BUSINESS EXCHANGE: Armstrong Williams Makes Inroads into Media Ownership
If you weren’t paying attention, veteran conservative commentator Armstrong Williams is becoming a “media mogul” having purchased a trio of TV stations in transactions that were part of a number of larger TV acquisition deals brokered by Sinclair Broadcasting Inc. Much could be said about how Williams’ connection to conservative Republicans enhanced his entrance into the realm of media ownership. Over the years, Williams has become a multi-media manager and now an owner. Williams is a third-generation Republican. A Williams’ company, Howard Stirk Holdings, LLC, announced that it has completed negotiations to acquire TV stations WEYI in Flint, Mich., WWWB in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and WMMP in Charleston, S.C. The name “Howard Stirk” is taken from Williams’ mother’s maiden name, Howard, and his father’s middle name, Stirk.
Williams deserves recognition for his go-getter mentality. One of 10 children, he was reared on the family’s 200-acre tobacco and swine farm in Marion, S.C. Williams displayed an early gift for writing and public speaking. He has extensive experience in television programming. He’s also produced weekly television shows that aired on Sinclair Broadcast Group network stations since 1995. From 2002 to 2005 Williams hosted On Point with Armstrong Williams, a monthly prime time television series – a joint venture with Radio One – which aired on the TV One cable network.
The deal shows a lot about being in the right place at the right time. The Stirk Holdings acquisitions were announced simultaneous with Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchase of Barrington Broadcasting. The deal reinforces Sinclair as the nation’s largest independent owner of broadcast TV stations. Currently, Sinclair owns and operates the largest number of local television stations. Headquartered in Hunt Valley, Md., it owns or operates stations across the country – in nearly 60 primarily small and medium markets, many located in the South and Midwest.
Sinclair CFO David Amy said, the station group will guarantee Williams’ loan and become a “service provider” to Williams’ stations, presumably through stations Sinclair has or is in the process of acquiring in various markets. The key to the deal is that Sinclair is acquiring stations in markets where it already owns stations, and is therefore, attempting to divest itself of one station in each of those markets to comply with Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ownership rules.
The Smith family of Baltimore is Williams’ business and political benefactors. The family retains a majority interest in Sinclair. All four Smith brothers serve as executives or directors. David Smith runs the business with three brothers: Frederick, Robert and J. Duncan. The Smith brothers are major Republican donors.
The deal represents an excellent example of how Blacks of the Republican persuasion can get a “leg up in life.” Williams’ Republican roots helped him get the deal.
“Sinclair Broadcast Group gave us a break. Without Sinclair it would not have been possible,” Williams said. “Many in the industry talk about diversity and expanding opportunity, the Sinclair Group put words into action.” David D. Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair, doesn’t mince words. “We’re big believers in advocacy journalism, and he fits that mode. He was the first one I called” when the ownership possibility arose.
There’s little question the 54-year-old Williams is qualified for the venture. Williams has enjoyed good sponsorship from media’s moguls over the years. He got his start in talk radio from another Republican, Radio One founder Cathy Hughes. Williams said his new acquisitions “were financed by JP Morgan in the amount of $60 million.” He has known the president and CEO of Sinclair for more than a decade. “I have known David Smith for 15 years. We met at a White House Correspondents reception.”
The Sinclair-Stirk Holdings pact offers promise for other such ventures, and may create new business connections and enterprises between Blacks and Whites. As of 2011, Whites owned 69 percent of 1,348 television stations, while Blacks owned 0.7 percent of all commercial TV stations.
Williams may add a Harrisburg, Pa. television station to his collection. All the acquisitions are subject to approval by the FCC and antitrust authorities.