At a Toronto news conference held Thursday (April 12) to announce Astral Media's formal agreement to buy most of the assets of Standard Radio, Astral CEO Ian Greenberg hailed the purchase as "the birth of a new national leader in Canadian radio."

"The strategic fit for us is perfect," said Greenberg. "This expands our core media platforms and also introduces complementary brands and markets."

Astral also announced that it is buying from CHUM Ltd. the 50% it doesn't already own of specialty Montreal-based television broadcaster MusiquePlus, for C$34 million ($29 million).

Under the agreement with Toronto-based Standard, Montreal-based Astral will own 81 radio stations, making Astral the biggest radio player in Canada with 3,000 employees.

The new stations will complement Astral's current network of 29 radio stations, all of which are in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, giving it an overall market share of approximately 30%.

The deal will see Astral pay C$1.08 billion ($950 million) to the Slaight family -- which owns Standard -- for 52 radio stations in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. The payment will consist of C$880 million ($774 million) in cash and 4.75 million class A non-voting Astral shares.

Astral will not acquire Standard's minority interest shares in Sirius Satellite Radio Canada, the online music service Puretracks or the label Maple Recordings, all based in Toronto.

As a result of his family holding about 9% of Astral's non-voting shares, Standard CEO Gary Slaight will join the Astral board.

Astral still needs regulatory approval from Canadian government agencies, the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) before the sale can be finalized. Greenberg indicated that Astral expects easy government approval of the deal because there is little overlap in the radio markets involved. The deal is expected to close at the start of 2008.

Larry LeBlanc, Toronto

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