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Hussman's empire covers cable, broadcast, print.

The Chattanooga Free Press will become Waiter Hussman's second-largest newspaper behind the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a new cog in a corporate media machine that includes five other daily newspapers, three radio stations, a healthy number of cable television operations and a TV station.

Also competing for Hussman's attention to the Free Press is the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's strong interest in expanding its reach in northwest Arkansas, where WEHCO Media Inc. recently spent $6.5 million to build a facility for a printing press it acquired in the 1991 purchase of the Arkansas Gazette.

The Democrat-Gazette has made no secret of its desire to publish a special zoned edition of the paper for northwest Arkansas - though Hussman said in an interview with Arkansas Business this week that he has no specific plans to do so and that the Democrat-Gazette is assessing the situation. WEHCO has been expanding its news and sports writing staff in the region over the last year, and has thrown its weight behind a new project called "Business Matters," a Sunday insert rival to Arkansas Business' sister publication, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.

Hussman's media holdings are all part of a privately held company called Camden News Publishing Co., which, he tells Arkansas Business, turned $145 million in revenue for 1996 and about the same in 1997. Hussman, whose family wealth was estimated at $406 million last year, owns 50.25 percent of the stock in Camden News Publishing, and is president, chairman and chief executive officer of the company.

Underneath the corporate umbrella of Camden News Publishing are two primary companies. One of them is WEHCO Media Inc., which operates all the newspapers, including the Democrat-Gazette (17 6,682 daily circulation, 293,893 Sunday), Camden News (4,663 daily), The Sentinel Record of Hot Springs (18,099 daily, 19,198 Sunday), The El Dorado News Times, (10,903 daily) Texarkana Gazette (37,317 daily) and Banner-News of Magnolia (4,476).

The other division is KCMC Inc., which operates the KCMC-AM radio station based in Texarkana and KTALAM and KTAL - FM, licensed to Shreveport, La., and Texarkana.

KCMC Inc. has three subsidiaries. The first of these is the lucrative WEHCO Video Inc., which operates cable television stations in Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma; the second is Business Music Inc., a Muzak franchise in Shreveport; and the third KTAL-TV in Shreveport-Texarkana.

Aside from the Chattanooga development, Hussman had more good news recently when the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that voided the purchase of the Fayetteville-based Northwest Arkansas Times by a group of investors connected with Stephens Group Inc., which owns the neighboring and competitive paper The Morning News of North west Arkansas.

In 1994, Hussman and Community Publishers Inc. of Bentonville, owner of the Benton County Daily Record, made a $14 million bid for the Times. Then, in January, 1995, a group led by Stephens family interests called N.A.T. LLC bought the Times at a premium price of $22 million.

Community Publishers, fearing the purchase would give the Stephenses a monopoly on the northwest Arkansas newspaper market, filed an antitrust suit. U.S. District Judge Franklin Waters agreed with Community Publishers and rescinded the Stephens purchase.

Later, the Northwest Arkansas Times was purchased by the Chicago-based American Publishing Co.

The newspaper business has grabbed headlines lately, but Hussman's cable network has quietly made great strides that could mean even more to his company's bottom line.

Across the country, Hussman notes, many media companies have sold their cable interests rather than bear the capital expense of upgrading the old coaxial cable system to ones that use uses fiber optics all the way from the "head end," where the signal is pulled off a satellite dish, to the "feeder," the neighborhood hub from which coaxial cable is strung to homes. Scripps-Howard, Hussman says, is one such company.

"TCI, you know, they've sold off some of their systems," Hussman says, referring to the nation's largest cable operator. "They had $14 billion in debt, and they couldn't afford to upgrade all of their systems."

In the meantime, Hussman's 115,000-subscriber cable system, once laughed off by industry observers as the bottom of the technological barrel, has completed fiber-to-the-feeder systems in Camden, the Searcy area and Kilgore, Texas, and is nearing completion on fiber-optic systems in Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, Vicksburg, Miss., and Longview, Texas.

"I'd say we're in the top 10 percent of cable systems in America in terms of upgrading," Hussman says.

Within 12 to 24 months, Hussman says, the entire WEHCO video system will go fiber optic.

"They are more at the front line than Comcast is," says an Arkansas cable industry insider who is familiar with the technical details of Hussman's upgrade.

WEHCO Video also serves Judsonia, Kensett, Augusta, Hope, Prescott, Dardanelle, Morrilton, Wynne, Marianna and Brinkley, along with many other smaller communities in Arkansas. and Tahlequah, Okla.

Another plus for WEHCO Video, Hussman says, is its high market penetration, a function of the company's focus on rural markets, where broadcast television signals are weak.

Broadcast Not So Good

Hussman's radio operations, in contrast, have been rather prosaic, KCMC Inc. had owned two Camden radio stations until recently, Hussman says, when KWEH-FM was sold and the AM station was shut down. That leaves the company with only KTAL-FM and AM in Shreveport-Texarkana and KCMC-AM in Texarkana. KTAL-FM offers classic rock, the same format used by Little Rock's KMJX-FM, 105.1. But the station ranked only 10th among Shreveport radio stations in 1997 ratings in the age group 12 and over, and 11th in Texarkana.

'It was one of the last full-power, full-height FM stations in the country to go stereo," a Little Rock media analyst notes.

KCMC, which has a sports-only format, was ranked 12th in Texarkana in the same age group. Similarly, KTAL-TV in Shreveport-Texarkana is a perennial non-contender, though it is an NBC affiliate.

"They make pre-Gannett [KTHV] Channel 11 look like a well-run station," the media analyst says.
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Title Annotation:Walter Hussman Jr
Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Apr 6, 1998
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