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February 26, 2007

Canada's Astral Buys Standard


*While the FCC's commissioners spent Friday in Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA talking about media consolidation (and staying longer than planned, as big public turnout pushed the scheduled 2:30 PM ending time to 3:30 PM), a real-life example of the trend was playing out up north in CANADA.

Just after the markets closed, Standard Radio and Astral Media, already two of the largest broadcasters in the country, announced plans for a C$1.3 billion sale that will put Standard's 52 radio stations in the hands of Astral, creating the largest privately-owned radio group in Canada.

For Astral, the purchase will finally take the company's radio holdings national, expanding beyond its current footprint in Quebec and the Maritimes. It's a goal Astral has had for some time, including an unsuccessful bid for CHUM Limited last summer. For Standard, it marks the end of 22 years of Slaight family ownership. (The family will retain Standard's other assets, including a share in Sirius Canada.)

The merger gives Astral a toehold in Toronto, where Standard owns news-talk CFRB (1010), soft AC "EZ Rock" CJEZ (97.3) and hot AC CKFM (99.9), as well as a new presence in Hamilton, London, and most of Canada's major western markets.

It also creates new clusters in Ottawa/Gatineau, where Standard's CKQB (106.9 the Bear) joins Astral's "Energie" CKTF (104.1) and "Rock Detente" CIMF (94.9), and most dramatically in Montreal, where Standard's English-language news-talk CJAD (800), AC CJFM (Mix 95.9) and rock CHOM (97.7) join Astral's "Rock Detente" CITE (107.3), "Energie" CKFM (94.3), as well as rimshot "Boom FM" outlets CFEI (106.5 St.-Hyacinthe) and CFZZ (104.1 St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu). Will the CRTC mandate a sale of some of those overlapping signals?

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*There's plenty more news from north of the border this week, including a new station on the air in Montreal.

Test transmissions from "Radio Shalom," CJRS (1650), have been widely heard by DXers in the eastern US and as far afield as Scotland. When the station begins regular programming soon, it will feature a lineup of shows aimed at the Jewish community, as well as several other ethnic groups.

Another Canadian ethnic X-bander, Spanish-language CHHA (1610 Toronto), has reportedly returned to the air from its new transmitter site at the Port of Toronto.

The CRTC granted Bayshore Broadcasting a new signal in Goderich, Ontario. The new 5.3 kW "classic AC" station on 104.9 will join Bayshore's existing 1 AM/2 FM cluster in Owen Sound and its FM in Port Elgin. Speaking of the Owen Sound cluster, Bob Wallace and Diana Meder take over in mornings at "Mix" CIXK (106.5).

More new station grants: FormationPLUS has been granted a new 40-watt signal on 95.9 in Chapleau, Ontario, simulcasting CHYC (98.9 Sudbury).

In Oshawa, CKDO (1580) has been granted a power boost for its FM relay. CKDO-FM-1 (and shouldn't that be CKDO-1-FM, really?) will go from 250 watts, nondirectional, to 2 kW DA (average ERP 665 watts) to help it overcome co-channel interference on 107.7 from WLKK (107.7 Wethersfield NY) across Lake Ontario.

In Lennoxville, Quebec, CJMQ (88.9) applies to boost power from 500 watts to 1.67 kW/108 m, with a change from "class B" to "class A" community radio status. In its application, CJMQ notes that with the demise of CKTS (900 Sherbrooke) last year, it's now the only independent English-language voice in the Sherbrooke/Estrie region.

In Hamilton, Ontario, CHML (900) veteran Roy Green will retire at the end of March. Green joined the station in 1973, and for the last 17 years he's been the host of the midmorning "Roy Green Show." CHML says it hopes to find a way to keep Green on the station on at least an occasional basis after his retirement.

*Crossing the border to upstate NEW YORK, we can now put a price tag on the deal between EMF Broadcasting and Galaxy Broadcasting, which turns out to involve a third Galaxy station. In addition to the two Albany-market FMs that flipped from "Bone" rock to EMF's satellite-delivered religious formats last week (WBOE 94.5 Ravena to "K-Love," WOOB 93.7 Scotia to "Air One"), EMF's $3.65 million purchase from Galaxy also includes Syracuse-market WSCP-FM (101.7 Pulaski), which is heard in Syracuse via translator W267AL (101.3).

WSCP-FM dropped its classic country format late last week and flipped to contemporary Christian "K-Love," creating a network of "K-Love" outlets along the Thruway that now stretches from Rochester's WKDL (104.9 Brockport) through Syracuse to WKVU (100.7 Utica) and the Albany stations.

And what of WSCP (1070 Sandy Creek), the erstwhile AM simulcast of WSCP-FM? When we tuned in Sunday afternoon, it had flipped from classic country to a simulcast of Galaxy classic rocker WTKW (99.5 Bridgeport)/WTKV (105.5 Oswego), "TK 99 and TK 105."

While Don Imus' morning show is gone from the Albany market, he's found a new affiliate to the north. WWSC (1450 Glens Falls) began carrying Imus' show earlier this month.

Downstate, veteran Long Island morning man Steve Harper has found a new job. The former WBLI (106.1 Patchogue) jock, who turned down a gig across Long Island Sound at Cox's WEZN-FM (99.9 Bridgeport), will instead head for the East End, where he's the new PD of WBEA (101.7 Southold) and afternoon jock at sister stations WEHM (92.9 Southampton)/WEHN (96.9 East Hampton).

Jim Somich was better known for his long career in radio engineering in Northeast Ohio, but he made his mark on the New York City scene as well, when Malrite brought him to town in 1983 as the first chief engineer of WHTZ (100.3 Newark NJ). Somich worked closely with Scott Shannon, Frank Foti and other big names to create the "Z100 sound," and he was one of the engineers involved in the design and planning of the ERI master antenna and combiner at the Empire State Building before he returned to Cleveland and Malrite's WHK/WMMS/WOIO(TV) later in the eighties. Somich died last week in Cleveland, at 65, leaving a big void in the engineering community there.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, CBS is getting ready to vacate the Independence Mall building that's been home to KYW (1060) and KYW-TV (Channel 3) since the early seventies, and more recently to WYSP (94.1) and WPSG (Channel 57) as well.

The radio stations are moving a block away, to 400 Market Street (is that close enough to keep using the "From Independence Mall" stagers on Newsradio 1060?), and the TV stations are moving to the huge office building at 1500 Spring Garden Street. Some business offices have already moved, and the last of the studio and newsroom operations should be gone from Independence Mall by mid-March, we're told. The KYW building at Fifth and Market will be demolished and replaced by a new museum of American Jewish history, scheduled to open in 2010.

Radio People on the Move: Production goddess Lucy St. James, late of Radio One and before that with WEGX and Schenectady's WGFM, has landed a new job as production director at Clear Channel's Philadelphia cluster. Meanwhile, former WIOQ (102.1) APD/MD Marian Newsome-McAdam has landed as music director of Beasley's WRDW-FM (96.5 Philadelphia).

Just across the line in DELAWARE, the all-but-inevitable ax fell on Friday at WILM (1450 Wilmington), the unusual small-city all-news station that hung on with a remarkably large newsroom staff even after its sale to Clear Channel a couple of years back. Five members of WILM's news staff - veterans Joe Backer and Wayne Aikens, along with Ted Efaw, Jason Hinchcliff and Natalie Sannutti - lost their jobs Friday, just days after WILM moved from its home of 33 years at 1215 French Street to new suburban digs at 920 W. Basin Road in New Castle, shared with sister stations WRDX (94.7 Dover) and WWTX (1290 Wilmington), which moved from Philadelphia Pike in Claymont, Delaware.

Over on the western edge of the Keystone State, Harold Glunt's WEXC (107.1 Greenville) has been granted a change of antenna height. It'll go from 3 kW/328' to 2.1 kW/391' at its existing tower site in Shenango, PA.

And in Erie, they're mourning Kenneth Husband, former chief engineer at WICU radio and television. Husband stayed with the radio side, which became WRIE (1330), when radio and TV split in the sixties, and remained the station's chief engineer until it was sold in 1989. Husband died Feb. 20 at age 80.

*In NEW JERSEY, Greater Media is applying for a bit of a power increase at WDHA (105.5 Dover). The rock station hopes to boost its power from 1 kW to 2 kW, though a directional antenna that will limit its signal to its current strength in the directions of WDAS-FM (105.3 Philadelphia) and WDBY (105.5 Patterson NY) means the power increase will only improve WDHA's signal toward the Jersey Shore and to the northwest.

*A veteran MASSACHUSETTS program director is heading west. Max Tolkoff is leaving the PD chair of WFNX (101.7 Lynn) to take over as PD of Entravision's LA-market "Indie 103.1" (KDLD 103.1 Santa Monica/KDLE 103.1 Huntington Beach). Tolkoff will continue to consult WFNX, where APD/afternoon jock Keith Dakin will take over as PD.

*In MAINE, Mountain Wireless' WFMX (107.9 Skowhegan) has been granted a power increase. "Mix 107.9" will go from its present 5.98 kW/666' C3 signal to 15 kW/666' as a C2 from its existing site near Norridgewock, improving its signal to the south into Augusta and Gardiner.

*In CONNECTICUT, Entravision's Univision affiliate, WUVN (Channel 18), is flexing its "must-carry" muscles, moving to channel 18 on most of the Hartford-New Haven market's Comcast systems after being scattered on a variety of channel positions.

*Two new sets of calls in VERMONT: John Fuller's new 97.5 in Bristol, serving the Burlington market, will be WTNN. And up north along the Connecticut River, Barry Lunderville's new 93.7 signal, which is applying to move from Groveton, NEW HAMPSHIRE to Lunenburg, Vermont, takes the calls WXBN.

And we've been remiss in not making note of the death earlier this month of Charlie Liese, who joined the staff of Burlington's WCAX in 1954 to supervise the construction of its new TV station, WMVT (Channel 3), atop Mount Mansfield. Liese served as chief transmitter operator at WMVT/WCAX-TV from the station's sign-on until 1972, when he became the station's chief engineer, a post he held until his retirement twenty years later. Liese's earlier career included World War II service in the Air Force and several years as a flight radio officer for Pan Am's trans-Atlantic service. Liese died Feb. 4 in Berlin, Vermont; he was 84.

*With that, on with the second part of the NERW Rant that we started a month ago:

When we left off a few weeks ago, this space was bemoaning the lack of vision displayed by too many radio operators, large and small. Whether under giant corporate control or small local ownership, we're hearing too many radio stations that are just treading water, keeping a transmitter on the air without bringing anything new or useful to the airwaves, and in a few cases operating with so little attention to detail as to be literally unlistenable.

To add insult to injury, it's most often those same stations that are filling unsold air time (of which there's plenty) with well-meaning industry ad campaigns that promote HD Radio and bash satellite radio, most of which has the unintended effect of turning listeners off to anything branded as "radio."

And there's an interesting trend that we're just beginning to see as we review radio station sales around our region: for the first time in many years, the prices of some radio stations are beginning to decline. It's not a universal trend, and it's certainly not affecting the biggest markets in the region, but it's showing up both in small towns and larger cities, and we believe it sends a message about the effects of this "make-do" radio over the long term.

The message? Stations that invest in stable, high-quality, locally-focused programming are holding their value when it comes time for a sale, while stations with less well-defined identities are often being sold for considerably less in 2007 than their sellers may have paid during the boom years earlier in the decade. We know of one cluster in a fairly important market somewhere in NERW-land with two identical full-market FM signals, one of which is being offered for twice the price of the other - simply because it comes with an established identity that's been built over 20 years of service to its community.

We'll take that concept one step further: the stations that continue to command premium prices in an otherwise flat market are doing so, we'd contend, precisely because they're not succumbing to the fear that seems to have gripped so much of the industry in the last few years.

It's true that the media universe is changing quickly and dramatically. It's true that many of the new technologies out there - not just satellite radio and portable music players, but the inevitable arrival of near-universal mobile high-speed broadband, making any stream available to anyone anywhere - pose serious threats to much of today's radio landscape. Stations with little or no local connection to their listeners are right to be afraid of what's coming down the road, and the market is appropriately reducing their value.

But there's a smaller subset of radio stations that will survive, thrive and even continue to add value for their owners, and they do it precisely by not being afraid of the future. Whether it's WYRK in Buffalo (which helped CBS Radio pull in a record price when it sold its cluster of stations there), WENT in Gloversville, WDEV in Waterbury or WBZ in Boston, these stations have made an investment in the people needed to make good community radio, and by extension in their communities themselves.

(That, by the way, is about the only common thread among this diverse group of "stations that get it" - just like our poster children for sloppy radio in the first part of our Rant, these stations run the gamut of format, market size and ownership size. The only other common factor here is patience - none of these stations is a member of the "format of the month" club, and most have built their identities over the course of many years, if not many decades.)

What's more, because the value of these stations lies as much in the content they generate as in the spectrum they occupy, which gives them even less reason to fear whatever the future brings. We've already seen some of these stations in other parts of the country successfully transplant their heritage from AM to FM, as Bonneville in particular has demonstrated with its launches of news-talk FMs in Washington, Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Some of our "stations that get it" are using their strength in over-the-air content to build web content that's more than just gimmicky - again, we point to WBZ, where Carl Stevens is taking his many years of experience as a radio reporter and using it to create short videos for the station's website.

That sort of content will transfer seamlessly to whatever medium comes next, and it will keep building value in the meantime, while we all wait to find out what that medium might be.

Next week - some concluding thoughts on what the latest round of station sales, and the dramatic change in station values, might mean when it comes to creating more new "stations that get it."

(And as always, we welcome your thoughts at rant at fybush dot com - let us know if it's OK to use your name when we present reader reaction in an upcoming issue of NERW.)

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 for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

February 27, 2006 -

  • It's been a turbulent time for sports radio in eastern MASSACHUSETTS - and it's not getting any quieter any time soon. The last few months have brought the launch of ESPN Radio on WAMG (890 Dedham)/WLLH (1400 Lowell and Lawrence); staff changes, new transmitters and the impending end of the Red Sox contract at WEEI (850 Boston); the return of Eddie Andelman at WTKK (96.9 Boston) - and now the third all-sports player, WWZN (1510 Boston), is officially up for sale, along with the rest of its parent company, The Sporting News.
  • The company's billionaire owner, Paul Allen, confirmed last week that he's hired an investment firm to review several offers that he's received to sell the company, which includes the flagship magazine as well as Sporting News Radio (formerly One-on-One Sports) and its three stations, WWZN, WSNR (620 Jersey City NJ-New York City) and KMPC (1540 Los Angeles). WSNR dropped most Sporting News Radio programming several years ago and now runs leased-time ethnic programming, and WWZN let most of its local staff (including Andelman) go last year. (It also lost its flagship sports franchise, the Celtics, to WEEI's sister station WRKO.)
  • Does a nation still coming to terms with the impending loss of UPN and The WB really need another new TV network? Whether or not it does, it's getting one - at least in NEW YORK and nine other markets where Fox Television Stations needs something to fill the prime-time slots about to be left empty by the demise of UPN. Fox will replace UPN on WWOR (Channel 9) with something called "My Network TV," a mini-network that will launch with two English-language "telenovelas," an attempt to translate the success of that format in the Spanish TV world, where nightly hour-long dramas that run for several months at a stretch are a programming staple.
  • And there's a new station on the air in CANADA's capital city. Evanov's CJWL (98.5 Ottawa) signed on last Monday (Feb. 20) at 10 AM. It's running a soft AC/standards format as "Jewel 98.5," with a 700-watt signal that doesn't reach much beyond the city itself. The station's studios are located at 124 York Street in Ottawa's Byward Market area, just a couple of blocks away from CHUM's MediaMarketMall and right across from the former studios of CHEZ (106.1).

February 25, 2002 -

  • A pair of station sales in NEW HAMPSHIRE and VERMONT top this week's brief report, as Saga adds four more outlets to its New England cluster and Tele-Media further shrinks in the region. The properties in question are the venerable AM/FM combos of WKVT in Brattleboro, Vermont and WKNE in Keene, New Hampshire; the former consisting of a 1 kW news-talk graveyarder on 1490 and a class-A rocker on 92.7, the latter of news-talk on 1290 and the big-signal CHR on 103.7. The price tag? Saga will pay $9.08 million to add the Brattleboro-Keene stations to a group that includes nearby holdings in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts and Manchester, N.H. Will the AMs join the three-station simulcast that includes WHMP in Northampton? We'll keep you posted...
  • Not much to report from MASSACHUSETTS, except for the effort on Beacon Hill to persuade the NFL to allow WBCN (104.1) and WEEI (850) to present the rebroadcasts of the Super Bowl play-by-play they'd hoped to offer the week after the Patriots' big win. The NFL stepped in and barred WBCN from rerunning the Gil Santos/Gino Cappelletti call, as well as preventing WEEI from presenting the Westwood One national call that was never heard in Boston; now state lawmakers want to urge the NFL to change its mind and allow the broadcasts.
  • We'll start our NEW YORK news with the conclusion of the auction for channel 51 in Pittsfield, Mass., which will serve the Albany market when it signs on. Venture Technologies won the station with a $1,323,000 bid; its down payment is due March 4, with a completed application for a construction permit due to the FCC March 20.
  • Down in New York City, Pete Fornatale was off the air at WFUV (90.7) for the past two weekends, as he negotiates his future with the Fordham University-owned public radio station. Fornatale is apparently upset about criticism he received from station management for political comments he made on his February 9 "Mixed Bag" show; he's also negotiating for extra money for the Web archives of the show, we hear.

February 28, 1997-

  • Two of Boston's largest FM stations have new owners. CBS is trading WBOS (92.9 Brookline-Boston) and WOAZ (99.5 Lowell-Boston), along with WMMR (93.3 Philadelphia) to Greater Media, in even exchange for Greater's KLSX (97.1 Los Angeles) and KRLA (1110 Pasadena-Los Angeles). CBS was under Justice Department orders to sell WBOS and WMMR, as part of its purchase of Infinity. WOAZ simply went along with the deal, just as it did when Infinity acquired it from Granum just a few years ago. No immediate format changes are expected at AAA WBOS or at smooth jazz "Oasis," which now form a group with AC WMJX (106.7), oldies WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham-Boston), country WKLB-FM (96.9), and WNFT (1150). WNFT is in search of a new format, following the demise of KidStar, the Seattle-based childrens' network that had been leasing 1150 for some four months. KidStar folded abruptly last week, sending 1150 back to its default mode of simulcasting 96.9 until someone else signs up to lease it. Rumor has it that rival kids' programer Radio AAHS is contemplating a deal for 1150.
  • We now know what Salem will call AM 1260, the former WEZE Boston. The new calls are WPZE, for "Praise 1260." The WEZE calls move to 590, the former WBNW. Both stations are still simulcasting for the moment, but separate programming for 1260 is expected soon.
  • Squeaking through: WRPT (650 Ashland MA) made it on the air with just hours to spare before the February 9 deadline for keeping its license. Like sister station WJLT (ex-WBIV) 1060 Natick, WRPT is operating from one tower of the WKOX (1200) site on Mount Wayte Avenue in Framingham. WRPT is running the "Talk America #2" network programming for now. Also back in time were WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY), which is being leased by crosstown WZBZ (1070) to simulcast its talk programming, and WAUB (1590 Auburn NY), which is simulcasting WLLW 93.7 Clyde NY for now. We don't know the fates of WHWB (970 Rutland VT), WEGP (1390 Presque Isle ME), or WSCP (1070 Sandy Creek NY) -- and we'd like to hear from anyone who does! Dead and gone are WQQW (1590 Waterbury CT) and WLNG (1600 Sag Harbor NY).
  • Rhode Island's got something to dance to: WDGF (100.3 Middletown) has dropped its simulcast of WDGE (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale, "The Edge") to become dance music "The Beat." WDGF is the former smooth jazz WOTB; it had been simulcasting WDGE for only a year or so.

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*It's here! As seen in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Chicago Sun-Times, and soon on WCVB's "Chronicle," Tower Site Calendar 2007 is not only now shipping - it's close to a sellout! If you're waiting for the 2007 edition to go on clearance sale, don't keep waiting - the word from the shipping department is that fewer than 200 copies remain, and we expect to sell them all in the next month or two.

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 Store and place your order today - and be among the first to get the Tower Site Calendar 2007!

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 2007 by Scott Fybush.