Back when the Atlanta based Cumulus acquired Citadel Media (including the former ABC radio stations and syndication) with the mandate from the investors funding the deal to cut costs, I wondered out loud if Rush Limbaugh was going to become a target of that cost cutting (ignoring the revenue he generates).
Rush’s syndication started mainly on ABC radio – predating the 1996 telecom reform act and the consolidation of the radio business – and Rush’s syndicator (Premiere) ended up owned by Clear Channel – but Rush has stayed on the powerhouse former ABC AM stations ever since (WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago, WBAP in Dallas/Fort Worth – but not KFI in Los Angeles which used to carry Bill O’Reilly and while Clear Channel’s KFI carries Rush)
In addition to having an arrangement that works, Clear Channel has continued its relationship with Citadel/ABC because it doesn’t have viable stations in those markets unless it flips a successful FM music station to talk.
In New York, it has no AM station and none is likely to become available. Salem radio just hired former WABC program director Phil Boyce who recently left the Talk Radio Network (TRN) to head up Salem’s talk programming. Salem has two viable New York stations – the Big Apple (WNYM AM) – current home of Curtis Sliwa, formerly of WABC – and the listless no-ratings WMCA-AM which is a mere shadow of its former self running recorded religious programming begging for money (Salem Radio is a for-profit company publicly traded in the stock market).
In Chicago, Clear Channel owns the expanded band WVON-AM, a traditionally black expanded band (above 1620 kHz) station that it leases to a black talk programmer and would be a firestorm if Clear Channel turned it into a “white” station (WVON stood for Voice of Negroes). Salem Radio owns WIND-AM,
In Detroit, Clear Channel has WDFN that carries sports (competing against WXYT that owns the market) and WDTW, which is targeted at Ann Arbor carrying progressive talk currently. Salem owns WDTK-AM, which currently carries some of their talk lineup, but also carries Dennis Miller and Lars Larson.
About a year ago, Clear Channel cut loose most of the Premiere staff, so it is running now mostly on momentum as Clear Channel has been moving Rush to their own stations – even if it means a smaller audience (Boston and Winston-Salem and Raleigh in North Carolina being recent examples).
So Cumulus employs Mike Huckabee who replaced the deceased Paul Harvey on ABC Radio and is starting him in syndication in direct competition with Rush in April. It seems likely that Rush will leave his former ABC homes as a result. Salem Radio runs the pleasant but uninspiring Dennis Prager up against Limbaugh.
Cumulus made its first syndication move by releasing Doug Urbanski and replacing him with the seasoned host Chris Plante and putting his show on all the stations that were carrying Urbanski. Mark Levin and John Batchelor are the other major talk personalities that are employed by Cumulus Media via their purchase of Citadel/ABC. Cumulus has no track record in running syndication operations. They were the buyers of syndicated programming, not the producers of it. They just recently hired Geraldo Rivera to do a show in New York and Los Angeles.
I’ve written recently about how the entire Salem Tslk lineup is stale and uninspired and getting old and needs a major revamp. The world of conservative talk radio is about to change – just in time for the 2012 election.