By a 3-2 vote Monday the Federal Communications Commission approved the sale of Chicago-based Tribune Media to Nexstar Media Group, resulting in creation of the largest broadcast station group in the country.
The $6.4 billion transaction, expected to close as soon as this week, will put ownership of Tribune Media flagships WGN-Channel 9 and WGN 720-AM outside of Chicago for the first time since WGN's founding in 1924. Nexstar is based in Dallas.
When the dust settles on the acquisition of Tribune’s 41 television stations (and the divestiture of stations in 13 markets to comply with federal regulations), the new company will encompass nearly 200 stations in 115 markets nationwide.
“We’re very pleased with today’s decision by the FCC, which enables us to clear the last remaining regulatory hurdle in our path,” Peter Kern, CEO of Tribune Media, said in a statement.
In approving the historic merger, the FCC majority cited “several public interest benefits to viewers of current Tribune and Nexstar stations,” including access to Nexstar’s Washington bureau and its state news bureaus. In Illinois, Nexstar owns WCIA in Champaign, which maintains a bureau in Springfield.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai strongly favored the deal this time. He was instrumental in derailing an earlier bid for Tribune Media by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which crashed and burned under scrutiny by the Justice Department and FCC.
Among the two dissenting Democratic commissioners, Geoffrey Starks said: “Today’s merger will create one of the largest broadcasters in history, reaching more than 60 percent of United States households. In my mind, permitting that large a single broadcaster runs counter to our fundamental tenets of promoting competition, localism and diversity.”
WGN viewers are unlikely to notice any immediate changes to “Chicago’s Very Own” in the wake of the merger. The station already was on track to drop Chicago Cubs baseball broadcasts after this season. All Cubs games are moving to the new Marquee Sports Network, a premium cable partnership between the Cubs and Sinclair.
On the WGN Radio side, Nexstar has given no indication of plans to alter or divest what will be its sole radio property. Paul Rennie currently oversees both Chicago stations as president and general manager.
Larry Wert, the veteran Chicago broadcast executive who has headed Tribune Broadcast Media since 2013, declined to comment Monday. But Wert has told friends he has a number of entrepreneurial ventures and other projects in the works.