Star 94 now owned by Entercom

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Atlanta pop station Star 94 is about to be owned by Entercom Communications, the fourth largest radio company in the United States.

Entercom, which now owns 125 stations, purchased 15 stations from Lincoln Financial (including Star 94 and 790/The Zone) for $105 million in December but it took seven months for both the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. UPDATE: The deal officially closed Thursday, July 16 and Entercom takes over Star on Friday.

It's the first time Entercom has entered the Atlanta market. It has a good reputation, according to radio insiders.

This is Star 94's third owner. For its first 17 years of existence, insurance company Jefferson Pilot owned the station, which provided plenty of free cash flow during its peak years.

Read my original story from December. Entercom got Star 94 for a vastly reduced price from what the station was worth before the recession.

There were rumors Entercom might trade the stations to CBS since it will have only two stations in Atlanta including that increasingly useless AM signal. Most other radio companies in Atlanta own multiple stations on the more valuable FM dial, providing greater leverage with advertisers.

Entercom did some radio station trading in Denver and L.A. but for now did not make any moves in Atlanta.

Instead, it hired a new market manager and general manager Mike Fowler. He replaces Rick Mack.

The new program director Tony Lorino has worked in Kansas City, Milwaukee and Des Moines so this is his first gig outside the Midwest.

Fowler has spent a majority of his career in Chicago, most recently at ESPN, but he was the market manager in Atlanta for Susquehanna (99x and Q100) from 2003 to 2006 before Susquehanna sold to Atlanta's Cumulus Media. During that period of time, Q100 went through a major growth phase as the Bert Show developed into one of the Atlanta's hottest morning shows.

Mark Renier, a former radio executive with Susquehanna who worked with Fowler in Atlanta and now works for a billboard company, said Fowler helped build up Q100 during a crucial phase in its development. "The folks at Star have gone through a long period of time being for sale. That saps the energy out of any organization," he said. "Mike will get everybody rolling. He's a great motivator and very creative and loves radio. He competed against Star while he was GM at Q100. He certainly understands what made them successful before."

Star 94 has been in a funk for awhile relative to the other pop stations in town but had a relatively solid June, beating Q100 in overall ratings for the first time in years 3.8 to 3.7. It's the station's best performance since February, 2014.

The station earlier this year added a new morning show featuring Drex, Cassiday and Tingle and continues to focus on a slightly more adult version of top 40 dubbed "hot AC" in radio parlance. It has also decided to go all-90s on weekends.

What will become of  the once powerful sports talk station 790/The Zone? By mid-August, it relinquishes its ESPN syndicated programming, which it has been airing for a year since it dumped local personalities. We'll have to wait and see what Entercom chooses to do with that station.

List of Atlanta radio stations.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.