According to Matt Drudge, ABC has finalized the sale of its radio stations to Citadel Broadcasting. Terms of the deal are expected to be released next week. With the sale, CBS will become the only "legacy" broadcast network that still owns local radio stations (NBC sold off its radio network--the nation's first--and its local stations more than 20 years ago).
While ABC is expected to retain its radio networks and profitable radio syndication arm (which provide programming to local stations), the company's departure from station ownership marks a sad day in broadcast history. For many years, ABC's local radio and TV stations helped carry the corporation, back in the days when ABC-TV was bleeding red ink.
ABC's local radio outlets often led their markets, and helped pioneer a number of formats, including talk and Top 40. In its heyday as a rock and roll station in the 1960s and 70s, WABC in New York attracted seven million listeners a week, a cumulative audience that is simply staggering. Chicago's WLS was another powerhouse, sustaining a Top 40/CHR format long after most AM stations had abandoned music for talk. Eventually, both stations dropped music for talk, and have achieved notable success with that format.
On the west coast, KABC helped pioneer the talk format in the 1960s, and remained a ratings force until it was overtaken by KFI in the early 1990s (after KABC passed on carrying Rush Limbaugh's show). In San Francisco, KGO has dominated local ratings for more than 25 years, with a host line-up that is decidedly more liberal than most talk stations.
Along the way, the ABC stations were home for a number of legendary radio personalities, including Herb Oscar Anderson, Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, Dan Ingram, "Cousin" Brucie Morrow, George Michael and the late Chuck Leonard (WABC); Larry Lujack, Bob Sirott, John "Records" Landecker, Tommy Edwards, Jeff Davis and Yvonne Daniels (WLS), Michael Jackson at KABC, and Ronn Owens at KGO.
Some of the ABC executives were also legends, like Rick Sklar and Glenn Morgan, who programmed WABC in its heyday; John Gehron at WLS and former ABC radio network president Ed McLaughlin, who discovered Rush Limbaugh in Sacramento.
A broadcast era is ending. Somehow, it won't be the same when I hear Johnny Donovan intone "WABC, New York...a Citadel Broadcasting Station."
Visit this site and this one for a trip down the memory lane with two of ABC's legendary local stations.