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Audacy’s Stock Delisting Can’t Be Blamed on a Soft Advertising Market Alone

Newly delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, the radio giant's problems also stem from debt taken on following its 2017 merger with CBS Radio.

A couple of years after the COVID-19 pandemic took radio listeners out of their vehicles and a recession caused an advertising slowdown, the radio industry is experiencing another decline. That has complicated the financial position of Audacy, the second-largest radio company in the United States and a major player in the podcast market.

Warning lights appeared again last week when the company revealed in its May 10th 10-Q filing that “current macroeconomic conditions” such as rising inflation and interest rates and lower advertising revenue “have created, and may continue to create, significant uncertainty in operations.” Those factors “have had, and are expected to continue to have, a material adverse effect” on Audacy’s forecasted revenue, which is “unlikely to be sufficient” to maintain compliance of the financial debt covenants its lenders impose to ensure it can make its interest payments. As a result, Audacy explained, the company could default on its debt — which could then cause that debt to become immediately payable.


On Tuesday (May 16), a week after the March 10 filing, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) decided to halt trading of Audacy’s shares in order to delist the company. It was an expected move. Audacy, which changed its name from Entercom in March 2021, last traded at $0.09 per share — down nearly 63% year-to-date — before trading on the NYSE was halted. The NYSE, which has rules to maintain minimum share prices, issued a warning to Audacy on July 31 because its average closing price over a consecutive-day trading period was below $1. Audacy last closed above $1 per share on July 5, 2022 — meaning it remained below $1 for 218 consecutive trading days.

Investors have lost some faith in radio companies’ stocks as advertising growth weakened in 2022. Year-to-date, shares of iHeartMedia, the nation’s largest radio company, have fallen 55.3%. Likewise, shares of Cumulus Media, the third-largest radio company, are down 47.5%. Market conditions appear to be improving, however. iHeartMedia expects its adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) to improve throughout 2023, CEO Bob Pittman said during the company’s May 2 earnings call. “And if this advertising market recovery trend continues in 2024,” Pittman added, “we expect to resume our growth trajectory that was interrupted by this period of advertising softness.”

The advertising market is part of Audacy’s problem, but it’s not the entire problem, according to Craig Huber, media analyst at Huber Research Partners. “The number one issue is too much debt in a secular declining industry,” says Huber. Audacy acquired most of its $1.9 billion of long-term debt from its 2017 merger with CBS Radio. That deal increased Audacy’s revenue more than four-fold, from $367 million in 2016 to $1.7 billion in 2018, but also increased its debt from $468 million at the end of 2016 to $1.86 billion at the end of 2017.


The debt has been a drag on Audacy’s cash flow. In 2022, Audacy’s net interest expense was $107.5 million — about 8.6% of the company’s annual revenue of $1.25 billion. After paying interest to service its debt, Audacy’s free cash flow in 2022 was -$31.8 million. “They haven’t done enough to take out costs” to achieve positive free cash flow, says Huber, and revenue hasn’t met the company’s own expectations.

When the merger with CBS Radio was announced in 2017, the combined companies had adjusted EBITDA of $500 million, including “expected transaction synergies,” according to the press release. In 2022, adjusted EBITDA was just $138 million. Even though Audacy was in compliance with its debt covenants on March 31, the company has expressed concern about its ability “to continue as a going concern” over the next 12 months.

Audacy operates in a difficult business that’s losing listening time as people change their listening habits and migrate to streaming platforms. Although Audacy, like iHeartMedia and Cumulus, has invested in digital platforms — it acquired podcasting companies Pineapple Street and Cadence13 in 2019 and was the No. 8 podcasting network in Q3 and Q4, according to Edison Research — revenue fell about 14% between 2018, the first full year after the CBS Radio merger, and 2022.

With no way around the soft advertising market, Audacy has started cutting costs and selling non-core assets. The company expects its costs will decline 4%, or $35 million, in the last three quarters of 2023, chairman/president/CEO David Field said during the May 10 earnings call. He also said the company raised $17 million in the first quarter from sales of broadcast towers and expects to close on the sale of two stations for $15.5 million in the second or third quarter.

As for Audacy’s stock, trading volume will decrease now that it’s been delisted. Since it started selling only over the counter (through a broker-deal, not on an exchange), the share price has fallen: On Wednesday, Audacy shares declined nearly 24% to $0.04, and they ended the week at $0.06.

The company will now take steps to get back to the NYSE. “While we are disappointed by the NYSE’s decision, we are hopeful we will find our way back to the exchange later this year as we execute our action plans which include a reverse stock split to satisfy NYSE rules, the continued execution of our liability management plans and working with our financial advisors to refinance our debt,” Field said in a May 16 press release. Shareholders will vote on the reverse stock split at the annual meeting on May 24. By working with the factors it can control, Audacy can soften the impact of the broader market conditions it cannot control.