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Local group buys KSRO, 4 other stations

  • Lawrence Amaturo is buying KSRO and four other local radio stations. Amaturo previously owned KSRO 13 years ago. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/Press Democrat)

A local group of investors announced a $4.5 million deal Monday to buy five Sonoma County radio stations, including news/talk radio station KSRO.

The deal also includes four FM radio stations: 97.7 The River, Hot 101.7, Froggy 92.9 and Mix 104.9.

Lawrence Amaturo, who previously owned KSRO and three of the FM radio stations in the deal, is leading Sonoma Media Group LLC, the investment group that will take over operations in May.

"The opportunity was irresistible," Amaturo said. "More than half of this community is listening to these stations each week."

Amaturo first bought KSRO and three FM radio stations in 1996 and sold them in 2000 to Emerald City Radio Partners for nearly $30 million, he said.

The sale was announced to employees Monday at a staff meeting, where the news was met with excitement, staff members said.

"It's a big deal for all of us," said Steve Jaxon, host of "The Drive" on KSRO. "It's great to have local ownership again."

Amaturo is not planning any major changes to programming and intends to keep all of the staff on board, he said. He had not made decisions about the possibility of resuming shows canceled last fall, he said.

"We're not going to leave anything off the table," Amaturo said. "I'm going to try to be the best listener that I can to the team that is in place, to the advertisers who are benefiting from what we're doing well, and to be as good a listener as I can for as long as I can before I make any changes. Half the market is listening to them."

The stations, which attract about 200,000 listeners each week, hold a leadership position with listeners but haven't excelled in advertising or promotions, he said.

"They're more popular than when I sold them in 2000, but their revenue is down and their profit is down," Amaturo said. "I'm able to reinvest in these radio stations, in programming and promotion, which the current owners were not able to do. There was too much debt."

The stations are currently owned by Maverick Media Group LLC, based in Connecticut. Gary Rozynek, president and CEO of Maverick, told employees Monday that the company had hoped to expand into other markets, but couldn't secure the capital, said Kent Bjugstad, general manager for all five stations. There are about 50 employees among the five radio stations, Bjugstad said.

"You have to be really big, or you have to be local. Those are the only chances to make it nowadays," Bjugstad said. "I think what's happening is radio is going back to what it used to be. Now, the sense is that more local ownership will be happening across the U.S."

Rozynek was traveling and did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Sonoma Media Group, the group of investors buying the radio stations, has no overlap with Sonoma Media Investments, the group that owns The Press Democrat, Amaturo said.

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