CTPOST.com Radio empire being built in Westport

The station break is clearly over for Jeffrey Warshaw and the other executives of Westport-based Connoisseur Media, which has surged onto the scene with $100 million in Radio acquisitions in the last nine months. Warshaw, 48, has a long history in Radio, having built his first station at age 19 and following that up with Connoisseur Communications in 1993. That company eventually grew to 39 stations and was sold to Cumulus Broadcasting in 2000 for $258 million. Today, Warshaw, joined by his former Connoisseur Communications partners Michael Driscoll, Chief Financial Officer, and David Bevins, Chief Operating Officer, is again growing a Radio empire, this time under the Connoisseur Media brand.

“We’ve seen great opportunity,” Warshaw, said. “It’s a special time. There are tons of stations for sale. These (the Connecticut ones) are great stations with great heritage in the market and great facilities.” Last week, Connoisseur announced a deal to buy WPLR, Star 99.9 and WFOX, the Fox, from Cox Media. All three stations have offices on Wheelers Farms Road in Milford. They operate throughout the state and region, sharing some programming, like Chaz and AJ, the morning team on WPLR, a rock station; and The Fox, a hot adult contemporary station. Star 99.9, which covers Fairfield County, has the Tad Show for the morning drive to compliment its classic rock format. All the stations have their own websites.

Warshaw and Driscoll had been working primarily on the investment side of media during the five years between Radio gigs. An 18-year resident of Westport, Warshaw said it’s nice to own stations in his own backyard. As far as any changes at the stations, he said, the only thing he plans to change is the name above the logo, adding he’s pleased with the formats and the community involvement. “Good Radio is good Radio,” he said.

The Connecticut radio station purchases came at a good price, he said, but when he and Driscoll fired up Connoisseur Media in 2005, it wasn’t a buyer’s market. They plunged ahead by building radio stations from scratch, and created six in Montana. Then, as the economy changed, prices came down and the company has been able to expand. Along with its Montana properties, it has stations in Pennsylvania, New York, Nebraska, South Dakota, New Jersey and Kansas. If the Connecticut deal, valued at $40 million, is approved by the Federal Communication Commission, you’ll be able to drive from New Haven to Philadelphia and always have a Connoisseur station on.

There is unlikely to be any job loss from this acquisition. Cox was based in Atlanta, so corporate functions for the stations will just be shifting to Westport, while the stations’ other functions remain based in Milford. One thing that attracted Connoisseur is that these are popular stations with legacies in the community. And local advertisers have embraced the stations. Newtown Savings Bank advertises with them, so does Park City Ford in Bridgeport, while plastic surgeon Dr. Stanley Frost, who has an office in Greenwich, also buys time from the stations.
Dan Long, marketing director of Newtown Savings, said he doesn’t see the change in ownership affecting him as a listener or the bank as an advertiser. He hasn’t heard of any major changes to programming or advertising, and couldn’t see why they would make changes. “They’re great,” he said of the group of station sales people in Connecticut. “We’re very happy with the people and the service we get.”

One thing nice about the deal is it brings the corporate headquarters into the state and, Long said, “certainly, we do like to support the businesses in our community.” As for Warshaw, he sees his company’s role pretty clearly regarding these operations: “We are going to be guardians of these stations.”

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