Bloomberg Media, the New York-based arm of billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s business empire, will take over Washington radio station WNEW-FM and will change its format from general news to business news and talk.
The company took over management of WNEW (99.1) Friday morning under an agreement with CBS Radio, which will continue to own the station. It has redubbed the station Bloomberg 99.1.
WNEW started in early 2012 as a competitor to all-news WTOP-FM (103.5) and news-talk WAMU-FM (88.5), two of the area’s leading stations. But WNEW was never able to gain traction with its mix of local news reporting, weather, sports and traffic reports, and it was hampered by an identity split between Washington and Baltimore.
In the most recent weekly audience ratings, it ranked 24th among Washington-area stations, finishing just behind Spanish-language pop-music station WDCN-FM (87.7) and religious broadcaster WAVA-FM (105.1).
Bloomberg, which specializes in financial news, will broadcast primarily business-oriented programs from New York on 99.1, such as the investment advice program “Taking Stock.” It will also include short, regular “cutaways” for local news, weather and traffic updates. The station’s managers anticipate creating some local programs, possibly utilizing Bloomberg’s 165-person Washington news bureau, but haven’t made any decisions yet.
“We’re not looking for a mass audience,” Justin Smith, Bloomberg Media’s chief executive, said in an interview. “We’re looking for a niche audience” of business executives, entrepreneurs and political leaders.
The station will simulcast the audio portion of the Bloomberg-produced political-discussion TV show “With All Due Respect” that is carried on the Bloomberg cable channel. MSNBC will also begin airing the program in January.
The company said it will operate 99.1 with about a half-dozen local employees. WNEW had a staff of about 20, most of whom will be dismissed, said Steve Swenson, who runs CBS Radio’s Washington division.
The station will be the fourth in Bloomberg’s radio division and its first on the FM band, after its New York flagship (WBBR-AM) and outlets in Boston and San Francisco. All of the stations broadcast business news, using local programs and those produced by Bloomberg in New York.
Bloomberg also supplies business-news updates to about 300 stations; one of its clients was WNEW.
Bloomberg’s takeover of WNEW is known as a local marketing agreement, or LMA. Under such an arrangement, the station’s licensee (in this case CBS Radio) hands over operations to a second company for a fee or a split of future advertising revenues. Terms of the Bloomberg-CBS LMA weren’t disclosed.
Swenson, the CBS manager, said WNEW’s revenues and ratings had been improving, but the deal with Bloomberg was “a great opportunity” that the company couldn’t pass up. He said the station’s biggest challenge has always been building a Washington-centric identity because its signal is equally as strong in the Baltimore area as in Washington.
The station will continue to carry live broadcasts of Washington Wizards games.
Bloomberg’s radio division is part of a broad portfolio of media assets owned primarily by the former three-time New York mayor. Bloomberg Media includes a cable channel, magazines, websites and a news service. Its Washington news operations include Bloomberg Government and Bloomberg BNA.