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June 27, 2005

Feds Raid Radio Free Brattleboro

*The latest chapter in the ongoing saga of one of New England's longest-running unlicensed stations unfolded early last Wednesday morning in Brattleboro, VERMONT, when federal agents entered the unoccupied Main Street studios of Radio Free Brattleboro (or, as they prefer, "rfb") and seized much of the station's equipment, silencing the station's signal at 107.9 and its web stream.

The move came amidst what amounts to a turf war among federal officials in the Green Mountain State. In Brattleboro, Judge J. Garvan Murtha has been slowly working through a civil case filed against the station by the FCC, and it appears that the Commission grew tired of waiting for action there. The FCC filed a motion for summary judgment in that case last month, but in the meantime, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case obtained a warrant Tuesday from a federal magistrate in Burlington to enter the station's offices.

Photos posted later that morning on the community website ibrattleboro.com showed the studio missing its control board and other equipment, with scattered wiring and a lone microphone left behind.

The immediate reaction was, of course, outrage on the part of the station's volunteers - but there's something deeply unfortunate about the timing of the FCC raid, which leads us to a brief NERW editorial:

NERW has never endorsed the belief of some of RFB's leaders that the FCC has waived its right to regulate stations of less than 100 watts by refusing to license new 10-watt standalone stations. The chaos already being caused in some areas by the recent profusion of new licensed low-power translators (as witness the six spots on our local dial now occupied by simulcasts of one regional religious broadcaster) should be ample evidence of the way in which an uncontrolled profusion of such small signals could render the FM dial all but useless for everyone. (And make no mistake about it - just as we've seen with licensed LPFM and with the translator service, if 10-watt transmitters were allowed to broadcast without federal regulation, there would quickly be tens of thousands of them on the air relaying a handful of national religious broadcasters, far outnumbering the community stations that might also find a voice through such stations.)

At the same time, we can't help but be impressed with the community spirit and energy that has gone into the sustained operation of RFB over the last few years. The station was clearly serving a group of listeners - and radio producers - for whom there's no home on commercial radio.

It's not hard to imagine that Judge Murtha, based in Brattleboro and well aware of the unusual circumstances surrounding RFB, was deliberately moving slowly on the station's case, since there is a happy ending for all sides visible in the distance. RFB had said for some time that it planned to close down its operations once Vermont EarthWorks signs on its licensed, legal LPFM (WVEW-LP 107.7) in Brattleboro, and Murtha may well have been hoping that the debut of WVEW and sign-off of RFB would make the case before him moot.

If most of the volunteers at RFB are guilty of anything, it's an enthusiasm for radio and for community broadcasting that got ahead of the patience for following the legal route that might have been preferable under other circumstances - and given the state of the radio industry these days, it's hard for us to be overly critical of anyone with that level of enthusiasm.

"Rfb does not operate in defiance of government but rather from the belief of its members and listeners that community radio is essential to good government and democratic process," was the comment from the station's attorney, James Maxwell.

If the station's volunteers are serious about that mission, NERW hopes that the energy aroused by Wednesday's seizure will be channeled towards the construction and speedy sign-on of WVEW, a licensed service that will be free of the threat of government shutdown that would inevitably loom over any attempt to again restart RFB, and we wish them the best of luck towards that goal.

The LPFM service is far from perfect, and we're deeply concerned that last year's ill-conceived translator window (now frozen by an FCC forced to concede that it made some errors in the process) may have further blocked the development of the 10-watt LPFMs that, whatever their imperfections, would at least be better than more satellite-fed translators. We're heartened, though, by some of the exciting uses that we heard earlier this month for the 100-watt LPFMs, and in fact, there's a new one just up the river from Brattleboro.

*That would be in Bellows Falls, where the Great Falls Community Broadcasting Company put WOOL-LP (100.1) on the air Saturday, providing a community voice to a town whose only licensed full-power signal is a simulcast from White River Junction. Check "Wool Radio" out - they stream, too - at www.wool.fm.

*On the commercial side of the equation, the FCC's laying the groundwork for another auction of new and unused FM allocations, expected to begin this fall. In Vermont, there are two channels being made available in "Auction 62": 106.9A Brighton (in the Northeast Kingdom), with a projected starting bid of $20,000, and 97.5A Bristol (southeast of Burlington), projected to start at $90,000. We'll be keeping tabs on Auction 62 as it progresses - and we'll run down the other NERW-land allocations later in this week's column.

*A small NEW HAMPSHIRE AM station is changing hands again, as Bill Sheehan's Balance View LLC files to sell WSNH (900 Nashua) to Absolute Broadcasting LLC, headed by Tom Monaghan, for $925,000. Absolute has been programming the "ESPN 900" sports format on WSNH since last year.

Speaking of Nashua, New Hampshire Public Radio hasn't given up on putting a full-power signal there: it's been granted a modification to its long-standing WEVS (88.3 Nashua) CP that will move the signal a bit to the northeast, with 3.8 kW horizontal/5 kW vertical at 21 meters, from a Shively antenna atop a downtown Nashua building.

Some management changes at Nassau: Steve Garsh is promoted to VP/regional manager for the company's New Hampshire stations, while Rob Fulmer becomes market manager for Nassau's Lakes Region cluster.

Auction 62 allocations in the Granite State: 93.7A Groveton, 98.7A Stratford and 99.1A Whitefield, all with projected opening bids of $20,000.

*As the construction permit for a Down East MAINE FM station approaches expiration, owner Lyle Evans is trying to salvage his WRMO (93.7 Milbridge) in at least a reduced form. WRMO's construction permit was granted July 17, 2002, calling for a class B facility with 50 kW/64 meters. But with the CP set to expire July 17, 2005, Evans is asking the FCC to approve a much smaller WRMO, just to get the station on the air. As a minimum class A facility, WRMO would sign on with 130 watts at 2 meters from the center of Milbridge, just to get on the air before the deadline and to buy some time to build out a more powerful facility.

The lone Auction 62 allocation in Maine is down the same way: 101.1B Machias, with an opening bid of $30,000.

*In MASSACHUSETTS, rumor became reality as WRKO (680 Boston) announced a multi-year deal with the Boston Celtics, who'll move over next season from WWZN (1510), their flagship for the past four years. Meanwhile, WRKO and executive producer Rich Carbery have parted ways after several years together; no word yet on his next move.

We're now hearing "mid-July" as the projected launch date for ESPN radio on WAMG (890 Dedham) and WLLH (1400 Lowell & Lawrence); new owner J Sports closed on the $9 million purchase from Mega last week, but Mega's Spanish programming continues to run while the new ownership gets its programming ready to roll.

Up in Haverhill, WXRV (92.5) general manager Bob Mendelsohn has departed the station.

And we note that Meredith is advertising for a news director for WSHM-LP (Channel 67, aka "CBS3") in Springfield, so it looks as though that station will be getting a news department soon.

*In RHODE ISLAND, the state attorney general's office says it will continue its probe of Boston University's management of WRNI (1290 Providence)/WXNI (1230 Westerly), even though BU now says it won't attempt to sell the stations, whose purchase and operation were partially funded by community donations.

And we neglected to note last week that Cranston mayor Steve Laffey is back on the air with his Friday morning talk show on WPRO (630), after the state election board agreed to lift its injunction against his appearance there while the state Supreme Court decides whether WPRO's airtime constitutes an improper campaign contribution.

*Clear Channel's on the hook for a CONNECTICUT radio contest that didn't live up to expectations. The FCC is fining WKSS (95.7 Hartford) $4,000 for problems with its "I Do Island" contest, which promised an "ultimate wedding package" that was supposed to be worth $35,000 but was in fact worth only about $20,000. (WKSS says it offered additional prizes to the winner to help make up the difference.)

*In the Catskill Mountains of NEW YORK, a venerable pair of community stations is changing hands, as the Blabey family sells WVOS (1240 Liberty) and WVOS-FM (95.9 Liberty) to Scott Kaniewski's Watermark Broadcasting for $1.7 million. The sale will put the WVOS stations under the same roof as longtime competitor WSUL (98.3 Monticello), which Watermark bought last year; the three are the only commercial stations originating programming in Sullivan County.

In Albany, "Sugarbear" (aka Ron Williams) is out as PD and afternoon jock at WAJZ (96.3 Voorheesville), where he created the "96.3 Jamz" format for Albany Broadcasting, where he'd worked since 1993. Some other changes in the executive ranks at Albany Broadcasting: VP/GM Stacy Rogers steps down (though she'll continue to consult for the company); she's being replaced by regional sales manager Dan Austin.

Down the Hudson a bit, WCKL (560 Catskill) has again gone silent.

In New York City, fans of the oldies at WCBS-FM (101.1) aren't going quietly - about 150 of them turned up outside the station's Times Square studios last Tuesday to call for a return to the format. Meanwhile, aircheck gurus Steve West and Lance Venta wasted no time launching 101cbsfm.com, a new site chock-full of airchecks chronicling the station's 33-year history as an oldies outlet.

On the AM dial, the Mike and the Mad Dog show on WFAN (660 New York) will go long later this week. Once the Mets game ends on Thursday, the duo will take the airwaves for a 24-hour broadcast to raise money for charity (including auctioning off the chance for listeners to do the 20/20 sports updates!)

On the TV front, Sunday's New York Times featured the faces of several upstate reporters (including WHAM-TV's Mike Doria and WROC-TV's Elizabeth Harness) as part of a feature about "Newsbreakers," the Rochester-based group that amuses itself by disrupting TV live shots. We're still not quite sure exactly what the group is trying to prove, but we did learn that its leader and your editor both worked as assignment editors for the same Rochester TV newsroom, which only goes to prove, we suppose, that there are a lot of different ways to express disgruntlement. (We like ours better, even if it doesn't land us a spread in the Sunday Times...)

In Buffalo, R.W. Smith arrives as the new PD for country giant WYRK (106.5), following a very brief stint at KVOO/KXBL in Tulsa and a much longer run at WIXY in Springfield, Illinois.

And on the Auction 62 front, there are plenty of signals up for bid this fall in the Empire State: 97.1A Canaseraga, 105.9A Little Valley, 107.1A Livingston Manor, 93.5A Wellsville and 106.7A Windsor all carry starting bids of $50,000, while 100.7A Minerva's up for $7500, 102.9A Narrowsburg for $40,000, 94.1A Old Forge for $2500 and 93.3A Saranac Lake for $20,000.

*In NEW JERSEY, it turns out that WJRZ (1620 Toms River) still isn't quite dead. Even though Knox Broadcasting's underlying construction permit for WJRZ on 1550 has long since expired and been deleted, the company persuaded the FCC last week to reconsider its dismissal of the application to move WJRZ to an expanded-band slot at 1620. Stay tuned...

Some corporate moves in the Garden State: at Press Communications, Frank Calderaro moves over from the station manager post in Ocean County to become the company's general manager, replacing John Dziuba. And over at Nassau's Philadelphia/Trenton cluster (WPST/WTHK), Josh Gertzog moves up from sales director to VP/market manager.

*A station sale leads off our PENNSYLVANIA coverage this week, and it's once again in the State College market, where Nick Galli's 2510 group sheds WBLF (970 Bellefonte). The station, formerly a simulcast of talker WRSC (1390 State College) and more recently simulcasting oldies WOWY (97.1 University Park), goes to Magnum Broadcasting, which owns WPHB (1260 Phillipsburg) and WUBZ (105.9 Phillipsburg).

(Speaking of State College, Penn State's public TV station, WPSX-TV, is moving from its longtime home in the Wagner Building to a new studio building at 100 Innovation Boulevard; the Clearfield-licensed station just received a waiver from the FCC allowing it to continue to maintain its main studio in State College at the new location.)

In Pittsburgh, Renda's WPTT (1360 McKeesport) shakes up its lineup next month ("declaring its independence" just after July 4, as the station puts it), and it looks like this: Laura Ingraham will now run on one-day delay in the 7-9 AM slot, followed by Lynn Cullen (moved to 9-noon), Thom Hartmann (noon-3), Doug Hoerth (3-6), Clark Howard (6-10 PM) and Alan Colmes (10-midnight). Former WPTT host Jerry Bowyer moves to WORD-FM (101.5) in July.

(The bigger change in Pittsburgh, though, is the retirement of Myron Cope; the veteran Steelers color commentator announced this past week that he won't return to the booth this fall.)

In Philadelphia, they're mourning Georgie Woods, "The Guy with the Goods," who made a name for himself as both a DJ and a civil-rights activist over many years at WDAS and WHAT. Woods, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, died last Saturday (June 18) in Florida at age 78.

After an interlude at WMMR, Mike Missanelli is returning to his longtime haunt at WIP (610 Philadelphia) July 5, joining Anthony Gargano in the 10 AM-3 PM slot.

And we're delighted to report that the oldest high school station in the country, WHHS Havertown, is back on the air at its new home of 99.9. WHHS was displaced from its spot at 107.9 by the debut of WRNB (107.9 Pennsauken) last year, but with the help of WRNB owner Radio One (and alumnus Steve Hemphill, the engineer who built the WA2XMN transmitter at the Armstrong Tower), it's won special temporary authority from the FCC to get back on the air at 99.9 while it waits for its application for a license at that frequency to be granted.

Auction 62 in the Keystone State will offer 98.5A Meyersdale ($90,000 opening bid), 101.3A Strattanville ($40,000) and 106.1A Farmingdale Township ($15,000).

Oh - and just across the border in OHIO, we're pleased to welcome Ohio Media Watch to the web! This new site comes from a longtime friend of this column (known to some radio-info.com readers as "Old Akronite"), and picks up just west of where we leave off each week - so if you're looking for the latest news from Youngstown or Cleveland or that neck of the woods, go give OMW a visit, won't you?

*The big news out of CANADA came from Ottawa, where the CRTC is granting four new licenses in the National Capital Region. Newcap, which already has top 40 CIHT ("Hot 89.9"), gets 5.2 kW on 88.5 for a modern rock station. Evanov (aka "CKMW") will put "The Jewel" on the air with 700 watts at 98.5, playing a mix of standards, easy listening and folk that's supposed to be similar to the company's "Foxy" CKDX (88.5) in the Toronto market. Radio Nord (which has CHOT-TV, CFGS-TV and CHLX-FM) gets a French pop-rock/urban station, with transmitters at 96.5 (1750 watts) in Gatineau and 107.5 (250 watts) in Buckingham. And Jack McGaw and Robert Stopells were granted a low-power tourist information station, though they need to find a new frequency. (It's getting to be a crowded dial up there...)

And over in Kitchener-Waterloo, country "Kicx" (CIKZ) has made the move from 99.5 to 106.7, breaking free of interference from Buffalo's WDCX, also on 99.5.

*Our special clearance pricing continues for fans of the Tower Site Calendar 2005. We're well aware that many of the calendar's fans buy it for the pictures, not the actual calendar pages...but that doesn't change the fact that by this time of the year, we're not exactly shipping 'em out the door at a breakneck pace, and Mrs. NERW would very much like a corner of her living room back.

So while she rediscovers the floor beneath those boxes of calendars and we begin to line up the images for Tower Site Calendar 2006, you get the very first crack at our Calendar Clearance Deal for 2005.

Here's how it works: instead of our list price of $16 for this fabulous, full-color, glossy calendar, you can now pick one up for just $8, postpaid. ($8.64 to New York State addresses.) Better yet, if you order two calendars at this special clearance price, we'll throw in a third for free - $16 for THREE calendars, with nine exciting months of 2005 yet to go. (That's $17.28 in NYS.)

Maybe you've already hung your original 2005 calendar on the wall, and you're thinking it would be nice to have another copy to stick away in pristine condition. Maybe you really want to frame that spectacular September page right now - but you still need a calendar later this year. Maybe you just want to help Mrs. NERW clean out the living room and give happy NERW baby Ariel more space to practice walking.

Whatever your motive, now's your big chance, because while there are still 2005 calendars left, there may not be any in a few weeks. (Remember, the 2002 and 2003 editions were total sellouts, and I've had to turn away several of you who were hoping to add these now-rare calendars to your collections.)

And we've got two more great deals for you, too. We still have a few 2004 calendars left, and while they're getting rare, Mrs. NERW wants them gone - so they're yours, in pristine condition, for just $5 postpaid. (Buy two and the third is free!) Or order the 2004 and 2005 calendars together for just $10, postpaid. (What a deal!)

(New York orders pay $5.40 for the 2004 calendar, $10.80 for the 2004 and 2005 together.)

And as always, the calendar's free with your $60 or higher subscription to NorthEast Radio Watch/fybush.com. In fact, as part of our Early Summer Subscription Drive, you can be among the first to reserve your free 2006 Tower Site Calendar with your $60 subscription - and we'll even send you a 2005 as well, if you ask. Remember, we count on your subscription dollars to keep NERW coming each and every Monday morning!

You can use PayPal, below, or send your check or money order, payable to Scott Fybush, to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. (Please note that the prices below are valid for U.S. and Canadian orders only; please e-mail for information about overseas shipping.)

Order the 2005 Tower Site Calendar on CLEARANCE for $8...
Order the 2005 and 2004 Tower Site Calendars together for just $10...
...or subscribe to NERW at the $60 level and get two FREE 2005 Tower Site Calendars
...and you can still order the 2004 Tower Site Calendar at our special DEEP clearance price of $5! (US and Canada only - e-mail us for overseas ordering information.)

Don't want to order by credit card? You know the drill by now - make those checks payable to "Scott Fybush," be sure to include sales tax (8.%) for New York state calendar orders only, and send them along to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. (Sorry - we can't take orders by phone.)

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