In this week’s issue: WMFP takes on “Plum TV” – Barbare out at WAAF – Savage affiliates find Plan B – Remembering Steve Church – Quebec City’s CHRC silenced – TTP seeks Quebec AM growth
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*The last time we wrote about the Plum TV network in this column was back in February, when we noted that “(u)nless you vacation in a high-end hotspot such as Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket or the Hamptons, you’ve probably never heard of” the network aimed at upper-crusters. At the time, Plum’s future looked a little shaky; the network was in the midst of a bankruptcy sale that put it in the hands of a new group called PMG Media, headed by the team that had created the “LX.TV” lifestyle network and sold it to NBC Universal.
This week, Plum gets to play on a bigger stage: effective today, Plum programming moves beyond its traditional home on leased cable channels in ritzy resort areas into full-market coverage in Boston, replacing MeTV’s retro programming on the 62.1 main channel of WMFP-TV. While it’s licensed, ironically enough, to the very un-glitzy, un-resort city of Lawrence, WMFP’s over-the-air signal comes from the centrally-located Needham/Newton tower farm, and the station has cable and satellite coverage across most of eastern MASSACHUSETTS and NEW HAMPSHIRE.
As we’ve noted before, WMFP isn’t really a “TV station” as we’ve come to understand the concept over the last seven decades. In this brave new world of “incentive auctions” and a seemingly insatiable appetite for wireless spectrum, a third-tier operation like WMFP is probably worth more these days for the six megahertz of UHF spectrum it controls than for whatever sort of broadcast revenue it can bring in, which is why it’s widely expected that new owner NRJ TV will seek to cash in on the value of WMFP’s spectrum now that the FCC is ready to move forward with those auctions. In the meantime, though, WMFP still has to be programmed and the power bill on the transmitter has to be paid – so now that MeTV has moved over to WCVB (Channel 5)’s new 5.2 subchannel, it’s Plum’s programming that will be filling WMFP’s 62.1 channel from 7 AM-11 PM daily.
(The RTV retro channel stays put on WMFP’s 62.2, and at least for now, NRJ continues to run MeTV on several of its other stations, including WZME in Bridgeport, CONNECTICUT, serving portions of the New York City market. Might Plum show up there, too, eventually?)
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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.
One Year Ago: October 3, 2011 -
*The creditors holding the debt for NEW JERSEY‘s Nassau Broadcasting Partners are moving quickly on their attempt to force the company into Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidation: they’ve persuaded Judge Kevin Goss of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware to move up a hearing on the petition to this Thursday morning at 10, claiming “there is a genuine concern that assets of the alleged debtor’s estates may be used for purposes other than those directly related to the normal course operations of the alleged debtor’s businesses.” The petition from the lenders, led by Goldman Sachs, says they’re worried that Nassau money may be used “to further the personal and parochial interests of” Lou Mercatanti, who’s run the company since 1986.
If Nassau is liquidated, it would be a sudden end to a company that was once the region’s largest broadcaster, at least by number of stations owned – and if the liquidation takes Nassau’s stations off the air, it would mean a lot of dead air for listeners everywhere from the Lehigh Valley to Maine. (We’ll have a full update later this week as we know more about what happens at the hearing.)
*There’s a TV station sale in PENNSYLVANIA: WTVE (Channel 51) is licensed to Reading but serves most of the Philadelphia market through the use of a “distributed transmission system” that employs multiple RF channel 25 transmitters scattered across the region. Richard French, who owns WRNN in the New York market, paid $13.5 million for the station at a bankruptcy sale in 2008. He’ll get $30.4 million from NRJ TV for the signal, and it’s not at all clear yet what NRJ plans to do with WTVE.
NRJ recently bought two former Shop at Home stations, Boston-market WMFP and San Francisco’s KCNS, and thus far it has made no change to those stations’ programming. That’s fueled speculation that NRJ is less interested in running TV stations than in reaping the value of the UHF spectrum on which those stations operate; in an interview with TVNewsCheck.com, NRJ principal Ted Bartley (sort of) denied those rumors, saying “We’re trying to buy at a price to operate them efficiently and make money as broadcasters,” but also saying of the possible auction of TV spectrum to wireless operators, “We are certainly not speculating on that as the only way to make money.”
*On the other side of the state, there’s a programming change at Pittsburgh’s WINP (Channel 16): the ShopNBC programming that had been running on 16.1 is gone, replaced by the main-channel programming from new owner ion Media. When ion bought the station (formerly WQEX) from public broadcaster WQED, it inherited the ShopNBC contract, but now that it’s over, WINP is taking on the usual set of ion multiplex channels seen elsewhere in the country: ion’s main channel on 16.1, with Qubo and ion Life on 16.2 and 16.3.
*It’s been a week of big radio changes in CANADA, starting with the demise of the last high-power CBC station on the AM dial between Newfoundland and Manitoba.
With its new FM outlets, CBEW (97.5 Windsor) and CBEW-1 (91.9 Leamington), now on the air and some interference issues with cross-border signals resolved, the CBC shut down CBE (1550 Windsor) early on the morning of October 1, the sixty-first anniversary of CBE’s sign-on in 1950.
The sign-off itself happened without fanfare; indeed, the scheduled midnight end to CBE was stretched out for a bit as the station popped back on and off the air several times before finally dropping audio at 12:25, leaving just a dead carrier on 1550 instead of the “tune to FM” audio loop that has accompanied other CBC AM-to-FM moves in the past.
Earlier in the day, CBE offered a little more acknowledgment of its move, including segments on CBC Windsor radio and TV newscasts about the station’s history. There was also an open house Saturday at the CBC Windsor studios, part of a national set of CBC open houses to mark the network’s 75th anniversary and Canada’s Culture Days weekend.
*While CBE’s passing into history, a Toronto broadcaster is poised to make history with a new station launch today. Fitzroy Gordon’s CKFG (98.7) will make its official debut later this morning, with an 11 AM news conference scheduled to announce the station’s on-air identity. Gordon fought for years to establish a station owned by and serving Toronto’s Afro-Caribbean community, operating his “CARN” on 98.7 for several successful test runs and overcoming objections from the CBC about potential interference to its CBLA (99.1) signal in order to win a license from the CRTC.
*One of NEW YORK state’s newest radio stations may also be the next to leave the airwaves. Out on Long Island’s East End, Hamptons Community Radio won a construction permit in 2008 for a share-time operation at 90.7 in East Hampton, a facility it eventually augmented with the acquisition of the former WPKM (88.7 Montauk, now WEER) from Connecticut-based WPKN.
But while the Hamptons are home to some of the wealthiest people in America, it’s been a challenge for broadcasters out there to convert their listenership into money. We’ve reported at length on the struggles Peconic Public Broadcasting has faced in converting what’s now WPPB (88.3 Southampton) to local ownership, and for the folks at Hamptons Community Radio, things have been no easier. Last week, Hamptons posted an announcement on its website, saying WEER is shutting down.
“We finally found a grant writer to work with but it’s too late. We’ve tried to explain that the only way WEER could survive was with community support especially in the way of benefactors. We have been unsuccessful in getting that kind of support. We have worked hard to accomplish our mission – to that end we were succeeding. But without benefactor and down the line grant support and the support of businesses and the community WEER has to say goodbye,” said the message.
The station is holding out hope for a last-minute turnaround: in its farewell note, WEER says it could keep going if it can find eleven other area businesses willing to join one existing sponsor in covering the station’s expenses, which include $4,000 in monthly tower rent.
If WEER doesn’t make it, the terms of its $60,000 purchase of the 88.7 facility (which specified payment in 60 monthly installments of $1,000 each) specify that the signal will return to WPKN, which had been using it as a Long Island relay of its main Bridgeport signal; it’s not clear what would become of Hamptons’ two unbuilt construction permits, the part-time WEEG (90.7 East Hampton) and WEEW (89.1 Westhampton).
*There’s a new TV newscast in southern NEW HAMPSHIRE, where Bill Binnie’s WBIN (Channel 50, ex-WZMY/WNDS) quietly launched its local news operation last week. “News Now at 10″ starts off as a nightly half-hour in standard definition, with Amanda Decker as anchor and Kyle Dennis (rather than longtime channel 50 staple Al Kaprielian) doing weather. Binnie has big plans for the station, including co-sponsoring a Republican presidential debate in Hanover next week. (Bloomberg and the Washington Post are the other sponsors for that event.)
Five Years Ago: October 1, 2007 -
*A month after the death of beloved MASSACHUSETTS talk host Paul Sullivan, WBZ (1030 Boston) has named a replacement for its weeknight 8-midnight slot – and in keeping with tradition at the CBS Radio-owned news-talk station, it’s an in-house move.
“NightSide with Dan Rea” makes its debut Monday night on WBZ, and if it doesn’t sound like a major shift in the station’s sound, that’s the idea, since Rea has been sharing fill-in duties on Sullivan’s old timeslot for months now. (WBZ weekend/swing host Jordan Rich has been the other regular fill-in on Sullivan’s show; he’ll return to his usual duties now.)
Rea, of course, is best known to Boston audiences for his 33-year reporting career on WBZ-TV (Channel 4), which included the exoneration of convicted murderer Joe Salvati. But before he joined the TV side in 1974, Rea was a talk host on WBZ radio, so in a sense he’s coming home to his roots by rejoining the AM station.
*After years of effort and planning, VERMONT Public Radio achieved a long-held goal Monday morning, as it split its programming into two statewide networks.
The “original” VPR network (WVPS 107.9 Burlington, WVPR 89.5 Windsor, WVPA 88.5 St. Johnsbury, WRVT 88.7 Windsor, WBTN-FM 94.3 Bennington and several translators) has become a 24/7 news-talk service, with a new midday lineup that includes BBC news at 9, On Point at 10, The Story at 1 and Day to Day at 2. Meanwhile, the classical programming that was heard in middays on the main VPR network has moved to the new VPR Classical network, with new flagship WOXR (90.9 Schuyler Falls NY), WVTQ (95.1 Sunderland) and WNCH (88.1 Norwich), as well as HD-2 subchannels on WVPS, WVPR, WVPA and WRVT. VPR, which also launched a redesigned website at www.vpr.net as part of the relaunch, promises additional VPR Classical frequencies in the months to come.
*Our PENNSYLVANIA news begins, sadly, with the death of a well-known local tower climber. Dan Plants Sr., whose Daniel Plants Tower Service was based in Triadelphia, WV, was killed last Monday (Sept. 24) when he fell more than 100 feet from one of the towers of WGBN (1150 New Kensington), where he was working on dismantling a self-supporting tower that was to be replaced after being damaged in a thunderstorm earlier this year. Plants, 51, had worked on many of the towers in southwestern Pennsylvania; OSHA is now investigating the fall that killed him.
In other Steel City news, the “Man Talk” format at CBS Radio’s WTZN (93.7 Pittsburgh) is over, just six months after “The Zone” was launched in early April as part of the company’s highly-touted “Free FM” talk initiative.
On Monday, the station began stunting with Christmas music, while dropping hints about a possible return to the frequency’s heritage with top 40 as “B94″ WBZZ. (As we go to press Monday night, there’s a site up at www.pitts-urgh.com that makes copious reference to that “missing B” in the middle…get it?)
Out of work are midday host John McIntire, afternoon host Scott Paulsen and late morning host Paul Steigerwald – and off the air, at least for now, are syndicated hosts Opie & Anthony and Dennis Miller.
In TV news, PBRTV.com reports that Pittsburgh’s WPXI (Channel 11) will begin broadcasting from its new studios on Evergreen Road on October 6, ending 50 years of TV history at 341 Rising Main Avenue, aka “11 Television Hill,” though that site closer to downtown will continue to be the station’s transmitter site. And up in Erie, WSEE-DT has signed on at full power on channel 16, with CW affiliate “WBEP” now being seen on the 35.2 subchannel there, as well as on cable.
Moving east, there’s a call and format change in the State College market, as Forever flipped AC “Lite 99.5″ WLTS (99.5 Centre Hall) to adult hits “Magic 99.5″ on Sept. 17, changing calls a week later to WMAJ-FM, which nicely matches sister station WMAJ (1450 State College).
Ten Years Ago: September 30, 2002 -
It was supposed to be NEW JERSEY’s newest radio station, but 14 years after its first construction permit was granted, WKNJ (550 Lakewood) has become radio history — without ever broadcasting so much as a station ID. When the FCC cancelled Steven Wendell’s construction permit and deleted the call letters last week, it ended a story that began back in 1988, when Wendell originally proposed a station in the north Jersey community, just south of the New York state line. Neighbors of the proposed site on the New Jersey side of the line fought the construction, and when the FCC began cracking down on long-unbuilt CPs a few years ago, Wendell tried another tack to get his station built.
Changing the community of license to Harriman NY, Wendell modified the CP to specify 250 watts, daytime only, from the existing site of WRKL (910 New City), on US 202 in Pomona, Rockland County. But while WRKL rebuilt its site, adding two towers for night use, WKNJ remained unbuilt. The FCC said last winter that it would cancel the CP (which had been renewed most recently in December 1998), but Wendell appealed, telling the commission this year that he had been unable to build WKNJ because engineers in the New York area had been too busy with the World Trade Center recovery.
The FCC didn’t buy it, noting that Wendell made no effort to hire engineers from outside the area, and WKNJ is now officially gone. (The back politics here: WKNJ’s existence would have made the upgrade of WLIE, on 540 in Islip, impossible; while the Long Island station pushed to have WKNJ taken off life support, Wendell filed for another 540 facility, this time in Jaffrey, N.H. That application is still pending….)
An obituary to report in PENNSYLVANIA, but the passing of Walter Annenberg ends a broadcast chapter that extended far beyond the Keystone State. Annenberg’s Triangle Broadcasting group was best known for its ownership of WFIL AM-FM-TV (now WFIL 560, WIOQ 102.1 and WPVI-TV 6) in Philadelphia, but it also included WNHC AM-FM-TV (now WYBC 1340, WPLR 99.1 and WTNH-TV 8) in New Haven, Connecticut, WNBF AM-FM-TV (now WNBF 1290, WAAL 99.1, WBNG-TV 12) in Binghamton, N.Y. and WFBG AM-FM-TV (now WFBG 1290, WFGY 98.1 and WTAJ-TV 10) in Altoona, Pennsylvania, among others. Annenberg’s print holdings included the Philadelphia Inquirer and TV Guide, which he founded nationally in 1953. In later years, he served as ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. He died Tuesday (Oct. 1) at his home in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, reportedly of pneumonia. Annenberg was 94.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 2, 1997 -
Rochester, NEW HAMPSHIRE’s 96.7 unveiled its new format Monday morning, and it turns out to be oldies. The former WSRI is applying for the WQSO calls. Oldies had last been heard on the Seacoast on “Cool 95.3” WCQL (York Center, Maine), which is now hot AC WXHT. The new WQSO keeps Imus in the Morning from its previous modern AC format.
There’s a new program director at WEEI (850). Jason Wolfe had worked as the sports station’s assistant sports director. His first big task will be to oversee the new 10-noon talk show featuring John Dennis (formerly of WHDH-TV) and Gerry Callahan of Sports Illustrated, which replaces the Fabulous Sports Babe.
The long, strange saga of WVAY (100.7) in Wilmington, VERMONT has taken yet another turn: WVAY is now simulcasting AAA WRSI (95.3) from Greenfield, Mass. This is the fourth station WVAY has simulcast in less than three months. A simulcast with Richard Lightfoot’s WKVT-FM (92.7) Brattleboro ended August 1, when Lightfoot’s option to buy WVAY expired. Since then, WVAY has simulcast three different area stations owned by Jeff Shapiro (WHDQ Claremont NH, WSSH Marlboro VT, and now WRSI), as well as offering its own programming for a brief time when the deal to sell the station to Shapiro stalled.
On to NEW YORK, where there’s been a programming shakeup at ARS rocker WCMF (96.5) in Rochester. Nighttime DJ Beth Donahue and afternoon cohost “Bull” are out, with “BJ” going solo in afternoons and Uncle Roger taking over evening dutries. Down the hall at AC WRMM (101.3), evenings are now being handled by Audiovault automation.
In Buffalo, a successor has been named to replace Michael Collins as head of the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association. Donald Boswell comes to WNED-AM-FM-TV, WNEQ-TV, and WNJA-FM from North Texas Public Broadcasting (KERA FM-TV/KDTN-TV) in Dallas. He’ll start in January.
In the New York market, WXLX (620 Jersey City NJ) is set to go all-sports on Tuesday, and new owner One-on-One Sports has applied for the WJWR calls to go with the new format.
And just over the state line in Tunkhannock, Pa., the classic rock format of “Endless Mountains Rock,” WEMR-FM (107.7) has come to an end. WEMR-FM and its sister AM station on 1460 have been sold to Citadel, and it’s now rebroadcasting the CHR format of WBHT (97.1) Mountaintop-Wilkes-Barre. Citadel also owns WARM (590), WKQV (1550), WKQV-FM (95.7), WMGS (92.9), and WZMT (97.9) in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market.