Over Memorial Day weekend, Radio One regional vice president Doug Abernethy was crabbing in Port Aransas with his children when he received a phone call from Alfred Liggins, the company's CEO. Liggins had an idea so urgent that it couldn't wait until after the holiday.
Radio One (owner of 97.9 The Box and Magic 102.1, in addition to 50 other radio stations in the eastern United States) saw a void in Houston's news radio offerings. Liggins wanted to transform local gospel station Praise 92.1 into a 24-hour, all news radio source — News 92 Radio.
"No one is making the commitment to an all-news format," Abernethy tells CultureMap. "Nobody delivers the full story."
"I'm so excited to be working with J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes. They know more stories than anyone in this town. They know where the bodies are buried and the Scotch bottle is hidden at city council meetings."
Abernethy believes that news needs to be reported as the story unfolds, not an hour later. That the story should be told from beginning to end, rather than in fits and starts of sensational headlines and fractured information.
The ball started rolling immediately, with weeks of due diligence, feasibility studies and profitability exercises. Then, unexpected good fortune struck.
In late June, AM 740 KTRH fired 27-year broadcast anchor veterans J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes and replaced the pair with right-wing host Matt Patrick. It was a sad day for Houston radio, signaling a shift to a talk- and commentary-driven format.
But it worked out perfectly for News 92 Radio. The station quickly moved to hire the A-list team.
Other local news notables followed suit: Mike Barajas, Scott Braddock, Carolyn Campbell, Kevin Charles, Brent Clanton, Traffic Master Lanny Griffith, Laurie Kendrick, Martha Martinez, Bonnie Petrie, Matt Sampsell, meteorologist Dr. Joe Sobel, Pattie Shieh, Craig Roberts and Jorge Vargas.
No other station in town can boast this many Texas Radio Hall of Fame inductees: both Pritchard and Hughes were admitted in 2009, and Griffith was recently honored.
The team met in secret for three months, before coming out into the open with the plans in late October. The energy level is high as anchors, reporters and technicians prepare for Saturday's broadcast debut of the new News 92 Radio station.
Griffith tells CultureMap that the team is bouncing off of the walls, eager to be working with former colleagues and esteemed competitors, learning the ropes in a crowded space. "It's like playing Twister with very expensive equipment."
"I'm so excited to be working with J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes," he says. "They know more stories than anyone in this town. They know where the bodies are buried and the Scotch bottle is hidden at city council meetings. They're great story tellers."
News 92 Radio will utilize ABC News Radio and Associated Press Platinum for national and global coverage, and the local team will cover weather, traffic, sports, politics, commerce and culture. Perhaps even some gossip. Everything of local and regional importance. A wealth of information with none of the spin and bias.
"We'll be the newspaper that talks to you on your way to work, and tells you what happened during the day on your way home," Abernethy says.
And despite the relentless spread of new media outlets, the directors don't see radio as a dying medium.
"Until they redesign the human body, and as long as you can listen to the radio while doing something else," Doug Harris, project marketing consultant, says, "radio will always be relevant."