Living on the Fringe


It’s been two weeks since CBS’s $8.5 Million purchase of WFSI (107.9) in Washington (#9) was announced.  In the interim, some in the industry have wondered whether the sale represents a dramatic downturn in the value of major market FM licenses.  Prices haven’t suddenly declined.  WFSI is simply a fringe station that is stuck between two major markets, and is trapped with a signal that is marginal in both of them.

WFSI is a full Class B station licensed to Annapolis.  Its transmitter is located 20 miles northeast of the Capital, and can never move closer to DC. 

Its transmitter site also represents a fringe shot into Baltimore (#22).  The unique proximity of Washington, and Baltimore as separate and distinct markets creates a situation where WFSI’s raw 60 dbu contour covers almost 5,000,000 people.  However, within Arbitron’s Washington Metro market, that number drops to 2,890,000. Still that seems impressive, if the analysis stops there, but it can’t.

Hubbard’s WTOP (103.5) is a typical central city Washington, Class B station.  Its antenna located in the hilly terrain of the Friendship Heights area of Northwest Washington.  This is the area where most antennas of the major FM and TV stations are located. 

While WTOP has an FCC antenna height of about 500 feet, the Friendship Heights neighborhood positions its antenna about 700 feet above the Mall.  From this location, its 60-dbu signal covers 4,757,000 people in the Metro.

The 60-dbu signal contour is commonly used to evaluate population coverage of radio stations.  But in major markets, like Washington, signal attenuation and penetration issues arise, diminishing its utility.  The 70-dbu City Grade contour is a much better measure of signal quality in major markets and a far better predictor of a station’s future overall audience ranking.

At 70-dbu, the competitive handicap of the WFSI signal is readily apparent.  Whereas WTOP covers the densely populated areas, WFSI doesn’t reach downtown Washington.  Overall, within the Washington Metro, WTOP’s 70-dbu contour reaches four times the population of WFSI.  It also comes as no surprise that WFSI doesn’t have any 6+ audience shares in either Washington or Baltimore.


Even with the pending conversion to Spanish with the migration of CBS’s WLZL (99.1) Spanish format to WFSI’s 107.9 frequency, this station represents a marginal fringe signal in the Washington market.  As a result, its sale for $8.5 Million is not a bellwether of a new decline in station values, but is simply a reminder of the continuing limited value of a permanently handicapped fringe signal.

–Dave Schutz
Hoffman Schutz Media Capital