In this week’s issue… WFAN to FM: How CBS keeps 9 NYC signals – “Meter” out at WEEI – “Coast” launches in Portsmouth – “WPG” returns to Atlantic City – CRTC pulls the plug on CJRN
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*What a difference a year makes! A year ago, CBS Radio was fending off what looked like it might have been a serious challenge to the massive revenue stream that flowed from its pair of NEW YORK all-news stations. WCBS (880) and WINS (1010), as well as Chicago’s WBBM (780). CBS Radio’s adversary back then was Merlin Media, the new group backed by deep-pocketed Chicago investors and headed by the colorful former head of Clear Channel and Tribune, Randy Michaels.
In Chicago, the threat from Merlin’s all-news FM station seemed sharp enough that CBS ditched “Fresh FM” on WCFS (105.9) in favor of an all-news simulcast of WBBM. In New York, CBS had no FM to spare, so it rolled the dice on leaving WCBS and WINS in place on AM, where their dominance was bolstered by several other strong AMs, including another CBS entry, all-sports WFAN (660).
As it turned out, of course, CBS won that bet in New York. Merlin’s “FM News 101.9″ went down as a legendary failure, WCBS and WINS survived unscathed – and it was WFAN that ended up facing a stronger FM challenge when ESPN Radio’s WEPN (1050) bought WRKS (98.7) from Emmis to launch WEPN-FM. That, in turn, is why it’s WFAN, not WCBS or WINS, that’s getting an FM simulcast now that CBS has found a way to add a fourth FM station to its holdings in the market: none other than its erstwhile rival, Merlin’s 101.9, which shifted to a stopgap modern-rock format and returned to its previous WRXP calls after “FM News” imploded over the summer.
Within the next month, WRXP will become WFAN-FM and begin simulcasting 660 under an LMA that will lead to a $75 million sale to CBS. And that has left the New York broadcast community with a lot of questions and speculation:
- What about the market cap? When CBS bought WLNY-TV last year, the conventional wisdom said the company’s plate was full: adding WLNY-TV to WCBS-TV and CBS Radio’s three AM/three FM cluster put the company at the maximum eight stations. So how is CBS putting a ninth signal under its roof? We’d thought the answer rested with the upcoming FCC spectrum incentive auction and the possibility of CBS putting WLNY’s channel 47 spectrum into the auction, but the company actually has an even more ambitious plan, which brings us to a…
- MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: It turns out CBS intends to keep both TV stations and all seven radio stations, because it believes WLNY doesn’t count against the cross-ownership rules. Those rules were drafted in the days of analog TV, and they look at a TV station’s “Grade A” signal contour. If that contour completely encompasses a radio station’s city of license, that creates a “market” for cross-ownership purposes. The “Grade A” contour went away with the switch to digital, and CBS says the FCC has been turning instead to the “noise-limited DTV signal” as a temporary replacement metric. And what do you know? WLNY’s “noise-limited” contour includes only a fraction of New York City, encompassing much of Queens and a sliver of the Bronx. So CBS claims that under the cross-ownership rules, 101.9 can fit snugly into a “New York City” market defined by the seven radio signals and WCBS-TV, an acceptable cluster under the cap. And on the flip side of the rule, not one of those seven radio signals, even the big boomers on 660 and 880, puts enough signal over all of WLNY’s city of license, way out in Riverhead, to trigger any cross-ownership issues out there. In practice, of course, what really matters to CBS (if not to the FCC) isn’t WLNY’s little-viewed over-the-air signal, but rather the guaranteed spot on cable and satellite systems all over the tri-state area that the OTA license provides…and that’s affected by a completely different set of rules that have nothing to do with radio cross-ownership. So unless there’s a challenge to CBS’ carefully-constructed cross-ownership case, it appears the company is on its way to building the biggest radio-TV cluster in America.
- But wait – couldn’t CBS have moved WINS to 660 and then sold 1010 or something? It could have, yes, but if you’re sitting on three of the biggest AM revenue producers in the entire country, the rule is simple: “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” In a few years, the inexorable march to FM will probably force WCBS and WINS to go there. Right now, though, there’s immense value to keeping those stations right where they are. The same is true of CBS Radio’s existing stable of FMs: after a few very rough years, the trio of “Now” CHR WXRK (92.3), classic hits WCBS-FM (101.1) and AC “Fresh” WWFS (102.7) is performing well, and the company won’t do anything to disrupt that. (Otherwise, there would probably have been a WFAN-FM on 92.3 or 102.7 by now.)
- So WFAN goes to 101.9 and the other chess pieces stay put. What about 660? For now, CBS executives are dodging that question, publicly proclaiming that 660 will be a straight simulcast with 101.9. That makes perfect sense in the short term: with tens of millions of dollars in revenue at stake from the WFAN cash cow, the transition to FM has to be gradual, especially with ESPN aggressively trying to draw sports listeners over to WEPN-FM. (And it has to be a total simulcast in order for Arbitron to report AM and FM together on a single line, which is psychologically important in the battle against WEPN.) But you don’t spend $75 million just to spread WFAN’s existing audience over two signals, and even if the move to FM brings in more and younger listeners, it will take a long time to recoup $75 million that way. With CBS poised to launch its new CBS Sports Radio Network in 2013, it’s reasonable to think the network programming will eventually be cleared on 660. But there’s something bigger at stake, too:
- Where do the Yankees and the Mets go? For the 2013 season, both teams appear to be set, the Yankees with another one-year extension of their deal with WCBS and the Mets with their longtime home on WFAN. If the simulcast is still going by Opening Day, the Mets will appear on both 101.9 and 660; if the simulcast is over by then, the Mets will be certainly be on 101.9, and might even still be on 660, if the team sees a value in the AM station’s broader coverage. (For CBS itself, the broad reach of the 50 kilowatt AM signal is less important; while 101.9 doesn’t travel as far, it’s as good as any other New York City FM and enjoys similar nearly-full coverage of the New York radio market.) It’s 2014 that could potentially be much more interesting: will the Yankees want to be heard on FM, and will that pit WFAN-FM against WEPN-FM for the lucrative contract? This is where the 101.9/660 split, if it happens, could get interesting – Yankees on WFAN-FM and Mets on “FAN CBS Sports 660?” Yankees on 101.9/660 and Mets on 98.7? As for Yankees and Mets fans beyond the reach of New York FM signals, it will be up to the teams to find local affiliates in the Hudson Valley, central New Jersey, southern Connecticut and other areas that will likely lose easy access to the games from out-of-market New York AM signals.
- Football? Basketball? Hockey, if it ever comes back? The Giants will join most of the NFL on the FM band when their games, already on 660, show up on 101.9, and the Jets are the star franchise right now for WEPN-FM. The Knicks and Nets are also settled in, with the Knicks on 98.7 and the new Brooklyn Nets adding 101.9 to their existing carriage on 660. If and when the NHL starts playing again, the Devils will call 101.9 home, while the Rangers play on 98.7. Could the expansion of sports radio in New York once again give the Islanders a full-market radio home, too?
- What happens to the other sellers looking for New York City buyers? Merlin’s exit from the market continues a trend of consolidation that’s been rather intense this year. Buckley’s sale of WOR (710) to Clear Channel took one major standalone player out of the market – and probably eliminated any possibility of Clear Channel as a buyer in the near future, too, since it’s already at the five-FM cap and has no imaginable use for more than one AM to clear its Premiere talk programming. Inner City’s financial woes put WBLS (107.5) and WLIB (1190) in the hands of the new YMF group, which in turn partnered with Emmis in something just short of an LMA. Emmis itself has already parted with 101.9 and 98.7, and its own financial troubles mean its remaining owned-and-operated New York station, WQHT (97.1), is probably available to a buyer at the right price. So is Family Stations’ WFME (94.7 Newark), which was converted to commercial status last year but never officially put up for sale. In a market that’s now massively dominated by two of the big “C” companies – CBS and Clear Channel – who’s left as a potential buyer? There’s that other “C” company, Cumulus, which suddenly looks less formidable in New York with just two core signals (WABC 770/WPLJ 95.5) and a Hudson Valley suburban cluster, but it’s already stretched financially to pay for its acquisition of Citadel. Could public broadcaster WNYC make a surprise play for a stronger signal for classical WQXR? Is there room for more Spanish-language FM in the market, with both Univision Radio and SBS well under the ownership cap? Will EMF Broadcasting’s taste of the market (via class A move-in WKLV-FM 96.7) lead to bigger signals for K-Love or an entry for Air 1? This much, at least, is clear: if New York City once offered big opportunities to well-heeled standalone broadcasters like Buckley and the New York Times, it’s become a much higher-stakes game where the only viable English-language commercial players are either big clusters like CBS and Clear Channel or multimedia entities like ESPN.
- And what about rock on the radio? The “New Rock” format that replaced FM News on 101.9 wasn’t meant to be much more than filler, programmed from Merlin’s stations in Chicago while its investors looked for a buyer for the New York signal. But it actually outrated not only FM News but also the previous Emmis incarnation of WRXP, and its disappearance leaves fans of current rock wondering if their format will ever make it back to the New York dial. The prospects don’t look good: as more FM frequencies fill up with spoken-word programming, the pressure grows on the remaining music stations to be as mass-appeal as possible, and so it could be a long time before another major commercial signal flirts with current rock. (In the meantime, of course, there are noncommercial offerings such as WFUV’s “Alternate Side,” heard on a WFUV HD Radio subchannel and for several hours daily on WNYE 91.5, and the full program day on WSOU 89.5 on the Jersey side.)
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*Good news, everybody! The 2013 Tower Site Calendar is finally back from the printer this week, and on its way out to YOU!
This is the 12th edition of our annual calendar, which features photos of broadcast towers taken by Scott Fybush on his travels.
The 12-month wall calendar boasts a full-color photo each month of a well-known broadcast transmitter site.
This year’s edition includes sites in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Las Vegas, Colorado, Boston, Cleveland, Albuquerque, upstate New York and western Massachusetts. We’ve also redesigned the calendar to make it more colorful (don’t worry; the pictures are still pristine) and make the spiral binding our standard binding — your calendar will hang even better on your wall now! And of course, we still have the convenient hole for hanging.
Order 20 or more for a 10% discount! And while you’re at the Fybush.com store, check out the new National Radio Club AM Log and the final stash of FM Atlas editions.
For more information and to order yours, click here!
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 17, 2011 -
*Tower climbing is dangerous work, and the news from MASSACHUSETTS provided another reminder of that last week.On Wednesday afternoon, an Iowa-based climber was at work on a project to replace the ladder inside American Tower’s “FM 128″ site on Chestnut Street in Newton (recently featured here on Tower Site of the Week) when he plummeted 500 feet to his death.
The Middlesex County DA’s office quickly ruled the death accidental, and it’s now the subject of an OSHA investigation. The climber’s name had not been released as of Sunday. In a statement after the incident, American Tower said it has suspended work at the site while it investigates. The climber was working for a Texas-based tower company, Ultimate Tower Services.
The 1252-foot tower is the main site for four FM stations (WBUR-FM 90.9, WJMN 94.5, WBZ-FM 98.5 and WODS 103.3) and the auxiliary site for five more, as well as the main site for two full-power TV stations (WMFP and WBPX) and several low-power TV stations.
*Congratulations to longtime friend-of-the-column Bob Welch, who’s about to be a Radio Person on the Move in VERMONT. After spending the last few years doing the midday and afternoon news (and lots of other things, too) at WSTJ (1340 St. Johnsbury), Bob returns to the legendary WDEV (550 Waterbury)/WDEV-FM (96.1 Warren) in two weeks, where he’ll take over the evening shift. Lee Kittell, who’d been doing nights at WDEV, is now the PD and afternoon host, replacing Jack Donovan.
*Radio People on the Move in CONNECTICUT: Mike Picozzi has vanished from the airwaves at WCCC-FM (106.9 Hartford), where the veteran jock had been doing mornings; afternooner Jay Raven has moved to the morning shift there.
*During the original 33-year run of WCBS-FM (101.1) as NEW YORK‘s oldies station, only one jock was there all the time.
Bill Brown, who died last week at age 69, was at the station even before it was playing oldies, and he was the last live voice heard on CBS-FM on the infamous “day the music died” in 2005, just before the start of the ill-fated Jack FM. By then, he’d become a staple at 101.1, known especially for his “Brown Bag” lunchtime specials.
Brown came to New York by accident, his family says: after working at small stations in his native Georgia and southern California and serving in the Navy (and some on-air work at the Far East Network in Tokyo), he fell into the Bill Drake orbit, working at KGB in San Diego from 1964-1967. As was common in the Drake top-40 days, Brown was tapped for another job at a Drake-consulted station, WUBE in Cincinnati – but before he could get there, Drake called him and told him to keep driving east to a different gig, at WOR-FM (98.7) in New York. Brown worked there from 1967-1969 before joining WCBS-FM. In addition to his 36 years on the air there, Brown also served as program director for a brief stint in the 1970s.
*The worst-kept secret in western PENNSYLVANIA radio has been confirmed: CBS Radio’s KDKA-FM (93.7 Pittsburgh) will be the new home of Pirates baseball, beginning with spring training next year. The new multi-year deal, for which terms have not been disclosed, ends a five-year run for the Bucs on Clear Channel’s WPGB (104.7), as well as ending Clear Channel’s monopoly on Pittsburgh’s pro sports radio rights.
Because the Pirates’ announcers work for the team, there won’t be any change in the booth for next year. But there will be more baseball coverage on the radio: unlike WPGB, where the Pirates coverage was an interruption to the station’s usual talk format, the team will be an integral part of the sports format on “93.7 the Fan,” with extended pre- and post-game shows, a weekly show on Sunday featuring Pirates GM Neal Huntington and lots of tie-ins with the rest of the CBS cluster in Pittsburgh – including the team’s former home of many decades, KDKA (1020).
Five Years Ago: October 15, 2007 -
Regent Broadcasting is exiting one of its upstate NEW YORK markets, opening the door for an Oklahoma owner known for his religious stations to enter the region.
While Regent was a dominant player in the Watertown market, where its country WFRY (97.5) often pulls some of the highest shares of any station in any rated market in America, that market (Arbitron ranked #279) was also the smallest in Regent’s portfolio, making the $6.25 million deal with David Stephens’ KXOJ, Inc. an easy one for the Cincinnati-based group owner.
In addition to country giant “Froggy,” KXOJ Inc. also gets classic hits WCIZ (93.3 Watertown), news-talk WTNY (790 Watertown) and sports WNER (1410 Watertown) – and we’re left to wonder what exactly an Oklahoma operator plans to do with a cluster in northern New York.
Make that two clusters, actually: KXOJ is also buying a group of St. Lawrence Valley stations from Tim Martz for $5.25 million. Up there, KXOJ gets AC “Valley” WVLF (96.1 Norwood), top 40 “Yes” WYSX (96.7 Morristown), oldies WPAC (98.7 Ogdensburg), classic hits WRCD “Fox” (101.5 Canton, rimshotting Ottawa), country WNCQ (102.9 Canton) and oldies WMSA (1340 Massena).
What’s next? We’d note that in addition to their religious stations, the Stephens family has some experience running secular formats in Oklahoma, particularly sports – and we’d also note that they’ve been known to buy stations and then sell them very quickly, too, so there may be more changes yet to come on these stations. We’ll be listening…
*A veteran Utica morning man is changing signals. Former WRCK (107.3 Utica) morning man Bill Keeler has been leasing morning drive on Clear Channel’s “Kiss” simulcast (WSKS 97.9 Whitesboro/WSKU 105.5 Little Falls) and selling his own airtime, but with Kiss about to change hands (it will go to Ken Roser as part of a big shuffle of Utica ownership), Keeler is taking his morning show elsewhere – specifically, to Mindy Barstein’s WXUR (92.7 Herkimer), which has been without a morning show since the end of Don Imus’ syndication last summer.
In Albany, Paul Vandenburgh has now officially departed WROW (590), and he’s gone public with his plans to buy WTMM (1300 Rensselaer) from Regent. Vandenburgh tells Capital News 9, where he was doing his shows on Fridays, that he’ll relaunch WTMM with a talk format similar to the one he ran there when the station was known as WQBK; he’ll also bring Dan Lynch over from WROW for afternoons.
Ten Years Ago: October 15, 2002 -
J.J. Wright didn’t take long to find work after being let go from WROR (105.7 Framingham); after doing some fill-in at WODS (103.3 Boston), Wright was named the station’s full-time afternoon jock last week, displacing Brian Murphy from that shift.
WRCA (1330 Waltham) submitted its application to move its day and night facilities from South Street in Waltham to the WUNR site in Oak Hill, Newton; the station would run 25 kW day from five towers and 17 kW night from four towers, if neighbors ever approve the reconstruction of the site to accomodate WUNR, WRCA and WKOX (1200 Framingham). It’s not clear that the move would actually get WRCA much more coverage than it currently enjoys from the Waltham site, in any event.
Plenty of news from CANADA this week, starting with some big changes on the way at CKGE (Magic @ 94.9) and CKDO (1350), the Oshawa stations being sold by Corus to the owners of country CJKX (95.9) in nearby Ajax and smooth jazz CIWV (94.7) over in Hamilton. Nearly a dozen CKGE/CKDO staffers have been told their services won’t be needed when the new owners take over, reports MilkMan Unlimited, leading to speculation that the 94.9 signal will end up simulcasting “The Wave” on adjacent 94.7 for better Toronto market coverage.
The CRTC will consider still more FM applications at a hearing this fall in St. John’s, Newfoundland, including several in southern Ontario: United Christian Broadcasters wants a 45 kw signal on 102.3 in Belleville, with a contemporary Christian format. Barrie Christian station CJLF (100.3) wants a transmitter in Peterborough, with 500 watts on 89.3, while in nearby Lindsay, CKLY (91.9) wants to move from the old CKLY 910 site just south of town to a tower 13 km southeast (close to Peterborough itself), upping power from 14 kW to 29.3 kW in the process.
Finally, two obituaries: in Montreal, they’re mourning Ted Blackman, the morning host at CKGM (Team 990), who died Wednesday (Oct. 2) of liver and kidney failure. Blackman had a three-decade history in Montreal print and radio circles, including stints as program director of the old CFCF, morning host at CJAD, and jobs at the Montreal Gazette and the defunct Star and Daily News. Blackman was 60.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 16, 1997 -
One of Boston’s best-known morning men is searching for a new radio home this week. Ken Shelton’s contract with Greater Media’s WBOS (92.9 Brookline) expires at the end of this month and will not be renewed. Shelton has been at WBOS since 1995, when he was let go from Infinity classic rocker WZLX (100.7), where he had been for two years after a lengthy stint at WBCN (104.1). Shelton’s brand of personality-driven morning radio was at odds with the “morning music station” image WBOS PD Jim Herron has been crafting at the station. There’s no word yet on a successor for Shelton; WBOS is planning to use celebrities to fill in for several weeks. There’s also no word on Shelton’s future plans following his last show Friday morning.
Out in central Massachusetts, there’s a new addition to the shrinking roster of live, local AM radio. Ed Skutnik has regained control of Greenfield’s WGAM after selling it and sister FM WRSI (95.3), and he’s now programming WGAM (1520) with a live format featuring lesser-known oldies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Also up in Franklin County, Northfield’s WNMH (91.5) is once again doing live student programming from Northfield-Mt. Hermon School weekdays after 2 PM. The “Radio One” CHR satellite service still fills the off hours.
On to MAINE, where one of New England’s oldest family-owned broadcasters is calling it quits after seventy-two years. The Maine Broadcasting System traces its roots to Henry Rines, who founded WCSH radio as a promotional vehicle for his Congress Square Hotel in Portland back in 1925. In later years, the company would add WLBZ radio in Bangor, followed in the fifties by TV outlets in both cities. (The radio stations were later sold off and are now WZAN (970) Portland and WZON (620) Bangor).
This week, Rines’ grandson, Frederic Thompson, told staffers at WCSH-TV (Channel 6) and WLBZ-TV (Channel 2) that he’s selling the stations to Gannett, giving the media giant its first Maine holdings. Elswehere in the region, Gannett owns newspapers in Connecticut, Vermont, and upstate New York, along with WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) in Buffalo. The company is not related to Maine-based Guy Gannett, which owns TV and newspaper properties across southern Maine. The purchase price was not announced, and Thompson says no layoffs are planned. WCSH-TV has long been the top-rated news outlet in Portland, while WLBZ-TV is in second place behind WABI-TV (Channel 5) in Bangor.
Majac Broadcasting is making some big moves in one NEW YORK market. After selling its properties in the Flint, Michigan area, Majac is spending $6.7 million to become one of the major owners in the Binghamton market. For $6 million, Majac gets Enterprise Radio Partners’ hot AC WMRV (105.7 Endicott), AC WMXW (103.3 Vestal), and sports WENE (1430 Endicott), and for another $675,000 Majac gets rocker WKGB (92.5 Susquehanna PA) from KG Broadcasting. The stations draw a total of more than a third of the Binghamton market’s revenue.
Just outside the region, but worth mentioning: In Reading, Pennsylvania, WEEU wants to move off the crowded 850 channel to a new home on 830. If its application is approved, WEEU would move from its current site northwest of town (which is about to be redeveloped as a shopping center) to a new five-tower array far to the northwest, alongside I-78 near Shartlesville. Day power would be 5kW (up from one), with 6kW at night.
And Canada could soon get its first expanded-band operation. Radio Asia Canada has applied for 1670 kHz in Toronto. NERW wonders how the CRTC will view expanded-band applications at a time when Canada seems to be abandoning the AM dial as fast as it can.