Wednesday, February 13, 2008

WLW Set Adrift?

By now, most of you probably know that Clear Channel has been ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice to sell off stations in four markets - including Cincinnati - to pave the way for the approval of the private equity fund purchase of the company (Thomas H. Lee Partners/Bain Capital). Houston, Las Vegas and San Francisco are the other three markets.

What we're all trying to figure out is...what's next? How many stations would CC have to sell in Cincinnati?

The problem is that the Lee/Bain Capital groups have a financial interest in Cumulus, which has a cluster of its own in the Queen City.

It's hard to imagine that any more than the size of one of the current clusters would be allowed to stand. CC has managed to squeeze in eight stations in Cincinnati on both the AM and FM bands, Cumulus has three FMs. Since Bain/Lee is only an investor in Cumulus, the sell-off would likely center around Kenwood.

And here's the "bombshell", floated in a blog item by Cincinnati Enquirer radio/TV guru John Kiesewetter:

The government did not specify which stations must be sold here. But I'm told that Clear Channel managers here told employees Tuesday that the company could consider selling off WLW-AM and KISS107.1, or the tandem of FOX92.1 and Radio94.1 (the old MIX94.1).

Selling off the original "Big One"? Huh?

Kiese makes the case that the WLW/Kiss combo being sold would help speed along the long-delayed deal in the eyes of regulators, and would take the station's high payroll off of CC's books.

Well, OK. We'll see.

Like we did when we first thought about it, Kiese wonders about the prospect of WLW being reunited with the one and only Randy Michaels, the former Jacor and Clear Channel radio head who cut his programming teeth there long ago.

Randy is, of course, now head of the broadcast division of media giant Tribune. And Tribune has just one radio station...a big 50,000 watter like WLW, Chicago's WGN/720.

The pairing of WLW and Randy just makes too much sense. He knows the facility like no one else. He has an affinity for the big AM sticks, probably developed from his own time at WLW.

Under Jacor, owned by now-Tribune owner Sam Zell, Randy went on a shopping spree for a bunch of heritage, flamethrowing AM stations...now all under the Clear Channel umbrella.

But as of this moment, we have no idea if buying WLW, or any other of the Cincinnati Clear Channel stations that have to be sold off, is on Randy's plate. Or, if Mr. Zell has any plans to add any more radio to the Tribune broadcast empire.

If WLW is tagged on the "sell" list...you couldn't ask for a more perfect buyer.

If someone wants to keep WLW in its current form, with high-profile local talk personalities, little to no syndication, and with its "edgy" style...what better new operator than the man who took the station in that direction in the first place? He certainly won't have to be introduced to personalities like Bill Cunningham and Mike McConnell.

In other possibilities, Bonneville does news/talk radio, and they'd be another possible buyer...but that company has been moving the format onto FM in a lot of markets.

We'll be watching...as closely as we can from our Northeast Ohio perch...

1 comment:

q95fmdan said...

Bonneville wants this station more than you could imagine! They are in Cincinnati for a reason and this would be the perfect station for them!

Plus remember they have a bit more disposable money in their pocket-book. Kiss/WLW would be a great combo for them!

I could see Randy making a play, but dont be surprised to see the stations go to Bonneville