Now that Nexstar has announced intentions to purchase Tribune Media for $4.1 billion, Cumulus Media reportedly wants to be in play to pick up Tribune’s sole radio property, talk WGN (720) Chicago. In acquiring Tribune, Nexstar will be the largest TV operator in the country and looks at WGN as a non-core asset. Cumulus owns modern rock WKQX (101.1), talk WLS AM (890) and classic hits WLS-FM (94.7) in the market.
According to Chicago media reporter Robert Feder, Cumulus CEO Mary Brenner told staffers at her company’s Chicago properties that Cumulus is definitely interested if Nexstar puts the signal up for sale after closing on its purchase of Tribune, which is expected in third quarter 2019, pending regulatory approval.
Nexstar CEO Perry Sook, who began his broadcast career in radio, told investors that he “doesn’t have an allergic reaction to radio,” but doesn’t see his company building out a radio portfolio, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. However, the company is not in a rush to sell WGN, he said.
Tribune has been offering employees of both WGN and WGN-TV voluntary buyouts ahead of its intended sale, which looked to be going to Sinclair Broadcasting for $3.9 billion before the FCC sent the deal to the review of an administrative law judge and Tribune’s subsequent pull-out from the agreement and filing of a $1 billion suit against its would-be buyer.
A purchase of WGN by Cumulus would once again give the operator a fourth signal in the market. The company officially purchased WKQX and the intellectual rights of the now defunct classic rock “The Loop” WLUP-FM in an $18 million deal that closed in June. The 97.9 signal, now under the calls WCKL-FM, was purchased by Educational Media Foundation for $21.5 million, after Cumulus amended its long-running LMA of WLUP-FM and WKQX with Merlin as it was undergoing Chapter 11 restructuring.
Feder says Entercom and Hubbard, both of which own radio clusters in Chicago, are also considered potential bidders for WGN.