Merger creates Canada's largest radio conglomerate

by Ross Marowits, London Free Press (Ontario)

An era of Canadian broadcasting consolidation may be drawing to a conclusion with a deal by Astral Media Inc. to take over Standard Radio Inc. and become the country's largest radio broadcaster with stations in major cities across the country.

Astral said yesterday it is paying $1.08 billion in cash and stock to the Slaight family for privately held Standard Radio's 52 stations in five provinces, which include EZ Rock 97.5, BX 93 and AM 1290 CJBK in London.

"Today we are announcing the birth of a new national leader in Canadian radio," declared Astral CEO Ian Greenberg.

He said the combination is a perfect strategic fit that accomplishes Montreal-based Astral's aim to expand outside Quebec and Atlantic Canada, where it owns 29 stations. It also improves Astral's balance of revenues among radio, television and outdoor advertising.

"We think that we'll now have a national platform of radio stations across the country operating in every major market in this country; that will give us synergistic opportunities," Greenberg said, though no job cuts are planned. He said earnings should

increase by boosting revenues from national advertisers.

Standard has more than 1,000 employees, compared with nearly 2,000 at Astral, which is active in specialty, pay and pay-per-view TV as well as radio, billboards and the Internet.

The merger was decried as a "dangerous concentration of Canada's media" by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union.

"These are public airwaves. Broadcasters earn enormous profits, but average Canadians are losing out," stated union vice-president Peter Murdoch.

"Both government and the CRTC have become muted by corporate media power."

An industry analyst who requested anonymity said that with the Astral-Standard deal, the most obvious media combinations have been made.

"I don't think it changes the broadcasting landscape that much. I think it will hopefully be good for the radio industry because with larger players it will be easier for advertisers in general to use the medium."

Standard Broadcasting CEO Gary Slaight will join Astral Media's board of directors and his family will own 8.7 per cent of the company's non-voting stock.

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