Disney Kin Follows Proven Footsteps on Path to Empire


When it comes to being a Disney, it’s like father, like son. And like grandfather and great-uncle.

Roy Patrick Disney, the 35-year-old son of Roy E. Disney and great-nephew of the late Walt Disney, is following in the footsteps of his famous relatives with his new business venture, Apogee Communications Inc. in Burbank. Apogee, which recently changed its name from Newspeak Inc., was formed in October and is now hot on the acquisition trail for media properties--specifically, radio stations.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Apogee appears to be taking a page out of the blueprints for other Disney family-owned companies, including Shamrock Holdings, an acquisitive investment firm controlled by Roy E. Disney. Shamrock owns radio and television stations, and has bought and sold interests in companies ranging from soybean processor Central Soya to oil-services concern Enterra Corp.

Shamrock has also been involved in failed takeover attempts of Polaroid Corp. and Wherehouse Entertainment. Another Disney family company, Retlaw Enterprises Inc., which is owned by Walt Disney’s widow, Lillian, and their two daughters, owns several TV stations.


Roy P. Disney’s grandfather, the late Roy O. Disney, co-founded Walt Disney Co. with his brother, Walt, and was the financial mind behind the company. His son, Roy E. Disney, is a major stockholder and vice chairman of Walt Disney Co.

Like his father and the rest of the Disney clan, Roy P. Disney is highly private. He could not be reached for comment, and his attorney, Tom Camp, did not return phone calls. But in a news release last month announcing Apogee’s acquisition plans, Disney, who is also a Shamrock shareholder, said that Apogee’s broadcast operations will be completely independent of any other Disney family broadcast properties.

The news release said Roy P. Disney is the chairman and sole owner of Apogee. It said the company also has interests in real estate and equipment leasing, but provided no other details on those holdings.

Apogee plans to purchase and operate radio stations in the West, the release said. “We see this as a time of great opportunity in the radio industry,” Disney was quoted as saying. “As the economy recovers from the current recession, we are betting that advertisers will continue to recognize that radio is one of the most effective and efficient means of communicating.”


Radio industry insiders said that because of the recession, tightened credit conditions and a saturation of stations in many markets, prices of radio stations have declined between 30% and 50% in the past few years.

“It’s a good time to buy,” said Elliot Evers, a radio broker and partner in Media Venture Partners in San Francisco.

Observers also say that Disney was smart to hire veteran broadcaster James A. Johnson as Apogee’s president and chief operating officer. Johnson, who joined Apogee in February, is a former vice president of Golden West Broadcasters.

“I think it’s an excellent strategy,” said Frank Kalil, a radio and TV broker and president of Tucson-based Kalil & Co. “Jim Johnson is an astute operator.”

From his office in Bellevue, Wash., Johnson is seeking potential acquisition targets for Apogee, and he expects that the company will buy two radio stations in its first year. “We all see this is a good window here to buy and hold for price appreciation,” he said.

Johnson added that although Apogee is a separate company, Roy P. Disney’s “closeness to Shamrock and its success certainly attracted his attention.”

But unlike Shamrock, Johnson said, Apogee will initially focus on acquiring the No. 1, 2 or 3 radio station in a given market--one that doesn’t require a major overhaul of its operations and management.

“I want Roy to sleep well at night with the first couple properties,” he said.


Four markets in the Northwest--which enjoys a relatively healthy economy--have been selected for Apogee’s initial foray into radio, and the company is now in negotiations with some stations in those areas, Johnson said. He wouldn’t identify the stations or their cities, and the Federal Communications Commission says it has no license applications pending for Apogee.

Recent prices paid for radio stations in Northwest cities, including Seattle, Spokane and Portland, have ranged from slightly more than $1 million to more than $20 million. In Los Angeles, by contrast, a radio station probably wouldn’t sell for less than $40 million and might sell for as much as $100 million.

Johnson wouldn’t discuss the source of funds for Apogee’s acquisitions. But, he said, “We aren’t dependent upon a highly leveraged situation to be successful,” apparently meaning that it won’t have to borrow lots of cash.