Cumulus to put Huckabee against Limbaugh

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.

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10 Responses to Cumulus to put Huckabee against Limbaugh

  1. Art Stone says:

    Here is the NY Times story that was the source of this news item (via Tom Taylor’s newsletter)

  2. I don’t follow ratings like I did when I was working in radio but it’s hard to imagine WABC supplanting Rush with Huckabee, even if Huck is Cumulus’ own guy.

    • Replying to myself, I could see Rush moving from WABC if CC were to flip one of its New York FMs to talk.

      • Art Stone says:

        That’s a possibility – the difficulty is two fold – first, the New York Metro area is too big to be covered by a single FM station.

        The FCC ownership rules allow one company to own 8 radio stations in the New York City maket, and not more than 5 AM or 5 FM.

        Clear Channel owns no AM stations in New York, so that means they are limited to 5 FM stations. Eastern Long Island and the Upper Hudson Valley, and Connecticut are not part of the offical NY market.

        Let’s take a closer look at the FM options:

        WLTW-FM is the #1 station (6.0 share) in New York (looking at November which are more representative – it plays Adult Contemporary Music (A/C)
        WHTZ-FM is #3 (5.1 share) playing Contemporary Hits
        WKTU-FM is #4 (5.0 share) with “Hot” A/C
        WAXQ-FM is #6 (4.3 share) playing Classic Rock
        WWPR-FM is #12 (3.5 share) playing Urban Music

        WALK-FM is in Eastern Long Island (along with WALK-AM which is in the divesiture trust still…)

        WFME-FM is listed on that ratings list as owned by Clear Channel, but that’s not correct. WFME-FM is owned by Family Stations, the Harold Camping “end of the world” guy and is for sale.

        Clear Channel’s success doesn’t leave an obvious station that could be converted to News/Talk. It’s not likely they would convert an Urban music station to carry Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

        • Art Stone says:

          Tom Taylor has mentioned several times the most likely buyer of WFME-FM is Disney, which really really wants an Owned and Operated (O&O) FM station in New York to carry their ESPN programming, which is currently heard on WEPN-AM (owned by Disney).

          A convoluted deal might wind up with Disney getting WFME-FM, and Family Radio getting WEPN-AM, and then eventually selling it to Clear Channel…. but that’s highly speculative.

  3. prboylan says:

    The other question is at what point (if ever) will Rush decide to retire? And will the Cumulus stations replacing Rush with Huckabee accelerate his retirement plans? I guess it depends on how many direct employees he has. When you’re a business owner and you realize a lot of people are financially depending on you to keep doing what you’re doing, you tend to stay at it a lot longer.

    • Art Stone says:

      Rush’s current deal is a 8 year contract that he signed in 2008

      so it will be running out about the time he turns 65. It can’t be ruled out that Clear Channel might not survive until 2016 – when Citadel declared bankruptcy and went through Chapter 11, the first thing they did was go through and tear up the existing contracts with their “talent” and told them their option was to leave or be paid what the new owners were willing to pay. Because Rush has a good agent, he got a big part of the money up front.

      I’m written before (but not recently) my regret that “The EIB Network” is only a brand and not a reality. Rush is showing no signs of doing any kind of succession planning or building a talk radio legacy that will survive beyond the day he retires in order to sell tea by mail order. [anyone else remember that Rush’s big sponsor used to be Snapple Tea?]

  4. JMyrleFuller says:

    I know this may be a bit of a longshot in NY, but what about WOR? They already have Coast to Coast, so they do have a foot in the door with Premiere, and the time slot will be open with Lou Dobbs departing. Do you think they’d invest in a show like Limbaugh’s?

    • Art Stone says:

      It’s always possible, but I don’t think it’s likely – Mr Buckley died last year, and the next generation didn’t wait for his corpse to get cold before dumping Steve Malzberg…. Beck had also been dumped with a vague explanation. WOR had been programmed by the guy who went to work programming Air America. You might point to Michael Savage being on WOR and say “Hey, they wouldn’t have Savage on if they are liberals”. I see no contradiction in that – Savage referred to the people gathering at CPAC as “so called Conservatives”. If he rejects that group as not really Conservatives, then Savage is leading a party of one.

      If Clear Channel had the cash or maybe something else of value, I could see Clear Channel wanting to buy WOR. WOR-AM is really out of place with its small town owners due to odd circumstances driven by government intervention against Howard Hughes..

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