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Son-in-Law Succeeds Gray Television CEO

The 85-year-old chairman and CEO of Gray Television Inc. has stepped down and passed the reins to his son-in-law.

Hilton H. Howell Jr. will succeed J. Mack Robinson as CEO, in addition to his current role as vice-chairman of the Board of Directors, the board unanimously decided Wednesday. Robert S. Prather Jr. will continue as Gray’s president and chief operating officer as well as board member.

Robinson will continue as a voting member of the board as chairman emeritus.

“I have been so proud to be associated with Gray since 1993,” Robinson said. “In the past 15 years the company has grown from its small-town roots in Albany, Ga., into one of the finest television broadcast companies in the country.”

Howell said his family has been investors in and board members of Gray or its predecessors since the founding of KWTX-TV in Waco, Texas in 1951.

Gray is keeping it in the family in other ways as well. In two “privately placed transaction[s] to qualified investors” in June and July, the company issued stock and raised $100 million, using most of it to pay down debt.

The value of the company, which operates 36 television stations in 30 markets and 40 digital second channels, has been hammered the last few years. The stock was worth more than $15 per share back in early 2005 and poked above $10 as recently as April 2007, but has dropped to barely $2 a share this summer.

Revenue in the first half of 2008 was $149.7 million, a 0.3 percent rise over last year’s first half, as political revenue offset some of the drop in other ad revenue. The company lost 2 cents per share in the half, an improvement from the loss of 46 cents in the same period last year.

Gray’s Web sites scored more than 300 million page views in the first half of 2008, up 53 percent from last year. The company attributed the rise to increased posting of local content, and to on-air promotion of the sites.

In the third quarter, the company, now based in Atlanta, projects revenue of 15-18 percent higher than in Q3 2007, thanks to political advertising.