The Quiet Before "The Noise You Can't Ignore"

As everything in the radio business ground to a halt for the Christmas holiday I kept getting the feeling something big is up with Sam Zell and Randy Michaels.

That we're seeing only a small part of the master plan.

That the big bang is yet to come.

Consider that over the weekend and in uncharacteristic stealth fashion Sam Zell quietly announced a $1.1 billion deal to purchase eight very attractive TV properties from none other than -- Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch is no fool. And Zell is the Murdoch of the radio industry as far as I'm concerned. The price is -- well, low -- leading one to speculate that there may be additional benefits to the seller.

What does Murdoch need?



Would Murdoch like to stick it to Sumner Redstone?

What do you think?

Redstone is to Murdoch what the Mays family is to Randy Michaels. Murdoch and Randy are the same guy. Both like deals with an added whack to their enemies. In Murdoch's case, Redstone's UPN partner, Herb Siegel, retaliated by selling the UPN stations he contributed to UPN that were still owned by Murdoch. These included some big affiliates.

Get this part.

One day Redstone woke up and found his arch enemy Murdoch in control of his big affiliates like Channel 9 in New York. Stay with me -- the radio part is coming -- Redstone then whacked Murdoch by merging UPN and WB into the new CW Network and replacing any Murdoch owned UPN affils with the incumbent WB property forcing Murdoch to form the MY Network for those -- which has since been a disaster.

Problem for Redstone.

WB was a partnership between Warner and Tribune which Zell just bought. For example: The CW affiliate in New York is Tribune's WPIX-TV Channel 11.

If the Murdoch/Fox sale to Zell includes considerable cooperation with Tribune stations (some 40 or so at this point) and they move some or all to Murdoch's troubled MY Network, Redstone overnight loses key affiliates in important markets (Tribune has some big, major market affiliates) and UPN is where CBS was when Murdoch bought all those affils they had and converted them to Fox.

What payback!

History repeats itself and Redstone sees CW gutted in the process. Who knows -- maybe that old radio programmer Randy Michaels helps program Murdoch's MY Network and Fox has lusted after radio for years reportedly coming close to buying Salem at one point.

Guess I'm saying the Murdoch-Zell deal may have something as unpleasant as a barium enema built into it for Redstone. But also for the Mays family.

How so?

I speculated recently that the Lee and Bain $20 billion buyout of Clear Channel might not happen. It's been postponed until mid next year. That most investment banks like to close the books by year's end -- until they close they don't make one penny of their considerable commissions -- that I don't buy that the FCC is the problem in a deal this size -- and on and on.

But something even bigger might happen.

I would not be surprised to hear that Zell and Lee and Bain are negotiating so that if Lee and Bain eventually close on Clear Channel they flip it to Zell. That way Lee and Bain won't have to pay the more than half billion breakup fee and almost as important -- they won't look stupid.

The Clear Channel purchase is stupid!

Don't believe me? Look at the market. It doesn't like it either as CCU trades in the $35 range and lower and well below the buyout price of $39 per share.

My scenario.

Bain and Lee get out of the way. Get their commissions. Save face. Flip it to Zell but first Zell has to deal with whatever angry shareholders control the company. Current shareholders, plus Bain and Lee cut a deal with Zell. Zell probably doesn't pay the $20 billion price which is not likely attainable anyway. And what do we learn in Zell 101? Sam Zell buys undervalued properties. Could there be any more undervalued properties than Clear Channel?

The Mays' are toast.

Zell and Michaels get the same revenge that Murdoch could get by whacking Redstone. For us it may be all about programming, sales, marketing, the audience. For these guys money is secondary. It's about getting even.

Maybe my imagination is running wild again, but as many of you know over the years I've had a knack for seeing these things when they were uncomfortably ahead of fruition. My disclaimer: I could be wrong.

Give me this, at least.

The Clear Channel deal is busted.

Everybody in the Lee and Bain purchase is in trouble.

Lee and Bain like to keep postponing their pay day because it will look good for future deals -- kidding, kidding.

Randy Michaels spent the last five years sitting by the side of the Dali Lama letting go his understandable animosity towards the Mays family for cutting him down at the height of power.

Frank Wood, Randy Michaels and Bobby Lawrence are really not radio guys. Zell hired them, waved a magic wand and turned them into new age TV execs.

And there is a Santa Claus after all -- and he's a jolly old elf on a Harley and his name is Sam Zell.

It's the perfect storm.

Zell and Murdoch. Murdoch and Redstone. Zell rescues Lee and Bain. Randy gets even with the Mays' and all the barons in this greedy, dog-eat-dog business live happily ever after.

My bet is on Zell and Michaels in control of all or most of Clear Channel sooner rather than later -- the big story of 2008 -- and it may be getting ready to unfold right before your eyes.

When the "noise you can't ignore" is this quiet -- be afraid. Be very afraid.

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