I'm in and out of easily 100 radio stations a year. Multiply that by the 36 years Jacobs Media has been in business, and you're hard-pressed to think of anyone who's seen more different stations owned by different companies.
And over the years, I've seen some fantastic buildings – physical plants, impressive studios – especially as radio clusters have become the norm since the mid-90s.
But earlier this year, perhaps the most amazing of them all was christened in Washington, D.C. And appropriately, it was built for arguably the most successful radio station in the U.S.
Year in and year out, Hubbard Radio's WTOP seems to always find its way to the top of the heap, generating more revenue than stations with larger audiences in considerably bigger markets.
WTOP is a special station, now owned by Hubbard Radio, in what has to be the metro that generates more news, day in and day out, than any other market in the U.S.
WTOP could have rested on its laurels, as many other stations might have done in similar circumstances, but their desire for innovation and greatness knows no bounds. They've pulled off some amazing accomplishments over the years, especially for a “standalone station.” (They co-habitate with sister station, WFED – Federal News Radio, but WTOP is not part of a traditional cluster as we know it.
WTOP has embraced technology, moving its content to wherever the D.C. metro audience goes. jācapps worked closely with them to develop a mobile app unlike any other in the radio business that actually allows users to customize the app and the content most relevant to them. Once again, WTOP raised the bar.
Paul Jacobs recently paid the station a visit. And ended up taking a lot of photos on his iPhone. WTOP had been in the same facility on Idaho Avenue in D.C. for nearly three decades. Even removing those four storied letters was a big deal captured on a photo essay on their website.
This amazing brand has just the right person running the place – SVP/GM Joel Oxley has been in his current role for 15 years, working his way through the ranks since joining WTOP in 1992.
Paul caught up with him, and Joel was kind enough to answer our radio nerd questions about the station, its facility, and its impact on the market and on the radio industry.
Paul Jacobs: Describe the old space, and compare it to what the new space will allow your organization to do more efficiently?
Joel Oxley: We were on 4 floors in about 23,000 square feet. We are now on one floor in 30,000 square feet. The collaboration among all the departments has gone up exponentially. People getting to know each other and work together more is by far the biggest plus.
PJ: How long did it take to design and build?
JO: Roughly two years.
PJ: WTOP is the number one radio station in the country (by revenue). What kind of statement does it make for our industry that you’ll be showcased in such an impressive venue?
JO: We have continued to grow by concentrating on delivering news and working with clients directly through our efforts in digital, events, social and Federal while at the same time continuing to broadcast top-notch news products. Diversifying our distribution so we deliver news simultaneously across multiple platforms has been a major key to our success and shows that significant growth is, not only possible but, achievable.
PJ: Do you expect you’ll be giving a lot of tours? What are the highlights you’ll be showing to all visitors to the new space?
JO: We have been doing a lot of tours and expect to a lot more. We take people through the entire space to show how the departments all work together.
PJ: You gave a lot of the offices names that are truly local, like “The West Wing.” Share some of the more noteworthy names, what they represent, and explain why there’s no “Situation Room.”
JO: We do have a “Situation Room!” It’s the conference room in the newsrooms. Led by our DOS, Matt Mills, and our Director of News and Programming for WTOP, Mike McMearty, we have had a lot of fun with the names of the different rooms. We still have the “Glass Enclosed Nerve Center” as our main studio for WTOP. We have call booths named “News”, “Traffic”, “Weather”, “Sports” and “Money”. And the “Think Tank” for the events that Federal News Network does. The “West Wing” is a conference room on the west side of the building. The addresses for people on the floor are divided into four quadrants of SE, SW, NE and NW just like DC. The list goes on and on!
PJ: Beyond traditional broadcasting, what are the other aspects of the new space that will allow you to transform your business (public space, digital, etc.)
JO: We have a very open concept. And all new technology. Digital had a big footprint in the last building and an even bigger one in this new space. Also, we have room to expand.
PJ: What are the facility’s features that make it different from the typical news station’s headquarters?
JO: There is no doubt that you are in a news operation first and foremost. We are in the news business and it shows. Radio is an important part of our distribution, but it is not the business we are in. The space reflects that.
PJ: Has anyone officially “christened” the facility yet by dumping a cup of coffee on the carpet?
JO: In the first week a glass of water was spilled on the board in the main studio! That didn’t take long, but we survived without any issues!
PJ: What else would we be surprised to know about this amazing space?
JO: The comments that we have received from Millennials is that our space is “very 2022” and “looks like it belongs in Silicon Valley.” We are extremely fortunate that Hubbard has invested in us so we can continue to grow and excel in the years to come!
Even looking at these photos, WTOP's new Wisconsin Avenue facility is a remarkable tribute to a truly remarkable radio station.
It's fascinating when it works out that way.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.