Merlin Media has sold alternative WRXP (New Rock 101.9) New York to CBS Radio for $75 million. The new owners have already announced plans to launch a simulcast of sports WFAN-AM on the signal when they take over operating the station later this fall under a local marketing agreement. Merlin had announced it was changing the station's format to alternative from news less than three months ago.
"This is an extremely exciting opportunity to expand our radio presence in the nation's largest market," said CBS Radio president/CEO Dan Mason. "Sports is a very popular format and a huge growth category for our business."
It seems likely that Merlin sold the station to help balance out what are rumored to be huge losses from pursuing very expensive all-new formats in both New York and Chicago over the past year.
According to a memo apparently sent by Merlin CEO Randy Michaels to employees and obtained by Billboard, the sale retired significant amounts of debt from the company's balance sheet. Going forward, Merlin is supposedly in a much healthier position and plans to not only keep operating its current properties in Chicago and Philadelphia, but is also searching for potential acquisitions.
The station changed from all-news to alternative in July of this year, bringing the format back onto the air in New York after a one-year hiatus. It appeared to be getting some traction - growing from a .6 share of listeners ages 6 and up in July to a 2.1 in the most recent Arbitron release. "The format's initial success made the decision very difficult," Michaels said in the memo to staffers.
So while it would be possible to make a case for keeping the format, CBS is more concerned with protecting their 25-year heritage sports station WFAN, which found itself with an FM competitor after the April launch of ESPN Radio's sports WEPN-FM.
And once again, the alternative format has no home in New York, though it's certainly reasonable to think the station's quick jump in ratings could attract the attention of another broadcast group looking for an opportunity.