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86-year-old WDOD Shuts Down and Turns AM License Back to FCC

Packing Up Radio History (Photo Taken at KUSF by J. Waits)

I know a lot of people who would love to have a terrestrial broadcasting license, so it seemed odd to me when I read about a Chattanooga radio station turning its license back to the FCC. Why on earth would a station opt to dispense with their license when there are so many entities out there who are desperate to get on the air or expand the range of their existing networks?

Well, WDOD-AM did just that. The 86-year-old station (yes, you read that right!) turned off its transmitter on May 31 and disposed of its license with the FCC on June 3. The FCC database lists the license for WDOD as “cancelled.”

Apparently the license was not valuable enough to sell, but the land was. According to an article in the Chattanoogan, the owners of WDOD sold the 22-acre property where the transmitter was housed to the Baylor School for $600,000. The article states:

“The former station building at the property had not been used except as a transmitter since around 1999 when [former station owner Cy] Bahakel also bought WDEF AM. Bahakel moved the station for WDOD and WDEF AM to the former Chattanooga Hardware on South Broad Street.

Mr. Freudenberg, who was at WDOD for four decades, recalled, ‘WDOD is rich in history going on the air April 13, 1925. Co-owners Norman Thomas and Earl Winger had a crystal radio company. Mr. Thomas told me they got the radio station license so folks who bought the radios would have something to listen to. Mr. Thomas said they got mail from as far away as Australia. I have a lengthy interview with him on tape. The station was very special to me since I spent about 40 years working there. It’s a sad day for Chattanooga radio but I realize that good memories and nostalgia don’t pay the bills.’

Mr. Winger and Mr. Thomas sold the station to H. Clay Evans and Interstate insurance in the late 50s. The Bahakals bought it in 1963. The station maintained its original call letters for its entire life. Mr. Freudenber said Cy N. Bahakal told him one time he would never sell the station, but he died several years ago and the station passed to his family.”

I was surprised by this story and wonder if any attempt was made to sell the license and transmitter to another entity, thinking of course that there must be other broadcasters out there desperate for a license. I also started to wonder how often stations end up turning their licenses back in to the FCC. In my research I found rumors that a San Francisco Bay Area commercial radio station, KTRB-AM (Xtra Sports 860), may be on the verge of doing just that. The station, which is currently owned by Comerica Bank, is apparently up for sale. An attempt to sell the station to the Oakland A’s baseball team fell through and the station appears to be struggling. Back in October 2010, KTRB’s receiver asked the FCC for Special Temporary Authority (STA) to operate the station at reduced power at night (which was granted). In November, 2010 a second request was made to the FCC, asking for permission to cease nighttime operation of the station. According to that filing:

“THE RECEIVER OF STATION KTRB IS IN THE PROCESS OF ATTEMPTING TO SELL THE STATION OR TO FIND AN ACCEPTABLE TIME BROKER TO PROVIDE PROGRAMMING FOR THE STATION. DURING SUCH EFFORTS, INSUFFICIENT FUNDS ARE AVAILABLE TO OPERATE THE STATION ON AN UNLIMITED BASIS, AS AUTHORIZED BY THE KTRB LICENSE. AS A RESULT, THE RECEIVER HEREBY SEEKS AUTHORIZATION TO CEASE NIGHT TIME OPERATION ON THE STATION UNTIL SUCH TIME AS A PROGRAMMER OR AN AGREEMENT TO PURCHASE THE STATION IS FINALIZED. THE STATION CEASED OPERATING DURING NIGHTTIME HOURS WITH NIGHT TIME FACILITY ON OCTOBER 15, 2010.”

The authority that the FCC granted for reduced power at KTRB expired on April 20, 2011 and the rumor mill is speculating that the license could get turned back to the FCC. Since it’s a San Francisco Bay Area station, I immediately starting wondering if this license could be available for use by KUSF. When I asked Common Frequency’s Todd Urick about this he told me:

“The net worth of any AM license nowadays is more complicated to derive.  The situation with KTRB is a quagmire.  KTRB is owned by the bank, and has separate day and night directional towers at completely different sites.  I heard the night site doesn’t have power.  On one side, the station coverage is huge and would be worth something as a sports station.  On the other side, with land and operation costs as they are, it could be a giant loss.  Even if the license was given away it would need to go to someone with a million dollars in the bank ready to cover the operational costs.”

Urick said that it’s becoming increasingly common for unprofitable stations to turn their licenses back to the FCC. He said, “If an AM station isn’t getting good ratings anymore, it is more profitable to sell the land the tower site is on, discarding the license, than continue to break even (if even) on operating the station.”


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