- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cy Bahakel, 87, TV station owner

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cy Bahakel, whose entrepreneurial instincts helped build a television broadcasting empire and bring the NBA to Charlotte, died April 20 at his home, having been in failing health since suffering a stroke. He was 87.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., Mr. Bahakel received a law degree from the University of Alabama, but practiced only six months before he and a friend launched a radio station in Kosciusko, Miss., a crossroads town in the center of the state.

He soon bought out the partner and went on to build a string of stations — both startups and those he purchased — across the South.

His first television station, acquired in 1959, was WABG-TV in Greenwood, Miss.; he later acquired stations in Charlotte; Columbia, S.C.; and Montgomery, Ala.

All were UHF stations, broadcast on TV dial positions 14 through 83, and were considered risky ventures because many TVs of the time could not pick up their signals. But Mr. Bahakel bet right, and the Charlotte, Columbia and Montgomery stations remain profitable to this day.

Bahakel Communications now owns six television stations and 11 radio stations and has extensive real estate holdings.

“Cy was one of the few remaining true broadcast pioneers,” said Cullie Tarleton, a longtime Charlotte broadcasting executive who retired from Bahakel Communications in 2002.

Mr. Bahakel moved his company’s headquarters to Charlotte in 1963 and in 1987 became a primary investor in the group that helped bring an NBA expansion team to the city.

Owner George Shinn put in $8.7 million, Mr. Bahakel $6 million and Charlotte businessmen Felix Sabates and Rick Hendrick $1.2 million each.

The remainder of the $32 million NBA franchise fee was financed, with Mr. Bahakel guaranteeing the loans.

“There was no way there would have been a Charlotte Hornets if Bahakel hadn’t come in to the deal,” Mr. Sabates said last week.

The Hornets went on to become one of the NBA’s most successful expansion franchises ever, paving the way for the NFL Carolina Panthers to enter the market in the 1990s.

But Mr. Bahakel ended up on the outside of the Hornets’ success; after the first year of operations, Mr. Shinn exercised an option to buy out his partners and Mr. Bahakel ended up with $6.9 million.

He and Mr. Shinn later clashed over an effort by Mr. Shinn to acquire a television license, but were on speaking terms when the Hornets’ owner moved his team to New Orleans in 2002.

Mr. Bahakel, who served two terms in the North Carolina Senate in the 1970s, is survived by his wife, Beverly Boyd Bahakel, and their six children. His son-in-law, Robert Pittenger, now serves in the state Senate.

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