In this week’s issue… Sinclair rearranges Rochester TV – Ken Squier buys another Vermont FM – Remembering WTIC’s Arnold Dean and Albany’s Don Decker – Reith out in Syracuse
By SCOTT FYBUSH
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*The average TV viewer in upstate NEW YORK might not have noticed much, but behind the scenes, last week brought some dramatic changes to the dial involving two big group owners.
Nexstar was already an established presence in the region, owning and operating clusters in Rochester and Utica as well as just across the state line in Scranton and Erie, Pennsylvania. When Nexstar closed its purchase of most of Newport Television’s stations, it instantly became a much larger player. Nexstar’s Newport deal adds most of the cluster that was first assembled more than a decade ago by Ackerley, later passing to Clear Channel and then Newport. In Syracuse, Nexstar now owns top-rated ABC affiliate WSYR-TV (Channel 9), which serves as a hub for Watertown ABC outlet WWTI (Channel 50), Elmira NBC station WETM (Channel 18), Binghamton’s ABC affiliate WIVT (Channel 34) and NBC affiliate WBGH-LP (Channel 20). Nexstar’s Utica ABC affiliate, WUTR (Channel 20), was part of the old Ackerley group, too, and now rejoins its old sister station.
Under Ackerley, the group established a master control hub in Syracuse. The Nexstar acquisition will add a new level of hubbing: accounting and traffic for all of Nexstar’s stations in the region are being handled from a new hub at WROC-TV (Channel 8) in Rochester. Our colleague Peter Naughton at CNYRadio.com reports that consolidation meant as many as 20 jobs were lost at WSYR-TV’s East Syracuse facility, including the loss of several part-time photojournalists as well as production and business managers.
The Nexstar/Newport deal also brings two more former Clear Channel Television stations in the region under Newport’s management: CBS affiliate WHP-TV (Channel 21) in Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA and its JSA partner, CW affiliate WLYH (Channel 15) in Lebanon. Nexstar’s arrival in the Harrisburg market means the departure of Holly Steuart, who’d been GM at those stations under Newport; Steuart had also worked at WROC-TV in Rochester before moving to Harrisburg.
Nexstar still has another deal yet to close: it’s also acquiring Fox affiliate WFFF (Channel 44) and WVNY (Channel 22) in Burlington, Vermont, adding to what’s now a large regional footprint.
*While we knew Nexstar’s closing on the Newport stations was just a matter of time, the week’s other big deal came as a surprise – even, apparently, to Nexstar itself. This piece of the puzzle involves the last station remaining in the Newport family, ABC affiliate WHAM-TV (Channel 13) in Rochester. Because Nexstar already owned WROC in Rochester and operated Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate WUHF (Channel 31) under a joint sales agreement (JSA), it appeared that WHAM-TV would have to go to a different buyer. What nobody at Nexstar appears to have expected was that the “different buyer” would be its own JSA partner in Rochester, Sinclair, which paid $54 million on Monday and immediately took over the “non-license assets” of WHAM-TV.
Confused yet? No more so than the business pages that obligingly reported Sinclair’s official statement that it had no plans to alter its WUHF arrangement with WROC, leaving the station Sinclair actually owns, WUHF, being operated by a competitor to WHAM-TV, the station Sinclair will operate but not own. Even in the tangled web that is modern television group ownership, that’s a bizarre situation indeed, and NERW can confirm it won’t last very long.
Here’s what’s really about to happen in Rochester TV:
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As we work our way toward the end of the year, we have some special NERW features coming your way. Next week’s issue will include our annual “NERW Bookshelf and Gift Guide,” and now’s the time to let us know if there’s something you’ve read this year that belongs in our listing of interesting new releases related to radio and TV in our region.
And on December 24, we’ll begin our “2012 Year in Review” special presentation. You won’t want to miss this year’s extensive look back at the stories and people who made broadcasting exciting across the region. We have some great opportunities available for advertisers in this special section, too – reach out to Lisa (lisa at fybush dot com) for all the details on how you can be a part of our Year in Review!
*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.
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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: December 12, 2011 -
* In a surprise move, CBS is creating the second English-language commercial TV duopoly in the New York City market. It’s acquiring low-profile Long Island-based independent station WLNY-TV (Channel 55) for an as-yet-undisclosed price. WLNY has a prominent cable presence in most of the market (generally on cable channel 10), and it will provide an additional outlet alongside CBS O&O WCBS-TV (Channel 2). Much more in next week’s NERW…
*There’s something about Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media venture that seems to dominate media discussion in every market it enters, and it was no different this week in PENNSYLVANIA, where Merlin entered the Philadelphia market with the (reportedly $22.5 million) purchase of WKDN (106.9), the second of two Family Stations properties put up for sale earlier this year after Family founder Harold Camping’s failed end-of-the-world prediction.
CBS Radio won the bidding for the first of those Family signals, WFSI (107.9 Annapolis MD), which it will use as part of a plan to challenge established Washington all-news behemoth WTOP – but in Philadelphia, it’s CBS Radio’s well-established KYW (1060) that will be at the receiving end of a challenge from Merlin.
In this case, unlike Washington, it’s the challenger that will enjoy a signal advantage. One reason the Philadelphia signal cost so much more than the Washington one (WFSI sold for just $8.5 million) is that it has much more potential as a full-market facility. Right now, WKDN operates as a 38 kW/551′ class B facility from the towers of former sister station WTMR (800) in its city of license, Camden, NEW JERSEY – but it’s widely expected that one of Merlin’s first tasks after taking over 106.9 will be to improve the signal, which is hampered by aging equipment and a less-than-optimum transmitter site. There’s room to relocate 106.9, though, and while it will never quite be the equal of the full non-directional class B signals from the Roxborough tower farm, it will reach areas that currently struggle to hear KYW, especially up toward Bucks County where KYW has a directional null protecting adjacent-channel WEPN (1050 New York).
As for Merlin, it’s already started staffing up the future “FM News 106.9″: the first announced hire for the station is a new program director. Al Gardner comes back to his native Philadelphia from WBT (1110 Charlotte NC), where he’d been morning host. Gardner has a history with Michaels: in the 1980s, they were midday co-hosts on WLW in Cincinnati, where he was known as “Alan Gardner.”
Will Merlin have any better luck getting a strong start in the all-news wars in Philadelphia than it has experienced in New York and Chicago? Hiring Gardner is certainly a good start, and WKDN will face somewhat less competition from CBS than in Chicago (where WBBM quickly added its own FM simulcast) or New York (where CBS has the one-two punch of WCBS and WINS). Merlin faces some bigger obstacles in Philadelphia, though – it will have to move quickly to bring the 106.9 signal up to parity, and it will have to build studio facilities from scratch instead of inheriting existing plants from Emmis as it did in New York and Chicago. Needless to say, we’ll be following Merlin’s progress closely in the weeks to come. (We’ll be looking at Family, too: will the $31 million or so that it pockets from the sale of WFSI and WKDN be enough to cover the immense cost of the PR campaign for the non-apocalypse earlier this year, or will Family’s board eventually feel compelled to consider selling some of the network’s other big signals, including New York-market WFME 94.7?
*The week produced some other big stories out of the Keystone State, too: in Pittsburgh, Marshall Adams is out after five years as news director (and later “Director of News/Talk Programming”) at CBS Radio’s KDKA (1020).
Adams came back to his native western Pennsylvania in 2006 after working as news director of WBT in Charlotte, and he took a tremendous amount of pride on his hometown station’s history and legacy, filling his office with KDKA memorabilia. No replacement has yet been named.
*The big news out of NEW YORK comes from big Cumulus talker WABC (770), where mid-morning talker Joe Crummey was the only non-syndicated weekday voice on the station…at least until the end of the week, when he was pulled from his 10-noon shift. No official announcement has been made about Crummey’s replacement, but the rumor mill is churning up the name of Geraldo Rivera as the new occupant of that slot.
*Some big news from VERMONT: after literally decades of applications and construction permits, classical WCVT (101.7 Stowe) has signed on a new class C2 signal from the state’s highest point, the top of Mount Mansfield.
The station, owned by Ken Squier’s Radio Vermont Classics, has moved around in its 20-some years on the air: the former WVMX started out as a class A signal on Mansfield, running just 43 watts, but eventually moved south to Ricker Mountain, where it upgraded from class A (135 watts/2066′) to C3 (500 watts/2066′). Its new facility on Mansfield is a 1 kW/2653′ directional C2 using a new Shively antenna, providing improved line-of-sight and a somewhat stronger signal into Burlington and vicinity.
Fox Sports Radio has vanished from the Burlington airwaves, too: Steve Silberberg’s WCAT (1390) quietly flipped from sports to a simulcast of oldies WIFY (93.7) last month. WCAT lost the ESPN affiliation in January, when it moved to FM on WCPV (101.3).
*There’s one fewer station on the air in French CANADA this week: Cogeco was ordered to divest CJTS (104.5 Sherbrooke) as part of its purchase of Corus’ Quebec radio stations, but it says it was unable to find a suitable buyer, and so it pulled the plug on the station at noon on Tuesday (December 6). Cogeco had kept the format that had been on 104.5 – it was part of the Montreal-based “CKOI” hot AC network under its old calls of CKOY, which now live on 107.7 (ex-CHLT) in Cogeco’s hands. The former 107.7 format, French oldies “Souvenirs Garantis,” had moved to 104.5, and it’s that format that went away on Tuesday, along with about a dozen jobs in Sherbrooke. Cogeco still has two stations in Sherbrooke: CKOY on 107.7 and “Rhythme FM” CFGE (93.7).
Five Years Ago: December 10, 2007 -
**When Cumulus’ WFAS-FM (103.9 White Plains) filed to change city of license to Bronxville back in January, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was coming next – a transmitter move that would make the class A signal into a NEW YORK broadcaster.
Here’s what we said in NERW back on Feb. 5:
“Somewhere in the Bronx” turned out to be the tower atop a Montefiore Medical Center building that’s already home to WFUV (90.7). Last week, WFAS-FM, which was granted the city-of-license change to Bronxville over the summer, applied to move its transmitter from its longtime site in Greenburgh to the WFUV tower (shown below in 2005), where it would operate with 980 watts at 532 feet above average terrain.
From that site, WFAS-FM would still have decent Westchester/Rockland/north Jersey coverage, but more to the point, it would blanket the Bronx and cover most of Manhattan, Queens and even part of Brooklyn with a 60 dBu (city-grade) signal.
What happens next? We speculated back in February that Cumulus, which does most of its business in suburban and medium-sized urban markets, was unlikely to keep WFAS-FM operating as a standalone AC station in the cluster-dominated cauldron of Market Number One, and last month’s layoffs of a significant portion of WFAS-FM’s airstaff would seem to bear out that theory.
Will WFAS-FM soon be up for sale as a New York City signal? And if so, who would be in line as buyers, at a price tag that’s likely to be in the $50 million range? It’s not hard to imagine the new 103.9 nicely complementing the Queens/Nassau rimshot of Univision’s WQBU (92.7 Garden City), a signal for which Univision famously paid $60 million a few years ago. Then there’s Citadel, whose two-station cluster (WABC/WPLJ) is far smaller than those of its New York competitors, CBS, Clear Channel and Emmis. Would Salem, which is spinning off some of its smaller markets to focus on bigger ones, want to add a “Fish” contemporary Christian FM to its two AMs (WMCA and WWDJ)? Would Arthur Liu’s Multicultural group want an FM to go with its many AMs?
We’ll be watching this one closely – not to mention another eventual Bronx move-in, Cox’s relocation of WCTZ (96.7 Port Chester NY, ex-Stamford CT) closer to the big city.
*A transmitter-site fire leads our PENNSYLVANIA news this week, as Harrisburg’s WRVV (97.3), WHP-TV/DT (21/4) and WLYH-TV/DT (15/23) all recover from the blaze that knocked them off the air early Monday morning. The fire started in the corner of their shared building near the FM transmitter, completely destroying the FM station’s equipment and severely damaging several of the TV stations’ transmitters.
Clear Channel dispatched one of its emergency-recovery trucks, complete with frequency-agile transmitter, to get WRVV back on the air Monday afternoon. The TV stations were able to get back on the air soon afterward, thanks to some clever engineering (and the remarkable survival of a Microwave Radio STL receiver that continued working even though its entire front surface had melted away!)
Public broadcaster WITF (89.5)/WITF-TV/DT (33/36), which share the site, suffered some smoke damage to their transmitters in an adjoining room, but remained on the air.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, Principle Broadcasting is trying again to move WESX (1230 Salem) from its longtime (and very valuable) site in Marblehead to a location much closer to Boston. Back in March, Principle applied to change WESX’s city of license to Saugus, relocating the transmitter to the tower of WLYN (1360 Lynn) and requesting a waiver because the new site wouldn’t provide full coverage of the new community.
In early November, the FCC let Principle know that it wouldn’t grant the waiver, giving WESX an opportunity to amend its application to fix the problem. Now the station has done so, changing its proposal to specify Nahant as the new city of license. This time, no waiver is required, as WESX would cover Nahant fully by day, and would cover 89.1% of the town with a nighttime interference-free signal.
As Tom Finneran’s “Finneran’s Forum” continues to struggle for listeners on Entercom’s WRKO (680 Boston), the show’s being retooled to include many more voices in addition to the ex-House speaker. New additions to the lineup include a Monday “Boston Globe Report” segment featuring a rotating roster of Globe columnists, a Wednesday campaign trail update from CNN’s Major Garrett and a Thursday co-host from 8-10 AM, legal expert Wendy Murphy.
And we’re very sorry to report the death on Thursday (Dec. 6) of Fred B. Cole, one of the last living links to Boston radio in the pre-World War II era. Cole worked for WBZ and WNAC before joining WHDH in 1946, where he spent 21 years playing big-band tunes. Cole was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame earlier this year. Cole, who lived his entire life in Hingham, was 92; he’s survived by wife Betsey and a large family.
Ten Years Ago: December 9, 2002 -
The man who defined morning radio in CONNECTICUT for fifty years died last Friday (Dec. 6), ending a radio career that spanned seven decades at just one station. Bob Steele came to WTIC in Hartford in 1936, as a junior announcer fresh from the motorcycle-racing circuit, where he had announced the races at a local arena (and, earlier, on KGFJ in Los Angeles.) The Missouri native was hired on a probationary basis and urged to work on his accent. Within a few months, Steele was announcing sports broadcasts on WTIC — and in 1943, he took over the “Morning Watch” show.
Before long, “Morning Watch” became the Bob Steele Show, and Steele became a WTIC institution, waking up generations of Nutmeggers with the “Word for the Day,” birthday announcements, and general good humor until his retirement from daily broadcasting in 1991. And even then — at the age of 80 — Bob Steele was far from finished at WTIC, moving to a Saturday-morning slot that eventually became a monthly feature on the station. In recent years, Steele was on the air only from May until November, but still proudly claimed his title as the longest-running regular program host in New England, and probably the entire country. When he turned 90 last year, Steele was quoted as saying he might consider retiring “when I turn 100.”
Sadly, he won’t get that chance; Steele died in his sleep sometime Friday morning, a month or so after what turned out to be his last WTIC broadcast. It was a run that’s unlikely to ever be equalled, from a man who’ll be widely remembered as one of the class acts in this business, and he’ll be missed. (WTIC did a special four-hour broadcast Sunday morning to remember Steele; we hear the station even cut carrier for 15 seconds at the end of the show in Steele’s memory.)
Back up here in Rochester, Entercom will hold an official ribbon-cutting Wednesday (Dec. 11) for its new “High Falls Studios” radio complex, home to WBEE-FM (92.5), WBBF (93.3 Fairport), WBZA (98.9) and WROC (950). We had a chance to see this nifty new facility a couple of weeks ago, and it’s far and away the nicest commercial radio plant in town, complete with historic brick-vaulted ceilings and a wonderful location in the heart of the city’s entertainment district.
From Buffalo comes word of the death on Dec. 1 of Les Arries, the longtime general manager of channel 4, where he started as general manager in 1967 (when it was WBEN-TV) and left in 1989 (when it had become WIVB-TV). Arries began his broadcast career at the old DuMont Network in 1946 and was later instrumental in creating the syndicated Merv Griffin Show while working for Westinghouse in the sixties. Arries died of brain cancer at his home in Sarasota, Florida; he was 77.
Fifteen Years Ago: December 11, 1997 -
It’s been several years in the making, but WKOX (1200) in Framingham, MASSACHUSETTS finally holds a construction permit to go 50 kilowatts by day. The FCC this week reversed a decision rejecting WKOX’s application for the higher power from the WNTN (1550) tower on Rumford Avenue in Newton, a site erroneously identified as “River Street” in the application. We’ll be interested to see whether WKOX and owner Fairbanks Broadcasting are actually able to build on the site; we’d heard last year that WNTN was leery about allowing WKOX to diplex off its tower.
Elswehere in the Bay State, Boston’s WNFT (1150), the oft-forgotten stepsister in the CBS/ARS group, was doing some simulcast-hopping this week. WNFT was heard with sister hot AC station WBMX (98.5) last Friday, returning to its usual simulcast of WAAF (107.3 Worcester) for a few days only to switch again for a little while, this time to CHurban WJMN (94.5) — which, oddly enough, is NOT a CBS/ARS station. An accident at the WNFT broadcast facility? Only the engineers know for sure.
On to CONNECTICUT, where the revolving doors have been spinning fast and furious in and around Hartford this week. No sooner did NBC take control of WVIT (Channel 30 New Britain-Hartford) than news director Micah Johnson, general sales manager Ron Pulera, and reporter Pete Yaksick were out of their jobs. Assistant news director Nancy Andrews is running the show at channel 30 for the moment.
Over at oldies station WDRC-FM (102.9) in Hartford, morning host Jerry Kristafer has been ousted after 15 years. Replacing Kristafer for now is weekend jock Don Brooks, with the station’s website announcing Marc Sommers as the permanent replacement. Sommers comes to “Big D 103″ from a stint with New York’s WCBS-FM (101.1). No official reason was given for Kristafer’s dismissal beyond the usual “philosophical differences,” but Kristafer tells a local newspaper he thinks low ratings were to blame.
It’s dead, Jim: Stephen King’s WNSW (1200) in Brewer, MAINE apparently applied for license renewal — even though it was cancelled and its callsign deleted back in February after being off the air for more than a year. This was one resurrection even King couldn’t pull off; the FCC rejected the application, as the Telecom Act requires it to do.