It hasn’t always been an easy ride for our local English language station since New Zealander Richard Yonge moved Riviera Radio from Italy to Monaco over 20 years ago. Along with the move came a powerful transmitter near the principality and a wider footprint, but also the prodigious requirement of having to meet Monaco’s notoriously high overheads. Over the years, some owners and potential buyers had hoped that a change of frequency policy in France would reduce that cost base. So far, that’s been a hollow hope as France does not yet licence foreign language broadcasters. New technology will soon make FM obsolete at any rate.
As long as they are employed by Riviera Radio, most station managers stick to the line that the station is - or could be - a profitable business in itself. But once they’d passed through the managerial revolving door into the real world a couple of past managers told us that they thought the station would always need continued life support from a benevolent owner. Morris Communications of Augusta Georgia has been filling that role since they bought Riviera Radio in 2000 (see Reporter issues 79 & 80).
Will Billy Morris’ broadcasting venture continue in Monaco? For the first time in years, local media watchers will be looking at that question in a new light.
Early last year, Morris revealed that its subsidiary, Morris Publishing Group, had defaulted on a February loan interest payment of $9.7 million, initially pushing payment back to March and then to several further dates while it worked with debt holders to keep a restructuring plan out of U.S. bankruptcy court. Plans began to restructure a debt of $417 million while salaries were reduced in a bid to save jobs in the least painful way possible. Morris Communications became an affiliate of Morris Publishing Group, and no longer its parent company.
In October 2009 Morris sold off its majority stake in the billboard advertising firm Fairway Outdoor in order to lower debt. By December the company had launched a financial restructuring plan offering to exchange existing unsecured debt with new bonds that would lower its obligations to $100 million from $278 million. That move would have required 99% acceptance by note holders but it fell short at 92%.
On January 14 2010, Morris Publishing Group filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code.
The company's creditors include JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of New York, SunTrust Bank, Bank of America, General Electric Capital Corporation, Allied Irish Banks, RBS Citizens, Comerica Bank, Webster Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.
It’s not entirely clear how the financial position of Morris Communications’ other holdings, which include several radio stations, magazines and other media-related operations, might be affected by the Morris Publishing Group’s financial problems, but Billy Morris is taking an optimistic stance. There’s some enlightenment in the links to MPG company announcements and financial press articles about Morris Communications listed below.
As most Morris holdings are in the United States, where the media market is particularly difficult in the current economic climate, how important will backing Riviera Radio now seem to the company’s owners and their financial team? Avid listeners may well hope that Morris continues with its ownership of the station while the less enthusiastic section of the audience might like to see new owners with a more community-minded attitude to local broadcasting.That was, after all, the attitude Richard Yonge brought to Monaco over 2 decades ago.