His property became especially valuable after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which changed the FCC rules about how many radio stations one company could own overall, and in a single market. As soon as companies could acquire more stations, they wanted to, and the frequencies became hot commodities.
"Since the deregulation happened, there's been a lot of buying and selling of stations. A veritable frenzy," said Brenda Barnes, president and general manager of L.A.'s other classical music station, the non-commercial KUSC-FM (91.5). "The price of radio stations went through the roof. If you're going to buy a station for $150 million or $200 million in a major market, it's pretty difficult to meet the debt load and run it as a classical station."
So commercial classical station WQXR-FM in New York is owned by the New York Times Co., KING-FM in Seattle runs on a foundation endowment, WFMT-FM in Chicago is operated commercially by the city's public television station, and WGMS-FM in Washington, D.C., belongs to Bonneville International Corp., which owns two other stations in the city. Few individuals are devoted enough to classical music to eschew the advertising revenue that a Top 40 format could generate, or bypass the payoff from a conglomerate looking to expand.
Levine said the broadcast chains have gotten the message that he has no plans to sell, and have almost quit asking. But one executive calls faithfully every six months to see if he's changed his mind. Levine always consults with his wife of 30 years, Anita, and always declines.
"A hundred million dollars is a lot of money," Barnes said. "Obviously I'm never going to be in that situation, but I think it would be hard to say no to.
"He's not running the station because he's looking to make as much money as he possibly can," she said. "I truly admire Saul Levine for his commitment to classical music. I don't know many people who would make the decisions he's made."
Levine said it's simply a matter of doing what he loves best. His two children are grown--Stephanie, 25, is a law student at Loyola Marymount, while Michael, 22, is a liaison in Gov. Gray Davis' office--and he has few hobbies, apart from a love of raising Golden Retrievers. Even when a head cold keeps him from going to work, he finds energy to take 2-year-old Archie on a drive around town.
"I have no plans to retire, and my father worked until the day he died, and he was 85," Levine said. "I'm a broadcaster; it was a dream I had as a child. I enjoy going to work every day, I enjoy serving the public, and some things are worth more than money."