The Media Notepad: Audacy, Cumulus merger afoot?

Also: The Talk to end after 15 years; NCAA Women’s Championship draws record high; NHL team headed to Utah

With the future of Paramount Global all the chatter, there could be some radio merger and acquisition action, too.

A report in Radio Insight suggests Audacy – soon to be controlled by Soros Fund Management after coming out of bankruptcy – could eye Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, owner of conservative talk WLS-AM, classic hits WLS-FM, and alt-rock WKQX-FM.

Soros – as in progressively-minded billionaire George Soros, is poised to become the largest shareholder in the company. The second would be Manoj Bhargava, who acquired $60 million of Audacy’s debt – and owns 5.15 percent of Cumulus’ stock, with the company using a poison-pill maneuver to prevent the 5-Hour Energy founder from increasing his stake to 20 percent. Bhargava was behind the recent turmoil at Sports Illustrated, who sued his company for $48.75 million for copyright and trademark infringement after seizing control of SI’s owner, The Arena Group.

If any combination comes to fruition – it would have a significant impact on Chicago radio where due to ownership limits, would have to divest several stations to get under the ownership cap of 5 FMs and three AMs. Audacy owns two AMs (WBBM-AM and WSCR-AM) and five FMs (WXRT, WBBM-FM, WUSN, WBMX, and WCFS, a simulcast of WBBM-AM.) Other markets where mass divestitures could take place include Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Francisco, Kansas City, Memphis, and New Orleans.

Despite a tweet from a conservative radio station last week claiming Soros owns WSCR, the company isn’t in control of Audacy yet as any deal transaction would have to be approved by the FCC, and with what’s going on in Detroit and New York City with Nexstar and Mission, would be far from a slam dunk.

After fifteen years on the air – and as expected, it’s over and out for The Talk, CBS’ attempt to duplicate The View. However, the series’ final episode won’t take place until the end of the year – giving the current cast some time, though the cancellation puts the show in lame-duck status.

“The Talk broke new ground when it launched 14 years ago by returning daytime talk to CBS with a refreshing and award-winning format. Throughout the years, it has been a key program on CBS’ top-rated daytime line-up as it brought timely, important and entertaining topics and discussions into living rooms around the globe,” Amy Reisenbach, president, CBS Entertainment, and David Stapf, president, CBS Studios, said in a joint statement.

The Talk debuted in 2010 in the time slot once held by the long-running soap As The World Turns, which was canceled earlier in the year. The show has had a revolving door of hosts throughout its run – sixteen in all, including Holly Robinson Peete, Sharon Osbourne, Eve, and Sara Gilbert, who helped create the show. The Talk was also known for backstage drama and clashes with network executives, notably the firing of Osbourne three years ago and the earlier dismissals of Peete and Leah Remini. Ironically, it was reported racial and homophobic slurs Osbourne made toward the two and Gilbert when they were on the show together that led to her dismissal and forced CBS to put the show on hiatus for several weeks.

Despite its troubles, The Talk won two Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Talk/Show Entertainment in 2015 and 2018.

With the cancellation of The Talk, it paves the way for new serial The Gates, which is debuting in 2025 and made official Monday. When the project from CBS Studios, the NAACP, and Procter & Gamble was announced, The Talk’s future was automatically in question, given it’s the weak link in an otherwise strong daytime lineup with The Young And The Restless and Bold And The Beautiful recently renewed.

The cancellation means all three daytime infotainment shows that replaced traditional sudsers in 2010 and 2011 – The Chew (replacing All My Children), The Revolution (replacing One Life To Live and lasting only a few months), and The Talk – are all gone.

With the Arizona Coyotes now confirming their move to Salt Lake City, the media rights for the team are up in the air.

Speculation ramped up this week on the team leaving Phoenix, the nation’s eleventh-largest television market for the 27th-largest in Salt Lake City, one of the fastest-growing in the country. Players were reportedly told about the move before a game in Edmonton Friday as owner Alex Meruelo reportedly is selling the team to Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith for $1.2 billion, meaning their new home would likely be the Delta Center, where the Jazz plays and once home to the Utah Grizzles’ IHL franchise. The official announcement is expected sometime this week.

The move was inevitable, despite NHL commissioner Gary Bettman trying to keep the team in Arizona for the last two decades, despite the sport growing in the Desert. The Coyotes played in suburban Glendale for twenty seasons but were evicted from the city-owned arena in 2022 due to low attendance and often tardy lease payments, moving to Arizona State University’s Mullett Arena in Tempe for the last two seasons – by far the smallest facility in the NHL. A referendum on a new arena in Tempe was voted down last May.

The Coyotes also went bankrupt a few years ago, leading to the NHL temporarily owning the team.

After bailing on the faltering Bally Sports Arizona last fall, the Coyotes went the over-the-air TV route, signing a deal with Scripps-owned KASW-TV, moving CW programming to a digital subchannel of sister station KNXV to accommodate the team. As a result, The CW shifted its affiliation to KAZT after Nexstar – who once owned KASW, signed an agreement to program the station for owner Londen Media Group.

The team’s name, colors, and business operations are staying in Phoenix and retained by Meruelo, meaning the new Utah franchise would have a new identity. With the likelihood of media rights not carrying over, look for Utah’s new NHL team to have the same setup as the Jazz, with a direct-to-consumer streaming service powered by Kiswe and games appearing on Sinclair independent KJZZ, who saw the Jazz return after sixteen seasons with now-defunct AT&T Sportsnet Rocky Mountain (the Jazz once owned the station, hence the call letters.)

Meruelo plans to bid on a parcel of land in Northeast Phoenix via auction on June 27, a step in what would likely be a long journey to bringing back a team via expansion. Ironically, Coyotes games were seen in Salt Lake City this season on independent KUPX and Fox affiliate KSTU’s dot-two channel, both owned by Scripps. The Coyotes’ radio rights deal with Bonneville – also based in Salt Lake City, expires this week.

Image courtesy of Joshua Stokes of The Skyline View. You can find the picture’s origins here.

Despite a 2 p.m. Central Time start on Sunday April 7, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship between South Carolina and Iowa was a huge ratings winner.

According to Nielsen, the game – airing on both ABC and ESPN, drew a record 18.9 million viewers – higher than the 14 million viewers for UConn-Purdue the following night on Turner Sports – marking the first time the women’s championship has outdrawn the men’s in the same year.

The 18.9 million also was the highest-rated basketball game – men’s or women’s – college or pro – since 2019, including every NBA Finals game. The championship also outdrew every World Series since 2017.

The biggest attraction of course, is Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, whose amazing play has drawn millions of viewers to the sport – setting viewership records for the last few weeks including the previous Friday night Final Four game, where Iowa played UConn drawing fourteen million viewers – the most-watched Friday night program on many network in years and also had a controversial ending where a UConn player was called for a foul with just seconds to go left in the game.

But at the end of the tournament, Coach Dawn Staley and undefeated South Carolina stood tall, going undefeated at 38-0 and winning their third championship in eight years. 

Caitlin now moves on to the WNBA where she is expected to be the first pick of the draft taken by the Indiana Fever. In anticipation, the league announced 36 of the team’s 40 games would air on national platforms including CBS, ESPN/ABC, and Ion. Several games will be airing on Bally Sports Indiana (except in the northwest portion of the state, where Bally isn’t available.) Similar to what we saw with rookie Connor Bedard here in Chicago when the Blackhawks drafted him, expect a frenzy with Clark in Indianapolis where basketball is already big.


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