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Chairman Wyman Also Objects to Helms' Campaign : Turner Not 'Serious' Bidder--CBS

March 14, 1985|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — CBS Inc. Chairman Thomas H. Wyman said Wednesday that he does not consider Atlanta entrepreneur Ted Turner a "serious" bidder to take over CBS or any other television network, and he suggested that his view is shared by Wall Street.

Wyman, in remarks at the company management's annual presentation to investment analysts, also reiterated CBS' sharp objections to a campaign by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and several right-wing supporters to accumulate enough CBS stock to influence what Helms calls the "liberal bias" of CBS News.

"We regard any proposal that would impair the integrity and independence of CBS News as contrary to the tradition of the First Amendment of this country and of this company," he said.

Wyman said the Helms group has apparently dropped its demand for a list of CBS shareholders, which the company opposed in court, in favor of asking the company to issue proxy material on its behalf. He said the group has asked CBS for an estimate of how much the mailing would cost. CBS, he said, is probably obligated to make the mailing, at the group's expense, if the material bears a reasonable relationship to the company's business.

Wyman said trading in CBS stock has settled down after March 1, when speculation surfaced about Turner's putative interest in taking over the company. On that day, CBS stock rose $4 a share to close at $88.50 on volume of 1.3 million shares; since then, volume has not approached that peak and the price has remained stable.

"It's really strange when you wake up in the morning and you don't want your stock to go up," Wyman remarked after Wednesday's session.

Wyman and other top executives covered broad ground in their overview of the company's results. Among the highlights:

- CBS' acquisition late last year of 12 consumer magazines from Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. for $362.5 million in cash will dilute 1985 earnings by as much as $1 per share, a figure that will decline sharply in 1986 to less than 70 cents and drop off more sharply after that. The company also took over about $40 million in Ziff-Davis liabilities as part of the deal, making its total value $402.5 million. CBS expects the Ziff magazines to produce about $30 million in operating income this year, about the same as last year.

- The company's toy division was a "major blemish" in 1984, producing losses of about $82 million after 1983 losses of $38 million. As a result, the unit, which included Ideal Toy Co., acquired in 1982, was thoroughly reorganized.

"We didn't run it very well over two or three years," Wyman said, attributing the losses in part to "primitive kinds of mistakes" in financial and inventory controls. The company sharply cut back distribution of its video games and development of major toy lines and fired top executives in the division. "We expect a rather sharp year-to-year improvement in the toy business (in 1985)," Wyman said.

- Net earnings for the first quarter of 1985 ending March 31 may be cut to as little as half of the $1.31 per share reported for the same period last year. The main reason was the absence this year of two big revenue producers: the Michael Jackson "Thriller" album, which sold at an unprecedented volume after its release in 1982 but has run out its string, and the Super Bowl, which was broadcast by CBS in 1984 but by ABC-TV this year.

Wyman said the company has not decided how to invest its cash flow, which may reach $250 million this year, including revenue from the Ziff magazines and the sale of its Fullerton-based musical instrument division. But he seemed to rule out the acquisition of any television stations, despite a Federal Communications Commission decision allowing the networks to own more than the five they each own now.

"Our sense is that the prices of stations are very high," he said. The lack of aggressive bidding for stations since the FCC ruling isn't surprising, he said, since "you can't work through most of the asking prices and hope to recover your costs in your lifetime."

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