How Did Red Apple Media Turn WABC Into A Winner Again? | Story

It’s been one of radio’s biggest comeback stories of 2022: the return of AM news/talker WABC (770) to New York’s top 10 after a more-than-10-year absence. Since the station’s acquisition by Red Apple Media in 2019, it has bounced back from under-2-share lows to more-than-doubling that, for a 3.8 share high in March (based on Nielsen’s persons 6+ AQH shares, Mon-Sun 6am-12midnight).

So, how did WABC do it?

“We went back to basics,” Red Apple Media, WABC and WLIR President Chad Lopez tells Inside Radio. “We’re informative and entertaining. The way we’re delivering our content allows us to succeed with passion and enthusiasm. It’s what radio was designed to do, tell the story and have an audience listen and stay with you.”

News, And Views

WABC’s reconstruction began with its approach to news, talk and politics. “We deliver news down the middle, then our views [from either side],” Lopez says. Those views come from liberals such as former New York Governor David Paterson and conservatives such as Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor and more recently attorney to former President Donald Trump. “People may not agree with Giuliani, but they remember him for 9/11, and he relates to New York,” says Lopez. “So, whether you like him or not, people are going to listen.”

The result is a station Lopez feels succeeds by delivering hard topics in an informative and entertaining fashion. “At the end of the day, it’s theater of the mind,” he says.

“We know if we position a story one way, we’re going to get people that may not necessarily agree with us, so let’s hear what their views are. We pique interest the right way, we’re not just shouting and screaming and [going] so far on one side or the other.” That game plan also works for “Bernie & Sid in the Morning,” hosted by market veterans Sid Rosenberg and Bernard McGuirk. “They have a little bit of everything: news, talk, sports and entertainment,” Lopez says. “There are very serious and very light conversations.”

Just as important was recognizing and representing every community, group and ethnicity that makes up the market. “We want to give New York City a station that mirrors them, so that they felt that every time they listen, we have a community that identifies with us,” Lopez says. “We attribute our success to being able to identify with those communities and groups, and letting them know that there’s a station where they have a voice.”

Music On The Weekends? Sure.

“We knew that on a Saturday and Sunday night, the last thing anybody wants is to hear about politics. They’ve heard it all week,” Lopez says about WABC’s unique weekend mix of traditional talk by day and music at night. The station’s music-based line-up, targeting its age 45+ sweet spot, includes shows from 50-year New York radio legend Cousin Brucie and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” singer Tony Orlando, along with Joe Piscopo’s “Sundays With Sinatra.”

What makes this strategy work, according to Lopez, is the difference in content compared to weekend music programming on other stations. “Since we are not just a music station, we want to get into the specifics about the songs and artists,” he says. “This is talent that has extensive relationships, and they get the behind-the-scenes stories. They tell the story and play the song, and that’s what our audience loves.”

How Independent Ownership Works For WABC

“WABC is better at being a New York station because we are independently owned and don’t have corporate execs saying, this is what I need to make work here first so that it can work on 10 other stations,” Lopez says. “We hit on topics that are relevant to our audience. And we know when it’s not relevant because they’ll let us know.”

According to Lopez, Red Apple Media/WABC owner John Catsimatidis’ investment in WABC has exceeded the $12.5 million he paid for it because “he bought a station that wasn’t working.” The money has gone to move and upgrade WABC’s studios, including expanding into visual media, podcasts and syndication, along with purchasing Long Island’s WLIR-FM to simulcast the station in an area not sufficiently reached by WABC’s AM signal.

“John’s vision was to invest in a product, and make the product great first,” Lopez says. “When you’re not beholden to shareholders and not in debt, you’re able to make those types of investments and bring radio back to what it was.” Going forward, he says, there are bigger plans for WABC, including more station acquisitions. “You don’t buy companies with bad debt just so you can meet the cashflow, you buy with the intent of making a better product that can serve the communities and the listening audience. It’s what radio should be.”

Rich Appel

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