Murdoch mishegoss

By DAVE O'BRIAN  |  May 6, 2010

“The whole media landscape is being restructured,” says Ken Hartnett, executive editor of Channel 5 news and a Phoenix contributor (once executive editor of the Hearst-owned Herald, he’s now about to become a Hearst employee again). “The fallout from this will be enormous,” says Hartnett. “There must be enormous pressure to sell over at Channel 7. And how long will it be before the Taylors get an offer to sell the Globe that can’t be refused?”

The sad message here is that such astounding price tags tend to move TV stations out of the financial reach of local buyers with serious commitments to their communities. Channel 7 is locally owned as a result of New England Television’s 13-year FCC battle to wrest the station from RKO General, its unfeeling absentee landlord. David Mugar, chairman of the board of New England Television, continues to insist that the new, and supposedly improved, Channel 7 is not for sale, despite persistent rumors to the contrary.

Not long ago, onetime Channel 5 general manager Robert Bennett, more recently one of the Metromedia execs who created the company’s enormous debt, was issuing similar denials regarding Channel 5. “Once the leverage buy-out took place and we took the company private, we’ve been trying to expand into both the broadcast and tele-communications areas,” Bennett says now. The costs of such an undertaking proved, quite simply, to be overwhelming. So Metromedia began concentrating on the research and marketing of so-called cellular (or wireless) telephone systems and mobile radio systems. This requires “an enormous amount of money,” Bennett says, and it’s such a risky, unproved business that banks are not willing to back it with mega-loans. To cover itself, Metromedia decided to unload its profitable, if largely mediocre, TV stations.

“I’m happy to have Channel 5 sold to the Hearst Corporation, people I have known for years,” Bennett said at Monday’s press conference. Others, of course, are less than pleased. After all, Channel 5 had been Boston’s only locally owned TV station for more than a decade, beginning back in 1972, when the local investors who’d founded BBI – including this very same Robert Bennett – were awarded the station’s broadcast license by the FCC. The Herald Traveler Corporation, which had previously owned Channel 5, lost the station’s license that year.

The FCC deliberations over Channel 5’s license took a full decade, and part of the ultimate decision to give the license to BBI had to do with a Herald Traveler Corporation executive by the name of Robert Choate, who’d made the fateful mistake of violating FCC rules by taking an FCC official to lunch – perhaps intending to influence the decision – during the proceedings. (Since the station was said to be worth $100 million, Sterling Quinlan’s 1974 book about the Channel 5 case was titled The Hundred Million Dollar Lunch.) At the time, however, BBI said it was awarded the Channel 5 license because of its “high degree of owner management and its freedom from other media connections.”

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  •   MURDOCH MISHEGOSS  |  May 06, 2010
    Never mind that Rupert Murdoch is shelling out better than $2 billion to buy Metromedia’s seven TV stations. Never mind that he’s then turning around and reselling Boston’s WCVB-TV, Channel 5 to the Hearst Corporation for an astounding $450 million.
  •   FATHER FEENEY  |  October 09, 2009
    Leonard Feeney, a defrocked Jesuit priest and pretty much of a legend in this city as a result of the “sermons” he preached on the Common every Sunday without fail for eight years, from 1949 to 1957, attracting sometimes as many as a thousand people to heckle and to laugh as much as to listen—Father Leonard Feeney is in the news again.
  •   THE MOUTH BEHIND THE EYE  |  August 24, 2009
    Norma Nathan, who looks for all the world like a naïve and guileless suburban homemaker (and knows it), was down on Long Wharf a couple of weeks back, snooping around. She was checking out a rumor that Ed King, his Cabinet, a group of political supporters and a crowd of lobbyists were about to embark on a lavish Harbor cruise.  
  •   MURDOCH MULLS HUB'S HERALD  |  October 25, 2007
    This article originally appeared in the October 26, 1982 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

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