Wometco Enterprises (also known simply as Wometco) is an American company headquartered in Coral Gables, Florida; a suburb of Miami. It was once a large media company with diversified holdings, but slowly sold off its assets during the early 1980s, and owned the Miami Seaquarium until it was sold in 2014.

History Edit

Mobile truck for the Wometco-owned WTVJ in front of the Miami Herald building in downtown Miami, circa 1950.

Wometco was founded in 1925 as the Wolfson-Meyer Theater Company, a movie theatre chain based in Miami. The company's co-founders were brothers-in-law Mitchell Wolfson (1900–1983) and Sidney Meyer.[1] The first movie theater opened by the firm was the Capitol Theater in downtown Miami, built in 1926. Over the years the company built up the largest chain of movie theaters in South Florida, and adopted the portmanteau name of Wometco sometime in the 1950s.

In 1949 Wometco moved into broadcasting with the founding of WTVJ in Miami, Florida's first television station. The station signed on in March 1949 from studios inside the Capitol Theatre, which was renovated for television. Wometco was also a founding partner of WFGA-TV (now WTLV) in Jacksonville, Florida, which signed on in September 1957 with Wometco holding 20 percent ownership; though it would gradually decrease its stake over time, Wometco remained the station's primary stockholder until WTLV was sold to Harte-Hanks Communications in 1975.

Wometco purchased a majority interest in WMTV in Madison, Wisconsin in June 1957,[2] but sold its shares less than a year later to Lee Enterprises, in April 1958.[3] Also in 1958 the firm purchased controlling interest of WLOS-AM-FM-TV in Asheville, North Carolina, and KVOS-TV in Bellingham, Washington was added in 1961. In 1976 Wometco bought WTVG (now WFUT-TV) in Newark, New Jersey, and in 1978 acquired WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1977 Wometco launched a nationwide, over-the-air subscription television service called Wometco Home Theater, using WTVG as its flagship station.

Wometco expanded its non-entertainment holdings in 1955, with the opening of the Miami Seaquarium. It bought the Blue Circle hamburger chain, based in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1966, but sold it in 1974.

At one point, Wometco also owned the largest movie theaters chain in Puerto Rico.

Transition, sales and breakup Edit

Wometco co-founder Mitchell Wolfson died on January 28, 1983, of a heart attack, survived by two children: son Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. and daughter Frances Wolfson Cary.[4] (Mitchell Wolfson was widowed when wife Frances Meyer Wolfson died in 1980; eldest son Louis Wolfson II died a year earlier.) The elder Wolfson's death was preceded by two heart attacks in February 1982[5] that also fueled speculation about the company's financial health[6] as he remained chairman and was the largest Wometco stockholder right up to his death.[7]

Contrary to public boasts made by the elder Wolfson of a "secret plan" to prevent Wometco from ever being sold off,[8] there were no such plans for the company in his will[9] nor was anyone designated by him as a succeeding chairman.[10] The lack of any plan for Wometco led some within the company to believe that the elder Wolfson's true "secret plan" was never to leave.[11] Bereft of any guidance by the elder Wolfson, the family and company board sold Wometco to merchant bank Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) on September 21, 1983, in a $1 billion (USD) leveraged buyout.[8][12] At the time, it was both the largest corporate transaction in Florida history[13] and a record amount for a leveraged buyout.[14]

Wometco was taken private and split into two separate entities,[15] one based around the six television stations and Wometco Home Theater, and the other centered around the 45 movie theaters, the Miami Seaquarium, the Citrus Tower, the vending machine division, the bottling/soft drink division and 47 cable television systems.[16] Plans were immediately announced by KKR-appointed management to sell off the theaters and non-broadcasting entertainment properties[17] which were seen as financial underperformers.[16] The bulk of these assets were acquired by Wometco chief operating officer Arthur Hertz on April 29, 1985, while the bottling operations—one of the largest Coca-Cola bottlers in the nation[16]—were sold separately.[18]

Wometco's cable systems were also divested[19] as was WTVJ following a subsequent takeover of Storer Communications by KKR.[20] WTVJ was initially sold to Lorimar-Telepictures for $405 million on May 21, 1986, as part of a larger $1.85 billion deal.[21] After that purchase offer fell through,[19] NBC's parent company General Electric bought the station on January 16, 1987, for $270 million,[22] which initiated a complicated six-station network affiliation switch in both Miami and West Palm Beach on January 1, 1989.[23][24]

In 1994, Cobb Theatres bought out the Wometco movie theatre chain. The Cobb chain would later merge into Regal Entertainment Group.

Wometco today still owns a franchise of Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin' Donuts stores in Miami, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.[25]

In March 2014, The Miami Seaquarium was sold to Palace Entertainment, a California-based company.[26]

Former Wometco-owned stations Edit

Television stations Edit

Stations are arranged alphabetically by state and city of license.

Station City of license / Market Channel Years owned Current status
WFGA-TV/WTLV[a] Jacksonville, FL 12 1957–1975 NBC affiliate owned by Tegna
WTVJ ** MiamiFort Lauderdale, FL 4[b] 1949–1984 NBC owned-and-operated (O&O) on channel 6
WZZM-TV Grand RapidsKalamazooBattle Creek, MI 13 1978–1984 ABC affiliate owned by Tegna
WTVG/WWHT Newark, NJNew York, NY 68 1976–1984 UniMás affiliate, WFUT-TV, owned by TelevisaUnivision
WSNL-TV[c] Smithtown, NY 67 1980–1984 UniMás affiliate, WFTY-TV, owned by TelevisaUnivision
WLOS-TV[d] Asheville, NCGreenvilleSpartanburg, SC 13 1958–1984 ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group
KVOS-TV Bellingham, WAVancouver, BC[e] 12 1961–1984 Heroes & Icons affiliate owned by Weigel Broadcasting
WMTV Madison, WI 33[f] 1957–1958 NBC affiliate owned by Gray Television

Radio stations Edit

AM Station FM Station
Market Station Years owned Current status
Asheville, NC WLOS 1380[d] 1958–1969 WKJV, owned by International Baptist Outreach Missions
WLOS-FM 99.9[d] 1958–1984 WKSF, owned by iHeartMedia

Notes Edit

  1. ^ Wometco held a controlling (47 percent) share of Florida-Georgia Television Co., founding owner of WFGA-TV/WTLV, at the station's launch in 1957. Wometco's share was reduced to a minority (11 percent) stake in 1971. Wometco and its other partners were bought out by Harte-Hanks Communications in 1975.
  2. ^ Moved to channel 6 in 1995.
  3. ^ Satellite of WWHT.
  4. ^ a b c Wometco operated the Asheville stations under a subsidiary, Wometco-Skyway Broadcasting, after purchasing majority control of WLOS-AM-FM-TV in 1958.
  5. ^ Bellingham is nominally in the Seattle-Tacoma market.
  6. ^ Moved to channel 15 in 1961.
  • ** WTVJ was the only station which was built and signed on by Wometco

References Edit

  1. ^ Parks 1981. p. 211
  2. ^ "KCOP (TV), WMTV (TV) are sold" (PDF). Broadcasting – Telecasting. June 3, 1957. p. 68. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  3. ^ "Changing hands" (PDF). Broadcasting – Telecasting. April 7, 1958. p. 76. Retrieved January 26, 2019.
  4. ^ "Mitchell Wolfson, 82, dies of a heart attack". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. January 29, 1983. pp. 1A, 17A. Retrieved April 8, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ Splichal, Tom (April 26, 1982). "Wometco sees turnaround in TV operation". The Miami News Money. Cox Newspapers. p. 2. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ Davis, Dick (May 3, 1982). "Kroger Co. has tenants and analyst's praise". The Miami Herald Business/Monday. Knight Ridder. p. 32. Retrieved April 8, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ Merzer, Martin (April 26, 1983). "Wometco raises its defenses". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. pp. 7D-8D. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ a b Merzer, Martin (September 22, 1983). "Wometco price tag is $1 billion". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. pp. 1A, 3A. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ Lyons, David (February 4, 1983). "Wometco board names new officers; Wolfson ignored succession in his will". The Miami News. Cox Newspapers. p. 6A. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ Dickerson, Brian (February 1, 1983). "Wometco stock peaks on talk of sale". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. pp. 8D-9D. Retrieved April 8, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ Merzer, Martin (February 6, 1983). "The Colonel's plan". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. pp. 1F, 6F. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ Wayne, Leslie. Wometco Agrees To Buyout New York Times, September 22, 1983.
  13. ^ Sigale, Merwin (September 22, 1983). "Wometco suitor: No shake-up planned". The Miami News. Knight Ridder. pp. 1A, 8A. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  14. ^ Sigale, Merwin (September 24, 1983). "Proposed buyer of Wometco is a private giant". The Miami News. Cox Newspapers. pp. 1A, 4A. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Sigale, Merwin (April 13, 1984). "Wometco now in private hands; will sell units but not Seaquarium". The Miami News. Cox Newspapers. p. 8A. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ a b c Birger, Larry (March 12, 1984). "New Wometco to sell its theaters". The Miami Herald Business/Monday. Knight Ridder. p. 5. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ Russell, James (March 15, 1984). "Wometco buyout breaks up an institution". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. p. 14C. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ Birger, Larry (April 30, 1985). "Wometco sells part of chain". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. p. 4D. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ a b Sigale, Merwin (October 23, 1986). "WTVJ ownership uncertain after Lorimar exclusion". The Miami News. Cox Newspapers. p. 8A. Retrieved April 11, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ "Storer Communications now part of SCI Holdings". The Miami News. Cox Newspapers. December 6, 1985. p. 10A. Retrieved April 9, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  21. ^ "Lorimar Corp. buying WTVJ in deal with Wometco firm". The Miami News. Cox Newspapers. May 21, 1986. p. 10A. Retrieved April 10, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  22. ^ Owens, Dory; Chrissos, Joan (January 17, 1987). "NBC buying Miami's Channel 4; CBS must find new spot on dial". The Miami Herald. Knight Ridder. pp. 1A, 18A. Retrieved April 4, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  23. ^ Kelley, Bill (December 28, 1988). "The Big Switch: Tuning in to South Florida TV". Fort Lauderdale News. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. pp. 1A, 8A. Archived from the original on February 17, 2022. Retrieved April 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  24. ^ Sonsky, Steve (January 1, 1989). "3 million TV viewers affected". The Miami Herald. Miami, Florida. p. 1A, 25A. Archived from the original on April 12, 2021. Retrieved April 3, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  25. ^ Wometco Enterprises Bloomberg BusinessWeek
  26. ^ "California theme park company to buy Miami Seaquarium | The Miami Herald". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on December 4, 2014.

Bibliography Edit

  • Parks, Arva Moore. Miami: The Magic City. Tulsa, OK: Continental Heritage Press, 1981. ISBN 0-932986-17-X.