The inside story of how Randy Malloy brought CD102.5 back on-air as CD92.9

Andy Downing
CD92.9 owner Randy Malloy photographed at the Big Room Bar

On Sunday, Oct. 31, independent radio station CD102.5 announced it would be leaving the terrestrial airwaves immediately, moving exclusively to an online streaming model.

While the news appeared to have emerged out of nowhere, station owner Randy Malloy said he knew the end was imminent from the moment he signed the original station lease 10 years ago.

“I worked as hard as I could for years— we didthe crowdfunding [campaign in 2015] — everything to try and buy that signal. And we just couldn’t,” said Malloy, who over the weekend announced the station’s on-air return as CD92.9 on the FM dial, just three weeks after it ended its terrestrial life as CD102.5. “You know that philosophical discussion you have with your friends sometime in your life? Do you want to know the day of your death or do you [randomly] want to get hit by a bus? From a guy who knew the day of his death, I’ll take the bus every time, because you don’t get to live your life to the fullest [knowing when it will end]. It becomes this sword of Damocles hanging over your head, and it looms bigger and bigger and greater and greater as it gets closer and closer. It becomes all consuming.”

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Despite this knowledge, Malloy said he negotiated with the previous FCC lease holder up until the final days before the station left the airwaves, pivoting to a fully digital existence when they were unable to strike a deal. While Malloy knew that the streaming switch wasn’t without its risks, he said he felt confident that the station could make it work— a confidence that appears to have been shared by the staff, all of whom have remained on board through the recent transitions (no staffers were laid off, and none have quit).

Initially, Malloy planned to embrace the digital freedom that came with operating independent of FCC regulations as a means of bolstering revenue streams, mainly by accepting advertising from CBD purveyors and marijuana dispensaries, both of which are forbidden under current federal regulations governing the airwaves. But within days of making the initial announcement, an opportunity to return to terrestrial radio presented itself when Joe Ternovan, a local engineer and longtime friend, mentioned that Malloy should have a conversation withlongtime broadcaster and radio station owner Mark Litton.

“And literally in a three-week period from the first time I said ‘hello’ to Mark” the station was back on the radio dial, said Malloy, whose head was still spinning from the whirlwind deal, which he described as one that could normally take six months to complete. (For comparison, Malloy said the previous time the station switched signals, from CD101 to CD102.5, it involved more than a year of planning and legal hoop-jumping.)

Even now, with the paperwork signed and the station up and broadcasting at 92.9 FM, Malloy is still hit with constant reminders of just how much work is left to be done. “I’m literally sitting in the parking lot [at Big Room Bar] looking at the two trucks going, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s right. We need to get all that vinyl changed,’” Malloy said of the now-outdated CD102.5 branded wrapping still decorating the company autos. “So if you happen to see a CD102.5 truck rolling around the city over the next couple of weeks, I promise we’ll get to it.”

Similar to changing the wrapping on the trucks, Malloy envisions CD92.9 continuing in the footsteps of CD102.5, moving forward with slight modifications rather than wholesale changes. “An evolution not a revolution,” he said, noting the alternative rock station will maintain its focus on local music, as well as a strong charitable presence, both of which are informed by a mindset instilled in Malloy from childhood to “leave the campsite better than you found it.”

The speed at which this deal unfolded has allowed Malloy little time for celebration. He said he managed to exhale briefly on Sunday afternoon, giving himself an hour to pause and reflect on the success when he stopped by his Brewery District office to get organized for the coming week. “But then it was right back to work today,” he said. 

One primary early focus will be on securing the funding needed for the station to finally purchase its FCC license from the current holder, which would allow CD92.9 to avoid a repeat of the situation that played out over the last month with 102.5 FM. (The current agreement includes the opportunity to purchase the license at a pre-established price.) 

Malloy expressed confidence that a license deal will eventually be made, and he’ll likely chase down funding with the same dogged persistence with which he pursued the 92.9 signal in recent weeks.

“I’m sure I annoyed the guys that now I’m doing business with,” Malloy said, and laughed. “But the truth of it is, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I don’t really know anything else, and I don’t want to do anything else. I’d rather struggle and scrape and work really hard to do something I enjoy, something I feel makes a difference in the community, than be an innocuous cog in the wheel of life, just sort of going about my day.”

Malloy said he was further motivated by a desire to notch not just a personal win but one for the city, injecting a bit of optimism into a bleak year that will undoubtedly leave the cultural landscape altered in many still-unknown ways.

“This [coronavirus] is the weirdest thing because it’s not affecting one business; it’s affecting every business: restaurants, bars, concerts, bands, movies, theaters. I mean, the list goes on and on unless you’re a delivery service or eBay,” Malloy said. “I thought we could be that Cinderella story, something positive for people to rally behind. … Yes, the world sucks right now. There’s no lie in that. But there are good things, and people are doing good stuff, and we will come out of this. … We just didn’t want Columbus to feel fundamentally different when we eventually do.”