Posted In: Rhode Island
From today’s Providence Journal – http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20170303/wbru-radio-station-may-be-going-up-for-sale-soonJoseph_Gallant OnMarch 3, 2017 at 3:39 pm #172982
I could see five possible buyers for WBRU-95.5:
(1) The only large commercial broadcaster which I think would be able to buy ‘BRU would be a merged CBS/Entercom, which would but 95.5 to use it as the Providence affiliate of a regional sports radio network out of a combined WEEI/Sports Hub out of Boston (probably broadcasting at 98.5 under the WEEI call letters), replacing the current WVEI-103.7. WBRU’s transmitter is just east of Providence; WVEI’s is southwest of the city and might not be all that strong well north of Providence where ‘BRU’s signal is strong.
(2) One other commercial broadcaster who might buy 95.5 is Davidson Media, who I could see buying 95.5 to move their Spanish-language format of WKKB-100.3 to 95.5. It would give ‘KKB a much larger signal area.
The other three who I can see as buying ‘BRU are all noncommercial:
(3) One would be Rhode Island Public Radio, who could use 95.5 to replace the current patchwork of stations broadcasting the network’s public radio news/information programming.
(4) Another potential noncommercial buyer might be Boston’s WGBH, who would use 95.5 to replace WJHF-88.7 as the Providence affiliate of their Classical New England service. Additionally, the 95.5 signal is good even into Boston’s southern suburbs, which could help Classical New England since the transmitter of ti’s flagship (WCRB-99.5) is well north of Boston.
(5) But I have a sneaky feeling that EMF will step into the picture, buy WBRU, and flip it to yet another K-Love affiliate. Not only would K-Love get a strong signal in all of Rhode Island, but they’d also penetrate southeastern Massachusetts and the southern suburbs of Boston.
Given their huge debt loads, I doubt either iHeart of Cumulus would be able to buy 95.5……unless they would sell-off an existing FM station they own in the market (to recoup at least part of the purchase price of 95.5) and move the programming of the station they sell-off to 99.5.
In the case of iHeart, I could see this happen to WWBB-0101.5, with 101.5 being sold-off and “B-101” becoming “B-95.5”.
In the case of Cumulus, I could see this happen to WEAN-99.7 (which simulcasts WPRO-630) with WEAN moving to the stronger 95.5 signal.
95.5 combined with 89.3, the current WUMD would be overkill for RI NPR, but I wouldn’t put it past them. They could always later sell off 89.3, since 95.5 is obviously the better signal where they want to cover most, Providence.
100.3 WKKB is no longer owned by Davidson, it’s owned by Red Wolf (Fuller) these days.
The only group owner I’d personally like to see end up with it would be Hall. Hopefully they’re smart and don’t decide to sell though.
95.5 combined with 89.3, the current WUMD would be overkill for RI NPR, but I wouldn’t put it past them.
RIPR is not buying any facilities in the commercial band. In fact, RIPR’s planned purchase of WUMD is on hold at the FCC because of a petition to deny, which was filed by a volunteer disc jockey at that radio station.
If I’m Hall Communications, I’m interested in 95.5 to get WCTK a better stick.
Hall has a New Bedford cluster, not a Providence cluster.
Here are a couple more stories…
If the station does go up for sale, my initial hunch is that a larger commercial operator (including Entercom) would be most likely to end up being the buyer–as it would probably become too expensive for non-commercial operators (including EMF) or smaller commercial groups (such as Hall, even though it almost certainly would like a better signal for WCTK).
From what I understand, Hall considers Providence and New Bedford/Fall River to be the same region. I’m not really sure how that works. They can sell WLKW and WNBH separately, but radio has never been bought regionally. So, I don’t know how that would work for WCTK, but I’d guess the bulk of its business was Providence.
When I was in Kansas City, most of the market’s stations showed up in Topeka, but they did little more than depress the Topeka stations’ revenues. No Topeka company ever advertised on KC radio that I know, and KC stations wouldn’t lower their rates for Topeka. Killeen/Temple and Waco, TX have somewhat regional system, but the ad buys are done based on local numbers for each market. With both being a similar size, the rates are similar. So, it works. I’d have to think Providence is a lot more like KC than Waco.
From what I understand, Hall considers Providence and New Bedford/Fall River to be the same region. I’m not really sure how that works. They can sell WLKW and WNBH separately, but radio has never been bought regionally. So, I don’t know how that would work for WCTK, but I’d guess the bulk of its business was Providence. When I was in Kansas City, most of the market’s stations showed up in Topeka, but they did little more than depress the Topeka stations’ revenues. No Topeka company ever advertised on KC radio that I know, and KC stations wouldn’t lower their rates for Topeka. Killeen/Temple and Waco, TX have somewhat regional system, but the ad buys are done based on local numbers for each market. With both being a similar size, the rates are similar. So, it works. I’d have to think Providence is a lot more like KC than Waco.
Unless something major has changed recently, New Bedford/Fall River is what’s known as an “embedded” metro–i.e., inside of another market (in this case, Providence). In other words, the territory that makes up New Bedford/Fall River is also within the Providence metro. Most of the other embedded metros are around New York City–and the only current case outside of the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic is San Jose (within San Francisco).
The other examples that you mention are metros that border each other and have several stations that are strong enough to be heard in parts of the other (neighboring) metro. There are cases (usually involving neighboring metros within the same DMA) where there’s a significant amount of overlap in marketing and even ownership–e.g., Harrisburg/Lebanon/Carlisle, York, and Lancaster; Green Bay and Appleton/Oshkosh; Flint and Saginaw/Bay City/Midland; and Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
I certainly wouldn’t mind RIPR ending up with 95.5FM. 89.3 will be a great signal but it’s hard to compete with a 26kW flamethrower just a few miles from downtown Providence, ya know? I also don’t give a rat’s ass whether our signals are in the NCE band or the commercial band. It’s all the same to me; we’d file to take the signal non-comm either way (our NPR Member Station Agreement effectively requires this) since it simplifies things and saves us some money on FCC filing fees. That’s what we do with both 1290AM and 102.7FM.
FWIW, RIPR has an excellent working relationship with both Brown University (we just did an event featuring former NPR Moscow Correspondent Corey Flintoff last week) and also with WBRU (many of our newsroom interns are also employees or volunteers at WBRU every semester). I feel quite confident that if they’re interested in having us bid to purchase 95.5, they’ll let us know at the appropriate time. Certainly if they did so, we’d put together a bid; we’d be crazy not to.
Also FWIW, there is nothing “on hold” regarding our purchase of WUMD. The FCC has specific timeframes triggered by specific events before they will render a judgement on any application. IIRC the app to transfer control of the WUMD license is set to be decided in the third or fourth week of April. It is possible the decision may be delayed because, if nothing else, the FCC *does* have to research and write a response…positive or negative…to the petition to deny that was filed. No matter how slam dunk (positive or negative) that response is, it still takes time for someone to do that work. At least a few hours, minimum. Even the simplest response to a petition to deny is usually three or four pages of analysis and footnotes. So the decision could be delayed by a day or two. Or maybe a few weeks. Or months. With the TV Spectrum Auction eating up a lot of the FCC’s time these days, it’s hard to know for sure.
But to be clear, nothing’s “on hold”; it’s just still too early for any decision by the FCC.
BTW, the reason Red Wolf (John Fuller) has WKKB 100.3 these days is because he bought it at bankruptcy for a song. I don’t know if Davidson even exists anymore, but sure as hell they don’t have the money Brown Broadcasting Service, Inc would expect for WBRU.
While it’s certainly possible, I don’t see Entercom messing with WBRU. They already have enough issues with spinning off various properties, including two in Boston. The reason WVEI 103.7 works well for them is because it’s so cheap to operate. 95% of its content is just a rebroadcast of WEEI-FM in Boston. If you add 95.5 to the mix, what would Entercom put on it? Would they build out a presence in Providence all of a sudden? How would they compete with iHeartMedia & Cumulus owning (almost) all the top-billing frequencies in town? Like I said, it’s possible but it doesn’t feel likely to me.
Neither WBUR nor WGBH have the money to go on adventures in Rhode Island. WBUR, especially…there’s still trustees at Boston University that remember how Jane Christo got $12mil in debt largely through WRNI 1290/1230. And why would they suddenly decide to go head-to-head with RIPR? That’s a good way to make both enterprises lose a lot of money.
WGBH is trying to pay off the yuuuuge $$$ they paid on that gorgeous facility in Brighton, and they already have a classical signal that covers most of the state well enough in WJMF 88.7, and they’re getting that essentially for free. Classical ain’t THAT valuable.
Again, I guess it’s theoretically possible that WGBH or WBUR could do it…but I don’t think they will. Ditto for WUMB; they’d love to get 95.5 I’m sure but UMass Boston just fired their chancellor over a $30 million deficit. No chance they’ll get the go-ahead to spend the money it’ll take to buy WBRU.
Cumulus is on the verge of going under; their stock is well below $1 and they’re rapidly approaching the market cap cutoff. I don’t see them spending money on anything like acquisitions except maybe in Top 10 markets.
Ditto for iHeart, who’s not quite as bad off as Cumulus but is nevertheless facing a day of reckoning in 2018 with a $700mil debt payout looming. Plus we all saw iHeart gut WWBB like a trout to improve WBWL in Boston. They CLEARLY don’t care about investing in medium markets like Providence. It’s all about Top 10.
Still, despite their problems, Cumulus and IHM are still the big dogs in town. So much like Entercom, I wouldn’t automatically rule them out. Any of those three would like to have 95.5 in the abstract, I’m sure. I just don’t think it makes sense in the numbers for them.
Also Townsquare (WBSM, WFHN) or 3G (WADK, WMNP) would probably like 95.5 but I don’t think they could afford it. It’d be an awfully big capital outlay for either of them.
Any religious broadcaster is, of course, a wild card. The biggest religious outfit in the market is probably Relevant Radio (Catholic) on 550AM from Pawtucket, which is a pretty good AM signal but it’s no WPRO 630, much less a WBZ 1030. Biggest FM is probably K-Love on 91.1FM from the UMass Dartmouth campus, and that’s a Class-A rimshot into Providence at best. But I imagine the blowback from the public against both BBS and Brown University if BBS sells WBRU to a religious broadcaster and that feels pretty unlikely to me.
Finally, though, Hall seems a strong possibility. Their history of operations supports the move and AFAIK their debt load is minuscule. And they’ve already got some signals in-market to build more of a cluster with. I could totally see them buying WBRU.
OTOH, I could also see WBRU not selling. There’s always the possibility that they just decide not to sell. Especially if they set up a stronger fundraising channel with alumni…which I personally think would just forestall the inevitable (according to their IRS990 forms they’ve been slowly bleeding money for several years) but it could make “the inevitable” be several more years into the future.Joseph_Gallant OnJuly 19, 2017 at 4:34 pm #175507
Here’s an update out today (July 19th) which was tweeted by Lance. It suggests that a sale could come at any time and that WBRU-95.5’s current programming could end as soon as a sale is made (read: thed buyer makes a deal for an LMA prior to their taking over):
Here’s another story from today’s Providence Journal – http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20170726/providence-radio-station-wbru-in-final-stages-of-being-sold
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