Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Indy Radio: Emmis Sells Last Cluster to Urban One

Indy star 6/14/22

Today's radio world is a far different market from 1981, when Jeff Smulyan founded Emmis and launched his first station, WENS now HANK FM, according to The Indianapolis Star.

"I never could have envisioned the journey we would go on," Smulyan, CEO of Emmis, said in a statement Monday. "Indianapolis is my hometown and I'm so proud of what we've been able to accomplish."

Maryland-based Urban One describes itself as "the largest diversified media company that primarily targets Black Americans and urban consumers in the United States."

Urban One "has deep media experience, including lengthy experience as an Indianapolis radio and television operator, significant resources and a commitment to local radio," Smulyan said.

As Emmis made its announcement Monday, Urban One revealed it is selling its Indianapolis-based WHHH station (Hot 96.3-FM), which airs an urban contemporary format.

Urban One also said it is selling the intellectual property related to Indianapolis-based WNOW (Radio NOW 100.9-FM), which airs Top 40 hits, to a third party.

In acquiring Emmis' stations, Alfred Liggins, president and CEO of Urban One, said, "These are terrific general market formats (best variety, country, news and sports) and will be a great addition to Urban One."

Jeff Smulyan
'What happens after a sale like this'

Emmis Indianapolis Radio has 77 full-time and 50 part-time employees in Indianapolis, all based in the company's Monument Circle headquarters. It is unclear what will happen to the headquarters, employees or the stations' formats after the sale is complete.

The Fan is home to the only sports talk radio format in Indy, including three weekday shows: "Kevin & Query" which airs 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., "The Dan Dakich Show" from noon to 3 p.m. and "The Ride with JMV," which airs 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The station also is home to the Indianapolis Colts, the Indiana Pacers and the Indy 500. Emmis confirmed to IndyStar Monday that those contracts remain with the sale.

Whether The Fan will continue with sports talk, WIBC will remain as news talk or WYXB, known as B105.7, will continue as an adult contemporary station is the big question, said Dom Caristi, a telecommunications professor at Ball State .

"It is all over the board what happens after a sale like this," he said. "Normally, if they're buying properties, they're usually buying stability. It's not like Emmis needs a big shakeup in Indianapolis."

With Urban One selling its current Indianapolis stations, Caristi said " it is highly likely they would make one Emmis station an urban format."

Any change that might happen could take place as early as this year. It will likely take about 90 days for the sale to become official, after receiving approval from the FCC, Emmis said. Until then, Emmis will continue to own and operate the Indy stations. 

Emmis' downsizing

Emmis has struggled in recent years, shrinking the number of radio stations it owns across the country.

In its statement Monday, Emmis said it "redeployed the capital into new ventures, which emphasize its sales and marketing experience."

Smulyan attempted to take the company private three times in 2006, 2010 and, most recently, in 2016. He offered $46.5 million to merge the media company with a private entity he controlled but later abandoned the effort.

Emmis' board of directors unanimously voted to remove itself from Nasdaq and deregister with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2020. The move was expected to save the company more than $1 million a year.

"We've become an invaluable contributor to the Indianapolis community," Smulyan said in his statement Monday, "a leader of radio industry initiative and innovation, and a trusted resource for Central Indiana listeners and businesses."

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