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Dueling Christian Radio Stations Roil Orlando Market

Is there joy in Orlando?  Or no joy? Or maybe there’s two joys?  

On Friday, the Christian radio industry website HisAir.net announced that one of Christian radio’s powerhouse stations, WPOZ/Orlando (Z88.3, or “The Z”) would be “rebranding itself to Joy 88.3 starting this Monday [April 19] at 12:01 AM.”

But by Sunday, “The Z” had called the whole thing off, sort of.

The moves had a lot of industry insiders scratching their heads.  Why would “The Z,” which HisAir calls “one of America’s most successful Christian Radio stations,” rebrand itself, without prior announcements, in less than 72 hours.

Things are still sorting themselves out, but here’s what we know.

The Radio Training Network (RTN) operates “The JOY FM” in Tampa.  It is buying a Spanish format radio station (WNUE/98.1) in Deltona, east of Orlando.  That station reaches into the Orlando market, and could cut into the market share of “The Z.”  The sale of the radio station is pending approval by the FCC.  Until then, RTN has a licensing agreement to broadcast its “JOY FM” format on the Deltona station.  The format flip took place this morning at 7:30 am.

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So was the announcement by “The Z” to flip to “Joy 88.3” a pre-emptive strike by Jim Hoge, the president of “The Z,” to discourage another Christian radio station from entering the Orlando market?

Publicly, Hoge said no. After announcing the re-brand on HisAir on Friday, he walked back the announcement, also on HisAir, on Sunday:

HisAir received this statement from WPOZ CEO/President Jim Hoge: “In the last 24 hours we have become aware that Radio Training Network, Inc. (RTN,) the licensee of WCIE ‘The JOY FM’ in New Port Richey (Tampa) FL, has purchased a signal in our coverage area.  Therefore, for us to rebrand to the same name would be greatly detrimental to their ministry.  With that said, Z88.3 will remain Z88.3 for the foreseeable future.  We welcome RTN to our coverage area and look forward to a robust competition between brethren.”      

However, an internal email obtained by MinistryWatch, sent on Friday night by Hoge to the staff of WPOZ/”The Z,” suggests that the announcement by Hoge that “The Z” was rebranding may have been an elaborate ruse to keep “The JOY FM” out of the Orlando market.  

(MinistryWatch made repeated phone calls and texts to Hoge, as well as to Vice President and Director of Operations Dean O’Neal, to confirm the authenticity of the email.  They did not respond.  However, current employees of the station who asked to remain anonymous confirmed that the email came from Hoge on Friday evening at 8:24 pm.)

The email downplayed the impact of WNUE/98.1 on the Orlando market.  “WNUE is a ‘rim shot’ to Orlando,” Hoge wrote.  “It is not in the market and only covers part of the metro.”

Still, Hoge continued, “they will call themselves Orlando and be a major irritant to our partners and supporters.”

Hoge’s email also said, “Roger Holler is financing the purchase.  This little rouge [sic] in His Air just wrecked his weekend.  Because, an alleged flip by The Z to Joy FM will cost him millions.”

Roger Holler is a prominent businessman in central Florida, whose family has owned car dealerships in Florida for more than 80 years.  However, RTN told MinistryWatch that Holler is not involved in the purchase.  Jim Campbell, the president of RTN, said: “I’ve met Roger Holler, but he is not financing our purchase.  We are paying cash for the station.”  Campbell confirmed that the purchase price is $4-million.

Hoge also told HisAir that WPOZ was acquiring domain names with the “Joy” brand, including the domain names joy883.org, FindJoyOrlando.com, JoyOrlando.org, and other domains.

Hoge concluded his email with this: “As far as rebranding.  One can’t make a threat without following through with it.  Therefore, if anyone calls or contacts you, as far as you know from management, its [sic] game on.”

However, The JOY FM says that is a game it is not willing to play.  Carmen Brown is the General Manager of The JOY FM and a co-host of The JOY FM Morning Cruise program.  She said, “To have a tug of war, you’ve got to have two people pulling on the rope, and we simply don’t look at things that way.  There’s plenty of room for two stations in the Orlando market.  Our intention is to be very good neighbors to Z883.”

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.