In this week’s issue… Region recovers from Sandy – WFAN-FM launches – WKTV’s Worden retires – Station sales on Cape Cod, northern VT – Final end for RCI Sackville
By SCOTT FYBUSH
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*The last time a storm ripped across the Jersey shore and Long Island Sound with the intensity of last week’s Hurricane Sandy, the year was 1938 and the broadcast damage was extensive and long-lasting.
With just a few exceptions, Sandy left behind much less permanent damage, but its effects on the broadcast community were still plenty intense in the short term. As we chronicled all throughout last week in updates to NERW, the combination of massive power and telecom outages and record-high water levels in low-lying areas left stations struggling to stay on the air in the hours and days immediately after the storm.
We’ll get to the latest station-by-station details in a moment, but first a few bigger thoughts about how radio and TV fared not only in surviving the storm, but in covering it.
We were fortunate up here in western New York (as we so often are) to escape the worst of the storm. Our colleague Lance Venta of RadioInsight.com was not so fortunate; he lives near the Jersey shore, and while his home wasn’t damaged, he spent several days stranded without power, listening carefully to what radio offered, and to what it didn’t offer. In other trade publications, you’re already reading radio executives praising the industry for the service it provided during the storm – but be sure, too, that you read Lance’s account of what wasn’t there when he needed it. Here’s just a highlight – but go read the whole thing:
At the peak of the storm only two local FM’s were in full storm mode. New York Public Radio’s 93.9 WNYC-FM and Disney’s 98.7 WEPN-FM, the latter of which was simulcasting the programming of sister WABC-TV. Some other stations had local break-ins but for those fearing their lives what good is it that Taylor Swift is never getting back together?
The NAB has been on a crusade to have FM chips placed in cell phones using crises such as this as a reason why. That’s all and good, but without the content the listeners need what good is it?
On with our detailed review of the storm’s aftermath and the latest on the recovery -
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*Good news, everybody! A new shipment of the 2013 Tower Site Calendar is back from the printer, 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: November 7, 2011 -
*Welcome to our new home! There aren’t many websites that have lasted more than a decade without a redesign, and with this week’s NERW we retire the old version of fybush.com, designed and built by your editor (in PageMill 3.0!) way back in 2000 and slightly modified in early 2001. Our new WordPress-based look comes to you with the assistance of Dustin McShane and MindSwell Media, and over the next few days we’ll have the new site fully up and running.
Enough about what’s happening behind the scenes: on with this week’s column:
Last photo of the old towers, Saturday afternoon
*We start in western MASSACHUSETTS, where the end came quietly Saturday afternoon for a venerable radio landmark.
Longtime NERW readers knew that the original WBZ towers atop the old Westinghouse plant on Page Boulevard in East Springfield were doomed to demolition as part of the site’s redevelopment for retail use. But until the very end of last week, we didn’t know exactly when the towers would be coming down.
As it turned out, the old towers – the very pieces of steel that supported the antenna from which WBZ first broadcast 90 years ago this fall – enjoyed one last moment on the air just hours before crews pulled them down. Engineer Kurt Jackson, who was contracted to remove the towers, arranged for a special-event license from the FCC to operate an amateur radio station from a longwire antenna at the site on Saturday, and for just a few hours station “W1Z” operated on shortwave from a temporary operating station inside the WBZ “mobile newsroom” parked next to the gutted shell of the Westinghouse building.
Once W1Z had signed off, the rest happened quickly: crews climbed the building, cut the towers at their bases, and quickly pulled them down.
While some pieces were salvaged as souvenirs, it’s still an unfortunate end to a very important piece of technology history. The WBZ site in East Springfield was, as best we can tell, a unique survivor of the earliest era of AM tower sites, having long outlived other rooftop longwires of its era. (For instance, the towers used for the original KDKA installation in East Pittsburgh have been gone for decades, and the building itself met the wrecking ball just after the turn of the century; other early AM sites such as the Westinghouse plant and WOR/Bamberger plant in Newark are also long gone.)
90 years of history, toppled
With WBZ’s first home now gone as well, only a handful of 1920s AM sites survive, none in anything close to their original form. The 1924 transmitter building for WCCO in Minneapolis still stands, used for storage a few hundred yards from the newer 1930s-era building and tower now used by the station. In Mason, Ohio, the 1927 transmitter building for WLW remains (and will be featured later this week on Tower Site of the Week), as does an even earlier structure next door that was an early transmitter building for sister station WSAI.
But most of the towers from that era succumbed quickly to technological progress: when modern vertical AM antennas replaced the longwires beginning in the early 1930s, the old antennas weren’t kept around, for the most part. WBZ’s Springfield site survived as long as it did because of two accidents of historical inertia: first, the move of WBZ’s main studio and transmitter to the Boston area in 1931 left the Springfield facility (renamed “WBZA”) behind as something of an afterthought, with Westinghouse investing as little as possible in updating the Springfield site over the ensuing 31 years. And after WBZA signed off from Springfield for good in 1962, Westinghouse never bothered to spend the money to remove the old towers, which then remained in place as the old Westinghouse facility moldered after the company moved out.
As we write this on Sunday night, much of Connecticut is just getting power restored after a week without service. The storm silenced many smaller stations around the state, and some bigger ones, too: downed trees along the access road to the West Peak FM tower site in Meriden kept engineers from accessing the stations there, and Buckley’s WDRC-FM (102.9) was especially hard-hit when its generator failed and nobody could get to the site to fix it.
*The week’s other big Connecticut story comes from the Fairfield County shoreline, where Cox Radio is exiting the AM business with the sale of WNLK (1350 Norwalk) and WSTC (1400 Stamford) to Sacred Heart University’s public broadcaster, WSHU. The sale price hasn’t yet been disclosed, but it’s believed to be significantly less than Cox paid to acquire the AM signals (along with their sister FMs, one of which – WFOX-FM 95.9 – remains in the Cox fold, while another – now WKLV 96.7 – has also been sold off.)
The Cox AMs had been orphaned earlier this year when WFOX-FM moved its studios to Cox’s cluster in Milford, leaving only a skeleton crew operating the two AMs from the facility at 444 Westport Avenue that had once been home to four stations. Cox says ten employees have lost their jobs as a result of the sale of the stations, which ends local shows that include John LaBarca’s morning program and Lisa Wexler’s afternoon talk show.
As for WSHU, in addition to its primary news-and-music format on WSHU-FM (91.1 Fairfield), the public broadcaster now dominates the upper end of the AM dial in the region: in addition to WNLK and WSTC, which it began operating under an LMA Sunday night, it owns WSHU (1260 Westport) and operates WYBC (1340 New Haven). For now, at least, it appears that WNLK and WSTC will mostly simulcast the NPR news-talk programming already heard on WSHU(AM), though they’ll break away on Sundays from 10 AM-2 PM to continue carrying La Barca’s “Italian House Party,” a long-running fixture of Fairfield County radio.
*And WSHU isn’t the only Connecticut public broadcaster extending its reach: Hartford-based WNPR Connecticut Public Radio has signed a deal to place its programming on WAIC (91.9 Springfield MA), replacing student programming at the American International College station, which had most recently been running an adult hits format as “91.9 the Buzz.”
In NEW YORK, WABC (770) program director Laurie Cantillo exited last week after less than three years on the job. While Cantillo was a well-liked figure at Two Penn Plaza, her tenure was marked from the beginning with questions about the purpose of the job, given the WABC program lineup that’s now almost entirely made up of syndicated shows. But Cantillo at least made a valiant effort to localize the schedule as much as possible, launching the local late-morning Joe Crummey show last year as well as several weekend offerings. The most recent round of Cumulus cutbacks stripped WABC of several local staffers, and it’s not entirely surprising to find Cantillo moving on, evidently of her own accord. (The rumor mill is already suggesting that Cantillo’s next stop might be at struggling all-newser WEMP.)
Moving upstate, Don Crawford Jr.’s DJRA group will pull the plug on the “Legends” oldies format Friday at Albany-market WPTR (96.7 Clifton Park). Crawford, whose father still owns sister station WDCD (1540 Albany), tells listeners that he faced “very weighty financial demands” from the company’s lenders, and that’s why the station will flip formats later this week, apparently back to the contemporary Christian format it had been running before “Legends” launched in February.
Unlike its Rochester sister station WLGZ (102.7), which has used a stable of live and local jocks to achieve decent ratings, the Albany “Legends” depended on voicetracks from those Rochester jocks (and others), and a limited class A signal kept it from making much of a dent in the Albany ratings. Crawford says WLGZ’s Mark Shuttlesworth will continue to voicetrack a web-only version of the Albany “Legends” after the on-air signal flips on Friday.
*On TV, there’s a new owner coming to the Albany market: as we reported in our Wednesday update, Freedom Communications is exiting the TV business, selling its eight-station group to Sinclair for $385 million. The deal includes two stations in NERW-land, both in the Albany market: CBS affiliate WRGB (Channel 6) and CW affiliate WCWN (Channel 45). The new stations fit nicely with an existing Sinclair footprint in the region that includes stations in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Portland, Maine.
Sinclair takes over right away under an LMA, and hopes to close on the sale in early 2012.
*And of course we can’t move on from New York without noting the death on Friday of Andy Rooney. While the Albany native and Colgate University graduate never worked in local broadcasting (he moved from local newspapers to World War II reporting right into network radio and then TV), his long network service qualifies him for NERW mention – as do his offspring: daughter Emily, of course, was news director at WCVB-TV and now hosts “Greater Boston” on WGBH radio and television, while son Brian started his local TV career at Rochester’s WOKR (now WHAM-TV) and then worked at WPRI in Providence before moving on to WBBM-TV in Chicago and then ABC News. Rooney was 92; his death followed complications from what was reported to have been a “minor” surgical procedure, just a few weeks after his final commentary aired on “60 Minutes.”
Five Years Ago: November 5, 2007 -
*Is it still news when we’ve known it was coming for weeks? That’s where things stand with the latest headlines from NEW YORK, where Citadel’s WABC (770) sent morning co-host Ron Kuby packing after Thursday morning’s “Curtis and Kuby” show, following that a few hours later with the long-awaited official announcement that Don Imus would be coming to WABC’s morning drive on December 3.Imus will take a pay cut from his old CBS Radio salary to return to the airwaves; reports have him earning about $5 million a year from the deal, which will also bring back his former WFAN newsman Charles McCord. (What of producer Bernie McGuirk? Nobody’s saying, and there are rumors that McGuirk may be pursuing his own new show in the Boston market.)
The new show will be syndicated by ABC Radio Networks, and the big speculation now revolves around where Imus might land in some of the other markets where he used to be heard. Will WTKK in Boston, which has been trying without success to break Howie Carr’s WRKO contract (and which lost another round in court last week), fall back on its former morning man? (Or will WRKO, which is struggling with the Tom Finneran morning disaster, cut its losses and go with the proven offering from New York?)
Other former Imus markets in the region include Philadelphia, Providence, the New Hampshire seacoast, Manchester, Burlington, Bangor and Portland, and we’ll be watching to see if stations in those areas sign new deals to carry the revived Imus show.
Back in New York, Kuby was unhappy about his abrupt dismissal – and vocal about it, too, taking to the airwaves at rival stations to complain about the irony that he, a civil rights lawyer, was losing his job so that Imus could return from unemployment.
As for Kuby’s co-host, Curtis Sliwa, Citadel says it intends to keep him on WABC, perhaps sharing the late-morning slot with John R. Gambling – but the rumor mill was aflutter last weekend with speculation that Sliwa might instead head downtown to Buckley’s WOR (710), perhaps re-teaming with Kuby there in morning drive.
*At the other end of the state, Holy Family Communication’s WHIC (1460 Rochester) dedicated its new transmitter site Tuesday morning, interrupting its usual Catholic programming for a special live broadcast from the site hosted by general manager (and Rochester radio veteran) Jack Palvino, and featuring a blessing from Rochester’s Bishop Matthew Clark, who said he’s never blessed a radio tower before.
Holy Family also saluted the town of Henrietta for its quick approval of the new site, a rare feat in this day of rampant NIMBY-ism, and one made easier by the site’s location in an industrial area with few neighbors to complain.
The site’s not quite finished yet – the new phasor had just been delivered last week, and the antenna tuning units and ground system weren’t yet complete – but WHIC expects to be on the air from the new site before the end of autumn.
Regent Communications continued the selloff of some of its non-core stations last week, following the sale of its lone Albany AM (WTMM 1300 Rensselaer) with the sale of its lone AM in the Buffalo market. Dick Greene’s Culver Communications will pay Regent $1.3 million for WECK (1230 Cheektowaga), which has been doing automated classic country as a flanker to Regent’s big WYRK (106.5 Buffalo).
Culver already owns WLVL (1340 Lockport), and the WECK acquisition will help Greene expand his reach southward from Niagara County into Erie County. John Pierce & Co. brokered the deal for Regent, with Dick Kozacko representing Greene.
*October was a month of frequency upgrades in PENNSYLVANIA. On October 17, the venerable religious outlet WPEL (1250 Montrose) switched off that frequency after more than half a century, moving its 1000-watt daytime signal down the dial to 800 kHz, where that kilowatt will carry further. WPEL(AM) runs a southern gospel format, while its sister station WPEL-FM (96.5) serves both Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Binghamton with a religious teaching format.
In central Pennsylvania, WXPN (88.5 Philadelphia) spent last week celebrating its big facility upgrade, having traded the former WXPH (88.1 Harrisburg) for the 7 kW signal of WZXM (88.7 Middletown).
88.7 now has the WXPH calls, and as of Nov. 1, it’s relaying WXPN’s AAA format to a wider region that now includes York and Lancaster as well as Harrisburg. As for 88.1, it’s now WZXM, carrying “Word FM” religious programming from new owners Four Rivers Community Broadcasting.
While we’re in the York area, we say a sad farewell to the longtime transmitter building and former studio home of WSBA (910), which was demolished last week. The old Colonial-style building, which served as WSBA’s studios from 1942 until 1975, stayed in the hands of former owner Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff after the stations were sold to Cumulus, which recently moved the AM transmitter into a new building closer to the towers. That will allow Susquehanna Real Estate, which bought the property two years ago, to develop the land closer to North Susquehanna Trail into an office park.
Ten Years Ago: November 11, 2002 -
The atmosphere can be a tricky thing sometimes, especially near the coast and especially during the summer. Just ask Boston’s WCVB-DT (Channel 20) and the Camden County, N.J., public safety department, which have been sharing the 506-512 MHz chunk of the UHF spectrum for the last few years. It was never a problem when WCVB-DT was operating a few hours a day, but earlier this year, when the tower work on the Needham tower WCVB shares with WBZ-TV/DT and WGBH/WGBX was completed and WCVB-DT was able to go full-time at full power, officers down in South Jersey started to notice interference to their two-way radio system, which they tracked down to the new DTV signal more than 250 miles to the northeast.
Last week the dispute hit the media, with Ocean County (even closer to the coast than Camden County) joining in a complaint to the FCC about interference to their radio systems, which operate in the “T-Band,” first allocated a couple of decades ago on what were then largely unused channels 14-20 in the UHF-TV spectrum. (How unused? So much so that several low UHF TV allocations, such as 14 in Worcester, 16 in Providence and 18 in New Brunswick, N.J., were deleted and reassigned for public safety use.)
DTV, of course, changed all that, with every scrap of the UHF TV spectrum being pressed into use during the lengthy transition from analog to digital. In Boston, it’s not just 20; channel 19 is in use by WGBH-DT and channel 18 is allocated for WMFP-DT.
In other words, the spectrum that T-band users have had pretty much to themselves is about to get full, and it doesn’t appear that the FCC did its homework when making the allocations there, or in other parts of the DTV spectrum. (Just ask WHRO-DT Norfolk VA and WBOC-TV Salisbury MD, which are battling over channel 16, or WOOD-TV Grand Rapids MI and WMVS-DT Milwaukee, which are fighting over channel 8.) The culprit appears to be the FCC’s modeling mechanism, which does not fully account for the effects of unusual propagation, especially over water. (Notice a common thread in all these DTV disputes?)
Any DXer knows that there’s nothing completely predictable about propagation at almost any frequency below 800 MHz (as we type this, we’re watching an E-skip pileup on channel 3 that’s bringing in stations from Memphis, Springfield MO, Harrisburg IL and Eufaula OK, perfectly normal behavior in mid-July but quite unusual in early November), and every reason to think that a 500 MHz signal with a megawatt of power from Boston will often ride the tropospheric ducts down to New Jersey in the summertime. But those are the sort of questions that should have been asked before a license was issued, not after millions of dollars were spent to put up a licensed signal on channel 20 in Boston.
How will this all get resolved now that the damage has been done? The good news is that there’s no reason to expect WCVB-DT to remain on channel 20 forever; when the DTV transition is complete, the digital signal will likely replace WCVB’s analog on channel 5. You can read more thoughts on digital transitioning down at the bottom of this week’s column. In the meantime, we’ll be following this closely to see how the FCC gets itself out of the hole it’s dug. (2007 note: WCVB-DT will indeed stay on Channel 20 – we didn’t know back in 2002 how bad low-band VHF would be for digital TV – and the T-band issue has never been fully resolved, as far as we’re aware.)
Fifteen Years Ago: November 7, 1997 -
The last part of the legendary jock lineup at Boston’s WBCN (104.1) will leave the airwaves after Friday’s show. Mark Parenteau was fired from the CBS-owned modern rocker this week after two decades as BCN’s afternoon-drive host. [Editor's note: he actually left Thursday.]
Parenteau, midday jock Ken Shelton, and morning guy Charles Laquidara were the cornerstones of the WBCN lineup through much of the seventies and eighties. Laquidara was moved to classic rocker WZLX (100.7) two years ago, while Shelton also spent two years at WZLX before being let go from the then-Infinity group in 1995. Replacing Parenteau in the 3-7 slot will be evening jock Nik Carter, a move presumably designed to cater to the younger audience WBCN has sought since shifting to modern rock a few years back.
Parenteau kept a promise to present an award at the Achievement in Radio (AIR) awards this week, joking about his dismissal as he went. AIR honorees included WBZ (1030) morning veteran Gary LaPierre, who received the lifetime achievement award; Loren (Owens) and Wally (Brine) of WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham) for best morning show; Nancy Quill of WMJX (106.7) for best midday show; and WBOS (92.9 Brookline)’s Julie Devereaux for best evening show.
Elsewhere in MASSACHUSETTS: The FCC has approved the transfer of WNRB (1510 Boston) from Communicom to One-on-One Sports; expect a format change there soon. Cape and Islands Public Radio’s new 90.1 in Woods Hole has been granted the calls WHMV — NERW thinks it’s either a tribute to their favorite record store, or it stands for “Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard.” WPZE (1260 Boston) has reverted to a simulcast of WEZE (590) as it awaits the arrival of Radio Disney — “any day now” is the word we’re hearing on that format change.
On the pirate front: NERW hears from Mike Malone of the late “WDOA” (89.3 Worcester) that the FCC agents who shut the station down last week told him they were operating under orders from the highest levels of the FCC — new chairman Bill Kennard flexing his muscle, perhaps? Speculation in the pirate community is that the FCC is using pirates’ web pages to find them; could that be why the Rebel Music Radio page has disappeared, while the supposedly-silent Boston pirate at 105.3 was still being heard late last week by at least one NERW reader?
And meantime, Cambridge city council candidate Ian McKinnon turned to pirate radio for his campaign, running “Radio Free Cambridge” from a local art gallery during the weekend leading up to Election Day. A confusing (or should that be just plain confused?) article in the Cambridge TAB explained how the station began broadcasting Sunday night…then went on to say “no frequency has been chosen for the station.” Perhaps operating a radio station with no frequency was what doomed McKinnon’s election bid; he drew only 264 votes, falling far behind the nine incumbents, all of whom won re-election without benefit of pirate radio.