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June 15, 2009

The End of Analog

TUESDAY UPDATE: Reception of VHF DTV signals certainly seems to be the story of the week across the region, and nowhere more so than in Boston. Despite erroneous initial reports that WHDH-TV's digital channel 7 signal was not yet operating at full power, it turns out that it was making full power...and that it still wasn't enough for clear reception in much of the area that used to get a usable analog signal. Fortunately, WHDH's interim channel 42 facility remained in place, and the channel remained available, and by late Tuesday morning the NBC affiliate had received special temporary authority to reactivate WHDH-DT on channel 42 while it looks for a permanent solution.

Other stations with similar reception woes, such as WPVI (6) and WHYY (12) in Philadelphia and WABC-TV (7) in New York, aren't as fortunate, since their former interim DTV operations are out of the new core, channels 2-51. Several, including WPVI, are said to be seeking emergency power increases from the FCC; we'll keep you posted as the issue percolates.

Meanwhile in Erie, WICU-DT made it on the air on channel 12 late Sunday, restoring full network service (albeit without NBC in HD just yet) to that market.

Much more next week in NERW...

*Whether you date its beginnings to the first experimental electronic broadcasts of the late twenties, the early scheduled broadcasts of the thirties, the start of commercial service in 1941 or the establishment of the 525-line NTSC standard soon afterward, there's no disputing the longevity of analog broadcast television in the United States - nor the historical import of the switches being thrown and buttons being pressed in master controls and transmitter rooms from Presque Isle to Pittsburgh last Friday, as one by one the signals that had been so central to American life over the decades winked out for the last time.

What was widely portrayed in the mass media as a one-day "switch to digital" was, of course, really the culmination of a long and complex transition that began back in the late nineties, when the first experimental digital TV transmitters began to appear on the airwaves. In most parts of NERW-land, that transition was far enough along that Friday's "switch" was - just as broadcasters had hoped - a non-event for most viewers, who'd already traded over-the-air analog for cable, satellite, or over-the-air digital TV.

Add in the last-minute stresses behind the scenes, as the FCC revised its transition guidelines and phones rang off the hook from the remaining few percent of viewers who'd yet to complete their conversion, and it's not entirely unsurprising, if still somewhat disappointing, that by the time the end of analog rolled around on Friday, many broadcasters were ready to just pull the plug on their venerable analog signals without any notice or ceremony. (There were some notable exceptions, which we'll mention later in this week's issue.)

(Thanks to Chris Pickett for contributing this week's graphic!)

Whether accompanied by fanfare or just a fade to snow midway through Conan O'Brien's monologue, the good news is that the last pieces of the complex puzzle that was the transition went largely without a hitch for most stations across NERW-land, even in the complicated situations where stations had to swap channels and even transmission facilities in the space of just a few hours.

The one notable exception was in Syracuse, NEW YORK, where viewers looking for NBC programming had to do some juggling to find WSTM-TV (Channel 3) over the weekend. WSTM had a difficult juggling act to pull off: it had to vacate both its longtime analog channel and its temporary digital channel, 54, by midnight Friday, but it couldn't occupy its new digital channel, 24, until public station WCNY-TV signed off its analog operation early Friday morning, freeing up not only the channel but also the transmission line and antenna that WSTM-DT would use. But rather than buying WCNY's transmitter, already tuned to channel 24, WSTM decided to retune its own digital transmitter from channel 54 to channel 24. It even signed off WSTM-DT on channel 54 early - on Monday - to provide plenty of time to get the retuning done.

As it turned out, though, retuning the Thales transmitter was a more complex task than expected, so much so that when WSTM turned off its analog transmitter at a minute past midnight Friday (with a full-screen ID and a 50s-vintage national anthem clip), it was clear that it would still be a few days before the station could get the parts it needed to get WSTM-DT back on the air.

So WSTM turned to plan B - and plan C, too. By mid-morning Friday, analog channel 3 was back on the air, providing at least some signal for hockey fans to tune in for the final Stanley Cup game that night. Thanks to its new partnership with CBS affiliate WTVH (Channel 5), WSTM was able to put its programming on the 5.2 subchannel of WTVH-DT, maintaining some on-air presence after channel 3 had to sign off for good (with no fanfare this time) at 11:59 Friday night. (As always, most cable viewers were unaffected, since WSTM continued to provide its signal to Time Warner Cable via fiber.)

By Sunday, WSTM-DT was back on the air on channel 24, with a significantly better signal than the old channel 54.

As best we can tell, only one other station - Erie NBC affiliate WICU (Channel 12) - was off the air as a result of the switchover, as its engineers worked to replace the old channel 12 analog signal (silenced last Tuesday) with a VHF digital signal on the same channel. There, too, a sister station saved the day, with WICU's signal continuing to be available (as it has for some time now) on WSEE's 35-3 subchannel.

Around the region, those VHF digital signals - many of them taking the air for the first time on Friday or early Saturday - proved a little more troublesome than expected, especially for viewers unfamiliar with the different antennas needed for VHF reception as opposed to the UHF band, where most existing DTV had been located.

Even with those hiccups (which we'll list in more detail in our market-by-market roundup below), the transition went about as smoothly as anyone could have anticipated; contrary to message-board fearmongering, there were no mad runs on stores selling converter boxes and antennas, no widespread shortages, and certainly no rioting in the streets in front of TV stations or transmitter sites. (Though just about every station we've talked to has received at least one frantic phone call starting out, "why didn't anyone tell me this was going to be happening?!?," proving that no public education campaign can ever reach absolutely everyone...)


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*Since the DTV transition essentially was the week's news, we'll use the rest of this week's column for a market-by-market roundup of how it all worked, with a bit of the rest of the week's news mixed in as needed:

*In NEW YORK City, the history of analog television on the Empire State Building goes right back to the building's earliest days, circa 1931, making it unquestionably the single longest-running home of analog TV transmission anywhere in the world. That legacy will actually continue for a few more weeks, since two stations - WCBS-TV (Channel 2) and WNBC (Channel 4) - are keeping their analog transmitters going through early July with the "nightlight" loop of instructions on making the DTV conversion.

WCBS-TV, almost alone among the city's stations, did a proper sign-off, including the national anthem and a vintage black-and-white ID slide, as it concluded a remarkable 78-year analog run going way back to experimental W2XAB, circa 1931. Even as it saluted its history, WCBS-TV was busy behind the scenes at noon on Friday, shutting down the WCBS-DT channel 56 transmitter that had been on the air from Empire for over a decade and moving down the dial to channel 33, the channel just vacated by WPIX-DT.

WPIX, WABC-TV (7) and WNET (13) all returned to VHF from their interim UHF homes, yielding initally mixed reports of signal reception in the urban canyons - though it's important to note that the antenna configuration on Empire remains very much an interim situation for the next year or more as the limited space on the mast is once again reconfigured for the permanent channel arrangement of the DTV era.

On the UHF side, special credit is due to Univision for making an exceptional effort to inform its audience, heavily dependent on over-the-air signals, about the transition: the last half-hour on the air at WXTV, both on analog 41 and digital 40, was a special all about the transition, complete with a live shot of the transition as seen on the Times Square jumbotron.

(Also moving were Long Island's WLIW, from analog 21/digital 22 to digital 21, Telefutura's WFUT, from digital 53 to digital 30, and ion's WPXN-TV, from analog 31/digital 30 to digital 31. Another area signal, NJN's WNJB in New Brunswick, will move its channel 8 DTV signal to the Empire State Building in the next few months.)

In other New York City news, WOR (710) is shuffling its schedule, adding the third hour of Glenn Beck's syndicated 9 AM-noon show. That pushes Joan Hamburg back an hour to the noon-2 PM slot, displacing Dr. Joy Browne's oddly-placed 1-2 PM hour. She's now heard from 10 PM-midnight, followed by an hour of Dr. Ronald Hoffman, which means Joey Reynolds now goes on the air at 1 AM instead of midnight.

WCBS-FM (101.1) is replacing two local weekend fixtures - the "Top 20 Countdown" and the "Radio Greats" guest slot that was filled by a rotating cast of veteran New York personalities - with the syndicated "Dick Bartley's Classic Countdown," now heard Sundays from 7-11 PM.

On the TV side of things, WNBC news director Vickie Burns has been promoted to the new post of vice-president of content and audience development for "NBC Local Media New York," the umbrella that covers WNBC and NBC's other local broadcast and internet platforms. No replacement has been named yet for her old post.

And we remember two members of the New York broadcast community lost in recent days: Bob Lawrence was PD and station manager at Long Island's WGBB (1240 Freeport) from 1965 until 1980, where he helped launch many new careers. Lawrence also spent several seasons as an announcer for the Islanders, alongside John Sterling. Lawrence died Friday of lung cancer, at age 80.

Veteran NBC engineer Gene Garnes, Senior died June 5 at age 81. Like Bob Lawrence, Garnes was a native of York, Pennsylvania. He came to NBC in 1951 after working at WLAN-FM, WSBA and KYW, and he remained there until his retirement in 1988. Garnes' son, Gene Jr., still works at NBC, and we send our condolences to him and to the rest of the Garnes and Lawrence families.

*Moving upstate, the Albany market had been closely watched during the conversion, to see just what would happen when WRGB (Channel 6) traded its interim channel 39 DTV signal for a permanent digital home on channel 6, down there in the low band shunned by most digital broadcasters for fear of electrical interference, propagation anomalies and the large receiving antennas required by viewers. WRGB made the move with no fanfare at the end of the broadcast day Friday, and initial reports suggest that the digital signal is getting out fairly well.

(As for WRGB's reported plans to try to maintain an analog audio signal on 87.75 MHz for the benefit of listeners who were tuning in to its audio on their FM radios, the idea is still apparently alive, though we can find no sign in the FCC's experimental database of any authorization to return the analog audio signal alongside - indeed, in the same spectrum as - the digital channel 6 signal.)

For the rest of Albany's broadcasters - and those in nearby Utica and Binghamton - the shutdown was largely a non-event, as stations simply pulled the plug on their legacy analog signals as midnight approached on Friday, keeping their DTV operations in place on the channels they were already occupying. The only notable exception is Albany-market My Network affiliate WNYA (Channel 51), which has signed on its digital signal on channel 13 now that WNYT has vacated that channel.

In Binghamton, ABC affiliate WIVT (Channel 34) and PBS outlet WSKG-TV (Channel 46) were the last analogs standing, and they apparently left the air Friday without ceremony. WIVT-DT remains temporarily on channel 4 while the new channel 34 digital transmitter is being installed. (One more Binghamton note: while WIVT cut back on its local newscasts, we're told Fox affiliate WICZ-TV 40 launched a new 6 PM newscast in late May, the first early-evening newscast there since the station flipped from NBC in 1995.)

In Syracuse, the transition was also largely a non-event outside of the WSTM shuffle. ABC affiliate WSYR-TV (Channel 9) stayed on for a few minutes past its scheduled 12:01 AM analog signoff Friday so it could carry the NBA finals to their conclusion; as soon as the game was over, so was channel 9's 47-year analog history. WCNY-TV (Channel 24) acknowledged its 44-year analog legacy in a special signoff announcement at 1 AM, and WTVH (Channel 5), Syracuse's oldest station, quietly left the analog airwaves at 9 AM Friday.

Up in Watertown, ABC affiliate WWTI (Channel 50) was the last remaining analog signal, and we watched from Rochester as it turned off with no fanfare at 11:59 PM Friday.

We chronicled much of the Rochester and Buffalo transition over on Tower Site of the Week Friday, starting with the overnight flash-cuts of Rochester's WHEC-TV (Channel 10) and WHAM-TV (Channel 13) to their new digital homes.

Most of Buffalo took the plunge at once Friday morning at 9; we were in the transmitter room at the city's oldest station, WIVB (Channel 4), as it silenced its analog transmitter alongside sister station WNLO (Channel 23). Ion station WPXJ (Channel 51) went at the same time, and ABC affiliate WKBW (Channel 7) shut off its analog a few minutes later, just as WPXJ-DT was signing on for the first time on the just-vacated channel 23. My Network affiliate WNYO-TV (Channel 49) received last-minute FCC permission to continue operating on channel 49 digitally, allowing it to trade a weak-signalled channel 34 DTV operation for a bigger signal on 49 from western Wyoming County. It made that switch a little after 11 AM, leaving only WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) on analog. WGRZ had planned to shut down analog at 1 PM, but it ended up making a last-minute decision to run the nightlight loop for two weeks instead.

(Speaking of WGRZ, it has added two new digital subchannels in recent weeks - NBC's Universal Sports is on 2.2, and Retro TV is on 2.3; both are welcome additions over here in Rochester, where neither network is yet available locally.)

Back in Rochester, the analog era ended in style at 11:35 PM, when the city's oldest station, WROC-TV (Channel 8), marked its sixtieth anniversary (plus a day) as general manager Louis Gattozzi, retired engineer John Coon, current chief engineer Eric Melenbacker and other staffers and friends gathered at the Pinnacle Hill transmitter (in the garage of the same building the station signed on from in 1949) to watch as Coon cut the power on the analog transmitter during a live broadcast from the site. That left only WXXI-TV (Channel 21) on the air with a nightlight loop that will run until June 10.

And in Elmira, the start of full digital service brought the market something it's never had before: a full complement of local network affiliates. NBC comes from Newport's WETM (Channel 18), which replaced its low-power interim channel 2 digital service with full-power operation on channel 18 (including independent "WETM 2" on 18.2); Fox from WYDC (Channel 48), which has traded its interim channel 50 for digital on 48; and ABC and now CBS both come from Lilly's WENY-TV (Channel 36), finally on the air in digital on channel 36 from its new Higman Hill site in Corning after pulling the plug on its analog channel 36 from the WETM tower on Hawley Hill in Elmira.

(A check of the channel 36 DTV signal while passing through Elmira Sunday night found ABC running in HD and CBS apparently available over the air only in standard-def on 36.2; WENY is providing a CBS HD feed directly to area cable companies.)


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*In CONNECTICUT, noon on Friday was the big moment when most of the state's analog TV signals switched off, largely without any fanfare. The big exception was CBS affiliate WFSB (Channel 3), which looked back to its 1957 sign-on for a replay of that big moment before switching to the nightlight loop. Only one station changed channels: CW affiliate WTXX moved its digital signal from interim channel 12 to its former analog channel, 20.

In the heavily-cabled Nutmeg State, the transition went largely unnoticed by many viewers, but we hear that ABC affiliate WTNH (Channel 8) discovered how many viewers it had for its analog signal after pulling the plug, when the phones began ringing with calls from the East End of Long Island, where the WTNH signal has long been one of the few usable network-affiliate signals and where WTNH-DT on channel 10 wasn't quite reaching.

*NEW HAMPSHIRE's WMUR (Channel 9) traded its interim digital signal on channel 59 for a new VHF digital signal on channel 9, with a nonstop crawl on the analog signal leading up to the 11:59 PM Friday analog shutdown warning viewers to expect about two hours with both analog and digital off the air. As it turned out, it took only about half an hour after WMUR's no-frills analog shutdown before the new WMUR-DT 9 was on the air.

WMUR is keeping analog signals going at its North Country translators, and it's concerned that viewers in the Connecticut River Valley who'd enjoyed a weak but watchable analog channel 9 signal may have no digital reception.

*If anyone was watching as the few remaining analog signals in MAINE signed off Friday, they haven't checked in with us (or posted the videos on YouTube as so many other markets did), so we can't say much about what stations such as WCSH, WMTW, WLBZ or WABI did to mark the switch. We can report, however, that WLBZ in Bangor is not yet ready to become the only full-power DTV station operating on channel 2 in NERW-land; it has received special temporary authority to keep its interim channel 25 DTV operation running while it gets WLBZ-DT built on its former analog channel.

(There was one other bit of Maine radio news: the as-yet-unbuilt 1230 construction permit in Newport took the WGUY calls that have so much history in the Bangor market.)

*And with VERMONT and RHODE ISLAND having made early conversions to all-digital operation, that leaves MASSACHUSETTS as the last New England state with analog TV on the air, thanks to nightlight loops at Boston's WGBH-TV (Channel 2), WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and WCVB (Channel 5).

Sadly, 61 years of analog TV in the Hub ended with no on-air acknowledgement from any of the stations involved. WBZ went to nightlight at 12:30 PM, signing off WSBK (Channel 38) without fanfare half an hour later. WGBH and WCVB went to nightlight without ceremony at midnight, just as WHDH-TV (Channel 7), sister station WLVI (Channel 56) and Telefutura's WUTF (Channel 66) all pulled the plug on their analog signals, also without ceremony.

WHDH also silenced its interim DTV facility on channel 42, replacing it moments later with digital operation (initally at half-power) on channel 7, and as the sole VHF outlet in a DTV market that had been all-UHF, WHDH immediately encountered some reception issues in homes that had indoor UHF-only antennas. (Based on your editor's experience as a DTV educator here in Rochester, and on what we're hearing from around the region, that whole indoor antenna issue is going to be a major piece of the DTV story in the next few months.)

Over in Springfield, which has been DTV-only since February, it turns out there was one more chapter to the story on Friday: WGGB-DT, which we'd thought had already moved from 55 to its former analog channel, 40, was still on channel 55 as late as Thursday night, though it has now made the shift to its permanent channel assignment.

(One more New England note: if you're looking for pictures of some of these stations at the excellent NECRAT site, it's in the midst of changing hosts - so if you can't find it at the usual, locate it at for now instead...)

*A call change on the shore in NEW JERSEY: Millennium has dropped the WBUD calls it was parking on 1310 in Asbury Park, returning that station to its previous calls, WADB. (Those calls, of course, long resided on the 95.9 in Point Pleasant now known as WRAT; 1310 was historically WCAP and then WJLK.)

Down the shore, a religious FM is changing hands: Hope Christian Church of Marlton, owner of WVBV (90.5 Medford Lakes), is buying WWFP (90.5 Brigantine) from Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa for $50,000.

But the bigger news from the Garden State came from Princeton, where the David Sarnoff Library will be closing its doors, at least temporarily, at year's end, a victim of its success in recent years at expanding awareness of its collection of Sarnoff and RCA history. Director Alex Magoun says annual attendance at the museum has increased from 100 people a decade ago to more than 1,400 visitors last year, no doubt bolstered by the attention the museum received a couple of years ago when its archives were damaged by flooding, only to be restored with an outpouring of help from the region's broadcasting community.

Magoun says that increase in attendance has put too much strain on the Sarnoff Corporation, which hosts the library's facilities and handles security and access to the museum - and he says the library is in talks with other institutions, both inside and outside New Jersey, as it searches for a new home.

*Perhaps the classiest nod to history during the DTV transition came from PENNSYLVANIA's oldest TV station. As it left the airwaves for good Monday afternoon, KYW-TV (Channel 3) flashed back - way back - by showing a test pattern for "W3XE" as its final analog image before shifting to nightlight mode.

W3XE, of course, was the Philco experimental station in the 1930s that became commercial WPTZ, then WRCV-TV, and then in 1965 took its present calls, KYW-TV, and it's nice to see the station remembering its heritage in its last moments of analog operation. (A similarly classy farewell to analog came from WTTG in Washington, DC, which pulled out a vintage DuMont ID in honor of its founder, an especially nice touch in light of the recent death of Allen B. DuMont's chief engineer and WTTG's namesake, Thomas T. Goldsmith.)

Philadelphia is another market where VHF DTV will be put to the test: ABC's WPVI (Channel 6) traded its interim channel 64 facility for a return to low-band VHF, making it the largest-market station in the country operating on low-VHF with a major network affiliation. There are already early reports of issues with indoor reception of WPVI-DT in outlying areas of the relatively large (by East Coast standards) market, and its experience on channel 6 will be closely watched by the rest of the industry.

One other Philadelphia VHF station, public outlet WHYY-TV, ended up on VHF, returning to channel 12 from its interim slot on channel 50, where it had been constrained by low power and a very directional antenna. NBC's WCAU chose not to return to its VHF channel, 10, instead working out a channel swap that puts WCAU-DT on channel 34 and moves community station WYBE from analog 35/digital 34 to digital 35. Another channel swap found Tribune's My Network outlet, WPHL, going from analog 17/digital 54 to digital 17 - and with the exception of KYW-TV and WTXF (Channel 29), which showed its analog transmitter being shut off live on the air, few of those midday moves took place with much fanfare, we're told. (Channel 29 was quickly reoccupied in yet another channel swap, as Univision's WUVP shifted from analog 65/digital 66 to digital 29.)

We haven't heard much from viewers in the Harrisburg/Lancaster area (where WGAL-TV moved from analog 8/digital 58 to digital 8 and WHP-TV moved from analog 21/digital 4 to digital 21), nor from Scranton, where WNEP's channel 16 was the only analog remaining in the market after February.

Johnstown's oldest station, WJAC-TV, pulled the plug on its channel 6 analog signal at 9 AM Friday, replacing it with nightlight service for now.

Up in Erie, WICU (Channel 12), the last remaining analog station, had already signed off its analog signal earlier in the week in preparation for its move from interim digital channel 52 to DTV operation on channel 12 - and with the new WICU-DT 12 not quite ready to go on Friday, NBC programming was being seen over the weekend on sister station WSEE's 35-3 subchannel, as noted earlier in the column.

And in Pittsburgh...well, the good folks of the Steel City had something else on their minds as the clock ticked toward that 11:59 PM deadline on Friday, thanks to Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins. What would have happened if NBC's coverage of the crucial Game 7 matchup with the Red Wings had stretched to midnight? Word has it that the fear of outraged Pens fans would have outweighed any fear of FCC action - and that WPXI (Channel 11) would have kept its analog signal on the air through the end of the game.

As it turned out, no such decision was needed, since the game ended in time for WPXI - as well as the other remaining analogs, CBS's KDKA-TV (Channel 2) and ABC affiliate WTAE-TV (Channel 4) - to broadcast an hour or so of live coverage of the street celebrations before pulling the plug on analog for good at 11:59 PM. (We even caught a bit of WTAE's analog signal way up here in Rochester in its final minutes, thanks to some decent propagation and the absence of semi-local WIVB on the channel.)

KDKA offered a sign-off message and national anthem as it closed down service on the city's oldest analog station; it and WTAE remain on the air with analog nightlight service, while WPXI had to vacate channel 11 to make room for digital service from WPCW (Channel 19), the city's CW affiliate.

Radio news? Just a bit: Telikoja Educational Broadcasting has picked up some appropriate calls for its 88.7 construction permit in Dushore: that signal takes the WEMR calls ("Endless Mountain Radio") recently dropped from their longtime home on 1460 in Tunkhannock, now WGMF(AM).

*A compromise in CANADA's capital may result in three new FM signals. The Ottawa Citizen reports that the tests conducted last month on 94.5 in Ottawa demonstrated to the satisfaction of Industry Canada that the frequency can be used without causing harmful interference to Astral Media's CIMF (94.9) - and that Astral is willing to sign off on the use of the second-adjacent frequency for a proposed new French-language community station if the CRTC will license Astral's proposed "Eve FM" adult contemporary station on 99.7.

An initial grant of licenses to Eve FM and to Frank Torres' all-blues "Dawg FM" on 101.9 was set aside after government officials overseeing the CRTC expressed concern that Francophone interests hadn't been taken into account in the licensing process.

Toronto's new ethnic station, CHTO (1690), is asking for a power increase. Licensee Canadian Hellenic Toronto Radio is asking for 3000 watts by day, up from the present 1000 watts, in order to better serve listeners in outlying Mississauga and Brampton.

Now that Rogers has replaced "Jack" with "Kiss" at Toronto's 92.5, it's swapping calls to correspond: the Toronto station formerly known as CJAQ is now CKIS, while the former CKIS (96.9) in Calgary is now CJAQ, matching the "Jack" format that's still running out west.

And some nice news on the history front: the Toronto Star reports that the historic sign that came down from the old CHUM building at 1331 Yonge Street has been refurbished and is ready to go up at the new CHUM studios at 250 Richmond Street early this week. (Shame that the "DIAL 1050" on the sign now points listeners to the audio simulcast of CTV's CP24 cable news channel rather than the oldies of CHUM...)

Edited by NERW's own Scott Fybush - on sale now as an e-book or printed volume!

And we wrap up this week with the final installment of our ongoing look at baseball on the radio - this time, the short-season New York-Penn League, which starts play this week.

The Lowell Spinners are in their second season on WCAP (980), with Ken Cail again behind the mike.

The Vermont Lake Monsters continue on WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY), but with a reduced schedule this year - only 51 games, instead of the full-season coverage that aired last year, when "The Zone" included not only WEAV but also WXZO (96.7). Rob Ryan will be working the games solo this year, leaving George Commo out of the coverage for the first time in 15 years.

In New York State, the Batavia Muckdogs return to WBTA (1490) for a second season, with Wayne Fuller at the mike. The Jamestown Jammers remain on WKSN (1340) for away games only. Heading east, former Lowell play-by-play man Mike Demos is the new announcer for the Tri-City Valley Cats, which apparently continue on Siena College's WVCR (88.3 Loudonville). The Hudson Valley Renegades continue on WBNR (1260 Beacon) and WLNA (1420 Peekskill) and add the third piece of the "Fox Sports Radio" trio, WGHQ (920 Kingston) to the roster this year. Downstate, the Brooklyn Cyclones are again on Brooklyn College's WKRB (90.3), while there's no radio for the Staten Island Yankees.

Add another one to the "no radio" list: the Auburn Doubledays are webcast-only this year, having failed to reach a deal with former radio home WAUB (1590). But while Auburn won't have radio, the Oneonta Tigers are regaining radio coverage for the first time in a few years, with all 76 games to be heard on the big signal of WKXZ (93.9 Norwich). Eric Knighton, the team's new assistant GM, will be doing the play-by-play.

And in Pennsylvania, the State College Spikes play on WWZW (95.3 Bellefonte), while the Williamsport Crosscutters are in their second season on WLYC (1050) and its FM translator at 104.1.

Play ball!

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, ten and - where available - fifteen years ago this week, or thereabouts. Note that 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!)

June 16, 2008 -

  • The shock of Tim Russert's far-too-early death on Friday afternoon was felt all over the country, but nowhere more so than in his native western NEW YORK.
  • Russert never worked in radio or television in Buffalo, of course; his road out of South Buffalo took him into the political arena, as an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, before he joined NBC as Washington bureau chief in 1984. But as Russert became a fixture on the NBC and MSNBC airwaves over the last two decades, he missed no opportunity to talk up his Buffalo roots. When he wasn't shamelessly promoting the Bills and the Sabres at the end of "Meet the Press" many weeks, Russert was talking about his Canisius High School education and his days growing up as the son of "Big Russ," Tim Russert Sr. In 2003, the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers (now the Buffalo Broadcasters) inducted Russert into their hall of fame, honoring him with the "Buffalo" Bob Smith Award, which recognizes Buffalo natives who achieved fame outside the Queen City.
  • As news of Russert's sudden collapse and death spread on Friday, Buffalo's TV and radio stations sprung into action - not only NBC affiliate WGRZ (Channel 2) but the rest of the Buffalo newscasts were filled with local residents' memories of Russert throughout the weekend, and much of the front page of Saturday's Buffalo News was dedicated to Russert. And Buffalo voices were all over the networks throughout the weekend, too - Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, in particular, was seen several times on MSNBC and NBC itself, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, another prominent son of Buffalo, shared some touching stories about the bond he shared with his fellow western New Yorker.
  • There's a radio vacancy in Albany; reports that Scott Allen Miller is departing Albany Broadcasting's WROW (590) in mid-July to move to New York City. Miller just took over as WROW's PD and morning man last October, following a stint as morning host in Boston at WRKO; no replacement has been named yet.
  • One central PENNSYLVANIA AM station is officially dead, while another is getting a new lease on life. The defunct one first: WISL (1480 Shamokin) has been silent for several years now (we last heard it on the air, at low power, in 2003), but it took the FCC a while to catch up with its demise; the license was finally cancelled for good, and the callsign deleted, last week.
  • Down the road in Carlisle, WIOO (1000) won Commission approval last week to move to 1010, concluding a long fight it's been waging against Radio One's WOLB (1010 Baltimore). Back in 2004, WIOO applied for the frequency change and power increase. In its application, WIOO noted that WCST (1010 Berkeley Springs WV) was off the air, apparently for good, and it argued that it shouldn't have to protect WOLB's full-power licensed facilities because Radio One had demolished them, sold the old transmitter site, and was operating at reduced power from another site. The matter percolated before the Commission for several years, during which WCST returned to the air and WOLB filed an application for licensed facilities with lower power. WIOO amended its application to show protection for both of those signals, and when WOLB was licensed at its new site last month, WIOO pressed the Commission to approve its own move. And after one more appeal from Radio One, which was denied, the FCC agreed. So WIOO will go from 1 kW, non-directional, to 5 kW DA by day, adding 60 watts of power at night on its new frequency of 1010.
  • There's a new FM signal on the air in eastern CANADA; Kentville, Nova Scotia, to be precise. Newcap's CIJK ("K-Rock 89.3") launched Thursday morning at the frequency-appropriate time of 8:09:30. The classic rock station offers new competition to Maritime Broadcasting System's two Annapolis Valley signals, CKWM (97.7) and CKEN (94.9).

June 14, 2004 -

  • Vox is selling yet another radio station - this time, the last bit of its cluster in Concord, NEW HAMPSHIRE. WTPL (107.7 Hillsborough) was left behind when Vox sold sister stations WOTX (102.3 Concord) and WJYY (105.5 Concord) to Nassau; now it's being transferred from Vox subsidiary Concord Broadcasting to Great Eastern Radio, owned by Vox principal Jeff Shapiro. Shapiro will pay his Vox partners $1.5 million for WTPL; we expect (though it's not clearly stated in the filings with the FCC) that WTPL will continue to be LMA'd back to Concord's WKXL (1450), which has been programming it for a while now.
  • Pamal Broadcasting has closed on its $2.5 million purchase of Vox's cluster in Glens Falls, NEW YORK. Vox hands off WMML (1230 Glens Falls), WENU (1410 South Glens Falls), WENU-FM (101.7 Hudson Falls) and WFFG (107.1 Corinth) to Pamal; WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) is not part of the deal, though other trades have reported otherwise; Vox is still working on moving it south to the Albany market.
  • There's a brand-new FM station in CANADA, as CIGR (104.5 Sherbrooke) signs on with French-language rock as "Generation Rock." It's running 1300 watts at 290 meters from the Radio-Canada tower at Fleurimonte, Quebec.

June 18, 1999 -

  • We're back -- sort of! Actually, by the time you read this, the NERW-mobile (fresh from a car wash following our trip to New England last week) will be headed north to hear the last, dying gasps of CBL on 740 in Toronto. At this writing, the scheduled sign-off is midnight, Saturday, June 19, which probably means a loop announcing the move to 99.1 FM will begin running at midnight Friday night, with 740 being silenced for good 24 hours later. In any event, when the loop begins running, the NERW-mobile will be parked on the road outside the CBL transmitter plant at Hornby, Ontario, and if anyone wants to join in an impromptu wake, we'll be happy to have you.
  • Listeners in New England should have no trouble hearing the end of CBL, thanks to the generosity of Bob Bittner, the owner of WJIB (740) in Cambridge. He won't run his usual 5 watts Friday night, instead signing off at sunset and returning the next morning and allowing Boston listeners one last shot at hearing Toronto. Tune in around 8:11 to hear Bob's eulogy to CBL, followed by the sign-off.
  • What next for 740? The CRTC has yet to ask for applications for reuse of the frequency (unlike in Montreal, where applications were being taken long before 690 and 940 went dark). It's likely to be a while before 740 is reactivated; the CRTC has yet to choose winning applicants for the Montreal channels (despite an erroneous mention in one hobby publication that seemed to fall prey to the FCC database listing that claims CKVL will get the nod for 940).
  • But we'll take a pause from mourning the loss (for listeners on this side of the lake) of Andy and Anubha, Michael and Avril, Dave Stephens, Bill Richardson, Joan Melanson, As It Happens, all those fine weekend shows (what will we listen to on Saturdays without DNTO?), and the simple pleasure of hearing how badly the 401 is jammed whilst crusing through the Can of Worms...and get on, sadly, with the rest of the week's news:
  • We were in MASSACHUSETTS just in time to see the end of another, albeit much briefer, institution, as Boston University's stewardship of WABU (Channel 68) and its New Hampshire and Cape Cod satellites came to a close Sunday night (June 13). Devon Paxson's DP Media is LMA'ing the stations while it spins off existing Pax outlet WBPX (Channel 46) in Norwell. Here's how things are shaking out: WABU is still carrying much of its previous syndicated programming while contracts run out, joining the Pax TV network only in middays and prime time for the moment. WBPX remains a Pax outlet for now as well, but up in New Hampshire, WPXB (Channel 60) in Merrimack has dropped Pax for infomercials now that WNBU (Channel 21) in Concord is the Pax station in the Granite State. NERW expects the WBPX calls to move to channel 68 eventually, as well as an eventual sale of the 1660 Soldiers Field Road studios.
  • In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Clark Smidt's oldies station has applied for a big move. WNNH (99.1 Henniker) wants to move off the Pat's Peak ski area where it currently operates (with 1250 watts and a directional antenna at 217 meters) to Gould Hill just off route 103 in Contoocook, much closer in to its target market of Concord. WNNH's new facility would have 2800 watts at 146 meters, still with a DA to protect WPLM-FM down in Plymouth MA.
  • The top radio news from RHODE ISLAND was the Saturday NERW gathering that brought more than a dozen radio junkies together for lunch and a visit to the Rhode Island Historical Society's broadcast-history exhibit. In between sharing radio stories, we also had a chance to visit the studios of Brown University's WBRU (95.5) and head south to see what was happening down in South County, an area we hadn't visited in a while. Our first stop was at WBLQ (88.1) in Westerly, a station which appears to be the 100-watt offspring of the TIS that used to operate as a community station down that way. What we heard, once we got within range of the telephone-pole-mounted antenna, was an automated format of mostly 70's AC music, with some other oldies thrown in for good measure. We also heard "underwriting announcements" that skirted just safe of the line separating them from honest-to-Kennard advertising -- and an announcement telling neighbors what to do if WBLQ was interfering with their radios, complete with a recording of the automated message they'd hear if they called the FCC. And by the time the NERW-mobile had seen the WXNI (1230) antenna at the water's edge and headed downtown to the WERI-FM studios, the WBLQ signal was almost gone (although we did catch an unusual top-hour ID that contained bits of a classic JAM jingle package from the '70s).
  • New to the air sometime Thursday (6/17) is Pax TV's latest outlet, WPXJ (Channel 51) in Batavia. It's putting a watchable, but far from city-grade, signal into Rochester; we're guessing Buffalo's getting a lot less. Both cities are mentioned in WPXJ's hourly ID.

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