A Georgia partnership is buying the KEZI television station in Eugene and its sister stations in Medford and Klamath Falls from the Chambers family, the companies announced Wednesday.

Heartland Media LLC and MSouth Equity Partners, a private equity firm that typically holds its investments five to seven years, are paying $30 million cash for the stations, Heartland CEO Bob Prather said in a telephone interview.

He declined to break down the ownership stake that each of the Atlanta-based partners will hold after the purchase, which is expected to be completed this summer pending Federal Communications Commission approval.

Prather said no changes are planned for the stations, which combined employ about 120 to 130 people.

"They've got a good strong tradition, are really strong local news leaders and have people that really want to do the right things in their communities," he said.

Scott Chambers, CEO of Chambers Communications Corp., could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a written statement announcing the deal, he said, "We believe Heartland sees the value in our broadcasting strategy and our excellent employees. Heartland is particularly well-suited to build on the strengths that these stations have had in the local community for the past several decades."

FCC approval of the transaction is expected to be finalized in early to mid-summer, MSouth and Prather said. Chambers will continue daily operation of the stations until then.

Chambers Communications last summer sold its Bend TV station, KOHD-TV, to Zolo Media, part of the BendBroadband companies owned by the Tykeson family. KOHD, like the other stations now being sold, is an ABC affiliate.

KLSR, the local Fox affiliate, is the only remaining network station locally that remains under Oregon ownership. It is owned by California Oregon Broadcasting, Inc., which is based in Medford.

Prather previously served as president of Atlanta-based Gray Television, a publicly traded company that he and a partner acquired in 1993 and grew quickly, making a number of acquisitions.

In June, Gray abruptly announced that Prather had resigned from all his positions with the company, effective immediately.

Prather, 69, said Wednesday that he had retired from Gray, but soon discovered "I'm not the retiring type."

He formed a new company, Heartland Media, and made his first acquisition, television station WKTV in Utica, N.Y., in September.

A partner in MSouth Equity Partners, Barry Boniface, said he had crossed paths with Prather previously when he also was involved in the communciations industry. Before MSouth, Boniface was, among other things, head of media and communications mergers and acquisitions at Barclay Capital.

Now, he said, "Bob is the point person on broadcast TV acquisition for us, he's the one we're backing on this."

MSouth traditionally invests primarily in the South, with a focus on management buyouts of business services, distribution and specialty manufacturing companies. But the Oregon television stations aren't its first media purchase, and won't be its last, Boniface said.

"We have actually acquired another media business, an outdoor advertising business (that operates) up and down the East Coast," Boniface said.

MSouth also has looked at other media investment opportunities, he said, "(and) will continue to look for new stations."

The three Oregon TV stations, Boniface said, are "a great set of stations with very good market positions that were well-run by the Chambers family ... it's a market opportunity with good overall dynamics that are familiar to Bob, with the type of stations he's run -- it's a really good fit."

Prather said that when he was making acquisitions at Gray Television he liked companies that were family-owned and in strong markets. "I bought 14 stations over the years from families like the Chamberses," he said.

He also liked stations that were in university towns, he said, because, in most cases, the demographics are better and the economies are more stable.

When a friend told him a few months ago that the stations owned by the Chambers family were potentially available, he was immediately interested, he said.

Prather said he has rarely changed the programming at any station he's acquired.

"I believe the people in that town know more about what (viewers) want to see," he said. "I would never pretend to guess what people in Eugene would like."

He is also a big believer in news, Prather said, telling managers at his stations, "If you're having a hard time renewing syndications, put more news on."

Follow Ilene on Twitter @ialeshire. Email ilene.aleshire@registerguard.com.

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