Paul Finebaum, the afternoon host of Birmingham, Alabama’s popular WJOX sports talk radio station, is leaving one of Cumulus radio’s Southern sports powerhouses for a big payday from a competing station, 97.3 the Zone owned by Cox Communications. It’s a big move in sports talk radio because Finebaum brings in several million dollars a year in ad revenue on one of the highest rated sports talk stations in the country. Finebaum’s show is also simulcast nationwide on Sirius satellite radio, although the present satellite airing leads to minimal additional revenue. (Exactly how the satellite radio component to Finebaum’s new deal will work going forward remains to be seen. It’s possible that thanks to the popularity of the show satellite could be a substational revenue component in Finebaum’s new deal.)
Finebaum will also be accompanied on the move to Cox Communications’ 97.3 the Zone by Ryan Haney, program director at WJOX, who will now become program director at the new station, which has been to this point a perennial ratings doormat, regularly being trounced by WJOX in the ratings. Expectations are that Finebaum will be replaced in afternoons at WJOX by the mid-day show, the Roundtable with Lance Taylor, Jim Dunaway, and Ryan Brown. That trio’s midday show, airing from 10 am-2 pm daily, is presently the highly rated lead-in to Finebaum’s show. This will leave JOX with a large hole in the middays to fill.
Finebaum’s relationship with Cumulus Media, which purchased his former employer Citadel in September of 2011, has been tumultuous, with the two sides recently engaging in a protracted lawsuit. That lawsuit was settled in July of 2012.
Finebaum’s departure is a major blow to Cumulus and COO John Dickey who told the trade show magazine Talkers back in July that “Finebaum will never work for Cox in Birmingham.” Those comments came after Cox Communications has avidly wooed Finebaum for months, even going so far as to play a clock counting down the amount of days left until Finebaum’s contract with Cumulus expired. That contract expired on Monday, leaving Finebaum a radio free agent. Finebaum, who has recently been profiled in the New Yorker, will have to serve a three-month non-compete in the Birmingham market. Conveniently that non-compete will arise during the dead season of college football, leaving Finebaum free to reemerge in time for the lead-in to the 2013 football season. (Depending on how his contract reads, Finebaum might not have to serve any non-compete at all for a national radio show, but indications are that Finebaum will take off the three months anyway.)
OKTC reached out to Finebaum and Ryan Haney seeking comment from both men, but neither replied.
The Finebaum Twitter account has been silent for two days and this morning the official JOX website removed all reference to Finebaum on the show lineup.