A Spiritual Void With Worldly Consequences
The year was 1986. Madonna, Van Halen, Whitney Houston and Prince songs flooded the airwaves. Young Christians had no spiritually fulfilling alternative on the radio. Bob and Felice Augsburg decided to change that.
At the time, most Christian stations carried preaching and teaching that catered to audiences in their 50s and older. Bob and Felice knew that young Christians and teens needed an alternative to the popular nonspiritual music that dominated radio station playlists.
Thankfully, a few contemporary Christian music albums started being released by the record labels. To bring that music to young people, Bob asked the station manager at WSOR (where he worked as program director and morning DJ) to start an all-music radio show on Saturday nights. Although the station, located in Fort Myers, Florida, also catered to older people, Bob’s boss agreed to give it a try. The five-hour show was called Lifeline, and it was a success.
God Plants A Seed
Contemporary Christian music started being circulated gradually; and it was having a positive impact. One night, after a Mylon LeFevre concert, Bob and Felice watched as about 150 young people went forward to give their lives to Christ. It was apparent to Felice that this more modern Christian music was deeply touching youth.
“On our drive home from that concert, I said to Bob, ‘Why can’t we start a station that would play this music?’” Felice remembered. “I think that’s when God planted the seed. I can’t say I knew for sure, but it was like a burr under the saddle. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Bob listened to Felice, but he wrestled with the idea. After all, they had no idea how to start a radio station and they had no money. They were already struggling week to week, trying to support their young family and keep their children in Christian school. As a program director at WSOR, Bob knew how to plan and play music for a radio station, but not how to start one from scratch. He felt he needed to have all the tools and knowledge in place before he could do what God was asking.
The Seed Takes Root
Later, in 1987, Bob and Felice were invited to help a couple with a pledge drive for the tiny Christian station they had launched in Titusville, Florida. The man and his wife had put their station on the air a few years ago without vast knowledge about radio stations. The man was an engineer and was an expert on towers and transmitters but knew nothing about radio programming. That got Bob thinking … if that couple did it, maybe he and Felice could do it, too.
With God’s help, Bob began gathering all the information he could. He talked to several people who had pioneered a radio station and he asked for their help. The ball really started rolling when someone gave him the name of a Christian attorney in Washington DC. The attorney, excited by the prospect of a Christian station that would play music for youth, agreed to work pro bono. The foundation of WAY-FM was finally being built.
That led Bob and Felice to start researching available radio signals in Florida. When they found WAYJ FM, the only signal available, they knew they were ready to launch the first Top 40 all-music Christian radio station in the United States. The only catch was, many other people were applying for the same radio signal.
“Looking back, it was a blessing in a way that we didn’t have the resources to just throw a lot of money at the problems and make them go away,” Felice said. “We had nothing but God to lean on.”
There was a real need for the station, and Felice knew she and Bob were being joined in prayer by hundreds of people in the Fort Myers area. If God wanted the station to go on the air, it would happen. They would be granted the signal regardless of all the other applicants.
Felice was right. God made it happen. The 50,000-watt signal was awarded to Felice and Bob. They had sailed over the first obstacle, but they faced another. Where would they get the money to launch and run the new station?
Stepping Out on the Water
Bob’s boss at WSOR agreed to let them hold an on-air fundraiser to get donations for the new station that God had placed in their hearts. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well. Bob said it was difficult to get people excited about a Christian all-music station, since they had never heard one before. In the end, they raised just enough money to operate for two weeks.
Just like Peter in Mathew 14:28-30, Bob decided to step out on the water, trusting Jesus to keep him afloat.
“We decided we were just going to have to dive in and do it.” Bob said, remembering their determination. “We said, ‘If God is really in this, then somehow, we’ll stay on the air.’”
Like Bob, Felice stood strong. She never lost any sleep over the lack of money or how they would keep the station going. It was a dream come true that they had acquired the signal and were ready to begin broadcasting. This experience made her realize that the impossible is truly possible with God.
“I can honestly say, once we were granted the permit to put this station on the air, I never once worried about how we could keep it going,” Felice said. “It was such a big miracle to even get to that point that it made me truly realize how mighty God is.”
So, Bob and Felice continued to step forward. They hired a few DJs and began broadcasting. WAY-FM was finally on the air. Armed with faith, they had walked out on the water, but lack of money again threatened to capsize the station.
Help Arrives in A Life Boat
Financial help arrived a few weeks later when a woman told Bob she had received an insurance settlement. God had told her to give him money. She handed him a check for a large amount, enough to keep the station afloat for another month.
After that surprise check, listeners dropped in almost weekly to donate to the station. Finally, Bob and Felice held a shar-a-thon and raised enough money to keep the station on the air for another year.
“God really comes through when you need it. He gives you the faith, Bob said. “In the Bible, where Peter is walking on the water … A week later he (Peter) might have thought about it and wondered, ‘how did I do that?’, but it wasn’t him. It was the Lord.”
The first few years at WAY-FM were very lean. Felice volunteered her time and Bob took only sporadic paychecks. Still, God always provided for their family. After a few years, WAY-FM caught on and listenership grew. The on-air share-a-thons they held started bringing in more money and with that, came an opportunity for growth.
God Said, “Grow.”
In 1992, five years later, Bob and Felice stepped out on the water once again with little money and big faith. This time, they launched another all-music radio station in Nashville, Tennessee. It was the same WAY-FM music format, just in a new city.
Word about the new station’s arrival spread quickly. That first day, record labels, music artists, and other people in the industry sent them more than 400 faxes welcoming them to Nashville and pledging their support. Listeners also walked in and handed them checks. WAY-FM was finally landing on solid ground.
The third WAY-FM went on the air in 1998 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Then, came Huntsville, Alabama in 2003 and Denver, Colorado in 2004. The all-music format was a hit and poised to grow as stations flourished and listenership increased.
“I’m grateful that God said, “Grow.” The easy thing would have been to stop at one station,” Felice said. “Who needed more headaches, right? But God was always tossing us new opportunities and challenges. We would look back at what he already accomplished and say, ‘Let’s trust him again.’”
Trust in the Lord With all Your Heart
Trusting in the Lord was a constant practice for Bob and Felice when the great recession hit the United States in 2008. Growth plans for WAY-FM were put on hold. Many WAY-FM listeners suffered the loss of jobs and homes, leaving them without much money on which to live. Naturally, that meant less money to give to nonprofit ministries such as WAY-FM.
During that time of hardship, Felice wasn’t worried about the station. She’s blessed with very strong faith and an outlook she describes as a cup-full-and-running-over. On the other hand, while Bob was still walking on the water in faith, he was peeking at the oncoming waves. Doubt had crept in.
“There were times when I would wake up at night and think, ‘What’s going to happen to the ministry?’ I wasn’t trusting God.” Bob said. “People would have to remind me, ‘Hey, God started this. It’s not yours. You have to let it go, even in these hard times, and trust him.’”
Prayer is the Answer
WAY-FM never sank. Unlike many ministries at that time, WAY-FM didn’t lay off any employees. Plans for expansion, signal upgrades, and business travel did have to be delayed. What couldn’t be delayed, though, was caring for listeners’ needs. The staff had their hearts and hands full with hurting listeners and their families.
To help listeners, Bob and the WAY-FM Board of Directors hired a full-time pastor and created the Prayer Wall on wayfm.com. It helped listeners from the first day and is still a blessing. The pastor reaches out to people in need and directs them to local ministries who can help them further. People fill the Prayer Wall with requests and other listeners are encouraged to pray for them.
“I’ve used it (the Prayer Wall) myself, and three or four days later you’ll have 10 messages that people prayed for you,” said John Scaggs, former WAY-FM Board Member and current President/CEO. “I’ve found it tremendously encouraging when I get a text that says a total stranger just prayed for me.”
Although the recession took its toll, WAY-FM sailed through it nearly unscathed. Scaggs believes it was because the leadership prayed for God’s direction and did what they were called to do – love on people and minister to their needs. Finally, the economy started to get better and people began to heal.
God Again Opens Doors
In 2011, God unlocked another door for WAY-FM to expand its radio ministry to the Northeast, a section of the country that tends to be more unchurched. A Christian businessman offered to give the radio station free rent in The Outreach, his facility in Portland, Oregon. He also paid for the radio station’s studio to be built. At the end of 2018, the Portland station reached about 50,000 listeners. The Spokane, Washington station was launched next in 2012.
Doors kept opening, and in 2015 WAY-FM bought a station in Dallas, Texas. The Thomas family, who had owned the Christian music station since the 1990s, was ready to retire. They didn’t want to hand over the station to someone who might resell it to a secular group. So, they contacted WAY-FM and offered Bob the station.
WAY-FM was now broadcasting in the No. 10 radio market in the country. Listenership more than doubled after WAY-FM hit the Dallas airwaves in 2015. About 250,000 people are now tuning in the station each week and the plan is to increase its reach.
Listenership is also flourishing online. Another result of the recession, WAY-FM staff started looking closer at digital channels as a more cost-effective way to grow the ministry and reach more people. Seeing the benefits, WAY-FM leadership started getting serious about developing digital platforms in 2013.
God Takes the Ministry Digital
According to Bob and Felice, part of discerning what direction God wants you to go is to look at the signs of the times. In 2013, the world was, and still is, moving in a digital direction with online streaming, social media, and on-demand videos.
Part of WAY-FM Media, waynation.com (WAY Nation), the ministry’s digital portal, not only features the two online music stations, but also podcasts, videos, articles, blogs, and more. This website ministers to people who live outside the reach of WAY-FM’s radio stations.
WAY NEW, an online rap and hip-hop station and WAY Loud, an online rock music station are offered under the umbrella of WAY Nation. In Fall of 2018, WAY NEW had 22,000 monthly engagements and 6,500 unique visitors. WAY LOUD reported 22,500 monthly engagements and 7,800 unique visitors.
WAY-FM Media research shows that the ministry is reaching all age groups, including Generation X and Generation Y with WAY Nation. The multilevel media approach using online streaming, video, social media, podcasts, articles, and blogs as well as broadcast radio stations are reaching more people for Christ. At the end of 2018, Way Nation was averaging 100,000 engagements (sessions) per month. As a whole, WAY Media had more than 2 million combined digital engagements in the fall of 2018.
Real Life Issues Come to Light
“The Wally Show” from WAY-FM is a main attraction on WAY Nation. Videos abound with Wally interviewing Christian music artists about a variety of things, from their inspiration for a song to appearing on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
Talking about Lauren Daigle’s appearance on “Ellen” proves that WAY Nation doesn’t shy away from controversy. Wally’s interview with Lauren sparked a heated discussion among listeners, some of whom thought appearing on Ellen was the wrong move.
Digging into real-life subjects is a strength of WAY Nation, which features artist-driven videos, articles, blogs, and podcasts that breach subjects such as the #MeToo movement and how to treat sisters in Christ. Listeners would never hear about these subjects on a broadcast Christian radio station.
“With Christian radio you have to make it so the 6-year-old and the 60-year-old can enjoy it at the same time, John said. “We can’t have those discussions on radio. On the WAY Nation website, we can narrow the conversation and have more intimate, real-life conversations.”
Bible Study Goes Digital
Also on WAY Nation is The World’s Biggest Small Group, a Bible study group for people across the country. Visitors can choose to read about topics that are of interest to them or receive daily messages from Christian music artist, athletes, pastors, and other influencers. The messages are usually part of a series that talk about everyday issues people face.
“The World’s Biggest Small Group is really growing now,” Bob said. “It’s leading people to read the scriptures and be real about what is going on in their lives.”
At the end of 2018, WAY-FM had 21 broadcast radio stations and five HD super translators. Counting all the listeners in all the channels offered by Way-FM Media, the ministry is almost one million listeners strong. If every person that could possibly listen to WAY-FM and WAY Nation’s two stations did, there would be about 25 million listeners nationwide.
The WAY-FM mission is “Using media in a culturally relevant way to influence this generation to love and follow Jesus.” With all the various media, the WAY-FM ministry is right on target!
Change May Come, But God is Still Driving
WAY-FM leadership plans to continue growing and bringing people to know Jesus through every media channel possible. This plan is constant even after WAY-FM Founder and CEO Bob Augsburg handed the reins over to long-time WAY-FM Board Member John Scaggs in 2017.
Bob and Felice planned this transition for a few years before acting on it. They wanted to move back to Nashville to spend more time with their children and grandchildren. Their involvement and influence are still present at WAY-FM, even after semi-retirement. Each week, Bob, now Founder and President Emeritus, still works with WAY-FM leadership.
Bob is assisting WAY FMs technology officer in upgrading radio signals. Quite often, he meets with ministry donors. And he works closely with John to make big decisions and guide the ministry in the best direction.
After knowing and working with John for 25 years, Bob is confident that John is the right person to lead WAY-FM into the future.
Waiting for Confirmation
After a time of waiting and praying, John is also sure God chose him to be CEO. Having served on the WAY-FM Board of Directors for 18 years, John was eager to step into the position of CEO. However, he wanted to make sure that God also wanted him to take the top job at WAY-FM.
So, John prayed, asking God for confirmation. He didn’t want to take the job as CEO for self-promotion, but to help further the ministry. He decided he would ask God for a sign that would confirm he was the right person to be Bob’s successor.
“Lord, if this is you, have three of our seven board members say something to me independent of one another,” John said. “The biggest thing I was concerned about was ambition that doesn’t have confirmation. On the hard days, the best thing is knowing you are doing what God called you to do.”
Soon after John prayed, WAY-FM Board Members approached John one by one, telling him they thought he should be CEO. John had his confirmation from God.
In September 2017, John became CEO and he took the first year to study the ministry and get to know the leadership team at WAY-FM. Although he had been involved as a board member, he didn’t want to make any plans without knowing the ministry’s past and present paths to the fullest.
Formerly leading sales for a Silicon Valley company, John is naturally analytical. He examines slices of the ministry for ways to improve performance. For example, he is evaluating ways to become more efficient at raising money.
That might result in restructuring on-air fundraisers to encourage listeners to give sooner rather than later. Reducing the number and length of on-air fundraisers is also his goal. Another avenue he is looking at is matching large donors with WAY-FM whose goals align with those of the ministry. He hired a development officer in 2018 to head up that effort.
John believes the digital portion of the ministry is extremely important because it’s culturally relevant for the times. He also looks forward to expanding WAY Nation and developing more videos.
WAY Nation expanded its video impact in 2018, hiring a full-time video producer and creating “The Loft” a new video studio in Nashville. WAY Nation video views grew by 25% over 2017, with our total video views in 2018 exceeding 750,000. Two of the most popular videos were Bekah interviewing actor Dennis Quaid for the movie “I can only Imagine” and For King & Country on the Wally Show with their wives talking honestly about their struggles.
“One of the most striking things is to have an encounter with a listeners and ask them, ‘How has God used WAY-FM in your life?’” John said. “It’s not just a radio station. It’s not just about being entertained. It’s about people having a fresh encounter with God.”
Over the years, the WAY-FM staff have developed real relationships with listeners. They truly see God’s hand directing the ministry and transforming people’s lives. Chief Operating Officer Lloyd Parker has witnessed these amazing works since joining the ministry in 2005.
“Through countless emails, voicemails, postings and comments on wayfm.com, we have heard unbelievable stories of listeners lives being changed through the music,” Lloyd said. “From people in all walks of life: parents, prisoners, teenagers, millennials, grandparents … people dedicating their lives to Christ, suicides prevented, addictions healed and much more.”
These incredible testimonies keep the staff at WAY-FM coming to work every day. They know God is intimately involved in the ministry and busy planning its future. That means WAY-FMs future will be very bright indeed.