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Washington Will Hear ‘All News, All the Time’

CBS goes after the WTOP cash and ratings machine

Hubbard Radio hasn’t owned WTOP(FM) very long. Now the company faces a serious new competitor for its many all-news listeners in the nation’s capital.

CBS Radio — which knows how to do all-news in big markets — said this week it will launch a 24/7 news station in January on 99.1 MHz, WLZL(FM), which is licensed to Bowie, Md., to serve Washington-area listeners. This puts it in direct competition with WTOP, currently heard on three FM frequencies in the region, led by 103.5.

To make this possible, CBS also has agreed to acquire WFSI, a Maryland station on 107.9 MHz, from Christian broadcaster Family Stations Inc. That frequency will be the new home of CBS’s current 99.1 format, Spanish “El Zol.” Terms were not disclosed. The website of All Access Music Group reported the price at $8.5 million.

Steve Swenson is SVP and market manager for CBS in Washington. Robert Sanchez will be PD; he’s now assistant director of news and programming for WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York and has worked at sister 1010 WINS. Michelle Komes-Dolge will be news director; she’s known locally from holding several positions at WTOP.

The agreement will have to pass the usual regulatory approvals. Meanwhile, “El Zol” will debut on 107.9 FM on Dec. 1 under an LMA.

As familiar as CBS is with the news format, the company is taking on a formidable competitor.

Even though Washington is only the ninth-largest market, WTOP was the top-earning U.S. radio station in 2010, according to a BIA Kelsey report issued earlier this year that estimated the station’s revenue last year at $57 million. And Arbitron data show WTOP led the Washington market this October with an AQH share of 8.9 (Persons 6+, Mon–Sun 6 a.m.—midnight). Also strong in the market is American University’s WAMU, a news and information source that was tied for second in that same Arbitron demographic.