Cumulus Keeps Limbaugh, Dials Up New Talent, Just in Case

Limbaugh Photograph by Julie Smith/AP Images

Radio giant Cumulus Media is betting on sports and blabber over bandwidth in a $260 million purchase of Dial Global, a syndication shop that sells rights to a number of talk-show hosts.

The deal was relatively complex: To pay for the purchase, Cumulus sold 53 of its almost 500 radio stations to Townsquare Media for $238 million. It swapped an additional 15 small-market stations for five Townsquare towers in Fresno, Calif. It’s a testament to Cumulus’s desire to trade more heavily in talent, giving the broadcaster direct access to a lot of stuff—NFL, NCAA, Nascar, the Olympics—it didn’t have before. The deal also hedges somewhat its exposure to Rush Limbaugh, the No. 1 radio host, who is syndicated by Premiere Networks, a unit of Clear Channel. While Limbaugh lures a lot of listeners, his bombastic stock-in-trade has spooked advertisers on occasion.

After some testy negotiations with Clear Channel, Cumulus just reached a new syndication deal to air Limbaugh’s show. The company did not renew its agreement to broadcast Sean Hannity, the No. 2 talk-show host, who is also handled by Premiere. The Dial purchase gives Cumulus an inside track to a stable of talent to fill the gap left by Hannity or to sub in for Limbaugh the next time he runs afoul of advertisers. Here are a few options that Dial brings to the table from across the political spectrum, from right to left:

Herman Cain: The pizza magnate and memorable candidate from the 2012 Republican presidential primaries has, well, almost as much conservative cred as Limbaugh, if not nearly the same following.
Dennis Miller: He describes himself as “basically a libertarian,” and he’s funny—not a prerequisite in talk-radio, but it helps.
Thom Hartmann: A progressive former businessman who aims for the “radical middle.
Bill Press: The former chairman of the California Democratic Party.
Ed Schulz: A former college football star and conservative who now refers to himself as “a leftie.”

If none of these guys fits the bill, Dial can cut Cumulus a sweet deal for “Pop Crush with Billy Bush.” Bush is the cousin of President George W. Bush, but politics aren’t really his bag.

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