CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves rocked the broadcasting industry last week with his announcement that the company planned to sell off its iconic radio stations, setting off speculation about who potential buyers might be.
The decision leaves question marks over the future of CBS Radio’s six L.A.-area stations, which include its West Coast flagship station, KNX-AM (1070), and KCBS-FM (93.1).
The most likely bidder for the group is thought to be Atlanta’s Cumulus Media Inc., which owns hundreds of terrestrial radio stations across the United States. In Los Angeles, it operates KABC-AM (790) and KLOS-FM (95.5).
Those holdings could trigger an antitrust suit if the company makes a play for the CBS stations, according to industry experts.
“But there are ways of solving those issues, such as spinning the stations off,” said Tom Taylor, partner at RTK Media Inc., a Colorado Springs, Colo., media marketing firm.
CBS had to sell one L.A. station, KFWB-AM (980), in January to comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations.
Taylor added that other potential buyers could emerge at the National Association of Broadcasters show next month in Las Vegas.
“That’s where deals are made quietly in this business,” he said.
In a statement, Cumulus Chief Executive Mary Berner said the company would consider making a bid for the CBS stations.
“As we’ve been saying for years, the combination of both companies would certainly be compelling on a number of fronts, so we will take a look,” she said. “That said, job one is turning around Cumulus and we are singularly focused on that right now.”
Company officials declined further comment.
Questions about the viability of legacy media operations in an increasingly digital-oriented space linger over any effort to sell the stations.
“The challenge with CBS and this market is that the vast majority of what CBS Radio does today is still traditional radio stations and broadcasting,” said Jan Dawson, chief media analyst at Jackdaw Research in Provo, Utah. “Yes, it has websites and apps and so on as well, but the business is very different from what Spotify or Pandora do, which is much more customized to listeners’ tastes.”
Even as it competes with digital stations, the winning bidder will also have to deal with pressure to boost ratings in competition with terrestrial brethren.
The number of U.S. residents listening to online radio every week reached 119 million last year, according to data from Edison Research, but traditional radio is still more accessible, reaching 236 million American listeners a week.
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