On April 10, 2012, Paul McNicol as SVP signed off on an agreement that saw Double O Radio sell four FM radio stations in the nation’s 224th-largest rated market to a Baton Rouge-based diversified company with its roots in food distribution.
This entity, The Powell Group, took its success in the agriculture industry and expanded to land management, real estate and, in 1996, radio broadcasting with the purchase of two FM stations in Sioux City, Iowa.
On Friday, faced with the decision to invest in the substantial reconstruction of the stations it paid $950,000 for some 6 1/2 years ago or to abandon them, the Powell Broadcasting subsidiary chose the latter.
At approximately 12:30pm Central on Wednesday, October 10, the ferocity of Hurricane Michael tore through Panama City Beach, Fla. and communities to the north and east of this one-time Spring Break Capital of the U.S., made famous by MTV and Club La Vela.
All local media was silenced, as RBR+TVBR reported Friday.
At the time, the extent of the damage to Powell’s four FMs in Panama City — Classic Rock WRBA-FM, “Bob FM” Adult Hits WASJ-FM, Country WKNK-FM and CHR/Pop WPFM-FM — wasn’t known. That said, Twitter communication with WPFM co-host “Adam” found the air personality far from Panama City on Thursday as he had evacuated late Tuesday evening.
Further, an update on Wednesday evening to WRBA’s “Classic Rock 95.9” Facebook page featured a new cover photo that still appears there today:
It turns out that Powell won’t be participating in the rebuilding process.
This led at least one listener of WRBA to take to Facebook and blast Powell Broadcasting for its decision to abandon, rather than rebuild, its Panama City radio cluster.
“How you gonna rebuild when you just FIRED EVERYONE who works there? Way to go, Assholes,” wrote one irate Facebook user.
Now ex-WRBA host “ShortBus on the Radio” had kinder words for Powell. Taking to Instagram, he wrote on Sunday, “Today is my last day with Powell Broadcasting and Classic Rock 95.9 in Panama City. It’s been a pleasure to work with this great company. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the local management and my fellow airstaff of this incredible collection of radio stations. With that, my broadcast career in the Panhandle comes to a close after fifteen wonderful years. In closing, good luck in rebuilding communities devastated by #HurricaneMichael.”
STA REQUEST RECEIVED BY FCC
On Monday (10/15), Silent Special Temporary Authority requests were filed for each of Powell Broadcasting’s four Panama City, Fla., FMs. “In light of the devastation which has occurred in the Panama City area, including to the broadcast facilities of Powell Broadcasting Company LLC, it respectfully requests special temporary authority to remain silent,” Powell said in the filing, made by COO Robert Bond.
Bond did not immediately respond to RBR+TVBR‘s request for comment.
However, Jeff Storey — Powell’s now-last Market Manager for Panama City — spoke with Powell’s KCSJ-AM in Sioux City, Iowa and provided some insight into why rebuilding was no longer an option for Powell.
“Our stations are physically located on Panama City Beach,” he said. “That building exists but a 150-foot tower behind it is doubled into two pieces. Some of the other towers some 10 to 15 miles away have been knocked down.”
The 150-foot tower housed the studio/transmitter link for Powell’s four stations. When it crashed, it landed on the building, resulting in water damage caused by the heavy rainfall associated with Hurricane Michael.
Storey is a market veteran who served as EVP/COO of Magic Broadcasting from February 2006-March 2009, and as an AE at NBC affiliate WJHG-7 from January 2010-October 2011. He returned to Panama City from Jamestown, N.Y., in April 2015.
A PLEA FOR HELP, A HEART-FELT RESPONSE
Until midday on October 10, two of Powell’s four stations were ranked No. 3 (WRBA-FM) and No. 4 (WASJ-FM) in the Panama City, Fla., spring 2018 Nielsen Audio ratings. The market is surveyed in the spring and in the fall.
There will be no further ratings for these leaders, nor for WKNK and WPFM.
However, the fate of WPFM was put into question on Sept. 24, when few anticipated the wrath of Hurricane Michael. In an asset purchase agreement filed with the FCC just 2 1/2 weeks before the storm’s arrival on the Florida Panhandle, Powell agreed to sell WPFM-FM 107.9 to Educational Media Foundation for $472,000.
That signal was poised for use as a member station of EMF’s KLOVE Christian Hot AC format, which is absent in the market. This would have put KLOVE in competition with Family Life Radio and WAY FM, a regional CCM power in Florida.
Family Life Radio on Friday was the first Panama City operator to file a silent STA request with the FCC.
The sale of WPFM, brokered by Kalil & Co., is still expected to progress, Kalil VP Lou McDermott tells RBR+TVBR.
While Powell has opted not to reconstruct the four FMs in Panama City, Tiffany ‘Flip Flop’ Dunning and Shaun Streeter — now former morning hosts for WKNK “Kick’n Country 103.5” — have created their own Facebook page and are continuing to provide updates on the slow but steady recovery efforts being seen in Bay County, Fla.
For WRBA’s now-former PD and afternoon host Greg “Fitzdog” Fitzgerald, unemployment assistance will now accompany FEMA aid and the generous support of individuals who wish to contribute to his GoFundMe page.
As of 9:30am Central Monday (10/15), some $5,440 was raised, with a goal of $50,000.
Fitzgerald and his wife, Tammy McGee, lived in Mexico Beach, Fla. Their home and possessions were wiped out by Hurricane Michael. McGee writes, “We find ourselves in the most dire straights. This is the most challenging moment of our lives. Our lives are completely devastated. We are having much difficulty getting help/assistance from our insurance company, FEMA, USAA and all of our creditors. We don’t have housing, and we can not get near our home indefinitely. My livelihood has been decimated. We hate to ask of you, but we have very little resources to turn to. We intend to return and rebuild our lives and our beloved community. But we need your help more than we can ever convey. If we can make it out of this nightmare, we will do whatever it takes to pay it forward.”
“Mobile Mike,” who works in partnership with iHeart’s Miami-Fort Lauderdale cluster on branding, imaging and outdoor events, did his part in assisting those in dire need some eight hours to the northwest in the Panama City area.
At 9am Sunday morning, he and a team of iHeart promotions staffers set up a staging area at Aventura Mall in Aventura, Fla., where donated dry goods, diapers and chainsaws are being collected. On Wednesday at 6am, a caravan of trucks donated by Good Greek Moving & Storage will depart, heading to Mexico Beach, Callahan and some of the hardest-hit communities on the Florida Panhandle.
Mobile Mike spoke with RBR+TVBR on Sunday. “This could have been us,” he said while inviting locals to make a donation.
— RBR+TVBR (@RBRTVBR) October 14, 2018
Asked about the status of iHeart’s radio stations in Panama City, Fla., including WEBZ-FM, WPAP-FM, WFSY-FM, WFLF-FM & WDIZ-FM, Mobile Mike noted that Wednesday’s caravan will include a 100kw generator, to help the stations return to broadcasting.
“You see the images on TV,” he said. “There is no words … it looks like a bomb went off up there. People haven’t even been back to their homes to pick up the pieces. So this is what we’re doing. We are here for the next three days. We’re not going anywhere.”
Already in storm-ravaged Mexico Beach is Westwood One News correspondent Clayton Neville, who covered the catastrophic damage in the community October 13-14. According to Neville, some homes are gone, and others are ripped apart. Authorities are still going door-to-door looking for survivors.
Among those already lending financial support through the Broadcasters Foundation of America is the Nebraska Broadcasters Association.
The state broadcasters association’s foundation has donated $5,000 to aid broadcasters who have been impacted by both Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.
BFA President Jim Thompson called the contribution “very special and generous,” as it is the largest-ever received from any state broadcasters association.
“Thanks to caring broadcasters in the state of Nebraska, we will be able to continue to help our broadcast colleagues in need,” he said.
To make a donation to the Broadcasters Foundation of America hurricane relief efforts, please visit https://broadcastersfoundation.org/hurricanerelief/.