WBZ, The Sports Hub get new owners as Entercom moves to complete radio merger
Some of Boston’s best-known radio stations will get new owners under a deal unveiled on Wednesday aimed at winning federal approval of Entercom Communications Corp.’s merger with CBS Radio.
In one of the biggest shake-ups in Boston radio history, the companies said they agreed to the following moves to get antitrust clearance from the US Justice Department:
■ Ownership of CBS’s news station 1030 WBZ and classic rock mainstay 100.7 WZLX will switch to iHeartMedia, part of a swap in which Entercom will get stations in other cities.
■ Entercom’s R&B station 97.7 WKAF and talk radio outlet 680 WRKO will also move to iHeartMedia.
■ 98.5 The Sports Hub, a CBS station, will be traded to Beasley Broadcast Group, and Entercom will receive WMJX 106.7 and $12 million in return.
The deals are expected to be wrapped up early next year.
Entercom and iHeartMedia both said it was too early to say whether there would be any changes at any of their stations affected by the deal, but Beasley immediately gave a full-throated endorsement of the format and programming at The Sports Hub.
The station broadcasts the New England Patriots, the Boston Bruins, the Boston Celtics, and the New England Revolution, and it features several popular sports talk shows.
“I would expect listeners to not see any changes. It’s just going to be different ownership,” Caroline Beasley, chief executive of Florida-based Beasley, said in an interview. “The Sports Hub is an amazing brand, they generate amazing content, and there’s nothing that we really want to change at this point.”
The swaps announced Wednesday were part of a nationwide settlement with the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which had raised concerns that the merger would hurt competition for local advertising sales in Boston, San Francisco, and Sacramento.
Entercom and CBS said they are also cutting ties with stations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., while receiving stations in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Richmond.
Together, the companies hope those moves also help them win the approval of the Federal Communications Commission, which still must sign off on the deal. The companies expect the merger to close as soon as Nov. 17.
The merger of CBS Radio and Entercom will leave the resulting company with only Texas-based iHeartMedia and Beasley major competitors in the Boston market.
IHeartMedia owns stations including Kiss 108, JAM’N 94.5, Evolution 101.7, Talk 1430, and 101.7 The Bull, while Beasley — which last year acquired the stations owned by Greater Media Inc. — has ALT 92.9, HOT 96.9, Country 102.5, and 105.7 WROR.
Other Boston stations owned by Entercom and CBS include WAAF 107.3, WEEI on 850-AM and 93.7 FM, WBMX 104.1, and WODS 103.3.
“We are excited by the terrific new additions to our lineup that will bolster our position in Boston and expand our footprint in the Southeast,” David Field, CEO of Pennsylvania-based Entercom, said in a statement.
Bruce J. Mittman, a veteran broadcasting executive who leads the Needham ad agency Mittcom, said he believes the merger has brought about the largest industry reshuffling that Boston has ever seen, and it highlights the need for consolidation as radio competes for ad dollars with digital media.
Mittman, who has worked with CBS and Entercom and also operates a group of radio stations in other markets, said broadcasters “need a bigger footprint in order to stay competitive.”
He said stations getting new owners could see changes such as different studios, staffing reductions, and new ways of working together.
“It’s sort of like a sports franchise,” he said. “If you get traded, well, you have a new jersey, so the people you were competing with yesterday, you’re now on the same field today,” he said. “That’s going to be unsettling for people who were for years competing with each other and are now in the same family.”