All Unquiet on the Western Front

Minnesota Public Radio's empire- building purchase of Marketplace Productions hits a snag

Harris declines to discuss specifics of the sale, beyond noting that it requires Marketplace Productions to be located within five miles of the USC campus. But one radio observer is willing to venture a guess as to the deal's value. Robert Unmacht, publisher of M Street Journal and M Street Daily, a pair of radio-industry newsletters based in Nashville, says that if Marketplace were a commercial venture, it would be worth one and a half to two times its revenue, or $9 million to $12 million. "I think that's reasonable," he says.

"Oh heavens, no!" Harris responds, dubbing such an estimate "way out of line." Money, she says, was never the issue: "We want to keep our name on this, and that's part of the arrangement."

Unmacht says that while MPR boss Kling has been viewed by some of his competitors as "predatory," he is unquestionably an excellent businessman. "He's figured out how to provide a service to the public and make a lot of money. You can't say he's been a failure at it," asserts Unmacht. "It's not that people aren't getting something back for their money. They do a good job, and I think that they will do a good job for Marketplace. It has a good, marketable name and Minnesota Public Radio knows how to market things. They can really make it a franchise." (Indeed, PRI's catalog boasts to affiliate stations that Marketplace can be lucrative: "The program is a magnet for local underwriting, and with the midprogram break expanded to 60 seconds, the sky's the limit!")

In Los Angeles, Unmacht adds, Kling has found an untapped opportunity. The airwaves boast plenty of public-radio music fodder, both classical and jazz, but not much public-affairs programming--MPR's stock in trade. "Really it's a wide-open hole for news and talk programming," says the industry expert. "That looks to be wide open."

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