A high-stakes struggle over the airwaves between a Mexican radio owner and his San Diego-based operator spilled over onto the airwaves today resulting in DJs being yanked off the air and commercials for San Diego businesses not getting aired.
The Max 105.7 disappeared from the San Diego airwaves.
It may not have the drama of the Private Parts movie scene where Howard Stern is yanked off the air. Or the late ‘60s hostile takeover of English pirate radio stations by the British government. But the abrupt squashing of the Max 105.7 FM by its Mexican owner could lead to some big changes in how American broadcasters use Mexican-based radio transmitters owned by Mexican nationals.
Listeners to 80s-based oldies the Max discovered today that San Diego DJs known on-air as “Cha Cha,” “J.J.” and Frank Anthony were no longer announcing the hits by Billy Idol, U2 or Michael Jackson. There were no commercials. No station IDs. No mention at all that you were listening to the station formerly known as the Max.
The station is operated by Broadcast Company of Americas. Its studios in Mira Mesa feed the programming to three different Mexican stations with transmitters in greater Tijuana, including 105.7 XHPRS-FM and two all-sports stations, Mighty 1090 XEPRS-AM and XEPE 1700 AM.
One insider with knowledge of the affairs of the stations say the group has been delinquent in paying its annual transmitter fee to two different Mexican owners.
The owner of XEPRS/1090-AM is Andreas Bichara. The connected insider says Bichara is not happy with his relationship with the operator and has shown interest in finding a new operator that would pay the asking price of $100,000 a month in rent/transmitter fees for Mighty 1090 or who would buy the 50,000-watt sports station station outright for $11-million.
Broadcast Company of America’s other two stations, 105.7-FM and 1700-AM, are owned by Tijuana-born businessman and politician Jaime Bonilla Valdez, who was known to have homes in Chula Vista as well as Baja. Bonilla, a close ally of President Manuel Lopez Obrador, was elected in January as senator representing Baja California. He was on the board of the Otay Mesa Water District until 2012. Bonilla sold San Diego based KURS 1040-AM in 2016.
Attempts to reach Bonilla were not successful. But radio insiders say he was simply no longer interested in continuing to allow Broadcast Company to use his FM station without paying rent. The tipping point came late Wednesday, December 12 when Bonilla pulled the plug just hours before the operator's Christmas party at Solare in Liberty Station. It is not known how much the rent for 105.7 to Bonilla is, but the insider says he was told it was more that Mighty 1090’s $100,000 per month and that 105.7’s may be as much as $135,000 monthly.
Going forward it is not clear that Mexican owners can continue to expect the rental fees they have enjoyed over the years due to decreased overall ad spending on American terrestrial radio.
Ownership of Broadcast Company of Americas has in the past has included former Padres owner John Moores and the Viejas tribe. Currently it is run by general manager Mike Glickenhaus who has been involved in local radio management since the 80s. Glickenhaus did not return a request for comment for this article.
It is assumed that Bonilla would put the Max feed back on his transmitter if the operator gets current. Bonilla opted to replace the Max feed with his own collection of similar sounding 80s oldies usually heard on the Max. The first full day of broadcasting without the Max apparently involved someone in Bonilla’s Tijuana studios playing hit after hit. Listeners were surprised to hear some unusual songs by Erasure and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark that were not big radio hits.
The situation is different for another San Diego broadcast group called Local Media San Diego which just sent out a press release saying that its three key management members were in fact buying Local Media and its three Mexican stations 91-X (XETRA-FM), Magic 92.5 (XHRM-FM) and Z90 (XHTZ-FM) from the Thoma Bravo venture capital firm. General Manager Gregg Wolfson would not divulge the amount of the sale price or any other specifics.
But one well-placed insider says unlike Bonilla’s 105.7, the three Local Media stations are officially owned by a Mexican national who allows the American entity, Local Media, to retain actual ownership. The insider says that the three-station group was put on the market last year for $18 million but that this month was sold to the management group for $12 million.
Wolfson says at this time Local Media San Diego would have no interest in taking over 105.7 FM.
Before it was an 80s-skewing hits station, the Max was known as the Walrus, playing 60s and 70s oldies. Nielsen ratings for the Max showed it was in 20th place among all listeners, not as good as oldies-based Sunny (KXSN 98.1 FM) which was in third place but better than 100.7 KFMB-FM.