Will Soros Investment Affect Your Local News?

Three years ago this week, radio station owner Entercom enjoyed a stock price of $187.80.

Five weeks later, in March 2021, the company, which owns 227 local stations and also podcast production companies, renamed itself Audacy. Today, in bankruptcy, its stock is trading for 15 cents per share.

Just last week, the investment firm that serves as the family office for George Soros, the political funder lauded by the left and positioned as a villain by the right, and along the way the subject of a conspiracy theory, plans to buy an estimated 40 percent of the company’s debt, with a plan to convert it to stock. That has set off concern about whether Soros wants these radio stations to use as part of a political machine. Is this a “buy low, make money” opportunity or something more? I answered questions about that on a talk program on Detroit’s WJR, a station owned by Cumulus, which has itself twice survived bankruptcy. You can listen to the segment here.

Once upon a time, it would have been impossible to imagine buying a media company like this to perpetuate a political agenda. But in the age of cable “news,” never mind Sinclair’s local TV stations sharing a right-leaning political philosophy, it’s impossible to say what a Soros equity stake might mean to this company, other than keeping it alive. That, in itself, is significant because it has been no sure thing, as its stations have eliminated local talent to cut costs.

Looking through a current list of Audacy’s properties, I counted 12 of them as “legacy” news stations, including pioneers of the all-news format, trusted brands in their communities and top billers in their markets, like WCBS and WINS in New York, KNX in Los Angeles, WBBM in Chicago and WWJ in Detroit. About another 12 are talk stations. 200+ are music stations. Once a bankruptcy exit plan receives court approval and ownership installs (or retains) management, could formats flip? Of course. Could corporate dictate local news choices? We have seen it in TV. Could news be cut further to increase profits? That’s always a possibility. Could successes be left alone? Maybe, sure.

The takeaway here for anyone connected to the media business is that regardless of what changes, a fact I learned in my first job in media still holds: Ownership Matters. While TV stations flash their longstanding network affiliations and analog channel numbers and radio stations lead with their frequencies with a word or letter attached to them, to really understand what happens on the inside is all based on ownership. Whoever owns and operates Audacy next will impact millions of consumers, one way or another.