Originally created 11/17/06

Augusta stations will stay



Clear Channel Communications Inc.'s decision to be taken private in an $18.7 billion deal will have little impact on the company's seven-station radio cluster in Augusta.

The nation's largest radio station operator announced Thursday it is selling 448 stations in 90 markets outside its top 100 as part of the deal to be acquired by a group led by Thomas H. Lee Partners LP and Bain Capital Partners LLC.

The Augusta-Aiken market, at No. 109 based on Arbitron ratings, is one of several sub-100 markets being retained.

Barry Kaye, Clear Channel's Augusta cluster manager, said he was relieved to hear the news via conference call Thursday with company CEO John Hogan.

"Nothing will change in Augusta," he said. "This is more of a financial transaction than an operational transaction. It's business as usual."

Mr. Kaye, whose cluster is currently the market leader in revenue and ratings, said he could only speculate as to why Clear Channel decided to keep Augusta but sell similar-sized markets, such as Boise, Idaho (market No. 108), and Lancaster, Pa. (market No. 113).

"I can only assume they notice our market is booming," Mr. Kaye said.

"There's growth everywhere and our cluster here is healthy. It's an 'up' radio market."

A sale of Clear Channel's Augusta cluster, which owns the market's only 100,000-watt stations (WBBQ-FM and WIBL-FM) likely would have attracted buyers from the nation's major broadcast players, including Clear Channel's cross-town rivals Beasley Broadcast Group Inc. and Radio One Inc.

The Clear Channel cluster leads the market in revenue year-to-date, according to tracking firm Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co. The cluster is also No. 1 in overall ratings, according to Arbitron, though it lost ground to Beasley during the latest spring ratings book.

No Clear Channel stations in Georgia or South Carolina will be put up for sale, according to notices Mr. Hogan sent to employees Thursday.

The company also plans to sell its 42-station television group, none of which is located in the Augusta-Aiken area.

The Mays family of San Antonio owns about 7 percent of the company. Mark Mays will remain chief executive officer while Randall Mays, his brother, will stay on as chief financial officer. Their father Lowry Mays, the chairman, will continue to have an active role, the company said.

Clear Channel said it expects to close the acquisition by the fourth quarter of next year.

Once stock market darlings, radio shares have fallen out of favor on Wall Street in recent years amid sluggish advertising revenues and competition from the boom in portable listening devices such as Apple Computer Inc.'s iPods and the emerging growth of satellite radio.

Going private will allow the company to operate without the scrutiny of the public markets, which, Clear Channel officials say, has undervalued the company.

The investor group is paying $37.60 in cash for each share of Clear Channel, a 6.3 percent premium over its closing price of $35.36 on Thursday.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

AREA CLEAR CHANNEL STATION

Clear Channel Communications Inc. owns five FM stations and two AM stations in the Augusta market and employs 73 people.

- WEKL-102.3 FM , classic rock

- WBBQ-104.3 FM , adult contemporary

- WIBL-105.7 FM, country

- WPRW-107.7 FM, hip-hop

- WKSP-96.3 FM, urban adult contemporary

- WGSF-1340 AM, Southern gospel

- WYNF-1380 AM*, sports radio

(*Was changed from WPCH-AM in October )