ROCKLAND – The city’s two radio stations are being sold to Clear Channel Communications, a company that owns more than 1,200 stations, including several in Maine.
Peter Orne Jr., who inherited WRKD and WMCM in August 1999 when his father, Peter Orne Sr., died in a plane crash in Penobscot Bay, announced on Friday that he would sell the two stations. The decision was driven in large part by the estate tax owed on the passing of the businesses, Orne indicated.
The Orne family owned the stations for about 10 years.
Orne could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Clear Channel is based in San Antonio, Texas, said Don Shields, the program and news director for WMCM and WRKD. The company owns or is under contract to buy 11 stations in Maine, including WTOS-FM in Skowhegan, WVOM-FM in Bangor, KISS 94.5 FM in Ellsworth and WABK-FM in Gardiner.
The purchase of the Rockland stations must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission.
The closing of the deal is expected in mid-February.
Clear Channel was ordered by the FCC to sell off stations, Shields said, after it purchased another major radio group. The divestiture was called for because of federal rules prohibiting a company from owning too many media outlets in the same market areas.
To avoid capital gains taxes, Clear Channel has been buying stations in areas where it did not own any businesses, Shields said.
The looming inheritance tax was the “major reason” for the sale of the stations, Shields said. Orne announced the impending sale to station employees on Friday.
“He told us there was a major expense with the estate tax,” Shields said.
“He was trying every way possible” to avoid selling, but concluded the sale was necessary.
Shields said he felt confident that Clear Channel would not undertake wholesale changes at the Rockland stations after the purchases are completed. Elsewhere, the company generally sticks to a policy of leaving local programming in place, and not laying off employees.
WRKD and WMCM employ about 15 people, Shields said.
WRKD, an AM station at 1450 on the dial, is Rockland’s oldest station, and one of the state’s oldest. It was begun in 1952.
The station has a news and talk format, carrying local news and sports produced by Shields, as well as syndicated programs from such personalities as Rush Limbaugh.
WMCM is a country music station at 103.3 FM. It was established in the mid-1960s, Shields said.
No changes in format are expected, other than the addition of some syndicated programs that Clear Channel owns the rights to air, Shields said. Clear Channel will also provide the ability to finance technology upgrades for the two stations, he said.
“Clear Channel’s track record is to buy strong stations and make them stronger,” Shields said. “Everything will stay the same. They’ll keep the local feel.”
Any changes would be “tweaking” the stations, Shields said, or improving equipment.
Orne is expected to stay on after the sale.
According to its Web site, Clear Channel was founded in 1972 and first traded publicly in 1984.
The company now owns 900 radio stations and 19 television stations. It also is a part owner of another 240 radio stations around the world.
Clear Channel also operates more than 700,000 outdoor advertising displays, including billboards, street furniture and transit panels.