Wolfe family sells broadcast group, including WBNS-TV, for $535 million

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The Dispatch Broadcast Group is selling its television and radio stations, including WBNS-TV (Channel 10) and WBNS AM and FM, to TEGNA Inc. The sale price of $535 million also includes WTHR, the NBC television station in Indianapolis.

TEGNA, of Tysons, Virginia, announced the purchase Tuesday morning. The company currently owns 49 television stations in 41 markets, and is the largest group owner of NBC-affiliated stations and the second-largest group owner of CBS affiliated stations.

TEGNA was created on June 29, 2015, when the Gannett Company split into two publicly traded companies, one focusing on broadcast and the other on newspapers. TEGNA, whose name was derived from the letters in Gannett, owns two other Ohio television stations — WKYC (Channel 3), an NBC affiliate in Cleveland, and WTOL (Channel 11), a CBS affiliate in Toledo.

“We have long admired the talented and award-winning teams at WTHR and WBNS’ television and radio stations and are honored that the Wolfe family has entrusted us to build on each station’s commitment to high-quality journalism and serving the greater good in their community,” Dave Lougee, president and CEO of TEGNA, said in a release.

“These stations are an excellent strategic and financial fit with our portfolio of leading big four affiliates and brands in top markets. We continue to invest in growth and remain true to our track record of acquiring highly attractive assets that create immediate value for shareholders.”

Lougee said he does not anticipate personnel changes at the stations.

“Any changes will be behind the scenes and maybe more digital offerings,” he said. “All editorial decisions will be made here. We have stations all over the country; they all reflect a local ethos.”

Lougee and Dispatch executives planned to meet with staff members today.

The sale of the broadcast group brings to an end the Wolfe family’s Columbus media presence, one that stretched across more than a century and included newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations.

The sale of the broadcast group follows the sale of The Dispatch to GateHouse Media for $47 million in June 2015. In announcing the sale of The Dispatch, then-publisher John F. Wolfe said, “The Wolfe family’s commitment to Columbus remains strong. We intend to remain active and engaged in our city’s civic life as we always have been.”

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His family had owned the newspaper for 110 years, and they developed a dominant media presence in Columbus as early investors in radio and television. John F. Wolfe died at age 72 a year after the newspaper sale.

“After decades of proud service to the Columbus and Indianapolis communities, the Wolfe family determined this is the right time for a transition,” said Michael J. Fiorile, chairman and CEO of The Dispatch Printing Company and Dispatch Broadcast Group. “The family is grateful to have enjoyed strong community support for these stations over so many years and looks forward to continuing their support of these communities.”

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He said the sale does not include Capitol Square Ltd., the Wolfe family’s commercial real estate business based at 34 S. 3rd St.

Included in the sale are:

• WBNS-TV (Channel 10), founded in 1949 by the Wolfe family. The CBS affiliate is a longtime market leader among central Ohio TV stations. Lougee said the station attracts more than 40 percent of local television advertising spending.

• WTHR-TV of Indianapolis (Channel 13), founded in 1957 by Crosley Broadcasting Corp. It was purchased by The Dispatch Broadcast Group in 1975.

• WBNS Radio (1460 AM and 97.1 FM). The original AM station, WCAH, was founded in 1922. The Wolfe family bought it in 1927 and changed the call letters to WBNS. The FM station dates to 1957 and is now the flagship station for live broadcasts of Ohio State University sports.

• WALV-CD, a UHF and digital channel operated by WTHR as a MeTV affiliate.

WBNS was the last of the three major central Ohio television stations to be locally owned. The sale leaves the stations in the hands of the nation’s three largest television broadcasting companies: Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of the ABC affiliate WSYX-TV (Channel 6); Nexstar Media Group, owner of the NBC station WCMH-TV (Channel 4); and Tegna.

The sale requires approval by the Federal Communications Commission and the expiration or termination of the waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976. Fiorile said that is likely to come sometime after Labor Day.

Lougee said he anticipates no FCC objections.

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@jimweiker