Erika Engle

Move over Clear Channel,
a local big dog has emerged

Maui-based Pacific Radio Group Inc. is purchasing the eight-station group belonging to Honolulu-based Big Island Radio for an undisclosed sum, creating Hawaii's largest locally owned radio company.

Despite federal caps on media ownership, this deal and another pending transaction will give Pacific Radio ownership of more stations in the islands than any of the large mainland media conglomerates. Pacific Radio will own 18 stations -- 12 on the Big Island in addition to the six it owns on Maui.

The largest radio station owner in the nation, Texas-based Clear Channel Communications Inc., owns seven stations in Honolulu. The two groups are not in the same markets and will not compete directly for advertising dollars.

Ownership caps do exist however, and Pacific Radio will have to shed some weight.

"We will have to divest some of the properties and we're actually pretty far along in negotiations with some potential buyers," said Chuck Bergson, president and chief operating officer of Pacific Radio. He declined to identify potential buyers but described them as primarily local operators. Three Big Island stations will be sold, while the Maui cluster will remain intact.

Big Island Radio owns KIPA-AM 620, KPVS-FM 95.9, KAPA-FM 100.3 and KHWI-FM 92.7 in Hilo, KLUA-FM 93.9 in Kailua-Kona, KAGB-FM 99.1 in Waimea, and KKON-AM 790 and KAOY-FM 101.5 in Kealakekua. Big Island Radio is owned by ASA Corp. and Big Island Broadcasting Co. Ltd. ASA is a subsidiary of Persis Corp., which at one time owned The Honolulu Advertiser. Persis now will focus on its core real estate business, said Glenn Yee, chief executive officer of Big Island Radio and chief financial officer of Persis.

"Chuck is the major player on Maui and obviously with this acquisition, is the major player on the Big Island," Yee said.

Big Island Broadcasting, founded in 1946, was owned and operated for decades by the late Hugh Gordon. Son and successor Hugh "Buddy" Gordon owns 17 percent of Big Island Radio and separately owns KHBC-AM 1060 under Hilo Broadcasting LLC. Gordon declined comment about the transaction.

Big Island Radio had been exploring a sale to Maui-based Visionary Related Entertainment Inc., which owns nine stations on Maui, the Big Island and Kauai, but the parties could not agree on terms despite months of negotiations. The Pacific Radio deal took about a month to put together, Bergson said.

Pacific Radio's previous deal to purchase Connecticut-based Maverick Media LLC's four Big Island stations was expected to be approved June 2, but the Federal Communications Commission froze all such approvals the same day it took its controversial vote on media ownership rules.

The standard time frame for FCC approval of radio station license transfers is 60 to 90 days, said Bergson, "but as you know there's been this nationwide freeze on all transactions while ownership laws are being reconstructed and reviewed." Pacific Radio is buying KHLO-AM 850, KKBG-GM 97.9, KLEO-FM 106.1 and KKOA-FM 107.7 from Maverick.

A glimmer of hope for radio buyers and sellers was seen in an FCC report yesterday indicating that it had approved a license transfer and ownership change for Honolulu's Korean-language KHRA-AM 1460 from Trade Center Management Inc. to KMC Broadcasting LLC.

Bergson will host two meetings with Big Island Radio staff today, a morning session in Hilo and an afternoon gathering in Kona. He will avoid using the "We plan no major changes at this time," cliche, he told TheBuzz.

A leadership shift is already underway, as former Hawaii Tribune-Herald Advertising Director Jeanine Atebara is transitioning into the general manager role now occupied by Phil Brewer.

She had been GM when Brewer owned the Maverick stations years ago. "Now she's coming home to radio," Bergson said.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at:


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