Christian Music Broadcasters’ Pioneers: Bob Augsburg

Welcome to a series of stories about the pioneers of Contemporary Christian Music Radio. You can read some the previous stories here. Some of these pioneers started radio stations with just a few dollars to their name. Many had very little radio experience. But each had vision, a calling, and a deep passion for using Contemporary Christian Music and radio to impact their community. There was a time they were considered the rebels in the stodgy Christian industry of the time. Today, they are considered the pioneers.

Bob Augsburg – Visionary, Humility, Big Faith, Collaborator

Bob Augsburg often says, “I’m just a kid who grew up on a dairy farm.” Just like WayFM, he had humble beginnings. His family’s dairy farm was located in Naperville, Illinois,  He has fond memories of the farm. Around the age 12, his dad decided that he wanted to leave frigid Illinois weather and the tough work of being a dairy farmer and the family moved to Cape Coral Florida near Fort Myers. That was in 1964. 

After high school, Bob didn’t attend college and instead got married at very young age to his sweetheart, Felice. He found work as a mainstream radio DJ, eventually working in Charlotte and later Nashville. While in Nashville he also played drums for a trio. The band had big aspirations, but God had different plans.  

When Bob and Felice accepted Christ in 1973, that changed everything!

In 1974, Bob went to work for a Christian radio station for the first time. WWGM was owned by Crawford Broadcasting. In 1979, the couple felt called to return to Fort Myers to join WSOR radio and be closer to their parents. WSOR was a station for adults 35+, and Bob enjoyed his job, but he and Felice had a burden to see a younger audience reached. Somehow, he was able to convince the church (station) Board to allow him to block out a Saturday evening segment that would focus on youth and young adults. Within a short time, this weekend radio show was really connecting with local area youth pastors.  Soon, Christian Rock concerts started coming Southwest Florida. In 1983, while attending 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 Contemporary Christian music was deeply touching youth. On their drive home from that concert, she said to Bob, ‘Why can’t we start a station that would play this music 24/7?”   God planted the seed in both of their hearts.

They had no idea how to start a radio station and they had no money. They were already struggling week to week, just trying to support their young family and keep their children in Christian school. “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 says. “We had nothing but God to lean on.” After a few years of prayer and discussing the idea with other local parents and businesspeople, Bob and Felice formed a non-profit Florida Corporation called Southwest Florida Community Radio, Inc. On December 24, 1986, an FCC permit was granted. The permit allowed for the construction of a non-commercial FM radio station to serve the area with 50,000 watts. It would be one of America’s first Top 40 Christian radio stations. With little funds but great excitement and passion, Bob and the Board began raising funds and assisting with all the various projects to begin broadcasting as soon as possible. The call letters WAYJ were established with the brand name of WayFM which was derived from the scripture text in John Chapter 14 verse 6. Jesus said, “I am the “WAY”, truth and the life”. 

During those early years, Bob immediately became involved in the CCM radio industry. He valued collaboration with others and helping others. For many years, he helped stations with their Sharathon (fundraiser). He also launched Programming Plus (a monthly CD service that featured  customized listener support spots) and participated in National Christian Radio Seminar Steering Committee. (NCRS was the forerunner to CMB.)

 

NCRS Steering Committee 1986

On October 9, 1987, WayFM Ft Myers signed on the air. Bob was the initial Station Manager and Morning Drive host. There were 4  other staff members, (Jim Channel from Chicago who was “Captain Whamo” at WCFL in Chicago before he got saved and made the move to Christian Radio,  Steve Dees, Skipper T and Mike Shelly.)

WayFM staff at sign-on -1987

Each of the team possessed a good deal of previous experience in both secular and Christian radio and some had moved across the country to join WayFM.  (They did this knowing that the station only had 2 weeks of reserve funds to operate on!)  But all were committed to the mission and to excellence in programming knowing that the younger audience would never be attracted to a station that sounded inferior to the mainstream Pop station in town.

Oct 9, 1987- Local Pastors prayer dedication for WAYJ- WayFM/ Ft Myers

There are many stories of financial miracles from the early days of WAYJ. In the first weeks on the air, a sizable check came in the mail from woman who had received an insurance settlement. God had told her to give WayFM the money. It kept the station afloat for another month. After that surprise check, listeners dropped in almost weekly to donate to the station. Eventually, Bob and Felice held a station share-a-thon and raised enough money 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.”

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. 

After just a few months, Bob remembers an evening of Bible study at home where he was reading the parable of the talents where Jesus was commending those who used their talent to increase and multiply but rebuking the one who buried  his one talent for fear of losing it. Bob was convinced that God was speaking to him through this text. The conviction was clear in Bob’s mind that WayFM was somehow supposed to multiply and become more than one outreach in Fort Myers. It was difficult to grasp at the time given that they were barely able to meet their weekly expenses at the Fort Myers station. Nevertheless, Bob shared the news with Felice and the Board and all were in favor of trusting God.

In early 1988 with this new vision to explore the possibility of starting additional stations, Bob began to look closely at Nashville, Tennessee. Bob and Felice had lived in Nashville and knew there was a need for station like WayFM. Simultaneously there were many requests from the East Coast of Florida to expand to that region. By mid-1989, they had filed an application for new stations to serve both Nashville and West Palm Beach, Florida. The Nashville FCC permit was received in 1991 and Bob began to travel back and forth from Fort Myers to Nashville to begin the process of locating studio space, raising advance funds, and speaking to churches about the plans for the upcoming station. WayFM Nashville signed on the air on March 11, 1992. Word about the new station’s arrival spread quickly. On the 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.  

In early 1993 a friend of Bob’s, Dusty Rhodes, of Pittsburgh, contacted Bob to see if there were any opportunities for Management. The future station planned for West Palm Beach seemed a perfect fit for Rhodes. WayFM/ West Palm Beach Florida signed on the air in November of 1993 with Dusty Rhodes as their first Station Manager. It became an instant success and was self-supporting within just two months.

Dusty Rhodes/ WayFM West Palm Beach Manager, Bob, and Board Member, Eric Rhoads

In those early years, each of the WayFM stations began to learn how to sponsor and organize large Christian music concerts and even day long music festivals. West Palm Beach quickly established themselves as a major concert sponsor utilizing outdoor venues and seeing concert attendance grow from an average of 2,000 to 8,000 in just a few years. In 2002, Nashville set an all-time attendance record of 16,000+ celebrating their 10th anniversary featuring Third Day.

In 1996, WayFM innovated again. The Christian Hit Radio Satellite Network. (CHRSN) was launched. The Network was designed to help other stations who desired to reach the youth and young adults of their respective communities but lacked the manpower or resources to operate a station in their own. The Nashville WayFM station became the “flagship” station of CHRSN where the uplink remains to this day. Several CCM stations that are thriving today were able to get started by using CHRSN to supplement their local programming. 

Over the years, more WayFM station were added.  Each with incredible stories of how God provided the opportunity and the funds.  Huntsville, Alabama in 2003 and Denver, Denver, Colorado in 2004. Etc. 

“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.’”

WayFM COO Lloyd Parker, Bob, Longtime Board Member, Joe Battaglia, and Consultant John Frost in 2008

In 2015 WayFM was able to purchase 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 at a great deal. Listenership of the station more than doubled after the WayFM format hit the Dallas airwaves in 2015.

WayFM Dallas sign on; L-R; Bob, Engineer Turbo, PD Bryan Johns, and Network Assistant PD, Steve Shore

WayFM leadership also started getting serious about developing digital platforms in 2013. According to Bob, “part of discerning what direction God wants you to go is to look at the signs of the times.” Soon, a digital team was hired. The website, waynation.com was eventually created and designed to reach people who live outside the reach of WayFM radio stations.  Today, waynation.com features online music streams and podcasts, videos, articles, blogs, and more.

WayFM Leadership Summit 2016 (Front Row-L-R Lloyd Parker, Faron Dice, BJ O’Neal, Matt Hahn, Ken Inlow, Bob, Judy Bailey, Tom Sullivan, Zach Boehm, Adrian Olsen. Back row L-R Jim Marshall, Paul Anthony, Tim Dukes, Zach Cochran, Thom Ewing)

Bob felt led to step down in 2017 after exactly 30 years of leading Way-FM. WAY-FM grown to 21 broadcast radio stations and multiple translators reaching over one million weekly radio listeners, and a growing digital reach over 100,000 unique digital fans.

Bob and Felice Augsburg 2017

Today, the couple has moved back to Nashville to be near their children and grandchildren. Bob still consults with the Way Media (Hope Media Group) leadership team as needed and has found a second life after radio…landscape photography – capturing beautiful scenes from the Rocky Mountains and Blue ridge mountains.

Who is a CCM Radio Pioneer that should be featured in a future article? Reach out to me at fdice@onechild.org.

Faron Dice has been in Christian Music Radio for almost 40 years. He is the former Chief Content Officer for WayFM, and currently loves working with radio stations and artists as National Director of Radio and Artist Engagement for OneChild.

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