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Keymarket Communications, the Georgia-based company that owns four Buffalo radio stations, has been sold to River City Broadcasting of St. Louis in a deal that is expected to be worth $125 million to $150 million.

The sale of Keymarket, which owns WBEN-AM, WWKB-AM, WMJQ-FM and WKSE-FM, is not expected to have any impact on the operation of the local stations, sources said. River City said it will operate Keymarket as a separate division under the direction of the Augusta, Ga., company's current top management.

Keymarket also has a joint marketing agreement with Rich Communications to sell advertising time for the Buffalo company's two AM stations, WGR and WWWS.

The River City-Keymarket deal, which includes 19 radio stations, is part of a growing trend toward consolidation in the radio business. The Federal Communications Commission now permits a single company to own as many as four stations in the same market, and many broadcasting executives say that type of concentration is needed to reduce operating costs and remain competitive.

"It's hard to be a little guy in this business anymore," said one local broadcasting executive who did not want to be identified.

If the deal is approved by the FCC, River City will own nine television stations and 24 radio stations worth about $900 million, the St. Louis-based company said.

The deal will mark the second time in 16 months that WBEN-AM and WMJQ-FM have changed hands. Keymarket agreed to acquire those stations in November 1993 and then added WKSE-FM and WWKB-AM the following month.

Kerby Confer, Keymarket's chief executive officer, said he expects River City to keep expanding its radio division. River City currently owns or leases two FM stations in St. Louis and is in the process of acquiring three stations in Albuquerque, N.M.

"We think the synergies of the two companies will clearly allow the radio division to be in an acquisition mode for the rest of the decade," Confer said. But those acquisitions won't be in the Buffalo market, where the company already owns as many stations as possible under the current FCC ownership rules.

Still, the industry's trend toward consolidation could have other implications for the Buffalo radio market.

Pyramid Communications Inc., the Boston-based company that owns WBUF-FM, along with WHTT-AM and FM in Buffalo, said it has hired an investment banking firm to help it find ways to boost its shareholder value.

Pyramid said the alternatives it is exploring with Goldman, Sachs & Co. include selling all or some of its 12 radio stations, merging with another firm, acquiring other media properties or selling stock to investors through an initial public offering.

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