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After his father's death, Eddie Edwards decides to reconsider his ambitious business goals

Thursday, May 16, 2002

By Dan Fitzpatrick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

After selling Channel 22 for nearly $17 million, Eddie Edwards announced ambitious plans this year to buy radio and TV stations, go national with an entertainment show and build a far-flung broadcasting empire.


"I think we are going to make a lot of noise," he said in January. "A lot of noise."

Four months later, Edwards is pulling back on most of those plans, and re-examining his life after the Feb. 20 death of his father, Edwin Edwards, who waged a yearlong struggle with lung and prostate cancer. To care for his father, Edwards spent much of the last year in Cleveland. Commuting between two cities while trying to build a new business sent his blood pressure "sky high," and caused Edwards put on a lot of extra weight.

His health and the experience of watching his last remaining parent die convinced the 50-year-old television executive that it was time to take life more "gradually," and that it was no longer as important to "conquer the business world."

Eddie Edwards

"I have a new focus and appreciation for life as a result of my father's passing," he said. "I am not interested in making all the money in the world when I already have a lot. I am slowing down rather than trying to run full steam ahead." His son, Eddie Edwards Jr., 28, put it this way: "He just re-prioritized. Instead of running out of the blocks again, he decided to walk out of the blocks."

As part of that slowdown, Edwards has decided not to build a jazz and blues restaurant in Baltimore; not to buy a radio station in Greenville, S.C.; to end his association as the host of the Sunday night TV program "Eddie's Digest"; to end his new television production company; and to empty Edwards Broadcasting's Wilkins offices by the end of next month.

He also plans to end the local broadcasts of "Nitelife," a one-hour weekly entertainment program he created and to farm out the production and syndication of that television show, which Edwards had been trying to sell to television program executives around the country. But Edwards Broadcasting, the firm he launched after selling Channel 22 in December, "is very much alive," Edwards said.

By the end of June, his business manager, Delbert Tyler, will close Edwards Broadcasting's offices in Wilkins, and start a new firm. But Tyler will continue to handle work for Edwards Broadcasting, and Edwards himself will continue to work from a home office until he can find new space Downtown.

"There are hundreds of opportunities out there," Edwards said. "We will pursue them at a slower pace." His goal now is to be careful about his TV and radio purchases, examining each deal closely, and making sure "whatever I do is the right opportunity."

Before his father's death, Edwards' first deal as the head of Edwards Broadcasting was going to be a radio station in South Carolina. He was willing to pay $1.6 million for sports/talk WCSZ-AM, near Green-ville, from PSI Communications. After Edwards' engineer examined the deal more closely, though, "He advised me the opportunity wasn't really an opportunity," Edwards said. "I had to do an about face on that." Also, "My father was very ill. I had to put that discussion on the back burner and take care of my father."

In retrospect, though, Edwards noted the deal was not a good one, saying, "You want to make sure whatever you are doing, you don't overpay for something."

Perhaps the same consideration drove Edwards to cancel, at the last minute, a deal to build a waterfront jazz and blues restaurant one mile east of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, at a place called Brown's Wharf. His plan was to open a 150-seat waterfront restaurant in May, featuring live jazz and blues performances.

In April, though, Edwards pulled out of the deal.

"I was surprised when he called," said John Hermann, manager of portfolio leasing for Corporate Office Properties Trust, which manages Brown's Wharf. Hermann said Edwards did not give him much of an explanation. "He threw some things out that were a little difficult to accept," Hermann said. "I think he perhaps felt bad because we had both invested a lot of time in this. Something happened on his side of the fence to cause him to reconsider."

When asked about the restaurant, Edwards would say only that there were some "issues" that forced him to "take two steps back." But Edwards said he would continue looking for a restaurant site in Baltimore.

He still wants to build his Edwards Broadcasting into a national presence, too. For that, he hopes to get help from son Eddie Jr., who works as an attorney for the law firm Pietragallo Bosick & Gordon. The son already handles some work for his father, including the negotiations in Baltimore. "With the two of us, there is no doubt that Edwards [Broadcasting] is going to be a force to be reckoned with," Edwards, the father, said. "Does it have to be as big as I once thought? No."

But his first priority, he said, is "to enjoy this business, as I have for over 30 years." In fact, Edwards spoke wistfully about his early days as a disc jockey, calling them "some of the best days of my professional career." A stint at Washington's NBC station in the early 1970s, when he worked on air with Willard Scott and David Brinkley, was an early career highlight.

He reluctantly left D.C. after a contract dispute and took a disc jockey job with what is now Pittsburgh's WWSW -- because the city was close to Cleveland. He later jumped to WAMO and began doing fill-in work at KDKA Radio. When he read about a new TV station going on the air, he became one of the first employees of WPTT, Channel 22.

At Channel 22, he rose through the ranks, and, in early 1991, while he was station manager, Sinclair Broadcasting offered to sell WPTT to him for $7 million and to finance most of the deal. He jumped at the chance and, while the deal became mired in legal intrigue, he ended up owning Channel 22, then an independent station. In December, Edwards sold the station for nearly $17 million and in January announced plans to use those proceeds to seed other projects.

When he left D.C. for Pittsburgh, Edwards said, some questioned his move to a smaller city and a less prestigious radio market. But, "I had just as much fun," he said. "It was about broadcasting. It was about being employed in broadcasting and enjoying it, rather than about making the money and being the biggest one on the block."

Reflecting on his career, Edwards said: "I have achieved everything I set out in life to do. This business has been very, very generous to me. I have been able to achieve goals and dreams that are still goals and dreams of most of the world. I am, by no means, giving up."

But, "When your father dies, it hits you like a ton of bricks. You can't call home anymore. Father's Day is not the same anymore. It is a great awakening. Most people in my family died in the their 60s and early 70s. And here I am, [to turn] 51 this year.

"I have to tell you, priorities change."

Staff writer Barbara Vancheri contributed to this report.

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