Very Stern goodbye

Infinity admits no regret to shock jock loss

NEW YORK — Howard Stern, be gone.

Infinity Broadcasting chairman-CEO Joel Hollander told investors Monday that the departure of Stern may not be such a loss after all, as it will free up cash and allow the company to explore different programming options for the morning drive hours.

“One person probably won’t be dropped into that spot,” Hollander said. “I feel a lot better about our plans than I did a month ago.”

Hollander, addressing the Bear Stearns 18th annual media conference in Palm Beach, Fla., said Infinity will now be able to go after national advertisers that have been skittish about buying time on Stern’s raunchy show, such as American Express.

Hollander said he expects Stern to stay with Infinity until his contract expires at the end of the year. He also said Sirius was “fiscally irresponsible” in signing a $500 million deal to get Stern.

Stern’s pending departure is hardly Hollander’s only concern. Like rival Clear Channel, Infinity is facing tough financial times. Massive consolidation of the radio biz, which put most of the firepower in the hands of the two radio giants, now could be reversing itself.

Both Infinity and Clear Channel have been hurting financially and are now starting to sell off stations in smaller markets.

Last week, Viacom took an $18 billion charge to write down the value of Infinity and Viacom Outdoor.

“Was there too much consolidation? I don’t know,” said Clear Channel Communications chief financial officer Randall Mays when addressing the Bear Stearns conference. “But I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re in survival mode. Certainly, I wouldn’t say that any company is worried about their solvency.”

Mays said the terrorist attack of 9/11 “sucked the life out of the radio biz.”

In a sea change for the biz, Clear Channel is trying to push advertisers to buy 30-second spots, vs. 60-seconds. Mays said it could make things difficult in the short term.

Mays also told investors that Clear Channel topper Lowry Mays could soon be returning to work. Mays underwent emergency surgery last fall after suffering a blood clot in his brain.

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