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Union Broadcasting sued over Royals deal

September 5, 2003

Union Broadcasting sued over Royals deal
FM station KZPL doesn't want WHB to make it carry baseball

The co-owner of radio station KZPL (97.3 FM) sued its local partner Thursday over KZPL's deal to broadcast Royals baseball for the next four years.
The lawsuit, filed in Dallas by Dallas-based First Broadcasting Partners LLC, says the agreement between KZPL and sister station WHB (810 AM) was entered into without its consent.

First Broadcasting and an affiliate of Union Broadcasting Inc. jointly own the station through a 50-50 partnership called Union First Broadcasting LLC.

The suit was filed a week after Union Broadcasting and WHB successfully bid for the Royals' radio rights, beating out rivals Entercom, the current rights holder, and Susquehanna.

WHB will begin serving as the Royals' flagship station in 2004, ending KMBZ's long reign as the team's broadcaster. Union Broadcasting is thought to have bid $8 million.

Because WHB's signal strength goes from 50,000 watts during the day to 5,000 watts at night, Union Broadcasting said it would simulcast night games on KZPL, which has one of the most powerful signals in the area. The station, known as "The Planet," has an adult rock format.

"This lawsuit is not about the Royals and it's not about the AM station," said John T. Cox III, First Broadcasting's attorney.

"It's about a unilateral action to obligate the FM station to fundamentally change its programming, name and presence in the community."

Cox called Union Broadcasting's move "indefensible" and said it saddled KZPL with sports-intensive programming that was inconsistent with its music format.

Union Broadcasting officials were unaware of the lawsuit until contacted by The Kansas City Star.

Chad Boeger, president of the company and a defendant in the lawsuit, said the suit was "totally without merit and improperly filed." He referred additional inquiries to Union Broadcasting's attorneys.

Tom Buchanan, one of the company's lawyers, said the operating agreement between Union Broadcasting and First Broadcasting required disputes between the two to be settled through arbitration.

"There will be a demand for arbitration," he said.

Buchanan said the decision to have KZPL simulcast Royals' night games, which make up about 80 percent of the team's schedule, was in the best interests of the station.

"It was highly sought after in the Kansas City market," he said.

Royals officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

First Broadcasting is a merchant bank that invests in radio stations around the country. Cox said the company acquired KZPL about five months ago and sold half its interest to Union Broadcasting about a month later.

Union Broadcasting has an option to buy out First Broadcasting's remaining 50 percent interest.

Union Broadcasting's majority owner, Jerry Green, was out of the country Thursday and unavailable for comment.

The lawsuit is unlikely to be a deal-breaker for WHB, whose nightly signal breaks up in some areas west of Kansas City but otherwise covers most of the metropolitan area.