KFYI, Power 92 sell for $90 million; no change expected in formats

By Michael Clancy
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 18, 1998

KFYI radio, home of Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger in the Valley, has been sold for $90 million -- one of the biggest sales in Phoenix radio history.

Fred Weber, who has co-owned and operated KFYI-AM (910) and KKFR-FM (92.3) since 1985, sold both stations to Chancellor Media Inc., the nation's largest operator of radio stations. Weber said he received commitments that no format or personnel changes will be made.

Chancellor is expected to take over before the end of the month. The Dallas company operates six other stations in the Valley -- KMLE-FM (107.9), KOOL-FM (94.5), KYOT-FM (95.5), KZON-FM (101.5), KOY-AM (550) and KISO-AM (1230).

The purchase puts Chancellor at the maximum number allowed in a single market under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It is the first company to reach that number here.

"Chancellor is getting two great radio stations, plus a piece of my heart," Weber said.

Alan Stieglitz, who manages three of the local Chancellor stations, said the new stations will fit right in. Neither duplicates anything Chancellor is doing here, and they fill out Chancellor's appeal to all age groups, he said.

The sale followed Weber's failed attempt to purchase his primary competitor, KTAR-AM (620), and its two sister stations.

"In this landscape," he said, referring to the growth of corporate radio ownership, "you have to grow or go. I couldn't grow. I was dead in the water."

Weber was one of only two local owners of full-power radio stations in the Valley. The other is Buck Owens, the country music star whose son, Michael, manages KESZ-FM (99.9) and KNIX. Owens is believed to be facing the same sort of pressures that Weber faced -- being squeezed for revenue by larger owners who can package several stations for advertisers.

Weber beat formidable odds in building his stations -- the AM featuring controversial, conservative talk and the FM focusing on Top 40 music -- from scratch.

"I cannot tell you how many people said I wouldn't last six months," Weber said.

The stations now consistently are among the Valley's top 10. Weber says the combo has the highest profits of any two commonly owned stations in Arizona -- a claim that Stieglitz says he believes.

According to Jim Duncan's American Radio, which tracks station billing, the combo of KKFR and KFYI grossed $12.9 million in 1997 -- 10.4 percent of the market. Chancellor's six stations grossed $32 million for 25.8 percent of the market.

KKFR's success followed a good deal of persistence, with tweaking of the format in response to competition, but generally keeping an eye on hit music for younger listeners.

KFYI made a big splash with its conservative approach early on, but it didn't really take off until Limbaugh got on the air in May 1991. The station rode Limbaugh's coattails to the top of the ratings, although his popularity has slipped a bit lately. But even as it did so, the ratings for Dr. Laura began to climb. KFYI started airing her program in March 1995.

Two key personnel moves were made before Limbaugh and Schlessinger. Bob Mohan joined the station in July 1986, and Barry Young came on board in April 1987.

"They are the bookends," Weber said. "They are the ones that give the local flavor."

The deal between Weber's Broadcast Group and Chancellor came together quickly, Weber said. Still hoping as late as Tuesday that he could buy KTAR, KFYI's primary competitor, he called a staff meeting Tuesday morning and said no sale would happen. But he learned later in the day that he had no chance for KTAR, KKLT-FM (98.7) and KMVP-AM (860), and reopened talks with Chancellor.

He informed the staff at both stations of the sale Thursday morning.

Weber's tenure was marked by a revolving door of personnel and several controversial incidents:

# The 1986 departure of Tom Leykis, KFYI's last liberal host, which resulted in Weber suing both Leykis and a listener. Leykis has gone on to success with a syndicated program.

# The fall of Danny Bonaduce, the ex-Partridge Family star who held down mornings at KKFR until he got into a fight with a transvestite prostitute in 1991. Bonaduce now has a program in New York.

# A comment by KFYI host John Dayl that the only innocent people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing were the children.

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