Hurricane Irma’s impact on the Florida Keys isn’t mentioned in the bankruptcy filings. But more than six months after the storm struck Florida, the impact to the local economy cannot be discounted for pushing a four-station cluster into bankruptcy and into the hands of a trustee for liquidation.
Jonathan Smith’s Choice Radio Keys made its first venture outside of Kentucky when it bought the stations in 2016 for $850,000. The cluster includes classic hits “Mix FM” trimulcast of WKEY-FM, Key West (93.7), WGMX, Marathon (94.3) and WKEZ-FM, Tavernier (96.9); and WFFG, Marathon (1300) which dropped its talk format and went silent in May. In a filing with the FCC, the company said a dispute with its landlord resulted in it losing access to WFFG’s transmitter site. Using the Florida state bankruptcy chapter 727 process rather than a federal chapter 7 proceeding, Choice Radio Keys in mid-May asked the courts to assign Philip Von Kahle to act as a trustee as the four stations are liquidated.
Court filings show the biggest creditor is Joe Nascone’s Great Marathon Radio, which is owed $672,908—or most of what it sold the stations for two years ago. That deal included an $825,000 five-year promissory note. Great Marathon Radio isn’t first in line however. The small business lending firm Rapid Advance is due $11,000 and, as a secured creditor, will be assured to recoup its Feb. 2017 loan to Choice Radio Keys. Other creditors include ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, tower company Vertical Bridge, and the real estate management company Spottswood Partners. Filings indicate total claims total just under $719,000.
Hurricane Irma knocked out power and darkened many stations in the Florida Keys last September. While most outlets were back on the air in a matter of days or weeks, the hit to broadcasters’ bottom line has been tougher to recover from, as advertising has been slow to return in a market whose client base isn’t as deep as in most areas.