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LEE BANKRUPTCY PLAN APPROVED; STOCKHOLDERS REJOICE

Lee Enterprises stock jolted significantly higher following news that the struggling publishing company, which owns the Arizona Daily Star, received approval for its bankruptcy plan, which took effect Jan. 30.

Lee hopes the new arrangement—which involves a series of loans that stretch into 2017 and interest rates from just less than 7 percent to more than 15 percent—will give the company what CEO Mary Junck refers to as "a runway" to transition into a new business plan led by technological options that have otherwise gutted the traditional newspaper industry.

Lee has a debt-service load of about $112 million in 2012 alone, but most analysts believe the company has enough cash on hand to make the required payments.

Lee stock sold in the neighborhood of 75 cents on Jan. 19, continuing a long string below the New York Stock Exchange's required $1 threshold, but since the announcement, the stock has doubled into the $1.50 neighborhood.

If, for some reason, Lee is more cash-strapped than it anticipates, perhaps it can borrow some more time by getting a sweet price for its Tucson.com domain, which for the last few months has shown viewers this Mission Impossible-inspired message: "Much of Tucson.com is going on hiatus. You will be redirected to Southern Arizona's largest news site, azstarnet.com, in 5 seconds."

As it stands, it's a shame that a Web address as potentially beneficial as Tucson.com transfers readers to what is not only Southern Arizona's largest news site, but also its most cumbersome and confusing.


LOCALS LIKELY TO ESCAPE GANNETT FURLOUGHS

Toward the end of 2011, the powers-that-be at Gannett announced that company minions would be forced to take another unpaid furlough week before March 31, 2012.

However, it appears that local Gannett employees—the few who remain after Gannett's closure of the Tucson Citizen newspaper—will not have to participate.

Mark Evans, who oversees tucsoncitizen.com, says he didn't have to take last year's furlough. Evans is one of three people who are Gannett-only employees. Non-news employees at the Star are technically half-Lee and half-Gannett.

John Humenik, the president and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, himself a half-Lee, half-Gannett employee, said via email that decisions such as who is furloughed "are made locally under my direction."


THE STATION AT 1330 TAKES NEW CALL LETTERS

Remember KJLL, aka The Jolt, the bizarre little radio station with studios on Broadway Boulevard that jettisoned most of its staff when Dawn Avalon took the reins a few months back? Well, that bizarre little radio station has ditched its longtime moniker in favor of KWFM AM 1330, aka The Star.

What is KWFM, The Star? So far, it's The Jolt with new call letters. The syndicated lineup—with a fraction of the local programming the station once had—remains the same. Even the website is the same. However, it took the skeleton crew at Hudson Communications little time to apparently update the KWFM page on Wikipedia.

The KWFM call letters are familiar to longtime Tucson radiophiles. That used to be the station at 92.9 FM, which experienced its best days as a rock format before transitioning to oldies. In 2001, management of what is now Clear Channel made a fateful strategic error by flipping the format to KOYT, the so-called Coyote Country. The hope was that Coyote Country would take enough of KIIM FM 99.5's country audience away to give Top 40 station KRQQ FM 93.7 the best ratings in the market. This is bonehead, but pervasive, radio logic. (Citadel, which owned KIIM, attempted the same strategy with a Top 40 go on 97.5 FM.) Coyote Country lasted about a year and a half.

Even with its 100,000-watt signal, the station at 92.9 has never delivered the numbers it enjoyed during the KWFM days. It flipped to The Mountain and recently KMIY—with a format of hits of the '80s, '90s and today—late last year.

KWFM languished at 97.1 FM, and then was banished to 1450 AM, until Clear Channel decided to abandon the oldies format in favor of a comedy experiment that lasted all of seven months. The station at 1450 currently has a Spanish-music format. As a result, Clear Channel no longer needed the call letters—and Hudson snagged them last week.


R.I.P., OLD BELO STUDIOS

I sat in with tucsoncitizen.com sports editor (and apparent Gannett-furlough-avoider) Anthony Gimino and host David Kelly last Sunday, Jan. 29, on KMSB Channel 11's final Sunday Sports Force broadcast from the Belo facility.

KOLD Channel 13 was slated to start broadcasting Fox 11's news product—including a new local morning show and the continuation of KMSB's 9 p.m. nightly newscast—from KOLD on Feb. 1.

It should not take long for viewers to see a dramatic improvement in overall production quality and clarity, but the switch means the end of an era at the Belo studio. It was little more than a dilapidated warehouse that seemed more suited for one of those children's shows from the '60s and '70s, like Bozo or Wallace and Ladmo, than for a newscast that an under-resourced news crew attempted to put together for an hour every night.

Given the tools with which they had to work—combined with the frustration and morale drain of going to work every day and looking at a studio center with modernized equipment that was off-limits to personnel for the better part of the last two years—it's remarkable that KMSB staffers got anything coherent accomplished.

KOLD, meanwhile, is experiencing a slight snag. Its master-control facility is not entirely functional. As a result, it is microwaving a signal to Belo for a few weeks, which has put a damper on the high-definition launch. KOLD is broadcasting in 16-by-9-inch standard-definition for the first couple of weeks, but expects to be up to speed and ready to go in high-definition on KMSB by Feb. 16.

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