In 1987, Way-FM founder Bob Augsburg and his wife Felice took a leap of faith and set out to start a new kind of Christian radio station; one that would both encourage Christians in their walk and also introduce non-believers to Christ.
The early years of WAY-FM
Augsburg started out as a morning show host in Fort Myers, Florida on top rated WSOR Christian Life Radio station. At that time, WSOR was formatted to reach adult Christians 35 years old and up. Augsburg began to realize that the younger generation needed a Christian station to call their own, so he and his wife began to pray about this vision, do research, and talk to others in the business community to attempt to establish a board of directors.
Augsburg’s hard work and faith paved the road for WAY-FM, a Christian hit radio station, to be born. Several fundraising banquets and donor gifts gave Augsburg enough funds to secure the FCC license and launch his dream. The Fort Myers WAY-FM just celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.
West Palm Beach gets a Dusty start in 1993
The popularity of WAY-FM began to grow, and Augsburg expanded the station to Nashville, Tennessee and also acquired a license for a station in West Palm Beach. Augsburg then engaged South Florida native Dusty Rhodes to return to Florida develop 88.1 WAY-FM in West Palm Beach.
Rhodes started his career doing Top 40 mainstream radio. Over time, he began to realize that God was calling him to use his broadcasting talents to deliver the message of the good news and ventured out to see if he could do Christian radio full time.
After moving to Pittsburgh and hosting a successful morning show on a Christian station (WPIT, now WORD FM) for 11 years, Rhodes made a call to Bob Augsburg, who he had met in his industry travels, to see if he knew of any Christian stations needed some help. Augsburg, with Fort Myers WAY-FM taking off, had just received approval for 88.1 FM in West Palm. After much prayer, Dusty and his wife, Irene, took their own leap of faith and headed back to South Florida after turning down opportunities with Focus on the Family radio and a large station in Kansas.
WAY-FM was licensed in March of 1993 and officially signed on the air in November of 1993. Rhodes hit the ground running as he visited churches and businesses and canvassed the area to drum up funds to build a staff and get equipment to get on the air. Enough money was raised to cover just two months of operations. Rhodes started out handling the Morning Show, with Penny Martin doing mid-days and Chris Carson handling the afternoon drive.
First Sharathon defines WAY-FM South Florida popularity
Augsburg shares, “One of the defining moments in the WAY-FM history was when after Dusty launched West Palm Beach we did our first Sharathon after just 6 weeks on air and weren’t sure just how many people were even listening to this new younger Christian music format.. With over 2,000 phone calls over three days and over $350,000 dollars raised from the listeners, we knew God was blessing the ministry of WAY-FM.”
Over the years, WAY-FM has continued to build its South Florida audience from 30,000 listeners weekly to the latest Nielsen trends showing over 230,000 listeners; with the station still geared towards young adults from 18-49.
Boonaducious starts wave of live concerts for thousands
Rhodes started doing small concerts early on in local churches, but as the popularity of WAY-FM began to flourish he searched for a larger venue. After meeting with Joe Nieman at what is now called the Cruzan Ampitheater at the South Florida Fairgrounds, he promoted WAY-FM’s first “Boonaducious” Christian all day live concert. DJ Chris Carson was instrumental in developing these events and came up with the unusual name that means, “Bring blessings to the Lord.”
This first event in 1998 drew close to 10,000 fans, and featured the Newsboys and Third Day as the headliners, as well as several local artists including One Way and the rapper, Proverb. “These were great fundraising vehicles for WAY-FM and ministry opportunities to bring these top groups to the community,” says Rhodes.
Growth spurt and acquisitions for WAY-FM Media Group
WAY-FM continued to expand and acquire stations around the country, jumping from 4 stations to 20 in 2003, which increased the WAY-FM reach to over 100 communities nationwide. Another growth spurt from 2005-2010 contributed to WAY Media Group’s current network of 112 signals and 30 repeaters that reach over 1.1 million listeners.
After eight successful years that included the industry’s top award, the coveted DOVE for best Christian radio station in 2000, Rhodes was promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the WAY Media Group and moved to the company’s corporate headquarters in Colorado Springs to serve alongside Founder/President Bob Augsburg.
Jim Marshall replaced Rhodes as station manager in West Palm Beach and has been instrumental in building a strong community effort and growing listenership. Jim now oversees the Florida station group of the four stations in Fort Myers, Tallahassee, Panama City and West Palm Beach, and is ramping up the 20th anniversary celebration concert featuring Toby Mac in November.
Hurricane Katrina shows impact of WAY-FM with community
“My strongest memory of the WAY-FM community coming together was when we put out the call to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. We loaded up trucks of supplies that were sent to New Orleans in an amazingly quick response,” states Marshall. “The ‘Drive Thru Difference’ has also been a key element in WAY-FM encouraging our listeners to be generous and to think about others by a simple act of paying for someone’s food order behind them at the drive thru.”
Talent and production moved to Nashville
We decided also a few years back to move our talent like Wally and Melissa along with our production to Nashville, enabling us to go after a more seasoned on air sound. Listeners connect with the personalities, not just the music, and it doesn’t matter where the deejays are located”, says Rhodes. “Each station still maintains local street teams and promotions plus live local traffic and weather updates.”
World’s biggest small group underway
Jim Marshall concludes, “We want to continue to influence this generation to love and follow Jesus by using all the new technolgies and digital platforms.” We want to live it out and move forward with discipleship and realize we are not a church, but have started putting together the world’s biggest small group by sharing devotions and scripture on air.”
88.1 WAY-FM has been and will continue to be a powerful voice in the South Florida community, and there is no real way to know how many young lives have been touched by the music and the messages of hope and truth by this radio ministry. WAY-FM will stick to its core values and takes its founding mission statement very seriously in following God’s plan to reach the hearts of the young people and bring non-believers to Christ.
20thAnniversary concert celebration November 16th
Join the 20th Anniversary WAY-FM celebration at the Cruzan Ampitheater on Saturday, November 16, featuring Grammy and Dove award winning artists to include Toby Mac, Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Chris August, Colton Dixon and Jamie Grace. Tickets are available at wayfm.com
Carl Foster is a veteran Christian music broadcaster.and currently hosting the Good Sports Magazine Show live Mondays at 6pm on GraceNetRadio.com as well as a feature writer for the Good News.