A new era in radio begins Friday when Entercom closes on its deal with CBS Radio and officially takes over the company’s 244 radio stations.
In Chicago, Entercom takes over seven CBS radio stations: all-news WBBM-AM and its simulcast on WCFS-FM; sports talk WSCR-AM (The Score); Adult Album Alternative WXRT-FM; Top 40/CHR WBBM-FM (B96); country outlet WUSN-FM (US 99); and classic hits WJMK-FM (K-Hits.) As reported by Robert Feder last week, Jimmy deCastro was hired by Entercom to lead the cluster. The deal was announced on February 2.
Don’t look for any immediate changes on-air or off as all seven stations are doing well in the ratings and billing is good – for one, US99 and B96 are holding up well despite tough competition from their iHeartMedia counterparts. Recently, CBS renewed the radio deal for the Bears for several more seasons and has the rights to the Cubs for the next four seasons. Ironically, it was deCastro who passed on renewing the Cubs while he was at WGN-AM, ending a relationship with the team dating back to 1924.
It is not known what will happen to the “CBS Chicago” website, which features WBBM-AM, The Score, and CBS-owned WBBM-TV, known as CBS 2. With the radio stations officially separating from their TV counterpart, either a new joint agreement could be made to keep the sites together or have new, separate websites for all three. CBS’ TV and news/sports radio stations have joint sites here and in other markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston. In markets where CBS has radio stations but not a TV counterpart (such as “CBS Washington” and “CBS St. Louis”), look for Entercom to drop the CBS branding.
While no on-air changes are expected in Chicago, changes could be in the offering in other markets where Entercom is taking over CBS stations. On Monday, Radio Insight reported a format change to Alternative (or Modern Rock) could be in the offering to replace two struggling CHR stations, KVIL-FM in Dallas-Ft. Worth and WBMP-FM in New York (the former WXRK, once home to Howard Stern), with the latter getting hammered by competitors iHeartMedia’s WHTZ-FM and Emmis’ WHQT-FM (Hot 97). New York has been without an Alternative station since 2012 when WRXP-FM – its second stint in the format – was sold to CBS and flipped to sports talk as WFAN-FM – one of the stations Entercom is acquiring.
The Alternative angle for Entercom is interesting as the company wants to reach young male listeners – which is very difficult to do. Yours truly wrote about the state of Alternative radio in 2011 after Merlin Media pulled the plug on the original WKQX-FM (then known as Q101) and WRXP after acquiring them from Emmis to launch an all-news format. But Alternative made a comeback here in 2012 after Merlin leased time on the 87.7 FM frequency, even using the old WKQX call letters (the format and the call letters) moved back to 101.1 FM in 2014. The format has managed to survive the turmoil earlier this decade and could be preemed for growth if New York and Dallas return. Entercom would have twelve Alternative stations when the CBS deal closes – among them, the legendary KROQ-FM in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported longtime WFAN stalwart Mike Francesa is being replaced in his afternoon time slot by a trio of people – Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray, and former New York Jets player Bart Scott, beginning in mid-December, a month after the Entercom-CBS deal closes. WFAN and Francesa recently agreed to part ways.