Exec leaving to pursue other opportunities

Broadcasting circles were abuzz Tuesday with the unexpected news that Barry Baker would resign as the No. 2 exec at Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Baker said Tuesday that he would exit the powerhouse broadcaster within the next two months to consider “numerous opportunities that I have been unable to pursue during the last few years in order to fulfill my commitments to Sinclair.”

Baker, well known in the TV biz for his aggressive, outspoken style, would not elaborate on his plans except to say he wanted to tackle another “entrepreneurial” challenge. There was speculation that Baker was weighing partnering on Internet-related ventures with such suitors as CBS, ABC and Barry Diller’s USA Networks, but nothing could be confirmed.

Baker will remain the largest individual stockholder in Sinclair next to David Smith, prexy and chairman of parent company Sinclair Communications, and other Smith family members.

Counting various stock options, Baker owns about 4-5% of Sinclair’s stock as a result of Sinclair’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Baker’s River City Broadcasting TV and radio station group in 1996. Nearly three years later, Baker’s title at Sinclair Broadcast Group was still CEO designate because the FCC is contesting certain ownership overlap issues related to the Sinclair-River City deal.

Baker flatly denied speculation that he was leaving due to clashes with Sinclair chief Smith or the TV group’s uneven performance of late. Word of Baker’s resignation came on the same day Sinclair released its fourth quarter earnings report showing that revenue and cash flow were essentially flat when adjusted for acquisitions of stations over the past year.

Sinclair has been on a station buying spree in recent years, with its holdings rising from 29 TV stations with the River City acquisition in 1996 to the current tally of 56 TV outlets, most of them Fox, UPN and WB affils. Like Smith, Baker was known as a tough negotiator adept at leveraging Sinclair’s clout with the weblets as well as with syndie distribs.

(Martin Peers contributed to this story.)

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