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From Kanye West to Michael W. Smith. Kelly Clarkson to Rebecca St. James. And Green Day to Third Day.

Those are among the most outward changes of the sale, made public over the weekend, of WHTS-FM 98.9, or “All Hit 98.9,” from its current owner, Mercury Broadcasting, to EMF Broadcasting. The sale, reportedly for $3.5 million, will also change the frequency from its Top 40 format to a non-commercial Christian pop music station sometime early next year.

“EMF has been favorably received in other regional markets, such as Chicago, Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, Kansas City and Topeka,” Carol Crenshaw, director of media services for the company, wrote in an e-mail to the Quad-City Times. “We have been looking for the right opportunity in the Quad-Cities area for several years now.”

The station will broadcast its satellite-delivered music format, called “K-Love.” Crenshaw said a regional manager will oversee the station, and its funds will be raised through pledge drives.

According to its Web site, emfbroadcasting.com, EMF owns about 300 stations in 42 states, with two different Christian formats.

The sale of the station — which signed on in October 1957 as WHBF-FM, the area’s first FM signal — was a necessity, said Larry Rosmilso, general manager of Clear Channel’s Quad-City Radio Group.

Clear Channel had operated “All Hit 98.9” and WKBF-AM 1270 through a joint sales agreement, or JSA, with Mercury. The JSA begin in April 2001 and was due for a renewal next year.

The Federal Communications Commission, however, is tightening the rules for JSAs. Mercury, Rosmilso said, would have to find a buyer with no connections to Clear Channel.

Tony Waitekus, program director for the station for the past 91/2 years, said the staff knew a change was imminent.

“We knew the whole legal situation with joint sales agreements was being looked at by the government differently than it had been previously,” said Waitekus, who also hosts the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekday shift on the station.

Rosmilso said 12 to 15 staff members work for All Hit 98.9. He said some jobs may be available for them at Quad-City Radio Group stations, or at Clear Channel stations in Cedar Rapids or Des Moines.

Rosmilso said it was uncertain whether the Top 40 format would continue on another frequency owned by the station. Clear Channel owns four other FM stations in the market, and two AMs, as well as operating WKBF.

“There’s no plan one way or the other at this point,” Rosmilso said.

WHTS ranked seventh in total listeners out of the 13 commercial radio stations in the Quad-City market, according to the most recent Arbitron ratings recorded last spring. Waitekus said the station ranked No. 2 in its target audience, 18- to 34-year-old females. It also rated well in the region, he said: No. 1 in total listeners in Sterling-Rock Falls, Ill., and Burlington, Iowa; No. 2 in Galesburg, Ill.; and No. 3 in Clinton, Iowa.

“They’re going to be shocked in some of the neighboring towns,” Waitekus said.

The 98.9 FM frequency has been Top 40 since it changed its call letters to WPXR, known as “Power 98.9” in April 1987. It changed its call letters to WHTS in 1995, and became known as “All Hit 98.9.”

Waitekus said the staff was saddened by the sale, but was going to make the best of the current station’s final months.

“We’re going to go out swinging, and put out the best product that we can,” Waitekus said.

David Burke can be contacted at

(563) 383-2400 or dburke@qctimes.com.

 

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