Let’s talk about what might happen to WBT-AM (1110) and sister station WLNK-FM (“Link” 107.9).
Both are part of a deal in which their owner, Greater Media, is to be absorbed by Beasley Media Group. After regulatory approval, the arrangement should close in late autumn.
Beasley already owns a successful group of stations in Charlotte including WSOC-FM (103.7) and WPEG-FM (“Power 98,” 97.9). Under federal ownership caps, Beasley can operate no more than five FMs in Charlotte and they are at that limit.
Charlotte’s other big radio broadcaster is iHeartMedia, also with five FMs including WRFX-FM (“Fox” 99.7) and WKKT-FM (“Kat” 96.9). Through their stations, each company attracts about a quarter of the radio audience.
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Either company could add WBT, the AM station, but the real value lies in selling the combination. And there’s no reason for either company to mess with their successful portfolios here.
WBT and WLNK together would likely go for something around $20 million to $30 million. That’s a huge drop from the $100 million paid in 2008 by Greater Media, which came at the top of the market before the recession.
With interest rates low, a broadcaster may buy both and continue to run them as now, but that seems unlikely. Together the stations attract about 8 percent of the audience.
With a portfolio of stations in various formats, rivals spread costs – sales, administrative and engineering – more efficiently than a company operating only two stations.
Plus, both WBT and WLNK have expensive formats. They are talent-driven operations that rely on paying local personalities. In comparison, successful stations like iHeart’s WLKO-FM (“Lake” 102.9) is a robot station, playing only music and commercials.
A buyer keeping WBT and WLNK as-is would be someone operating them as a labor of love, not as a shrewd business-oriented broadcaster.
Raleigh-based Curtis Media Group, which operates 57 radio stations in North Carolina but none in Charlotte, is possible. But Curtis falls into the shrewd-business category, and the numbers may not make sense.
They could be a good fit for Radio One, which operates WOSF-FM (“Old School” 105.3) and WPZS-FM (“Praise” 100.7). There would be operating efficiencies, but Radio One has financing challenges and may not be in the mood to expand.
Another possible match – selling the stations to a religious-oriented broadcaster like the national giant K-Love, which can use the strong signals of WBT and WLNK for its syndicated national programming.
K-Love is a tax-exempt religious broadcaster that depends largely on donations. A growing Sun Belt market like Charlotte could be most attractive.
Whatever happens, a big shakeup in Charlotte radio is likely by year’s end.
Leading Charlotte radio stations
Here are the top-rated Charlotte radio stations, as measured by Nielsen Audio in its most recent sweeps period in June, and their owners.
Share of audience
Old School, 105.1
WXRC-FM (“Ride” 95.7) and WGZV-AM (ESPN, 730) do not subscribe to Nielsen Audio rankings and are not included.
Here is the market share of the major operators in the Charlotte radio market based on rankings by Nielsen Audio.
Radio One: 8%.
Greater Media: 8%