In this week’s issue… Inside CBS Radio’s growth plan in Philadelphia – Kevin Metheny, RIP – NYC’s newest TV station hits the air – Remembering a New England TV sports legend – NY morning show changes
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*Barring some very big surprises in the next three months, the CBS Radio-Beasley station swap announced on Thursday is going to go down as one of the biggest radio deals of 2014 anywhere in the country – and almost certainly in Philadelphia, where it will add country WXTU (92.5) and rhythmic top-40 WRDW-FM (96.5) to the CBS cluster that now includes sports WIP-FM (94.1), classic hits WOGL (98.1), all-news KYW (1060) and talk WPHT (1210).
In exchange for the two Philadelphia FMs and its Miami cluster of one AM and two FMs, Beasley will get CBS Radio’s Tampa and Charlotte clusters, plus WIP (610) to add to its existing Philadelphia AM cluster, religious WTMR (800 Camden NJ) and leased-time daytimer WWDB (860).
Combining the Beasley stations to create a four-FM/two-AM cluster means that CBS becomes the first broadcaster to max out its ownership across FM and TV in all three of the region’s top-10 markets: in Philadelphia, the expanded CBS Radio cluster combines with KYW-TV (CBS) and WPSG-TV (CW) to fill out the company’s portfolio, joining existing maxed-out clusters in New York City (three AMs, four FMs, two TVs) and Boston (one AM, four FM, two TV). Does this look like the behavior of a company that’s trying to exit radio, as certain rumor-mongers would have it? From here, it certainly doesn’t: assuming CBS makes good on its stated intent of divesting more of its medium-market signals to focus more heavily on top-25 radio/TV combos, there aren’t many other existing broadcast companies that would have either the financing or space within the market caps to buy the resulting CBS Radio clusters.
Back here in NERW-land, there are two big sets of questions to answer about what happens next:
In Philadelphia, there’s every reason to believe WXTU’s country format stays intact (and plenty of reasons to think iHeartMedia might make a CBS-owned WXTU the latest target for a country challenge, a la Boston’s “Bull” and Pittsburgh’s “Big 104.7,” probably flipping its WISX 106.1 from hot AC to do so.) But it’s what becomes of WRDW-FM’s “Wired” format that’s more interesting – will it pick up CBS’ “AMP” branding, or will 96.5 become the new FM home for the all-news format of KYW, which has been struggling with slipping ratings this year in a market where AM is rapidly becoming a non-factor? KYW is still the biggest revenue producer in the cluster, and CBS was widely reported to have been an unsuccessful bidder twice over for the 106.9 FM signal (now EMF’s K-Love WKVP) to give KYW a slot on FM; 96.5, with a full class B signal from the Roxborough tower farm, would be a better FM location for KYW than 106.9 ever would have been.
On the AM side, it’s likely Beasley will take the big 610 signal in another direction from its present CBS Sports Radio network feed, essentially a filler since CBS relocated WIP to the FM dial a few years back. Beasley has had some success with leased-time AM in big markets; in addition to its two Philadelphia AMs, it also runs WRCA (1330) in Boston. (Which brings up the issue of callsigns: we’d expect CBS to keep exclusive use of the WIP calls on FM, which means the AM signal will get its first new calls since it signed on way back in 1922. Will CBS move the historic WBCN and WHFS calls, now parked on AMs in Charlotte and Tampa, rather than hand them off to Beasley? We’ll know more when the sale documents are filed.) As for the remaining two AMs in the CBS fold, it’s hard to imagine much changing – KYW isn’t going to move from 1060 right away even if it adds an FM sister, and talker WPHT on 1210 is likely more profitable for the company than the CBS sports on 610.
And what of CBS Radio’s other markets in the region? The company long ago shed the smaller clusters in Buffalo and Rochester that it picked up as part of its acquisition of American Radio Systems. New York and Boston are, as noted above, key parts of the company’s current strategy. That leaves Pittsburgh, which at #26 falls just outside the new top-25 focus at CBS – but which fits neatly into a few other pieces of core CBS strategy, what with a strong radio-TV combination, sports play-by-play and a big heritage AM in the form of KDKA. Down at market #52, Hartford is one of the last remnants of ARS still in the CBS Radio family, and that cluster of WTIC (1080) and three FMs has been widely rumored to be for sale for years. There’s clearly interest in general from potential buyers in Hartford, as witnessed by the recent sales of the smaller Marlin and Buckley clusters; it’s clear that even if CBS still wants to sell Hartford, it’s holding out for something more than a fire-sale price.
(Our content partner, RadioInsight, examined the rest of CBS Radio’s markets around the country to find some more likely candidates for additional swaps and divestitures outside of NERW-land.)
NERW Live! We always enjoy meeting up with NERW readers (and future NERW readers), and we have two events coming up this week that you might enjoy. On Wednesday, October 8, it’s the SBE 22 Expo, the big annual broadcast engineering show held at the Turning Stone Casino & Resort in Verona, between Utica and Syracuse. This year’s Expo is also the SBE’s 50th Anniversary national convention, which makes it even more special.
And then on Thursday, October 9, we’re excited to be hosting a book signing and meet-up with Peter King, the CBS Radio News correspondent and upstate radio veteran who’s just co-authored “Ithaca Radio,” the new book from Arcadia Publishing. In addition to several events in Ithaca, Peter will be here in Rochester from 11:30 AM-1:30 PM to sign books and talk radio at Bill Gray’s, 1650 Penfield Road (corner of Panorama Trail). We hope you can join us!
(And if you can’t make it, we have copies of Peter’s book, our new Tower Site Calendar 2015, and lots of other goodies, too, over at the Fybush.com Store!)
Peter and I will also be appearing Tuesday, October 8 on “Connections” on WXXI (1370)/WRUR (88.5) in Rochester and WEOS (89.5) in the Finger Lakes; we’ll post a link to the audio when it’s available.
The Fybush Media store is still open and we are reachable by both phone and email. We already worked from home, so this isn’t new to us.
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