By SCOTT FYBUSH
Cumulus Media is exiting the FM dial in New York City and slimming down in several other markets with a pair of deals announced Wednesday afternoon.
EMF Broadcasting will pay $103.5 million for six Cumulus FM signals, including WPLJ (95.5 New York), WXTL (105.9 Syracuse), WRQX (107.3 Washington), as well as signals in Savannah (WZAT), Atlanta (WYAY), San Jose (KFFG).
Cumulus will swap WNSH (94.7 Newark NJ) in the New York market and its Springfield, Mass. cluster, WMAS (94.7 Enfield CT) and WHLL (1450 Springfield), to Entercom in exchange for that company’s Indianapolis cluster, WNTR (107.9), WZPL (99.5) and WXNT (1430).
*Here’s our initial analysis of what this deal means:
In NEW YORK, the closing of the deal – whenever it happens – will mark the end of the line for WPLJ, the callsign ABC Radio put on the former WABC-FM 48 years ago tomorrow. Over the years, WPLJ has swung back and forth from rock to top-40 to hot AC, where it’s been a fairly stable presence for the last decade or so. Once 95.5 goes to EMF, it will surely pick up the K-Love contemporary Christian format that now rimshots the market from the north on WKLV-FM (96.7 New Rochelle); we’d expect the WKLV-FM callsign to go to 95.5 and for 96.7 to become Air 1, EMF’s second network.
For Entercom, WNSH will be the fifth FM in what’s already the market’s biggest cluster, joining “Alt” WNYL (92.3), classic hits WCBS-FM (101.1), sports WFAN-FM (101.9) and hot AC WNEW (102.7). We’d expect WNEW and, to a lesser extent, WCBS-FM to benefit from WPLJ’s exit from the market – but what becomes of 94.7? Will Entercom keep WNSH’s unique country format (albeit, likely, without the “Nash FM” branding that’s proprietary to Cumulus?) Or will this finally be the push to bring one of Entercom’s all-news AMs, WCBS (880) or WINS (1010), to the FM dial?
And for Cumulus, the rump cluster that will be left behind consists of just struggling talker WABC (770) and even-more-struggling R&B outlet WNBM (103.9 Bronxville). Will those go on the market before long, too?
*In western MASSACHUSETTS, AC WMAS and classic country “Nash Icon” WHLL join Entercom’s WEEI sports outlet, WWEI (105.5 Easthampton), giving the company a more robust presence against iHeart’s dominant cluster there. Why are these part of a swap? If we had to guess, we’d speculate that Entercom has a better plan than Cumulus ever did to modify the two short-spaced 94.7 FM signals, downgrading Springfield to allow WNSH to move across the river to a Manhattan transmitter site. (As we noted back when Family Stations sold then-WFME to Cumulus, there’s still one more obstacle to such a 94.7 move, and that’s a short-spacing to Connoisseur’s WWSK 94.3 on Long Island. Will Entercom find a way to do a deal to make this happen? Stay tuned.)
*In Syracuse, WXTL (105.9) has been a very small part of the Cumulus cluster, which is dominated by the bigger signals of top-40 WNTQ (93.1) and classic rock WAXQ (95.7), plus sports WSKO (1260). The end of its “Rebel” rock format won’t make much of an impact on the market, we suspect; as for EMF, it’s sure to move K-Love from rimshot WGKV (101.7 Pulaski) and a Syracuse 101.3 translator to 105.9’s more centrally-located class A signal; the 101.7/101.3 combination could then go to Air 1, or the 101.7 signal could also stay with K-Love to continue serving the north-of-Syracuse area where 105.9 doesn’t reach well.
*This is, obviously, a story whose implications will continue to develop. Stay tuned for updates here and on our Top of the Tower Podcast.