Station change: Clear Channel leaves town

With Clear Channel unloading 448 radio stations across the country– including the six they hold in Charlottesville– the fate of those local stations has remained up in the air. No longer.

This morning, newly formed Monticello Media LLC announced its intention to buy all six stations and continue to operate each of them under the same call letters and format– at least for now.

The stations purchased: WCYK-FM 99.7, WCJZ-FM 107.5, WSUH-FM 94.1 and 102.3, WHTE-FM 101.9 and AM stations WCHV 1260 and WKAV 1400.

George Reed, the CEO of the newly formed LLC and a media broker who helped Clear Channel negotiate the purchase of the Charlottesville stations back in 1998, says he didn't expect to be buying a station– much less six– but the Charlottesville market was too good to pass up.

"The main thing that's appealing to me is that it's very strong economically," says Reed. "It's a great market in that it's far enough away from Richmond and D.C., that you don't have those signals coming in."

Though the deal hasn't yet closed, Monticello Media has taken over station operations and hired its staff. While some have moved into the area for the new jobs, others have history with the stations. Dennis Mockler, a 30-year-local radio veteran (pictured above) who served as vice president and general manager of Saga's Charlottesville Radio Group for two years before leaving in 2007, will regain those titles for Monticello Media.

Mockler says the fact that Monticello Media is a small, privately-held company holds

great appeal.

"Despite what anybody says, you truly can be local," he says. "We don't have to worry about answering to Wall Street or analysts every quarter; we just focus on doing what's best for the community."

According the FCC filing, Monticello Media will pay $7.75 million for the six s

tations. Reed expects the deal to close sometime in the next month after the FCC completes the license transfers.

The original version of this article contained errors regarding Dennis Mockler's previous employment. –ed.

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10 comments

Get it straight. Saga Communications owns Charlottesville Radio Group, not Clear Channel. What other parts of the story are incorrect or misleading?

I don't care who owns them, but could they please start selling some local ads? All they seem to ever have are the same set of public service announcements over and over and over again.

I'm not sure about the future of radio being local. Clear Channel is very heavily invested in XM Radio. XM and SIRIUS are about to merge. That's becoming a very viable platform for non-local radio. I think there will always be a place for local radio, but it probably isn't in delivering entertainment content. Not long-term. The non-commercial stations (NRN, TJU, NPR) probably have a rosier long-term opportunity, but with the wide variety of genres available via satellite more and more people are looking there for their music, sports, and national "talk."

Let's remember that the stations owned by Saga were locally owned for decades, and still provide more local programming than any other station around. Let's take just WINA, for instance. More than six hours a day of locally-programmed talk.

The future of radio is local, which is why Clear Channel is divesting itself of its assets in minor markets such as ours.

This is really, really good news...unless Monticello Media bought the properties to merely unload them to another conglomerate at a profit. Does anybody recall what Clear Channel paid for them originally? As for Clear Channel: good riddance. They have some outstanding people working for them here, but as a whole the corporation hasn't done a whole lot of good in this or any other town. Except for those who LIKED Hal and Naomi. Jeeze!

Vinnie Kice must be loving life! No more evil overlord!

Having worked in radio and being familiar with both of these groups and the people that work there, it's been my experience that Clear Channel has a history of making poor management decisions at the top without regard for local impact and then forcing changes that may or not make sense down the throats of the people operating at the local level. From what I've heard, Cumulus is similar in that regard and I'm sure there are other big media companies that make decisions based on Wall Street pressures, which is why publicly traded media companies have the advantage of having more money to buy stations, but don't put enough back in to deliver great local content. It's an unfortunate, but well-known reality that the stations that have syndicated programming and smaller play lists usually do better in the ratings (note I said usually). If a local operator is too small and is delivering local content, they usually don't have the $$$ to effectively compete against the resources of 3-6 station radio cluster that can share expenses and pool revenue. Unfortunately real life has no similarity to the movie "Field of Dreams." It is not the case that if you build great local content, the ratings will come. You have to successfully sell the stations in order to get enough money to promote the stations properly and then (and only then) do radio stations benefit from great programming. As I mentioned earlier, it is also rare to see stations with a focus on local programming at the top of the market. The mid-size private companies that have not gone public yet or positioned themselves for success before going public are usually the ones in the best shape, delivering better content with a local focus...and usually nicer studios. They are trying to or already have attracted the interest of a larger buyer. Saga is one of those mid-size companies that bought one that positioned itself well. By the way, they refer to themselves as CRG "Charlottesville Radio Group." The former Clear Channel stations were called CCC "Clear Channel Charlottesville" and it yet remains to be seen if Monticello Media will make the changes needed to become a player in this market. They are a very small company, but with strong financial backing. Their new market manager would have an advantage in knowing how to do it. He's got a strong radio background and has seen what Eure Communications did before they were sold to Saga. He's now the local operator working against a corporate competitor with a much larger market share and a history of local programming, but beholden to the same things every publicly held company is. Likewise it remains to be seen whether Saga's new market manager can continue growing revenue based on their current market position. My money is that things won't change immediately, but there's more upside potential on the former Clear Channel Stations now owned by Monticello Media, in terms of revenue, local programming and ratings. Why? They have nowhere to go but up after being pounded into the dirt by Clear Channel for several years despite having some great people working there at a local level.

Music Lover, it seems you have some facts twisted.

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Wrong. While Clear Channel programs SOME of the regional channels (Nashville, KISS, MIX, Sunny), they are not "heavily invested." Not even remotely close. They have (last I checked), less than 1% of stock in XM. If that.

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Wrong again. Nothing has been given the green light on this. It's not even close.

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Huh? You're backpeddling from what you stated earlier. There will ALWAYS been a need for local radio. Local radio will NEVER go away. Local radio will always have to deal with additional listening choices. Just like TV does. I have XM and love it, but I still listen to local radio, especially when I travel.

Why did you drop Bill Bennett? I enjoyed his "Mornings In America" radio show during my drive to work. Truly a quality show. Please, please bring him back. My Best, Carter

I think the story refers to the Charlottesville group of Clear Channel stations, not the Charlottesville Radio Group. I didn't find that incorrect or misleading, though they should have used a lower case g.

I think both Saga and Clear Channel used to refer to the stations they owned in Charlottesville as the "Charlottesville Radio Group"--or Clear Channel's local nickname was very similar. I stumbled across the similarity when I was doing research for a class project last year. So I wasn't surprised to see the name pop up here in the context of Clear Channel.

Actually, it's kind of fitting that they both would have used the same fake name to brand themselves as local. Six of one, half dozen of the other with Saga and Clear Channel.