Fighting The Power 

Upstart rap station Power 92.7 had its eyes on big, bad KMEL, but didn't watch its back.

Page 5 of 6

For thirty minutes, Danyah said, the crew from KMEL tried to drown out Power's party, cranking up the volume on their van's sound system. Finally, Danyah cut the music, grabbed the mike, and told the crowd that if they wanted KMEL to go away and let them have their fun, all they had to do was say so. Amid a chorus of boos, KMEL packed up and drove away. "Basically, they had to tuck their tails in and run," Danyah said. "They tried for a good thirty minutes, but people wasn't buying it. It was great for [Power], 'cause everyone was like, 'Man, 92 kicked KMEL's butt!' Little kids were saying that."

On September 27, Power's staff assembled at the station for a meeting. Arbitron had projected that its audience share would finally break 1 percent of the market, high enough to attract advertisers, and everyone thought they were here to discuss the marketing and sales budgets. Instead, chief operating officer Tom Sly of Three Point Media announced that his company had sold the station.

Almost everyone was fired, effective immediately.

The men behind Three Point Media are Chicago investors Chris Devine and Bruce Buzil, who like to call themselves "the Fun Boys." They're in the radio business, but they're really in the radio speculation business. Once the Federal Communications Commission began deregulating the broadcast industry, it became possible for investors to spot an undervalued station, buy it, improve the signal strength or location, and flip it for a profit. According to the media consulting firm BIA Financial Network, Devine and Buzil spent $3.8 million in 2002 to acquire Yuba City's KXCL, which they sold less than a year later for $8.2 million. In October 2001, they bought two stations in Arizona for $1.1 million, waited almost two years, and sold one to Clear Channel for $2.5 million. Altogether, Devine and Buzil estimate that they've bought and flipped about twenty radio stations in the course of their careers.

For weeks, industry watchers and radio geeks had been posting on message boards at the industry Web site, warning that the Fun Boys were about to do the same thing to Power. After all, the station had hired just one DJ and a couple of mixers, and was rumored to be bleeding thousands of dollars every month, with no commercials or ad revenue coming in. Hip-hop, they warned, was just Three Point's way of pretending to run the station while it finalized the sale from Spanish Broadcasting System and sold it at an enormous profit. "Here's the deal," wrote one poster on August 5. "Power is basically stunting until they move their antenna to Sutro tower. Irritate the big guys, improve 92.7 signal coverage, then flip the station for $45M, pocketing $15M (less interim operating expenses) for their efforts. That's their MO. 3Pts will not own this station a year from now."

Station manager Skip Dillard was asked about these rumors several times and cheerily assured everyone that Power was here to stay. Another Power employee claimed that the moderator of hates hip-hop and spread these rumors to undermine the station among industry watchers. Nonetheless, observers kept warning that Power's demise was imminent. "This whole 92.7 thing smells very fishy to me," one poster wrote. "3Pts is KNOWN for going in a market [to] snatch up underperforming radio stations and then try to improve the signal and get a spike in the ratings for a quick sell -- it's happened more than 2x recently -- so any attempt for the [Power] program director to preach 'community' is BS."

Last week, Dillard, Simpson, and the rest of Power's true believers learned the brutal truth. Three Point Media had just finalized the deal with Spanish Broadcasting and immediately sold the station to Joe Bayliss, the former sales director of Infinity Radio San Francisco. Bayliss has reprogrammed the newly named Energy 92.7 with a dance format, which means Simpson's five-month experiment with meaningful hip-hop is dead. "Everyone's taking it pretty bad," said one former Power employee the day after the meeting. "Skip's goal was to really have a community-based station. Genuinely. Because he believed it could work. ... I'm really sad for Oakland; I feel that this is a community that has been punched left and right. It's not like it's ever going to be tried again."

Skip Dillard sacrificed a lot for Power 92.7. He packed up his life in Philadelphia, moved to the Bay Area, and enticed several people who had worked for KMEL to come work for him. Now those kids may never work again in Bay Area urban radio, and Dillard frets that he convinced them to give up a steady job for what turned out to be a colossal fraud. When asked two days after the sale if he thought Three Point's rap format was just a big ruse while his bosses flipped the station, he said, "Yeah, I do."

The day after this interview, Dillard was fired.

Meanwhile, Three Point owners Chris Devine and Bruce Buzil evidently made out quite well on the sale. "It was a great deal -- you should have been in on it!" Devine quipped during a brief interview from his office in Chicago. When asked whether he intended to flip the station all along, he joked, "Yeah, but you want to hear some really good news? I just saved a lot of money on my car insurance from Geico!"


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