In this week’s issue… Big changes come to WMVY – Nassau/Binnie/Shapiro sales close – AM swap in New Hampshire – “Robin Hood” buys NY signal – Savage switches NYC outlets
By SCOTT FYBUSH
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*Off the coast of MASSACHUSETTS, commercial island radio has had a tough time thriving over the last few decades. On Nantucket, John Garabedian’s WGTF (93.5) gave way to WRZE (96.3), with higher power that eventually allowed the station to target the bigger listener base on Cape Cod proper. Eventually, 96.3 moved off the island entirely, and is now the Cape’s WEEI sports affiliate, WEII (96.3 Dennis). On Martha’s Vineyard, the original island station, WVOI (95.9), lasted only a few years in the 1970s, going dark and eventually being replaced in 1981 by a new Vineyard FM signal, WMVY (92.7 Tisbury).
In just over three decades on the air, WMVY pioneered the “adult album alternative” format and streaming radio, becoming a listener favorite not only on the Cape and the islands but also drawing a following worldwide as one of the first commercial stations to webcast. And come the new year, the webcast may end up outliving the FM signal that gave birth to it, now that station owner Aritaur Broadcasting is selling the 92.7 facility to Boston public broadcaster WBUR-FM (90.9) for $715,000.
For the last few years, “MVY” has quietly become two operations, and only one of them will end when Aritaur sells the license and 92.7 becomes a full-time relay of WBUR. While Aritaur has struggled to keep the commercial terrestrial signal on 92.7 viable – it says it’s been losing money for several years – a separate nonprofit, “Friends of MVYRadio,” has been operating the station’s website and providing streams not only of WMVY’s commercial air signal but also of a noncommercial mix of AAA programming.
With the sale of the 92.7 facility, it’s now up to “Friends of MVYRadio” to find a way to keep their operation going. The group has launched an ambitious fundraising effort, hoping to raise $600,000 by the end of January (“60 Days to $600k”) to purchase the WMVY studios and fund the costs of operating MVY Radio as a nonprofit, non-commercial online operation, using equipment and intellectual property being donated by Aritaur.
If the MVYRadio group can get over that big initial hurdle (it’s already over $126,000 as of Sunday afternoon), it’s hoping for a possible return to the terrestrial airwaves in the future as a noncommercial operation. Could that potentially include a partnership with the new class A noncomm that’s been testing on the Vineyard, WMEX (88.7 Edgartown), or with the island’s existing LPFM, WVVY-LP (93.7)?
As for WBUR’s new 92.7 simulcast next year, it will augment the existing full-time WBUR relay to the mid-Cape area on WBUR (1240 West Yarmouth), as well as part-time relays on WCCT (90.3 Harwich) and WSDH (91.5 Sandwich).
*In central Massachusetts, religious WYCM (90.1 Charlton) is changing hands and changing identities. This 100-watt signal started out years ago as WBPV, the broadcast voice of Bay Path Vocational High School. The school sold the station in 2003 to Christian Mix Radio (formerly known as Heirwaves, Inc.), the group that had been programming contemporary Christian on WNEB (1230 Worcester), and for the last decade WYCM has experimented with a variety of identities for its own contemporary Christian, most recently as “90.1 MAX FM.”
In late October, 90.1 filed for new calls, WYQQ, and now the station has been transferred to a new group, Epic Light Network, based in Southwick. Epic Light, in turn, appears to be very closely tied to WLCQ-LP (99.7 Feeding Hills), and it’s launching a similar Christian hit radio format with a similar identity, “Q 90.1.” (Legally, of course, the two stations can’t be co-owned; even though they’re both 100-watters, WYQQ is licensed as a full-power station and WLCQ as a low-power FM, and LPFM owners can’t share any ownership interests with full-power stations. If this makes no sense to you, you’re in the very best of company.)
Heirwaves/Christian Mix paid $200,000 for the license back in 2003 (and just paid off the loan in 2009); Epic Light is paying just $500 for the station, with a clause providing for payments to Christian Mix of up to $250,000 if the station is resold in the next three years.
*It was months in coming, and last-minute legal actions dragged it out past several previous deadlines, but as of Friday, Nassau Broadcasting has completely exited VERMONT, NEW HAMPSHIRE, and MAINE, a region where it once owned more radio stations than any other broadcaster.
As we’ve been reporting for much of the year now, the bulk of Nassau’s New England stations went to Bill Binnie’s WBIN Media, which paid a remarkably low $12.5 million to buy 30 stations out of Nassau’s bankruptcy proceeding. Binnie then struck a $4.4 million deal with Jeff Shapiro’s Vertical Capital Partners to spin off 13 of those stations, and Shapiro in turn spun off two of those stations in northern Vermont – WIKE (1490 Newport) and WMOO (92.1 Derby Center) – to Bruce James’ Vermont Broadcast Associates for $760,000. Two more stations in the Upper Valley and Rutland markets, WWOD (104.3 Hartford VT) and WEXP (101.5 Brandon VT), went from Vertical to Bill and Gail Goddard’s Electromagnetic Company for $600,000, keeping Shapiro below ownership caps.
Now that the deal has closed, here’s how it all shook out, market-by-market, including some surprise last-second call and format changes:
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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.
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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 5, 2011 -
*For most of radio’s first century, most of the major broadcasters of NEW YORK CITY had something in common: their studios were all tightly clustered within a few dozen blocks of midtown Manhattan, in close proximity to the ad agencies of Madison Avenue and – once upon a time – to the entertainment district around Times Square from which many of the performers of radio’s heyday were drawn.
Over the last decade, though, the rise in midtown rents has been drawing stations south – and as of Friday afternoon, the last major English-language commercial station operating from north of 34nd Street has relocated to lower Manhattan.
That’s WCBS (880), which moved in 2000 from CBS’ “Black Rock” corporate headquarters on W. 52nd Street to the CBS Broadcast Center on W. 57th Street in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
We’ve known for a few years that it was destined to follow its CBS Radio sister stations southward as they migrated from their own midtown studios to a cluster of new studios spread out over two floors of 345 Hudson Street (or, at least in the on-air announcements, “Hudson Square.”) When CBS moved five of its stations – WXRK (92.3 NOW FM), WCBS-FM (101.1), WWFS (Fresh 102.7), WINS (1010) and WFAN (660) – into that building in 2009, it set aside a corner of one floor for a future move of WCBS(AM). That future arrived on Friday afternoon at 2, when WCBS wrapped up its last newscast from the Broadcast Center and began broadcasting from Hudson Square.
For those keeping score at home, the WCBS move now means that in not much more than a decade, nearly all of the city’s major English-language radio stations have moved below Canal Street: CBS, Emmis and Merlin’s WEMP are all lined up along Hudson Street, Clear Channel is in the old AT&T building on Sixth Avenue, WOR is now way downtown near Trinity Church and WNYC, once the only station with downtown studios, is in its new digs on Varick Street. The only uptown holdouts are Cumulus’ WABC/WPLJ and ESPN’s WEPN, at Penn Station; Inner City’s WBLS/WLIB at 34th and Park; Bloomberg’s WBBR at Lexington and 58th – and in Spanish, the SBS stations (WSKQ/WPAT) on 56th Street and Univision (WXNY/WQBU/WADO) in the old CBS building at 485 Madison, near 52nd Street.
On a practical level, aside from a new commuting pattern for the station’s staffers, the WCBS move probably doesn’t mean as much as some might think: despite sharing an address with the CBS Radio News national newsroom and WCBS-TV (Channel 2) for more than a decade, there was little synergy taking place within the Broadcast Center, where the 880 studios and offices were so isolated behind their own locked doors up on the eighth floor that at times, some of the network staffers downstairs didn’t even know the radio station had moved into the building.
Likewise, while the move makes physical neighbors out of two stations that were long bitter rivals until coming under common ownership in the 1990s, it doesn’t necessarily portend more cooperation between WCBS and WINS. The two all-newsers are on separate floors of the building (WINS and WFAN are on one level, while WCBS is upstairs with the three FM stations), and as long as each station remains among the top revenue producers in the market, they’ll continue to be very separate operations.
*Upstate, we know what WBFO (88.7 Buffalo) general manager Mark Vogelzang will be doing next year: he’s been hired by the MAINE Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) to take over as president and CEO, replacing Jim Dowe when he retires at year’s end after five years on the job.
Vogelzang came to WBFO two years ago in an interim capacity, hired by the State University of New York to oversee the station while it was in the process of being sold. That sale, putting WBFO in the hands of former crosstown rival WNED, will close early in 2012. By then, Vogelzang will be working out of MPBN’s Lewiston and Bangor offices, managing the statewide radio and TV networks. The MPBN job will be his first in TV; his career thus far has been spent entirely in public radio, where he was program director of Philadelphia’s WHYY and then spent 16 years at the helm of Vermont Public Radio.
*In eastern PENNSYLVANIA, they’re mourning Brian Murphy, a veteran weekend jock, production guru and occasional weekday morning fill-in at WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia). Murphy had been battling cancer for many years, and he lost that fight November 29, at age 57.
WBEB has put up a tribute page to Murphy here.
Around the corner at Clear Channel’s WUSL (98.9), the night team (“The Hot Boyz”) has been filling in on morning drive since “Power 99″ abruptly parted ways with morning host Miss Jones last week, the latest time the controversial personality (real name Tarsha Jones) has landed a station in hot water.
Jones’ previous history includes a suspension at New York’s WRKS after being accused of racism for a song parody, as well as a short stint in Philadelphia at WPHI, then on 100.3.
This time, it was an on-air comment about a fight between two groups of teenage girls back in October. A caller to the “Jonesy” show identified the mother of one of the participants (apparently incorrectly) as the owner of a local day care center, and the fallout from that show included a defamation lawsuit against Jones and Clear Channel from the center owner, who says she lost business over the incident.
Across the street (literally!) at ABC O&O WPVI (Channel 6), there’s a new vice president/news director, as Tom Davis moves up from assistant news director. Davis, who’s been assistant ND there since 2004, replaces Carla Carpenter, who’s now senior VP of digital media for all the ABC O&Os.
Not across the street any longer is CBS Radio’s all-sports WIP: seven years after moving from Center City Philadelphia out to the massive cluster of studios and offices in suburban Bala Cynwyd, the station has moved back to Center City, taking the space at 4th and Market formerly occupied by WYSP (94.1, now WIP-FM). And there’s still no confirmation that WIP-FM will be the new flagship for Phillies games next spring; while several reports have suggested that WIP-FM will share the play-by-play with the Phils’ current home, CBS sister station WPHT (1210), the team hasn’t made the news official yet.
Five Years Ago: December 3, 2007 -
*The NEW YORK morning radio dial is spinning this week, in ways both predictable and not.
The predictable first: this morning marks the return of Don Imus to the radio, with flagship WABC (770 New York), radio syndication through WABC parent Citadel Broadcasting, and TV coverage via RFD-TV, which is still chiefly available to viewers with direct-to-home dishes, though the network is working on expanding its cable footprint.
(With Imus coming to WABC this morning, last Friday marked the finale of the station’s very successful “Curtis & Kuby” morning show, albeit without Ron Kuby, who was sent packing from WABC a few weeks earlier. While the station had made noises about keeping Curtis Sliwa on its schedule in another slot, Sliwa didn’t sound all that certain about his future in the Friday broadcast.)
Almost as inevitable as Imus’ return was the eventual demise of Whoopi Goldberg’s syndicated morning show. “Waking up with Whoopi” made an initial splash with big-market affiliates that included Chicago’s WLIT, Philadelphia’s WISX and New York’s WKTU. But the show failed to catch on in most of those markets, disappearing from both Chicago and Philadelphia earlier this year.
Last week, Whoopi lost her New York flagship, when WKTU abruptly pulled the show after its Wednesday airing, with no replacement in place. Syndication of the show (which actually originated from a studio at sister station WWPR in Manhattan, rather than at WKTU’s Jersey City studios) continues for now, but it’s hard to imagine that Goldberg, with other committments that include a co-host role on ABC’s “The View,” will continue to do the show for very long for a network that now numbers fewer than a dozen stations, the largest in Norfolk, Virginia.
(In NERW-land, Whoopi is also heard on Binghamton’s WMXW and Utica’s WUMX.)
What will KTU do next? Whoopi’s co-host, Paul “Cubby” Bryant, is a versatile talent who loyally gave up his afternoon slot on Clear Channel’s WHTZ (Z100) to smooth Goldberg’s transition to radio. That should make him a strong candidate for the KTU morning slot – or for afternoons there, if former KTU morning guys Hollywood Hamilton and Goumba Johnny return to mornings there.
And then there’s the biggest surprise in the New York morning arena: Star and Buc Wild, ousted from WWPR in a blaze of negative publicity in May 2006 after Star (real name: Troi Torain) engaged in a nasty on-air feud with jocks at rival WQHT, are planning a January return to the city’s airwaves. In itself, that’s not all that surprising – but it’s where they plan to return that’s of particular interest.
That’s WNYZ-LP, the low-power TV station broadcasting from Long Island City on channel 6. As we’ve reported previously here on NERW, it’s not WNYZ’s video signal that’s of interest to Star. It’s the audio carrier at 87.76 MHz (which migrated, briefly and not necessarily legally, up to 87.88 MHz), right at the bottom of the FM broadcast band. The signal’s been on the air for more than a year now, broadcasting in Russian. Last week, Mega Media, which is leasing WNYZ from owner Island Broadcasting, announced that it will relaunch the frequency on January 15 as “Pulse 87,” an English-language top-40 station, with Star and Buc Wild and the rest of their crew in morning drive.
There are plenty of unanswered questions here, beginning with the legality of a low-power TV station broadcasting as a radio station, not to mention the unusually strong reach of what’s supposed to be a fairly weak, very directional signal. Even if those are resolved in WNYZ’s favor, there’s the question of ratings: it’s Arbitron policy not to rate TV stations’ audio, and that’s not a policy that’s likely to change, especially given the shaky relations between the ratings company and the commercial broadcasters who pay its bills right now. Then there’s the analog sunset: even though WNYZ, as an LPTV license, won’t be forced to go digital in 2009, when its full-power brethren switch, the FCC has said there will be an end to analog LPTV at some point fairly soon – and with no analog TV signal, there’s no analog audio carrier to hear on FM radios, either.
There was big news from New York radio’s executive suites, too: Bob Bruno is retiring from Buckley Radio’s WOR (710) at the end of the year, closing out a 29-year career with the station. Bruno was PD of WNEW (1130) from 1975-1978, when he joined WOR as its program director. A decade later, he was promoted to general manager, and he’s led the station ever since. No replacement has been named.
*Here in Rochester, it was a trying week for employees and listeners at the now-former CBS Radio cluster.
As we told you last week, the FCC finally came through with its long-delayed approval of the sale of CBS Radio’s Rochester signals (as well as stations in Cincinnati, Memphis and Austin) to Entercom, and it took only a few days for Entercom to close on the deal and take over operations of the stations.
In Rochester, that meant a weekend shuffle of studios, as rocker WCMF (96.5) and top 40 WPXY (97.9), which will stay in the Entercom stable, moved from CBS Radio’s facility in the HSBC Plaza tower downtown to Entercom’s High Falls studios, while “Fickle” WFKL (93.3 Fairport), which is being sold, joined fellow spinoffs-to-be “Warm” WRMM (101.3) and “Zone” WZNE (94.1 Brighton) at HSBC Plaza.
But the studio moves were only a small piece of the story, as Entercom decided to save money by not hiring several fixtures on the WCMF and WPXY airstaffs. While both stations keep their veteran morning men – Brother Wease on WCMF and Scott Spezzano on WPXY – their new Entercom incarnations will be missing many other familiar voices.
On WPXY, midday jock Pete “The Mayor” Kennedy, a 20-year veteran of the station, wasn’t picked up by the new ownership. In typical radio fashion, Kennedy was simply missing from the airwaves beginning Thursday morning.
Over at WCMF, meanwhile, the end of the line for 27-year veteran midday jock Dave Kane, 20-year night jock Dino Kay, weekender/production director Marc Cronin and Wease producer J.P. Lacey was the talk of the station beginning Thursday morning on Wease’s show. (2012 update: Kane returned to WCMF before long, while Wease ended up across town at Clear Channel’s WFXF, right back in the HSBC Building where his old studio had been.)
*A veteran MASSACHUSETTS radio newsman is back in the Bay State. Rod Fritz went down to New York and Fox News Radio after WRKO (680) pulled the plug on the news department he led last year. Now Fritz has returned to Boston and to WBZ (1030), where he’d worked as an anchor a decade or so ago. He’s being heard on weekends right now, but we suspect there are bigger things in his future there.
Another veteran name in Boston media circles has a new gig: when the Imus show returns to WTKK (96.9) this morning, it will include a five-minute Mike Barnicle commentary, to be heard twice each day.
*VERMONT‘s Fox affiliate launches its 10 PM newscast tonight. Burlington’s WFFF (Channel 44) signs on with a staff of 22 under news director Kathleen Harrington. The half-hour broadcast is the first alternative to the Champlain Valley’s two established newsrooms (CBS affiliate WCAX and NBC affiliate WPTZ) since the 2003 demise of the news operation at ABC affiliate WVNY (Channel 22). Since WVNY is now operated in tandem with WFFF, will the news staff there be producing product for WVNY as well, eventually?
*There’s TV news from PENNSYLVANIA as well, but in the opposite direction. Peak Media announced last week that it will shut down the news operation at Fox affiliate WWCP (Channel 8) in Johnstown and WATM (Channel 23) in Altoona in January. Beginning January 14, the single newscast that airs at 10 PM on WWCP and 11 PM on WATM will be replaced by news from Cox’s WJAC (Channel 6) in Johnstown, which will produce a 10 PM show for WWCP and simulcast its 11 PM show on WATM. WJAC says it may add about three people to its 37-person news staff; there were 17 people on the WWCP/WATM news team, which has long been mired deep in third place in the market, behind both WJAC and Altoona’s WTAJ (Channel 10).
Ten Years Ago: December 9, 2002 -
From MASSACHUSETTS comes word that WLVI (Channel 56) is losing its news director, hot on the heels of the imminent departure of anchor Jeff Barnd. For Greg Caputo, who’s been at the station for seven years, it’s both a promotion and a homecoming; he’s headed to Chicago to helm the news operation at Tribune mothership WGN-TV (Channel 9), where he’ll compete head-to-head with Fox’s WFLD (Channel 32), whose news operation Caputo led from 1985 until 1993. No replacement has been announced yet.
On the radio side, Alan Chartrand adds station manager duties for WKLB-FM (99.5 Lowell) to his existing responsibilities at sister Greater Media talker WTKK (96.9).
It looks like the end of the line for “Jukebox Radio” in Bergen County, NEW JERSEY. We hear that W276AQ (103.1 Fort Lee), along with sister translator W232AL (94.3 Pomona NY), is no longer translating the oldies/standards format that originated in nearby Dumont, N.J. and was fed to WJUX (99.7 Monticello NY), which then broadcast it back down to New Jersey via the two translators. As we’ve reported in previous issues of NERW, the unusual primary/translator arrangement had led to complaints from competing New Jersey broadcasters and an FCC investigation; it’s not clear exactly what’s led to the disappearance of the format this time, or what’s running now up in Monticello. We’ll be back in that area in a few weeks and will keep you posted…
To the west, in Sussex County, Clear Channel flipped formats on WNNJ (1360 Newton), replacing satellite standards with voicetracked country as “Bear Country 1360.”
Down in Monmouth County, WPDQ (89.7 Freehold Township) could soon be flipping from eclectic oldies to religion; owner “Lazarus Elias Foundation” is selling the station to Bridgelight Corporation, which is affiliated with several Calvary Church branches in the area, for a reported $875,000.
The big story out of NEW YORK is the long-delayed debut of a TV station that almost didn’t make it. Channel 52 in Ithaca was first applied for back in 1985, and a series of construction permits extended until a final “drop dead” date last Friday. While the station’s owners hoped to put it on the air at high power from a tower next to Syracuse’s WNYS (Channel 43) and WSYT (Channel 68), serving the Salt City as well as Ithaca, a conflict with the class A status of Syracuse’s channel 51 LPTV forced channel 52 to fall back on plan B to get on the air in time. With brand-new calls of WNYI(TV), we’re told channel 52 made it to air Friday from a tower near Ithaca College, running just 26 kW of… color bars. What next? Stay tuned….
It was one of the worst-kept secrets of central New York radio: Bill Keeler was out as morning jock on Galaxy’s WRCK (107.3 Utica) as of last Thursday. The longtime Utica morning host tells the Utica Observer-Dispatch he had known for two months that he would be getting fired; he says Galaxy accused him of promoting his wife’s comedy club on the air without permission. Keeler says he’ll be suing WRCK to collect on his contract, which was to run through 2006 and paid him $135,000 this year. Co-host Frank McBride is now doing mornings at WRCK.
Fifteen Years Ago: December 4, 1997 -
In MASSACHUSETTS, there’s a new format at Worcester’s WNEB (1230). New owners Heirwaves, Inc. took control from Bob Bittner on Saturday, flipping the station from a simulcast of Bittner’s WJIB (740 Cambridge) to Christian contemporary music, as “Hard Rock 1230.”
It’s official; as we speculated a few months back, Greater Media is signing a 15-year lease on a Morrissey Boulevard building to house all its Boston stations. WBOS (92.9 Brookline) and WSJZ (96.9) will move from 1200 Soldiers Field Road in Brighton, WKLB-FM (99.5 Lowell) and WMJX (106.7) will move from the Salada Tea building on Stuart Street, and WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham) will move from the Prudential Tower. It’ll create quite the media circus down there; the Boston Globe and WLVI (Channel 56) are already housed next door to each other across the street from Greater’s new home, which is itself just down the block from the 1960s and early 70s home of WHDH-AM/FM/TV.
The rumors are flying about more Cumulus Media acquisitions in MAINE. We’re hearing that WXGL (95.5 Topsham) could be the next Cumulus buy (joining stations in Bangor and Skowhegan), and that Arnold Lerner’s Portland-market stations (WTHT 107.5 Lewiston, WKZS 99.9 Auburn, WLAM-FM 106.7 North Windham, WLAM 870 Gorham, WZOU 1470 Lewiston) could be in line for Cumulus after that….
In NEW YORK, the big news out of the Big Apple is the sale of WNWK (105.9 Newark, N.J.), one of the most underappreciated FM signals in the city. It’s just been sold to Heftel Broadcasting for a whopping $115 million. It’ll flip from multilingual to a Spanish-language format once the deal closes. WNWK, being a class B1, doesn’t have the reach of the other large New York FMs (it’s also hampered by a first-adjacent signal in Patchogue, Long Island, among others), but it’s still pretty solid in the city and the Jersey suburbs from its Chrysler Building transmitter.
And we join with the staff of Buffalo’s WBEN (930) in mourning the passing of Clint Buehlman, a WBEN personality from the 1940s until his retirement in July 1977. Buehlman was Buffalo’s most popular radio host for years, as the “AM M-C” at the helm of the WBEN Good Morning Show. Buehlman hosted the show from March 1943 (when he joined WBEN from rival WGR) until he left the station. He died Tuesday at his home in Snyder, outside Buffalo. Buehlman was 85 years old.