songs featuring Randy Owen — part of an “all-Alabama” segment of a “wheel of formats” airing on WJXY-FM 93.9 in Conway. The station, which serves the Myrtle Beach, S.C., market, officially became a part of the Colonial Media + Entertainment family on Feb. 10, when the company closed on WJXY and Georgetown-based WXJY-FM 93.7. Both stations are Class A facilities, and WXJY on Friday embraced an Urban Gospel format targeting the African-American community in Georgetown County as “93.7 Rejoice FM.”
WJXY will conclude its spinning of the wheel of formats today (2/12), after segments of super-soft Classic AC as “Loveland 93.9,” all-Christmas music, all-Elvis music, and — in homage to Andrulonis’ Keystone State roots — all-polka as “93.9 The Accordian.”
WXJY and WJXY were previously simulcasting a Talk format, and Andrulonis is looking forward to giving the stations a clean slate while embarking on a fresh plan for growth in this fast-growing region.
In September 2016, in a deal valued at $240,000, Colonial acquired WXJY and WJXY from Joule Broadcasting.
Joule is the entity that serves as one of several divestiture trusts created as a result of Citadel Broadcasting‘s merger with Cumulus Media, approved in fall 2011. To ensure compliance with the FCC’s multiple ownership limits, Cumulus placed the duo with Joule and contracted with Eddie Esserman of Media Services Group to handle the stations’ sale.
WXJY was slapped with a $12,000 forfeiture by the FCC, for “apparently willfully and repeatedly violating Section 73.3526 of the FCC’s rules by failing to retain all required documentation in the WXJY-FM public inspection file.”
A nearly identical Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture for WJXY-FM was also sent to Joule, penalizing it with an additional $10,000 forfeiture for similar violations of its public inspection file rules.
The violations date back to ownership prior to the stations being placed in either of the trusts in which the stations had been held.
Andrulonis would not give any hints as to what WJXY’s new format will be as of today, deflecting queries on his car ride over whether a hip-hop fueled Rhythmic Top 40 format made more sense than a “Country AC” presentation.
But, Andrulonis was practically giddy about the facility’s rebirth, and his company’s commitment to the Carolinas.
[Editor’s Note: At 3 p.m. on Feb. 13 WJXY indeed took the “Country AC” route.]
BIG BEGINNING ON GRAND STRAND
For many, Myrtle Beach is the quintessential American surf-and-sand vacation playground.
Tune to WVCO-FM 94.9 “The Surf,” and you’ll hear plenty of that Carolina “Beach Music” one can shag to.
But, there’s much more to Myrtle Beach and its surrounding cities, including Conway, that serves as a magnet for Colonial, and Andrulonis.
“I am really excited about this,” Andrulonis said. “If they know it, most people think of Myrtle Beach as a vacation destination. What’s actually happened is that it is now a four-season vacation destination, and a place to call home for many people.”
Indeed, a quick glance at Myrtle Beach doesn’t show the full picture of what’s transpiring in Horry County, S.C. According to the U.S. Census, the average household income in Myrtle Beach is just $36,500. The population is 31,035. The median housing value is $171,600.
That data is taken from the most recent American Community Survey, now nearly two years old. The last full census is nearly seven years old.
Much has changed since then.
Three metro areas partially or completely within South Carolina were among the 20 fastest-growing U.S. metros between 2014 and 2015: Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C.-N.C.; Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort; and Charleston-North Charleston. The Myrtle Beach market ranked second nationally, behind Central Florida retirement mecca The Villages, with its 37.5% population growth during that period.
The growth is happening so fast that Nielsen Audio bumped Myrtle Beach’s market rank from No. 147 to No. 141, effective with the spring 2017 survey.
“This is a home for world-class entertainment, including the Alabama Theatre, wineries, great hospitals, top sports venues and good quality of life,” Andrulonis says. “And, South Carolina is a great state to do business in. The tax rates are low. The government is very favorable to business.”
Colonial’s love for the Carolinas began more than 20 years ago. Colonial owned both WFAY-AM in Fayetteville, N.C., and WFBX-AM in the northern of suburb Spring Lake, N.C., from 1995 until January 2006, when Norberto Sanchez’s Norsan Media acquired the AMs. In August 2016, Colonial reacquired the AMs — along with its FM translators.
At the same time, Colonial made a deal with the seller of the two Fayetteville AMs, giving it ownership of Class D Gospel WMIR-AM 1200 and its associated translator, soon-to-debut W275AH at 103.5 MHz, in the Myrtle Beach market. “It was an afterthought of the acquisition of WFAY, which we saw as an opportunity to get some beachfront property in Fayetteville,” Andrulonis says. “Crazy — and interestingly — enough, for $1,000, we got a second AM in Myrtle Beach.”
That’s because Colonial agreed to purchase WMNB-AM 900 in North Myrtle Beach from Gary and Sharlene Beatty shortly after the couple acquired the AM in summer 2015. WMNB had neither a tower, nor a transmitter, Andrulonis notes. It’s using the WMIR tower, and an FM translator is on the way, he adds.
With the Cumulus spins now up and running with their new formats as of today, Colonial has a full-fledged cluster of two Class A FMs, two AMs, and three FM translators. “We weren’t even here a year ago,” Andrulonis says.
This gives local broadcasters another choice in a highly consolidated marketplace that includes local player Byrne Acquisition Group and three major national players.
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