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Manning Broadcasting sells two local radio stations

December 31, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Two Hagerstown radio stations will lose their local ownership under an application filed with federal regulators Thursday, an official who helped broker the deal said.

Nassau Broadcasting Partners LP, based in Princeton, N.J., has agreed to buy Manning Broadcasting's two stations for at least $18 million, said W. Lawrence Patrick, president of Ellicott City, Md.-based Patrick Communications.

The stations are WARX-FM and WARK-AM, known locally as Oldies 106.9 FM and Hot Talk 1490 AM.

Patrick negotiated the deal on behalf of Manning. He said there are about 15 full-time employees at the two stations. There are no immediate plans to change the number of employees, but "almost any time there is a sale, there are some inevitable changes," he said.

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Nassau will not take over ownership until the regulatory process is complete, which could take up to six months, Patrick said. The New Jersey company will begin operating the stations on Jan. 1 under a temporary lease agreement, and the Manning family would step out.

Manning Broadcasting has owned the stations since 1982 and has been a financial supporter of community events. Eugene Manning, of Hagerstown, is the president and general manager of the company. His brother, Fred Manning, is a part owner, Patrick said.

Nassau has recently agreed to acquire WAFY-FM 103.1 in Frederick, Md., Patrick said. A single Nassau manager will be in charge of the three stations.

Patrick said listeners should benefit from the consolidation move by the larger Nassau, which owns or operates 47 stations in the Northeast, including in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New England, according to the company's Web site. He said the company has specialized in smaller-market radio, and has a local community business model that has worked well in other areas.

"I think it's a moderate change" to the local radio climate, Patrick said, because the ownership change isn't drastically changing the radio market share.

Patrick said Hagerstown has not been affected as greatly as more urban radio markets by the 1996 federal law change that allowed companies to own more than one station in a single market on the same band.

The law change allowed large companies such as Infinity Broadcasting Corp. and Clear Channel Communications Inc. to dominate regional radio markets, and critics have said the changes squashed competition and diluted local programming.

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