The Year in Sales

By SCOTT FYBUSH

It’s time once again for our Year in Review, the 26th time we’ve gathered up our headlines from the previous 12 months and tried to sum it all up for you. Year in Review installments will appear daily beginning today through our wrap-up on Tuesday, December 31, so check back every day for a new installment. We’ll resume our regular NorthEast Radio Watch report on Monday, January 6. (And in the meantime, our own Twitter and Facebook feeds and of course Lance Venta at RadioInsight will be here with any breaking news!)

We start, as we always do, with sales: for a long time now, this has been the only place that collects a full year’s worth of station sale data for the region in one convenient spot, and we continue that tradition as we look back on 2019, month by month.

Before we get to the month-by-month recap of all of the year’s sales across the region, we always look at the largest deals and the trends of the year.

On the radio side, it was the year of Cumulus slimming down. Its big New York stations, WPLJ and WABC, were spun off to separate owners, while it swapped out its cluster in nearby Bridgeport to Connoisseur in exchange for a cluster in the Lehigh Valley that better fits the company’s new medium-market model. Connoisseur made news in other areas, too, swapping its Erie cluster to iHeart and donating a spare Long Island AM.

Pennsylvania was all over the sales news in 2019, with emerging groups such as Bob Lowe’s Twilight picking up stations from Reading to Smethport, while Seven Mountains and its cousin, Forever Media, both kept growing in and around the state.

EMF just kept growing, not only with the big New York deal but with smaller deals that expanded its footprint in Buffalo, the Hudson Valley and elsewhere.

On TV, station values remained healthy, especially in smaller markets, where Gray entered Watertown and Standard Media entered Providence and Elmira. At the big-market end of the spectrum, Tribune’s sale to Nexstar meant a big group of spinoffs, bringing Scripps into New York at WPIX and allowing TEGNA to expand its footprint across the region.

(As always, Fybush Media is available and eager to help station owners and would-be owners navigate their way through the complex minefields of station purchases and sales…)

JANUARY

By far the biggest radio deal of the month was Seven Mountains’ entry into New York state, as the fast-growing group crossed the state line from Pennsylvania with a $3.9 million cash deal for Community Broadcasters’ clusters in Elmira-Corning and Olean, including big stations such as WNKI (“Wink 106”) in Elmira and WPIG in Olean.

In Burlington, Vermont, Vox AMFM took over Sison’s WVMT (620) and WXXX (95.5) under what was billed as an LMA pending sale; at year’s end, no transfer of control had yet been filed, and WVMT and WXXX remained under an LMA from Sison to Vox.

In Port Hawkesbury, N.S., Acadia Broadcasting added to its holdings with the C$1.3 million purchase of CIGO (101.5 the Hawk) from MacEachern Broadcasting.

FEBRUARY

One huge deal dominated this chilly month: Cumulus’ $103.5 million deal with EMF that sent six Cumulus signals to new lives as “K-Love” noncommercial outlets. The biggest, of course, was New York’s WPLJ (95.5), a station that would once have fetched more than $100 million all by itself; with station values down from their peak, that sum also got EMF WXTL (105.9) in Syracuse – plus big-market signals WRQX (107.3) in Washington and WYAY (106.7) in Atlanta, as well as smaller signals in Savannah and San Jose. Another sizable radio deal right at the fringes of NERW-land was the $18.5 million purchase of Delmarva Broadcasting by Forever, expanding its footprint in a new direction from its Pennsylvania home base.

The future of Cox’s TV station group became a little clearer as Apollo Global Management announced a deal to acquire those signals, including Boston’s WFXT; the deal wouldn’t reach fruition (with Apollo’s new “Terrier” group renaming itself under the Cox brand) until late in the year.

Gray Television continued to build its small-market local TV empire with a $45 million purchase of United Communications’ stations, WWNY/WNYF in Watertown plus KEYC in Mankato, Minnesota.

On Long Island, Radio Cantico Nuevo filed for its $200,000 purchase of WTHE (1520) from Universal Broadcasting, a deal that was held up in a lease dispute (and eventually lawsuit) with a rival broadcaster that left WTHE silent for most of the year.

In Maine, Port Broadcasting sold translator W272CG in Biddeford to Maine Public for $217,000, while on Cape Cod, Codcomm picked up three Nantucket Public Radio-owned translators for $11,250.

MARCH

New York’s WPIX (Channel 11) prepared for its first ownership change in its 71-year history as its founding owner, Tribune, was sold to Nexstar. That $4.3 billion deal couldn’t actually include WPIX for now, because of national ownership caps, so WPIX headed to Scripps in a $75 million side deal that included an option for Nexstar to buy Channel 11 if the ownership caps do eventually expand.

In several other markets where Nexstar already operated, the deal meant spinoffs, to the tune of $1.32 billion: in Hartford/New Haven, Tribune’s Fox affiliate WTIC-TV (Channel 61) and CW affiliate WCCT-TV (Channel 20) went to TEGNA, while Nexstar kept ABC affiliate WTNH (Channel 8) and My affiliate WCTX (Channel 59). In Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Tribune-operated ABC affiliate WNEP (Channel 16) went to TEGNA, with Nexstar retaining its NBC/CBS pair, WBRE (Channel 28)/WYOU-TV (Channel 22). And in the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York market, Tribune’s Fox affiliate WPMT (Channel 43) also headed to TEGNA, while Nexstar hangs on to ABC affiliate WHTM (Channel 27).

That was the only really big deal in a month that was otherwise full of smaller ones: in Pittsburgh, iHeart acquired W292DH (106.3), the translator of its WBGG (ESPN 970), in a swap between EMF and iHeart’s Aloha trust. EMF paid American Educational Broadcasting $1.85 million for a group of signals that included WKVJ and WKYJ in the Burlington-Plattsburgh market, stations that were already affiliated with EMF’s K-Love. Across Lake Champlain, Steve Silberberg’s Radio Broadcasting Services sold WRSA (1420 St. Albans VT) and its translator to Radio Sound Company for $150,000.

In Burlington, N.J., Four Rivers Community Broadcasting picked up WBZC (88.9 Pemberton) from Rowan College for $75,000.

On Grand Island, N.Y., Entercom sold the just-rebuilt tower of its WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls) to Vertical Bridge for $1.47 million.

APRIL

WRKT 100.9

What was in the air in Erie, Pennsylvania and vicinity in April? Change, apparently, starting along State Street at the streetfront studios of Connoisseur’s seven-station cluster. As iHeart finally unwound its Aloha Station Trust, it struck a deal with Connoisseur to swap Aloha’s WFRE (99.9) and WFMD (930) in Frederick, Maryland for Connoisseur’s Erie stations, including WRKT (Rocket 104.9), WRTS (Star 103.7) and WTWF (93.9 the Wolf), bringing iHeart into the Erie market for the first time.

Down the road in Warren, Erie TV operator Lilly Broadcasting struck a $900,000 deal to buy WRRN (92.3) and two sister stations from Frank Iorio.

Meanwhile, Connoisseur was far from done with its swaps: it picked up WICC (600) and WEBE (107.9) in Bridgeport, Connecticut from Cumulus, exchanging them for the Lehigh Valley cluster that includes WODE (99.9), WEEX (1230)/WTKZ (1320) and WWYY (107.1).

Along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Bucknell University sold its student-run station, WVBU, to Scranton public broadcaster WVIA for just $17,600.

MAY

There’s still money in local TV, even in stations lagging far back in the ratings – or at least that’s what it looked like for the Citadel group that sold its two remaining stations for $83 million. Standard Media was the buyer for WLNE (Channel 6) in Providence, as well as sister station KLKN in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In Albany, DJRA Broadcasting exited the market, selling WDCD (96.7) to fellow Christian broadcaster Mars Hill of Syracuse for $600,000.

Marc Pacheco moved from politics into radio in southeastern Massachusetts, forming MRP Communications and Consulting and paying Steve Callahan $200,000 for WVBF (1530 Middleborough) and its translator.

In Welland, Ontario, Wellport Broadcasting sold CIXL (91.7 Giant FM) and CKYY (Country 89) to Stingray for C$6.5 million.

And in Reading, Pennsylvania, the bankruptcy trustee for the Reading Eagle Company took a $5 million bid for most of the company’s assets, not including the license of WEEU (830).

JUNE

WEEU control room

The rest of the WEEU saga concluded with Bob Lowe’s Twilight Broadcasting paying just $88,500 for the Reading station’s license; that bargain price didn’t include the station’s downtown Reading studios or its big piece of transmitter-site land up in Shartlesville.

In Maine, Bob Bittner sold WJYE (1280) and a translator CP to Maineinvests LLC for $106,300.

JULY

At the height of its dominance, New York’s WABC might have been worth $50 million or more. Times, however, have changed – and that’s why the price tag when Cumulus finally unloaded the station to gas station entrepreneur John Catsimatidis was just $12.5 million. (“But that can’t possibly include the value of the transmitter site right off I-80 in New Jersey!,” was the cry – and yet, yes, it did, with Catsimatidis and Cumulus agreeing to split the cost of cleaning up toxic waste out there.)

At year’s end, the deal had yet to close, though Catsimatidis was getting ready to build new studios ahead of a tight deadline as WABC’s lease at 2 Penn Plaza neared an end in early 2020.

In Pennsylvania, Backyard Broadcasting’s Williamsport cluster changed hands from Daniel Farr to Van Michael for $5.9 million; down the road in Altoona, Lightner Communications bought Sherlock Broadcasting’s “Q94” WBXQ (94.3 Patton), Sounds Good, Inc.’s “Mix” WBRX (94.7 Cresson), plus Handsome Brothers, Inc.’s news-talk WRTA (1240 Altoona, plus a 98.5 translator), all for $650,000, adding to Lightner’s existing two AMs and translators in the market. And in Allentown, Hispanic Broadcasting Radio LLC paid $1.35 million for WHOL Radio Inc.’s two AMs (WHOL 1600/WEST 1400) and translators.

In Quebec, Bell announced its plans to buy V, the terrestrial TV network formerly known as TQS.

AUGUST

More Pennsylvania deals marked the summer’s final weeks; in the Poconos, Seven Mountains/Southern Belle continued its growth to the northeast with a $1.1 million purchase of WSBG (93.5) and WVPO (840) from Connoisseur. In Lebanon, Forever Media picked up WLBR (1270) and WQIC (100.1) from the Etter family’s Lebanon Broadcasting for $1.225 million.

Salem Media’s $8.73 million sale of AMs around the country to Immaculate Heart Media included one signal in NERW-land, WWDJ (1150 Boston), which shed its “Radio Luz” Spanish Christian format for “Relevant Radio” Catholic programming in English.

SEPTEMBER

It was Erie in the headlines again, this time as Rick Rambaldo’s ERIE Radio Company signed a $1.33 million deal to sell WEHP (Happi 92.7) to the Lilly family’s SJL Broadcasting, creating a new radio partner to WICU (Channel 12)/WSEE (Channel 35).

Family Stations continued its downsizing with a $1.4 million deal to sell four stations to EMF, including WFBF (89.9 Buffalo) and WFRH (91.7 Kingston) in upstate New York.

Down the Thruway in Schenectady, Empire Broadcasting unloaded silent WPTR (1240) and a translator CP for $75,000 to Area Independent Broadcasting.

In eastern Pennsylvania, Bob Lowe’s Twilight Broadcasting paid Connoisseur $50,000 for silent WBYN (1160 Lehighton), augmenting the coverage of his newly-purchased WEEU in Reading.

In Manchester, N.H., Saga paid Basic Holdings $200,000 for translator W295BL, adding another big “metro signal” to its dominant cluster there.

OCTOBER

It was a quiet month, except for a few smaller signals in upstate New York: in Albany, Saratoga Radio LLC picked up WABY (900 Watervliet) and a translator CP from Empire Broadcasting for just $20,000, ending Empire’s adventure into local radio.

Up the Northway in Plattsburgh, Bill Santa sold WIRY (1340) to Hometown Communications LLC for $285,000. And east of Rochester, Genesee Media sold WOKR (1310 Canandaigua) and its translator to Stratton Radio Broadcasting for $250,000.

NOVEMBER

The month’s biggest deal was north of the border, where classical CJPX (99.5 Montreal) was at the center of a C$4.9 million deal with Leclerc Communications, still seeking a Montreal outlet to expand its “WKND” format from Quebec City.

Across the border in Vermont, Ken Squier’s Woodchuck Radio LLC filed to sell WEXP (101.5 Brandon/Rutland) to Music Guild International Inc. for $275,000.

In Milton, Pennsylvania, Vic Michael’s Kona Coast Radio LLC filed for a $160,000 purchase of WMLP (1380) from Sunbury Broadcasting Corp, returning Michael to his home turf, where his brother just bought a cluster in nearby Williamsport. Other Pennsylvania deals included a $175,000 purchase of WMGH (105.5 Tamaqua)/WLSH (1410 Lansford) by CC Broadcasting LLC, and the $90,000 sale of Colonial’s WXMT (106.3 Smethport) to Twilight Broadcasting.

Noncommercially, Cedar Ridge Children’s Home and School sold WMMH (91.9 Houtzdale/Altoona) to JMJ Radio Inc. for $120,000

In upstate New York, Score Advertising signed a $350,000 to buy Community Broadcasters’ three Ogdensburg stations, WPAC (98.7), WQTK (92.7) and WSLB (1400). And in Buffalo, Buddy Shula expanded his WECK group’s reach with the $50,000 purchase of Edgewater’s W262CM (100.3).

DECEMBER

A few big-ticket sales kicked off the last month of 2019: in New York, Emmis spun off WQHT (97.1) and WBLS (107.5) to a new company called Mediaco for $91.5 million, plus a $5 million note. Emmis maintains a 23.5% stake in Mediaco, now controlled by Soohyung Kim’s Standard General – and it will continue to manage WQHT and WBLS, as well as WLIB (1190), which it keeps, along with the license to WEPN-FM (98.7), leased out to ESPN.

Another “Standard,” Standard Media, grew in a big way with the $59.2 million deal it announced to buy Waypoint Media and Vision Communications, including WYDC-TV and the Sound Communications radio group in Elmira/Corning, plus its sister cluster down the road in Olean and Salamanca.

And at year’s end, Seven Mountains was back at it with another deal, bolstering its Elmira/Corning presence by paying $2 million for the three full-power FMs (WMTT, WPHD, WZHD) and a slew of translators held by George Hawras and Kevin Fitzgerald.

> > > Coming Thursday, Dec. 26: The Year in Formats, People and Calls (part I)

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