In a dramatic statement warning industry colleagues they could face a similar predicament, conservative talk-radio syndicator Talk Radio Network announced today it is cutting back to “basic operating essentials” and suspending operations of its America’s Radio News Network because of alleged antitrust violations and other unfair practices by its distributor, Dial Global, now known as Westwood One.

Those practices, TRN said, coupled with Westwood One’s pending merger with radio broadcaster and syndicator Cumulus Media Inc., could lead to curbs in the diversity of viewpoints in the talk-radio world that would pose a “significant risk to free speech.”

Oregon-based TRN and its CEO, Mark Masters, claimed the conduct of Westwood One has forced TRN’s subsidiaries to “make wrenching internal decisions and to take painful internal actions.”

The highly influential talk-radio syndicator, known for propelling into national prominence radio stars such as Art Bell, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham, filed an antitrust suit against Westwood One, then known as Dial Global, in August 2012. A second amended complaint in April alleged further antitrust violations, unfair competition and breach of contract.

In its announcement today, TRN called the pending merger between Westwood One and Cumulus Media “a dark one for our industry.”

“If this merger is allowed to occur, the culture of corruption at Dial/Westwood … will surely infect and spread within the new behemoth entity and victimize the rest of the industry, resulting in a super monopoly.”

Westwood One’s corporate spokeswoman in New York City did not reply to WND’s request for comment.

TRN has charged that Westwood One has been “collecting our advertising revenues, but refusing to pay them over to us or to account for them,” forcing TRN companies to “reduce as many operating costs as possible.”

TRN subsidiaries are Talk Radio Network Enterprises LLC, Talk Radio Network Entertainment Inc., Talk Radio Network-FM Inc., National Weekend Radio Syndications Inc. and America’s Radio News Network, or ARNN.

ARNN was forced to shut down its operations at the end of the broadcast day Friday, but TRN said rumors that other programming would be shut down are “unfounded.”

“Broadcasts of the other programs are continuing without interruption.”

TRN’s current host lineup includes Andrea Tantaros, Jerry Doyle, Rusty Humphries and Monica Crowley.

Launched in 1993, TRN was ranked by Bear Stearns in 2007 as the second-largest provider of top-tier nationally syndicated radio talk shows in the U.S.

‘Risk to free speech’

In its complaint, TRN has claimed that Westwood One’s actions have posed “a significant risk to free speech under the First Amendment because it holds the prospect of eliminating or substantially reducing the number of independent talk-radio producers and limiting the news radio broadcasts available.”

“As a consequence of that conduct, the diversity of voices and viewpoints produced on talk radio is likely to decline,” TRN said.

Some industry insiders fear the merger will concentrate the control of advertising dollars, leading to a control of content as well.

A source high up in the conservative talk-radio world said that while he can’t prove it, he has a hunch that Westwood One and Cumulus “have an agenda to screw conservative talk radio on behalf of the statists.”

The conservative talk-radio phenomenon was born from the demise in 1987 of a Federal Communications Commission policy called the Fairness Doctrine, which required the holders of broadcast licenses to cover issues of public importance in a manner deemed by the commission to be honest, equitable and balanced.

Many on the political left, including Democratic Party lawmakers such as Sen. Dick Durbin, have tried to resurrect the policy. The Fairness Doctrine’s repeal gave rise of conservative talk radio, starting with Rush Limbaugh, because station managers became free to schedule programming based on profitability – a reflection of what their listening audience wanted to hear – rather than government dictates.

Amid the Obama-era failure to re-impose the Fairness Doctrine, conservatives have been repeatedly warned that the progressive left is attempting to implement other, less transparent and more complicated means to accomplish the same end of diminishing the reach and effectiveness of conservative talk radio. That is essentially what Masters and others are alleging is at stake in the proposed Cumulus-Westwood merger.

‘Conflict of interest’

In its second amended complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, Western Division, TRN accused Westwood One of abusing its position as TRN’s independent advertising representative.

Westwood One, TRN charges, misrepresented amounts paid for advertising, which reduced the amount of revenue owed to TRN.

TRN asserted in its complaint that Westwood One gave repeated assurances that it would not engage in the market for syndication of spoken-word programs, because it would create a conflict of interest.

However, the suit claims in one example, ARNN’s shutdown was hastened when Westwood One’s satellite services division refused to allow CNN Radio stations to carry ARNN’s hourly newscasts and, instead, pushed them to Westwood One’s own NBC Radio newscasts.

‘Stand with us’

Rallying industry colleagues, TRN said that if Westwood One “can do this to us, they certainly can do this to you – so you need to join together, and with us, in opposing this dangerous merger, with as much force as you can muster, so that you can have a future that is not controlled by a monopoly.”

TRN charged that a Westwood One-Cumulus partnership in the top 100 U.S. markets “will have a devastating effect on most every area of the radio industry.”

If the merger is allowed to occur, TRN said, the results of its previous experience with Westwood One “will be magnified tenfold to radio stations and content producers.”

“We encourage the rest of our industry to stand together, and with us, now,” TRN said. “We have been in business for 20 years, and have had excellent relationships with the other companies in our industry during that time. But this is a horse of a different color.”

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