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Pawwwl in the Family

His future's so bright...

Cox Media Group wants Paul Finebaum. But can they get him?

The group has launched a new sports talk radio station in Birmingham, 97.3 The Zone. The huge (Annual revenues = $1.8 billion) multimedia conglomerate no doubt sees potential in our sports-crazy state.

One component of their plan is to snag Finebaum away from Citadel Broadcasting, which owns WJOX 94.5. In fact, in its current program lineup, 97.3 is broadcasting Rick and Bubba repeats in the time period it would give to Finebaum. A clear sign that Cox is keeping the spot open and the seat warm.

The trouble is that Finebaum is under contract to Citadel until 2013, and Citadel is not interested in letting him out.

According to a recent article in the Birmingham Business Journal, Cox has made a conditional offer to Finebaum. Terms were not disclosed, but we can infer that it’s an attractive offer, if Finebaum’s attorneys are in court trying to get their client out of his Citadel contract.

Finebaum’s lawyers claim that when Citadel went into bankruptcy in 2009 and pushed Finebaum to make contract concessions, it negated the contract. Now that the Department of Justice has approved the purchase of Citadel by Cumulus Media, to create yet another mega-conglomerate, Citadel/Cumulus is in a stronger financial position, and bankruptcy is ancient history.

Both sides are playing their own version of radio hardball. The Zone has added Tim Brando, a frequent Finebaum guest, to its lineup, starting at noon. In response, Brando claimed in late August that he had been banned from appearing on Finebaum’s show by “petty middle-mismanagers” at the parent company. Finebaum responded by appearing on Brando’s show to discuss the issue.

For Finebaum, one benefit to freedom might be the Paul Finebaum Radio Network itself. I couldn’t get anyone to return my calls or e-mails, so all I can do is infer possibilities from Web site information. On Finebaum’s Web site, the network staff members all have “citcomm.com” e-mail addresses. The implication is that Citadel not only owns WJOX, but also syndicates Finebaum’s program to 25 stations in 21 towns (not including Sirius and XM radio).

Cox Media Group does not currently advertise radio syndication on its Web site. So it could be that one benefit for Finebaum would be the ability to syndicate his own show.

Another interesting Web site observation: For whatever reason, Citadel currently does not list Finebaum’s show among its radio offerings, which include Mike Huckabee, Jim Brickman and Melissa Etheridge — all at different times, of course. It could be that Citadel wants to hold off on promoting Finebaum’s show for now, if they are about to lose it.

Of course, when it comes to actual content, Finebaum is an easy target. For every Gary Danielson or Bruce Feldman, there are far too many Legends and Tammies — who have direct calling privileges and guaranteed opportunities to embarrass themselves and their fellow Southerners. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I listen only long enough to drive the two miles from campus to driveway.

But that’s not the point here. It is undeniable that Finebaum brings an audience that is attractive to both radio stations and advertisers, jokes about demographics aside. If Finebaum were that easy to dismiss, why would Citadel be in court trying to keep him and why would Cox be trying to get him?

John Carvalho, associate professor of journalism at Auburn, blogs about the sports media at johncarvalhoau.tumblr.com. Find him on Twitter at @johncarvalhoau. Read his previous columns here.

Related: First mention of Paul Finebaum in Alabama sports media was in 1977 Plainsman story on Toomer’s Corner.

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