National broadcaster iHeartMedia Inc. plans to saddle up a new country music station in Indianapolis for a shootout with local cowboy crooners WFMS-FM 95.5 and WLHK-FM “Hank” 97.1.
The San Antonio, Texas-based firm has an agreement to purchase Indianapolis-area radio station WRDZ-FM 98.3 from Radio Disney as part of a two-station acquisition worth $1.95 million, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission. The second station is in Salt Lake City.
As part of the agreement, iHeartMedia says it will change the call letters of the Indianapolis-area station to WUBG-FM and switch formats from Disney’s bubblegum pop to “contemporary country programming.”
iHeartMedia already has registered the Big983Indy.com domain, according to industry news site RadioInsight.com. That would position the station in the broadcaster’s “Big” brand, which includes Big 95.5 in Chicago and Big 104.7 in Pittsburgh—both country stations.
Formerly known as Clear Channel Communications Inc., iHeartMedia operates more than 840 radio stations in more than 150 U.S. markets. In Indianapolis, its stations include WFBQ-FM 94.7 and WNDE-AM 1260.
It was not immediately clear when Big 98.3 would begin broadcasting. Officials iHeartMedia did not respond to requests for comment early Monday afternoon. A spokeswoman for Disney Channels Worldwide confirmed the sale agreement and said that the transaction was subject to regulatory approval.
Pending necessary approvals, Radio Disney expects the sale to close in early August, said Patti McTeague, senior vice president of communications for Disney Channels Worldwide.
A programming and marketing agreement set May 4 between Radio Disney and iHeartMedia indicated that the new station could hit the air before the purchase agreement closes.
In 2014, Walt Disney Co. announced that it would sell its 23 Radio Disney stations, including WRDZ. The broadcaster had determined that its target audience—children ages 3 to15—were using satellite radio, the Internet and mobile devices to listen to programmed music, instead of traditional terrestrial radio.
It appears Radio Disney will take a loss on the sale. It bought WRZD in 2003 for $5.75 million.
Big 98.3 will enter a fierce battle for ears of country-music listeners. After decades of dominance as the area’s country king, WFMS was overtaken in the ratings by relative newcomer “Hank FM” in 2013.
WLHK is owned by Indianapolis-based broadcaster Emmis Communications Corp., and WFMS is owned by Culmulus Media, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
The station likely would lack the firepower to be a direct compeitor with the two big guns, however. Its tower is near Avon and its signal is weaker than most other major local stations. Some industry experts have said it has difficulty reaching eastern Marion County and parts of Boone and Hamilton counties, including Zionsville, Carmel, Westfield and Noblesville.