Chapel Hill News

Local investors join partnership to buy WCHL,

Radio station WCHL announced Tuesday that Rudd Media LLC has formed a partnership with four local businessmen to buy the station and its website.

Colorado businessman Leslie Rudd said the outcome was what he had wanted for the station, whose former owner Jim Heavner was forced to sell as part of bankruptcy proceedings started in October 2014.

Heavner had owned the 62-year-old radio station off and on since 1978 and is the majority owner of several companies under the VilCom umbrella.

Rudd submitted the winning bid for the media outlets at an August auction. The bid amount has not been disclosed, but court records show it may have been more than $500,000.

“In our other investments, we depend heavily on local ownership that knows the market and is well-known and respected,” Rudd said. “Each new owner has an impressive record of professional accomplishment in his own right and together will make an outstanding leadership team.”

The station is an important community asset that needed to be stabilized and protected, said Jim Kitchen, a local entrepreneur who grew up listening to UNC games on the radio station, which currently broadcasts at 1360 AM and 97.9 FM.

They have been working for months on ways to build the station’s local brand, he said.

“We’re still intending to stay very much hyperlocal, because the news and reporting for Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Pittsboro and Hillsborough are things that all affect us as a region,” Kitchen said. “We’re very much bent on keeping that local focus.”

Kitchen joined Rudd, Chris Ehrenfeld, Mark Vitali and Aaron Wright this week to form the new owner/operator group for WCHL and The deal, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission, gives them 100 percent ownership.

The men share a history of starting and operating successful companies in their respective fields:

▪ Kitchen teaches entrepreneurship at Kenan-Flagler Business School and played an instrumental role in starting two business incubators, Launch Chapel Hill and the 1789 Venture Lab.

▪ Ehrenfeld is the owner of Domicile Realty, which owns Governors Club Realty and Bold Construction.

▪ Vitali owns 10 Nationwide Insurance agencies in North Carolina and develops commercial properties.

▪ Wright started two different health-care companies and has served on the UNC Board of Visitors and the Eshelman School Foundation Board.

The partners will serve as advisers, Kitchen said, leaving the daily operations to general manager Jan Bolick and her staff. Any changes will happen slowly, he said, and could include hiring additional people.

They also are looking at new local programs to replace some syndicated shows now on the air, he said.

“What’s going on at UNC, what’s going on in the community, a lot of interesting people,” Kitchen said. “We just need to utilize those resources and tell those stories a little bit better. I think that will be more engaging content than some of the syndicated programs that we have now.”

Heavner’s bankruptcy case, filed to avoid a hostile takeover of his marketing publisher University Directories, is still in court. The case stems from Heavner’s talks with Greg Lindberg, president of Durham-based Eli Global, about buying the company, which serves more than 300 universities and colleges as The AroundCampus Group.

UDX LLC, another of Lindberg’s companies, bought University Directories’ loans from the Bank of North Carolina and told Heavner the loans were in default, according to court records. UDX sought ownership of the company, records show.

Court filings allege that Eli Global had signed confidentiality agreements to review University Directories financial books but used the information instead to launch a hostile takeover. Lindberg alleges UDX is owed more than $5 million and University Directories officials had “grossly mismanaged their financial operations.”

Heavner sold University Directories in April to Scottsdale, Arizona,-based AroundCampus Holdings LLC.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb