In this week’s issue… Audacy adds FM for WINS – Beasley, iHeart make cuts – WNYC names new leader – WXXI adds in Rochester, FLN adds in Elmira – Remembering Bernie McGuirk
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been a parlor game for people who follow radio for years: what’s the end game in NEW YORK for Audacy’s two AM all-news stations?
For their first three decades, CBS-owned WCBS (880) and Westinghouse’s WINS (1010) were fierce competitors for the ears of New York news listeners. Both stations routinely ranked among the nation’s top revenue and ratings generators, and that didn’t change immediately when Westinghouse bought CBS in 1994, putting both stations under common ownership. SAG-AFTRA union rules kept both newsrooms strictly separate, first while they remained at separate locations and then for the last decade after CBS consolidated all its New York stations at one cluster location in lower Manhattan. One floor apart, WCBS and WINS continued to compete with each other, WCBS focusing on longer-form news for suburban listeners and WINS taking a faster-paced approach targeting the city.
As recently as last year, both stations remained in the top 10 nationally for revenue, each contributing more than $30 million to Audacy’s bottom line. It’s been good business – but for how much longer? In most of Audacy’s other all-news markets, the company saw the decline of AM radio coming and followed all-news listeners to the FM dial, first in San Francisco (KCBS/KFRC), then Chicago (WBBM/WCFS), Philadelphia (KYW/WPHI) and most recently in Los Angeles at KNX.
New York posed a challenge, though: even after acquiring a fifth FM station in the market, Audacy still didn’t have enough signals to move both WCBS and WINS over to FM without sacrificing one of its successful FM formats. Move just one of them – let’s say it’s WINS, with its more limited AM signal – over to the FM dial and Audacy would risk cannibalizing too much audience from the remaining AM-only all-newser. Waiting too long to go to FM posed its own risk, if younger listeners unaccustomed to AM simply never found either station and developed an all-news habit.
(How real is the decline of AM? Look west to San Francisco, where the financially-troubled Cumulus abruptly pulled the plug on the news-talk format at once-dominant KGO last week, flipping the 50,000-watt giant to a satellite-fed sports betting talker with no local content, a move that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.)
As of this afternoon – which just happens to be “10/10” day – we know Audacy’s answer. In two weeks, on Oct. 27, it will pull the plug on WNYL (92.3)’s “Alt” modern rock format, bringing WINS to the FM dial.
The move comes with some big changes behind the scenes, including a new agreement with SAG-AFTRA that will allow WINS/WINS-FM to share personnel with WCBS, which will remain AM-only on 880. It’s a move that has apparently been in the works for a while under WCBS brand manager/news director Tim Scheld, who broke that piece of the news over the weekend in the announcement that he’s wrapping up his 19 years at the station soon. Scheld came to WCBS in 2003 after two decades as a reporter and anchor, including a 1987-1994 stint at WCBS and a decade with ABC News Radio.
While Scheld will focus on his other work at the head of RTDNA, WINS news and programming director Ben Mevorach will move up to a new role as VP of New York news for both stations and WINS assistant news director Ivan Lee will become brand manager for both.
What does it all mean for the future of both stations? Keep reading in our subscriber-only section…
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