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Country Mix and East Coast to merge

NICHE radio station Country Mix is set to merge with Wicklow's East Coast FM, ending prolonged speculation about the country station's future.

The all-share deal will see Country Mix's 12 shareholders take a minority stake in the enlarged East Coast company.

Country Mix boss Sean Ashmore will become group chief executive of the two stations, while East Coast general manager Ciara O'Connor will head up both commercial teams.

"I don't think it would have been possible for Country Mix to remain on its own, even without the recession," Mr Ashmore said last night.

"All the independent stations in Dublin -- Newstalk, Today FM, 98fm, FM104, Q102 -- have come into groups because they can get benefits from it."

Country Mix and East Coast already share a building but Mr Ashmore said that as a single company the stations would be able to share administration, accounting and other back-office functions.

"Country Mix also has €3.5m in tax losses that will be of value to East Coast," he added. "That was one of the financial no-brainers."

The country station reduced its headcount by four last September, and Mr Ashmore said the merger would not lead to further job cuts amongst the 15 full-time and 10 part-time staff working at Country Mix.

Cuts in East Coast's 24-strong workforce are not envisaged.

"It's about making better use of the resources we have between us, not cutting people," he said.

He added that the group efficiencies plus Country Mix's recent cutbacks should see the station turn a profit by 2010.

The sales and programming units of both stations will remain separate, as is normal practice in radio station mergers. The deal needed both the approval of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) and the Competition Authority.

The BCI gave the thumbs up at its board meeting earlier this week and Mr Ashmore said he "wouldn't expect any difficulty" with the Competition Authority and hopes to have the deal completed in September.

Suitors

Country Mix has been linked to several potential suitors, but many adopted a "wait and see" attitude ahead of the station's licence renewal in two years.

"We're very pleased because this strengthens our offering ahead of that licence process," Mr Ashmore said.

Country Mix's investors include Mr Ashmore, City Channel boss David Harvey, and jazz musician Paddy Cole. Mr Ashmore also holds 3pc of East Coast.