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 WayFM 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.
So, Bob and Felice continued to step forward. They hired a few DJs and began broadcasting. WayFM 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 WayFM were very lean. Felice volunteered her time and Bob took only sporadic paychecks. Still, God always provided for their family. After a few years, WayFM 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 WayFM 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. WayFM was finally landing on solid ground.
The third WayFM 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 WayFM were put on hold. Many WayFM 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 WayFM.
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
WayFM never sank. Unlike many ministries at that time, WayFM 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 WayFM 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.
God Again Opens Doors
In 2011, God unlocked another door for WayFM 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 WayFM 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 WayFM and offered Bob the station.
WayFM 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, WayFM staff started looking closer at digital channels as a more cost-effective way to grow the ministry and reach more people. Seeing the benefits, WayFM 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 WayFM 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 WayFM’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.
WayFM 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 WayFM 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, WayFM had 21 broadcast radio stations and five HD super translators. Counting all the listeners in all the channels offered by WayFM 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 WayFM mission is “Using media in a culturally relevant way to influence this generation to love and follow Jesus.” With all the various media, the WayFM ministry is right on target!