INDIANAPOLIS — In one of the biggest local radio shakeups in recent history, Emmis Communications said Monday it is selling its Indianapolis stations to Urban One, pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission.
The sale includes B105 (WYXB 105.7-FM), HANK FM (97.1-FM), The Fan (93.5-FM and 107.5-FM), WIBC (93.1-FM) and Network Indiana.
“For Indianapolis, it is earth-shattering,” said Dom Caristi, professor emeritus of media at Ball State University. “When so many stations are unloaded in one market, that turns heads.”
But a media company downsizing is far from unexpected in an ever-evolving and shrinking radio industry, he said.
“People in radio love to tout how strong radio is but, in reality, radio listening is down,” Caristi said. “People are streaming services like Spotify a lot more.”
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.
“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.”
‘Some of it is wild. All 100% true’:Indy’s Jeff Smulyan, founder of sports radio, MLB team owner
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.”
‘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 Caristi.
“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 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.”
A look at Emmis’ Indy stations
>> WIBC (formerly 1070 now 93.1-FM) is a news talk format purchased by Emmis in 1994 from Horizon Broadcast Group. The frequency moved to 93.1-FM in 2007.
>> HANK FM (97.1-FM) was formerly WENS, the first station owned by Emmis. Purchased in 1979, the signal was moved to Indianapolis, and launched in 1981 with an adult contemporary format. The station switched formats in March 2005 to its current country format.
>> The Fan, a sports talk station, is home of the Indianapolis Colts, the Indiana Pacers and the Indy 500. It currently operates at 93.5 and 107.5. It was launched in 2007 on the former 1070 signal (when WIBC moved to 93.1-FM) and moved to 107.5 in 2017, and added 93.5 in 2019.
>> WYXB, known as B105.7, launched in 2001. Emmis purchased the frequency (but not the intellectual property) from WTLC. The station airs an adult contemporary format.
>> Network Indiana provides news, talk and sports programming to more than 70 radio stations serving the state of Indiana. Emmis purchased Network Indiana in 1998 from the Hulman Family.
Emmis also operates Indianapolis Monthly magazine and owns two radio station licenses in New York (1190-AM and 98.7-FM).
Business reporter Alexandria Burris contributed to this story.
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