Local radio stations, such as WCHL, are rare but can be the “heart of the community” when they give listeners unique forums for talking with newsmakers and about the issues that matter most to them, UNC professor Charlie Tuggle said.
Tuggle and his students in UNC’s School of Media and Journalism produce WCHL’s weekend “Sports Focus” show. The station, he tells them, is a model of “hyperlocal” news that would be missed if it were gone.
“You can get your ball scores or the latest polling on the political race or what’s happening overseas or what’s happening in Congress ... pretty much anywhere, but where are you going to hear about Chapel Hill Town Council or the latest plans for Carolina North?” Tuggle said. “The only shot you have is radio, to listen to those newsmakers at length. Not a 15-second soundbite but ... a 30-minute conversation with the mayor of the town.”
The station’s pending change in ownership isn’t expected to change that, longtime owner Jim Heavner told WCHL’s staff last week. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catharine Aron could make her ruling on a possible deal Tuesday at a court hearing in Greensboro.
Colorado investor Leslie Rudd, the chief executive officer of the Leslie Rudd Investment Co., president of Standard Beverage Co. and owner of Dean & DeLuca Inc., submitted the bid at auction Friday. The bid amount was not disclosed, but court records show it may have been more than $500,000.
The sale, if approved, would make WCHL and its Chapelboro.com news and marketing arm the latest to be sold since Heavner filed bankruptcy papers in October. He has owned the 62-year-old radio station off and on since 1978 and is the majority owner of several companies under the VilCom umbrella.
Heavner told WCHL staff in an email that he expects Rudd to continue the station’s mission.
“There have been many who wanted to buy WCHL, but not many who we felt met the qualifications of a next owner,” he said. “We were not successful in finding a Chapel Hill owner with the credentials to carry it on. The final bid went to a prospective owner who doesn’t live here but has close Chapel Hill ties.”
Heavner said he sought Chapter 11 protection to avoid a hostile takeover of his marketing publisher University Directories, which serves more than 300 universities and colleges under the name The AroundCampus Group.
Greg Lindberg, president of Durham-based Eli Global, was in talks to buy University Directories, when UDX LLC, another of Lindberg’s companies, bought University Directories’ loans from the Bank of North Carolina, according to court records. UDX told Heavner the loans were in default and sought ownership of the company, records show.
While Eli Global had signed confidentiality agreements to review University Directories financial books, court filings allege, the company used the information to launch a hostile takeover. Lindberg alleges UDX is owed more than $5 million and University Directories officials had “grossly mismanaged their financial operations” and were doctoring financial documents.
Court documents said Heavner and his partners had moved money between businesses as needed to pay their creditors, making it difficult to determine which business owed the debt. The case was converted last month to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which allows assets to be sold to pay the creditors.
Heavner’s homes in Hilton Head, S.C., and on Gimghoul Road in Chapel Hill sold last year for roughly $10 million. Heavner sold University Directories in April to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based AroundCampus Holdings LLC.
Records show Heavner and longtime partner Bob Woodruff recently bought another VilCom business, Print Shop Management, while WCHL investor Edward Holmes formed VIM Acquisitions LLC with Woodruff as a minority investor. VIM Acquisitions submitted a roughly $450,000 bid for VilCom Interactive Media in June.
Rudd’s offer was at least $60,000 more, court records show.
Heavner and other WCHL officials have declined to comment until after the hearing, news director Blake Hodge said. Rudd did not return calls seeking comment, but he did talk briefly with Hodge last week about his plans.
“I became interested because I like Chapel Hill, lived there, had a house there and thought that this was a wonderful way for me to be part of the community,” Rudd said.
The station, under his ownership, would offer “more of the same,” he said. “Just better.”
Staff writer David Raynor contributed to this report.