Maine’s oldest TV station, WABI, sold to an Atlanta broadcaster

Posted Feb. 16, 2017, at 11:14 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 16, 2017, at 2:51 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The station that first brought television into Maine homes is in the process of being sold to television giant Gray Television Inc., the Atlanta-based company announced Thursday.

“This was a very difficult decision by our board of directors, but we feel it is the right one,” Daniel Hildreth, board chairman for Portland-based Diversified Communications which owns the station, said in a news release.

WABI-TV, Bangor, officially began broadcasting on Jan. 25, 1953, the station’s website states.

“Gray Television, Inc. announced today that it has reached an agreement with Diversified Communications to acquire Diversified’s two television stations for a total purchase price of $85 million,” the company said in a news release. “This acquisition will add two more highly-ranked and top performing stations to Gray’s growing portfolio: WABI (CBS/CW) in the Bangor, Maine, market (DMA 156) and WCJB (ABC/CW) in the Gainesville, Florida, market (DMA 161).”

Gray Television already owns WAGM-TV (FOX, CBS) in Presque Isle.

“Just like Diversified Communications, Gray Television is very focused on providing its viewers with ultra local news,” Mike Young, WABI’s general manager said Thursday afternoon. “From a viewer’s perspective and an advertiser’s perspective, nothing is going to change. It’s going to continue to be as good as it gets.”

Hilton H. Howell, Jr., Gray’s chairman and CEO, said in a press release that “both stations are highly valued institutions in their respective communities with dedicated employees who share our vision and culture. We look forward to building upon these strong foundations and enviable records of success.”

The Bangor station was launched by former Maine Gov. Horace A. Hildreth, according to the WABI-TV Channel 5 website.

“Hildreth had earlier acquired the license to Maine’s oldest radio station, WABI-AM, and the call letters conveyed to the new television station,” the website states.

Until the sale goes through, WABI-TV is the state’s only locally-owned television station and is the last remaining television station in the nation that is still controlled by the family that started broadcasting, Young said of the Hildreths who opened the station 64 years ago.

“WABI is the sole survivor,” the station’s general manager said. “It’s the oldest station in the country under the control of the same family” that started the business.

“We believe that under the ownership of Gray, WABI and WCJB will have greater opportunities for long-term financial success, which will ultimately benefit both our employees and viewers,” Daniel Hildreth said.

Gray Television owns and operates “100 television stations across 54 television markets that collectively broadcast over 200 program streams including 101 channels affiliated with the CBS Network, the NBC Network, the ABC Network and the FOX Network,” the press release states. “Our portfolio includes the number-one and/or number-two ranked television station operations in essentially all of our markets, which collectively cover approximately 10.1 percent of total United States television households.”

Diversified Communications has two locations in the U.S. in Boston and Portland, and others scattered around the globe.

Sale of WABI and WCJB is expected to be finalized in eight to 12 weeks, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

WABI has 55 employees who work out of the Bangor station and a bureau in Waterville. Because Gray Television already owns WAGM, Young expects to see more collaboration between the two stations, and resource sharing under the new parent company.

“We have an incredible past and a very bright future,” Young said.

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