A Year In, Has Entercom’s Massive Revamps of CBS Radio Stations Paid Off?
Saturday marked the one year anniversary of Entercom completing its acquisition of CBS Radio. In that time the company has reinvented itself in nearly every facet. There has been a change in leadership in quite a few of the former CBS Radio markets, talent overhauls at many stations, deals to realign their clusters in Philadelphia and St. Louis, and eleven outright format changes over the past calendar year at stations formerly owned by CBS.
Entercom didn’t even wait for the ink to dry on the deal to make three major market changes the morning they took control of the CBS properties. 92.3 WBMP (now WNYL) New York and 103.7 KVIL Dallas quickly dumped being the second ranked Top 40 to fill the gaping Alternative holes in their markets while 104.3 WJMK (now WBMX) Chicago moved to Classic Hip-Hop. While “104.3 Jams” quickly soared to the top of the Chicago ratings it, like most other Classic Hip-Hop stations, has quickly settled back towards the middle of the pack. The demise of “K-Hits 104.3” WJMK did allow Cumulus Classic Hits 94.7 WLS-FM to become a steady Top 5 player in the market.
The debuts of Alternative in New York and Dallas on 11/17/17 was just the start of a format boom that would also see Entercom launch the format on 101.9 WQMP Orlando in place of another Top 40 and completely rebrand and relaunch “Live 105” KITS San Francisco as “Alt 105.3” before 2017 came to an end. While the New York and Dallas stations have not seen huge ratings jumps those moves would see a spike in new Alternative launches across the country and an increase in music from the format crossing over to Top 40 and Hot AC giving record labels the ability to invest more in the format and helping grow the format nationally, much in the same way Cumulus has used Country “Nash-FM 94.7” WNSH New York.
The debut of WNYL would also play a minor part in a later change at Hot AC “Fresh 102.7” WNEW New York. What started as a more current competitor to iHeartMedia AC “106.7 Lite-FM” in 2007 would evolve into a Pop/Alternative leaning Hot AC. Entercom would revamp the station in July as “New 102.7” back towards the originally envisioned version of what was Fresh.
The other “Fresh” branded Hot AC that Entercom inherited from CBS Radio would also drop that identity to fill a long-vacant opening in its market. The October move of WIAD Washington DC to Classic Hits “94.7 The Drive” filled an opening for the format in Washington that had existed since 2007.
Two of the changes were necessitated by the combining of the CBS and existing Entercom clusters in a market. One went very well, the other may go down as one of the biggest format change disasters of all time. In Seattle where Entercom owned Country “100.7 The Wolf” KKWF, the company decided to blow up the higher rated KMPS to debut Soft AC “94.1 The Sound” KSWD. That station’s continued growth (3.8 – 4.2 – 4.9 share over the past three months) is one of the primary reasons for the explosion in Soft AC we are currently seeing. The move to Soft AC in Seattle would be followed by an identical move in Detroit as yet another second CHR (notice a trend?) gave up the format to become “98.7 The Breeze” last week.
On the other end of the spectrum was the debacle at 97.3 San Diego. Another second (in this case actually third) CHR in a market was first moved to a lesser signal to allow Country KSON onto a bigger signal then was flipped to what was supposed to be a mix of Hot Talk, Rock and Padres baseball as “97.3 The Machine” before a social media stunt by planned morning host Kevin Klein led to a quick relaunch as Sports “97.3 The Fan” KWFN in order to salvage the company’s relationship with MLB’s San Diego Padres.
Kevin Klein has strangely been connected to three of these changes. He first was hosting mornings at KITS San Francisco before that station’s relaunch, which then brought him to San Diego briefly. The blow-up of “The Machine” then brought him to Los Angeles to become a co-host on Ted Stryker’s 106.7 KROQ afternoon show and also to reunite with co-host Ally Johnson in middays on LGBTQ Talk “Channel Q” this month when the recently launched HD Radio/streaming network added former AC “Sunny 103.1” KEZN (now KQPS) Palm Springs as its first primary terrestrial affiliate.
Channel Q also was part of Entercom’s broad investment to turn what was a CBS Radio afterthought into one of the company’s top initiatives. CBS Radio had inherited Radio.com from co-owned CNet and while it used it as its streaming platform it never really knew what to do with it. Entercom on the other hand, made Radio.com the exclusive home for all of its digital initiatives to the point where every station in the company identifies on-air not as being owned by Entercom, but rather Radio.com.
Entercom has abandoned Top 40 in New York, Dallas, Detroit, and San Diego but it fell back into the format in Philadelphia. One of the last major moves made by CBS Radio before announcing its deal with Entercom in early 2017 was to flip “96.5 Amp Radio” WZMP Philadelphia to AC “Today’s 96.5” WTDY-FM to attack “101.1 More-FM” WBEB. Entercom shifted the station to Hot AC “96.5 TDY” in March but then acquired WBEB and returned it to its heritage “B101.1” moniker. That has led the station to evolve back to CHR and move its target to iHeartMedia’s “Q102” WIOQ.
Are there any other former CBS Radio stations potentially in danger of a format change? While “Amp Radio 103.3” WODS Boston completes a wall of women with Hot AC “Mix 104.1” WWBX and AC “Magic 106.7” WMJX, its low ratings combined with the demise of the Amp brand from everywhere else outside of Los Angeles keeps us wondering when the shoe will drop. The question is whether there is another viable format in the Boston market or does the station serve a better purpose keeping iHeartMedia’s market leading “Kiss 108” WXKS-FM from having even higher in-demo ratings?
As a whole Entercom has done well to strengthen its holdings as it adapts to being a much more dominant player in the audio space. Each of the format changes it has adopted have worked to fill an untapped audience in a market or to flank stations that it has brought into its holdings. The company is unrecognizable in many aspects from what it and CBS Radio were before the combination of the two, but poised to much better adapt to the new realities of radio and streaming audio than before from a programming standpoint.