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June 1996: To Infinity And Beyond

1996 The Year That Changed Radio

Infinity Broadcasting Radio CBS Westinghouse Mel KarmazinIn the first few months following deregulation many deals were made, but June 20, 1996 would be the date of the first major merger of the new era.

After rumors persisted for weeks that it was pursuing a marriage with Evergreen Media, Westinghouse Electric, which had acquired CBS in 1995 to bring together two heritage groups who date back nearly to the formation of the radio medium (In Westinghouse’s case they were the first as the first commercial licensee with KDKA Pittsburgh), gobbled up Mel Karmazin’s Infinity Broadcasting for $3.9 billion in cash and stock and the assumption of another $1 billion in debt. The deal gave Westinghouse 83 stations (with 1 FM in Chicago and 3 FMs in Dallas needing to be divested). Mel Karmazin joined the buyer as Chairman/CEO of the radio operation and eventually became CEO of CBS Inc. from 1998-2004.

Station Sales

Clear Channel Communications made the first of two big plays in Spanish radio it would make in 1996 with the purchase of the 79% of Heftel Broadcasting it didn’t own for $183.6 million. The seventeen stations owned by Heftel would later be merged into Tichenor Media, but never was fully integrated into the primary Clear Channel operations. The Heftel/Tichenor stations would later rebrand as Hispanic Broadcasting Company and then be acquired by Univision in 2002.

Newly formed Capstar Broadcasting made its first big move purchasing Commodore Media and its 33 stations for $200 million. Funded by Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst to purchase small and medium market stations, Capstar would later merge into co-owned Chancellor Media and later become part of Clear Channel. Commodore owned clusters in Allentown PA, Fairfield County CT, Fort Pierce FL, Huntington WV, Westchester County NY, and Wilmington DE.

Greater Media and Evergreen Media made a swap involving stations in Boston and Washington DC. Greater Media consolidated the Country audience in Boston by acquiring 105.7 WKLB from Evergreen to add to their existing 96.9 WBCS, while Evergreen acquired AC “Bright 99.5” WEBR to remove competition to AC 97.1 WASH (see format change below). Evergreen also purchased Talk 980 WWRC from Greater Media for $22.5 million.

American Radio Systems and Chancellor Media took care of the overages they created in two markets with a swap. ARS sent Talk 650 KSTE Sacramento and $33 million to Chancellor for Talk 850 WEAT, Oldies 94.3 WOLL and AC “Sunny 104.3” WEAT-FM West Palm Beach. ARS already owned 3 stations in West Palm Beach, while Chancellor had 3 in Sacramento.

Barnstable Broadcasting swapped Talk 1440 WLPZ, Soft AC 94.9 WHOM-FM and AC 97.9 WCSO Portland ME to Fuller-Jeffrey Broadcasting for Country 1390 KSSO and 92.5 KJJY Des Moines.

Paxson Communications acquired Hot Talk 104.1 WTKS Orlando from Press Communications for $20 million.

Format Changes

CBS flipped long struggling Rocker KRQR San Francisco to Modern AC “Alice 97.3” on June 5. The second “Alice” branded station behind KALC Denver would lead a trend of person named Modern AC stations that would later lead to the Jack/Bob Variety Hits boom of the mid-2000s.

AC “CD 103.1” KACD/KBCD Los Angeles flipped back to Dance as “Groove Radio” under PD Swedish Egil.

Immediately after acquiring AC “Bright 99.5” WEBR Washington DC, Evergreen Media flipped the station back to the Soft AC WGAY brand it had prior to September 1995 to flank to new sister 97.1 WASH.

The WSHE call letters recently discarded in Miami were resurrected up the Florida Turnpike in Orlando. With Rock 100.3 WDIZ and 101.1 WJRR coming under common Paxson Broadcasting ownership, WDIZ flipped to Modern AC “She 100.3“.

Sinclair Communications began operating new sign-on 105.7 WSMJ Richmond VA under a Time Brokerage Agreement as “Smooth Jazz 105.7“.

After a nearly two years as Hot Talk while retaining the “B97” moniker, WEZB New Orleans dropped Howard Stern and the local talk lineup and returned to its heritage CHR format under new owner Heritage Media. The return of WEZB to CHR led to rimshot 100.3 KLRZ to flip to Classic Rock a week later.

With its upcoming merger with NewCity Communications bringing Country 104.7 WBBS and 107.9 WHEN-FM under common ownership, Cox flipped the latter to CHR “Hot 107.9” WWHT following a weekend of stunting as “Quick 108” with auditorium test samples of songs.

Cargo Broadcasting began operating Country 107.9 KRGO Salt Lake City via LMA prior to closing on its acquisition from Sundance Broadcasting and flipped the station to Active Rock “107.9 K-Rock” KRKR.

Airchecks

Bobby Jay, 101.1 WCBS-FM New York | June 26, 1996

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Lance Venta is the Owner and Publisher of RadioInsight.com and a consultant for RadioBB Networks specializing in integration of radio and the internet. Lance has two decades of experience tracking the audio industry and its use of digital platforms.

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