In early September 2019, rumors surfaced that Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Luken Communications — the company behind six digital multicast TV networks — was resetting its ownership team and that co-owner Henry Luken was fully exiting the entity bearing his surname.
Five months later, the fate of Luken is now known: He’s out of the picture, and Luken Communications no longer exists. Five of its six multicast networks are now at the heart of a newly formed company that will remain based in the Tennessee city.
Introducing “the successor to Luken Communications” — Reach High Media Group.
Day-to-day operations are being handled by Joel Wertman, who retains his title as President. Wertman was selected by Henry Luken in July 2017 to rebuild Luken, a company that in July 2013 found itself in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, with Mr. Luken and co-founder Forrest Preston each claiming roughly $18 million in losses.
By March 2017, Luken and Preston were settling their financial debts, with Luken selling downtown Chattanooga’s Tallan Financial Center and the Krystal Building to Preston, best-known as a nursing home operator.
Wertman’s arrival, a Reach High representative tells RBR+TVBR, triggered a new emphasis on original programming and an expansion of streaming opportunities. The latter is poised to expand in a major way in the coming weeks.
“Streaming options will give us the opportunity to engage our audience more than ever before,” Wertman said in prepared remarks. “Our fans will have the ability to watch, share and interact with the programming that they love in new and exciting ways.”
Wertman sees the changing digital landscape as an opportunity for what Reach High calls “his Chattanooga-based company” to compete on a new playing field by emphasizing unique, original content and a comprehensive distribution model.
The comment suggests that Henry Luken has no ownership in Reach High and that Preston may have minority ownership, if any at all. A Reach High representative deferred comment when asked about the company’s ownership structure.
This will involve five of Luken’s six digital multicast networks, now under Reach High. They include Heartland, a “country entertainment and lifestyle destination”; Action, focused on high-octane sports and themed theatrical releases; Fam, a family programming-fueled network offering a mix of syndicated and second-run shows; Rev’n, an automotive enthusiasts network; and what is perhaps America’s first digital multicast network, Retro TV. Retro TV is in the midst of a relaunch.
Not included is Frost Great Outdoors. A Reach High representative tells RBR+TVBR the network is on “hiatus” and could be later resurface with a different theme but with the “FGO” brand.
Through affiliations, Reach High Media Group says its networks are on a total 223 digital multicast stations across 135 cities.
Of the digital multicast networks, the greatest push at the moment appears to be centered on Heartland. It recently debuted Morning Beats, a new morning show featuring host Ashley Larsen touching on health and exercise trends and other lifestyle topics of particular appeal to women. The program airs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9am-9:30am, with plans to expand its time period this quarter.
Henry Luken is the former CEO of long-defunct Equity Media Holdings, who was forced to see Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for Luken Communications after a Little Rock court delivered a $47.4 million civil verdict against him for “a constructively fraudulent transfer” of Retro TV to his company from Equity — a company in bankruptcy from 2008.
The transfer of RTN to Luken Communications happened in June 2008. The purchase price of $18.5 million was in stark contrast to a valuation of $115.8 million just seven months earlier, according to the complaint.
Luken Communications emerged from federal bankruptcy protection in September 2014.