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August 9, 2010

Boston's WUMB Seeks Big Growth

*Eastern MASSACHUSETTS is already a pretty busy place for public radio. Regular NERW readers are well-acquainted with the format war that's now underway as big guns WBUR-FM (90.9 Boston) and WGBH (89.7 Boston) vie for listeners for their competing news-talk programming.

But over on the music side, Boston's number-three public radio station is embarking on a big-time capital campaign designed to stake out a more prominent position in the region's noncommercial radio hierarchy.

WUMB-FM (91.9 Boston) will kick off a five-year, $7 million capital campaign at a gala fundraiser on the UMass Boston campus Wednesday night, featuring a catered dinner and performances by Judy Collins and Tom Rush.

What's the money for? WUMB says the campaign "will fund new studio and offices for WUMB, provide a place for musicians to play on air in front of a live audience, improve the station's studio equipment, improve and expand the station's broadcast signals, create additional Internet streams, take advantage of new technologies, digitize the station's archive collection, acquire and digitize additional music archives, make the archives available to the community for enjoyment and research, create music education spaces for children, teens and adults, fund paid internships for UMass Boston students and, support the WUMB Endowment."

The station (and its satellite signals on the North Shore, in Worcester and on the Cape) has already been through some big transformations in recent years, moving from its roots in acoustic folk music to a broader-based AAA format. And it's about to add a new signal: WUMG (91.7 Stow) just got its call letters assigned, and will soon be on the air as a share-time operation with WAVM (91.7 Maynard) at Maynard High School, bring at least a part-time WUMB signal to an area northwest of Boston.

*In CONNECTICUT, cutbacks have claimed two-thirds of the morning show at WCCC-FM (106.9 Hartford), where Mike Picozzi's still standing but co-hosts Holden Johnson and Mary Scanlon are out, leaving Picozzi and Miss Klonk doing mornings.

Several Nutmeg State applications were part of the FCC's latest batch of "tentative preferences" for competing noncommercial FM applications from the last window back in 2007. A Catholic applicant, the Academy of St. Therese, prevailed in the fight for 89.5 along the Connecticut/Rhode Island state line as the FCC selected its Pawcatuck application as the winner. (It was a good week for Pawcatuck: the FCC also granted the application from WBMW 106.5 to change city of license from Ledyard to Pawcatuck and to upgrade its power from class A to B1; sister station WWRX 107.7 will stay put, but with a COL change from Pawcatuck to Ledyard.)

*VERMONT Public Radio, which has long sought a full-power signal in the Brattleboro area, will finally get one as a result of the FCC's latest batch of noncommercial tentative selections. VPR's application for 88.9 in Brattleboro edged out four other applicants for Brattleboro and adjoining areas in NEW HAMPSHIRE.

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*In western NEW YORK, Buffalo's "Totally Gospel" group has ended its lease of Citadel's WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls) after four years of programming that signal with black gospel music. WHLD is carrying an automated standards format for now - and the Totally Gospel folks, who'd been programming WHLD from the historic Churchill Tabernacle building at 1420 Main Street that was the original home of WKBW-TV, have taken their programming to streaming-only for now. Their ultimate goal, at least according to a new page on their website, is to secure an FM frequency in western New York for the format.

Ithaca's ESPN affiliate is getting new owners, but Todd and Tina Mallinson are familiar faces at WPIE (1160 Trumansburg), where Todd has been the PD for a while now. The Mallinsons are doing business as "Taughannock Media, LLC" as they buy the station from Pembrook Pines, Inc. for $150,000. There's already a JSA in place between Taughannock and Pembrook Pines.

Near Hornell, Equinox Broadcasting's WZHD (97.1 Canaseraga) took a big downgrade so it could get on the air last fall ahead of the impending expiration of its construction permit. But with that deadline now passed, WZHD is asking the FCC for a construction permit to increase its 100-watt signal to something closer to full class A facilities: 3.9 kW/312' DA, with a big notch to the east to protect WYXL (97.3 Ithaca).

New York's CBS-owned AM and TV stations are describing their new internet portal as a work in progress - but a visit to "wfan.com" or "1010wins.com" already redirects to the new "CBSNewYork.com," which will combine content (and eyeballs) from WFAN, WCBS, WINS and WCBS-TV, each of which has had its own separate site until now.

Meanwhile, New York's Fox TV flagship spent most of the weekend off the air - sort of. In today's world of multiple distribution paths, WNYW (Channel 5) continued to reach most of its viewers on cable and satellite despite a transmitter failure, and even its over-the-air viewers continued to have access to Fox programming, at least in standard definition, via the "5.2" subchannel that actually goes out over the RF channel 38 transmitter of sister station WWOR (Channel 9).

Out on Long Island, we're hearing that the transmitters are being removed from the former WNYG (1440 Babylon), and while the license still remains alive for the moment, complete with a construction permit to move the station east to Medford, the 62-year-old AM voice that was once WBAB(AM) won't be returning to the airwaves.

 Got swag? Here in Rochester, your editor is part of the committee that's planning this year's convention for two prominent DX clubs, the National Radio Club and the Worldwide TV-FM Association. They're coming to town August 27-29, and if your station (or broadcast-related company) has any bumper stickers, keychains, T-shirts, or anything else you'd like to add to the convention's big door-prize pile, we'd love to have them. (Contact your editor for a mailing address...)

Where are they now? Robin Marshall, late of "Fresh 102.7" (WWFS) in New York City, has relocated from Long Island to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she's continuing her VO business and now pulling a couple of weekend shifts on Greater Media's WLNK (107.9 the Link). She's got a new book out, too - "Is This Thing On?" chronicles some of the more amusing moments in the careers of some well-known radio folks, and we should really get our hands on a copy.

From the obituary files, via CNYRadio.com, comes word that former WTVH (Channel 5) weatherman Jack Slater died July 25. Slater was a Syracuse University graduate who had a long run at WTVH in the seventies. Slater, who'd been living in Florida, was 76.

And Kerry Richards, who was chief engineer of WOR (710) during much of the station's big move of its studio and transmitter sites earlier this decade, died last weekend, far too young. Richards came to WOR in 1996 after working in the theatrical projection business; he moved on from WOR to Susquehanna/Cumulus in San Francisco in 1996, and then to the Regent/TownSquare cluster in Fort Collins, Colorado. Richards developed an infection on his arm that spread to his heart. He was just 58.

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*In northwestern PENNSYLVANIA, WNAE-FM (102.7 Clarendon) hasn't officially changed hands yet, but buyer Family Life Radio has already filed its application to relocate the class A station to Wattsburg, along the New York-Pennsylvania border on the fringe of the Erie market. The station's new facilities would be 3.5 kW/433' from a new tower right on the state line, just far enough from Erie to be fully spaced from WQHZ (102.3 Erie).

Moving from the Pennsylvania/New York line to the Pennsylvania/Ohio line, Cumulus is one big step closer to a long-delayed move that would shift WWIZ (103.9 Mercer) closer to Youngstown, Ohio. "Rock 104" has been trying for some years now to move closer to the larger population base on the Ohio side of the line, most recently with a 2007 application to change city of license from Mercer to West Middlesex, just a couple of miles east of the state line.

That 2007 application stalled out when it ran afoul of FCC rules barring city-of-license changes for clusters that are already grandfathered over ownership limits. But where there's a DC communications lawyer, there's a way - and in 2008, Cumulus quietly redrew the boundaries of the Youngstown Arbitron radio market to exclude several outlying stations, thus putting its cluster under the ownership caps and making a WWIZ move possible. That set the clock running on the Commission's two-year waiting period, but Cumulus is patient. In January, it reapplied (as soon as it was eligible to do so) to move WWIZ to West Middlesex, and last week the move was granted.

WWIZ won't move its physical facilities when the change takes effect, but we'd expect another application to be filed soon, probably shifting the transmitter site across the state line into Ohio Media Watch territory.

Pittsburgh's WQED-TV (Channel 13) is reworking its "OnQ" nightly public-affairs lineup. Starting in November, WQED will offer five separate weekly shows in the 7:30 PM "OnQ" slot: Mondays will be "Experience," a local take on PBS' "American Experience"; Tuesdays will feature "Horizons," a replacement for the weekly "Black Horizons" show that's been running on WQED since 1968; Wednesdays will be Rick Sebak's "It's Pittsburgh and a Lot of Other Stuff," a short-form version of the popular documentaries he's been producing for years; Thursdays will be "Pittsburgh 360," looking at health, the environment, science and technology; and Fridays will be "4802," a replacement for the weekly "OffQ" roundtable discussions featuring local reporters.

The FCC's noncommercial "tentative preference" machine cranked out three new Keystone State signals last week: Invisible Allies Ministries' application for 89.3 in Beech Creek prevailed over three others for nearby Lock Haven (which inexplicably appeared as "Lockhaven, PA" on two of the applications and as "Lockhaven, NY" on the FCC ruling announcing the tentative preferences), while North Carolina-based Bible Broadcasting Network's application for Leesville beat out three other applicants for 88.3 in the Reading area. And Four Rivers Community Broadcasting edged out Harrisburg's WITF, the city of York and three other applicants on both sides of the Pennsylvania/Maryland state line to win a "tentative preference" for 90.7 in Spring Grove, just north of Hanover.

And while we're down by the Mason-Dixon line, we bid farewell this week to a Keystone State AM station: WHGT (1590 Chambersburg) has been transmitting from a temporary site across the state line in Maryland ever since the former WCBG lost its old Chambersburg site to development. Now the station, licensed to the Emmanuel Baptist Temple in Hagerstown, has filed for a license to cover its new 15 kW day/58 watts night facility, licensed to Maugansville, Maryland - which means it's now up to Dave Hughes and DCRTV to cover it, if he so chooses...

*If it was a quiet week in the northeastern US (and it was), it was a fairly busy one in CANADA, where the CBC told the CRTC it won't be ready for the DTV transition planned for next summer. The CBC submitted a modified transition plan last week, asking regulators for an additional year (until August 31, 2012) to get its digital signals on the air in a dozen places around the country, including English-language transmitters in Windsor, Saint John/Fredericton, Charlottetown, Halifax and St. John's.

In Quebec, Cogeco is asking the CRTC for a waiver of its common-ownership policy as part of its planned purchase of most of Corus' radio stations in the province. Cogeco says that only by owning three French-language FM stations can it sustain the cost of operating CHMP (98.5), the last privately-owned Francophone talk station left standing in Montreal. Cogeco also says it will sell off two Quebec City signals, CJEC (Rhythme FM 91.9) and CFEL (102.1 Montmagny). CFEL is part of a three-station network that's been relaying Montreal's CKOI (96.9); Cogeco says it would transform the Sherbrooke CKOI relay, CKOY (104.5), into a rebroadcaster of French-language sports-talk CKAC (730 Montreal) with no local advertising.

Three applications for new Ontario stations will be on the CRTC's docket at an October 6 public hearing in Saskatoon: Debra McLaughlin wants to put a AAA format on the air in Prince Edward County, running 5 kW/492' on 89.5; Paul Lefebvre wants a new French-language commercial station up in Nipissing, with 90 kW DA/377' (51 kW average ERP); and Haliburton Broadcasting wants to add to its resort-country holdings with an AC station in Barry's Bay, south of Algonquin Provincial Park, running 12 kW/417' on 106.5.

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

August 3 & 10, 2009 -

  • Even as CBS Radio puts 41 years of rock radio out to pasture (or at least out to an HD2 channel, which is pretty much the same thing), the station's not going quietly. Current and former staffers, including legendary WBCN names such as longtime PD Oedipus and long-ago jock Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band fame, gathered over the weekend for a farewell concert - and next weekend will mark the start of a series of on-air farewell events leading up to WBCN's final sign-off August 12.
  • Behind the scenes, the wheels are turning quickly on the transition, including a sequence of studio moves that took WBMX (98.5 Boston) from its 1200 Soldiers Field Road studios to a new studio on the top floor of CBS Radio's 83 Leo Birmingham Parkway facility over the weekend. But by the time "Mix 98.5" made it down the road to Birmingham Parkway (the old TV 38 building), it wasn't "WBMX" any longer. CBS quietly changed 98.5's calls from WBMX to WBMX-FM late last week, the first step in the series of call changes that will turn 98.5 into "Sports Hub" WBZ-FM.
  • Here's how it all plays out: when WBMX became WBMX-FM, CBS Radio also flipped WFNA (1660 Charlotte NC), one of its pair of sports stations in the Charlotte market, to "WBMX" - making it all but certain that the Charlotte 1660 signal will end up being the spot where CBS parks the WBCN calls for safekeeping come August 13, when WBMX-FM in Boston changes calls to WBZ-FM and WBMX Charlotte and WBCN Boston swap calls, putting WBMX on 104.1 (as "Mix 104") and creating the cognitive dissonance of "WBCN Charlotte" on the AM dial, for the tiny handful of people who notice such things.
  • The latest high-profile Boston pirate FM has been visited by the FCC. "WPOT Hot 97.5" signed on in mid-July on a particularly poorly-chosen frequency, right next door to Entercom's WAAF relay, WKAF (97.7 Brockton). It didn't take long for agents from the Quincy field office to track the signal to One Westinghouse Plaza in Hyde Park - and to issue a Notice of Unlicensed Operation to the building's landlord, Motherbrook LLC/The Hamilton Co. Will pressure on the landlord get "WPOT" off the air - or will it join other unlicensed signals like "Touch 106" as long-term survivors on the Boston dial, much to the chagrin of the city's licensed operators?
  • The crisis that threatened to cost two small PBS stations in NEW YORK and PENNSYLVANIA much of their viewer and donor bases was averted late last week. WPBS-TV (Channel 16) in Watertown and WQLN-TV (Channel 54) in Erie faced the loss of their large and loyal audiences in Ottawa and London, Ontario, respectively, when Rogers Cable announced it was planning to replace its over-the-air pickups of those stations' signals with the feed of Detroit's PBS station, WTVS (Channel 56), that's already on Rogers' fiber backbone across much of Ontario. Viewers in both London and Ottawa responded with protests to Rogers, and the Canadian cable giant agreed to keep WPBS and WQLN on its systems if the U.S.-based stations could arrange for fiber feeds of their signals to Rogers' Canadian headends. Both stations announced last week that they'll move forward with those feeds, though they come at a significant cost (north of $30,000 a year) at a time when the stations - especially WQLN - are facing budget shortfalls and cuts in state funding.
  • They call it "Happy Valley," but rock fans in State College, PENNSYLVANIA won't be happy if they try to tune to "QWK Rock" (WQWK 103.1 State College) this morning - there's word that Forever Broadcasting is flipping the station to a simulcast of news-talk WRSC (1390 State College). This was the second incarnation of WQWK; its previous facility on 97.1 was traded away to 2510 Licenses a few years back.

August 8 & 15, 2005 -

  • After a dozen years at Boston's WBZ (1030), morning reporter Flo Jonic is out of work this week, sparking a controversy over potential government intrusion into the newsgathering process along the way. As both of Boston's big papers have reported, Jonic was fired by WBZ management after sending an e-mail to other newsroom staffers criticizing what she said was a decision to shelve a story she had done on lax security at the FBI offices in downtown Boston. That's about as much as all sides agree on, though. Jonic says she was fired for opposing the decision to keep the story off the air (which she says was prompted by a phone call to management from the FBI). WBZ managers say Jonic was fired for insubordination, for sending the e-mail to the entire newsroom. They contend that the story was being readied for promotion during the fall ratings period.
  • Diane Sutter's making big plans for her new TV station, WNDS (Channel 50) in Derry, NEW HAMPSHIRE. After 22 years as "The WiNDS of New England," the independent station serving the Boston market will change calls to WZMY when Sutter's Shooting Star relaunches its operations this fall. Those calls stand for "MyTV," and the Nashua Telegraph reports that Sutter's plans include a nightly talk show called "My TV Prime" and a rebranded newscast, "My TV Now." (And yes, never fear, the station's signature personality, weatherman Al Kaprielian, will still be a part of the broadcasts.)
  • On the border between Vermont and NEW YORK, WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls NY) has gone silent, as ownership passes from Pamal to the religious broadcasters at WHAZ (1330 Troy). The station's Bennington studio is closed, and it's applied for new calls WHAZ-FM as it prepares to return to the air as the newest link in a network that also includes WMNV (104.1 Rupert VT), WBAR (94.7 Lake Luzerne NY) and WMYY (97.3 Schoharie NY).
  • Just the other side of the state line, the FCC has dismissed Pamal's application to buy WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury, soon to be Malta) from Vox, citing market-concentration issues; while that's causing the usual twittering on the message boards, we suspect it's a paperwork issue (perhaps having to do with delays in Pamal's spinoff of several other Albany-market FMs) that will be cleared up soon enough.
  • On the western side of the Albany market, WMHT (89.1 Schenectady) has taken control of WBKK (97.7 Amsterdam), where commercial classical programming was replaced with a simulcast of WMHT's programming on Thursday (Aug. 4); 97.7 is expected to take the all-classical mantle, and we'd expect more news and talk on 89.1 as the transition continues.

August 14, 2000 -

  • (No issue)

New England Radio Watch, August 11, 1995

  • A drive home along Mass. Route 2 Sunday night turned up one surprise - the long-dormant CP for 97.3 A in Orange, Mass. is now on the air. The CP was issued with the consecutive calls WFUB (yes, it was the last one issued before Purdue University's now-legendary WFUC-FM, since changed to the prosaic WBAA-FM :-). A recent call change turned 97.3 into WJDF...which, interestingly enough, are nearly identical calls to Massachusetts' other 97.3, the 50kw Portuguese powerhouse WJFD in New Bedford.
  • This leaves very few unbuilt Massachusetts CPs. I think WBSO 650 in Clinton (40 miles west of Boston) has been cancelled now. WFPB 91.9 in Falmouth is a very recent CP, as is the yet-without-calls 91.1 Nantucket that will be public radio. WCDJ 102.3 in Truro (outer Cape Cod) is getting pretty stale, and may well expire before it can be built. Everything else is either on, or dark and near-death (like Leominster's WCMX 1000 and Worcester's WNEB 1230 -- though the latter could actually return this fall).
  • There's One Born Every Minute: Family Stations has actually found a buyer for the now-dark 1060 WBIV Natick license. Loyal readers will recall that 1060 had been owned by a company called SRN Boston, which traded it for Family's CP for 890 WBMA Dedham-Boston. SRN built the 890 facility by modifying its old 1060 facility in Ashland, Mass., and then sold 890 to Douglas Broadcasting, which now operates it as sports-talk WBPS. That left Family with a useless 1060 license...useless because SRN and Douglas refused to let 1060 diplex on what had been its transmitter site. Land values in the area are extremely high, and the NIMBY factor still higher, so the
    odds that anyone will be able to erect the 5+ tower array needed to bring 1060 back on with its old 25kw day are pretty slim. All that notwithstanding, someone named Alexander Langer actually spent 71 thousand dollars to buy the 1060 license. There's no indication that Langer owns any other broadcast properties...and I can't wait to see what he tries to do with 1060. My bet is that we'll never see that thing on the air here again. (2010 update: Good thing I didn't put money on that bet. As NERW readers know, Langer did resurrect 1060 as WMEX and then WBIX, and is now in the process of selling it to Holy Family Communications.)

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