What's been "topic number one" in Northeast Ohio radio-land the past few days doesn't concern the debut of a new co-host this morning on CBS Radio AC WDOK/102.1 "Soft Rock 102.1".
It's not Craig Karmazin's latest move in his Sports Radio Empire, sort of headquartered these days at the Galleria in downtown Cleveland - depending on where Mr. Karmazin hangs his hat most of the year.
No, it's something that hasn't even happened yet.
Various trade publications last week reported the official word that the FCC has OK'ed the transfer of Clear Channel Communications (PDF file link) to two private equity firms - Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners. The move means only the Federal Trade Commission's approval stands between the deal and its consummation sometime later this year.
You might recall that Clear Channel proposed sending a number of stations into the "Aloha Trust", a third-party that would eventually have to sell the stations marked.
One of those stations was the company's top 40 WAKS/96.5 Akron "Kiss FM", which operates out of the Clear Channel Cleveland World Domination HQ at Oak Tree.
Well, with the FCC approval, the commission put a condition on it - a certain number of stations will indeed have to be transferred to that trust for eventual sale to another owner.
And as you can see in this list compiled by RadioInsight.com's Lance Venta - look! There's WAKS! (The list is taken from Appendix B of the FCC's order, in the PDF linked above.)
Also on the list are two of the company's Dayton area stations, and some southeast Ohio stations once tabbed for sale to the now-deceased "GoodRadio.TV LLC" effort, which will have to be sold to SOMEONE.
We're not just in the theoretical, anymore. The folks at Oak Tree will have to get WAKS off the ownership books to be sold, to comply with the FCC's wishes.
Or will they?
Some rumblings we heard floating out of Oak Tree, onto the wind and into our ears, say that Clear Channel may - or may not - sell the WAKS facility specifically. The feeling there is that if one of the other current five FM holdings out of Oak Tree were to get a larger price, they'd sell that station instead.
How the formats would shuffle out is anyone's guess. The low stations on the Format Change Speculation Totem Pole are usually hot AC WMVX/106.5, and rock WMMS/100.7.
But even classic hits WMJI/105.7 could be in play, if John Lanigan's latest reported on-air chatter about not signing another contract turns into reality. The conventional wisdom there is that 105.7 could become just about anything format-wise without "Lanigan and Malone" to hold it up in morning drive.
Who's out there buying? That could be a big problem for Clear Channel.
CBS doesn't have any room for a fifth FM, and CC wouldn't likely sell it to their primary in-market competitor. Radio One has room, but do they have the cash? The company is said to not be doing very well nationally, though Cleveland is a good market for them - with popular WZAK/93.1 and WENZ/107.9 leading the way. And again, would CC sell?
Salem also has been selling more than buying, and with a full-market FM signal running its "Fish" format already, what would they do with a second? Salem's three core formats are represented with decent signals in Cleveland - 95.5, 1220 and 1420 - and Salem doesn't strike us as a company that would buy prime real estate on the FM dial for top dollar.
As for other possibilities, the sold station would be a single FM, which means unless someone picked up one or two other signals from other operators, it doesn't make sense for the usual players, even those who aren't here already.
Entercom is one of those, but we doubt they'd enter the Cleveland market with a solo FM.
And some speculate that Good Karma's Craig Karmazin gets involved here.
Well, his AM holdings (specifically WKNR/850) are a direct competitor to Clear Channel's WTAM/1100. Do you think CC wants to sell him a powerful FM signal where he can run his sports programming against their big AM talk/sports outlet?
And if CC is - as we've mentioned - rumored to be selling whatever signal gets it the most money...would that big FM stick be too rich for Mr. Karmazin's money? Even if CC agreed to sell it to him?
He doesn't have many full-signal stations. His FM sports talker in Madison is a class A rimshot from Columbus WI, which is in the process of being moved into the heart of the market. His FM rocker in that market is a class A rimshot from southern end of the market.
We have no evidence that Good Karma is interested in - or can even afford - a full-market class B FM signal in a market like Cleveland. WKNR was the company's very first full-market, full-time AM signal in a top 30 market.
Then, there's the Akron Situation.
WAKS/96.5 is licensed to Akron. It's the former home of WKDD, of course, the 2008 version of which now resides on 98.1 Canton.
Assuming CC can't get "top dollar" for "lakefront" property with one of the other Cleveland FM stations, could 96.5 basically be moved back down to Akron, returning the station to its historic home just to get it off the books?
And could a 96.5 signal downgraded back into Akron - presumably from its former tower next to WCUE/1150 on Bellaire Road - satisfy the commission by being transferred to Freedom Avenue, on CC's Akron/Canton books?
Probably not, due to the general definition of the area market, but we're throwing it out there. We don't know the answers to pretty much all these questions, even in Rumorland.
For now, with WAKS tabbed to go into the Aloha Trust...we presume the folks at Oak Tree will continue to program and run it as they do now, until whenever the station goes out of the company...or if another of the Oak Tree FMs is sold instead in the required effort to reduce the company's ownership stake in the Cleveland market.
There are a lot of other questions here, and nearly all of the above is pure speculation. But since everyone else is talking about it...why not us?