NERW 3/4/2013: TV Sales in Syracuse, Johnstown, Albany

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In this week’s issue… Sinclair grows in PA, Syracuse – Cox exits small TV markets – Bloomberg lands fulltime Boston outlet – Albany TV sold – W.C. Swartley dies at 104 – Hartford rocker retools

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*It’s turning out to be an interesting year in the world of medium- and small-market TV, isn’t it? While the companies at the top of the local-station ownership market have been reluctant to do much spending on big-market properties, a handful of players are aggressively testing the limits when it comes to the creation of multiple-station local clusters and regional groups in markets below #50 or thereabouts.

sbg-wstm-wjacLate last year, we watched as Nexstar and Sinclair divvied up most of the former Newport Television (ex-Clear Channel/Ackerley) stations across upstate NEW YORK and beyond – and since then, Sinclair, especially, has been at the forefront when it comes to station acquisition. Last week, Sinclair grew again, picking up several smaller-market stations being shed by Cox Media Group for $99 million and then, for $320 million, buying outright the entire Barrington Broadcasting group.

The market that will feel the biggest impact from those Sinclair moves is Syracuse, which has suffered more TV ownership turmoil than just about anywhere else that we can think of in recent years. The dominant station in town is ABC affiliate WSYR-TV (Channel 9), which is just settling in under the first months of its new Nexstar ownership – and even before Nexstar picked up channel 9 in the Newport deal, it was widely known that the competing “CNY Central” cluster was also up for sale. That cluster, which lags significantly behind WSYR-TV in the ratings, includes Barrington-owned NBC affiliate WSTM (Channel 3), its low-power CW sister station WSTQ-LP (Channel 14) and Granite’s CBS affiliate WTVH (Channel 5), which is operated under an LMA by WSTM.

When Barrington went up for sale, the rumor mill immediately pegged both Nexstar and Sinclair as likely buyers, and had Nexstar been the winning buyer, the FCC would have required something to be spun off in Syracuse. That will be the case under Sinclair as well, since Sinclair has its own Syracuse cluster just two doors down from CNY Central. That cluster includes Sinclair’s own Fox affiliate, WSYT (Channel 68), and MyNetwork affiliate WNYS-TV (Channel 43), which is licensed to RKM Media but has long been operated by Sinclair/WSYT.

When Sinclair closes on the Barrington purchase, it will take over operation of “CNY Central,” owning WSTM/WSTQ outright and operating WTVH under a continuation of the Barrington deal with Granite. So what becomes of WSYT/WNYS?

syracuselogosSinclair’s announcement of the Barrington deal included a mention that two companies, Cunningham Broadcasting and the new minority-controlled Howard Stirk Company (fronted by conservative commentator Armstrong Williams), will be acquiring the license assets of four stations as part of the transaction – and that Sinclair will sell WSYT and assign its management deal for WNYS.

What we’re quietly hearing from behind the scenes, unsurprisingly, is that Sinclair doesn’t really intend to let go of WSYT/WNYS – and that while the Fox/My combo will stay put at its 1000 James Street location, separate from CNY Central in the venerable channel 3 facility at 1030 James, Sinclair is likely to seek a “sale” of WSYT to the closely-connected Cunningham group. If that happens, it would give Sinclair some degree of control over three of the big four affiliations in town (NBC outright on WSTM, CBS via the Granite LMA on WTVH and Fox via the arms-length Cunningham on WSYT), plus CW and My to boot. That’s a lot of consolidation in a town that’s already seen more than its share of media changes lately, including the end of daily publication at the city’s major newspaper, the Newhouse-owned Post-Standard.

How will it all play out legally? We’ll know more when we see Sinclair’s FCC filings on the Barrington sale, probably sometime later this week.

*As for the Sinclair/Cox deal, it involves four markets: Reno (Fox affiliate KRXI and LMA partner KAME), El Paso (Fox affiliate KFOX) – and two NBC affiliates bracketing Pittsburgh and western PENNSYLVANIA: WJAC-TV (Channel 6) in Johnstown and WTOV (Channel 9) in Steubenville, Ohio. Back in 2000, when Cox acquired WTOV and WJAC from Sunrise Television, officials boasted that the three-station combination with Cox’s WPXI (Channel 11) in Pittsburgh would “be able to take better advantage of the strategic opportunities that are arising as broadcasting enters the digital age.”

But Cox’s strategy changed in recent years: instead of trying to spread out as much as possible geographically, the company’s focus has shifted to building dominant clusters across multiple media (TV, radio and even legacy newspapers) in a smaller number of markets such as Atlanta, Dayton, Jacksonville and Tulsa. Cox acquired Newport’s TV stations in those last two markets and quickly moved to sell non-core clusters such as its Connecticut radio stations (headed to Connoisseur Media) and now WJAC and WTOV, which Sinclair will operate under its new “Chesapeake Media” division, established last week to manage the increasing number of small-market stations under Sinclair’s growing umbrella.

When Sinclair/Chesapeake takes over at WJAC and WTOV, those stations will get a new Pittsburgh partner, Sinclair Fox affiliate WPGH (Channel 53) and its Cunningham My Network sister, WPMY (Channel 22). What becomes of the newsgathering that WJAC and WTOV share, in part, with WPXI? That’s an interesting situation, too: Sinclair already has its own news partnership with WPXI, where Cox produces a 10 PM newscast that’s aired on Sinclair’s WPGH ever since WPGH shuttered its own newsroom in 2006.

So what’s really going on here? The way we see it, it’s part of a brand new world of local TV in which “ownership” tells only part of the story. Long gone are the days when a “TV station” had to be a single entity in which one owner controlled every aspect of a station’s operation locally, from the newsroom and ad sales all the way through master control to the transmitter and tower. It’s possible (and not uncommon) now for the station’s “owner” to hold nothing more than the license, with everything from news production to master control to sales and transmitter operations managed under contract by other companies that in some cases might once have been considered “the competition.” (Speaking of which, WJAC under Cox has been supplying news to “competing” Fox/ABC affiliates WWCP/WATM in Johnstown-Altoona, and that arrangement is expected to continue under Sinclair.)

wtovThree more notes before we move on here: First, it seems unlikely that the increasingly deregulatory FCC will step in to slow down the pace of these sea changes in local TV. The Commission hears regularly from broadcasters complaining about the way in which the splintering of the video marketplace has made it harder to provide “local” service, and to the extent that it can be bothered with broadcast issues at all in this broadband-centric era, its inclination has been toward greater deregulation, not less.

Second, despite the message-board chatter speculating about a possible merger of the Wheeling-Steubenville DMA into neighboring Pittsburgh, we wouldn’t bet on it: about the only businesses in hard-luck Wheeling and Steubenville able to afford the cost of Pittsburgh-market advertising are the casinos, and they’re already spending heavily on Pittsburgh TV. And even if Sinclair wanted to find a way to roll WTOV into the bigger Pittsburgh market alongside WPGH/WPMY, there’s another obstacle in the form of Wheeling-based WTRF, which now controls the CBS, ABC and Fox affiliations in the Wheeling-Steubenville market. Owner West Virginia Media Holdings also controls the CBS affiliations in most of West Virginia’s other markets (as well as NBC at WBOY in Clarksburg) and could make the network’s life quite difficult if its Wheeling cash cow were to be threatened.

And third, there’s the inevitable “what else could Sinclair be in line to buy?” After selling WFFF/WVNY in Burlington-Plattsburgh to Nexstar, Smith Broadcasting has been seeking a buyer for its last remaining station, WKTV in Utica – which just happens to sit neatly between Sinclair’s Syracuse holdings and its WRGB/WCWN in Albany. And then there’s Granite: now that Sinclair will be partnering with Granite to run WTVH in Syracuse, could it have its eye on Granite’s other stations in the region, struggling WKBW in Buffalo and WBNG in Binghamton? (Sinclair will also be partnering with Granite in Peoria, Illinois, where the Barrington deal really makes things weird. The flip side to the WSTM/WTVH partnership in Syracuse a few years back was a Granite-controlled pairing in Peoria, where Granite’s NBC affiliate WEEK-TV (and My sister WAOE) have been controlling Barrington’s ABC affiliate, WHOI. Across town, Nexstar-owned CBS affiliate WMBD-TV has been controlling Sinclair’s Fox affiliate, WYZZ. Sinclair says it will sell WYZZ when it acquires WHOI.)

wnya-my4*The week’s other TV deal comes from Albany, where the market’s MyNetworkTV affiliate is getting a new duopoly partner. Venture Technologies’ WNYA (Channel 51), licensed to nearby Pittsfield, Mass., was once operated under an LMA by CBS affiliate WRGB (Channel 6). That arrangement dissolved when WRGB made an outright purchase of the market’s bigger CW outlet, WCWN (Channel 45), leaving Venture to operate WNYA as a stand-alone using the old Rotterdam studios of public broadcaster WMHT, which had moved on to plusher quarters in Rensselaer.

In the meantime, Young Broadcasting’s ABC affiliate, WTEN (Channel 10), took over operations of Fox affiliate WXXA (Channel 23) under a shared services agreement after WXXA’s sale last year – and that left Hubbard Broadcasting’s NBC affiliate WNYT (Channel 13) as the last remaining stand-alone commercial station in the Capital District. That’s about to change, though: Hubbard announced on Monday that it’s buying WNYA from Venture. No purchase price has been announced yet for the deal, which is expected to move WNYA from Rotterdam to WNYT’s Menands studios.

*Down the road at Townsquare Media, Brian Noe has departed as brand manager (the company’s title for what we used to call “PD”) at sports WTMM (104.5 Mechanicville). Noe is headed to an as-yet-undisclosed “major market sports station” and Townsquare is seeking an on-air replacement.

*Here in the Rochester market, two AM stations that have been for sale for quite a while now have finally found a buyer. WASB (1590 Brockport) and WRSB (1310 Canandaigua) bookend the core of the Rochester market from the far west and east sides, respectively – and now they’re heading from the hands of Marilyn Wolfe, widow of late station owner Dr. David Wolfe, to Brian McGlynn’s Genesee Media. Genesee already owns WDNY-FM (93.9)/WDNY (1400) in Dansville, an hour south of Rochester, and McGlynn says the two new AMs will allow him to “further develop parts of the Rochester market.”

wasb-wrsbMcGlynn’s purchase includes the WASB studio/transmitter site in Brockport (where it appears the plant has deteriorated significantly in the last few decades) and the four-tower WRSB site in Canandaigua, which puts a passable daytime signal into Rochester’s eastern suburbs, and while he’s not saying yet, it’s likely the sale will mean the end to the “Sonshine Radio” religious/talk format that’s been on WASB since Dr. Wolfe acquired the station in the early 1990s and on WRSB since it became part of the simulcast later in the decade.

(If you’re interested in a peek under the hood of the economics behind a low-budget AM operation like WASB/WRSB, it’s pr0bably worth your time to spend a few minutes with the asset purchase agreement, which in this case includes a lot of the details that are usually redacted, including the rather paltry list of studio equipment in Brockport and the amounts paid for airtime by WASB’s program providers, ranging from $1,000 a month for a daily half-hour religious show out of Oklahoma to $850 a month for Alex Jones’ three daily hours to a capped percentage of donations to other religious shows.)

A much bigger Rochester signal is looking to make some emergency preparations. WHAM (1180) is one of the biggest clear channel – and Clear Channel – signals in the country, and ever since 9/11, the giant broadcaster has been trying to make sure that it has plans in place at each of its markets to keep its stations on the air even if their main transmitter sites are inaccessible or destroyed. WHAM initially planned to build a short auxiliary tower at its transmitter site in Chili, southwest of Rochester, and even went as far as to obtain zoning clearance from the town.

Instead of pursuing that plan, though, Clear Channel has instead turned to a completely separate site to back up WHAM: it’s asking the FCC to license a 6000-watt auxiliary facility for WHAM at the site of sister station WHTK (1280), some six miles east of the main WHAM site. WHTK itself runs 5000 watts from that site, non-directional by day and directional with four towers at night; the WHAM aux would run on the southernmost of the four in-line towers, normally used only at night by WHTK.

In Buffalo, Family Life Radio is seeking a frequency change for one of its translators. W207BB (89.3) had belonged to Delaware-based Priority Radio, but it was knocked off the air last year when Family Life fired up the much stronger signal of WCOM (89.3 Silver Creek) to the south of Buffalo. Family Life and Priority engineered a trade that gave Priority the former Family Life translator in Buffalo, W201BE (88.1, now relaying Priority’s WXHL “Reach FM”), while Family Life ended up with the silent W207BB. Now W207BB has filed an application to relocate from 89.3 up the dial to 106.1, where it would run 10 watts from the Time Warner Cable tower on La Salle Avenue on the city’s northeast side, complementing Family’s existing W284AP (104.7) on the Erie County Medical Center, closer to the center of the city.

*Radio People on the Move in New York City: at CBS Radio top-40 WNOW-FM (92.3 NOW), PD Rick Gillette is rearranging the air schedule. Micki Gamez moves from afternoons to the 10-2 midday shift, while Zann takes over afternoons, followed at 6 by Toro and at 10 PM by Eutopia.

And you don’t hear a quote like this one from Syracuse every day: “It’s gratifying beyond words to have given Cumulus the beating of their lives. I can’t think of a broadcaster that deserves it more.” That’s Galaxy Broadcasting head honcho Ed Levine, reacting to the end of the 90-day injunction that was preventing his “K-Rock” morning hosts Hunter Scott and Josh Grosvent from using some of their old bits that they developed over at Cumulus’ WAQX (95.7) before being lured to WKRL/WKRH by Galaxy last fall. With the end of the injunction, Hunter and Josh can once again call their show “The Show” and can resume trademark segments including “Beer Friday.” (More, including audio, over at CNYRadio.com, now celebrating its 12th anniversary on the ol’ Intertubes…)

hot969-wtkk*A veteran MASSACHUSETTS morning show is reuniting after a long absence. It was way back in 2001 when Clear Channel split up the Baltazar and Pebbles morning show at WJMN (94.5), with Baltazar eventually moving out west to KZZO in Sacramento. But after Pebbles was let go by WJMN last year and eventually followed former WJMN programmer Cadillac Jack over to Greater Media’s rhythmic startup WTKK (Hot 96.9), it became clear that Cadillac was doing everything he could to put the band back together, as it were. NERW was the first trade publication to note that CBS Radio had posted an opening for Baltazar’s Sacramento job – and last week Greater confirmed what we’d all been speculating: effective today, Baltazar will be back in Boston on a reunited “Baltazar and Pebbles” show at WTKK. The afternoon slot that Pebbles had been temporarily filling will go to Melissa, the former WJMN morning producer who’d been handling middays.

Over at Clear Channel, March brought an abrupt end to the “Matty’s Comedy 1200″ format at WXKS (1200 Newton). The satellite-fed yuks showed up on 1200 and on WXKS-FM (107.9)’s HD2 last August, after Clear Channel pulled the plug on its attempt to make the station a major conservative talk player. While the comedy lives on at 107.9-HD2, AM 1200 has now flipped again to a full-time feed of Bloomberg Radio’s business format. Bloomberg has bounced around the Boston dial in its two decades on the air: from 1994-1996, it was heard more or less full-time on WBNW (590), Peter Ottmar’s replacement for the old WEEI frequency, and after 590’s sale to Salem (it’s now religious WEZE), Bloomberg eventually ended up with part-time clearance on a series of rimshots. Most recently, Bloomberg has been heard on Barry Armstrong’s WBNW (1120 Concord)/WPLM (1390 Plymouth), where it’s been cleared for a few hours of morning drive and overnights. It appears those clearances will go away in the next few weeks, and there’s no word yet on what replaces Bloomberg over at Armstrong’s “Money Matters Radio.”

wxks-bloomberg 1200 logoMeanwhile, the new “Bloomberg 1200″ is also being simulcast on Clear Channel’s WJMN (94.5-HD2) for a little extra reach. In addition to the national Bloomberg feed, the Boston incarnation includes traffic and weather headlines four times an hour from Clear Channel’s Metro Networks, and may eventually include more local content as well.

We send our congratulations to Diane Stern. The veteran WBZ (1030) afternoon news anchor marked her 30th anniversary at the station last week, nearly all of it alongside fellow three-decade veteran Anthony Silva. (And some of it, we note with pride, reading your editor’s news copy…)

We send our best wishes to longtime WCVB (Channel 5)/New England Cable News anchor Chet Curtis, who revealed recently that he’s been battling inoperable pancreatic cancer. Curtis, 73, tells the Herald the often-fatal cancer was caught early enough that his prognosis is good. He’s been undergoing treatment at Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital, and is expecting to spend some time in Florida before returning to work at NECN later in the spring.

*And there’s belated word of the death of one of New England radio and television’s most enduring figures. Wilmer C. Swartley was born in 1908 in southwestern Pennsylvania and rose quickly through the ranks at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh in the 1930s. With his flair for the dramatic, Swartley was enlisted to join the dramatic players on KDKA. Before long, he had moved from the electrical side of the business to broadcasting, and by the time he was 30 he was a manager at Westinghouse-owned WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana. WOWO was often a jumping-off point for talent that Westinghouse wanted to use at its bigger stations, and by 1940 Swartley had been dispatched to Boston to manage WBZ radio and get ready for the eventual addition of television.

swartleyWorld War II delayed the development of WBZ-TV (and sent Swartley to battle as an Army major), but with the war’s end, Swartley became the TV station’s founding general manager, overseeing the construction of a new TV tower and one of the nation’s first purpose-built radio-TV studios out on Soldiers Field Road. Swartley helped to found the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association in 1954, which was also the year he was promoted within Westinghouse to regional vice president. Swartley retired from Westinghouse in 1961 but remained in the Boston area up until just a couple of years ago, when he moved to southern California to be closer to his daughter.

Inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2010 at age 102, Swartley was still tack-sharp, attending the induction banquet and speaking about his time at WBZ with crystal-clear memories of that long-ago era. Swartley died January 23 in California, at age 104. A memorial service in the Boston area will be held later in the spring.

*We also remember Bill O’Connell, whose long career in the industry started with TV sports at WHDH-TV (Channel 5) and its successor, WCVB-TV, then continued at WNAC-TV/WNEV (Channel 7) and as sports director at WLVI (Channel 56). After leaving TV (where he was also a popular candlepin bowling host), O’Connell moved into radio, at WFCC (107.5 Chatham) on Cape Cod and WPLM-FM (99.1 Plymouth). O’Connell died in Naples, Florida on February 25 at age 81.

wccc-rockhits*Central CONNECTICUT‘s big rock station is going through some changes. Marlin Broadcasting’s WCCC-FM (106.9 Hartford) appears to be adding some classic tunes to its active rock format. The station is spending the weekend (and beyond) playing “1,069 Greatest Rock Hits Non-Stop” and drawing plenty of criticism on its own Facebook page and a new “Save the RoCCCk” group along the way. The station went jockless during the marathon, but programming consultant Alan Tolz says the intent is to bring the jocks back when the marathon is over – and to keep plenty of newer rock on the playlist alongside some of the older material being added in a bid to improve the station’s ratings and revenue.

Down the road in New Haven, John Mayer has departed WKCI (101.3 Hamden), moving to Clear Channel sister top-40 outlet WRVW (107.5) in Nashville. No replacement has been named yet at “KC101,” where Mayer was doing afternoons and serving as assistant PD, the same roles he’s now playing in Nashville.

*In RHODE ISLAND, Cumulus has filled the space left behind when veteran PD Tony Bristol exited WPRO-FM (92.3)/WWLI (105.1) back in January. Davey Morris takes over as WPRO-FM PD, adding those duties to his work programming sister station WWKX (Hot 106) and as corporate PD. Upstairs at WWLI, the new PD is Brian DeMay, who’d most recently been in Wilmington, Delaware as PD of Beasley’s WJBR-FM (99.5). DeMay’s career also included a stint in Buffalo at WTSS (Star 102.5).

What’s happening on the HD side of Rhode Island Public Radio’s WRNI-FM (102.7 Narragansett Pier)? Alert listeners in South County have noted that there’s now an HD2 showing up on 102.7, carrying the programming of MVYRadio.com, the webcast offshoot of the former WMVY (92.7) on Martha’s Vineyard. Could this be related to MVYRadio’s promise that it will be returning to the terrestrial airwaves on WMVY’s

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former Newport translator at 96.5?

wfff-cw*The CW affiliation is moving in VERMONT. After just over five years on the 44.2 subchannel of Fox affiliate WFFF (Channel 44), recently sold by Smith to Nexstar, CW is moving over to the 5.2 subchannel of Hearst-owned NBC affiliate WPTZ (Channel 5). WPTZ’s 5.2 is already on the air (and on digital cable) with a 24-hour feed of “MeTV,” which will now be preempted from 8-10 PM nightly for CW programming. It’s not yet clear what ends up on 44.2, where WFFF had cable clearance on Time Warner Cable’s digital tier and on prime analog channels on Comcast and Charter (hence the “CW 11/20″ identity WFFF used for the subchannel.)

*A NEW HAMPSHIRE low-power FM signal wants a frequency change. WXGR-LP (101.5 Dover) says the antenna move up in the Lakes Region at WZEI (101.5 Meredith) will create new interference to its signal, and so licensee “Gritty” is asking the FCC for permission to move WXGR up the dial to 103.5. The move comes with a proposed drop in power (from 13 watts to 7 watts) and increase in antenna height (from 266′ to 364′).

*A veteran MAINE reporter-turned-videographer has retired. Dick Gosselin has been working in Portland TV since 1972, when he started out at WCSH-TV (Channel 6) as a reporter. He left to run his own video production business in 1985, but came back in 1996 to report for WMTW-TV (Channel 8). In 2003, Gosselin switched sides, moving from reporting to videography, and last week he put down the camera for the last time at channel 8 to enjoy retirement.

*Radio People on the Move in PENNSYLVANIA‘s largest market: Tiffany Hill is out as morning co-host at WBEB (101.1 Philadelphia), and the rest of the B-101 airstaff is being shuffled as a result. Midday jock Jenn Ryan takes over in mornings from Hill, with Andrea Duffy moving from nights to the 9 AM-2 PM midday slot and Jessie Jordan taking over 7-midnight as interim night jock.

Invisible Allies Ministries’ “Rev FM” wants to extend its network to the Indiana-Punxsutawney area, west of its current home base in State College. How will “Rev” get a big new signal down to that area? It’s applying to move one of two overlapping signals that now serve the Ridgway-St. Marys area to the north. Under a pair of applications filed last week, WRVI (91.1 St. Marys) would change city of license to Ridgway in order to maintain the fiction of “first local service” there when sister station WRQV (88.1 Ridgway) is moved south to a new city of license of Mahaffey. The move would come with a frequency change from 88.1 to 88.5 and a power increase, too, as WRQV goes from 2.1 kW DA/817′ B1 to 8.4 kW/669′ as a class B.

Speaking of State College, Ted Krichels has departed as general manager of Penn State-based WPSU-TV (Channel 3)/WPSU-FM (91.5). Krichels, who also had the title of associate VP for public media at the university, had been with the stations since 1999.

*There’s more new radio coming to eastern CANADA. In Clarence-Rockland, Ontario, just east of Ottawa, the CRTC has granted a new signal to Evanov Broadcasting. The new 92.5 there, running 300 watts, will be the latest link in Evanov’s soft AC “Jewel” chain, joining CJWL (98.5 Ottawa) to the west and CKHK (107.7 Hawkesbury) and the new CHSV (106.7 Hudson-St.-Lazare QC) to the east. North of Toronto, Dan Sys’ Canadian Radio News reports the grant of a new 50-watt tourist information station on 98.5 in Barrie. Owned by Douglas Edwards, who has several existing tourist signals nearby, the new 98.5 will carry the CKEY calls that had a long legacy in Toronto and then in Niagara Falls/Fort Erie.

chcdtomyIn Simcoe, My Broadcasting has rebranded newly-acquired CHCD (98.9), dropping “CD 98.9, Norfolk’s Perfect Music Mix” in favor of the “MyFM” branding that the company uses on most of its AC stations around the province.

Up the road a bit in the Kitchener/Waterloo market, the CBC is just a week away from launching local Radio One programming. CBLA-FM-2 (89.1 Paris) has been a full simulcast of CBLA (99.1 Toronto) since its debut in 1999. Craig Norris, host of Radio One’s “Laugh Out Loud” comedy show, will be the new morning host when the 6-9 AM local show debuts March 11 from new storefront studios at 117 King St. W. in downtown Kitchener.

To the west, Radio-Canada has signed off CBEF (540 Windsor) for the last time; the French-language service signed on at 1550 0n the dial, the old English-language CBE facility, last fall, and the 90-day simulcast period ran out at the end of February.

In Brockville, Scott McGregor is the new PD at CHXL (103.7 Bob FM) and CFJR (104.9 JRfm), moving east later this month after two years in Lethbridge, Alberta.

And there’s late word Sunday night, via Montreal’s Sheldon Harvey, that Haitian-oriented CJWI (1610 Montreal) is now testing its new facility down the dial at 1410. The 1410 frequency in Montreal was last occupied by multicultural CFMB before its 1997 move down the dial to 1280; while the old CFMB 1410 array is long gone, the new CJWI 1410 will use 10,000 watts from the towers of CJMS (1040 St.-Constant) south of Montreal.

*It’s 2013! Do you have your 2013 Tower Site Calendar yet?

It can be on your wall in just a few days, if you order right now! 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!

From the NERW Archives

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: March 6, 2012 -

*Who wants one of the last big-market FM signals to become available in CANADA? Just about everyone, at least judging by the list the CRTC released last week in preparation for a May 7 hearing at which it will decide who inherits the 88.1 frequency that became open in Toronto when community station CKLN lost its license last year.

In all, 22 broadcasters submitted proposals to use 88.1, and they fall broadly into three categories:

Existing stations seeking a better signal: The 88.1 signal’s not a great one to begin with – just a few hundred watts from the First Canadian Place tower in downtown Toronto – but it’s still better than some of the even more minimal signals that have been crammed on to the Toronto dial in recent years.

Evanov’s gay-oriented CIRR (103.9 PROUD FM), French community station CHOQ (105.1) and Fitzroy Gordon’s new urban station, CKFG (98.7) are all asking to go to 88.1 as an upgrade. Two big AM signals, Radio-Canada’s CJBC (860) and MZ Media’s CFZM (740), are asking to use 88.1 as a nested relay to overcome AM signal problems in downtown Toronto. (Yes, both stations run huge 50 kW non-directional signals on AM from a site out at Hornby, northwest of Toronto, but they argue that electrical interference from streetcar lines and other sources wipes out those signals downtown. That’s the same argument the CBC made back in 1999, when it moved Radio One from 740 to 99.1.)

New commercial signals from big players – and small. Several of the very biggest players in Canadian radio, including Corus and Bell Media, already have the maximum number of stations allowed in Toronto. But even with those giants out of the picture, there are plenty of other commercial groups that would love a new voice in the nation’s biggest market. Newcap wants to use 88.1 for a “modern adult music” format, Montreal’s Tietolman-Tetrault-Pancholy group wants to do talk, Larche Communications seeks a “rock-based Adult Album Alternative” format, Durham Radio (which owns suburban station CJKX in Ajax) wants “new easy listening music,” and Barrie’s Rock 95 Broadcasting wants “Indie music.” Frank Torres, owner of Ottawa’s “DAWG FM” (CIDG 101.9), wants a commercial signal that will play at least 20% jazz and blues, while Michael Wekerle proposes a commercial triple-A format.

New community/ethnic stations. Since CKLN was a community/campus station, one might suspect the CRTC will want to keep the frequency dedicated to that use. (Unlike in the US, there are no channels in Canada permanently set aside for noncommercial or community use.) With that in mind, ten broadcasters have applied for new signals with specialty formats. Barrie-based Trust Communications Ministries and Toronto-based Family FM Inc. propose religious stations, Stanislaus Anthony wants an “emerging genres music format,” Tosan Lee wants a “world-beat” station, and there are plenty of proposals for new multi-ethnic stations, including one that would add an additional signal to CHIN’s existing AM 1540 (with an FM relay at 91.9) and CHIN-FM 100.7. And there’s the expected application from Ryerson University’s Radio Ryerson Ltd., which proposes returning 88.1 to Ryerson, where CKLN started.

So who wins? We’ll get a better sense of the CRTC’s thinking at the May 7 hearing – but if we were in a betting mood, we’d speculate that the agency won’t look favorably on the CFMZ and CJBC applications, since they won’t add a new voice to the Toronto dial. The applications from CIRR, CKFG and CHOQ would open up those stations’ existing facilities for new users, but those signals are so small as to be of at best limited value to anyone else. (There would be a certain irony, one supposes, in the CRTC’s approving CKFG for a move to 88.1 and then giving 98.7 to CJBC for a nested relay after all the objections the CBC made to the use of 98.7 in Toronto in the first place…)

If the CRTC thinks there’s room for another commercial operator in the market, it will be looking for an operator with the resources to fully commit to a battle against the big Corus, Astral and Bell clusters, and we’d think that might mean an edge to either Newcap’s deep pockets or Durham’s ability to cluster with its Ajax and Hamilton signals. 2013 update: It’s hard to outguess the CRTC, isn’t it? The nod for 88.1 ended up going to the Barrie-based proposal for a new alternative rock station, expected to sign on soon as “Indie 88.1,” CIND.

*There’s now just one public radio operation in western NEW YORK. The merger of WBFO (88.7 Buffalo) into its erstwhile rival, WNED (970 Buffalo), went off right on schedule Thursday afternoon at 4 with a recorded announcement that aired on both stations as they entered their new simulcast from WNED’s studios in downtown Buffalo. (Just in case the switchover didn’t work properly, WBFO’s Mark Scott was on hand at the former WBFO studios to run “All Things Considered” from there, we’re told!)

Now that the full schedule for the merged operation is out, it’s clear that WNED is absorbing more of WBFO’s DNA than many observers had expected. The first local voice heard on the merged signal was former WBFO host Mark Wozniak, who’ll be hosting “All Things Considered” on WBFO/WNED, and while he opened his first newscast as “Mark Wozniak, WNED News,” most of the branding for the rest of the show was “WBFO,” the AM section of the website now redirects to WBFO.org, and the daytime programming on 88.7 and 970 is a mix of the old 88.7 and 970 schedules: “On Point” and “Here and Now” from WNED, “Tell Me More” and “Talk of the Nation” from WBFO.

Aside from Wozniak and former WBFO news director Eileen Buckley, most of the news staffers now heard on WBFO come from the WNED side, including news director Jim Ranney and “Morning Edition” host Jay Moran.

*Longtime NERW readers know we’ve been fascinated over the years, in a sort of a can’t-avert-your-eyes-from-a-car-crash way, with the bizarre filings that seem to keep appearing in the FCC database for WJJL (1440 Niagara Falls).

Back in 2006, WJJL’s real licensee, M.J. Phillips Inc. (M. John Phillips), had to spend some legal time making sure the FCC correctly processed its own renewal application for the station instead of the phony app that was submitted by one “Joann Nicola Lutz Distefano Phillips,” who tried to convince the Commission that she was married to WJJL’s owner and had somehow come into control of the station.

Then “Joann” filed again in December 2011, attempting (in two separate filings) to transfer control of WJJL – and this time, the station fired back more aggressively. In addition to WJJL’s own transfer filing, belatedly taking the station out of “debtor-in-possession” status, Phillips’ lawyer sent the FCC a lengthy letter demanding the dismissal of all five filings made so far by “Joann” under her various names.

The letter is well worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the gist: there really is a “Joann Nicola Lutz Distefano” who hosted a weekly show on WJJL in late 1997 and was fired fairly quickly – and since 2004, Phillips has been fighting all kinds of aggravation from her. It’s not just the FCC filings or the message-board postings that first brought her to our attention; it’s also included interference with WJJL’s advertisers, and according to the FCC letter, it has now escalated into a criminal complaint against Distefano, who apparently now lives in a mental health shelter in Brooklyn. “It is time for this vindictive conduct to end,” says WJJL’s attorney James R. Cooke, and the FCC apparently agreed; it quickly dismissed the outstanding transfer applications, ending at least this chapter of a truly bizarre radio tale.

Five Years Ago: March 4, 2008 -

*It’s beginning to sound like a broken record (remember those?) – Big Conglomerate Broadcaster posts bad quarterly earnings results, and within a day or two, dozens more talented broadcasters are out on the streets, never mind how good their ratings might have been or how many years they’d been with the station.

The disease seems to be working its way through all the big “C” companies, first with CBS Radio and Clear Channel earlier this year. On Leap Day Friday, it was Citadel’s turn, as the company reeled from the losses that followed last year’s ambitious purchase of the ABC Radio assets, which helped drag its stock down to the $1 level from a year-ago high of $10.40 per share.

After posting a net loss for the quarter of $848 million, the job cuts came fast and furious at most of the former ABC Radio properties. In Atlanta, nearly the entire airstaffs at WKHX(FM) and WYAY(FM) were history; in Washington, smooth jazz WJZW(FM) and its airstaff were gone, replaced with automated “True Oldies”; in Chicago, much of the news staff at WLS was history – and in New York, WABC (770) and WPLJ (95.5) were not immune.

At WABC, the cuts claimed John R. Gambling, the third-generation talk host who came to the station in 2000 after his Rambling With Gambling morning show was cancelled by WOR following an amazing 75-year run. In his place, former WABC morning host Curtis Sliwa, relegated to a 5-6 AM talk hour, will move to the 10-11:45 AM slot preceding Paul Harvey and Rush Limbaugh. But newsman George Weber, who’d been Sliwa’s sidekick in the early mornings, won’t join him on his new shift – Weber’s out as well.

Down the hall at WPLJ, the “Rocky Allen Showgram” is history as well. Allen, who did afternoons on WPLJ from 1993-1998, then spent just over a year on WABC, returned to WPLJ in 2005 along with his sidekick Blain Ensley. For now, their show has been replaced by middayer Race Taylor, but bigger changes may be afoot at WPLJ. While the station’s lackluster ratings performance has long been excused by some of the biggest revenues in the market, Citadel officials say that’s changing.

In a Friday conference call, Citadel’s Farid Suleman said CBS Radio’s competing hot AC entry, “Fresh” WWFS (102.7), had cut into WPLJ’s performance.

*The week’s other big radio headline came from upstate, where Rochester’s Brother Wease announced he’s returning to the airwaves, just a month after contract negotiations between the veteran morning talker and his longtime radio home, WCMF (96.5), broke down.

We’d been hearing lots of rumors about Wease being seen in the hallways at Clear Channel, the biggest local competitor to WCMF’s new owners, Entercom – and it turns out that the corporate hiring freeze at Clear Channel wasn’t as rock-solid as it appeared to be, since the company will hire Wease to be the new morning voice at its classic rocker, “Fox” WFXF (95.1 Honeoye Falls).

Current “Fox” morning man J.P. Hastings won’t be vacating his chair right away, though. Because of Wease’s non-compete with Entercom, his return to the Rochester airwaves may not happen until this fall. In the meantime, Wease will be working off the air at Clear Channel, mostly in the sales department, though he tells us he’s also booking some guests on Bob Lonsberry’s talk show at Clear Channel’s WHAM (1180).

Wease’s crosstown move sets up an interesting morning showdown: his former sidekicks, including comedian Tommy Mule and producer Bill Moran, remain at WCMF as the hosts of that station’s replacement morning show, which means Wease will have to hire a new morning crew for his “Fox” debut later this year.

He’s done that before, as former sidekicks including Stephanie Miller, B.J. Shea and Gregg “Opie” Hughes have moved on to bigger things, but this is the first time he’ll be competing directly against his former co-workers. (Including, we’d note, his former colleague Dave Kane, whose midday show on WCMF will air against the last hour or so of Wease on WFXF.)

*There’s a new format coming to Buffalo this morning, as Dick Greene takes control of WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) from Regent, replacing the classic country format with a new lineup of talk programming anchored by veteran Buffalo talents Harv Moore (late of WHTT) and Tom Donohue (most recently with WLKK) in morning drive. The schedule will also include some programming heard on Greene’s Niagara County outlet, WLVL (1340 Lockport), such as “Tradio” and a 10 AM talk show hosted by Scott Leffler. Tom Schuh, formerly with Entercom, is the PD of the station, which will also include syndicated talkers Bill O’Reilly, Neal Boortz, Dennis Miller and Jim Bohannon, plus Fox Sports overnight and on weekends.

*With all of William F. Buckley’s many interests (he was, among other things, a connoisseur of peanut butter), it should come as no surprise that there was a broadcast connection in his life even deeper than his decades as host of “Firing Line.” Buckley, who died Wednesday (Feb. 27) at 82, served from 1973-75 as chairman of Starr Broadcasting, which owned WNCN (104.3 New York), and what a tumultuous time that was: in 1974, Starr flipped WNCN from its longtime classical format to rock under the new calls WQIV.

Back when the FCC paid attention to stations’ format choices, that flip was a big deal – so big, in fact, that the “WNCN Listeners’ Guild” prodded Starr into flipping the station back to classical and selling it to GAF Broadcasting. (It was in the aftermath of the WNCN brouhaha that the FCC got out of the format-regulation business; 18 years later, GAF flipped WNCN back to rock as WAXQ without much of an outcry.)

*Perhaps the most famous voice in PENNSYLVANIA sports broadcasting history has been silenced.

Myron Cope died Wednesday (Feb. 27) at 79, ending a career that included 35 seasons as color announcer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as a 22 year run, from 1973-1995, as host of the city’s first sports talk show, on the former WTAE (1250) and many years as a sports commentator on WTAE-TV (Channel 4).

Cope, born Myron Kopelman, already had a distinguished career as a print writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and later in magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post when he was recruited for the Steelers’ radio team in 1970. His unusual turns of phrase – both Yiddishisms such as “Yoi!” and catchprases such as “The Immaculate Reception,” for the pass that won the 1972 Steelers their Super Bowl championship – endeared Cope to generations of Steelers fans. He even created one of the team’s icons, the “Terrible Towel” that began waving from the stands at the old Three Rivers Stadium in 1975. Cope retired from the Steelers’ broadcast booth in 2005 as he fought a series of illnesses that included a growth on his vocal cords; the next year, he donated the trademark rights to the Terrible Towel to the Allegheny Valley School, where his autistic son, Daniel, has lived most of his life.

Fittingly, a sea of Terrible Towels waved in front of Pittsburgh’s City Hall Friday during a memorial ceremony for Cope, as the city said “Bye, now” to the man so closely associated with all those winning seasons. (And we welcome cartoonist and PBRTV.com contributor Jason Togyer to the pages of NERW with this drawing imagining the most popular talk show in the afterlife this week…)

*In VERMONT, Pamal has split what’s now WDVT (94.5 Rutland) away from “Cat Country,” which is now heard solely on its new home at 105.3, WJEN (ex-WEBK Killington). The new format on 94.5, which launched Feb. 22 at 6 AM, is classic hits “The Drive.”

Ten Years Ago: March 3, 2003 -

With a network of seven primary FM signals and translators that stretches north to Plattsburgh, south to Middletown, west to Oneonta and east to Southington, Connecticut, WAMC (90.3) in Albany, NEW YORK has become one of the larger public radio broadcasters in the country in recent years. Now the network is adding its first AM signal, as it pays Ed Levine’s Galaxy Communications $500,000 for WHTR (1400 Albany), a 1 kilowatt facility that’s spent the last few years simulcasting other stations in Levine’s cluster (most recently, modern rock WKRD 93.7 Scotia), but which has a proud history under the WABY calls which still adorn its tower on Braintree Street in Albany.

WAMC head honcho Alan Chartock tells the Albany Times Union that the AM 1400 signal will fill some holes in the main WAMC signal within city limits; the big FM signal comes from across the state line on Mount Greylock in Adams, Massachusetts and has some multipath problems in parts of Albany. Expect 1400 to change calls to WAMC(AM) and begin simulcasting the WAMC-FM signal within the next couple of months, we hear….

Moving down the Hudson Valley, Albany’s Pamal group is wasting no time in its takeover of WYNY (107.1 Briarcliff Manor) from Nassau; it will LMA the station and begin a simulcast of CHR WSPK (104.7 Poughkeepsie) within the next few weeks.

And another part of the 107.1 quadcast could soon be sold; our colleague Tom Taylor reported a rumor in Inside Radio last week that Jarad, owner of Long Island’s WLIR (92.7 Garden City), WDRE (98.5 Westhampton) and WXXP (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke), is looking to buy WWXY (107.1 Hampton Bays) to add to its cluster out there. That would leave Nassau with WWYY (107.1 Belvidere NJ) and WWZY (107.1 Long Branch NJ), closer to its core of stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In PENNSYLVANIA, Rick Strauss is out as program director of classic rocker WMGK (102.9 Philadelphia); former ‘MGK PD Buzz Knight is programming the station for now from his post as PD of Greater Media sister station WROR (105.7 Framingham) up in the Boston market.

Just south of Pittsburgh, Washington and Jefferson College’s WNJR is powering up. Formerly a class D station with just 13 watts on 92.1, WNJR has made the move to class A status and 91.7 on the dial. Its new 950-watt signal now carries almost to Pittsburgh from its base in Washington, PA.

And there’s a void this week in the hearts of all of us of a certain age, with news of the death on Thursday (Feb. 27) of Mister Rogers. Fred McFeely Rogers was part of Pittsburgh’s WQED-TV (Channel 13) beginning in 1953, even before the station went on the air; in 1966, WQED became the home base for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and the show has been a PBS staple ever since, even though production of new shows ended several years ago. Upon word of Rogers’ death (he was 74 and was suffering from stomach cancer), WQED preempted its full evening of programming to devote four hours to remembering the station’s most famous personality.

Fifteen Years Ago: March 5, 1998 -

We begin this week’s news with the passing of two of the industry’s giants. W. Gordon Swan was on the air at the Boston area’s first radio station, Tufts University’s WGI Medford Hillside…way back in 1922. Two years later, he joined the staff of Westinghouse’s WBZ/WBZA in Boston, rising through the ranks until becoming program director. Swan was instrumental in bringing television to New England, as program director of WBZ-TV when it signed on in 1948. Swan remained with WBZ radio and television until his retirement in 1968. In recent years, Swan was writing a memoir of his days in broadcasting. Gordon Swan died Sunday at a nursing home in Kingston, Massachusetts. He was 92 years old.

The medium Swan helped create was later polished to a high sheen by Fred W. Friendly. As Ed Murrow’s producer on “See It Now,” and later as president of CBS News and as a statesman of the industry, Friendly stood for the highest values of broadcast journalism throughout his long career. He was also a veteran of New England radio, having started his career at WEAN (now WSKO) in Providence. Friendly was 82.

In upstate NEW YORK, things are finally settling down at the Jacor group of stations in Rochester. The FCC database lists new calls of WYSY and WISY for “Sunny 106,” the erstwhile WMAX-FM (106.7 Irondequoit) and WMHX (102.3 Canandaigua), as well as a new call of WMAX-FM for “Jam’n 107,” heretofore WRCD (107.3 Honeoye Falls) — but as of Thursday evening, all three stations are still using their old calls. NERW suspects the WMAX-FM calls are being warehoused at 107.3 until they can be shipped off to one of the other “Max”es around the country (perhaps Greater Media’s WXXM Philadelphia?) .

Jam’n remains jockless for now, as does “Mix 100.5″ (WVOR) outside morning drive…but NERW heard former WMAX afternoon jock Michael Gately doing a liner on WVOR this afternoon. Across town at WPXY (97.9), morning show producer Jim Eiseman has left the station “to pursue other opportunities.”

Big City Radio’s New York City-area stations are all getting power boosts. The FCC has approved power increases for the “Y107″ trio of WWXY Briarcliff Manor, WWVY Hampton Bays, and WWZY Long Branch NJ will all increase their power in the next few months on 107.1.

On to MASSACHUSETTS, where we find a new owner for Worcester’s WORC (1310). Andrew Davis’ Davis Radio Corporation gets $715,000 for the talk station, whose new owner is Chowder Broadcasting Group. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the Chowder-heads (sorry…) recently bought WGFP (940) and WXXW (98.9) down in Webster. WGFP and WORC will make a worthwhile combination in Worcester County, with WGFP neatly filling the huge southern null in WORC’s signal, which protects co-channel WICH in Norwich CT.

In CONNECTICUT, it’s musical studios for two of Hartford’s rock stations. No sooner did WHCN (105.9) vacate its Asylum Avenue home for SFX’s corporate digs at 10 Columbus Drive, then WCCC (106.9/1290) came along to buy the old house on Asylum. It’ll be a return home for ‘CCC afternoon guy Michael Picozzi, who worked at WHCN on Asylum until last year. (It’ll also be a big move up from the little building on South Whitney Street that WCCC has called home since the early eighties.)

The FCC paid a call on “La Nueva Radio Musical” in New Haven on Tuesday, warning operators Pedro Jimenez and Hipolito Cuevas that they faced a $10,000 daily fine if they continued operating the unlicensed station on 104.5 MHz. The New Haven Register reports Jimenez and Cuevas told the FCC that their station wasn’t a pirate but a “microbroadcaster,” but agreed to shut the transmitter off. Jimenez and Cuevas told the Register they think the FCC crackdown was prompted by a complaint from WYBC (94.3), which they accuse of being unfriendly to community broadcasters. WYBC has been in the media spotlight recently for its attempts to take over urban-formatted WNHC (1340).

Finally this week, a note from across the border: It won’t be an April Fools joke when CHSJ in Saint John, New Brunswick turns off its AM 700 transmitter April 1. That’s when the station will complete its move to 94.1 FM — and disappear for good from New England’s radio dial. Get those QSL cards in while you can…

CHSJ’s not the only one vacating FM across the border; CKLY (910) in Lindsay, Ontario has been granted 91.9 MHz and will leave AM three months after the FM signs on. And CJEM in Edmunston, New Brunswick, just across the border from Madawaska, Maine, has been granted a move from 570 kHz to 92.7 MHz.

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