Media Watch

Yet More Clear Channel

Last week, as you recall (as they used to say on Lost in Space), Debra Wagner, general manager of Tucson's seven Clear Channel stations, made a cryptic remark that hinted at the possibility of yet more Clear Channel radio in the Old Pueblo.

Well, it's probably true. Nobody's talking about it much, but not because it's a secret. It all hinges on Federal Communications approval of a signal switcheroo.

According to FCC documents, Chicago-based Lakeshore Media is selling Willcox country station KWCX, FM 104.9, to Clear Channel. The sale is contingent on getting approval to reallocate the signal from Willcox to the Tucson area, possibly to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Although plenty of signals populate the Willcox radio dial, only two of them originate in the town itself. (The other is Lakeshore's little five-kilowatt KHIL, 1250 AM.) The FCC will probably want to be assured that KWCX, or whatever its call letters become, will somehow continue to serve Willcox despite the move. Another hitch seems to be that an outside party is lobbying to get the signal reallocated to Sells.

The process has been grinding on for more than a year. FCC records show approval for Lakeshore to sell the station to Clear Channel in March 2003 for $2.5 million.

Lakeshore had purchased the station for $1.1 million in October 2001. So this means a nice, quick profit--once the deal goes through. Even nicer for Clear Channel: Once the station comes to Tucson, it could be worth $9 to $10 million.

According to Bruce Buzil, one of Lakeshore's owners, his organization is a "developmental company."

Says Buzil, "That means we find stations that can be upgraded and then sold," sort of the radio equivalent of fixer-uppers in the real estate market. Lakeshore owns only about five stations right now; the technique, apparently, is to flip them before getting bogged down in day-to-day management and long-term problems.

Dan Curtis, general manager of KWCX, doesn't much care for Lakeshore's management style and says he's been kept in the dark about the company's plans. Expect him to be grabbing his hat and heading out the door permanently any day now.

Even Clear Channel's Wagner wasn't quite sure exactly what was going on when I first asked her about this several weeks ago. But if the deal goes through, the station will become her responsibility.

Even more signals may be insinuating themselves into town, although the stations won't be licensed to Tucson. There are rumors of efforts to move an FM station from Nogales to Vail, and another from Sierra Vista to Corona de Tucson. It's a way to penetrate a substantial market while technically serving smaller communities. (Years ago, channel 11 was licensed primarily in Nogales, even though its studio and main transmitter were in midtown Tucson.)

The most interesting question is what these stations will broadcast. But that's an issue of no concern to the FCC--as long as it isn't obscene.