Wireless bidders given deadline for final offers

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The Independent Online

Bidders for Wireless Group have been given until the end of next week to submit final offers for the radio operator.

Bidders for Wireless Group have been given until the end of next week to submit final offers for the radio operator.

It emerged yesterday that a number of bidders have stepped forward to challenge the planned buyout of the company by Kelvin MacKenzie, the founder and chief executive of Wireless.

The potential buyers include financial groups, among them the private equity group 3i. It is understood that most or all of these financial buyers would be prepared to strike a deal with Mr MacKenzie, in which he would continue to run the business.

Mr MacKenzie, the forthright former editor of The Sun, tried to put forward an offer of £100m last month but fell out with his financial backer. That provoked a number of other possible bidders to come forward and the business has now, in effect, been put up for sale. Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, has been brought in to run the auction.

It is thought that Mr MacKenzie has yet to make up his mind about whether he wants to be involved in any bids for Wireless or, as a significant shareholder, just take the money from a buyer. He has a 6.4 per cent stake in the company, which could be worth £6m. Wireless shares closed up 3.5p at 85p yesterday.

Announcing full-year results yesterday, Wireless said: "The board confirms it is in ongoing discussions with a number of potential offerors which may or may not lead to an offer for the company." The offerors are believed to include trade buyers. Initial offers were submitted on Tuesday and those bidders have been given until the end of next week to come up with their best price.

Given the healthy level of interest in buying the company as a whole, it is thought unlikely it will be broken up. It had previously been suggested that its biggest asset, the talkSPORT national station, which uses a speech-only format, could be sold separately from the stable of local stations that the company owns.

Wireless said it had made a good start to 2005, with a strong performance from talkSPORT, as it reported pre-tax losses of £9.7m for last year - an improvement on the £11.2m loss made in 2003. At the operating level, the company made a profit of £4.3m, up from £2.8m previously.

The group also revealed that it had spent £1.3m last year on campaign by Mr MacKenzie to try to force the radio industry to change to new, electronic way of measuring its audiences.

Mr MacKenzie said: "It's a lot of money but it did lead to Rajar [the audience measuring body] announcing that it would introduce an electronic system from January 2007."

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