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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Bonneville International Corp. is set to buy 15 radio stations in Utah and Idaho after a federal agency on Monday relaxed rules on media ownership.
Bonneville, the broadcasting arm of the LDS church, has been waiting seven months for Federal Communications Commission approval to buy the stations from Simmons Media Group. Four of the stations are in the Salt Lake valley, the rest in southern Utah and Idaho.
"We wouldn't have done the deal if we didn't think these rules were going to be loosened," Bonneville President and Chief Executive Bruce Reese said. "We knew they were long overdue for change."
Bonneville already owns top-rated KSL television and radio. It's owned by a holding company controlled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is part of a group of businesses that includes the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City.
Acquiring the Simmons' stations will make Bonneville the state's pre-eminent radio broadcaster. Reese estimated that Bonneville would control about 20 percent of the Wasatch Front radio market. The rest of the market is split between Citadel Communications, Clear Channel Communications and Simmons.
Bill White, a community activist and University of Utah research scientist, warns the changes will lead to less diversity in ideas and opinions in the media.
"We already have the concentration, the effect of which during the Iraq war was jingoistic reporting that was solidly one-sided," he said. "I can't imagine a further concentration of media is going to help that situation."
Another rule change made Monday could have an effect on Salt Lake City's media mix. Because the market has nine television stations, it no longer will face FCC limits on cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations.
The Salt Lake Tribune could acquire a broadcast partner if a station comes up for sale.
"It's certainly something we will explore," said Tribune Publisher William Dean Singleton, chief executive and vice chairman of MediaNews Group, which bought Utah's largest newspaper in January 2001. "I'm not aware of any stations for sale right now, but we'll be nosing around."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)