How Local Loyalty Has Crafted A NoVa Winner

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RBR + TVBR INFOCUS


By Adam R Jacobson

WINCHESTER, VA. — When most people think of corporate ownership, a large publicly traded company with a presence in a plethora of markets across the U.S. usually comes to mind.

Yet, when Larry Weiss talks about his station group’s corporate owners, he’s in a unique position: His employer’s entire portfolio of media properties is comprised of an AM-FM combo in Fredericksburg, Va., just south of the Nation’s Capital, and three FMs and a heritage AM in Winchester, Va., to the west of Washington, D.C.’s ever-sprawling Northern Virginia suburbs.

That’s perfectly fine with Weiss, who joined Centennial Broadcasting as its Winchester Market Manager in September 2016, after eight years managing a group of stations in Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville, N.C. He has all the support he needs, and the freedom to capitalize on the station’s long commitment to community involvement — and localism — in the shadow of the National Capital Region.

Centennial’s corporate offices are located in Clemmons, N.C., a village to the southwest of Winston-Salem.

But, Centennial owns no properties in North Carolina, or anywhere except two geographic areas that are rapidly becoming a part of the ever-growing Washington, D.C. commuter zone.

In fact, the Centennial of today didn’t even exist until a decade ago, when it acquired its current roster of AM and FM stations from Mid Atlantic Network Inc. for $1.8 million.

In those 10 years, there have been some changes. In September 2013, Class A WXBN-FM 105.5 in Winchester and Class A WZFC-FM 104.9 in nearby Strasburg, Va., returned to a simulcast after two years to take on a classic Country format, as “Big Country B105.”

That’s pretty much the only noticeable difference to listeners across the Shenandoah Valley. WINC-AM 1400 has been a Talk station since 1996. WINC-FM 92.5 is a Hot AC with a monster signal that has been in its present format since at least 1990, when adult-targeted Top 40 stations were just coming into vogue.

This has given Weiss the comfort of continuity to go along with Centennial’s community-first attitude — even as Washington’s radio stations lurk to the east. WINC-FM’s booming signal gives it coverage of much of the D.C. metro: It’s practically a local station in Montgomery County, Md., and can be tuned to in most of Northwest Washington. In Northern Virginia, WINC-FM scans up with no problem anywhere west of N. Glebe Road.

For Centennial, that’s icing on a cake baked expressly for the Shenandoah Valley, and the Dulles Airport corridor.

lweiss“Our primary focus area is Winchester, and the communities of Sterling, Chantilly, Manassas and Leesburg,” Weiss says.

That’s not too shabby: Loudoun County has a median household income of $115,574. It’s the richest county in the nation.

Given WINC-FM’s signal, and its ability to service a segment of the D.C. metro in ways Washington radio stations cannot, Centennial doubled down on Loudoun.

“We spend a tremendous amount of time on Leesburg and Loudoun County,” Weiss says. “We have a satellite facility there, with a studio and sales office. We are involved in a wide range of community events there. It makes us equally active in Winchester and in Loudoun, from an involvement standpoint.”

This explains why iHeart, CBS Radio or Cumulus Media stations from Washington aren’t necessarily direct competitors for Centennial in Winchester, he adds.

Weiss also takes pride in the hyperlocal nature of what each of his stations produces for listeners. At WINC-FM and B105, all dayparts are locally hosted. Station management, and programming, is all done in Winchester, with minimal involvement from North Carolina.

“We have stations programmed in their community, with programming reflective of their community,” Weiss says. “Take those two things and put them together, and wonderful things can happen.”

winc-fmThis is important for Weiss, as he says Winchester, at the western terminus of busy State Road 7 and along the bustling I-81 corridor, is “a unique place right now.”

“The D.C. metroplex continues to grow and sprawl is rapidly overtaking areas that had been largely rural,” he says. “Some 8,000 people commute from Frederick County, which is where Winchester is, to the D.C. metro area for work each day. It’s growing on an annual basis, with people seeking affordable real estate and good schools.”

Technology has also given rise to D.C. computer-commuters, while a large regional commercial and retail haven has developed in the shadow of a booming string of regional distribution centers that rely on I-81 and I-66 for easy access to the big urban centers of the East Coast.

A listen to WINC-FM in afternoon drive paints the picture of how Centennial envisions localism: Veteran host Paula Kidwell is playing a mix of today’s hits with some vintage 1990s pop-alternative tunes from The Verve and Sugar Ray sprinkled in for variety. One stop-set featured advertisements for Berger VW of Winchester, Harry’s blades, Jackson-Hewitt, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Leesburg-based Aesthetica Cosmetic Surgery and Laser Center, the Dulles region StoneSprings Hospital, and auto dealer Safford of Winchester.

There was also a station promotion for its “Chocolates Galore and More,” a benefit for the YMCA of Loudoun County in its 30th year, with tickets at $50 each.

“Localism can be defined in a number of different ways,” Weiss says. “It certainly comes by being involved in local events, like Chocolates Galore. People here are used to standing by for our support, and that’s seen for a tremendous amount of events. It is something they cannot get from Spotify or Pandora.”

It also helps that WINC-FM has a 35+-year host, Barry Lee, in morning drive and announcers in middays and afternoons who arrived in 2007.

As afternoon traffic slows to 14 miles an hour on the Dulles Greenway westbound approaching Leesburg Pike, WINC-FM updates its listeners on the situation — in addition to the drive over on I-81. A Washington-based station wouldn’t give listeners both pieces of data — another advantage for Weiss.

“We don’t directly compete against the D.C. stations,” he says. “But, when we do, we make a very strong case for our stations by demonstrating our strong and viable audience and different pricing structure, which can be cost-effective.”

As Weiss settles in to his position, he’s already pleased with having an office 75 miles from the Oval Office.

“We’re just having a lot of fun,” he says. “When you do a lot of things in a community that people like, that makes us happy. It’s really just a very rewarding business when you get paid to do something and have it continue to positively impact the community.”

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