CBS Link Likely To Stay With Kstw -- Buyer Experienced In Broadcast News

The pending $160 million sale of KSTW (Channel 11) to Atlanta-based Cox Broadcasting not only appears to solidify the station's CBS affiliation, but gives it a boss with a better track record of broadcast news.

Representatives of Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment, whose main holdings revolve around the Grand Ole Opry Theater and country music, told KSTW staffers yesterday they could expect Cox and CBS to retain a strong relationship.

"First and foremost, KSTW will be remaining a CBS affiliate," said KSTW Marketing Director Dean Greve. "CBS was aware and approves of the sale to Cox. It is a great broadcast company."

There had been local and industry rumors that the station could lose the affiliation it gained in 1995, depending on who bought it and KIRO-TV (UPN), which also is on the market. Westinghouse-CBS and Fox Broadcasting have been the most-mentioned potential buyers for KIRO.

KSTW initially struggled under the CBS affiliation, but its ratings have improved the past eight months.

The sale will not be final until it receives approval from the Federal Communications Commission. The review could take 90 days, but Cox doesn't own any other local media outlets so there are no obvious problems to the sale, company officials say.

Andrew Fisher, executive vice president/television of Cox, said the acquisition of KSTW makes Cox the nation's 11th-largest television broadcast company. It has one CBS affiliate in Dayton,

Ohio, and also has ABC, NBC and Fox affiliates. Cox also has KTVU, a well-regarded independent station in the Bay Area.

Fisher acknowledged that KSTW lags behind others, but said he is confident the combination of the CBS affiliation, his company's know-how and resources, and the vibrant Seattle market can change that.

"We believe we have the capacity to be a significant part of the delivery of broadcast news in the Seattle market, the 12th-largest in the country," Fisher said. "We're a media company, and we look for good media opportunities. We are not a trader, we're an operator."

Cox, a privately owned company, owns or operates 11 TV stations in nine markets, such as Atlanta, Orlando and Charlotte. It also owns a movie and television company.

Fisher said five of the TV stations are rated first or tied for first in their markets.

The company is owned by Cox Enterprises, a media company that also has a newspaper subsidiary that includes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Cox Enterprises also owns an auction company.

A KSTW news staffer said the announcement is great news for the station.

"There is a definite sense of relief," the staffer said. "It looks like we'll keep our CBS affiliation and we'll finally get the resources and leadership to improve. I think we'll become a real player within a year."

Staffers complained that Gaylord didn't provide the money or expertise the news product needed. Gaylord bought KSTW for $4.5 million in 1974.

Gaylord spokesman Alan Hall said the company, which owns one other station, KTVT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Dallas, put KSTW up for sale in October because it was underperforming.

"We decided we either needed to get bigger or get out," Hall said. "We probably will keep the Dallas station. It is doing very well, and Dallas is a huge country-music market."

Gaylord also owns The Nashville Network (TNN) and Country Music Television (CMT) on cable.

Meanwhile, KIRO-TV, which lost its CBS affiliation to KSTW two years ago, remains for sale.

Publicly held A.H. Belo of Dallas, which owns The Dallas Morning News and seven TV stations, plans to divest KIRO-TV, probably in a swap for property elsewhere, because it is buying The Providence Journal, the owner of KING-TV (NBC) and eight other stations.

Government regulations prohibit ownership of more than one TV station per city. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Sketch of the sale A look at the companies involved in yesterday's sale agreement of KSTW.

KSTW-TV Channel 11

Network: CBS . Overall ratings rank: 5th . Local news: 2 1/2 hours weekdays. Buyer: Cox Broadcasting . Headquarters: Atlanta . Profile: Privately held media company . Properties; Owns or operates 11 TV stations. Also includes three TV sales representative firms, a move and TV production company. It is a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises, which owns newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other media outlets.

Present owner: Gaylord Entertainment . Headquarters; Nashville. Profile: Publicly held media and entertainment company Properties: Cable-TV channels The Nashville Network (TNN), Country Music Television (CMT) and CMT Europe; the Grand Ole Opry theater; Opryland USA theme park; Opryland Hotel; a second CBS-affiliated television station, KTVT-TV in Dallas. ----------------------------------------------------------------- SEATTLE TIMES.