Monday, July 13, 2020


At the end of August there will be one less provider of news to commercial radio stations in the U.S.

Last Thursday (7/9), Cumulus Media announced that their subsidiary, Westwood One News (“WWON”) will cease operations on August 30, 2020, at 11:40am ET. 

This means that over 900 commercial radio stations will be without a source for national and international news. This is important for public radio because local NPR News stations will be the only radio source for this type of news in the market.

WWON provided hourly newscasts, audio clips and features. The owner,  Cumulus, said the change was made because of “extraordinary circumstances” related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now it appears the decision to zap of WWON was to please to Cumulus shareholders.

On Friday (7/10), the day after the announcement, the price of Cumulus stock was up 12.3%. According to a report by the publication Radio Ink, Cumulus CEO Mary Berner told employees and affiliates in a memo “Please accept this letter as official notification of the cancellation of this service.”

NPR News/Talk station in smaller and medium sized markets should be aware that the closing of WWON might be an opportunity to increase their listener base.  WWON covered some national and international news. Now the affiliates might be diffical finding a replacement. \.

The radio news business is vastly different in 2020 than it was in 1974 when NPR began. At that time NPR News was considered an alternative to news coverage on the big four commercial radio networks, ABC, CBS, ABC and Mutual. 

Only ABC and CBS remain in the radio news business today. Both give their current affiliates exclusivity.

Changing listener tastes, the presence of more news sources and format focusing led to a decrease in the number of commercial stations air news. But, by far, the biggest reason for the decline of commercial radio news was the hyper-consolidation of station ownership.

The 1996 Telecom Act lifted the limits on the number of stations that one owner could own nationally and within a local market. Group owners such as Clear Channel (now iHeartRadio) acquired hundreds if stations. The cost of radio licenses had soared to historic highs powered by easy-to-get high-interest loans.

When the euphoria faded, big group owners made programming and staffing changes to pay the bills and pay back the loans. Entire newsrooms were axed, budgets were cut and host-based talk shows, such as Rush, replaced actual news; because it was cheaper to operate.

Around the same time, NPR made a series of moves to upgrade their programming and become a full-time news provider. More and more NPR stations focused their formats, following the lead of stations such as KQED, WBUR and WUWM.

Since then, public radio has made significant investments in news. CPB has helped by supporting initiatives to build the infrastructure that makes possible investigative reporting, regional scope and coverage of essential issues

In 2020 there are only a handful of commercial news/talk stations that are taken seriously.


WTOP is perhaps the best and most successful commercial radio news station in the nation.
As you can see in the chart on the right, WTOP competes with de facto NPR News flagship WAMU and WMAL 

WMAL owned by Cumulus Media. The schedule is mainly right-wing talk hosts such as Rush, Mark Levin and Ben Shapiro. 

WMAL also has a respected local news team with around a dozen full-time reporters, editors and anchors.

The chart on the rights shows why WMAL is getting such impressive AQH shares. 

WMAL’s estimated weekly listeners are much smaller than WTOP and WAMU. 

But WMAL looks more like club.

1 comment:

  1. Immediate news comes to me on my phone apps now. CBS NEWS, NBC NEWS, and others all with video. No need to wait for scheduled radio newscasts.