WTOP Shifts Networks As CBS News Radio Successfully Sails To Skyview


New Year’s Eve was a successful night of transition for Skyview Networks‘ Network Operations. “We were fully staffed and onsite New Year’s Eve to transition CBS News Radio’s affiliates to our distribution platform,” Skyview says.

There was also a big transition at Hubbard Radio‘s market-leading WTOP-FM and its simulcast stations in Washington, D.C. regarding its top-of-the-hour news: CBS News Radio is gone.

In a major shift after decades of providing Washingtonians hourly news reports and bulletins from CBS, WTOP is now providing listeners content from ABC News Radio.

The change does not impact Hubbard’s relationship with Skyview, however: As of Jan. 1 at Midnight Eastern, CBS News Radio and ABC News Radio are distribution siblings.

As first reported Aug. 2 by RBR+TVBRCBS News Radio agreed to shift its distribution, inventory management and sales to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Skyview from the Cumulus Media-owned Westwood One, effective at the stroke of midnight Monday across the U.S. East Coast. It is a multi-year agreement, which did not include The Osgood File, as CBS News commentator Charles Osgood had a separate agreement with Westwood One for the syndication of his vignette series heard on radio stations across the U.S. Osgood concluded his radio reports at the end of 2017 due to health reasons, retiring from radio.

Skyview notes that the transition was “very smooth” for the CBS News Radio 450+ stations and that the network “proudly holds a significant place in the top 25 markets.”

But, the shift to WTOP from CBS to ABC is extremely noteworthy and could possibly portend other shifts to ABC News Radio. Or, it could point to a willingness by another Washington, D.C. radio station to align itself with CBS News Radio.

Could that station be Entercom‘s recently acquired WDCH-FM 99.1? The Bowie, Md.-licensed Class B covers both the National Capital Region and the Baltimore market and in January 2012 began a challenge against WTOP under the branding “WNEW — All news, All the Time.” The CBS “eye” logo was used in marketing, even as WTOP retained CBS News Radio.

WNEW was ultimately unable to pull listeners from WTOP or American University NPR member station WAMU-FM 88.5 in Washington. Since December 18, 2015 Bloomberg Radio has operated WDCH via a Time Brokerage Agreement.

WTOP GM Joel Oxley was not immediately available for comment.

“We have definitely been getting calls, mainly from listeners, about the change,” a Hubbard Radio/Washington staffer tells RBR+TVBR. 

In a tweet from Washington Post veteran media reporter Paul Farhi, he was told by an unnamed WTOP executive that the switch to ABC News Radio “was a business decision—ie., ABC took fewer ad slots than CBS, giving WTOP more time to sell its own ads.”

Responding to a Tweet from a WTOP listener, the station said, “We appreciate all the great work that CBS has done for us, but management felt that ABC was a better choice at this point for content for our listeners.”

Meanwhile, Skyview Networks President Ken Thiele said, “We have been working hand in hand with our partners at CBS News Radio in advance of this broadcast transition and its success is the result of our combined efforts and strategic preparation.”

Skyview notes that it will now offer the media community “fresh sponsorship and integration opportunities with the brand.”

They just won’t include WTOP, which had enjoyed a relationship with CBS in various forms since 1929, and outright acquired what was then WJSA-AM in 1932. In March 1943, the WTOP calls arrived.

Ownership shifts for WTOP began in February 1949, when the Washington Post took a 55% stake in the radio station. By the 1960s, WTOP had faded against competitors WMAL-AM 630, then-owned by the former Washington Star newspaper ahead of its ABC affiliation, and the former WRC-AM 980, owned by NBC for many years. It even tried a Top 40 format against WPGC-AM 1580 and WEAM-AM 1390.

Finally, in June 1978, the Washington Post had enough of radio, and sold WTOP at 1500 kHz to The Outlet Corporation. In 1989, Chase Broadcasting acquired WTOP, with ownership then shifting to Evergreen Media. By the end of 1997, Bonneville International was the owner of WTOP.

Under Bonneville, WTOP began its all-news renaissance — thanks to the addition of FM simulcast partners to pair with 1500 kHZ. The biggest revitalization of WTOP came exactly 12 years ago, when WTOP ushered in 2006 by announcing its move to 103.5 FM, ending Classical WGMS-FM‘s long-time run on the frequency.

Hubbard will celebrate seven years of ownership of WTOP on Jan. 19.

WTOP joins Hearst-owned WBAL-AM 1090 in Baltimore as ABC News Radio affiliates in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The national feed had been provided by CBS News Radio until 2014.

The transaction to Skyview is strictly for CBS News Radio, a CBS executive noted. The remainder of CBS Radio Network programming is under contract with Westwood One through the end of 2018.

What is the radio industry saying about the big network news affiliation switch for top-rated WTOP in Washington? Check it out now at RadioDiscussions.com!