Green-Light Specials

If the FCC loosens its rules, will media giants go on a radio-and-TV shopping spree? Absolutely.

These linkages "have worked out really well," Singleton says. "The newspaper news operation has added a lot of strength to the radio operations, and the cross-sale of advertising has been very successful, especially when it's cross-sold with Internet. I'm anxious to try it in larger markets." The minute the FCC gives him the go-ahead, Singleton will get this chance. "In some of our various newspaper markets, we are preparing to purchase both radio and television. In some cases, we already have agreements to do so, subject to the change in the rule."

At present, Singleton adds, no transactions of this sort are pending in Denver, but that doesn't foreclose the possibility of one hitting the radar screen soon. Last year, the Denver Newspaper Agency, formed to handle business matters for the Post and the Rocky Mountain News as part of a joint operating agreement, almost hooked up with the Newspaper Radio Corporation, which is overseen by Tim Brown, son-in-law of notable rich fella Phil Anschutz, to launch KNRC-AM, a news-radio station. When this romance soured at the last minute, Brown put KNRC on the air without DNA assistance ("Dialing for Differences," July 18, 2002). Singleton doesn't say how involved he was in these negotiations, but their collapse clearly hasn't turned him off of radio. "Our experience with newspaper-radio in other markets has been good," he says. "So it's quite possible we would buy a radio station in Denver."

Television is another story. In repetition of a statement that turned up in the January 10 Denver Business Journal, he says he may not purchase a TV station here. Heavily influencing Singleton's reasoning on this topic is the Denver Post's partnership with Channel 9, which already accomplishes many of the goals envisioned by cross-ownership boosters, including content sharing, joint projects and promotional opportunities ("Let's Get Together," October 31, 2002). Moreover, Singleton and Channel 9's owner, Gannett, have quite a chummy relationship. Gannett holds a 19 percent stake in the California Media Partnership, a consortium of more than fifteen newspapers over which MediaNews has majority control.

Still, Singleton doesn't permanently reject the possibility of picking up a TV station in these parts -- even one lacking a news department. "That might be a positive," he says. "In a market where you have a newspaper that has tons of news, it might make more sense to buy a station without news and program it your way than to buy it with news."

These comments are intended as general, not specific, but they can't help but make area observers think about Channel 20, a fast-growing station owned by Chicago's Fred Eychaner. An entrepreneur known for being publicity-shy, Eychaner nonetheless agreed to speak last year with Forbes magazine, which traced his career through a series of small-time journalism jobs to his buy of a printing press that helped him build his fortune. He used dollars made by printing publications such as the Chicago Reader to buy a tiny, one-watt radio station and, later, WPWR, a Chicago television station, and Channel 20, which was bankrupt when he paid $12 million for it in 1994. Both TV outlets became part of the UPN network, with Channel 20 filling out its schedule with sitcoms, other syndicated fare, and sporting events featuring the Colorado Avalanche, the Denver Nuggets and, starting next season, the Colorado Rockies. To Greg Armstrong, Channel 20's vice president and general manager, supplementing this mix with news isn't necessary.

"At a couple points in our history, we did studies about getting into the local news market," Armstrong says. "But it's very expensive, and it's something that, as a company, we don't have any real experience in doing. Plus, there's a lot of good news programs in this market. How much more do you want? So we decided to be the entertainment station -- and a big part of that here is sports. We want to make you laugh and help you keep up with your favorite sports teams."

In Chicago, this formula pushed the value of WPWR into the stratosphere, and last year, Eychaner sold it to mogul Rupert Murdoch for $425 million. That makes Channel 20 Eychaner's only station, and since he's a generous supporter of the Democratic Party and Northwestern University's Medill Innocence Project, he could presumably use more dough. On top of that, Singleton says he's known Eychaner for 25 years and considers him a personal friend. But thus far, Eychaner has shown little interest in parting with Channel 20. "Before the Chicago station was sold in the spring of 2002, he was approached about adding Denver to the sale," Armstrong says. "But it was never on the table. He said, 'We're not going to sell Denver. You're doing a great job, and I want you to continue.'"

That leaves Channel 7, which has been on the block at least once previously. As noted in an article in the Hollywood Reporter, McGraw-Hill tried to peddle its broadcasting division back in 1997, when what was known as the Morris Trust doctrine would have let it spin off its stations tax-free. However, the company backed away when this loophole closed and bids from interested parties such as the Walt Disney Company failed to reach expectations.

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