Sell-off may include WLW
Clear Channel forced to sell 2 local stations
BY JOHN KIESEWETTER | JKIESEWETTER@ENQUIRER.COM
WLW-AM, the city's dominant radio station, could have new owners this spring.
The U.S. Justice Department has ordered Clear Channel to
sell a pair of Cincinnati stations, either news-sports-talk WLW-AM (700) and top 40 WKFS-FM (KISS107.1) or rock stations WOFX-FM (FOX92.5) and WNNF-FM (Radio94.1).
The mandate is part of a conditional approval of the $28 billion acquisition of Clear Channel, the nation's biggest radio owner, by private equity investors Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners.
Clear Channel must sell two of eight stations here because Bain and Lee Partners also control half of Cumulus, which owns three stations here. Otherwise, Bain and Lee Partners would have a monopoly on radio advertising rates here, the government said.
Clear Channel executives have not decided which pair to sell, says Michelle Clarke, company spokeswoman. A decision must be made by the time Bain and Lee Partners close on the Clear Channel deal, which is expected before March 31, she says.
The most attractive package for a buyer would be WLW-AM, the 50,000-watt station heard in 34 states, and KISS107, No. 1 for ages 18-34. But they won't be cheap.
Brokers estimate that Clear Channel's AM flagship could bring from $50 million to more than $100 million, plus another $30 million-$35 million for the FM rocker.
The pair of FM stations could be had for about $65 million - $45 million for FOX92.5 and $20 million for the former MIX94.1, brokers say.
"Selling WLW-AM makes the most sense because Clear Channel can get the most money from it," says Rob Riggsbee, president of Inside Media of Newtown.
Potential buyers include Bonneville, owners of WUBE-FM (B105.1) and WKRQ-FM (Q102), and Randy Michaels, the former Clear Channel radio president and WLW-AM owner, says John L. Pierce, a Florence-based media broker. Michaels heads broadcast operations for the Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns TV and radio stations.
Bonneville has major news-talk AM stations in Washington D.C., Salt Lake City and Seattle, says Peter Handy, a Dallas-based radio broker for Star Media Corp.
But if Bonneville - owned by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints - purchased WLW-AM, the "Big One's" sensational, edgy talk would change, Handy says.
"Stations like WLW - minus the 'bad boy' image - are of big interest to Bonneville," Hand says.
Historic WLW-AM, founded by Powel Crosley Jr. in 1922, has been the city's most popular station because of its sports (Reds, Bengals, UC, Xavier, "SportsTalk"), talk hosts (Bill Cunningham, Mike McConnell) and 24/7 local radio news operation.
The Bengals - broadcast by FOX92.5 and WLW-AM - will lose an affiliate in the transaction. The Bengals will ask Clear Channel to add games to another station, says Jack Brennan, team spokesman.
It could not be determined Friday if WLW-AM's other sports franchises would stay with the station if sold, or remain at Clear Channel. Local Clear Channel executives could not be reached for comment.
In its ruling Wednesday, antitrust officials also ordered the company to sell stations in Houston, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
Clear Channel also owns WEBN-FM (102.7), WKRC-AM (550), WSAI-AM (ESPN 1360) and WKRC-TV (Channel 12). Cumulus owns WRRM-FM (WARM98.5), WGRR-FM (103.5) and WFTK-FM (96.5 Rock).