UPDATE: Emmis reaches deal to sell Indy radio stations but will keep Circle HQ

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Jeff Smulyan, CEO of Emmis Comunications Corp.

Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications Corp. announced Monday an agreement to sell the radio stations in its home market—including longstanding local stalwart WIBC-FM 93.1 —to Maryland-based Urban One, which already owns several local stations.

Other Emmis stations that would be sold as part of the deal are WYXB-FM 105.7 (B105), WLHK-FM 97.1 (Hank FM), and WFNI-FM 93.5 and 105.5 (both known as The Fan). The deal also includes Network Indiana, which provides news, talk and spots programming to more than 70 stations in Indiana.

Emmis’ Indianapolis radio stations have 77 full-time and 50 part-time employees, all based in the company’s Monument Circle headquarters.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Emmis will still own Indianapolis Monthly magazine and two radio station licenses in New York City, as well as several new ventures that focus on sales and marketing. It plans to keep its Monument Circle headquarters and evaluate its future use later, a spokeswoman said. Emmis moved into the building at 40 Monument Circle in 1998.

“When Emmis launched our first station, WENS now Hank FM, in 1981, I never could have envisioned the journey we would go on,” said Jeff Smulyan, founder and chairman of Emmis.

“Indianapolis is my hometown, and I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “We’ve become an invaluable contributor to the Indianapolis community, a leader of radio industry initiative and innovation, and a trusted resource for Central Indiana listeners and businesses.”

Alfred Liggins, president and CEO of Urban One, said in a statement that the Indianapolis stations are “terrific general market formats (Best Variety, Country, News and Sports) and will be a great addition to Urban One in a transaction that is accretive and deleveraging.”

Urban One—which has offices at 21 E St. Joseph St.—is the largest diversified company targeting Black and urban consumers in the United States. Its portfolio of Indianapolis properties includes WTLC-FM 106.7 and WTLC-AM 1310 (The Light)), WNOW-HD3 105.1 (La Grande) and television station WDNI Channel 19 (Telemundo).

The deal is subject to review by the Federal Communications Commission. In anticipation of the transaction, Urban One will sell its Indianapolis station WHHH-FM 96.3 (Hot 96.3) along with the intellectual property related to Radio Now (WNOW-FM 100.9) to a third party.

In a Monday afternoon email to Emmis Communications employees, Smulyan described the lead-up to the proposed sale.

“Urban One approached us and made us an offer we felt was worth exploring, and after much conversation—worth accepting,” Smulyan wrote as part of the email obtained by IBJ. “The sale provides Emmis additional financial resources to continue to explore new, high growth business opportunities, but also comes with all the emotions of letting go of something you love.”

Smulyan also wrote about potential changes in staffing: “As is the case with any integration of two local operations, there will be changes in people and processes. Emmis will handle these changes with the compassion our culture demands and is committed to work with Urban One on a successful transition.”

In Indianapolis, Emmis has 56 employees who will continue to work at the company after the radio stations are sold. These roles include corporate staff members, the staff of Indianapolis Monthly magazine and the staff of dynamic pricing company Digonex.

Emmis, which Smulyan founded in 1980, once owned more than 20 U.S. stations, including properties in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Austin, Texas.

In recent years, Emmis has sold many of its media assets and focused on new ventures that emphasize its sales and marketing experience, including Sound That Brands, the Los Angeles-based podcasting studio specializing in branded audio content for national advertisers, and Digonex, a leading provider of dynamic pricing solutions for attractions and live entertainment industries.

This is not the first time Urban One has made a station transaction with Emmis. In 2001, Urban One (known then as Radio One) purchased the intellectual property rights to WTLC. In 2007, Urban One purchased the intellectual property rights to Radio Now.

Seven properties owned by Emmis and Urban One ranked among the 20 most popular Indianapolis stations among listeners ages 6 and older in April, according to Nielsen Arbitron ratings.

Emmis held the No. 2 (WIBC), No. 3 (B105), No. 5 (Hank FM) and No. 12 (The Fan) positions. Urban One held the No. 4 (WTLC), No. 14 (Hot 96.3) and No. 19 (Radio Now 100.9) spots.

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30 thoughts on “UPDATE: Emmis reaches deal to sell Indy radio stations but will keep Circle HQ

    1. I would hope so,Jason. After WIBC made a hard right turn a decade ago to opinionated propaganda, in-depth news reporting disappeared from the Indianapolis radio airwaves. Let’s hope Urban One brings back straight newsradio to the country’s 15th largest city. We desperately need it.

    2. Kevin, you can have talk radio, but let’s talk about the state of Indiana. We are the capital city of the state and I have no clue what’s happening around the state. Let’s focus on local leaders, segments on our surrounding counties, etc.. Two people yelling at the radio is getting old.

    3. What happens to local radio is of no consequence to me. They call the over-the-air stations “commercial stations” and that’s right – they’re there to play commercials, the music is just the lure. It’s why people drive like idiots: play a song, 2 commercials, play 2 songs, 4 commercials, lather, rinse, repeat.
      Instead, go with SiriusXM.

    4. Pure News radio stations are a dying breed across the country, still in existence only in the largest market. Too expensive to operate.
      It is a business at the end of the day.

  1. I hope this new East Coast ownership does not mess in any way with WIBC, it’s programming, it’s radio personalities (they must stay on-air, no changes whatsoever and Saturday morning programming stays in-place). Leave HANK-FM, B105, The Fan, and Netwok Indiana unchanged. These stations aren’t broken and thus do not need to be fixed. And while we’re at it, what do we know about this Urban One outfit? Are they, or have they been tied up with Biden and all that crime group?

    1. I find this comment not just ridiculous but incredibly offensive. Urban One focuses on Black and urban audiences. Therefore, it must be “tied up with Biden and all that crime group”? Please get a grip on reality, steer clear of paranoia, and drop the not-at-all subtle racism. In fact, I’m a bit surprised IBJ lets such racist nonsense go unchallenged on its comment boards. Right-wing misinformation and white supremacy will be the death of America.

    2. You have a right to be worried. Even though Steve D. doesn’t think so. The so called “straight news angle” is often used as a cover for censoring or “directing” the conversation to a more politically bland and non-offensive version. I have already seen this in other markets so no matter what Steve thinks, it can’t be ruled out.
      It also matters that to drastically change effects the bottom line as far as listeners or “customers.” I know to some people that does not matter but radio stations, just like ANY business need to produce profit or they simply become arms of some other “enterprise” that may not have profit or the best interests of its audience in mind.

    3. Steven D. —. What was racist jabout Patrick T’’s comment??

      It is rediculious to always accuse someone of racism just because they may not
      agree with you.

      Are you advocating for censorship of anybody that does not hold your point of view. That’s pretty much what the Biden Administration and his Dems are trying
      to do,

    1. Bill…unfortunately what you consider to be “fake free news” is merely a steady stream of misinformation, half-truths, conspiracy theories, and just plain right-wing gas. I’m afraid your diet of such “news” has warped your sense of truth and reality. Maybe it’s time to try critical thinking.

    2. DD., It sounds like you’re the one who has been drinking the Kool Ade. Lemme guess: Trump cult member (probably even sent the Grifter-in-Chief money for the non-existent “election fraud lawsuits fund”), loves Toad Rokita, thinks President Biden is a commie, and never felt any empathy for the victims after the Uvalde massacre? I could go on, but you’re too immersed listening to the voices in your head while pining for life in the 1950s.

    3. HA! yep you have all the talking points from big brother. Keep up the fight – the government will take good care of you.

    4. Fred Heckman ain’t walking through that door, folks.

      Being able to stream or podcast sure seems like the way of the future. I’d listen to the radio if it was live and local, but it’s neither of those things these days. Being a free version of SiriusXM (which has its own flaws) doesn’t seem like a great idea either.

      So I don’t envy Emmis nor the new owners.

    5. Wow Brent!! You presume to know a lot about Bill E.

      But lefty’s never do that do they!?!? Lol…..

  2. I remember the Indianapolis Star News when the local Pulliam family owned it. Compared with what the Star is today I think these stations will lose all local identity and become entirely a reflection of National marketing strategies.

  3. So, Steve D: you must believe the Emmis stations listed, in particular WIBC, are racist, because I support these Emmis business entities by writing that they remain unchanged ay? I, like Bill E., find all my news that matters from WIBC. They and D.D., Michael H., Phillip G., Neil D. seem to find WIBC quite relevant and not a racist, white supremacist organization in any way. Racism has nothing to do with WIBC; it’s their spot-on news presentation along with the likes of the former Chicks-on-the-Right, Tony Katz, Hammer & Nigel, Rob Kendall et al that are so good at what they speak of. Hardly any racism coming in anything I’ve ever heard in listening for quite some time. Common sense and sane programming presented everyday in addressing important matters. For example, when H & N have Rick Snyder, IMPD FOP president speak about Indy crime, that is real news bud and all about law and freaking order in this city. That’s what I want to hear. Yeh bud, you and Brent B keep paying your property taxes so you can make sure there are enough Eskenazi gun shot victim Doctors on staff when the murder rate continues to escalate. And drink some more kool aid while you’re at it.

    1. Read the comment again. I was not saying anything at all about current programming at WIBC or other Emmis stations. I’ve worked in radio and know formats often change when ownership does (and at other times, too), and I know plenty of people would not want changes made. I understand your concern. I hate it when a station I like changes formats. My point had entirely to do with the fact that you took what seemed to me to be a very odd leap in wondering if these new owners, who are majority-Black and cater to Black audiences, are involved in crime? Do you have some evidence you can provide that sparked your concern? Otherwise, I do question the tendency for someone to immediately think “crime” when commenting on a Black-owned business. Absent any other reason, it feels like a racially motivated suggestion. Then again, perhaps I am being prejudicial myself in thinking that, and I would be pleased to be proven wrong.

    2. Steve walking back his comment is hilarious. Anyone who dislikes Biden is clearly RACIST! Steve, YOU were the one that made the odd leap from black owned to criminal. You casually throw out “white supremacy” because grouping people by skin color is perfectly acceptable as long as the bad people are white. The Cherry is, you questioning why someone with an opinion different from yours is even allowed to post. You are the Democrat poster child.

  4. I’m concerned about other flagship properties of Emmis, such as the IndyCar Radio Network and the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers radio networks. What happens to them and the people who work tirelessly for them? Those are the kinds of important properties that I’m afraid will go away or be bastardized with non-local ownership.

  5. Hopefully this new group Urban Radio will not ruin our local radio stations
    the way that Gannet pulverized and ruined the Indianapolis Star.

    The Pulliam family had a great paper. Would love to see the Indy Star
    return to its former greatness.

    Local ownership of a media outlet is probably much closer to the community
    than a large out of town conglomerate.

  6. Ok Steve:
    Read my comment again, that WIBC and the sister stations here in Indy aren’t broke and don’t need to “be fixed”. I could care less if the new ownership to be are black, rural, purple or pink. WIBC, in my faired-minded, respect for the mid-western values and the lives of those who share my common sense to life and living, does not need to be modified by those who have differing mindsets, like progressives. The west coast of the United States is lost in space. The east coast states are keeping pace with the west coast. I’ll wait to see come November how the east coast electorate might change their political complexion. If Maryland electorate in particular see the light and has a resounding shift from blue to red, then I might be more accepting of an east coast business coming to Indiana and become a true entity representing conservative, common sense, Hoosier values. If the blue states predominantly vote blue in November, in particular all east coast progressive leaning States, including Maryland, then I won’t give a pass to any entity coming to do business and bring their progressive warped thinking to Indiana, the state of Normalcy. And Biden remains a crook and he and his progressive cronies have wrecked the country on maybe day 3 of his presidency by making our country dependent again on foreign oil by canceling the Keystone XL pipeline. Yes that is why the economy is in a shambles today. Progressive’s got their way against fossil fuels. Sorry to digress from the WIBC and Emmis sale here. But, east coast (or west coast) politics have no place in Indiana, Indianapolis in particular, on Hoosier values, mine being NON-RACIST by the way.