OMW Warning: Massive Speculation Ahead.
Word's filtering into our in-box this morning that former Clear Channel radio honcho Randy Michaels is about to land control of a New York City station - in specific, the Big Apple flagship of liberal talk network Air America Radio.
If you believe the news, so far only from Radio Business Report, Michaels has struck a deal with Inner City Broadcasting to convert WLIB/1190 there to a mainly locally-programmed liberal talk station.
That would, as the rumors go, force Air America to go looking for another NYC outlet - scuttlebutt is focusing on the not-nearly-as-good WSNR/620 Jersey City NJ, currently owned by Sporting News Radio but mostly running brokered foreign language programming. (UPDATE: We're reminded that WSNR does have a construction permit to beef up its signal, which may put it at least closer to WLIB's reach.)
RBR reports that Michaels would take over WLIB's programming in a "joint venture" with Inner City when AAR's LMA extension expires August 31st.
With a grain or three of salt - RBR has burned us before, insisting that a then-Infinity station in Cleveland would flip to "JACK FM" at least twice - the move has been foreshadowed by other long-running industry rumors with basically the same information. And with Michaels' ownership stake in the Jones Radio-syndicated "Ed Schultz Show", it would seem to make sense.
What does it mean here? (You knew we'd get to that.)
Michaels has a very extensive Ohio background. He, of course, rose through the ranks at what's now Clear Channel's Cincinnati cluster, and was even on-air as a programmer on both now-CBS Radio CHR WKRQ/101.9 "Q102" and the original Big One, Clear Channel talk WLW/700...before ascending to top management within Jacor, and later, Clear Channel itself. (Thanks for the frequency correction for "Q102", folks...we apparently had WDOK on the brain.)
We haven't met him, but we understand his love of AM radio, engineering and the nuts and bolts of the radio business is without bounds. And we understand that much of the company's expansion in this state (Clear Channel lists 84 stations in Ohio) was fueled by then-radio division head Michaels...not to mention even some of the engineering!
His recent acquisition, Mr. Schultz's program, airs locally on liberal talk WARF/1350 Akron "Radio Free Ohio". You'd have to wonder if he won't try to mount more similar shows, or buy the rights to them, and NYC could be a breeding ground for that effort in his mind. At very least, when the name Randy Michaels is attached to a project in any way, people in this business sit up and take notice.
So, the effect here could be future Michaels-helmed projects through his "P1" venture eventually landing on WARF's airwaves, or on other stations in Ohio.
And there could be an averse effect for the folks at Air America. Their financial and ratings picture, if you believe reports from right-leaning blogger Brian Maloney's "Radio Equalizer", reportedly depends a lot on WLIB.
The WSNR signal, if that's where the AAR folks land, is not even as good as WLIB...a second-tier AM signal in the market that struggles to compete with 50,000 watt sticks like WABC, the all-news WCBS/WINS combo and even WOR. And in their new NYC home, they'd end up competing with Michaels' reported locally-focused NYC liberal talk format. And if the numbers filtering out of the Big Apple in the most recent book are any indication, they really don't need a signal downgrade right now.
Would there be concern locally if, say, Al Franken left AAR early to prepare for a 2008 run for the U.S. Senate? Probably not. "Radio Free Ohio", like most Clear Channel-owned liberal talk stations, is not heavily dependent on the network or even its stars.
Franken and afternoon drive-shifted-to-evening host Randi Rhodes were late additions to the WARF schedule. If Franken decided he needed to start building his political base outside his Minnesota home radio studio, it'd be a simple matter for WARF to slide local host Joe Finan down the schedule an hour, and expand him to three hours in a noon to 3 PM time slot.
Whether any of this shakes out or has any effect locally is very debateable right now. There's enough "throw it against the wall" speculation here to fill a room. But in the end, it'll likely shake out like we've said all along...the professional, radio-savvy people and voices of liberal talk will rule the roost in that sub-section of the talk format. And the ascendance of Randy Michaels in the format can only strengthen that belief...