Monday, September 22, 2008

Cleveland On The Block

OK, so now, we have some more details about the possible disposition of CBS Radio's four Cleveland stations.

The New York Post reports that the 50 mid-market CBS Radio stations the company said it would sell are officially on the block starting today, as the paper reports that "first round bids" for the stations are due today. From the article by Post writer Peter Lauria:

CBS, which is not using an investment bank to help with the auction and is instead handling it in-house, is trying to unload 50 stations in 12 markets, including Las Vegas, San Diego, Baltimore, Cleveland and others.

Among those to receive books and expected to bid are: Cumulus Media, Entercom Communications, Bonneville Broadcasting, Connoisseur Communications, and Tribune Co., as well as former radio industry executive Bobby Lawrence and former CBS Radio CEO Joel Hollander.

The list is full of companies we've kicked around here, and some surprises.

It's long been speculated that former Jacor owner Sam Zell and radio head Randy Michaels could expand Tribune's one-station radio holding (talk WGN/720 Chicago).

Zell became a billionaire with radio by selling the high-flying Jacor group to Clear Channel when station values were at a high, and suburban Cincinnati-based Michaels likely hasn't gotten radio out of his blood even in his current role as COO of Tribune.

But this is the first official sign we've seen that Tribune may be sniffing around at radio stations. And it IS Tribune listed, not Randy Michaels separately through his RadioActive group.

Note, too, that fellow former Jacorite Bobby Lawrence - now heading up Local TV, LLC (owners of Cleveland FOX affiliate WJW/8) - is on the list. We presume Mr. Lawrence could run into problems with cross-ownership in markets like Cleveland due to his TV ownership company's expanded presence, assuming he makes any successful bids...and closely associated Tribune could well have the same problem in some markets.

And we don't know what former CBS Radio head Joel Hollander has in mind, either.

Note, of course, that this reported action today is the "first round bid" part of our program.

CBS Radio is clearly serious about selling the 50 stations, including Cleveland outlets WKRK/92.3, WNCX/98.5, WDOK/102.1, and WQAL/104.1.

But the article, quoting CBS CEO Les Moonves, suggests the group won't just jump at the first semi-decent offers for its radio stations:

"We don't know what the marketplace is," Moonves admitted during a Goldman Sachs conference last week. "If we don't get the right pricing for it, we're not going to sell."

The article quotes unnamed financial sources as saying the initial bids could be as low as "seven and eight times" station cash flow, and CBS clearly hopes for numbers higher than that.

We also don't know what bidders are interested in what markets or what stations, or if any of 'em hope to swallow the 50 stations as a group...or just how serious bidders like Tribune, Local TV's Lawrence and former CBS Radio head Hollander are about pursuing this, particularly if CBS Radio isn't biting at lower bids than they expect.

We'll be watching...

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