The following story appears in today's Washington Post, signalling the
final coup de grace for Washington's broadcast radio market in classical
Redskins Owner Set to Buy Last Classical Station
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006; C01
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has reached a preliminary
agreement to buy classical music station WGMS-FM in a deal that
would expand his budding sports-talk radio empire and likely be
the swan song for the area's only classical outlet.
Snyder and the owner of WGMS, Bonneville International Corp.,
have established a price for the sale but had not formalized the
deal as of yesterday, people close to the negotiations said.
They said, however, that an agreement could be wrapped up within
"They made an offer that [a seller] can't refuse," said one
executive involved in the negotiations. He requested anonymity
because the sale was pending. "If someone wanted to buy your
house and was willing to pay 50 percent more than it was worth,
you'd do it," he said.
Neither side would disclose the proposed sale price or discuss
potential programming changes.
In a memo to Bonneville's Washington area employees yesterday,
the company's top local executive, Joel Oxley, wrote: "Our company
is in discussions with Red Zebra but there is not a deal in
place. I will keep you apprised in the weeks to come of timing
and additional developments as they occur."
Red Zebra Broadcasting, a company Snyder formed early this year,
has been buying up stations in the mid-Atlantic region as outlets
for sports programming and live broadcasts of Redskins games.
But his three flagship stations in the Washington area -- known
as Triple X ESPN Radio -- have weak signals. In some parts of
the area, the three stations (at 92.7 and 94.3 FM, and 730 AM)
are plagued by static and other interference.
Bennett Zier, who heads Red Zebra, would not comment on his
company's negotiations with Bonneville. But he said, "Red Zebra
is in the buying business. We're looking at several acquisitions
now. . . . We have nothing to formally announce yet."
WGMS, which broadcasts at 103.9 and 104.1 FM, would only partially
resolve Red Zebra's local reception problems. The stations would
strengthen Red Zebra's coverage across the metropolitan area,
but both outlets have poor coverage in such spots as Bethesda,
Chevy Chase, Upper Northwest Washington, Arlington and McLean.
Even so, said one executive, the two frequencies "are dramatically
better than what they have now."
WGMS's signal deficiencies drew complaints from many music fans
when Bonneville moved classical programming from 103.5 FM to
103.9 and 104.1 FM this year. The move, which followed Bonneville's
creation of a new station in conjunction with The Washington
Post, set off the channel realignment of Bonneville's other
stations, including all-news WTOP AM-FM.
Classical music has been a dying radio format, nationally and
in the Washington area, for more than a decade. WETA (90.9 FM)
phased it out in early 2005, and now often duplicates NPR
programming also heard on WAMU (88.5 FM).
Asked whether WETA would consider restoring its classical programs,
general manager Dan DeVany said: "I wouldn't want to speculate
at this time. We're really happy with our [news-talk] format.
We've been doing some good things."
Of more than 12,000 stations nationwide, only about 165 have a
full- or part-time classical format, according to Radio-Locator.com,
an Internet database.
"Classical stations have a very challenging time making it
financially," said Mark Fratrik, a vice president at BIA Financial
Network, a Chantilly company that tracks the broadcasting industry.
One part of the problem, he said, is that classical works are
long, which makes it more difficult for stations to fit lots of
commercials onto the air. Moreover, he said, classical fans tend
to be older, and advertisers pay a premium for younger listeners.
People on both sides of the negotiations said yesterday it is
unlikely that WGMS would continue as a classical station.
Bonneville executives said WGMS has been profitable. In 2005,
it generated $9.7 million in advertising revenue, according to
BIA. The station attracted an average of 3.8 percent of all
Washington area listeners during the summer quarter.
Sales of radio stations must be approved by the Federal
Communications Commission, a process that typically takes months
to complete. But pending that approval, Red Zebra could take
over WGMS within a matter of weeks, under a so-called local
marketing agreement that enables one station owner to program,
but not own, another station.
Under such a scenario, Red Zebra could use WGMS's frequencies
to air the Redskins' four remaining regular-season games.