While Phil Lombardo (left) and Ray Cole may be selling most of their Citadel Communications, they’ve still got work to do — running and improving WLNE Providence, R.I., and KLKN Lincoln, Neb., and perhaps using the two to grow another group.
Lombardo, Cole Cut Back, But Far From Out
Phil Lombardo may be selling most of Citadel Communications but he’s staying in the TV broadcasting business.
Nexstar Communications announced Monday that, along with its sidecar company Mission Broadcasting, it’s buying all but two of Citadel’s station for $103.25 million.
The deal also cashes Mario Gabelli out of his partnership, via Lynch Entertainment, with Citadel via two stations — WOI, the ABC affiliate in Des Moines (DMA 72) and WHBF, the CBS affiliate in Davenport, Iowa-Rock Island-Moline, Ill. (DMA 100), also known as the Quad Cities metropolitan area.
Those two stations not part of the deal — WLNE, the ABC affiliate in Providence, R.I. (DMA 53), and KLKN, the ABC affiliate in Lincoln, Neb. (DMA 105) — are likely to keep Lombardo and Ray Cole, president and COO of Citadel, busy for quite a while.
Indeed, they could form the nucleus for future acquisitions.
“It was the right time for us to sell,” Cole says. “Phil Lombardo at 78 years of age has to start looking at his exit after 50 years in the business. Mario Gabelli has been a great partner, but it was time for him to mine his investment.”
But Cole says there’s “unfinished business” that he and Lombardo will pursue with those two remaining stations.
Citadel purchased WLNE in May 2011, not long after it emerged from bankruptcy, Cole notes, and the station is “on a terrific growth curve right now and there are some things Phil and I would like to see through.”
As for KLKN, “It’s a terrific award-winning station but it doesn’t cover the entire market,” Cole says. “We want to expand the footprint of the station across the entire DMA.”
The Nexstar-Citadel deal took “six weeks start to finish,” Cole says, adding that there was no attempt at marketing the group by issuing a “book.”
“We had no interest in an auction,” he says.
As Cole and Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker noted, the Citadel acquisition gives Nexstar a presence in the key swing state of Iowa with two Big Four affiliated stations and the opportunity to tap substantial political revenues from the 2016 presidential election.
Along with owning the two stations, Lombardo and Cole also own a piece of a 24/7 cable news operation in Sarasota, Fla.
“I look forward to staying active in the business but maybe slowing down a little,” Cole says, noting that he’s worked with Lombardo, whom he characterized as his “mentor, partner and friend,” for 38 years.
Looks like that’s 38 years and counting.