A FOX 8 Folo

On this day after Christmas, we’ve had a couple of days to read followup on the reported sale of “Cleveland’s Own” WJW/8 “FOX 8” and its seven mid-market owned and operated sister stations to Oak Hill Capital Partners.

It’s old news to us, of course, though we did have one bump in the road – which we quickly and publicly corrected.

In the end, though, our first report that Oak Hill would be buying the for-sale FOX O&Os turned out to be fully correct…though we couldn’t foresee the moves involving Local TV LLC’s Randy Michaels, his move to Tribune, and that latter company’s offering administrative services to Michaels’ now-former company.

In fact, we don’t think ANYONE could have seen this “outside the box” move by the former Clear Channel radio boss, a long-time resident of the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati. (Thus, if Randy scratches his nose, he’s arguably on topic for this report, give or take a river.)

Anyway, with the announcement Saturday morning that Oak Hill/Local TV and NewsCorp/FOX had signed off on the approximately $1.1 billion cash deal, it took the “mainstream media” until Monday to weigh in. Or Tuesday.

That’s when the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Frank Bentayou chimed in with his article on the deal.

There’s nothing not already reported elsewhere in Bentayou’s story. A large part of that is because WJW VP/GM Greg Easterly was “traveling” and “not returning phone calls”, and FOX PR types in New York were also not chatty about the news.

But we’d like to repeat an answer – OK, reported by us – to one unanswered question in the article:

“There was no indication in the announcements by either party to the deal that WJW or any of the other stations would shift their affiliation from Fox to another network.”

That is true, for what it’s worth.

But OMW reported earlier that the deal – according to our sources – involves a 10 year deal under which Oak Hill/Local TV would continue to affiliate WJW with FOX. (And, we presume, the other seven stations.)

FOX may have wanted to cash in to help fund the acquisition of Dow Jones (The Wall Street Journal et al.). But it surely didn’t want to leave its affiliation in key markets to chance.

So, what happens inside, and outside, WJW?

Don’t expect any changes – at least until Local TV takes over the station. Depending on regulatory approval and the like, the companies expect that to happen in the latter half of 2008.

Our only question: What does the “shared services” agreement mean? Who will be the “ultimate boss” for the station outside of South Marginal Road? Will that be Local TV’s Bobby Lawrence, Tribune broadcast head Randy Michaels (through his “The Other Company”, or whatever that ends up being called), or both?

It may not matter, particularly if they follow Sam Zell’s apparent philosophy – put the power in the hands of your on-site management, and make them accountable for the station’s performance.

We’ll see…

Merry Christmas And Happy Holidays

Just a note to let you know we’re still here, and to wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas, and a wonderful holiday season.

There will be a post or two up here sometime between now and the New Year…

BREAKING NEWS: WJW, FOX O&Os Sold – This Time, Officially

OMW first reported weeks ago that Cleveland’s WJW/8 “FOX 8” – and eight of FOX’s other smaller market owned-and-operated stations – were being sold to Oak Hill Capital Partners.

The sale is now official. (Well, minus one of the stations, which we’ll explain later.)

OMW hears that this News Corporation press release was put up this morning, on walls all over the local station’s South Marginal Road headquarters:

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News Corporation Announces Sale of Eight Television Stations to Oak Hill Capital Partners

NEW YORK, NY, December 22, 2007 – News Corporation announced today that it will sell eight of its owned-and-operated FOX network affiliated television stations to Oak Hill Capital Partners for approximately $1.1 billion in cash.

The stations include:

* WJW in Cleveland, OH
* KDVR in Denver, CO
* KTVI in St. Louis, MO
* WDAF in Kansas City, MO
* WITI in Milwaukee, WI
* KSTU in Salt Lake City, UT
* WBRC in Birmingham, AL
* WGHP in Greensboro, NC

The sale is subject to regulatory and other customary conditions and is expected to close in the third calendar quarter of 2008.

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And here are some choice quotes from the Local TV people, courtesy of their press release, which we found on the FOX Business website:

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J. Taylor Crandall, a Managing Partner of Oak Hill Capital Partners, said, “We are very pleased to add this outstanding portfolio of FOX affiliated television stations to the Oak Hill portfolio. These stations, like our existing Local TV television stations, have a strong commitment to providing quality news and serving the local community.”

Bobby Lawrence, CEO of Local TV, said, “These are heritage stations in great markets. Their management teams and operations are a perfect fit with Local TV. The stations have an outstanding track record and we look forward to helping them continue their success.”

————

FOX still retains its largest market owned-and-operated stations, many in a two-station duopoly, and a handful of other owned stations.

And it also still hangs onto one of the stations on the originally announced list.

The Chicago Tribune reports today that FOX O&O WHBQ/13 in Memphis TN will not be going to Oak Hill Capital Partners, for regulatory concerns.

Oak Hill/Local TV already owns the Memphis market’s CBS affiliate, WREG. Current FCC rules don’t allow such a duopoly with both stations affiliated with one of the “Big Four” networks. We’ll assume FOX will deal off WHBQ separately.

At least we didn’t have to wait months and months for this news to become official, like we did in a certain swap of radio stations between Canton and Michigan…

Weekend Update Without Chevy Chase

…or, whoever’s doing that segment now on “Saturday Night Live”. (That show is still on, right?)

We have a couple of items that can’t wait until Monday. And we’re basically on hiatus for the holidays, though again, we have promised to post major items whenever we are able to do so… like, perhaps, these…

BUTTE LEAVING WEWS: OMW hears that Scripps Cleveland ABC affiliate WEWS/5 general manager John Butte is retiring from the station effective January 31st.

And what do you know…Butte’s official retirement statement happened to fly out on the winds at 3001 Euclid, and ended up right here at OMW World Headquarters! Imagine that. Some of it may look like this, with a nod to Kenny Rogers in there somewhere:

“When I informed Bill Peterson of my intention earlier this week, I told him that in planning for WEWS’s historic 60th birthday celebration, that the time just felt right. It’s that knowing ‘when to hold em…knowing when to walk away’ thing.

I’m 60, the station’s 60 and managing here for the past several years fulfilled my dream of running an important station in an important market.

One of our regular readers reminded us this afternoon that three of the four general managers at Cleveland market news operations have had a news background – Butte, WEWS’ former news director, along with new WJW/8 “FOX 8” GM Greg Easterly and WOIO/19-WUAB/43 boss Bill Applegate.

And though WKYC/3’s Brooke Spectorsky is not on that list, the local NBC affiliate has made unusually broad commitments to news and information programming, right down to its presumably-still money losing joint venture with Time Warner Cable for “Akron/Canton News”.

We’ll have to see who Scripps brings in to replace John Butte, and how that affects “NewsChannel 5″…

ALSO EXITING 3001 EUCLID: When reporter Carolina Leid departs “NewsChannel 5” on December 28th, she may also be able to give one of her co-workers a ride to the airport…but their planes will head in different directions.

Station “traffic and transportation reporter” Tricia Skidmore’s last day will also be December 28th. She’s moving to Chicago.

OMW hears that it apparently is not a new gig that will send Tricia to the Windy City. We hear that Skidmore’s fiance is becoming more and more of a big wheel in Chicago’s financial industry, and she’s tiring of a commuter relationship. Tricia and her fiance are planning a June 2008 wedding.

We’re not saying she may not end up on the air in Chicago in the future, but she’s making the move for personal reasons.

Skidmore joined “NewsChannel 5” earlier this year. As we noted in an earlier item:

Though she joins WEWS from a station in Peoria IL, we’re told Skidmore used to live in Mentor and Highland Heights, and graduated from a school in Cleveland Heights. And Skidmore’s mother still lives in the area, in Willoughby Hills.

As we also reported then, Skidmore came to the station in a new in-house position. Traffic on “Good Morning Cleveland” was handled for many years remotely out of Metro Traffic by Linda Dawson, who is still heard on a number of area radio outlets…

UPDATE 12/22/07 2:10 PM: The below item is now official, as Oak Hill Capital Partners is indeed buying WJW and the other FOX O&Os that News Corporation is selling off. See our later posted item for details.

When we said “somewhat likely to be announced soon”, we had no idea it had actually already been announced in an official press release just a couple of hours earlier!

Here’s what we wrote…

THAT OTHER SHOE – ALMOST: OMW wondered about the disposition of “FOX 8”, after a sale of the station and eight other smaller-market FOX owned-and-operated stations had been announced in the building…but the identity of the buyer still hasn’t been named.

We helpfully pointed out initial reports – now merely speculation – that Oak Hill Capital Partners would pick up the stations under its “Local TV, LLC” banner, with former Clear Channel radio head Randy Michaels at the helm.

Then, it was officially announced that Michaels was leaving that company – heading for a big new job as the Broadcast and Interactive head at the giant Tribune Company.

Tribune, of course, has just come under the control of a long-time friend of Randy’s, Sam Zell, a billionaire who made much of his money early on by selling the old Jacor radio group. Michaels ran Jacor for Zell.

We speculated here that Michaels’ career move may be behind the delay in announcing WJW’s new ownership.

Then, this announcement made everything start making sense:

Local TV and Tribune Company have entered into a letter of intent to create a third-party broadcast management company which will provide shared services to all of the stations Local TV and Tribune Company own respectively. The company will function as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tribune Company, and will provide back-office services, administration, and a number of other functions to the stations with the goal of maximizing efficiencies, sharing best practices, and fostering innovation.

Randy Michaels, who was just named CEO of Tribune Company’s Interactive and Broadcasting business unit, will head the company. This combination will allow Michaels and Lawrence to build on the great track record they have established in their careers together.

The new “shared services” company (we’re sorry about that phrase, folks in Youngstown) will provide these management services for not only Tribune’s mostly large market stations, but for Local TV, LLC’s nine medum to smaller market stations as well – as well as other possible stations not in the mix right now.

So, it’s still all speculation (again) about the future of “FOX 8” and its sister stations, but – and this is just reading the tea leaves here, it’s not fact – we wouldn’t be surprised if that clears things up at South Marginal Road sometime in the near future.

If, indeed, Oak Hill Capital Partners/Local TV, LLC is still ready to sign the agreement buying WJW and the other smaller-market O&Os, it would still bring the stations under Randy Michaels’ top-level oversight in this new “shared services” firm.

That would be the definition of Local TV’s stations being “folded into” the Tribune stations, as the third-party company is a subsidiary of Tribune.

Or, if for some reason, Local TV doesn’t step up and buy WJW and the other FOX stations on its shopping list – whoever does would end up folding the stations into the above mentioned management company.

But we tend to think that the FOX stations in question will land with Oak Hill/Local TV. As we noted earlier, in a very uncertain atmosphere for investment firms, Oak Hill has continued to push on aggressively, even to the point of starting yet another fund for the purpose of marching on with acquisitions – likely of more TV stations. (Oak Hill does invest in many other things.)

So, we’re not ready to mark this off as “in the bag” yet…but the above scenario does seem somewhat likely to be announced, soon…

BREAKING NEWS: Bruce Kalinowski Joins WKYC

And yes, this is the Cleveland TV weather move we hinted about some time ago. After not being able to get confirmation about it in all this time, it’s now official.

WKYC/3’s Frank Macek reports in his “Director’s Cut” blog this afternoon that former WOIO/19 “19 Action News” metereologist Bruce Kalinowski will join Channel 3.

Kalinowski’s exact role isn’t yet known, but he’ll fill the weather staff vacancy left when “Channel 3 News” chief meterologist Mark Nolan left the weather center a while back, to become co-host of the station’s “Channel 3 News Today” morning show.

Kalinowski, a Northeast Ohio native known as Bruce Edwards on cable’s Weather Channel, left WOIO earlier this year after an eight year run…

Randy, Tribune And TV 8

UPDATE 3:56 PM 12/20/07: The Sam Zell takeover of Tribune is complete, and Randy Michaels has been announced as “executive vice president and chief executive officer of Interactive and Broadcasting” for Tribune under Zell’s leadership…

——————

This is by no means a confirmation of our earlier report that Local TV, LLC, the television operating arm of Oak Hill Capital Partners, is in line to buy the FOX sub-top 10 market owned-and-operated stations being sold – most notably, for this report, including WJW/8 “FOX 8” in Cleveland.

But it may explain why nothing’s been announced.

The Los Angeles Times reports (along with another story by the Wall Street Journal) that veteran broadcast executive Randy Michaels – now running the Local TV group – is heading for Tribune…to rejoin long-time colleague and partner Sam Zell, who’s about to buy the chain.

From the Times article (free registration required):

Michaels’ is the first name to surface as Zell begins assembling his management team. A company source said Michaels would probably focus on Tribune’s broadcast and interactive businesses.

Anyone who knows Randy’s history knows that he ran the old Jacor Communications for Zell, then stayed on after Clear Channel bought out the company as CC’s top radio executive.

So, it’s no surprise that Randy would lead the charge for Zell with his new company’s broadcast – and interactive – divisions.

What does this have to do with “FOX 8”, and the eight other FOX O&Os being spun off by News Corporation?

Well, we’d announced that a new buyer was “found”, widely expected to be Michaels’ Local TV group.

A number of folks who know this sort of thing better than we do are speculating that along with Michaels’ move to Tribune, Oak Hill Capital Partners may invest in the new Sam Zell-led Tribune, folding its Local TV stations into that company.

In effect, if this all pans out (and this is major speculation and rumor at this point), Randy Michaels would still end up overseeing the nine smaller-market FOX O&Os, including WJW, but as Tribune’s broadcasting boss…not Local TV’s.

As such, this deal potentially being “in flux” may be the cause of the delay in the announcement of WJW’s new ownership.

That, like everything in the preceding few lines, is our own speculation. But it makes sense, since we already know Randy Michaels is heading for Tribune.

Just some food for thought…

Wrapping Up Some Loose Ends

…and waiting for others.

First, a reminder: OMW will be sporadically updated between now and January 2nd, 2008. We will continue to provide “major” breaking news – i.e. format changes, sales, and major personality moves – throughout the holidays, into 2008.

And by our count, we’ve got at least a couple or three of those waiting to happen…

NOT YET, BUT…: We haven’t heard an official announcement, even within the building, of a potential new hire by a Cleveland TV station. We hinted at it earlier.

We’re still waiting for the shoe to drop, and we’ll let you know as soon as we are able to do so. We’re pretty confident that it’ll happen…

HOW CINCINNATI SHOOK OUT: Just to “get it on the record here”, Cincinnati market FM talk outlet WFTK/96.5 “SuperTalk FM”‘s new format is indeed rock, as the station now carries the “96 Rock – Cincinnati’s Pure Rock” moniker.

And by the logo on the station’s still-under-construction new website, which carries the slogan “Angry in the morning, pissed all day”, it would appear that former sports talk act “The Two Angry Guys” (Richard Skinner and Tom Gamble) will return to their former morning perch on 96.5 at the start of 2008.

And unless “pissed” refers to the mood of “SuperTalk” afternoon drive host Andy Furman when he heard about the format change, he’s likely out the door.

Even from the outside, where we’ve been following the changes in that market, you almost need to buy a faster computer to keep track of all the changes in Cincinnati in the past year or two.

Remember, Furman was the long-time evening “SportsTalk” host on the market’s dominant station, WLW/700, before he ran into the Bengals’ T.J. Houshmanzadeh and lost. (So have the Bengals, but that’s another matter.)

The “Angry Guys” got split up at sports talk WCKY, now “1530 Homer”, and eventually reunited on the FM dial, where Furman had landed as well.

Now, instead of being followed by sports talk or political talk, Skinner and Gamble will be anchoring morning drive at a rock station that will presumably have a rock-and-roll “attitude” the size of a Mack truck.

Furman? There wouldn’t appear to be any in-market options for him, unless someone changes to a sports or talk format and takes him on. Clear Channel once again has a market-wide monopoly on both talk and sports, between WLW, WKRC/550, WCKY, WSAI (now sports “ESPN 1360”).

And though we wouldn’t QUITE bet the OMW World Headquarters against it, it seems very, very, very unlikely that he’d be welcomed back to CC’s Kenwood complex any time soon…or even after that.

OMW is reminded that there were brief rumors that Furman was talking with the folks at North American Broadcasting Columbus FM talk outlet WTDA/103.9 “Talk FM”, before he landed with Cumulus and WFTK. We haven’t heard any similar rumors now, but it’s just a data point from the past…

AND WHILE WE’RE IN COLUMBUS: One thing most of our readers have learned since OMW started in August 2005…don’t depend on us for perfect descriptions of music format stations and their playlists.

So, we’d like to delineate the formats used by two Clear Channel stations with similar on-air positioning: WMRN-FM-to-be-changed/106.7, the new Columbus market “Radio 106.7”, and WNFF/94.1 in the Cincinnati market, the former WVMX “Mix 94.1” now going as “Radio 94.1”.

We first dip back into the OMW archives for a format description of the Cincinnati “Radio” version:

The new “Radio 94.1,” according to a Clear Channel source, will be a “guitar and pop” variety station targeting females ages 25-39. It is a new type of Adult Contemporary radio station that is being positioned as “Starbucks” style music. The DJs, to be named in the future, will be more laid-back and mellow, concentrating more on the song selection with less-intrusive bantering, according to the source.

Radio 94.1’s core artists will include: Dave Matthews Band, Nora Jones, Jack Johnson, Rob Thomas, John Mayer, Tori Amos, Matchbox Twenty, Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Goo Goo Dolls, Bare Naked Ladies, and Sheryl Crow.

That description, as we mentioned before, is from an article by contributor Robert Riggsbee in Cincinnati’s “Business Courier”.

Now, let’s hear about “Radio 106.7” in Columbus.

This description comes from Clear Channel Columbus programming chief John Crenshaw, in his release announcing the new station:

“It was time for Columbus modern rock fans to have their own station. Radio 106.7 will play new and established rock artists, in the longest music sweeps available in Columbus radio today, and we will even include music by some of Columbus’s best-known or soon-to-be-discovered local bands.”

The release goes on to talk about a playlist that “will include groups like U2, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Killers, Nirvana, Nickelback and the Dave Matthews Band in a sort of ‘pop-rock-alternative’ combination.”

Unlike its Cincinnati sister, “Radio 106.7” is going after a 25-44, presumably male, demo. The stations do share Dave Matthews Band in their playlist samples, which would presumably indicate DMB’s mass appeal.

But the two stations also share the same on-air philosophy – with both promising less intrusive on-air personalities, and a focus on “the music”.

This isn’t the first Clear Channel “format concept” to be tweaked from city to city. Even the venerable “Kiss FM” branding applies to varied playlists in different areas, with some leaning as heavy rhythmic outlets, and others much more CHR/Pop.

(Again, don’t come to us for exact dissection of music formats.)

The theory, or so it goes, is that the laid-back, less interruption format interpretation, with some attention being paid to the music, will bring back folks who may have left music radio for the mighty iPod…