Co. inks to acquire St. Louis outlets, looks for more

Emmis Communications has emerged as a contender to buy Sinclair’s radio station group after inking a deal that paves the way for Emmis to acquire Sinclair’s radio and TV outlets in the St. Louis market.

Indianapolis-based Emmis has bought an option on the St. Louis properties held by Barry Baker, the former head of Sinclair’s broadcast group who was named prexy of USA Networks earlier this year.

Baker, who merged his River City Broadcasting with Sinclair in 1996, had the right to buy Sinclair’s radio and TV stations in St. Louis as part of his original employment contract with Sinclair.

Now, Emmis is poised to hammer out a deal with Sinclair for the purchase price of ABC affil KDNL St. Louis and six radio stations. At the same time, Emmis is clearly eyeing the purchase of the rest of Sinclair’s 51-station radio group, which is projected to fetch about $900 million.

Sinclair, battered by the downturn in broadcasting stocks in recent months, put its radio stations on the block earlier this month.

Emmis chairman Jeff Smulyan said Friday that the two-step deal with Baker and Sinclair for the St. Louis properties “demonstrates our strong interest in working with Sinclair and discussing its other radio stations.” Reps for Sinclair could not be reached late Friday.

Other contenders for Sinclair’s radio group are said to include CBS’ Infinity Broadcasting, Clear Channel Communications and Cox Radio.

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