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Judge sides against local talk radio producer in antitrust suit

A federal judge has sided against a local producer of national talk radio programs in its suit alleging one of the largest radio station owners in the country colluded against them.

Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke has recommended the bulk of claims made by Central Point-based Talk Radio Network Enterprises against Cumulus Media be dismissed, according to a document filed Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court in Medford, on grounds that some of the local company's claims are too similar to a suit that had previously been dismissed, while other claims were found to be unsubstantiated.

The suit, filed in U.S District Court in April, alleges Talk Radio Network, which goes by the acronyms TRN and TRNE, faced anti-competitive practices by Cumulus Media following the company's 2013 acquisition of Westwood One, the company responsible for placing 90 percent of national radio advertising time. Cumulus is the second-largest owner of radio stations in the United States, with 450 stations in 90 markets throughout the country.

Clarke made his decision on grounds that allegations TRN made against Westwood One and Cumulus, such as monopolization of the advertising representative market, conspiracy to monopolize the advertising representative market and unlawful agreements in restraint of trade are too similar to a previous suit filed in U.S. District Court in central California in 2012 and dismissed in 2014.

Clarke also ruled that TRN's allegations that Cumulus and Westwood One underpaid them for advertising and placed them in "less favorable" advertising bundles sold to advertising agencies were unsubstantiated.

"TRNE does not, however, assert any specific facts regarding payments that were or were not made in breach of this agreement," Clarke ruled, later adding that the local company's complaint lacks specifics regarding Westwood One's failure to sell advertising for their programming.

The suit had alleged 12 antitrust actions by Cumulus, Westwood and individuals tied to the companies, and TRN's lawyer had alleged they had been underpaid by as much as 99 percent in some cases, according to a wnd.com story linked to TRN's website.

Clarke, however, determined that the company pleaded no facts, instead relying upon "information and belief" that Westwood manipulated payments "contrary to vaguely described industry norms." TRN's complaint describes a hypothetical transaction "by way of example," which Clarke determined to be insufficient because TRN's complaint doesn't show proof that Westwood sold their advertising and didn't pay them.

"An articulation 'by way of example' is not enough," Clarke wrote. 

Because TRN failed to identify sums, estimates or accounts, Clarke determined TRN's allegations were "too amorphous to survive even liberal pleading standards."

Clarke's recommendations will be referred to the U.S. District Judge who will rule on whether to dismiss the case.

TRN syndicates its "America's Morning News" talk radio program, as well as programs such as "Science Fantastic" with physicist Michio Kaku and "Watchdog on Wall" with Chris Markowski.

In past years, TRN has aired some of the nation's most conservative talk-show hosts, such as Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage. It traces its roots to KOPE, founded by Roy Masters in the early 1990s, and the company still produces "Advice Line with Roy Masters."

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.