FCC refuses to block YMF Inner City buy


Magic JohnsonParties in New York City, including a councilman/talk show host, had challenged the acquisition of more than a dozen Inner City radio stations by an ownership group featuring former LA Laker Star Magic Johnson. The FCC rejected the challenge.

Councilman Charles Barron and others mounted the challenge aimed specifically at WLIN-AM and WBLS-FM in the New York market. The $180M deal included a total of 15 stations, also including radio outlets in San Fransico CA, San Jose CA, Columbia SC and Jackson MS.

The sale of the Inner City Group to YMF cleared a bankruptcy court last winter, during which challenges from the IRS and broadcast trade union AFTRA. The application for FCC approval was filed 5/1/12.

According to reports, the FCC turned down a charge that YMF participant Fortress Media had too much foreign ownership by noting it lacked an attributable instance in this case; and it turned down protests about the possibility of format flips leaving New York African-Americans in the lurch by noting that it had no authority over programming decisions.

However, there is no clear indication that YMF will reformat the stations to the detriment of their current audience. To the contrary, YMF’s Johnson has expressed an interest in expanding the broadcast entertainment options for the African-American audience. Also in the picture is former Radio One exec Zemira Jones, who brings actual African-American radio experience to the table.

Nonetheless, the stakeholder lineup of YMF is complex. Here’s a look taken by RBR-TVBR last spring.

RBR-TVBR observation: We’ve seen other complaints about predatory financial groups swooping in to take over financially-troubled media companies. It is extremely difficult to get any traction with the FCC with that argument, since invariably the aggrieved party is discussing a transaction that the FCC reviewed and approved.

And any attempt to block a transaction on programming grounds is doomed from the get-go, and rightly so. The last thing we want is the FCC giving thumbs up or down on programming decisions – that’s the sort of government behavior more closely associated with dictatorships than democracies with strong free speech and expression rights.