Volume 92, Issue 51

Thursday, December 3, 1998

shifting alignment


London radio repeats sales pitch

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

Over the past few years, London radio has endured many changes, from the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission regulations to transfers in corporate hands.

As of late, London's CFPL-AM Radio 98 and FM 96 are facing alterations from the latter, as the radio stations' owner, Blackburn Group Inc., put them back up for sale on Tuesday.

The Blackburn Group is a family-owned media operation, whose control over the radio airwaves branch out to surrounding areas, including Wingham, Sarnia and Leamington. Two years ago, in an effort to sell its holdings, Blackburn placed the London Free Press and its two radio stations, CFPL-AM Radio 98 and FM 96, on the market. However, Blackburn failed in its attempt to sell the stations.

Sandy Green, president of Blackburn Radio, suggested a look into history would offer an explanation for their intention to sell. "We've been intending to get out for several years. Two years ago we intended to sell, but the market was not favourable."

"Martha Blackburn was the last owner and she died six years ago. There was no succession planned for and now we're getting out to become an investment group," Green said.

New owners will provide a good future for the radio stations, she added.

Rick Moss, general manager for FM 96, CFPL radio and 103.1 The Hawk agreed. "The role of a larger radio operator shouldn't change anything. We're a local radio station and this is our advantage."

It is still too early, though, to predict how a new owner will alter the functions of the radio stations, Moss said. "It's awfully premature to see how employment or anything will change. We don't know whose been shopping. But we're a successful radio station and new ownership should not be anxious to change things."

The rivalry of the radio industry is another factor driving Blackburn to sell their operations, said David Spencer, an associate professor of journalism at Western. "There is no one dominating terror [in radio ownership]. It is a very competitive and dog-eat-dog industry."

The number of radio stations have increased significantly over the past 20 years and the Blackburn Group's downsizing leaves them as a small company with limited abilities, Spencer said. "Blackburn is the last remaining local owner now that most of the other London radio stations, like CJBK, Q97.5, are under corporate ownership," he explained.

While admitting that large corporations are more intent upon money than community concerns, Spencer said he assumes employment and philosophical stability will continue. "Of course it will depend on how hands-on ownership will be, but buyouts don't always mean layoffs."

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Copyright The Gazette 1998