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Family-Owned Hubbard Takes the Spotlight

It will buy 17 stations in four cities from Bonneville in big cash deal

How much are 17 good radio stations in four major markets worth these days?

About a half-billion dollars, it turns out.

Big station sales have seemed far between in recent years, and even fewer seem to involve “family owned” broadcasters than in the past. But Bonneville International woke the industry up this week when its parent Deseret Management Corp., a for-profit arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, announced an agreement to sell 17 of its stations to Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., a company with broadcast roots that date to 1923.

The companies peg the value of the cash deal at approximately $505 million. Other terms were not disclosed. The deal is subject to FCC approval and other closing conditions.

Bruce Reese, president/CEO of Bonneville and its most familiar executive face, will go to work for Hubbard, as will Drew Horowitz, chief operating officer. Hubbard Radio Division President Virginia “Ginny” Hubbard Morris will become chairman of Hubbard Radio.

In a statement, Morris said the acquisition strengthens Hubbard Radio’s national reach. “This combination of radio assets and brands represents the best of the best in the industry. Hubbard Radio will continue to maintain the investment and commitment to excellence and community service that have built and sustained these brands.”

In the nation’s capital, Bonneville is letting go of six stations that operate under the WTOP and WFED umbrella brands, including three AMs licenses.

Stations in St. Louis, Chicago, Washington and Cincinnati also are included. All are FMs. The St. Louis facilities are WARH, WIL and WXOS. Chicago stations are WDRV, WILV, WTMX and WWDV. The Cincinnati stations are WKRQ, WREW, WUBE and WYGY.

Hubbard said it expects to make no programming or personnel changes for any of the acquired stations.

The acquisition of Bonneville’s 17 stations will grow Hubbard’s size considerably. At present, Hubbard Broadcasting operates four radio stations, including flagships KSTP(AM) and KSTP(FM) in the Twin Cities, as well as a dozen television stations in Minnesota, New York and New Mexico. The deal will add nearly 550 employees to Hubbard, bringing the total to about 700. Hubbard is based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro. Patriarch Stanley Hubbard started the company in 1923.

Deseret Management President/CEO Mark Willes said Hubbard approached Bonneville about the sale; he said Hubbard was the right fit. “Bonneville has built all its media properties into profitable, well-managed media outlets in lucrative markets, which has made them attractive to many potential buyers through the years.”

Other Hubbard Broadcasting companies include satellite and cable networks ReelzChannel and Ovation TV, F&F Productions and the Hubbard Radio Network, which distributes local KSTP(AM) talk shows to radio stations in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Bonneville owns 14 other radio stations and an NBC television affiliate. Deseret will retain its Bonneville stations in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle and Salt Lake City and their accompanying station managers and staff. The company plans to expand the regional and online presence of these stations while supporting the core radio programming. Willes said it makes strategic sense for Bonneville to hold onto stations in the western markets.

Jeff Simpson will now oversee the remaining Bonneville markets. Simpson has been with DMC since 2004 and is COO of KSL Broadcasting.