Radio Disney & Radio Aahs: Battle for the Airwaves


Christopher Dahl was no stranger to the radio
industry. The Harvard Business School graduate got his start in 1986 when he created a broadcast
group made up of nineteen radio stations in the midwest and Hawaii called Community Airwaves.
After a few years learning the ins and outs of the world of radio, Dahl had an idea. See,
there was no shortage of specialty radio. Were you into sports? Country music? Talk?
Oldies? Whatever your cup of tea was, there was likely a radio station out there to tune
into. Yet up until that point children’s programming for radio was more or less an
afterthought. Some stations across the country offered small blocks of children’s entertainment,
but that was about it. Dahl saw a gap in the market. So in 1990 Dahl rolled the dice and
created the Children’s Broadcasting Corporation, and with it he set out to prove that a dedicated
children’s radio network was a viable business idea. He would be proven right, and yet it
would cost him everything. Host: There’s one radio station in America
where an oldie might be defined as anything recorded before 1990, and that is because
the oldest member of the management team is only 14 years old. Watch this… In 1992 the Children’s Broadcasting Corp,
or CBC, formally launched Radio Aahs, the first national network that was exclusively
dedicated to radio programming for children under the age of 12. Their flagship station,
WWTC-AM in Minneapolis featured everything from music, to news, to live shows. The airwaves
were populated with a blend of children’s music as well as family-friendly pop music.
A listener might hear a duet by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy one minute, only for it
to be followed by Boyz II Men’s “Thank You” the next. Short news segments aired
seven times each weekday and four times on weekends and aimed to present real current
events in a way that children could understand. DJs, sometimes children themselves, would
run trivia contests focused on education rather than pop culture throughout the day for small
prizes. When Radio Aahs was introduced to the world
it wasn’t a national phenomenon. It didn’t blow everybody away. However from a content
perspective it was considered fairly successful. Kids and their parents were tuning in and
it looked like there was a future for CBC to grow. Host: What does Radio Aahs mean? A A H S right? DJ: Well I kind of thought- I never really
heard, but I always thought maybe it meant like a sigh like “finally”, like “finally
we have kids radio” Host: Aaaah DJ: Right However financially things were a different
story. The CBC went public that very same year, but there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding
the business model of the network. Radio, as an industry, was mostly supported by advertising
revenue. The common belief at the time was that targeting advertising at kids wasn’t
really effective, because as it turns out kids under 12 usually don’t have a lot of
money to spend. It was thought that targeting the parents of those children was the better
route to go. Beyond that, the money that was spent on children’s advertising was focused
on television, which was the much more popular medium. Arbitron, the company at the time
that was used for collecting demographic data on listeners for advertising didn’t even
bother collecting data for listeners under 12. They were deemed unimportant, and so there
was literally no information for the entire market that Radio Aahs was trying to monetize,
and that made selling ad space on their network especially difficult. To add to those complications,
CBC understood that they had a responsibility to maintain an ethical ad policy, considering
their primary listeners were impressionable kids. That meant capping ads at ten minutes
every hour, turning down ads that were deemed too violent or mature, and limiting ads such
as fast food or soda commercials. It created a persistent question as to whether the market
was worth going after at all. Yet, Radio Aahs kept growing. Like many new
companies, they had no expectations of being profitable right away. They believed that
by committing years towards polishing and expanding their programming, the advertisers
would eventually follow and in the long term children’s radio would prove to be a viable
market. CBC would eventually introduce a live musical event called Kidstock, which would
take place four times a year and attract crowds of up to 10,000. They would also introduce
a publication called Radio Aahs Magazine, which ran about 80 pages and featured interviews,
music and movie reviews, and a CD or cassette with that month’s top songs from the station.
In 1994 Radio Aahs introduced two new weekly live shows that seemed like the perfect partnership,
considering their target audience. Every Saturday listeners would get to tune into Disneyland
Live, and every Sunday listeners would get to hear radio personality Jammin’ Jo Jo
report live from Walt Disney World. By 1995, Radio Aahs had grown, and was broadcasting
to enough affiliate stations across the country to reach 30% of America. Yet they were still
operating in the red, but there was hope that 1996 would be their first profitable year,
and it would be thanks to a promising new partnership. That December CBC began negotiating a partnership
with ABC Radio. At that point ABC Radio’s network consisted of over 1,000 radio stations,
and their advertising sales division accounted for nearly 40% of all radio ad spend in the
country. This was exactly the kind of partner that the CBC was looking for. They’d have
the resources to help Radio Aahs grow, and they’d have the industry experience to make
it profitable. Under the partnership, CBC would pay ABC Radio $25,000 dollars a month and in return ABC Radio would
assist with research, marketing, and promotional support. Additionally, they’d serve as Radio
Aahs’ national ad sales representative, which would be a key factor in turning things
around financially. And to top it all off, ABC Radio was in the process of being acquired,
through their parent company ABC, by The Walt Disney Company. The Children’s Broadcasting
Corporation was about to start working with an industry titan, and that titan was about
to be purchased by another kid-friendly company. It was perfect. As planned, the two organizations worked together
to do more market research into ways to improve Radio Aahs. That information, under the normal
terms of the agreement, was considered confidential. More importantly, that information was contractually
only supposed to be used for the purposes of the agreement, in other words helping Radio
Aahs. It made sense too. Radio Aahs was paying ABC Radio a lot of money for that kind of
exclusivity. It would throw off the value of the deal completely if ABC Radio could
just turn around and sell that data to a competitor. As it turned out, however, selling the data
to a competitor would be the least of their worries. On July 25th, ABC Radio reached out
to CBC and informed them that they were exercising their right to terminate their partnership.
ABC Radio was their hopeful meal ticket to profitability, so investors were naturally
worried. The announcement of the end of the deal hit CBC hard, knocking their stock price
down from $7 a share to nearly $5. Just a few weeks later ABC Radio and Disney announced
that starting that fall, they’d be testing a new project in four markets across the country.
It was a 24-hour radio network dedicated to children’s programming called Radio Disney. Radio Disney, we’re all ears! [Radio Disney song] Narrator: Hey Minneapolis-St. Paul! Radio
Disneys on the air! The cool new station on AM 1440. Radio Disney, we’re all ears. Radio Disney! Radio Disney first hit the airwaves on November
18th, 1996. Their primary studio was located in Dallas, Texas but they were broadcasting
to test markets in Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Minneapolis, which was also
the home city of Radio Aahs. The airwaves were populated with a blend of children’s
music as well as family-friendly pop music. A listener might hear A Whole New World one
minute, only for it to be followed by the Macarena the next. Short news segments such
as ABC News for Kids and ESPN Sports for Kids aimed to present real current events in a
way that children could understand. At night, the station would switch over into what they
described as an “audio night light”, and would play lullabies and other soft sounds
to help kids who might have trouble sleeping. The Children’s Broadcasting Corporation,
understandably unhappy, sued Disney. The initial lawsuit, filed at the US District
Court in Minneapolis, alleged that ABC Radio, serving as CBC’s national ad rep and partner,
used confidential information gained during their partnership to develop Radio Disney
in an effort to take over the children’s radio market. Members of CBC claimed that
ABC and Disney executives who visited and partook in meetings after the acquisition,
did so solely to gather as much information as they could before backing out of the partnership
to work on Radio Disney. While the details weren’t public at the time, which is common
for a lawsuit, it was estimated that CBC was seeking upwards of $25 million in compensation.
They were also seeking an injunction that would bar Disney from launching Radio Disney,
but were unsuccessful. Overnight, Radio Aahs was in trouble. Not
only had the partner that was supposed to finally bring them financial stability abandoned
them, but they started their own competing children’s radio station. To top it all
off, that partner had just been purchased by The Walt Disney Company, an absolute unstoppable
powerhouse when it came to children’s entertainment. It was terrible. Radio Aahs was backed into a corner. Sure,
they sued, but lawsuits could take years and cost millions. In the meantime, there was
nothing else they could do but try to compete with Disney. Radio Aahs, quickly pulled their
two Disney park-based shows off the air, and struck up a deal with Universal Studios that
would allow them to air the same program from Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal
Studios Orlando. CBC still struggled financially, but with Radio Disney just competing in four
test markets, they were able to continue running Radio Aahs into 1997. By that May, Disney announced that they were
pleased with the response of their Radio Disney test, and that they would be moving forward
with a national network. ABC Radio Networks accounted for over 2,800 radio stations nation-wide
by that point. And in some cases, local radio companies who owned ABC affiliates also owned
Radio Aahs affiliates. If push came to shove, who would they support? The relatively new
startup that hadn’t found a financial footing yet? Or the industry titan that now had the
backing of Disney? Furthermore, if you were a potential advertiser looking to spend money
on children’s content, where would you go? Radio Aahs, or the brand tied to Mickey Mouse? In June of 1997 CBC announced that they were
planning to sell their thirteen owned and operated radio stations. Radio Aahs would
still be produced and broadcast out to their 20 remaining affiliate stations, but they
could no longer shoulder the financial burden of running their own. As expected, CBC blamed
Disney’s entry into the market for the situation. When Radio Disney was preparing to launch
a station in LA, they promoted the event by sending 10,000 Mickey Mouse shaped pencils,
each with Radio Disney branding, to 18 different elementary schools in the area. They also
went on to sponsor educational events across the country. Radio Disney was able to sway
affiliates and win over new listeners while Radio Aahs struggled to find a buyer for their
stations that they were selling just to stay afloat. It was a battle they felt they had
to fight, but it was ultimately one they simply couldn’t win. In November of that year, CBC threw in the
towel and announced that they would be ending Radio Aahs. The program would formally end
on January 30th, 1998. Though their story as a company doesn’t end there. They planned
to use the money from the station sales to pay off their debts before acquiring a company
called Harmony Holdings Inc, which was a TV commercial production company that they already
owned 42% of. In a somewhat poetic twist, they were exiting the world of radio to move
into the world of producing advertising, the one thing they constantly struggled to get. In the Fall of 1998, after Radio Aahs had
been defunct for nine months, Children’s Broadcasting Corporation finally got their
day in court with Disney. In actuality, it was about 4.5 weeks in court, and after over
four days of juror deliberation, the jury found that ABC Radio failed to perform under
the strategic alliance they joined into, and improperly used confidential information to
develop and launch Radio Disney. As it turned out, the estimated $25 million that CBC was
rumored to be demanding was closer to $177 million, but the jury ultimately just awarded
them $20 million. That following January, a federal court judge
in St Paul overturned the ruling, claiming that there ultimately wasn’t enough evidence
to prove that ABC Radio damaged CBC, and pointed out that CBC was already in financial trouble
before the partnership had even begun. CBC now partially counting on that payout to help
move forward as a company, committed to appealing the ruling. By that spring, after over a year
of failed attempts, CBC managed to sell their 13 owned and operated radio stations. As planned,
they paid off their debts and used the remainder of the 66+ million dollars to buy out Harmony
Holdings Inc. In an effort to kick off the year 2000 with a fresh outlook, they renamed
the merged company from the Children’s Broadcasting Corporation to Intelefilm, reflecting their
shift away from Children’s Radio and into commercial production. Radio Disney, on the other hand, was flourishing.
The national network had grown to 50 affiliate stations across the county, more than Radio
Aahs ever had. More importantly, their ratings those previous few years were boosted by the
resurgence in the popularity of teen pop music. Groups like the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync,
as well as singers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera meant that kids across
the country were tuning into the station. And with many of those pop sensations getting
their start at Disney with the Mickey Mouse Club, it made it even easier for Disney to
work with them, hosting concerts at Disney’s theme parks, and arranging contests for listeners. In April of 2001 the 8th Circuit Court of
Appeals finally looked at Intelefilm’s lawsuit against Disney, and decided to set aside
the initial verdict. They decided to set a new trial that would focus solely on the monetary
damages of the claims. Over a year later, the court once again sided with Intelefilm,
but this time lowered the amount awarded to them from $20 million down to $9.5 million.
Disney, without any hesitation, filed motions to have that $9.5 million further reduced,
arguing that they didn’t cause that much damage to the company. Just as quickly as
Intelefilm had won for a second time, they found themselves having to fight for their
winnings. That fight ended up costing them, and in June
of 2002 Intelefilm began to cut their workforce to help finance their continued lawsuit against
Disney. SEC filings revealed that the company only had 11 employees at this point, so it
was assumed by the public that the significant cut in workforce meant that Intelefilm was
reduced to nothing more than a shell company that was left around to finish the lawsuit.
Luckily for Intelefilm, that following fall would bring closure. They not only won the
money they were awarded in the trial, but were also awarded an additional $2.5 million
in prejudgement interest. Yet that same fall would bring more closure, as that would be
when they would finally file for bankruptcy. Over the following two years they would use
their winnings to pay off debts and liquidate, paying shareholders 32 cents per share. After
an eight year long battle, Intelefilm had finally won, and yet there was nothing left. Today, Radio Disney is still around and has
moved on from the AM airwaves to become a multi-platform radio network. The station
reaches over three million listeners every month through their app, website, and satellite
radio. They’ve even started a second station dedicated to country music called Radio Disney
Country. Entering their 24th year, Radio Disney has proven that there was indeed a market
for dedicated children’s programming. It was a point that the Children’s Broadcasting
Corporation set out to prove before being pulled into battle. Ultimately Radio Aahs
won that battle against Disney, but it was a Pyrrhic victory that cost them the war.
Then again, many might argue that it was a war they never stood a chance of winning to
begin with. And really, that’s the brutal nature of the world of business. Sometimes
fights aren’t fair and sometimes foes play dirty. Radio Disney’s legacy was built upon
such a battle, and like many battles before it, it might find itself lost to history.

Comments 56

  • LOVE UR VIDEOS MAN KEEP DOING IT DISNEY IS MY LIFE SO GOOD JOB

  • Great job rob !!!!

  • The History of Radio Disney 😀

  • Man you must put so much work into finding B-Roll. Thanks for all the hard work! Keep it up!

  • Petition for Rob to bring back Minecraft Disney.

  • That was great. Thank you for the videos

  • Wow this is such an interesting story!! I would have never known.
    Well researched and well presented as always!

  • This video is great, who knew such a different subject had soo much details and history. You guys always make good videos!

  • I literally forgot that I was watching a youtube video, I thought I was watching some kind of documentary. I really like how you can make anything sound interesting! 😀

  • My sister won a contest in the early 2000s and became a kid casters at radio Disney for Tampa, st.pete Clearwater! I was between the ages of 8 to 11 when she did it! We got to do so much free stuff including free tickets to Disney and staying the night at the Florida Aquarium. She was on the radio basically daily. The guy who ran the Tampa station Pat loved me and would always have me try out to be a kid caster but being young and dyslexic I never did good. He still gave me the chance any time I had enough confidence to try and audition. While my sister would host events I'd help the kids dance or hand out prizes! Once we got to go to the Christmas day parade at Disney world ( actually filmed and done in November) and we were on TV in the background with Regis and Kelly! If we stayed at a hotels connected to the monorail they would automatically give us concierge service for free! We got so much free stuff it was awesome!!

  • "Arbitor didn't bother collecting data on those under 12, as they considered them unimportant"

    HM, I almost wonder who that was for…

  • Pittsburgh got rid of it in 2015

  • 12:28 I don't know if they ever re-made those pencils in another context, but I've had one of those sitting unused in my drawer for about 20 years. Same highly impractical shape (hence why it was unused). I lived just far enough from LA that I didn't get Radio Disney signal, so if it was the Radio Disney pencil, I probably would have gotten it on a trip to visit relatives who lived in LA.

  • I remember Radio Aahs, still have some cds in the basement collection. I saved the magazines for years! There was things song called, “brocolli and chocolate” and it still plays in my head from time to time. I remember how sad i was when Radio Aahs went away and i rejected radio disney

  • Hey Rob, Twin Cities resident here. I just wanna say this is one of my favorite episodes you’ve done and for most of it you activated the “OH YEAH I FORGOT ABOUT THAT!” Reflex. I was a kid during the radio AAHS years so it was fascinating to see as an adult what happened to it. Thank you!!!

  • I really like the new direction you're taking your content in making it feel more like a series of documentaries.

  • I know where the original Twin Cities Radio AAHS broadcasting facility was. It's still around today, but obviously not used for that.

    I remember being a kid in 96 and listening constantly to AAHS. I even still have a tape I recorded from one of their broadcasts. I'd actually listen to it over and over throughout the rest of the decade as I always had a disdain toward Radio Disney. I had a feeling this was a reason why, but I guess as little kid I was excited to go into that broadcasting building to see the recording studio, and I never could after Radio Disney hit the airwaves. I had very bizarre priorities as a kid!

  • I live in Minneapolis, and growing up, I lived five minutes away from the studios of Radio Aahs, and I was a fan! I listened 24 7! Admittedly I also liked Radio Disney when they started up, but it spurred my love of radio, and I do a podcast for the local community station here!

  • It's amazing how a well-made documentary can make any subject interesting. I heard of Radio Disney once or twice, so I didn't know what to expect when I clicked, but I was hooked from beginning to end.

  • thank you for the content

  • I loved Radio Disney as a kid (AM 540 was the station where I grew up). Sad to see that it came about in such an ugly way, but this was a really fascinating video! Thanks Rob!

  • I remember listening to Radio Disney on a trip late at night and they played a song called All The Pretty Little Horses, which I now know is a folk song. What interesting memories this brought up!

  • "Did you win your lawsuit against Disney?"

    "Yes"

    "At what cost?"

    "Everything"

  • I'm studying Radio Broadcasting in college and this is a perfect video to share with my classmates.

  • 1:25 I have that shirt, or rather, “had” I don’t know where it is now. They gave it away along with other swag at a local town festival. I had never really listened to AM radio before. I was a kid, so naturally, the only station I got to listen to was my parents, riding in their car, even though, during this time, I got to ride up front by the controls. I remember listening to this frequency at home and not being all that impressed.

    Edit – OMG! I still have the shirt! RADIO AAHS AM 1360 size 14-16 I was among their oldest part of their demographic

  • Man I remember that my school got me hooked on radio Disney when I was younger?

  • I didn’t know Radio Disney was located in Dallas Texas. That’s where I’m from. I just remember one day during the 25th anniversary of WDW, Radio Disney would be broadcasted at the Disney resort hotels on one of the television channels, and AM 1360 went from being Radio AHHS to Radio Disney. I wonder how that worked. Maybe Disney had a different frequency earlier on that I did not know about, and eventually bought that frequency to gain listeners. Or maybe since 1360 was a Radio AHHS affiliate, maybe they sold out to Disney first. Interesting. I just know that it was pretty much the same station, just different branding.

  • I really like the music in this one. I feel it matches the theme of the video well.

  • Rob please bring back Minecraft Disney it was the best thing ever!!

  • Radio disney is still around? What, where. It doesnt exist here in vegas anymore. I miss it

  • Sometime Disney’s so dirty

  • Thank you for doing this video I developed a skin disease when I was 10 years old my brother was driving in the NHRA Jr drag league up at Indianapolis raceway park at the end of July of 1995 for the second annual Junior Nationals there was a kids zone for everybody and there was a representative from 830 am in the station of radio ahhs they hand me a pamphlet and I turned on the station and my parents car in for the whole weekend I sat in the car listening to radio ahhs made me forget that I have a skin and I had a very screwed-up home life thanks to my adulterous dad I live around Aurora in Lawrenceburg Indiana I found on am 1360 radio ahhs a station out of Cincinnati I found that in September 95 I listen to the station I loved it avenue a the big show all these different shows then all of a sudden station disappeared from Cincinnati radio at the end of 96 I got to listen to it when my brother raced at the race track again in 97 by the time we went up there 98 it was gone I used to have a lot of recordings of radio ahhs but thanks to the stupidity of my father all my recordings were destroyed it shattered me I've never really never got over losing those recordings from the station that I taped as a kid I would love to listen to him again but thanks to my dad who was a control freak and a hoarder he would not let me get to them and they were destroyed from being wet I think next to my mom's death from two years ago losing radio cassette of radio ahhs all the recordings shattered me if that station made me feel like a kid I was very a very dysfunctional situation that was the only time I ever felt like a normal child thanks a lot Disney you took something and you ruined it but why am I shocked you stole kimba it made them simba

  • I owe Radio Disney so much for everything in my older childhood/teen years. Greg Raposo, Dream Street, Stevie Brock, Play, Jump5, Aaron Carter, and all of that. They gave us so many concerts, tours, contests, etc. Man those were the days.

  • Radio Disney's still around today? I thought it went off the air a long time ago?

  • Disney in the 1990s was a really scummy company…

  • Hey rob! Im not sure if you have done this already or not but i would love to hear about disney and its video game industry! i remember every time a new movie would come out there would be a new video game that went along with it and like one that actually had a plot, not just following a template already made and adding disney IP to it. I would love to hear what happened to it! Thanks and keep up the great work! I love your content!

  • “…a battle that may have been lost to history.” Thank you for your researching and making sure it wasn’t lost on us. Another great video of Disney history. Keep them coming! ???

  • Not surprised Radio Disney was built off the tattered ashes of someone they burned.

  • I remember listening to Radio Aahs when one of my parents drove me to school. There are many songs I still remember listening to. I also remember being subscribed to the magazine and seeing the recording station at MGM Studios.

  • Hey Rob, I gotta say thank you for this.
    Being from Minnesota, I grew up with Radio AAHS listening to the station and the cassettes we had on road trips.
    I knew Radio Disney had a major hand in the shutdown of the station, but didn't know how much.
    I do have some pretty fond memories of listening to the radio with the family, and wanted to share one that happened many times.

    Whenever "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile" from Annie was on, it would always seem to lead to the weather right after, so my sisters and I would belt out the last little bit:
    "UH, you're never fully dressed- UH, you're never fully dressed without a-" "RADIO AAHS WEEEAATTTHHHERRR!!"

  • Huh, what a great presentation. I never thought about the history of radio Disney.

  • So Radio Aahs had the idea first, but Disney took their idea and left them in the dust.

  • Really digging the soundtrack you’ve selected for the last several videos, Rob. And this one feels like another major leap forward. Kudos.

  • Another brilliant video, Rob. You are hitting it our of the park lately.

  • I never knew Radio Disney was in Dallas. My kids and I did Spring Break every year in Orlando, and listened to Radio Disney in Orlando. We lived in Dallas… and did not know it even broadcast there.

  • I never knew Radio Disney was in Dallas. My kids and I did Spring Break every year in Orlando, and listened to Radio Disney in Orlando. We lived in Dallas… and did not know it even broadcast there.

  • This is one of the court cases where you cant really get a definitive answer because you cant know what people are thinking.

  • Thanks for the history lesson. I had no idea this even happened!!

  • A vid about radio, I guess video didn’t kill the radio star

  • Radio Disney, the children’s radio. My child

  • I just realized I wasn't subscribed to you and I have no idea how that happened. Thanks for another excellent video!

  • This is the best Rob Plays video yet. Great job. I didn't know the Radio Disney story was so epic. Thanks!

  • You should do something about the Summer Jam Concert series. I remember watching those on the Disney Channel.

  • I remember BOTH stations, in the 1990s..Radio Aaws, indeed, WAS the original of that.

  • The dark side of Disney.
    The ears are there to cover the HORNS.

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