WBBM tops Chicago radio cash register

WBBM Newsradio

Chicago radio stations don’t want you to know how much they made in 2016, but at least we can tell who was on top.

With estimated revenue of $45 million, the CBS Radio all-news combo of WBBM AM 780 and WCFS FM 105.9 again led the market, according to a report released Tuesday by BIA/Kelsey, a Virginia-based research and consulting firm that tracks local advertising and marketing.

WBBM Newsradio ranked fifth among the nation’s leading revenue producers and was the only Chicago station to make the top 10. It rose 2.7 percent from $43.8 million the previous year, with the increase attributed in part to political advertising. “The news/talk category experienced an overall improvement in 2016, likely due to the presidential year,” BIA/Kelsey noted.

The chart below prematurely identified Entercom as the owner of WBBM, although the company’s announced merger with CBS Radio has not been finalized.

Robert Udowitz, a spokesman for BIA/Kelsey, would not say whether the firm will release revenue estimates for other Chicago stations, as it has in the past. “The decision on whether to release specific cities will be made after the [national] release has been distributed,” he said.

While BIA/Kelsey’s figures are considered reliable estimates, they’re not quite as authoritative as the sales totals compiled by the accounting firm of Miller Kaplan Arase, which are based on reports submitted directly by station management.

Under pressure from station groups, Miller Kaplan Arase threatened to sue if I published “any parts of its reports, including any revenue figures which you may obtain, regardless of source.” As a result of the cease-and-desist order, this was the first time I was unable to publish annual revenues of the top 30 local stations and compare their year-to-year sales figures.

For now whatever data BIA/Kelsey releases will have to suffice — along with the company’s cheery spin on the outlook for radio.

“In an age where consumers have many entertainment choices, local radio maintains its strength and popularity in the marketplace among national and local advertisers,” said Mark Fratrik, senior vice president and chief economist at BIA/Kelsey. “Our forecast also notes that by 2021 we expect radio to surpass newspapers and become the fifth largest media category among advertisers.”

Radio Revenue 2016 (BIA/Kelsey)