Rush Limbaugh's loss negligible on Clear Channel's revenue

by L.A. Lorek & Paul J. Gough Thursday, Nov. 06, 2003 at 1:30 PM

Despite the Limbaugh controversy, Clear Channel announced a record third quarter on revenues of $2.54 billion. Limbaugh is expected to return on November 17 with his base of listeners, advertisers, and stations intact.

Clear Channel sets record with quarter
L.A. Lorek, Express-News, November 05, 2003

Syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh's treatment for drug addiction hasn't hurt the bottom line of his employer, Clear Channel Communications. The San Antonio-based company retained 100 percent of its advertisers and its radio affiliates in the wake of Limbaugh's announcement he was addicted to prescription painkillers, said John Hogan, CEO of the company's radio division, during a conference call Tuesday. Limbaugh is expected to be back on the job within a week, said Mark Mays, Clear Channel's chief operating officer.

Despite the Limbaugh controversy and a less-than-stellar economic environment, Clear Channel announced a record third quarter. It posted net earnings of $636 million, or $1.03 per share, on revenues of $2.54 billion. The revenue is up 9 percent from the same quarter a year ago. The company's earnings included gains related to its investment in Univision Communications and its sale of an investment in American Tower Corp.

Radio revenues were flat, but Clear Channel's outdoor advertising rose 5 percent and the entertainment division jumped 14 percent in the quarter. Revenue at Clear Channel's radio division is expected to remain flat or be slightly down in the fourth quarter, Mays said.

Kit Spring, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co., said Clear Channel's third quarter earnings were in line with expectations and predicted the company might underperform the rest of the industry slightly in the fourth quarter. "I would look for Clear Channel to have a cyclical rebound next year," Spring said. "Hopefully job growth will start to impact local radio growth."

Spring rates the stock a buy. He doesn't own any shares and Stifel Nicolaus & Co. doesn't have an investment banking relationship with Clear Channel. "The cash flow the company continues to generate is compelling," Spring said.

For the nine months that ended Sept. 30, Clear Channel had $1.3 billion in cash flow. The company has been using that cash flow to pay down debt, said Randall Mays, Clear Channel's chief financial officer.

Mays said that in the third quarter, Clear Channel paid $650 million toward its debt, which now stands at $7.1 billion. The company continues to closely monitor its capital expenditures, he said, and will use its cash flow to make acquisitions, pay dividends, invest in its businesses and continue to pay down its debt. "We are very fortunate to have the problem of what to do with all this cash flow," Mays said.

Paying down debt is a very positive move for Clear Channel and its stock, said Paul Sweeney, analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston, which has had an investment banking relationship with the company. "In our opinion the consolidation of the radio and outdoor businesses is essentially behind Clear Channel," Sweeney said. "Their focus is twofold: integrate all the assets they have acquired to optimize their operation and reduce their debt."

For the fourth quarter, Sweeney said he expects a generally weak advertising environment again offset by Clear Channel's performance in the U.S. and international outdoor business and entertainment business. "Our expectations are that 2004 should be a very strong year for media companies," Sweeney said. "We think the improving economy combined with political and Olympic advertising should provide for strong growth."


Rush Limbaugh Poised To Return To The Dial
Paul J. Gough, MediaPost, November 05, 2003

Rush Limbaugh will return to the radio airwaves Nov. 17, MediaDailyNews has learned. The move follows the conservative radio talk show host's well-publicized stay in a treatment center for substance abuse.

Limbaugh recently celebrated his 15th year in radio and is also the industry's biggest star, garnering top ratings for many of the 650 stations that run his three-hour afternoon talk show and boasting 20 million listeners every week. But in early October, the radio commentator suffered professional and personal reverses. First, he quit ESPN's "Sunday Night Football" after a controversial on-air stint where he took Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to task for his on-field performance. And then, as rumors circulated that Limbaugh was being investigated by authorities in Palm Beach County, Fla., in a drug probe, he told listeners that he was addicted to prescription pain medication. Limbaugh said he was going to check himself into a rehab hospital for treatment of drug addiction.

The talk show host's name came up Tuesday morning during a conference call discussing third-quarter earnings at Clear Channel Communications, the huge radio station owner that also owns the Premiere Radio Networks unit that produces Limbaugh's show. A Clear Channel executive said that Limbaugh should be out of the rehab hospital within seven to 10 days and that a full recovery is expected.

A Clear Channel spokeswoman told MediaDailyNews late Tuesday that Limbaugh would return to the airwaves on Nov. 17. Guest hosts have been filling in while Limbaugh was away.

John Hogan, chief executive officer of Clear Channel Radio, said there hasn't been much of a financial fallout since Limbaugh has been away. No stations have left the fold and no advertisers have dropped either, Hogan said.

"During his absence, we have maintained 100 percent of our affiliate base, and we have maintained our advertiser base," Hogan said. "This is an unfortunate turn of events for Rush, but our advertisers and our affiliate base have remained firmly behind him and we look forward to his return in the near future."