Cumulus buys WLS-AM/FM owner

WLS-AM and WLS-FM have new owners in the form of Atlanta-based Cumulus Broadcasting, Inc., which acquired the troubled Citadel radio group for $2.4 billion in cash and stock, with Cumulus paying $37 a share to Citadel.

While Citadel wasn’t officially up for sale, it was being pursued by both Cumulus and Bala Cynwyd, Pa. –based Entercom Communications. Cumulus made several offers to Citadel in late 2010 to buy their stations, but all were rejected.

The deal gives Cumulus a footpront into the nation’s top three markets: In addition to owning News/Talk WLS-AM and Oldies outlet WLS-FM, Cumulus also gets News/Talkers WABC-AM in New York City and KABC-AM in Los Angeles and Adult Contemporary station WPLJ-FM in New York. Cumulus would also take over its syndicated radio properties of Citadel Media (formerly ABC Radio Networks) and its roster of talent including Don Imus, Donny Osmond, Michael Baisden, Mark Levin, and the long-running American Country Countdown.

The transaction is subject to FCC approval; once those regulation hurdles are jumped over, Cumulus will own more than 200 radio stations.

Founded in Phoenix in 1984, Las Vegas-based Citadel made a major expansion by acquiring the former ABC radio stations in 2007 and became the third-largest radio station operator in the United States. But their stock price was hit very hard, reaching as low as a penny when trading closed at the New York Stock Exchange on March 6, 2009. In December 2009, Citadel fell into bankruptcy and came out in June 2010.

Cumulus is currently the second-largest radio chain operator in the United States, behind only Clear Channel Communications and ahead of Citadel. The company was founded in 1997 in Atlanta.

Cumulus hasn’t detailed what it would do with the Chicago Citadel duopoly, but no changes are expected to WLS-AM and WLS-FM, at least in the short-term.