Cumulus CEO Touts Improvements at Radio Stations Featuring Rush Limbaugh
Radio station giant Cumulus Media is making progress in turning around financial challenges at underperforming news/talk stations that feature such talent as conservative talk star Rush Limbaugh, the company said Tuesday.
While not mentioning Limbaugh by name, Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey used his company's earnings conference call to indirectly address the threat that the talk star may end his affiliation agreement with the group.
"We're making excellent progress on the turnaround" of underperforming talks/news stations, Dickey said during an earnings conference call with Wall Street analysts on Tuesday. He added that the company is on track or even slightly ahead of schedule in terms of its goal to return all of them to revenue growth this year.
Without mentioning specific talent, Dickey said that such stations as Limbaugh homes WABC, which, he said, "is leading the pack in New York," and WLS in Chicago have seen improving trends and returned growth. He said KABC, which does not carry Limbaugh, is seeing similar improvements. After being faced with 10 underperforming stations last year, the company now has six remaining stragglers, he said, emphasizing that he expects the underperformers to rebound during the second half of 2013 after a roughly flat current quarter.
Dickey said Cumulus is dedicated to focusing on "the industry's most talented performers, while developing the next generation of talk superstars" in the years ahead.
Asked about Limbaugh, the broader talk business and business challenges, Dickey simply said that the 10 underperforming stations that have been a drag on results have meant that the talk business has been indisputably "tough" for Cumulus.
People near Limbaugh have in recent days told media outlets that the highest-rated talk host in the U.S. has been unhappy that Dickey has in the past blamed Cumulus' revenue weakness on him, insinuating that advertisers are abandoning the host because he is controversial. Limbaugh's camp has reportedly threatened that the star could decide not to extend his show's contract with Cumulus stations. Limbaugh's contract expires at the end of the year.
Radio giant Clear Channel's Premiere Radio unit distributes The Rush Limbaugh Program.
Sources close to Limbaugh said the host was particularly frustrated that Dickey blamed Limbaugh's Sandra Fluke comments last year for some of the company's financial challenges. Last February, Limbaugh called activist Fluke a "slut" after she had called for mandated insurance coverage of contraceptives. The comments led to a boycott by advertisers.
A total of 40 Cumulus radio stations would lose rights to his show if Limbaugh left.
Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com; Twitter: @georgszalai