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Macquarie Media rejects suggestions it will seek extension as deadline looms to sell 2CH

The rebranded Magic 2CH logo.

Macquarie Media rebranded 2CH to the Magic network

Australia’s largest talk radio network Macquarie Media has just a month left to sell its radio licence for Sydney easy listening station Radio 2CH, before the media watchdog can force a sale.

It is required to sell the station following its merger last year with Fairfax Radio, which put the station in breach of media ownership laws which impose ‘two-to-a-market’ limit for commercial radio licences in the Sydney licence area. The broadcaster currently owns the licences for 2GB, 2UE and 2CH in Sydney.

But just two weeks ago Macquarie Media rebranded Radio 2CH to be part of its national Magic easy listening network, fuelling speculation that the company either had a buyer who was willing to allow them to operate it or that it would seek an extension on the sale time from media watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). 

The radio broadcaster has been actively looking for a buyer for the station for over a year, with the likes of Grant Broadcasters/Capital Radio, a NSW clubs player and the NSW Council of Churches (NCC) all rumoured to have expressed an interest in buying the station.

Management at Macquarie Media told Mumbrella the business would not seek an extension from ACMA but did not want to be drawn on details about negotiations with any potential buyer.

If no deal is reached by March 31 the ACMA can theoretically force the sale of the station.

As Mumbrella revealed last year, Macquarie Media brought in the company’s former managing director, Rob Lowenthal, to handle the sales process and it is thought that among the bids was a $6m bid from Grant Broadcasters and an offer from the NCC, which has previously owned the station, which is thought to have made an offer of $1 in a proposal that would see Macquarie continue operating the station under a revenue share model.

It is thought that Grant’s offer was around $4m short of the $10m price tag that Macquarie was rumoured to be seeking.

Tate: running 2CH and 2GB wouldn’t be hard for us to do.

Tate: running 2CH and 2GB wouldn’t be hard for us to do.

One of the challenges of selling the station is that former owner, the NSW Council of Churches (NCC), imposed legal caveats on the station in 1994 with the requirement that it must air religious programs on Sundays and reject certain advertising, such as alcohol and gambling.

While much of the industry is currently focused on the potential for regulatory reform of the media landscape in the form of the abolition of the ‘reach rule’ and the restrictions of owning two out of three media it is understood that the restriction limiting an owner to two radio licences would remain unaffected.

Macquarie chairman Russell Tate previously told Mumbrella the company was open to continuing to run the station.

“In the last few years we’ve operated 2GB and 2CH as one entity, so it wouldn’t be hard for us to do,” he said in January of 2015.

In April of 2015 media watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced it had accepted enforceable undertakings from the new entity to sell radio stations 2CH in Sydney and 4LM in Mt Isa.

Macquarie Media has until March 31, 2016 to sell the Radio 2CH licence.

Nic Christensen

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