MacKenzie could make £6.4m from Wireless Group sale to Ulster TV

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The Independent Online

Kelvin MacKenzie, the former journalist turned radio entrepreneur, looks set to pocket £6.4m if the group he leads, The Wireless Group, is sold to Ulster TV, with whom it has entered exclusive talks.

Kelvin MacKenzie, the former journalist turned radio entrepreneur, looks set to pocket £6.4m if the group he leads, The Wireless Group, is sold to Ulster TV, with whom it has entered exclusive talks.

His hopes of buying the business himself appear to have ended. In February, he made a £100m approach for Wireless, backed by US private equity player Veronis Suhler Stevenson, which led to the company being put up for auction.

However, Mr MacKenzie, 58, soon fell out with VSS, complaining that the financiers "do not know how to work with creative entrepreneurs".

He was then widely expected to ally himself with one of the private equity bidders that had come forward, such as 3I, but trade buyer Ulster now appears to have beaten off all rivals.

Wireless said: "The Independent Directors can confirm that TWG has entered into preliminary discussions with Ulster Television which may or may not lead to an offer for the company. The Independent Directors confirm that they have granted a period of exclusivity to Ulster Television while these exploratory talks take place."

No price or timetable was announced but it is thought that Ulster now has a number of weeks to finalise its bid, which is reckoned to have also come in at around the £100m mark.

Wireless owns the speech-only national station talkSPORT and a stable of local stations. Analysts said that most trade buyers would have been put off by the fact that talkSPORT's format faced too much competition from BBC radio, in particular from Five Live.

Ulster, which is listed in London and owns the ITV licence for Northern Ireland, already has a radio business, which includes Cork's 96fm and 103fm, Limerick's Live 95fm, Dublin's Q102, Absolute Radio and Liverpool's Juice fm. It has long been assumed that it will eventually be swallowed up by ITV, along with the two other independent licence holders but Ulster seems determined to pursue its own strategy.

Mr MacKenzie, who edited The Sun newspaper from 1982 to 1994, has a 6.4 per cent stake in Wireless, which he founded. The business has had the backing of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and John Malone's Liberty Media, which are its biggest shareholders.

Last year, Wireless made a pre-tax loss of £9.7m, an improvement on the £11.2m loss the previous year. But there was an operating profit of £4.3m on revenues of £39.7m. As chief executive of Wireless, Mr MacKenzie pursued a lone campaign to force the radio industry to adopt a new electronic way of measuring audiences. The sector has now agreed to use the new technology next year.

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