Here’s How Entercom’s Boston Spins May Play

Clark Smidt

With prognostications already out there regarding how Entercom may divest the stations it needs to in six markets so it may complete its blockbuster tax-free merger with CBS Radio, all eyes are on Boston for more reasons than New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady and top Democratic Sen. Ed Markey.

Entercom needs to shed a pair of FM stations in Boston. Clark Smidt, a New England broadcast media expert and advisor to stations across the region, has narrowed the possible stations Entercom will spin down to three.

He also believes a major publicly traded operator with a big events arm is in contention for the stations.

The CBS Radio-Entercom deal is huge for Boston radio, Smidt says, with significant implications to 10 of the market’s stations.

In his view, a station that just debuted an Urban format — recently upgraded Class A WKAF-FM 97.7 — is primed for divestment.

“Entercom paid $30 million for it to fill in WAAF,” he says of the 2006 deal with Radio One that silenced WILD-FM. “It had been that fill in for quite some time. Since that initial purchase, Entercom moved the transmitter to Blue HIll, where [Class B] WGBH is, and overlooks Boston.”

Therefore, WKAF is a more potent Boston signal than it previously was. With a new format in place, Entercom could relocate it to a facility in intends to keep, Smidt believes. Or, an operator like Radio One could return to Boston to run a station superserving African-American listeners.

“It’s one of the best-sounding Class As,” he says.

Meanwhile, Smidt believes the unprecedented dominance a new Entercom would have from owning two Sports giants — WEEI-FM and WBZ-FM — won’t change and that both brands will stand on their own with continued success much as WINS-AM and WCBS-AM do in New York years after Westinghouse merged with CBS Radio.

WEEI-FM’s signal, however, is inferior when compared to the other stations Entercom and CBS Radio own in metro Boston. Thus, Smidt says this property could be spun with its intellectual property kept. However, this scenario is unlikely, he adds, because of the enormous ratings it generates.

Thus, WKAF’s intellectual property could shift … to WEEI-AM, a directional 50kw Class B at 850 kHz with an enormous signal reaching eastern Rhode Island, the eastern half of Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, coastal Maine, the southern tip of Nova Scotia, and even Saint John, Newfoundland. WEEI-AM is presently the market’s ESPN Radio affiliate.

Paired with a Renew FM translator, WEEI-AM could preserve WKAF’s format while greatly expanding its on-air coverage area.

It would also allow Entercom to shop WKAF with its former longtime companion, Westborough, Mass.-licensed WAAF-FM 107.3.

“The departure of WAAF would benefit Classic Rocker WZLX,” Smidt says. WAAF’s Class B signal reaches much of Boston’s western suburbs and all of Worcester, in addition to southern New Hampshire and most of the Providence market.

What company does Smidt think is in the running to add WKAF and WAAF, should Entercom designate the pair for divestment?

Townsquare Media.

Here’s why: Current Townsquare SVP/Operations Rob Williams is a former Greater Media executive. He served as VP/Market Manager of the company’s Boston stations from February 2012 to August 2015 and in 2009 was CEO of Goom Radio, a pioneering online streaming portal.

Smidt explains, “Townsquare has two small stations in New Bedford-Fall River; three in Portsmouth, N.H.; and stations in four Maine markets. With the company’s growth in events, this seems like a likely buyer.”

One media broker who requested anonymity concurs.

“It just comes down to pricing,” the broker said, indicating that Townsquare could easily benefit from WAAF’s addition to its New England station group from an on-air and event marketing perspective.

For now, the speculation continues … until Entercom announces what it plans on giving up in the Bay State.