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THE CURSED FREQUENCY: 990 AM

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Richie Whitt explains over on Unfair Park how the local startup Sports Fan 990 is having, er, troubles. After only three days on the air, it’s looking grim for the station. If something about a short-lived station on that frequency sounds familiar, it should. From our December 2002 issue:

THE 72-HOUR RADIO STATION

Even in the turbulent, topsy-turvy radio business, Cafe 990’s three-day run had to set a record.

KATIE PRUETT WAS SO EXCITED about her new job. The program director of KCAF-AM 990 (Cafe 990) was set to put her station on the air in about a week, and, sitting in her 16th-floor corner office overlooking Central Expressway, she was describing how she had screamed and dropped the phone when she’d learned the gig was hers. Pruett had worked on the Dallas airwaves for more than 10 years, on KRLD-AM 1080 and on KYNG-FM 105.3, back when it was Young Country. But a female program director in a top market? Nearly unheard of. And for an innovative format, no less. Talk radio for women. Just one other station in the whole country was doing it, way up in Minnesota.

Now only minor details remained. What to do with the turntable labeled “Ron Chapman Memorial Record Player” (left behind by the former tenants, KVIL-FM 103.7)? How to tell her all-female air staff that this weekend they’d be coming up to paint the studios?

If it wasn’t such a sad story, it would be funny. Cafe 990 did launch on Monday, October 21. But it sank two days later–making it what has to be the shortest-lived format ever in Dallas-Fort Worth radio.

“It was really something,” Pruett says, having just packed up her office. “I keep finding myself saying that. But I honestly have to say, except for the ending, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Basically, Cafe 990 ran out of money before it ever got off the ground. Dave Schum, who owns the Corner Tap bar and is the president of Renaissance Radio, the station’s parent company, says his bridge financing fell through about two weeks before Cafe 990 went on the air. He says his New Jersey-based financing outfit proved less savvy about the radio business than it claimed to be. When the lender learned that Schum’s FCC license was up for renewal in just two years, it decided to back out of the deal. But, as Schum is quick to point out, FCC licenses come up for renewal on a regular basis and are only rarely declined.

“We should have never launched the station,” says Schum, who wrangled for more than five years with the FCC to get his frequency on the air in Dallas in the first place. “It just never should have happened. When you’re lining up the dominoes like this, and one doesn’t fall right, it wrecks everything beyond that.”

When the staff learned, just one day into the station’s existence, that the owner had run out of funding two weeks ago, they threatened to quit unless Cafe 990 was sold to a new owner. Renaissance’s CEO, Scott Savage, put together an offer in 24 hours, but Schum called the price “ridiculously low,” and Renaissance’s 30 full-time employees walked.

Katie Pruett says she had a hard time leaving. On her last day, she learned that her old office was actually Ron Chapman’s old office. “I mean, I was sitting in Ron Chapman’s office,” Pruett says. “There was a lot of crying and a lot of hugging. It was like the last episode of M*A*S*H.” –Tim Rogers

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