WNTR-AM (1050), Washington's only news/talk station, was sold at public auction yesterday for $755,000 to Alpha Capital Corp., a Hyattsville venture capital firm. Rogers Kirven, president of Alpha Capital, said the station's current format would probably be retained.
The station was purchased in May 1984, by Gary Portmess, who attempted to fill the talk void left by the popular WWRC-AM when it became a music station under new owners.
Portmess said yesterday he was forced into foreclosure because of debts totaling $200,000. He said the growth of WNTR had been hampered by a small sales staff and the lack of a promotion budget.
"We made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. We never established a sales staff. We had five people at peak and have no one now," said Portmess. He said he didn't think the limited power of the station -- 1,000 watts -- had been a problem. "Somebody is going to make it with the talk format if they have the money to promote it with television and billboards," he said.
Never a high-profile station, WNTR developed a word-of-mouth following for its local hosts -- including Dr. Gabe Mirkin, Ed Graham and Max Reznick -- along with the roster of hosts from ABC TalkRadio, including Dr. Susan Forward, Owen Spann and Michael Jackson.
Portmess had paid a reported $950,000 for WNTR, and said $600,000 of yesterday's sales price was owed to the primary lender and the remaining money to the holder of the second note. "I'm taking a bath on it," he said. Portmess sold a Hagerstown, Md., radio station last July and is now negotiating to purchase a West Palm Beach station. He has moved to Florida.
The auction, conducted by Michael Fox Auctioneers Inc. of Baltimore at the Holiday Inn in Bethesda, attracted more than 100 spectators, but Fox's chairman, William Z. Fox, said there were only two serious bidders. It lasted 30 minutes.
Alpha is an independent subsidiary of the Great Commission, a nonprofit educational, charitable and religious group, Kirven said.