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AM 790 (formerly the Zone) sold to Atlanta Radio Korea

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Friday, September 30, 2016

Entercom, which owns Star 94.1, has sold off its AM 790 (WQXI-AM) signal to Atlanta Radio Korea for $850,000.

That modest amount reflects the downswing of AM radio the past decade.  To survive, a few such as WSB and 680/The Fan have found simulcasts on the FM side.

It also shows the growing power of the Korean populace in metro Atlanta, which now number more than 50,000. Many Koreans are first-generation immigrants who rely on a station for Korean language programming. Atlanta Radio Korea has been leasing time on 1040 AM/WPBS in Conyers since 2009.

790 was once home to a dominant top 40 station in Atlanta in the 1960s (Quixie in Dixie) and a powerful sports talk station in the 2000s (790/The Zone).

Relatively speaking, the daytime 790 AM signal is pretty strong (28,000 watts) but at night, its reach is very limited (1,000 watts). Only AM750 is allowed to keep a maximum 50,000 watt signal 24/7 in Atlanta.

790, back in the 1960s, was the market's biggest top 40 station and the inspiration for the 1970s sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati."

When FM became more popular in the 1970s, 94Q simulcast on 790. In the 1980s, it became a successful oldies station. For a time, it simply offered brokered airtime to businesses before Steak Shapiro and Andrew Saltzman leased out the signal for sports talk in the late 1990s.

At its peak, the Zone was pulling in $12 to $13 million in the mid-2000s. But when 92.9/The Game came along on a superior FM signal in 2012, the demise of the Zone was inevitable. It officially died in 2015. Entercom, which purchased Star 94.1 and 790 last year, has been simulcasting Star on the signal as a default.

Mark Kanov, who worked at WQXI and 94.1 for 40 years until he retired in 2008 and was general manager of Star from 1992 to 2008, said in an interview that 790 could have sold in the mid-2000s for upwards of $5 million.

Kanov was responsible for giving Shapiro and Saltzman the opportunity to build the Zone and, as he said, 'they ran with it and turned it into something hugely successful."

The $850,000 purchase price strikes him as "incredibly low." Then again, Kanov admits he has been out of the radio business for eight years so times have changed.

Shapiro, when told the news, was bemused. And as owner of Atlanta Eats, it was only appropriate for him to say: "I love Korean food. More power to them!"

Gary McKee, a hugely popular morning host for 94Q/WQXI in the 1970s and 1980s who retired about 18 years ago, said as metro Atlanta has sprawled out, the narrow confines of the 790 signal made it less appealing over time for anybody seeking a broad audience. A niche station like Radio Korea Atlanta, he said, works perfectly.

"Quite frankly," he added, tongue firmly in cheek, "I'm taking Korean language classes. Gonna try to get that morning show!"





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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.