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UTV's stable of radio stations to be purchased by Murdoch's media empire in £220m deal

By Margaret Canning

Published 01/07/2016

News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks
News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks

Belfast's U105 and 20 other ex-UTV radio stations are set to be snapped up by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp in a £220m deal, it has emerged.

The upcoming acquisition means that the whole of what was UTV Media plc is no longer in local control.

UTV, which started life as the ITV franchise holder in Northern Ireland in 1959, was effectively split in two earlier this year.

A separation began when ITV bought the TV division in a £100m deal, which closed in February. The remaining radio assets were renamed Wireless Group plc which now rents offices and studios in UTV's Havelock House headquarters in Belfast, now belonging to ITV.

Don Anderson, the author of 50 Years of UTV, which was published to celebrate the broadcaster's landmark birthday in 2009, said he had mixed feelings about the final disposal.

"Half of me is sad that an iconic company like UTV, which had been on the commercial landscape of the whole island for over half a century, has now disappeared almost without trace.

"The other half is proud that UTV and its constituent parts have been so successful that the big boys of ITV and News Corp thought them a prize worth having.

"In a way, that process is a tribute to what UTV became, which was an entity big enough and successful enough to attract top-flight attention." He described the company as "one of Northern Ireland's commercial crown jewels".

In a statement, The Sun newspaper owner News UK, a subsidiary of News Corp UK and Ireland, said it believed Wireless Group plc's audiences "complement" the audience of its daily tabloid.

It said it had made a cash offer for the Havelock House-based business, valuing it at 315p per share. News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks said: "News UK has a stable of iconic brands and a track record of creating content that builds engaged and loyal audiences.

"The Wireless Group represents an opportunity for us to take advantage of its strong radio presence to build on our growing digital success story and to bring some of the best journalistic and broadcasting talent into one group." A spokesman for Wireless Group said an arrangement by which UTV provided news to U105 would continue until at least next year.

He added that it was "business as usual" for all the stations, with the sale depending on approval from the regulator and shareholders.

"Until any decision is made, the business remains fully owned and managed by Wireless Group plc and it is very much business as usual," he said.

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