Bonneville sells WTMX, others to Hubbard

Bonneville also sells Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Washington D.C. stations

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In the first major shocker move of 2011 involving local media, Salt Lake City-based Bonneville International has sold its Chicago cluster of radio stations to Minneapolis-St. Paul-based Hubbard Broadcasting for $505 million. The deal also includes thirteen others: six stations in Washington D.C., and four stations each in Cincinnati and St. Louis.

The Chicago stations are Hot AC-formatted WTMX-FM (The Mix); Classic Rock WDRV-FM (The Drive) and its satellite station WWDV-FM; and Variety Hits outlet WILV-FM. Hubbard says there will be no changes made to any of the stations it is buying, and is installing radio chiefs Bruce Reese, Greg Solk, and Drew Horowitz in the same executive capacities they held at Bonneville.

The sale is primarily strategic as Bonneville is only selling stations east of the Mississippi and St. Louis, while keeping its outlets in western-based U.S. markets: Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix, and its home base in Salt Lake City. Bonneville’s lone television station (NBC affiliate KSL-TV in Salt Lake City) is also not for sale.

As for Hubbard, the purchase expands the broadcaster’s reach into Chicago, the Midwest, and onto the East Coast. Hubbard only owns three radio properties, all in the Twin Cities: sports talk (and formerly news/talk) KSTP-AM, a station Hubbard has owned since 1928; Hot AC outlet KSTP-FM (known locally in the Twin Cities as KS95-FM and whose format is similar to WTMX) and talker KTMY-FM.

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KSTP-FM’s (aka KS95-FM) classic logo from the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Hubbard also owns thirteen television stations, including flagship KSTP in the Twin Cities – the first commercial TV station in the state of Minnesota and the first station to broadcast fully in color thanks to its ties with NBC (whose KSTP-AM was a longtime radio affiliate.) However, the relationship with the peacock network soured by 1979 as KSTP switched its affiliation from NBC to ABC, where it remains today.

Other television properties in its portfolio include duopoly partner KSTC, an independent station in the Twin Cities; ABC affiliate WDIO-TV in Duluth; NBC affiliate KOB-TV in Albuquerque; former Viacom-owned stations WNYT (Albany) and WHEC (Rochester), both NBC affiliates in New York state; and a bunch of satellite repeaters, mainly in Minnesota and New Mexico.

Bonneville’s Chicago stations have been known for their successes, particularly WTMX and WDRV. Both stations regularly rank in the top 10 overall with WTMX ranking in the top five in key female demos and WDRV doing likewise in key male demos.

And after about a thousand format adjustments, WILV has finally found its groove as a Variety Hits outlet (playing a mix of ‘80’s and ‘90’s gold product) after years of trying to find an audience as WPNT and WNND.

With the Bonneville acquisitions, Hubbard now has 700 employees in its radio division. The deal is subject to FCC approval, and is expected to close in the second quarter.

Thought: While the sale may look like another coup for big media to some (both companies are not exactly… um, “big”), it really isn’t: the deal is more a strategic move on the part of both companies as Bonneville  – despite its successes in Chicago – wants to focus more on its core properties in the western U.S. while Hubbard wants to expand its reach into other Midwestern markets (and D.C.) And with no changes planned (and even bringing some Bonneville execs on board), this is a very good deal and a win for terrestrial radio. And how often does yours truly get to say that?

Hubbard has a good track record when it comes to its radio properties in the Twin Cities (though on the television side, it’s a different story: KSTP ranks fourth overall in the market and in local news, including the 10 p.m. news race), WTMX, WDRV, and WILV are in good hands.

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