In this week’s issue: Merlin exits NYC with WRXP sale to CBS – FCC hears from Schumer on WKAJ deletion – Elmira’s Carl Proper dies – Clear Channel shuffles Seacoast formats
**COME SEE US IN PERSON! BOOTH D14 AT THE SBE 22 EXPO, THURSDAY, OCT. 11 AT TURNING STONE, VERONA, NY!**
By SCOTT FYBUSH
MONDAY UPDATE: Merlin Media is exiting New York City after a tumultuous yearlong run that included a failed attempt to challenge CBS Radio’s all-news domination – and it’s exiting by selling its WRXP (101.9) to CBS, for a reported $75 million.
Beginning next month, CBS will LMA 101.9 from Merlin and use it to simulcast sports WFAN (660) on the FM dial.
It’s still not clear how the deal will be structured to comply with the FCC’s ownership caps. CBS is at the limit right now with three FMs (top 40 “NOW” WXRK 92.3, classic hits WCBS-FM 101.1 and hot AC “Fresh” WWFS 102.7), three AMs (WFAN and all-news WCBS 880 and WINS 1010) and two TVs (WCBS-TV 2 and WLNY-TV 55).
TUESDAY UPDATE: Following up on yesterday’s big news about WRXP’s sale to CBS – and the inevitable question about how CBS stays under the ownership cap in New York City: the betting line right now seems to be that it’s CBS’ most recent acquisition, WLNY-TV, that goes away, sort of. Remember the FCC’s upcoming UHF DTV spectrum incentive auction? WLNY’s spectrum ought to be fairly valuable to buyers (and thus to CBS), and even if it’s sold, CBS would retain the cable/satellite must-carry rights for WLNY’s programming. And those rights are probably much more valuable than WLNY’s limited OTA signal, anyway.
*Out there in the Mohawk Valley of central NEW YORK, just off the side of Route 5 in a field next to an abandoned warehouse, there sits a four-tower array that’s never broadcast a watt of power.
As NERW readers well know from our previous coverage, this is – or at least was supposed to have been – WKAJ (1120 St. Johnsville). When we last revisited the WKAJ saga back in June, the FCC had tossed out a “Petition for Waiver and Reinstatement” that permittee Cranesville Block Company had filed in a last-ditch attempt to get the Commission to grant a license to the 10,000-watt day/400-watt night station – even though construction on the facility wasn’t completed (or even substantially started) until January 2012, a month after WKAJ’s construction permit had expired in December 2011.
Two area congressmen weighed in on behalf of Cranesville and its principal, Joe Tesiero, but to no avail: rules are rules, they were told, and if WKAJ wanted to make a case that catastrophic weather and the sudden disappearance of its contractor had delayed construction, the time to do that was before the CP expired, not long afterward. But having sunk more than $300,000 into construction (and who knows how much now on legal fees), Cranesville wasn’t giving up so easily. Over the summer, it prevailed on Senator Chuck Schumer to intervene with the FCC. In a July letter to chairman Julius Genachowski, Schumer said “it is difficult to see what harm would be caused by the waiver” WKAJ sought, and noted that the challenges the station faced during construction were “extremely unforeseeable.”
In late September, Genachowski responded, writing, “I appreciate your interest in this matter and have directed the Chief of the Media Bureau’s Office of Communications and Industry Information to respond.” A letter the same day from that official, Michael S. Perko, tells Schumer that “Commission staff will complete its review of the [WKAJ] Application for Review and prepare a recommendation for the full Commission as expeditiously as possible. Please be assured that in reaching a disposition, the Commission will give careful consideration to issues raised by [WKAJ] and the views discussed in your letter.”
Will the intervention of one of the Senate’s most powerful Democrats (in an election year, no less) be enough to get the FCC to overlook deadlines and rules that are usually among the agency’s most rigid? And if WKAJ is allowed to sign on despite having started construction after an expired CP, how will the FCC thread the needle to avoid creating a precedent for other would-be late builders? Stay tuned…we’ll continue to watch this one closely.
Meanwhile, Tesiero appears to have learned from the WKAJ debacle; construction is reportedly well underway up in the Adirondacks on WYVS (96.5 Speculator), his new FM construction permit that was just granted in July.
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*Good news, everybody! The 2013 Tower Site Calendar is finally coming 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 10, 2011 -
*The stations owned by NEW JERSEY‘s Nassau Broadcasting Partners have lived to broadcast for at least another week while the company awaits a judge’s decision about how its bankruptcy will be handled.As we’d been reporting, Nassau’s lenders, led by Goldman Sachs, were in court Thursday in Delaware asking Judge Kevin Gross to order the company into immediate Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidation – but Nassau management, led by Lou Mercatanti, had a different idea: it asked Judge Gross to convert the involuntary Chapter 7 petition into Chapter 11, which would allow Nassau to keep operating its stations.
Nassau says its stations have positive cash flow right now, and argued that continued operation during an orderly restructuring will allow the stations to keep producing revenue while the lenders look for buyers. (Radio Business Report says Mercatanti even submitted a letter Goldman Sachs had sent in August, asking Nassau to make a voluntary Chapter 11 filing before September 4.)
As of Sunday night, there’s been no ruling from Judge Gross, so Nassau operations continue as usual (for some value of “usual,” given the company’s financial woes) while the company and its lenders await the judge’s decision about what the next step will be.
*RHODE ISLAND‘s public radio dial completed its transition over the weekend, as WRNI (1290 Providence) consummated its deal with the Wheeler School and the local Latino Public Radio group to swap programming.As first reported here in NERW, the deal plays out like this: Rhode Island Public Radio is paying Wheeler $75,000 a year plus three percent of increased revenues to shift its NPR lineup from 1290 on the AM dial to Wheeler’s recently-upgraded WELH (88.1 Providence). LPR, in turn, goes from leasing 12 hours a day on WELH to 24 hours a day on 1290, giving it the platform it needs to qualify for Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding and continued growth.
There’s another piece to the puzzle that emerged late last week, just ahead of the Saturday morning frequency swap: to avoid confusion, Rhode Island Public Radio has dropped the on-air use of the “WRNI” branding; instead, it’s now “RI NPR,” with a new logo that doubles as a stylized coverage map of its three FM signals: WELH in Providence and the northern parts of the state, WCVY (91.5 Coventry) in west-central Rhode Island and WRNI-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier) in South County and Newport.
*Eastern CONNECTICUT‘s Red Wolf Broadcasting is adding another signal to its portfolio: owner John J. Fuller is the principal in “CSI Media Research,” the winning bidder on that new class A FM signal on 94.9 just across Long Island Sound in Montauk, New York – and Fuller has now given that new 94.9 signal the “WJJF” calls he originally used on his first station (now WCRI 1180 in Hope Valley, R.I.)
Our friends over at RadioInsight.com note that Fuller recently registered “949News.com” and several similar domain names for the new station, suggesting it will try to fill the talk gap created by the demise of the old WXLM-FM – but they also note that Fuller followed up with a flurry of possible decoy registrations, including “949JohnFM.com” and “EagleCountry949.com.”
Five Years Ago: October 8, 2007 -
*Remember the TV show “Quantum Leap,” wherein a scientist named Sam Beckett was sent traveling through time and space, “striving to put right what once went wrong”?
It’s increasingly looking as though CBS Radio chief Dan Mason is trying to be the industry’s Sam Beckett, returning WCBS-FM and K-Rock to New York, KFRC to San Francisco, WYSP to Philadelphia, and now the legendary B94 to western PENNSYLVANIA.
Just as the buzz (no pun intended) on the message boards was speculating, the Christmas-music stunting at the former “Man Talk” WTZN (93.7 Pittsburgh) came to an abrupt end at 5 o’clock Friday afternoon, when the station launched into a retrospective of its 23 years as WBZZ, returning to its former top-40 format with Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback” as its first song.
(Former B94 PD Clarke Ingram noted – within minutes, no less – that there were a couple of inaccuracies in the B94 retrospective: the station had signed on April 2, 1981, not April 1, and its first song in the new format was actually Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” not “You May Be Right.”)
Those technicalities aside, CBS is embarking on a format war with Clear Channel, whose “Kiss” WKST-FM (96.1 Pittsburgh) has owned the top-40 category in the Steel City for the last few years. The move also raises questions about the future of CBS’ hot AC entry, “Star 100.7″ (WZPT New Kensington) – is a format change for that station in the offing, too?
No airstaff has been announced yet for the revived B94, though we’re hearing a lot of rumors that the John, Dave, Bubba and Shelly morning show is likely to make a return. There’s also no word about new calls. (The WBZZ calls are tied up in the Albany market these days, and for now the revived B is still legally WTZN.)
*There’s finally a fulltime CW affiliate in VERMONT: Fox affiliate WFFF (Channel 44) in Burlington has turned on a subchannel on WFFF-DT (Channel 43), providing an over-the-air signal for “CW Burlington,” which is also seen on most area cable systems on channel 20, replacing New York’s WPIX there. The September 27 launch of the CW subchannel clears the CW programming out of WFFF’s 10 PM-midnight timeslot, which makes way for the upcoming launch of a 10 PM newscast on WFFF soon.
*Is there enough radio in CANADA‘s capital city yet? Apparently not, to judge by the 11 applications on deck for a December 3 CRTC hearing to consider the possibility of new signals in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.
There are really only two frequencies involved in this pile of applications: 99.7, where tourist information station CIIO now operates as an unprotected low-power service, and either 101.7 or 101.9.
On the 99.7 front, applicants include CIIO itself (to boost power and become a protected service, arguing that it’s now the city of Ottawa’s official emergency information station); Christian Hit Radio Inc., which wants to add a religious station to its contemporary Christian CHRI on 99.1; Ottawa Media Inc., for a AAA format; and Mark Maheu, for a pop station. (This is also the frequency on which Hamilton’s CIWV has applied for an Ottawa relay.)
On 101.7, there’s Radio de la communaute francophone d’Ottawa, for a French community station; while on 101.9, there’s Reel-Radio, for a French campus station; Fiston Kalambay Mutombo, for a French Christian station; Instant Information Services, for a French-language tourist station to complement CIIO; Corus, for an English-language news-talk station; Astral Media, for a “soft adult” format; and Frank Torres, for an all-blues station.
Would the grant of a 101.7 – or even a 101.9 – wreak havoc with the attempts of WRCD (101.5 Canton NY) to play in the Ottawa market from across the border? And will CJSS (101.9 Cornwall) object to a co-channel signal just up the road in Ottawa? Stay tuned…
Ten Years Ago: October 8, 2002 -
It’s been two months since J.R. Gach was last heard on the air in NEW YORK’s Capital District, and almost every day has brought e-mail from listeners wondering why the WGY (810 Schenectady) afternoon talk host suddenly disappeared without any notice to his fans. Thanks to the Albany Times Union and Mark McGuire (probably the best daily newspaper reporter covering broadcasting in the northeast right now), we have some answers to offer. Gach was diagnosed with bipolar II mental disorder, which his wife Suzie blames for the outbursts that marked his show’s final months on the air at WGY. In a lengthy narrative given to the paper, Suzie Gach says J.R. suffered a breakdown in mid-August while returning home from a weeklong vacation.
While Suzie Gach filled in on J.R.’s shift (she was eventually replaced on-air by Ed Martin, who continues to occupy the time slot), J.R. was undergoing inpatient, then outpatient treatment at a rehab center in Saratoga Springs. Gach is now back home, and it’s unclear whether or not he’ll ever return to WGY’s airwaves. Suzie Gach tells McGuire that her husband’s personality has changed since beginning treatment (he’s now going by “Jay” instead of “J.R.”), while WGY management declined to comment specifically. We’ll keep you posted here at NERW as we hear more, and we’ll be keeping the Gaches in our thoughts.
The FCC was busy in PENNSYLVANIA over the summer. The Commission handed out several Notices of Apparent Liability during August: $7000 to WGET (1320 Gettysburg) for failure to properly fence its towers, and $20,000 to WFBS (1280 Berwick) for failure to mark and light its towers and unspecified equipment problems. (The FCC also cited KFNX in Cave Creek, Arizona, a sister station to WALE 990 in Greenville, RHODE ISLAND, for failure to power down at night. NERW wonders why WALE itself has escaped the FCC’s notice, and we note that the bankruptcy filing by WALE/KFNX owner Francis Battaglia doesn’t make the NAL go away….)
On a happier note, WFBS is adding a weekend show from Philadelphia’s “Geator,” Jerry Blavat, to its schedule. Blavat was in negotiations to do a weekend show on the big signal of Philly’s WPHT (1210) as well, but the two sides couldn’t come to terms over a playlist (or lack thereof), we’re told.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 9, 1997 -
We’ll begin this week in upstate NEW YORK, where an unlikely pair of radio personalities have taken their dislike of each other to the airwaves. We told you in last week’s NERW about the dismissal of WCMF (96.5 Rochester) personalities Rich (“the Bull”) Gaenzler and Beth Donohue, along with night jock Zak Wood from sister station WRMM (101.3, and not “WRRM” as the local paper reported). Just hours after Donohue was fired, she turned up across town on Jacor-owned talker WHAM (1180), joining midday talk host Bob Lonsberry to vent her frustration with WCMF.
That was just the start of the feud, as Lonsberry kept up a running stream of commentary and calls on the state of WCMF, once the city’s lone progressive rocker, and now one of several rock stations vying for Flower City listeners. One WCMF listener who had participated in the station’s focus group the night before the firings called in to the Lonsberry show to talk about what he’d heard. That, coupled with Lonsberry’s assertion that veteran WCMF morning jock “Brother Wease” is sounding tired and old, was enough to get Wease back in the station for a rare afternoon appearance, as he turned WCMF into a talk station to sound off against Lonsberry, who then devoted much of Wednesday’s show to the issue, even inviting WCMF advertisers to jump ship to WHAM or its sister stations (including modern-rock competitor WNVE). It’s unusual (except on WJIB/WJTO’s “Let’s Talk About Radio”) to hear the nuts and bolts of the business — ratings, demographics, music tests — discussed on the air with as much passion as we’ve seen this week. We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.
From NEW HAMPSHIRE, one that we neglected to mention last week: Manchester’s WKBR (1250) has dropped its simulcast of co-owned AAA WXRV (92.5 Haverhill, Mass.) and is now running the One-on-One sports network. Also in Manchester, there’s word that Notre Dame College’s WRND (91.7) has left the air for good…we’ll keep you posted on that one.
And in CONNECTICUT, the program lineup at Hartford’s WTIC (1080) is being reshuffled to bring Colin McEnroe back to the weekday lineup after a one-year absence. McEnroe joins the Bruce Stevens show, which will now begin at 3 PM, replacing the last hour of Dr. Laura Schlessinger. He’ll drop his daily commentaries and Sunday night talk show on the (soon to be) CBS talker.