|Broadcast area||Washington metropolitan area|
|Branding||ESPN 630 D.C.|
|Slogan||The Sports Capitol|
|Frequency||630 kHz (HD Radio)|
|First air date||October 12, 1925|
|Power||10,000 watts (day)|
2,700 watts (night)
|Former call signs||WMAL (1925–2019)|
Washington Redskins Radio Network
|Owner||Cumulus Media |
(Radio License Holdings LLC)
WSBN (630 kHz) is a commercial AM sports radio station licensed to Washington, D.C. and serving the Washington metro area. It operates with 10,000 watts in the daytime and 2,700 watts at night using a directional antenna around the clock. WSBN's studios are on Jenifer Street in Northwest Washington. The transmitter located off Black Rock Road in Germantown, Maryland.
WSBN is owned and operated by Cumulus Media and is affiliated with ESPN Radio. It is one of the oldest radio stations in the Washington media market, continuously on the air from 1925. For most of its history, the station operated as WMAL; on July 1, 2019, its talk programming was moved exclusively to co-owned WMAL-FM at 105.9 MHz, which had simulcast with 630 AM since 2011.
WMAL first went on the air on October 12, 1925, using call letters incorporating the initials of Martin A. Leese, a local optician who began selling radio sets at 720 11th Street NW in Washington, D.C. He started WMAL as a low-power station. The shutdown of station WCAP left Washington with WRC (now WTEM) as its only high-power station, so local business leaders affiliated with the City Club of Washington banded together to create a second high-powered station. Their original plan was to buy WCAP and convert it to a municipal station, but instead they worked with Leese to boost WMAL's signal and make it the city's second large station. The new high-power WMAL went on the air from studios at 710-712 11th Street NW on October 2, 1926, with former WCAP announcer William T. Pierson as director and with a policy of encouraging young broadcasting talent in hopes of creating "a people's forum".
In 1927, Leese left his optical business to focus full-time on running the station, and the following year the Federal Radio Commission's national frequency allocation plan assigned WMAL the AM 630 frequency, which it still uses today. WMAL was a CBS Radio Network affiliate from 1928 until October 19, 1932, and then was briefly unaffiliated until joining the NBC Blue Network in January 1933. The Blue Network later became ABC, with which WMAL was affiliated for many years, and which owned WMAL for several decades.
By mid-1932, M. R. Baker had been appointed manager of the station, and Kenneth H. Berkeley was appointed station director of WMAL in 1933. While still owned by the Leese family, WMAL was eventually leased to the National Broadcasting Company in 1934, joining it with owned-and-operated station WRC.
NBC's Washington vice president Frank M. Russell supervised the operation of both WMAL and WRC by 1935 when studios were moved from the National Press Building to the Trans-Lux Theatre Building, 724 14th Street NW. Transmitting facilities continued to be located at 712 Eleventh Street NW.
In the late months of 1937, the lease to NBC was terminated, with station operation reverting to the Leese Family interests. NBC, however, continued to operate it under a managerial agreement executed in fall 1937. Norman Leese was president of WMAL's licensee at that time. On May 1, 1938, the M.A. Leese Radio Corporation was acquired by publishers of the now-defunct Washington Evening Star newspaper, a family-owned concern headed by board chairman and president Samuel H. Kauffman. Norman Leese remained president and K. H. Berkeley continued as general manager of WMAL.
The operating arrangement between NBC and the M.A. Leese Radio Corporation ended in February 1942. The station then reverted to the direct control of the Evening Star Broadcasting Company, of which K. H. Berkeley was executive vice president. Berkeley was also WMAL's general manager. In October 1947, WMAL-TV signed on as the first high-band VHF television station in the United States. It became an ABC Network affiliate a year later.
By 1946, S. H. Kauffman, president and part owner of the Evening Star, was given additional duties as president of its broadcasting subsidiary, the Evening Star Broadcasting Company, until his resignation in August 1954. His replacement as general manager was Frederick S. Houwink.
Also in 1954, John W. Thompson, Jr. replaced S. H. Kauffman as president of Evening Star Broadcasting Co.
Andrew Martin Ockershausen was appointed station manager of WMAL in 1960. One of Ockershausen's first moves was to team Frank Harden with Jackson Weaver for WMAL's morning drive show after the duo had a successful tryout hosting an evening comedy show patterned after Bob and Ray; Harden and Weaver took off in popularity and quickly became the top-rated morning show in the Washington market, featuring a blend of news, interviews, light music and comedy.
In 1962, Fred Houwink became a company vice president while continuing as WMAL's general manager. In 1965 Houwink was named vice president of Evening Star Broadcasting and Ockershausen was elevated to general manager of WMAL.
In 1970 Houwink retired and Ockershausen was named vice president, operations. Also in 1970 Richard S. Stakes was named general manager and Harold L. Green was named station manager. In 1974 Charles A. Macatee became WMAL's general manager.
In early January 1976, the Evening Star Broadcasting Company's WMAL, WMAL-FM and WMAL-TV and majority control of the ailing newspaper were acquired from the Kauffman, Noyes and Adams families by publisher Joseph L. Albritton’s Perpetual Corporation and Albritton became board chairman and chief owner of WMAL's license. On January 21, 1976, WMAL's licensee name was changed to Washington Star Communications of Delaware, Inc. Richard S. Stakes became station president, but resigned in December 1976. Mr. Albritton then assumed the presidency, with Robert Nelson becoming president of the broadcasting division. General Manager Charles Macatee resigned in January 1977.
A requirement of the purchase of the Evening Star properties included the sale of the radio or television properties. In March 1977, WMAL and WMAL-FM were spun off to ABC Radio, while the TV station was retained and became WJLA-TV, named after Albritton's initials. ABC paid $16 million for WMAL and WMAL-FM, a record price for radio properties at that time. Andrew Ockershausen was appointed executive vice president.
On January 3, 1986, Capital Cities and ABC, Inc. merged in a $3.52 billion deal. Thomas S. Murphy was chairman and CEO of the new firm. Frederick Weinhaus became president and general manager following the resignation of Andrew Ockershausen in March 1986. Weinhaus was transferred to ABC Radio New York in January 1988. His replacement in May 1988 was Thomas Bresnahan, who continued in that role until his retirement in 2002.
WMAL morning co-host Jackson Weaver died on October 20, 1992, with Harden and Weaver still at or near the top of the local ratings; Weaver also garnered fame nationally as the first voice of Smokey Bear. Frank Harden continued the morning show with co-hosts Tim Brant and Andy Parks until his retirement in 1998. Brant and Parks continued until Brant's departure in May 2002, his replacement would be former congressman Fred Grandy.
By the late 1990s, WMAL transitioned its talk lineup into one similar to sister station WABC in New York City, with an emphasis on conservative talk.
Chris Berry was named president and general manager November 19, 2002. Prior to joining WMAL, Berry was vice president, radio for ABC News, based in New York. In August 2005, host Michael Graham was fired after refusing to apologize for calling the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) a "terrorist organization."
Citadel and Cumulus years
Longtime Washington broadcaster Chris Core was dismissed from WMAL in 2008 as part of a broad cost-cutting move; his replacement, Austin Hill, was dropped in February 2009 due to Levin's show expanding and Sliwa's show moving up an hour. Plante, a popular talk host who hosted evenings and later middays, was yanked in favor of Joe Scarborough's Morning Joe in April 2009, only to return to middays six months later after Scarborough's show was cancelled.
By late 2009, WMAL's morning-drive through midnight weekday format was uninterrupted conservative talk, with a lineup of Fred Grandy and Andy Parks, Chris Plante, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Joe Scarborough, and Curtis Sliwa. Weekends include gardening host Jos Roozen, investing adviser Ric Edelman and lawyer Michael Collins. John Batchelor replaced Sliwa in November 2009. In April 2010, Parks was laid off from the station, resulting in Plante's and Grandy's shows being merged. At the same time, Scarborough's show was put on extended hiatus. Austin Hill began filling in the middays for the time being, while Mark Simone handled Scarborough's shift. Grandy left WMAL in March 2011.
In 2017, WMAL started broadcasting Washington Redskins games as an affiliate station for the first time since the team's Super Bowl XXVI win in 1992. WMAL previously carried the team's games from 1942 to 1956, and again from 1963 to 1991. WTEM (570 AM), a new sports station at the time, acquired the radio broadcast rights from WMAL for the 1992 NFL season.
As of January 3, 2017, WMAL's weekday lineup consisted of local talent Brian Wilson and Mary Walter in the morning, then Chris Plante, followed by the syndicated Rush Limbaugh, then Larry O'Connor hosts a local afternoon drive show, followed by the syndicated shows of Mark Levin, John Batchelor, and overnight the syndicated show Red Eye Radio, hosted by Eric Harley and Gary McNamara. Brian Wilson was released in May 2017.
Flip to sports talk
On June 13, 2019, it was announced that WMAL would break away from the simulcast with WMAL-FM and flip to ESPN Radio on July 1, 2019 as ESPN 630. WMAL replaced WTEM as ESPN Radio's Washington, D.C. affiliate, though both stations continue to share Redskins games, with WTEM as flagship. Concurrent with the format change, WMAL changed its call letters to WSBN; prior to the change, it had been Washington's oldest station to be operating under its original call letters.
WMAL broadcast from various facilities in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland until July 25, 1973, when it settled in at its current studio facility at 4400 Jenifer Street NW in Washington, two blocks from the city's border with Maryland.
WMAL's former transmitting facility, located in the Bradley Hills section of suburban Bethesda, Maryland, once housed studios for WMAL-AM and WMAL-FM. Cumulus put the 75-acre site for sale in February 2015; in the summer of 2016, it was sold to the Toll Brothers company, who has plans to turn the site into a housing development.
On May 12, 2016, WMAL was granted a Federal Communications Commission construction permit to move from their 91-year-old site in Bethesda to the WWRC transmitter site in Germantown and decrease night power to 2,700 watts. Transmissions from the Bethesda transmitter site ceased on the afternoon of May 1, 2018.
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Among the WMAL broadcasters over the years have been Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver, who co-hosted WMAL's morning show for more than four decades until Weaver's death in the early 1990s; Tom Gauger, who also spent several decades at WMAL; Arthur Godfrey, a national radio and early-TV personality who briefly broadcast on WMAL in 1933 as "Red" Godfrey; Bill Mayhugh, a mellow-voiced overnight broadcaster; and Ken Beatrice, a sports talk radio pioneer who hosted a call-in show from 1977 to 1995.
The station also kept a local following for a time by broadcasting sports games featuring the Washington Redskins and University of Maryland, College Park Terrapins. Legendary jazz authority Felix Grant broadcast on WMAL for decades.
Support of the local community has been a tradition for WMAL, which founded such innovative fund-raisers as the Leukemia Radiothon and the Gross National Parade, which supported the D.C. Police Boys & Girls Club.
In addition to providing talk programming, WMAL provided local news coverage. With morning anchor Bill Thompson, afternoon anchor Mark Weaver and the team covers news stories affecting the Washington DC area.
Jerry Klein's 2006 radio experiment
The station aired a radio talk show on November 26, 2006 to gauge his audience's reaction to saying that "force should be applied to ensure that all Muslims in America wear identifying markers...." The hoax was revealed at the end of the program.
References to WMAL in movies and fiction
- Allen, Scott (June 14, 2019). "D.C. is getting a third sports talk radio station with the launch of ESPN 630". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
- "A Radio for Every Purse". (August 15, 1926). The Washington Post, p. F7
- "City Club to Help Develop New Radio Station in Capital". (September 26, 1926). The Washington Post, p. M13
- "New Radio Station in First Program". (October 3, 1926). The Washington Post, p. M14
- Harden and Weaver, 1983. p. 88 & 112
- Frank Harden Signs Off At WMAL; After 50 Years, Radio Voice Leaves With Little Fanfare by Marc Fisher The Washington Post January 7, 1998 Highbeam.com
- '60s Radio Days: A Sillier, Simpler Time. Marc Fisher, The Washington Post, September 13, 1999; Page A1.
- "Jackson Weaver, 72, Voice of Smokey Bear". The New York Times. October 22, 1992.
- "Cumulus now owns Citadel Broadcasting". Atlanta Business Journal. September 16, 2011. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
- Allen, Scott. "Redskins games will be back on WMAL for first time since last Super Bowl win". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
- "ESPN and Cumulus will launch a new D.C. ESPN Radio station". Awful Announcing. 2019-06-14. Retrieved 2019-06-14.
- "WMAL-A-F/Washington, D.C. To Split Simulcast, AM To Flip To Sports As ESPN 630, The Sports Capitol". All Access. Retrieved 2019-06-14.
- "Call Sign History (WSBN)". CDBS Public Access. Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
- Stimson, Leslie (February 9, 2015). "WMAL Tower Site Up For Sale". Radio World. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- Reigart, Emily M. (September 20, 2016). "WMAL Tower Site Demolition Begins". Radio World. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- Kraut, Aaron (April 11, 2016). "Updated: Developer of WMAL Radio Towers Site Unveils Latest Plans to Skeptical Public". Bethesda Magazine. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- Rodgers, Bethany (June 16, 2017). "Planning Board Approves Proposal for 309 Homes at WMAL Tower Site". Bethesda Magazine. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- Reigart, Emily M. (June 16, 2017). "County Planning Board Approves Plan for WMAL Site". Radio Magazine. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
- "Application for Construction Permit for Commercial Broadcast Station". Federal Communications Commission. May 12, 2016. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
- Bill Thompson
- Mark Weaver - WMAL biography
- Bernd Debusmann (December 1, 2006). "In U.S., fear and distrust of Muslims runs deep". Reuters. Retrieved December 16, 2006.
Debusmann, Bernd (December 2, 2006). "Fear and distrust of Muslims run deep in US". Dawn. Pakistan: Dawn Group of Newspapers. Retrieved 2009-03-12.
When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.
- Official website
- Query the FCC's AM station database for WSBN
- Radio-Locator Information on WSBN
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for WSBN