Updated: Mission Closes $60M Deal for KLRT, KASN; Chuck Spohn Out as General Manager

Updated: Mission Closes $60M Deal for KLRT, KASN; Chuck Spohn Out as General Manager
Chuck Spohn

Nexstar Broadcasting of Irving, Texas, said late Thursday that Mission Broadcasting's $60 million deal to buy two Little Rock TV stations had closed, and that Nexstar had entered into an "outsourcing agreement" with Mission to provide services to those stations.

The companies first announced the purchase deal in July. The Federal Communications Commission approved it in December.

Per the deal, Mission, of Westlake, Ohio, bought Fox affiliate KLRT-TV, Channel 16, and CW affiliate KASN-TV, Channel 38, from Newport Television of Kansas City, Mo. Publicly traded Nexstar already owned NBC affiliate KARK-TV, Channel 4, and MyNetworkTV affiliate KARZ-TV, Channel 42.

Nexstar spokeswoman Jennifer Neuman on Friday confirmed the purchase price of $60 million.

Also Friday, Chuck Spohn, general manager of KLRT and KASN for more than 15 years, told Arkansas Business that he had been ousted by the new owner. He said he was notified Thursday.

Spohn said Friday is his final day on the job. He said he did not know if Mission had eliminated any other positions. Nexstar would not comment on personnel issues.

"There's a consolidation of the business units," Spohn said. "Early on, they expressed that there will be one general manager over this consolidated unit."

Mike Vaughn, general manager of KARK, said he is taking over as general manager of KLRT and KASN. KLRT and KASN will merge facilities with KARK, but Vaughn said he doesn't know when or what that will look like.

Changes are "developing as we speak," Vaughn told Arkansas Business."This will be really fun and exciting down the road."

Per the outsourcing agreement, Nexstar said it agrees to "provide services" to KLRT and KASN. Nexstar would not elaborate Friday on the specifics of the agreement, but the deal effectively gives Nexstar control of the Mission stations.

In its 2011 annual report, Nexstar says its involvement in Mission is "deemed controlling financial interest." In August, a spokesman described the Nexstar-Mission business arrangement as partnering "in every one of Mission’s markets."

Neuman said the company's agreements with Mission "vary from market to market," but mostly involve Nexstar offering services related to news production and operations.

"They don't disclose the details of any specific agreement," she said.

Changes in Little Rock 

"This transaction is consistent with our core strategy to expand our operations and pursue financial and operating synergies to enhance free cash flow," Perry A. Sook, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Nexstar Broadcasting, said of the deal in a news release. 

"We look forward to leveraging our knowledge of the Little Rock market, as we provide services to Mission, for the benefit of viewers of KLRT and KASN while creating an even stronger marketing platform for local area businesses."

The Nexstar/Mission deal has local media watchers and station employees wondering how Nexstar might manage its new Little Rock properties, particularly KARK and KLRT, which have competing local news broadcasts and staffs.

Currently, KLRT and KASN have offices and studios at the Metroplex on Colonel Glenn Road in Little Rock. KARK and KARZ are based in the Victory Building on Capitol Avenue in downtown Little Rock. Nexstar also owns NBC affiliate KNWA-TV in Fayetteville.

In Little Rock, KLRT and KARK compete with Allbritton Communications-owned ABC affiliate KATV-TV, Channel 7, and Gannett Co.-owned CBS affiliate KTHV-TV, Channel 11. Little Rock is the country's 56th-largest television market, as ranked by Nielsen Media Research.

KARK, KATV and KTHV all had long-established news operations when KLRT launched its first newscast, an hour-long broadcast at 9 p.m., in 2004. Co-anchors Donna Terrell and Kevin Kelly, present at the launch, still man the anchor desk, and KLRT now has news broadcasts at 5, 5:30 and 10 p.m.

Spohn, 51, led KLRT's efforts to build that local news operation. On Friday, he said he plans to stay in central Arkansas. He has worked in the TV industry for nearly 30 years, but might pursue another career, possibly going into business on his own. He said his years of sales and marketing experience should help him going forward.