S&P Global

The radio deal market continued to move ahead at a slow, steady pace in first quarter 2021 after COVID-19 took the wind out of its sails last spring. Total radio deal volume hit $41.5 million in the first three months of the year, according to new data from Kagan, part of S&P Global. That’s $5 million more than in the first quarter of 2020. The number would be higher if the value of a pair of radio stations – “News Talk 105.1” WGEM-FM and sports “ESPN 1440” WGEM in Quincy, IL – that were part of Gray Television’s blockbuster purchase of Quincy Media were included in the total.

The largest radio deal of 2021's first quarter was Educational Media Foundation’s $7.1 million purchase of three FM stations in Kentucky and Ohio from Baldwin Broadcasting. Stations in the parcel included WNLT, Delhi Hills, OH (104.3); WKLN, Wilmington, OH (102.3), and WVRB, Wilmore, KY (95.3), all of which have been carrying EMF’s contemporary Christian “K-Love” format since the early 2000s.

“This transaction highlights the big role of non-profit operators in the current radio deal market,” says Kagan analyst Volker Moerbitz. In fact, nearly half (46%) of Q1 2021’s radio deal came from noncommercial entities, most of which were religious.

The arrival of the COVID outbreak in March 2020 caused the broadcast deal market to plummet last year. The second quarter of 2020 registered the lowest quarterly deal volume in Kagan’s records, which go back 38 years. “But since then, the radio deal market has managed to move ahead at a slow but steady pace,” says Moerbitz. This year's first quarter included eight radio station transactions valued between $1.0 million and $7.1 million, on par with Q1 2020 when there were nine radio transactions between $1.0 million and $10.8 million.

There was much bigger action in the TV industry, where $955.6 million in transactions went down in 2021’s first quarter. But almost all of that came from one mega deal: Gray Television’s $925 million acquisition of Quincy Media, announced in February. Moerbitz calls the purchase “another milestone for Gray, whose small-market empire now includes more than 100 TV markets, 82 of them below rank 75.” The blockbuster transaction will have a ripple effect in the future since Gray plans to spin off ten of the 23 DTV stations it bought from Quincy in divestitures that could yield up to $300 million.

Without the Gray-Quincy transaction, the TV industry’s first quarter deal volume would have amounted to just $31.6 million, less than half of that in 2020's first quarter ($66.2 million), the last quarter largely unaffected by the COVID crisis. The amount would also have been lower than the $41.5 million booked in radio transactions during the quarter.