WLS by Rob feder


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Posted by Pavarotti - Worlds Largest Singer on February 22, 2011 at 11:53:59:

Posted on February 22nd, 2011 @ 12:00 am

If the recently announced acquisition of Bonneville International stations was, by all accounts, an agreement made in heaven, then the impending sale of radio giant Citadel Broadcasting could be ó to borrow a phrase from Sam Zell ó the deal from hell.

After months of fighting off unwanted overtures from smaller rival Cumulus Media, Citadel confirmed last week that it had entered kicking and screaming into exclusive negotiations for a potential merger.

If completed, the $2.4 billion deal couldnít come at a more inopportune time for Citadelís two Chicago properties ó news/talk WLS-AM (890) and oldies WLS-FM (94.7). Under current management, the two stations finally appear to be firing on all cylinders. For the first time in decades, ratings and revenue are pointing up on both the AM and FM side. Net profits at the combo have increased tenfold in the past two years alone.

Thatís a tribute to the savvy oversight of Michael Damsky, president and general manager of WLS, and the confidence he enjoys of Citadelís embattled CEO, Farid Suleman. The improvements Damsky has made to both stations in the 13 months since he was promoted from vice president and director of sales have been impressive by any measure.

Could the stations be doing better? Of course. It still rankles that much of the AMís weekend and late-night programming is sacrificed to time-brokered and syndicated schlock, and that under True Oldies guru Scott Shannon, the FM doesnít have nearly the local identity that it should. But program bosses Drew Hayes and Michael La Crosse clearly are on the right track.

All of the gains WLS has made could be in jeopardy, however, if Cumulus steps in and imposes its heavy hand and one-size-fits-all approach to station management. As morning stars Don Wade and Roma mark their 25th year on the air together, the afternoon duo of Roe Conn and Richard Roeper sets the pace for the market, and the incomparable Dick Biondi still shines in the night after 50 years, the last thing WLS needs is an owner known for its disregard of talent and lack of commitment to the communities it serves.

ďItís a marriage made in hell for the people who will work for the new entity because it just gives the adolescent mentality of Cumulus Media some more tinker toys to play with,Ē wrote longtime industry observer Jerry Del Colliano, an outspoken critic of the deal. ďPeople donít matter to them ó at least if you consider their record.Ē

Given the lousy reputation of Cumulus in its current markets, a merger with Citadel would cry out for the Federal Communications Commission to exert its authority on behalf of the public interest. Any erosion of localism at WLS and Citadelís other news/talk stations would short-change listeners immeasurably. But donít expect the FCC to act as any more than the rubber stamp itís always been.

ďNobody knows how Cumulus would run the Citadel stations, or who would be in charge,Ē noted Tom Taylor, executive news editor of Radio-Info.com. ďCumulus is known as a tightly disciplined company.Ē Thatís shorthand for centralizing control and wiping out local autonomy.

If you want to know whatís really behind the deal, look no further than to the crushing debt amassed by Cumulus and pressure from the hedge fund managers who control Citadel to cash out. In short, itís a transaction that has everything to do with debt and shareholders, and nothing ó nothing ó to do with responsible broadcasting.

Assuming Cumulus succeeds in its takeover, the best-case scenario would be for it immediately to sell off WLS to a company such as Hubbard Broadcasting, soon to be parent of Bonnevilleís hot adult-contemporary WTMX-FM (101.9), classic rock WDRV-FM (97.1) and adult contemporary WILV-FM (100.3), or Entercom Communications, which narrowly lost out to Cumulus in a bid for Citadel.

With 225 stations in more than 50 markets, Citadel is the nationís third largest radio company, behind only Clear Channel Communications and CBS. If completed, the deal would make Cumulus the nationís second largest group with upwards of 570 stations across the country. If you think thatís a good thing, then you havenít been paying attention.




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