Established in 1928, CBS Radio was a titan of the broadcasting industry for nearly a century, serving audiences nationwide from its headquarters in New York City. The corporation, initially known as United Independent Broadcasters, was renamed the Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System after Columbia Records joined the venture. The corporate name was streamlined to Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928 under the leadership of William S. Paley1.
CBS Radio was also an innovator in cultural diplomacy during World War II. In 1942, Paley, journalist Edmund Chester, and Nelson Rockefeller from the Department of State’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs launched the Network of the Americas. This radio network broadcasted news and cultural programming to North and South America, supporting President Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy2.
The modern form of CBS Radio was shaped by a series of acquisitions and corporate reorganizations that began in the late 20th century. The company that would become CBS Radio was founded as Infinity Broadcasting Corporation in 1972 by Michael A. Wiener and Gerald Carrus. Westinghouse Electric Corporation acquired CBS, Inc. in 1995 and subsequently bought Infinity Broadcasting in 1997. Westinghouse, which had broadcast the first-ever radio program in 1920, later changed its name to the original CBS Corporation and restructured its radio and outdoor advertising businesses under the Infinity Broadcasting Corporation3.
In Baltimore, CBS Radio’s presence was most notably felt through WCAO, also known as “The Voice of Baltimore.” WCAO was a CBS affiliate as far back as 1951 and was a significant Top 40 station from the 1950s through the 1970s. The station switched to a country format in 1982 and then to an urban gospel format in 1991. Currently, WCAO, now known as “Heaven 600,” is owned by Clear Channel4.
CBS Radio’s chapter in the broadcasting industry concluded when it was acquired by Entercom (now Audacy, Inc.) on November 17, 2017. As part of this transition, CBS Radio sold its 15 radio stations in Cincinnati, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; Austin, Texas; and Rochester, New York to Entercom Communications in August 2006. The deal faced regulatory review and numerous challenges for over a year but was ultimately approved by the FCC in mid-November 200756.
In Baltimore, CBS continues to maintain a strong presence through its television affiliate, WJZ-TV, which serves the Baltimore metropolitan area and much of the surrounding Towson area. Owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of Paramount Global, WJZ-TV is a significant source of local news, sports, and entertainment content7.
WJZ-FM, a CBS-affiliated station in Baltimore, is notable for its sports coverage, particularly of the Baltimore Orioles. Its frequency is 105.7 MHz. There have been no recent significant events involving CBS Radio Baltimore at the time of writing this article. The last notable event was the acquisition of CBS Radio by Entercom (now Audacy, Inc.) in 2017. More than 1,200 people were employed by CBS Radio at the time of its sale to Entercom8.
Legacy and Impact
The impact of CBS Radio on Baltimore and the larger broadcasting world is undeniable. Over the course of its history, CBS Radio pioneered many advancements in broadcasting and played a significant role in shaping the industry as we know it today.
In the 1940s, CBS Radio’s Network of the Americas project exemplified how radio could serve as a tool for diplomacy and cultural exchange. This endeavor was one of the first of its kind, broadcasting news and cultural programming live to North and South America. It served as a significant influence on future international broadcasting initiatives1.
In Baltimore, CBS Radio’s WCAO, “The Voice of Baltimore,” was an essential part of the city’s cultural landscape for several decades. From its days as a Top 40 station to its subsequent transitions into country and urban gospel formats, WCAO represented the changing musical tastes of the city’s residents. Today, as “Heaven 600,” the station continues to be a beloved part of Baltimore’s radio scene2.
CBS Radio also played a crucial role in fostering the growth of sports broadcasting. The legacy of this work is evident in Baltimore’s WJZ-FM, which continues to be a prominent source of sports coverage for the city, particularly for Baltimore Orioles games3.
In 2017, CBS Radio’s operations were absorbed by Entercom, marking the end of an era. Nevertheless, the legacy of CBS Radio lives on in the many stations across the country that were once part of its network, including those in Baltimore. These stations continue to serve their local communities, providing news, entertainment, and sports coverage, and in doing so, they carry forward the spirit of CBS Radio’s commitment to broadcasting excellence.
Despite the changes in ownership and structure, the spirit of innovation and dedication to quality broadcasting that characterized CBS Radio’s nearly 90-year history continues to thrive. The impact of CBS Radio on the industry and its contributions to American broadcasting will undoubtedly be remembered as a pivotal chapter in the history of radio.
The history of CBS Radio in Baltimore is a tale of innovation, adaptation, and unwavering commitment to providing quality broadcasting to the local community. From its early days as a pioneering force in the radio industry to its current incarnations, the story of CBS Radio serves as a testament to the transformative power of broadcasting and its enduring impact on our society. Whether through music, news, or sports, the voices that filled the Baltimore airwaves have left a lasting imprint on the city and its people, echoing the legacy of a broadcasting titan.