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September 18, 2006

Ed Ansin Gets His Duopoly

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*It's a week of big changes on the eastern MASSACHUSETTS television dial - perhaps the biggest since the ownership and affiliation changes that rocked the Boston market in the mid-nineties - and once again, maverick station owner Ed Ansin is driving much of the action.

Ansin's 1993 purchase of then-CBS affiliate WHDH-TV (Channel 7) introduced a new hard-driving tabloid style of news to the market, carrying the station from also-ran status to first place in the ratings. His move to NBC two years later (when former affiliate WBZ-TV became a CBS O&O) touched off more than a decade of tension between the Peacock network and Ansin's Sunbeam Broadcasting.

Boston is the largest market where NBC doesn't own its affiliate, and for the last few months, there's been a growing buzz that the network wants to change that. Since Ansin's not selling, the rumor mill quickly settled on Tribune's struggling WLVI (Channel 56), the WB-turned-CW affiliate whose "Ten O'Clock News" was once the premiere prime-time newscast in the market. The growth of Fox's WFXT over the last few years has damaged WLVI's ratings, and Tribune has made no secret about its desire to sell some of its weaker outlets. (It's already parted with stations in Atlanta and Albany.)

With NBC openly sniffing around the market, and Ansin in danger of losing the lucrative affiliation, the next step was obvious: Ansin announced last week that he'll pay Tribune $113.7 million to bring WLVI under the Sunbeam umbrella. (Tribune paid $25 million when it bought WLVI from Gannett in 1994.)

The result: WLVI's current home on Morrissey Boulevard will be shuttered, most of its 130 or so employees will end up out of work, and the current "Ten O'Clock News" operation will be replaced with a 10 PM newscast produced by the existing WHDH news department, with a few WLVI refugees being added there to help.

NERW's take: We're sorry, though not surprised, to see the current WLVI news operation go. As tastes in Boston turned towards flashier, more tabloid news, WLVI's newscast became something of a throwback to an earlier, more sedate style of news, and it appears that wasn't what the public wanted in 2006. We hope the news staffers who lose their jobs in the transition can find new work quickly. (It doesn't appear that WHDH will keep many of them, including lead anchors Karen Marinella and Frank Mallicoat.)

We'll be following closely as Ansin enters the prime-time news wars in Boston. In addition to the WFXT newscast, which has grown into a major player in the city, there's also strong competition from New England Cable News - and from the 9:30 PM newscast that will debut tonight on WBZ-TV sister station WSBK (Channel 38). Ansin made his name with prime-time news on his other station, Fox affiliate WSVN (Channel 7) in Miami, and the new 10 PM news on WLVI will no doubt be a flagship show for the WHDH operation as well.

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*There's another station sale in the Bay State as well - Karl Nurse's Truro Wireless is selling little WCDJ (102.3 Truro) to "Dunes 102FM, LLC," whose principal, Thomas Troland, has owned several small stations in Arizona under the "Skynet Broadcasting" banner. Sale price on the station is $550,000, and while the trades are reporting that WCDJ was running a news-talk format before going silent Sept. 1, it's our understanding that the station has spent most of its life silent, being fired up from time to time to keep the license alive.

One more Bay State note - we're hearing that veteran WEIM (1280 Fitchburg) morning man Ray C. will soon be departing the wakeup show at that community AM station, possibly moving to nights. Stay tuned...

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*In VERMONT, Nassau Broadcasting's worst-kept secret finally became a reality on Friday morning at 10, when top 40 WORK-FM (107.1 Barre) gave way to classic hits "Frank FM."

The new "Frank" is the latest in a growing batch of stations with that name across New England, from the original WFNK in Portland to newer "Frank" outlets in Nashua, New Hampshire and on Cape Cod. (That one's an adult hits station, unlike the others.) We're not sure yet how much of the WORK-FM airstaff will remain; the new website for Frank appears to have been hastily copied from yet another Nassau "Frank" down in Pennsylvania, right down to the "107.5 Frank FM" in the title bar...

*The latest station sale in RHODE ISLAND is no surprise at all; as we'd told you several months ago, Christopher Jones is keeping WCRI (95.9 Block Island) and WCNX (1180 Hope Valley) in the family. His Judson Group is paying $1.6 million to acquire the classical FM and all-news AM from Charles River Broadcasting, which is slowly exiting the broadcasting business. No changes to the stations' formats are expected.

*Changes may be on the way in CONNECTICUT, though, as the three AM stations owned by Freedom Communications of Connecticut enter receivership. AllAccess.com reports that Freedom (controlled by Steve Brisker) agreed to put the stations up for sale to resolve a lawsuit accusing Brisker of "financial irregularities" in his operation of the stations.

*One of the best-known TV anchors in Rochester, NEW YORK has lost a battle with cancer that few in town even knew he was fighting.

Gabe Dalmath left the anchor chair at WHEC-TV (Channel 10) at the end of 2004, ending a 29-year career at the station - and a career in broadcasting that began in the Army in the late sixties and continued in the suburbs of New York City in the early seventies at stations such as WFAS, WVOX and WNEW. (Another of his early gigs was at WGBB on Long Island, where he worked with another young newscaster named Rich Funke, who'd later become WHEC's sports anchor and is now the station's lead newscaster himself.)

In 1976, Dalmath came to Rochester as weekend anchor at WHEC, soon becoming lead weeknight anchor, a post he'd keep for 25 years before being moved to mornings in 2001. Dalmath also replaced the late Eddie Meath as host of the station's annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, which became a passion of his.

After his departure from WHEC in 2004, Dalmath worked with a local mortgage company and with Dalmath Associates, the public-relations firm founded by his wife, Jean. Most recently, he'd been one of the principals in an audience-research firm called Critical Tracking.

Dalmath came to the U.S. from his native Hungary in 1956, at the age of 9, escaping with his family from the revolution there. He remained a fan of Hungarian sports, as well as an avid skiier.

Dalmath was diagnosed with kidney cancer in June, but few in town knew he was seriously ill until the news of his death was announced Friday night (Sept. 15). He was just 60 years old.

(On a very personal note, Gabe welcomed your editor into WHEC's newsroom and studio when I was a child, and remained a friend for many years thereafter. When I first appeared on the Rochester airwaves as a TV reporter myself, one of the first messages waiting for me at work the next day was from Gabe - "Now I feel old," he said. My experience was hardly unique; there's a whole generation of newspeople in Rochester whose careers had support and encouragement from Gabe, and he will be deeply missed by all of us.)

*While we're at WHEC, we note the departure of sports director Rick Hager to points unknown.

Some morning show shakeups are underway in the Hudson Valley. In Albany, Ric Mitchell returns to the airwaves as the new morning man on WYJB (95.5), continuing a career that's included stops at WQAR, WTRY and WKLI. In Poughkeepsie, Reno is out at WPDH (101.5), and former morning co-host Mark Cooper is back at the station to rejoin Mark Tobin. WPDH says that's a temporary thing for now, to mark the station's 30th anniversary, but if the pairing is a success, Cooper may remain beyond his scheduled Dec. 22 departure. Cooper was last heard at WRKW (92.9), a few years ago.

Upstate, WENU-FM (101.7 Hudson Falls) has dropped its longtime call letters and soft AC format. It's now WQYQ, "Q-101.7," picking up the classic rock format and slogan that were used by WNYQ (105.7) before that station signed off to begin its move south to the Albany market.

If you're an engineer, don't miss this year's SBE Broadcasting and Technology Expo, rapidly becoming one of the nation's most successful regional broadcasting conventions. This year's edition will take place Sept. 26th and 27th at Turning Stone Casino between Syracuse and Utica, and this year it's also the site of the SBE's national meeting. All the details are at www.sbe22expo.org. (Alas, we'll be traveling out west, and won't be at this year's convention, but we'll be back in 2007!)

Radio People on the Move: Jeff Alan ("Jeff Moore") is making a big move south from WKZA (106.9 Lakewood) in the Jamestown market, heading to mornings at WMTX in Tampa. In Watertown, Chili Walker is the new PD at WOTT (100.7 Henderson). And in New York City, Michael Calamenco is the new food show host on WOR (710).

Speaking of WOR, we'll be on hand Wednesday morning when its old three-tower array in Lyndhurst, NEW JERSEY is demolished. Look for pictures - and maybe even some video - on Tower Site of the Week, later this week!

*In PENNSYLVANIA, Ken Matthews is out as morning man at WAEB-FM (104.1 Allentown) after many years on that shift. Afternoon jock Mike Kelly is filling in for now, but we suspect we haven't heard the last of Matthews in the Lehigh Valley. Down the hall at WZZO (95.1 Bethlehem), Kelly Nova returns (from weekend/swing duty at WMMR in Philadelphia) to take over middays, moving PD Tori Thomas to the vacant afternoon slot. And last Monday was launch day for religion on WYHM (1470 Allentown), after 24 straight hours of Vicki Carr's "It Must Be Him." "Him" - "Hymn" - get it? Yeah...

Up in Scranton, we hear Mitch Carrol has moved from the GM position with Route 81 Radio (WLNP, WNAK, WCDL, WAZL) to Shamrock's WEZX (Rock 107).

In Philadelphia, Tom Bigby announced last week that he's retiring as operations manager of CBS Radio's WYSP (94.1). Bigby ran sports radio WIP (610) - and is credited for much of its success - from 1989 until 2004, when he went to Dallas for a year at KRLD (1080) before returning to Philadelphia.

Over at Clear Channel, Logan moves from WIOQ (102.1) to afternoons/music director on the new "Philly 106.1" (WISX).

Out in western Pennsylvania, Dylan returns to WRTS (103.7 Erie) to do afternoons and serve as assistant PD.

And former Pittsburgh jock Alan Cox starts his new gig today in Chicago - he's now the morning man on Emmis' WKQX (101.1) there.

*In CANADA, Bayshore Broadcasting has been granted a new signal in Wasaga Beach, Ontario. The new CHGB will operate on 97.7, with 316 watts (directional)/100 meters, as a sister station to Bayshore's three-station cluster in Owen Sound.

In the northern suburbs of Toronto, Pickering College is applying for a 5-watt developmental radio license on 102.7.

And on Prince Edward Island, the CBC is applying for a new transmitter at St. Edward. The 6.5 kW (directional)/110 meter signal on 101.1 would replace reception that will be lost if CBA (1070 Moncton) is granted its proposed move to FM.

*A scheduling note: we'll be on the road for most of the next two weeks, attending the WOR tower demolition on Wednesday and then heading west for this year's "Big Trip," visiting stations and tower sites across Oregon and Washington State. Look for an abbreviated NERW next Monday, September 25 - and we'll be back to normal on Monday, October 2. (And don't miss our coverage of the WOR demolition on Tower Site of the Week later this week!)

From the NERW Archives

(Yup, we've been doing this a long time now, and so we're digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five and ten years ago this week, or thereabouts - the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as "New England Radio Watch," and didn't go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997. Thanks to LARadio.com for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

September 19, 2005 -

  • It's far too early to say whether it's a brilliant move or just an interesting dead-end, but the outcome of last week's speculation about the future of The Morey Organization's three NEW YORK FM stations on Long Island's East End is certainly stirring debate within the broadcasting community. The new formats on the three stations are collectively known as "FM ChannelCasting," and the idea - according to TMO - is to bring listeners the same benefits that they'd get from satellite radio, without the expense of buying new equipment or paying a subscription fee.
  • Late last week, active rock WBON (98.5 Westhampton) became rock "FM Channel 98: Long Island Rock", dance/top 40 WDRE (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) became top 40 "FM Channel 105: Party Hits" and modern rock WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays) became "FM Channel 107: Neo-Breeze," an unusual (and interesting-sounding) melange of standards, soft AC and smooth jazz. What's new about the stations, though, isn't the music; it's the programming concept: Morey says "FM ChannelCasting" aims to bring listeners the same benefits they get from satellite radio - long sets of music uninterrupted by DJs or commercial breaks - without the costs. In practice, what it amounts to are jockless 15-minute music sweeps, with just one sponsor for an entire hour of programming and very brief sponsor announcements (15 to 30 seconds) four times an hour. Morey says it hopes to lure nontraditional sponsors, even individuals wishing to honor anniversaries and birthdays and such.
  • NERW's take: It's certainly a bold move, if nothing else, but mark us down as more than a bit skeptical about the long-term future of this "ChannelCasting" business. There is, for one thing, an intrinsic conflict between the prime need of any commercial broadcaster - to draw as large a mass audience as possible, thus ensuring ratings and, hopefully, revenue - and the appeal of the niche formats that are some of the biggest draws for satellite radio.
  • Meanwhile in Manhattan, it's sounding an awful lot like 1990 at WPLJ (95.5), which announced last week that Rocky Allen and Blain Ensley will return to the air there on Tuesday to resume the afternoon-drive "Showgram" that they did so successfully at 'PLJ more than a decade ago. The move shifts afternooner Race Taylor to middays, displacing Rich Kaminski to weekends.
  • From NEW JERSEY - or is it PENNSYLVANIA - comes word that Nassau has now taken the inevitable next step in the move of WTHK (97.5) into the Philadelphia market. The former WPST changed city of license from Trenton to Burlington a few weeks back, and now it's applied to move its transmitter from the downtown Trenton site it's called home since the sixties, all the way into Philadelphia. The move comes with some very tight spacing requirements, though: while there's no restriction on spacing to third-adjacent WOGL (98.1), thanks to pre-1964 grandfathering, the relocated WTHK can't increase interference to WIXM (97.3 Millville NJ) or WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue NY), with which it's also grandfathered, nor can it move much closer to WRVV (97.3 Harrisburg).
  • The result? As we'd sort of expected, WTHK is applying to move its transmitter to the Wyndmoor section of northern Philadelphia, adjacent to the Mermaid Lane site of WJJZ (106.1). From there, WTHK will be a full class B signal, 43 kW at 525 feet above average terrain, but with a deep directional null to the northwest to protect WRVV and a shallower null to the south and east to protect WIXM. What's next? Expect the CP to be granted fairly quickly - and then the speculation will build about a sale of the station. Nassau isn't a big-market player, especially not with a single FM signal, and a full-market FM like this would certainly bring big bucks. Stay tuned...
  • In MASSACHUSETTS - well, OK, on Long Island, where he actually does the show most of the time, "Jay Severin Has Issues." That's the name of the syndicated afternoon show that the WTKK (96.9 Boston) talker will be doing for Infinity beginning in January, but it's also a pretty good description of what the last week was like for him. It seems Severin told a caller that he'd won a Pulitzer Prize for online journalism, which raised some questions a few doors down at the Boston Globe. Columnist Scot Lehigh investigated, and found that MSNBC.com, for which Severin used to write, had won a couple of Online Journalism Awards, which were awarded by Columbia University, which also awards the Pulitzers...and there's now some frantic "what I meant to say was" backtracking going on.

September 17, 2001 -

  • Almost a week after the attacks on the World Trade Center, New York's TV dial continues to return to something resembling normalcy. WABC-TV (Channel 7) returned to the air with a low-power signal from the Armstrong tower in Alpine, N.J. on Saturday afternoon, with WNET (Channel 13) restoring its signal Sunday evening from the Empire State Building, again at low power. That leaves WWOR (Channel 9) as the last VHF signal to return. It plans to join sister Fox outlet WNYW (Channel 5) from Empire sometime this week. Pax's WPXN (Channel 31) is being seen over several LPTVs, including W23BA (Channel 34) in East Orange, N.J. and WPXU-LP (Channel 38) in Amityville, L.I.; there's no word on when WPXN itself will get a signal back on the air.
  • On the FM side, WNYC-FM (93.9) was the last of the World Trade Center FMs to restore a signal on its own frequency; it returned from Empire at 3:00 Sunday afternoon. The next project for all the affected stations is to turn these low-power emergency installations into full-power transmission facilities that can be used for the long haul. Despite all the talk of rebuilding the Trade Center towers, any reconstruction would be years in coming, and that means the Empire State Building and the Alpine tower are likely to remain the area's primary TV sites for a while. With that in mind, here's another run-through of the stations affected:
  • WCBS-TV (2)
    Continuing operations from its full-power backup site at Empire.
    WNBC-TV (4)
    On the air from Alpine at low power.
    WNYW-TV (5)
    On the air from Empire at low power.
    WABC-TV (7)
    On the air from Alpine at low power.
    WWOR-TV (9)
    Soon to resume operations from Empire.
    WPIX-TV (11)
    Temporary low-power operation from Daily News building, 220 E. 42nd Street; moving to Empire.
    WNET (13)
    On the air from Empire at low power.
    WPXN-TV (31)
    Not yet on the air.
    WNJU (47)
    On the air from an undetermined backup site
    WKCR (89.9)
    On the air from a Columbia University dorm building at low power.
    WPAT-FM (93.1)
    On the air from Empire.
    WNYC-FM (93.9)
    On the air from Empire.
    WKTU (103.5)
    On the air from auxiliary site at Four Times Square at full power.

New England Radio Watch, September 20, 1996

  • New England's oldest radio station, Boston's WBZ (1030) celebrated its 75th anniversary this week, with much merriment both on and off the air. Off-air, the big event was a party for staff and clients Wednesday night at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Guests of honor from 'BZ's past included Carl deSuze, Dave Maynard, Guy Mainella, Don Kent, Ken Meyer, Don Batting, and Bob Wilson. On-air, many of those same voices were heard during special segments on the anniversary morning, September 19, along with anniversary greetings from many of the state's politicos, plus Paul Harvey and a birthday poem from Charles Osgood. The David Brudnoy talk show Thursday night included chats with Dave Maynard, a 'BZ vet since the late 50s, and former producer-talk host Ken Meyer. And this Saturday, September 21, 'BZ's "Sports Saturday" will mark the anniversary by bringing many of Boston's legendary sports voices in for a special show from 12:30 to 6:30pm.
  • Down in Southern Connecticut, Cox's adult-contemporary WEZN (99.9) in Bridgeport is changing its name. The station now bills itself as "Star 99.9." NERW Connecticut correspondent Bill Dillane says no call changes are planned; it's just that the old "WEZN" identity didn't mesh too well with the upbeat AC the station is playing these days. WEZN's big competition is WEBE (107.9) in Westport.

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*It's here! Tower Site Calendar 2007 is now shipping, and if you took advantage of our pre-order offer, your calendar should be arriving in your mailbox any day now.

This year's edition features what we think are the finest tower images yet - from the cover image of WCCO Minneapolis all the way to the back-cover centerfold of WBZ in Boston, and from KGO San Francisco to KOIL Omaha to Philadelphia's famed Roxborough tower farm, captured in a dramatic dusk shot with the lights all aglow.

This sixth annual edition once again contains plenty of historic dates from radio and television history in the Northeast and beyond, and as always, it comes to you shrink-wrapped and shipped first class mail for safe arrival.

You can even get your 2007 calendar free with your new or renewal subscription to NERW at the $60 level.

Visit the Fybush.com Store and place your order today - and be among the first to get the Tower Site Calendar 2007, just as soon as it rolls off the presses in a few short weeks!

NorthEast Radio Watch is made possible by the generous contributions of our regular readers. If you enjoy NERW, please click here to learn how you can help make continued publication possible. NERW is copyright 2006 by Scott Fybush.