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10/7/11 - For some Radio Show goers, it’s time to play “let’s make a deal.”

For some Radio Show goers, it’s time to play “let’s make a deal.” The NAB-RAB Radio Show is many things to many people. For brokers it’s a chance to put buyer and seller together and make transactional magic, with deals big and small conceived at the conference through the decades. The station sales market has sat somewhere between lukewarm and frozen since 2007, but brokers are cautiously optimistic as they head to Chicago. “There’s no uptick in pricing, but there is an uptick in deal flow,” Patrick Communications managing partner Greg Guy says. “Deals are moving fast compared to the glacial speed we’ve seen over the past few years.” While the marketplace may be improving, Guy says it’s relative compared to the past few years when very little deal making occurred. “It’s still a very fragile market,” he says. Other brokers are seeing similar trends. “Our expectations for a busy show a month ago were pretty low, but we’re actually going into the show with a lot of meetings set up,” Media Services Group managing director George Reed says. “When people want to talk to sit down and talk, it’s a good leading indicator that the deal market may be picking up.” Guy says his brokerage has seen several large radio groups begin to entertain the idea of adding to their clusters with strategic deals. “Before it was a very short call, now we’re seeing steps forward,” he says. In the first eight months of 2011 there were 876 stations sold, an increase of 54% compared to last year, according to BIA/Kelsey. But unlike the past few year years it’s been a series of big-ticket transactions. The list includes Cumulus Media’s $2.4 billion purchase of Citadel, Hubbard Radio’s $505 million pickup of 17 Bonneville stations and Emmis’ spinoff of three stations to Merlin Media for $120 million. Brokers say the large deals have helped to convince sellers to stop holding out for higher prices and consider offers once thought unacceptable. While high-priced deals can help shed a positive light on radio, broker Michael Bergner isn’t seeing a groundswell of buyers. That’s because the banks are still reluctant to lend to buyers looking to get their hands on a few million dollars, and the European banking crisis isn’t helping. “We’re being held hostage by the economy,” Bergner says. In fact, for the first time in several years, no media banker is speaking on any Radio Show panels.