In $3M deal, Galaxy Communications to take over most of Berkshire County's airwaves

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PITTSFIELD — Local radio in Berkshire County is undergoing another ownership change, as the majority of the county's commercial radio stations are being purchased by a chain based in central New York.

Galaxy Communications, a privately owned independent chain headquartered in Syracuse, is purchasing six Berkshire County radio stations and two translator stations from Gamma Broadcasting in a cash and stock deal worth $3.17 million, according to Galaxy's website. Gamma principals Bruce Danziger and Burton Barlow also hold an attributable interest in Vox AM/FM, which owns stations in New York and Vermont.

The transaction is subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission, and is expected to close by the end of 2016, according to Galaxy's president and CEO Ed Levine.

"I'm relying on the FCC for timing, but feel confident it will be in December," said Levine, whose group owns 14 radio stations in the Syracuse-Utica N.Y. area. This is Galaxy's first expansion outside of New York state.

If the transaction is approved, Gamma Broadcasting will be known as Berkshire Media Group, Levine said. Peter Barry, the vice president/market manager for Berkshire Radio Group, which runs the six Berkshire radio stations involved in the transaction, will remain in his current position.

No layoffs or program changes will take place at any of the stations, which include WBEC AM/FM of Pittsfield, WUPE AM/FM of North Adams, WSBS-AM of Great Barrington, and WNAW-AM of North Adams, Levine said.

"At this point the stations are all doing really well," Levine said. "We will be adding an FM signal coming in. I have a lot of experience doing community events, which these stations do a lot now anyway. I think we'll be doing more community events.

"I don't know how more local those stations can be because they already are pretty local," he said. "But they'll focus more on local communities than they have in the past."

Citing Snyder's previous experience in local radio, Barry said, "We've been fortunate to have good ownership in recent years, but Ed is a dream buyer."

"He loves local radio, and he has a long term vision," Barry said. He doesn't plan to flip the stations.

"For us it means stability," he said. "We can continue to do great local stuff and local radio. It's perfect for us. It would have been the exact opposite if we had been bought by a major conglomerate."

The deal breaks down this way: Galaxy is paying $1.68 million for all the outstanding stock of the current Berkshire Media Group which holds the licensees for WNAW, WUPE-FM, WSBS-AM, and Pittsfield licensed translator station W277CJ (103.3).

Galaxy is also putting up $1.47 million in cash for WBEC-AM/FM and WUPE-AM. The new owners also purchased translator station W231AK in Great Barrington, which is licensed to Northeast Airchecks, for $20,000. Northeast has filed an application to transfer the translator license to Gamma.

Levine said he had been interested in purchasing Gamma Broadcasting for awhile. An agreement to sell those same stations to Reed Miami Holdings LLC fell through in 2013.

"I love the management. I love the fact that they are true radio broadcasters," he said. "I think it's a very attractive market. There's no local TV in the market, which is a good factor. They have a strong position on the radio, too. And, it's all just a couple of hours from the other stations. That will give us some regional strength to which is good.

"I'm buying this as a one-off for Galaxy," he said. "I like everything about the area and the people."

A native of Yonkers, N.Y., Levine has spent his entire professional life in the radio industry — he met his wife, Pam, at the college radio station at Syracuse University. His daughter, Lauren, a graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications, is the brand manager for WUMX-FM in Utica.

Levine's early career was spent in programming, including a stint at WJFK in Washington D.C. when Howard Stern was beginning to syndicate his radio show. He founded Galaxy Communications in 1990. Levine is Galaxy's majority shareholder, which he will also be with the new Berkshire Media Group.

"I'm not a finance guy. I'm not a Wall Street guy," Levine said. "I'm a local DJ who got lucky."

Galaxy has owned the same radio stations for many years, "some of them for 26 years now," Levine said. "I'm not a here today gone tomorrow kind of guy. I've been with the same woman for almost 50 years. When I get involved in something I'm in it for the long haul."

In central New York, Galaxy Communications is involved in community events, sports marketing, and digital media, according to its website. Galaxy owns the Taste of Syracuse, an event the company bought nine years ago from the entrepreneur who founded it, and is the flagship station for Syracuse University athletics.

"The radio industry has changed dramatically," Levine said. "Whether it's satellite (radio) or Pandora what's happening is really interesting because major companies are coming into the radio space."

In a recent interview with Jacobs Media.com for Radio's Most Innovative program, Levine said, "Radio has suffered from some of the worst lack of leadership of just about any other major industry, Our wonderful business has been overrun over the past two decades by MBAs masquerading as CEOs who didn't give a damn about the long-term effects their behavior was having on the entire industry.

"We are paying the price for some of those actions now," Levine said, "but it's my belief that the pendulum has begun to swing back to authentic broadcasters."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com.


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