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Redskins' Snyder Seeks to Buy WTEM, Two Other Stations

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is moving closer to an agreement to buy local sports-talk station WTEM-AM and two other AM stations, in a bid to expand his fledgling but problem-plagued radio operations, people familiar with the discussions said yesterday.

A purchase of WTEM (980) would give Snyder's radio station group, called Red Zebra Broadcasting, a lock on the sports radio market in the Washington area. Red Zebra already owns three smaller stations that are WTEM's chief rivals for sports call-in and discussion programs.

Snyder has made an undisclosed offer for WTEM, WWRC-AM (1260) and WTNT-AM (570), all of which are owned by Clear Channel Broadcasting, the sources said, stressing that a sale agreement has not been reached.

Purchasing WTEM would give Red Zebra a much better signal for Redskins games and Redskins-related programming. Indeed, WTEM was the Redskins' flagship station for several years in the 1990s, before Snyder purchased the team.

The three stations Red Zebra owns -- known as Triple X ESPN Radio -- are so weak their broadcasts can't be heard without interference in many parts of the area. As a result, they attract a negligible audience.

Snyder bought the stations for $33 million in early 2006 in a bid to control his team's local broadcasting fortunes. But the strategy ran into trouble when fans complained about poor reception. Snyder tacitly acknowledged the problem last season by striking a deal with Clear Channel to place Redskins game broadcasts on Clear Channel-owned WBIG-FM (100.3), whose signal carries across the region.

Discussions aimed at the sale of WTEM and Clear Channel's two other AM stations grew out of that partnership.

Executives at Clear Channel and Red Zebra could not be reached by telephone yesterday.

A purchase of WTEM would improve Red Zebra's signal problems, but wouldn't solve them entirely. The station reduces its power at night, making it hard to hear in parts of Northern Virginia.

What's more, AM radio for many years has been the most troubled part of what is increasingly a troubled industry. In the Washington area, WMAL-AM (630) and WTEM are the only AM stations ranked among the area's 20 most popular, tying for 10th and 18th place, respectively, in the most recent audience rankings.

Snyder's current stations (broadcasting at 94.3 and 92.7 FM, and 730 AM) simulcast ESPN Radio's syndicated sports talk programs, and a handful of local programs, such as an afternoon call-in program hosted by Redskins legend John Riggins.

WTNT and WWRC carried syndicated political talk shows as well as infomercials. The stations' ratings are so low that they typically fail to register enough listeners to be included in Arbitron Inc.'s quarterly surveys.

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