Wheatley looks for more radio opportunities

It was no surprise that Southern Cross Austereo announced the sale last week of Sea FM and Mix FM on the Sunshine Coast, legally they had no choice other than to sell.

What was a surprise to many was the identity of the successful bidder.

Eon Broadcasters, a company owned by the ASX-listed Oceania Capital, and by Glenn Wheatley, acquired the stations for $17.75m, which based on speculated earnings, means the stations have been acquired on a multiple of around 6x EBITDA.

We had a chat with Glenn Wheatley about his plans for the Sunshine Coast stations, and Eon Broadcasters more broadly.

Mark: Glenn you have a long history in radio going back to Hoyts Media, that was a long time ago, why did you want to get back in?

Glenn: It was a sad moment for me when I sold my shareholding in Hoyts FM. I was very proud to have presided over the acquisition and formation of the Triple M network. It was always going to just be a matter of time before I got back into radio.

Mark: The actual company that has acquired the stations is called Eon Broadcasting. Fair bit of history in that name, why did you go with that?

Glenn: There certainly is some history with it, the name EON was actually brought to me by Trevor Smith who was the founding Program Director of EON FM when we first went to air on July 11th 1980.

I thought it was appropriate to bring the name back.

Mark: Obviously that would have been an exciting time, what are some of your most vivid memories of the EON FM days?

Glenn: Well, winning the race to become the first commercial FM station to go to air was absolutely fantastic. We beat Rod Muir and 2MMM in Sydney and Austereo's SA FM in Adelaide by a week!

Mind you we did have egg cartons as soundproofing in the studio (laughs) but we got to air, and the first song played on EON was "New Kid in Town' by the Eagles.

Also, persuading Ford and GMH to put FM as standard in cars was an achievement.

Mark: I understand you were born on the Sunshine Coast, is that right? Any relocation plans?

Glenn: You're right, I was born in Nambour, and raised in Maroochydore. So it really is full circle for me. I will be spending a fair bit of time on the Sunshine Coast, it's a wonderful part of the world, but do not have plans to live there permanently.

Mark: How hands-on will you be?

Glenn: I will definitely be spending time at the stations, and in the region, because I feel it is important to be there. Sea FM and Mix FM are being very well run under John Williams (right) and there will be no wholesale changes. It will be steady as she goes as far as the stations are concerned.

Mark: For the staff on the Sunny Coast no doubt they'd be relieved this 'limbo' period is over, but now comes the unknown of a new owner. How have they received you?

Glenn: I met the staff for the first time last week when Rhys Holleran handed over the reins to me and I know the staff have received the new owners well. Our ownership style will allow the stations to be more nimble than is sometimes possible under a network structure. We will have a very direct link with management of the stations and I think they will enjoy the process.

Mark: You've picked up the two Sunshine Coast radio stations for $17.75m, whilst Prime paid far more, around $32m for their two (Hot and Zinc) in that market, would you call your acquisition a bargain?

Glenn: I certainly wouldn't call the price we paid a bargain, rather I would call it current market value. I am very comfortable about the price we paid.

Mark: It's always good to see a new player investing in radio, and Oceania are new – what's their background?

Glenn: Oceania has a long history. The parent company in South Africa have interests with Television and IPTV. They also have the biggest news service in South Africa. Regional radio investment in Australia is a logical and exciting development for them.

Mark: Will Eon be looking for further acquisitions in radio?

Glenn: The immediate plan is to bed down these two stations first, however we will always look for further opportunities in radio.

Mark: Just regional, or also metro?

Glenn: Metro radio is rather a closed shop, but we would not rule out anything. In saying that, I love the community aspect of regional radio.

Mark: With the exception of SCA and Prime recently which have risen heavily on speculation of regulatory changes, media stocks have been on the nose lately, yet you're buying. Why?

Glenn: I am a strong and passionate believer in radio. It is a robust business when you get it right. Radio will always be around in its fundamental form and we are in this for the long haul.

Mark: A lot of your background has been based on events, working with artists and touring, do you have any plans to implement any of that into the business on the Sunshine Coast?

Glenn: I think there are a lot of opportunities in the live touring business, particularly on the Sunshine Coast. I have said before that producing live events is in my DNA, and I see the two businesses (radio and events) going hand in hand.

Mark: Lastly Glenn, on a lighter note how many John Farnham songs are currently on the Mix FM playlist, and will that increase ?

Glenn: (laughs) Well they did play John Farnham two minutes before I walked in to meet the staff. Somehow I don't think that that was coincidental! But far better that than my old band the Masters Apprentices Turn up your Radio which would be strongly out kilter with the playlist (laughs).

Mark: Glenn, thanks for chatting to us at Radio Today, and all the best for Eon Broadcasters on the Sunny Coast.

Glenn: Thanks Mark, I appreciate it.


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