A.H. Belo Corporation
A.H. Belo Corporation
Sales: $1.4 billion (1998)
Stock Exchanges: New York Chicago
Ticker Symbol: BLC
NAIC: 51111 Newspaper Publishers; 51312 Television Broadcasting
Originating as a small-town publisher of the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Almanac, A.H. Belo Corporation has become a diversified media company of national significance. The oldest continuously operating business in the state of Texas, Belo—as it now prefers to be known—owned and operated eight daily newspapers and 17 network-affiliated television stations as of July 1999. Its top three newspapers are the Dallas Morning News, the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, and the Press-Enterprise serving Riverside, California. Its television stations are strongest in the Southwest and Northwest. The company also owns two regional cable news networks serving Texas and the Pacific Northwest.
Early History to 1920s
A.H. Belo Corporation traces its roots to the Galveston Daily News, which was published by Samuel Bangs with a circulation under 200 in 1842, when Texas was still a republic. In 1857, Willard Richardson, who had replaced Bangs as publisher of the fledgling Daily News, created the Texas Almanac. Ten thousand copies of the first edition were sold. The Almanac became a valuable reference book for Texas farmers, ranchers, and businessmen, as well as a voice for the promotion of immigration. Richardson’s editorials advocated the importance of the railroads to the growth of the state of Texas—and to the future of newspaper distribution. By 1865, Richardson had turned the Galveston Daily News into the most powerful newspaper in Texas.
Former Confederate Colonel Alfred Horatio Belo joined the Daily News, succeeding Richardson as publisher and becoming majority owner of the company, in 1865. In 1881, Belo incorporated the Galveston Daily News. Belo expanded the company by starting a new newspaper in 1885 under the recommendation of George Bannerman Dealey, who Belo had hired as an office boy in 1874. The Dallas Morning News published its first edition in what was then the prairie town of Dallas, population 18,000. Using the telegraph to communicate across 315 miles, the Galveston Daily News and the Dallas Morning News issued the first wire-connected publication with joint issues. The Dallas Morning News issues were delivered that year on special trains to Fort Worth, Dennison, and Waco to reach a year-end circulation of 5,678 daily and 6,435 Sunday papers. In its early years, the Dallas Morning News experienced steady growth in circulation.
Radio and Newspaper Operations in Dallas: 1920s–40s
Dealey’s prominence grew with the paper’s, and in 1920 he became president. Dealey became a well-known civic leader and visionary, bringing George Kessler to Dallas to devise a city plan, and urging the Morning News to take advantage of the sure potential of the new medium that was sweeping the nation: radio. In 1922, WFAA went on the air as the Dallas Morning News’s radio service and the first network radio station in Texas. The early broadcasts took place in the library of the Morning News office, with a canvas tent used for soundproofing. By 1930, WFAA would become the first superpower radio station in the South and Southwest, broadcasting at 50,000 watts. Nevertheless, the company maintained a decided emphasis on newspaper publishing and did not become seriously involved in broadcast media until the 1980s.
In 1923 the company sold its interest in the Galveston Daily News, focusing its newspaper operations entirely on the Dallas Morning News. Dealey acquired a majority interest in the company from Col. Belo’s heirs in 1926. With partner John F. Lubben, Dealey incorporated the company, naming it A.H. Belo Corporation in honor of his late employer and mentor. Still linked to the farm-based economy, the Dallas Morning News sponsored a “More Cotton on Fewer Acres” competition, with participation by over 7,000 farmers. Winners received cash prizes and publication of their farming techniques in a bulletin distributed in the Cotton Belt and overseas in Egypt, India, Brazil, and Mexico.
Moving into Television: 1950s–60s
In 1950 Belo acquired KBTV (later renamed WFAA-TV), and became one of the first television broadcasting companies. Belo moved slowly into the television industry, however, with its primary focus remaining the Dallas Morning News. Belo would not buy a second television station until 1968, or a third until 1979. Nevertheless, Belo continued to expand in the 1960s, acquiring News-Texan, Inc., a publisher of seven community newspapers that would later form the Dallas-Fort Worth Suburban Newspapers, Inc.
Newspaper Honors: 1970s
By 1970 the Dallas Morning News had a circulation of 239,367 papers daily and 280,696 papers on Sunday—more than twice the circulation of 1940, and over 13 times the population of Dallas when Dealey had returned from his scouting mission in 1885. Seeking to further improve its product, the Morning News commissioned a study of the interests of Dallas readers in 1978. As a result of the study, the paper increased its coverage of high interest areas, especially through the development of innovative fashion and entertainment sections. The Morning News garnered three Pulitzer Prizes during the 1970s, and its sports coverage was recognized by the Associated Press sports editors in its national “Ten Best Sports Sections” list.
Television More Significant: 1980s
A.H. Belo Corporation became a public company in 1981, with its initial offering of 3.9 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange priced at $11.50 per share. In 1983 Belo shed its publishing-only orientation by making the largest broadcast purchase in national history. For $606 million, Belo acquired KHOU-TV (Houston), KXTV (Sacramento), and WVEC (Norfolk, Virginia), all of which were licensed to Corinthian Broadcast Corporation from the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. To comply with Federal Communications Commission rules regarding the purchase, Belo sold Texas station KDFM-TV and Tennessee station WTVC, recouping approximately $105 million. An asset redeployment plan led to the sale of the company’s cable system and its four radio stations, and Belo raised additional capital by selling 4.4 million shares of stock.
It appeared that the acquisition might bring trouble to Belo when the biggest of the four television stations, KHOU-TV in Houston, was hurt by a lagging Texas economy. However, Belo’s revenues reached $354 million in 1984, with KHOU-TV and the flagship station WFAA contributing two-thirds of the company’s total revenues. Though the company’s stock had risen 29 percent (to $42.50 per share) between 1981 and 1983, when it made its intention to acquire the Corinthian outlets public, Belo’s stock reached a record high of $55 per share in 1985. The next year, after 40 years with Belo, Chairman and CEO James Moroney retired, and Robert Decherd took the mantle. Dechard was G.B. Dealey’s great grandson.
Economic Difficulties: Mid-1980s
Overproduction of oil and overbuilding of real estate struck a blow to the Texas economy in the mid-1980s. Ward Huey, president of Belo’s broadcast division, recognized the danger posed to the earnings of Belo’s newly acquired television stations by Texas’s lagging economy. Huey instituted cost-cutting measures including layoffs, salary freezes, and the postponement of plans for new transmitter towers and upgraded production equipment. Due to the weak economy in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, net earnings continued to decrease in 1986, although both television and newspaper revenues showed increased profits.
Even with financial difficulties, the Dallas Morning News took the lead over its local competitor, the Dallas Times-Herald, in the 1980s. In 1986, the Morning News achieved a new circulation record and won a Pulitzer Prize for a story on housing discrimination that resulted in Senate hearings and national corrective actions. The Dallas Morning News circulation grew to 404,812 daily and 618,283 Sunday by 1991.
Belo moved forward in a bold new direction when it formed a partnership in 1989 with Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate to create programming based on Universal’s roster of comics and columnists. The first Universal Belo project was an animated strip based on the “Tank MacNamara” comic, designed for prime-time specials and network sports events. Animation for the strip was created at the California Film Roman studios. The Dallas Times-Herald lost all of its Universal columns and cartoons as a result of the new partnership and brought an antitrust lawsuit against the Morning News. The lawsuit and its appeal were unsuccessful, but Belo paid a $1.5 million settlement to its competitor.
In the broadcast industry, there is a great deal of talk about the threat to our business from cable. Yet, consider that the audience reached by one evening newscast in Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and Seattle/Tacoma exceeds the average audience delivered by CNN nationally Monday through Friday from 5:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. Similarly, the Dallas Morning News, the Providence Journal, and the Press-Enterprise deliver almost three million Sunday readers and more than two million daily readers. Only network-affiliated television stations and large newspapers can deliver this mass audience, which advertisers rely upon to sell their products and services.
The Texas economy began to rebound as the 1980s came to a close, and Belo’s television ratings soared. In 1989, Belo syndicated “Mr. Peppermint,” a Dallas children’s program it had aired for 25 years. WFAA’s Texas Country Reporter was sold in 22 Southwestern markets, and WFAA, after several flat years, saw a 16 percent increase in earnings between 1987 and 1989, when earnings reached $73.3 million. During that same period, KHOU-TV increased its revenues by nine percent to $46 million. By 1990, the formerly troubled KHOU-TV had risen in the ratings from a distant third to number two, giving Belo a number one or two rating for all of its television stations.
Economic Recession: Early 1990s
Just as the Texas economy improved, a national recession began that dramatically impacted newspaper advertising. Newspapers experienced their worst year in a decade in 1990. While the Dallas Times-Herald slashed its advertising rates, Belo CEO Decherd held a firm line with rate cards. The Dallas Morning News achieved only slight gains in overall advertising, but boosted its circulation by four percent daily and six percent Sunday, posting higher increase rates than those experienced by the Dallas Times-Herald. By this time, the Morning News’s circulation rates doubled those of the Times-Herald.
The war between Dallas’s two major newspapers ended in 1991. On December 9th, after 112 years in operation, the Dallas Times-Herald published its last issue. Belo acquired the Herald’s assets in a $55 million deal, becoming the only major newspaper publisher in Dallas. Twelve other major newspapers also succumbed to the recession, closing their doors in 1991.
The acquisition of the Times-Herald caused Belo to change its financial plan in 1992. With circulation boosted in one year to a half million papers daily (a 26 percent increase) and 800,000 Sunday (a 31 percent increase), the Morning News was pushing its production capacity. The newspaper recession showed signs of ending, and circulation figures placed the Morning News among the nation’s most highly read papers for the first time, making national advertising a strong possibility. While other newspapers experienced slow recovery, the Morning News used 30 percent more newsprint in 1992 than it had the previous year, publishing a Sunday paper on December 6th that was so large it delayed deliveries by an hour. Decherd adamantly refused to raise the newsstand price from 25 cents, espousing the philosophy that rampant price increases at other newspapers were too aggressive, cutting into reader retention. To manage its growth, Belo invested $41 million in the expansion of its newspaper production plant in Piano, Texas.
The production facility expansion was completed in 1993, and the suburban newspaper operation in Dallas-Fort Worth was restructured into two separate entities, one printing eight community newspapers and the other functioning as a commercial printer. The Dallas Morning News won its fifth Pulitzer Prize in eight years, for sport news photography of the 1992 Summer Olympics. Circulation of the Morning News held strong at 527,387 daily and 814,404 on Sunday.
Television as well as newspapers were profitable for the company in 1993. Four of Belo’s five television stations were rated number one in overall audience delivery, and Belo announced plans to purchase WWL-TV, an affiliate of CBS in New Orleans. Programming activities were placed under the authority of the newly created Belo Productions, Inc. (BPI), an entity that oversaw potential pay-as-you-go cable and television programs in conjunction with Universal Belo Productions. In 1993, Belo’s stock reached $53 per share and sales were $545 million. Net earnings were $51.1 million, 37.3 percent more than in 1992.
Aggressive Acquisitions: 1994–99
Through an aggressive program of acquisitions of television stations, newspapers, and other media properties, Belo’s annual revenues increased from $628 million in 1994 to $ 1.4 billion in 1998. Net earnings rose from $68.9 million in 1994 to $83.0 million in 1997, then dropped to $65 million in 1998 due to higher depreciation and amortization charges as well as severance payments associated with a voluntary early retirement program at the Dallas Morning News. Corporate profits in 1998 were also affected by a slowdown in advertising demand in both newspapers and television. During the same five-year period the company’s cash dividends increased from $.15 to $.24 a share.
At first Belo acquired television stations, one in 1994 and another in 1995. In June 1994 it acquired the employee-owned New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL-TV for $110 million. The station was previously owned by Loyola University of New Orleans. In February 1995 Belo acquired television station KIRO in Seattle, Washington, for $162.5 million from Bonneville International.
In December 1995 and January 1996 Belo acquired two small newspapers, the 20,000-circulation daily the Eagle of Bryan-College Station, Texas, and the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro, Kentucky, with a daily circulation of 34,000. They were the first in a series of newspaper acquisitions over the next couple of years. Belo acquired its second daily newspaper in Kentucky, the Gleaner of Henderson, Kentucky, along with seven weeklies from the Gleaner and Journal Publishing Company, for an undisclosed amount in March 1997.
In April 1996 Belo launched the Arlington Morning News, a subsidiary of the Dallas Morning News, to compete with the Arlington edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Arlington was one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the state and had desirable income and education demographics for advertisers.
Belo’s $1.5 billion acquisition of The Providence Journal Company was completed in February 1997. The deal included nine television stations along with Rhode Island’s largest daily newspaper, the Providence Journal. In approving the transaction, the FCC noted that while the proposed acquisition was inconsistent with current policy, it would “promote commerce, encourage investment in the broadcast industry, and allow for the free transferability of broadcast licenses.” The FCC granted a temporary waiver of its duopoly rules in Seattle, which prohibited ownership of two television stations in one market, and noted that Belo had already agreed to sell one of its two overlapping television stations there. Four Journal Company directors were named to Belo’s board of directors following the acquisition. The cash-and-stock deal was financed through a credit and loan arrangement administered by Chase Manhattan Corporation.
However, Belo’s plans to swap its Seattle television station KIRO with Fox Television Stations did not materialize. Instead, Belo exchanged KIRO for CBS-affiliate television station KMOV in St. Louis, Missouri, with Paramount Stations Group in June 1997. Following the transaction Belo owned 15 television stations reaching 12.3 percent of U.S. television households, making it the tenth-largest television operator in terms of viewership and eighth in terms of revenues.
Belo acquired its third major daily newspaper in July 1997, when it assumed majority control of the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, located in one of the nation’s fastest growing counties, for an undisclosed amount. Belo had acquired a 38.5 percent interest in the company in 1996 from Dow Jones & Co. and other minority shareholders. The Press-Enterprise, which had been family-owned for 67 years, became Belo’s third largest newspaper holding.
In October 1997 Belo acquired KENS television and radio stations in San Antonio from The E.W. Scripps Co. in exchange for $75 million in cash and a 56 percent interest in The Food Network, which had begun broadcasting in 1993. The acquisition made Belo the largest non-network station group affiliated with CBS.
With Belo’s string of acquisitions in 1997, net operating revenues jumped to $1.25 billion, almost a 50 percent increase over 1996. However, while the Dallas Morning News experienced record advertising growth in 1997, the company nonetheless had higher operating costs and reported net income of $83 million, down from $87.5 million in 1996. The following year was also financially disappointing for the company. Its stock price was down significantly, and net income dropped to $64.9 million on record revenues of $1.4 billion. Belo vowed to take a cautious approach to operations in 1999 in order to improve its financial performance.
Belo’s new cable news channel, Texas Cable News (TXCN), began airing on January 1,1999. The station broadcast from a warehouse located near Belo’s headquarters in downtown Dallas. The service debuted in 600,000 TCI and Marcus cable households in Dallas-Fort Worth. Officials said TXCN would be available in several other Texas cities within a year.
Following improved earnings for the first two quarters of 1999, Belo undertook several acquisitions mid-year. In June 1999 it acquired KVUE-TV, an ABC affiliate and the top-rated station in Austin, Texas, from Gannett Co., Inc. in exchange for KXTV, an ABC affiliate serving the cities of Sacramento, Stockton, and Modesto, California, and for cash of up to $55 million. Belo realized a one-time gain of $50 million on the exchange and now owned four Texas television stations in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, reaching 67 percent of the state’s television households.
In July 1999 Belo agreed to acquire KTVK, an independent television station in Phoenix, Arizona, from MAC America Communications, Inc. for $315 million in cash. The station had been family-owned since its inception. The agreement also included the rights to operate KASW-TV, the Phoenix WB affiliate, under a local marketing agreement, and a 50 percent interest in the Arizona News Channel, a cable news joint venture with Cox Cable.
Also in July Belo sold KASA-TV, a Fox affiliate located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and KHNL-TV, an NBC affiliate in Honolulu, Hawaii, along with the rights to operate KFVE-TV, a UPN affiliate also in Honolulu, to Raycom Media, Inc. for $88 million. Raycom was headed by former Belo executive John Hayes. Following the completion of those transactions, Belo’s Television Group would reach 14 percent of all U.S. television households.
In the newspaper field, Belo completed the acquisition of the Denton (Texas) Publishing Company, publisher of the Denton Record-Chronicle and two free-distribution newspapers, for an undisclosed amount in July 1999. Prior to the acquisition the newspaper had enjoyed 54 years of family ownership. The acquisition strengthened Belo’s media holdings in North Texas, where it was competing with the Star-Telegram for readers and advertisers.
Belo also announced in July 1999 that it would pay $24 million in cash for a 12.4 interest in the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and a six percent interest in a new sports arena. The minority interest was not expected to affect Belo’s finances. Rather, it was a commitment to participate in the local community and to be a long-term strategic partner for the team.
Belo continued to be concerned about weak demand in national television advertising, which comprised about half of most television stations’ ad revenue. National ad sales were soft due to competition from cable television and a glut of available network advertising time.
Under Robert Decherd’s leadership, which was likely to continue for a couple of decades, Belo appeared set to continue its aggressive program of acquisitions. In television it was seeking to increase its coverage of the national market to 20 percent or more. In both television broadcasting and newspaper publishing, Belo was known for strengthening and sharpening local news coverage, while successfully attracting more advertising revenue. Dechard also planned to use state-of-the-art technology to equip Belo’s television stations to transmit high-definition television, something the Federal Communications Commission had mandated for all television stations by the year 2006. The great grandson of G.B. Dealey, who published the Dallas Morning News on behalf of A.H. Belo and bought the company in 1926, Decherd would thus guide Belo into the new millennium.
Newspapers: Dallas Morning News; Providence Journal; Press-Enterprise; Messenger-Inquirer; Eagle; Gleaner; Denton Record-Chronicle; Lewisville News; Grapevine Sun; Hemet News; Moreno Valley Times. Television Stations: WFAA; KHOU; KING; KMOV; KGW; WCNC; KENS; WVEC; WWL; WHAS; KOTV; KREM; KMSB; KTVB; KTVK; KVUE; KMSB. Other: Northwest Cable News; Texas Cable News Network (TXCN).
Broadcast Division; Newspaper Publishing Division.
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—updated by David P. Bianco