In seven-station swap, CBS Radio sheds WQSR in Baltimore


As part of its plan to trim 50 radio stations from its portfolio, CBS has dropped one of its five Baltimore holdings, trading 102.7 Jack-FM to Clear Channel Communications Inc. in a seven-station swap.

The deal, announced Monday, swapped five of CBS’s midsize market radio stations for two of Clear Channel’s large-market stations. CBS acquired KLOL-FM and KHMX-FM in Houston, the country’s sixth- largest radio market. Along with WQSR-FM in Baltimore, Clear Channel now owns KBKS-FM in Seattle, KXJM-FM and KLTH-FM in Portland , Ore., and KQJK-FM in Sacramento, Calif.

The swap gives Clear Channel a mix-music station in Baltimore and a market audience it did not have before, said Hartley Adkins, president and market manager for the company’s Washington and Baltimore stations. Adkins noted the company was looking to shed the two Houston stations as a byproduct of its merger with Thomas H. Lee Partners L.P. and Bain Capital Partners LLC this year.

Clear Channel’s three other Baltimore stations are country WPOC- FM, alternative rock WCHH-FM and gospel WCAO-AM.

When asked if 102.7 FM’s new parent would consider changing the station’s format, Adkins said that was not on the table at this time.

“We have to be responsible to the established listenership and consider what the best formats are for continuing — this format has served [the station] very well,” he said.

But Adkins would not comment further about plans for staff or talent at the station, only saying that he expected the parent company would be bringing in some of its own staff.

Jason Kidd, WQSR-FM’s program director, did not respond to requests for comment.

The move comes more than four months after CBS Corp. announced plans to divest 50 stations in 12 midsize markets including Baltimore, Las Vegas, San Diego, Cleveland and others — the strategy being to trim its portfolio to focus on the nation’s top 20 markets.

After first-round bids for stations were due in September, CEO Les Moonves said at the time that CBS would only sell stations for which it received acceptable pricing.

But that was before the economy began its October nosedive.

Therefore it is likely that CBS opted for the swap after not getting an acceptable bid, said James C. Goss, a media and entertainment analyst for Barrington Research Associates Inc., who follows the company.

“This is very consistent with what CBS is trying to do,” said Goss. “It’s very difficult to sell a station outright in this market right now — if you can find somebody who’s willing to pay something close to an appropriate price, that’s only half the problem. Then there’s financing, and the banks have usually been reluctant to extend credit for such things.”

Although Monday’s swap is the first Baltimore station it has shed, CBS also recently reformatted WJZ-FM 105.7, formerly a talk radio and music station, to become Baltimore’s fourth sports talk radio station. At the same time it changed the lineup at ESPN 1300 AM to entirely syndicated programming. CBS representatives declined to say at the time whether those formatting changes were related to a possible sale.

A spokeswoman for CBS Radio in New York said Monday the corporation’s timeline for selling its stations depended on the marketplace but declined to comment further on whether more of CBS’s Baltimore radio stations would be targeted for a sale or swap.

But Goss noted, “It’s conceivable that if they’re willing to sell one, they are probably willing to sell others.”

Two years ago, CBS Radio boasted nearly 180 radio stations nationwide. It has since shed about 40 stations, and with the planned trimming of 50 more, the company would cut its holdings to about 90 stations. In addition to the two sports stations, CBS Radio owns and operates WLIF and WWMX in Baltimore.Technorati Tags: Clear Channel

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