Ad man John Singleton has blasted the Australian Communications and Media Authority for forcing the Macquarie Radio Network to sell its 2CH radio station.

As part of the 2015 ACMA approval process that would allow Fairfax Media to merge its radio stations with Macquarie Radio (which was controlled by John Singleton, with host Alan Jones also a major holder), Macquarie undertook to sell its surplus station — 2CH, an easy listening music format appealing to older listeners. As the SMH explained:

“The merger meant the new entity, Macquarie Media Ltd, was immediately in breach of  government regulations, which stipulate a single operator cannot own more than two commercial licences in any metropolitan market.”

ACMA gave Macquarie Radio a year to sell 2CH and then agreed to an extension to September 30 because buyers were pretty rare. ACMA knocked back two supposed offers for 2CH (we don’t know why, but perhaps they were not independent enough).

Macquarie’s procrastination eventually wore down ACMA’s patience, and on Friday around 4pm (as trading for the week ended on the ASX), Macquarie released a two-paragraph statement from executive chair Russell Tate. It said that because 2CH had not been sold within the set time frame, Vaughan Strawbridge from Deloitte would take over the sale process at the behest of ACMA.

Tate said, “ACMA objected to the terms of two previous proposed purchaser notices submitted by Macquarie Radio Network prior to the required date of divestiture, 30 September 2016.”

And Fairfax reported that “[Singleton had said] media ownership laws were arcane and ministers from the government and members of the opposition had indicated there would be changes to media laws but their promises had come to nothing.”

In other words, the sale process was spun out for as long as possible to allow the federal government to alter the audience reach rules for commercial TV, and the ownership restrictions that would have allowed Macquarie to keep 2CH (and News Corp to buy Ten). The government was unable to advance the media law changes, thanks to the less-than-convincing attempts by the relevant minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, and the way PM Tony Abbott — and then PM Malcolm Turnbull — relegated the media law changes to a second-tier importance.

That ended Macquarie’s attempts to game the system and forced ACMA’s hand. It is clear any prospective buyers will now go “bottom fishing” and offer to buy 2CH for a pittance, given Macquarie is a forced seller. The most expensive part of any deal will be taking over the $750,000 a year contract for 2CH’s star, Bob Rogers, a perennial fixture in Sydney radio and now 89 years old! Many of his listeners used to follow him when he was one of the 2SM Good Guys in the 1960s. He came to fame by following the Beatles around Australia in their 1964 tour. — Glenn Dyer