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John Kiesewetter on the world of local and national TV

Senior Entertainment Reporter John Kiesewetter has been covering TV and media issues for 20 years. After joining the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1975 as a summer intern, he worked as a county government and suburban reporter; assistant city editor and suburban editor; and features editor supervising the Life section. He has a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Bill Cunningham Working For The Mormons?

Now here's something to think about: What if the Mormons ran WLW-AM? What would it sound like?

It could happen. Bonneville – which owns WUBE-FM (B105) and WKRQ-FM (Q102) -- may be interested in buying WLW-AM from Clear Channel, which has been ordered by the U.S. Justice Department to sell two Cincinnati stations. Bonneville is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The government has ordered Clear Channel to sell either one of two specific pairs of stations -- news-sports talk WLW-AM (700) and top 40 WKFS-FM (KISS107.1) or classic rock WOFX-FM (FOX92.5) and adult contemporary WNNF-FM (Radio94.1).

The mandate is part of the government's conditional approval of the $28-billion acquisition of Clear Channel, the nation's biggest radio owner, by two private equity investors, Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners. Clear Channel must sell two of its eight Cincinnati stations because Bain and Lee Partners also control half of Cumulus, which owns three stations here. The divestitures were ordered so that Bain and Lee Partners would not have a monopoly on radio advertising rates here, the government said.

Clear Channel executives have not decided with tandem 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 to occur before March 31, says Mark Mays, Clear Channel CEO.

The most attractive package would be WLW-AM, the 50,000-watt station heard in 34 states, and KISS107, the No. 1 station with listeners ages 18-34. But they won't be cheap. Brokers estimate that Clear Channel's AM flagship could cost anywhere from $50 million to more than $100 million, plus another $30-35 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 the former MIX94.1, brokers say.

Although WLW is the flagship, the 800 pound gorilla in this market, selling off WLW-AM "makes the most sense because Clear Channel can get the most money from it," says Rob Riggsbee, president of Inside Media, a Newtown media-buying agency. The idea is that Clear Channel wants to cash out quick, to get the private equity deal done.

Among the potential buyers are Bonneville, and Randy Michaels, the former Clear Channel radio division president and WLW-AM owner, says John L. Pierce, a Florence-based media broker. Michaels is head of broadcast operations for the Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns TV and radio stations.

Bobby Lawrence, the former Jacor radio executive who heads LocalTV LLC in Fort Wright, the TV company he started with Michaels, says he's not interested in radio these days.

"If I ever got back into the radio business it would be to own WLW, which as you might remember was our flagship back when we started Seven Hills. Unfortunately that doesn't work for us right now as we are exclusively working on building out our TV platform. No radio in the portfolio," Lawrence told me tonight.

"I had heard that the Bonneville folks had a strong interest. They would be a natural buyer for this kind of a situation. Frankly it is my bet that CC won't sell WLW. It's just too valuable and an asset you can't duplicate," Lawrence says.

After Bonneville bought the B105/Q102 group in late 2006, "Bonneville executives said they wanted a local news-talk AM (station) here," Riggsbee says.

Bonneville has major new-talk AM stations in Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, Seattle and other cities, says Peter Handy, a Dallas-based radio broker for Star Media Corp. "Stations like WLW – minus the 'bad boy' image – are of big interest to Bonneville," Handy says.

So if Bonneville bought "The Big One," how would it change? Would they tone down Bill Cunningham and Scott Sloan, or just part ways? I imagine some sexy and sensational topics would be off-limits. The whole wise-ass, in-your-face tone of the station could change, I'm guessing. Maybe Powel Crosley Jr. is smiling at the prospects…

If WLW-AM is sold, the buyer also control most of the top sports franchises. Whichever tandem is sold, the Bengals will lose an affiliate. Bengals games have been simulcast on WLW-AM and FOX92.5 (and WCKY-AM, 1530 Homer). Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan says the team's deal is with Clear Channel, and the team would talk to Clear Channel about adding games to another station.

So lots of things could change if WLW-AM changes hands. If Clear Channel sells off the two FMs, it probably would prompt more format changes, but nothing as dramatic as what could happen to WLW-AM.

In terms of Cincinnati radio changes, this could be The Big One. What do you think?


at 2/15/2008 6:32 PM Blogger Robert Scott said...

I hoped Randy Michaels acquires the Big One.

at 2/15/2008 7:41 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stations like WLW – minus the 'bad boy' image – are of big interest to Bonneville," Handy says.
OK B-ville. Buy the Big One and clean house, top to bottom. 95% of what's on the air now, won't be missed.

Let's see a list of "real" local broadcasters that Bonneville should bring back to make that format work.

at 2/15/2008 9:49 PM Blogger Aviator said...

If Fox 92.5 is part of the deal, what do you see happening to Bob & Tom in the morning?

at 2/16/2008 12:01 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would that this would be so----without Cunningham
my head would not hurt, and my time would not be a total waste.He gives us a headache, pray!!!!

at 2/16/2008 11:17 AM Blogger Joseph said...

The Mormons would "class up" WLW and hopefully help make it something we can be proud of around here again.

at 2/16/2008 9:03 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't count on Bonneville buying WLW and WKFS unless they can spin off WKFS or one of their other stations in the adding the two Clear Channel stations Bonneville's local revenue share would exceed the percentage allowed by the Justice Department. Bonneville already has two of the top revenue stations in the market with WUBE and WKRQ. WLW and WKFS would put them over the limit. This will be a very interesting situation to watch.

at 2/17/2008 12:03 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several schools of thought here. Clear Channel might indeed be interested in getting rid of WLW. The key air people are making a lot of money, and Clear Channel could benefit financially. Yes, 700 is "The Big Stick" in town. But its significance has been reduced thanks to new technology. Satellite radio and the internet make radio a whole new ballgame.
If Clear Channel sells 700, the current air staff and format could easily be transferred to another Clear Channel AM station (Homer or 1360 ESPN.1530 would be best because of the killer signal, although its pattern would wipe out listeners north of Middletown. Or, (don't laugh), they could be placed on a Clear Channel FM station. It has already been done in Indianapolis, where the owners flipped all the full service programming on 1070 WIBC to 93.1 FM. Great signal in the metro, no pattern changes at night to affect the signal direction, and crystal clear reception during thunderstorms. WIBC-AM now runs ESPN, and all of the Indianapolis sports events. Imagine stereo Reds games! 1290 WHIO in Dayton is simulcasting on FM. Listeners would be a bit confused at first, but they would soon get the hang of it.
Bonneville could hire the current WLW staff and continue the status quo. But that might be a longshot. The days of six figure radio talent are fading like analog TV.
The boys might have to work for less money. (Believe me, they would not be the first radio people to be forced to take a pay cut!)
Either way, it should prove to be interesting. But always remember, in the end it will be all about the money! It always is.

at 2/17/2008 2:41 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jerkball. You wrote this at the same time his Mom was dying. Don't you feel good about yourself????

at 2/18/2008 10:07 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good job John. Your pathetic attacks on Willie are ignorant enough, but to do it on the same day his mom died? You've lost my respect, and this is the last time I'll ever read a word you write. You are scum.

at 2/18/2008 10:08 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 12:03...They can't move the talent to another frequency. That violates the order. WLW is worthless without a staff. Try selling a business that you just gutted.

at 2/18/2008 11:07 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Willie's mom was a wonderful woman. I grew up with his nephew and spent a lot of time around her as a young child. My sympathies go to the Cunninghams.

at 2/18/2008 11:10 AM Blogger John Kiesewetter said...

To Anon 10:07 a.m.:
If you read this blog I posted Friday, you'll see that I did not attack Cunninghman. I simply raised the question of how WLW would change if the Mormons bought the station. I posted it Friday; the death notice about Bill's mother was published Sunday in The Enquirer.

at 2/18/2008 1:43 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear Willies Mom died...but anyone who attacks John for a blog post that did not slam Willie, and a post that was written before she passed is a dope.

WLW has reactionary listeners like that sewn up. If they are purchased by a new entity, they might get the rest of us back someday.

Move number one...get rid of Darryl Parks who has never done ANYTHING good at that station.

at 2/18/2008 2:52 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one name I'm surprised that hasn't come up in all of this is Hearst-Argyle. They own a couple radio stations in Baltimore, WBAL-AM and WIYY-FM, that are related to their TV station WBAL. Why not throw around the possibility of them purchasing WLW as well to set the connection between WLW and WLWT in stone? Hearst-Argyle has the money...especially if they're considering looking at buying lowly TV stations like KRON out west. It seems highly unlikely this would happen, because otherwise Hearst-Argyle would probably have more of a radio portfolio, but it could be a possibility.

at 2/19/2008 12:21 AM Blogger SophiaZ123 said...

I am sorry to hear about Willie's mom...have heard her on the show a few times. Sometimes she seemed totally thrown he was calling. :)

I hope the boy is back on the air soon...his attack of the 'weather terrorist' a week or so ago had me laughing so hard, I played the download over the phone to my own 87 year old mom who laughed at Willi for 5 minutes.

Willie can be 'bipolar' on the air but when he is good he is GREAT...and when he gets on my nerves, I turn the station oFf.

Just like I have down with that wretched Tracy jones. Radio goes OFF from 3-6.

Would like to see improvements at WLW with new ownership but as long as PARKS is there, NOTHING will improve.

If Parks thinks EDDIE and TRACY are the PERFECT FIT to keep LEVEL with Burbanks old audience, he is delusional!!!!

But then again, he thinks Sensible Don who mumbles and never enunciates is a prize for talk there you have it...another idiot move by Parks.

Too bad Randy Michaels is out of the biz...I am so desperate, that crazy guy seems like an improvement..but he was the KING of stunts.


My thoughts and prayers to Willie and the family.

at 2/19/2008 10:38 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Certainly thoughts and prayers to Willie and his family in the toughest of times.

As for the pending spin off of stations from Clear Channel, has anyone noticed how much the CC stock is in the tank? For the better part of 2 years now, the company has been trying to lighten the load of debt by trimming staff in every conceivable area of operation. I am no expert, but would it not seem that a cash infusion to the company is needed? What stations would provide that greatest infusion?

I don't think the investment whizzes with Bain care about any one particular market or station. To me, WLW would bring the most cash and in rather short order. There will be no shortage of suitors to bid on the heritage that WAS WLW. (Note I did not say the heritage that IS).

One could only hope WLW gets out from under the crippling thumb of CC and Darryl Parks and get back to being a station that matters!

at 2/19/2008 1:42 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

When did Eric Deters get the keys to the station? He is ALWAYS on. And that ain't a good thing.

at 2/19/2008 3:32 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 1:42. Eric Deters is a fame-whore. Wish he would go away already.

at 2/20/2008 7:02 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please hurry and sell WLW and give this market a true all adult news/information and get rid of the bathroom hurmor and in your face programming and the yelling on saturday mornings. While you are at it, dish Scott in the morning.

at 2/20/2008 2:08 PM Blogger SophiaZ123 said...

I do NOT like Eric Deters, either. How the heck did he start getting so much AIR TIME???

Talk about ambulance chasing media monger.

Ugh. More proof, this station continues to go down hill.

Jump the Shark Parks needs to get the hook.

at 2/20/2008 2:09 PM Blogger SophiaZ123 said...

I do NOT like Eric Deters, either. How the heck did he start getting so much AIR TIME???

Talk about ambulance chasing media monger.

Ugh. More proof, this station continues to go down hill.

Jump the Shark Parks needs to get the hook.

at 2/20/2008 7:56 PM Blogger Joseph said...

I can tell you how Deters get's so much air time, and also why Sense Don as well. THEY WORK FOR NOTHING! You don't think they are actually PAYING Don? Deters is trying to break in and gain some pub, so he is doing whatever they ask for the attention, at no charge. WLW always stood for "World's Lowest Wages", but apparently now the strategy is free personalities, and interns (also working for free) running the show.

My goodness Parks has got to go and this station sold. They are in desperate times.

at 2/24/2008 1:18 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question is...if CC spins off 700, will Daryl stay with the rest of stations, or will he go with the Big One?

And who else will travel? A lot of behind the scenes people who make the station what it is, also do double duty within the cluster.

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