Bonneville: Behind The Quiet Radio Company


With CBS Radio and Entercom revealing late Tuesday that 16 additional stations have been selected for divestment, following the sale of three to Educational Media Foundation, in order for its Reverse Morris Trust-fueled merger to pass muster with the Department of Justice, industry chatter immediately turned to two companies as likely buyers.

One, Hubbard Radio, has grown by leaps and bounds and is primed for further expansion after no recent acquisitions. The other is Bonneville International — a radio station owner that, while smaller than in previous years, is profitable and easily able to grow, one veteran media broker notes.

Formed some 53 years ago to purchase flagship media properties KSL-AM & FM and NBC affiliate KSL-5 in Salt Lake City, Bonneville has seen itself expand, and retract, in the years and decades since.

At one time, Bonneville owned KIRO-7 in Seattle. That’s now owned by Cox Media Group.

Bonneville is also the former owner of stations in San Francisco, including KOIT-FM 96.5 — a property Entercom has said will be sold.

Could Bonneville be reacquiring the station, along with others that fit its family-friendly portfolio, given the company’s relationship to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?

It’s very much a possibility, and the answers will come in just weeks.

For those unfamiliar with the Bonneville of today, here’s a quick snapshot: It owns KTAR-AM & FM & KMVP-FM 98.7 in Phoenix; KEPN-AM, KKFM-FM, KOSI-FM & KYGO-FM in Denver; and KTTH-AM & KIRO-AM & FM in Seattle. In addition to KSL-AM & FM, it also owns KRSP-FM & KSFI-FM in Salt Lake City.

Given its current market profile, returning to San Francisco while adding Sacramento properties only seems natural.

Eddie Esserman, the Georgia-based Managing Director of Media Venture Partners, believes Bonneville is buying some Entercom/CBS Radio spins. Those stations aren’t in Boston.

This leaves KOIT as a likely acquisition, as well as KNCI-FM in Sacramento, if not the entire four-station group of CBS Radio stations that are being spun.

The emergence of Bonneville brings a new spotlight on a company that has been relatively quiet since Bruce Reese stepped down as President/CEO to join, of all companies, Hubbard Radio.

Reese first joined Bonneville International in 1984 and was appointed President/CEO in 1996. An industry leader, he was instrumental in the transition when 17 Bonneville stations in Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C., were purchased by Hubbard Radio in 2011.

In the six years since Bonneville exited those four markets, nary a peep has come from Salt Lake City.

“They’ve been so quiet since their divestitures that I don’t think people think much of them,” Esserman admits. “They are very quiet … but they have a lot of money.”

In fact, Bonneville’s 14 stations and KSL-5 accounted for $101 million in revenue, making Bonneville the No. 15 company in terms of dollars in 2016, Esserman notes.

Esserman also says that Bonneville’s stations are “well run.”

With Sports Talk stations in every market but Salt Lake City, KHTK-AM in Sacramento could be a good fit for Bonneville. The same can be said of AC KYMX-FM, given its success with KOSI and KSFI.

Speculation will likely continue for weeks. But, one thing is for certain: Bonneville has regained the attention of the nation, and 2018 could be a big year for the broadcast company.