Sinclair purchases TV outlet in Albany $23 million buys public station with a commercial license

Broadcasting

August 11, 1998|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Following its pattern of rapid expansion in medium-sized markets, Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc. said yesterday that it has agreed to acquire a television station in Albany, N.Y., for $23 million in cash.

The Baltimore company has nearly doubled in size over the past year. It started with three stations in 1986. By July 1997, it owned or operated 29 TV stations and 34 radio stations.

The acquisition of Albany's WMHQ-TV, which requires federal approval, would bring the number of Sinclair TV stations to 57. It also owns 54 radio stations.

Albany, the 52nd-largest market in the country, fits Sinclair's taste for stations in markets ranked 15th to 75th. In Baltimore, ranked 23rd, Sinclair owns Channel 45 and operates Channel 54.

"It's a nice acquisition for Sinclair, and it's consistent with their strategy of acquiring stations in mid-sized markets," said Paul T. Sweeney, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney. "This is an industry that's seen tremendous consolidation, and Sinclair is probably a leading consolidator, but it has a deep management team and we're confident they can handle the growth. They have some senior management people that are great."

WMHQ is a Public Broadcasting Service station, one of two owned by Albany's WMHT Educational Telecommunications. Patrick Talamantes, Sinclair's director of corporate finance, said the station will become a United Paramount Network (UPN) or Warner Bros. (WB) affiliate. The deal will be financed with bank loans.

"We felt the market was under-served from a viewing-choice perspective and an advertising-choice perspective, and given the size of the market we felt a fifth commercial TV station would be well received," Talamantes said.

The other four commercial stations are affiliated with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Commercializing a public station will present Sinclair with some challenges not usually associated with buying a station.

"It makes it harder in the sense that we're basically starting over and building the station from scratch, if you will," Talamantes said. "But the management team of our company has done that several different times in the past, and we certainly know how to start a station from scratch."

Donn Rogosin, general manager of WMHQ and WMHT, said it was the expense of switching to government-required high-definition television that prompted the sale. Proceeds from WMHQ's sale will go toward financing a new building and buying a transmitter and equipment for WMHT.

"We've been very lucky because the channel had a commercial license," Rogosin said. "And we're excited about it, too, because the market did not have a WB or UPN affiliate, so Sinclair should be able to just march right in with programming that people are interested in."

Sinclair owns no television or radio stations in the Albany area, Talamantes said. He doesn't expect any trouble receiving Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department approval, which he said should come within three to four months.

With the new station, Sinclair's television group, which includes ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, WB and UPN affiliates, would reach approximately 23 percent of U.S. television households.

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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