The Media notepad: “The Lite” glows again

Also: WYCC and Chiller sign-off; Cumulus files for Chapter 11

The Lite is back: on Friday, iHeartMedia-owned WLIT-FM returned to its “Lite” branding, effective immediately, effectively ending the “My” branding it has used for the last few years.

iHeartMedia rebranded several of its Adult Contemporary stations “My FM”, including KBIG-FM in Los Angeles (My 104.3), which unlike WLIT, is a Hot Adult Contemporary station. This marks the first effort from iHeartMedia to back away from its “My” branding though so far, no other branding changes at other stations are being made. The decision to bring back “The Lite” was due to many listeners still referred to it as “the Lite” despite rebranding the radio station as “My 93.9 FM” in 2013.

Currently, WLIT is in the middle of its annual Holly Jolly format (Christmas music), which usually brings the station high ratings and revenue during the months of November and December. Once WLIT returns to its regular format, Delilah returns to evenings for the first time since 2012, replacing Mario Lopez’s syndicated show. Delilah – whose full name is Delilah Rene – recently returned to her program after a few weeks off due to the death of her son. She lost another son in 2012 to sickle-cell anemia.

Once known as WLAK-FM, WLIT assumed its “Lite FM” identity in 1989. During WLIT’s heyday in the 1990s, the station ran commercials featuring artists heard on the station – notably Billy Joel, Gloria Estafan, Celine Dion, Matchbox Twenty/Rob Thomas, and others. iHeartMedia (nee Clear Channel) has owned the station since 2000.

Chicago station WYCC-TV signed off without fanfare on November 27 after failing to strike a channel-sharing deal with PBS member station WTTW. WYCC sold its license in the FCC spectrum auction for $16 million – far below the number other Chicago stations were sold for (e.g. WSNS and WPWR fetched millions in the triple digits.) According to a message on its website, WYCC ceased all programming on the 27th, on 20.1 and digital subchannels 20.2 and 20.3. The station encourages viewers to tune to WTTW to view their favorite PBS shows. WYCC dropped PBS programming in October.

WYCC’s subchannels carried FNX and Worldview Megaherz programming. With WYCC’s departure, it leaves those digital subchannels without an affiliate in the Chicago market. WYCC’s channel has also been deleted from all local area cable and satellite systems. This marks the first time a Chicago TV station completely signed off the air since…the last time Channel 20 signed off – former educational WXXW went belly up in 1975 due to financial constraints. WYCC signed on in its place eight years later.

Meanwhile, is reporting the City Colleges of Chicago – WYCC’s parent, botched the auction, costing them $130 million in lost revenue from the sale.

A unit of Chicago government – in this case, the City Colleges of Chicago – screwing something up potentially worth millions? What a shocker.

WYCC wasn’t alone in throwing in the towel:  As expected, NBCUniversal pulled the plug on its little-watched horror cable channel Chiller after ten years, which is closing on December 31. Chiller’s coverage had been steadily shrinking the last few years as cable and satellite providers had been dropping the channel due to low viewership. Among those pulling the plug in the last few months include Charter, Cox, Dish, Mediacom, and Verizon FIOS. Also, Comcast never carried the channel, despite being owned by the company (NBCUniversal is a unit of Comcast Corp.) AT&T’s DirecTV and U-Verse still carry the channel, but in an upper subscription-tier.

Earlier, NBCUniversal pulled the plug on Cloo, and regualted Esquire Channel to online.

The moves comes as consumers are “cutting the cord” – dropping pricey cable TV subcriptions for cheaper alternatives. The result is less revenue to work with – meaning, operators are being forced to cut costs. Yours truly explained this in an article earlier this year as several niche channels are on the verge of being eliminated.

In addition to horror films, Chiller also carried several horror-themed TV series, including the 1980’s syndicated dramas Freddy’s Nightmares and Friday the 13th: The Series, both canceled in 1990 because of a lack of advertiser support due to violent material, a hot-button topic at the time.

As expected, Atlanta based Cumulus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy from creditors. The restructuring plan being proposed is meant to reduce the company’s debt load.

Daily operations of Cumulus’ stations are not effected, as the company has enough cash on hand and incoming revenue. In Chicago, Cumulus recently exercised its option to acquire classic rock WLUP-FM (The Loop) and alternative WKQX-FM adding to existing properties WLS-AM and WLS-FM. All four stations moved into new digs at the NBC Tower last year. Cumulus’ WLS-FM recently received a boost as competitor K-Hits (WJMK-FM) folded in the classic hits arena last month, flipping to classic hip-hop/R&B.

Preisdent and CEO Mary Berner said: “Over the last two years, we have focused on implementing a business turnaround to reverse the Company’s multi-year ratings, revenue and EBITDA declines, create a culture that fosters motivated and engaged employees, and build an operational foundation to support the kind of performance we believe Cumulus is capable of delivering. As we have demonstrated in many measurable ways – including increased ratings, revenue market share gains, improved employee satisfaction, reduced employee turnover and, over the last several quarters, our return to year-over-year EBITDA and revenue growth – that turnaround has not only been successful but is continuing. However, as we have noted consistently, the debt overhang left by previous years of underperformance remains a significant financial challenge that we must overcome for our operational turnaround to proceed.”

iHeartMedia may soon join Cumulus in Chapter 11 bankruptcy as the company continues to fight with creditors.

Even though there is no current effect from the bankruptcy, there will likely be changes down the road, resulting in cutbacks, or the sale of numerous stations in nonstrategic markets.