In this week’s issue… Bell-Astral deal is on again, with spinoffs – Antenna down in Maine – Big management shift at Boston pubcaster – Albany AM down for the count? – Smerconish to exit terrestrial radio, WPHT
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*CANADA‘s biggest media deal in recent years isn’t going away easily. In October, after the CRTC denied Bell’s application to swallow Astral Media for C$3.38 billion, both companies promised they’d be back at the table with a new proposal.
As of last week, they’re now halfway back to the finish line after Canada’s Competition Bureau signed off on the revised plan, which is now in front of the CRTC for reconsideration. This time around, Bell and Astral have identified a buyer for at least some of the expanded list of stations they’re planning to spin off in order to stay under CRTC ownership caps.
The plan puts Corus in the buyer’s seat in Ottawa, where it will enter radio ownership with the purchase of CKQB (106.9 the Bear) and CJOT (99.7 EZ Rock), currently owned by Astral. The radio sales are part of a C$400 million spinoff to Corus that also includes several Canadian cable networks.
Bell and Astral also plan to put stations in four other big markets up for sale, including CHBM (Boom 97.3) and CFXJ (93.5 Flow FM) in Toronto. Boom is currently an Astral property, while Flow comes from the Bell portfolio.
And then there’s Montreal, where the original deal hit a bit of unwelcome PR when word got out that Bell proposed to convert its CKGM (690) from English-language sports to French-language sports. The CRTC denied that application, and Bell’s not going to try going down that road again; instead, it’s now promising to keep CKGM doing sports in English, provided that the merged company gets a waiver allowing it to hold four English-language signals in Montreal, where it would ordinarily be capped at three. If the CRTC doesn’t go along this time, Bell says it will close down CKGM and keep Astral’s three existing stations, CJAD (800), CJFM (Virgin 95.9) and CHOM (97.7).
*In Fredericton, New Brunswick, Newcap has pulled the plug on “Fred FM” at CFRK (92.3), replacing the classic hits with top-40 as “Hot 92.3″ as of noon on March 2. Joe, Benny and Jay lead off the new “Hot” lineup with the “Morning Hot Tub,” with additional airstaff yet to be named. (Also still forthcoming is the format and staffing for CFRK’s soon-to-debut sister station, CIHI 93.1.)
And in Wingham, Ontario, Milkman UnLimited reports Dennis Duck has been promoted to general manager at Blackburn Radio’s three stations, CKNX-FM (101.7 the One), CIBL (94.5 the Bull) and CKNX (920).
*The winter storm that lashed the East Coast was more of a late-season inconvenience than anything else – except in western MAINE, where heavy icing sent the antenna of Dick Gleason’s WTBM (100.7 Mexico) toppling to the ground. Engineer extraordinaire Bob Perry is on the case, hoping to get at least a temporary antenna in place as early as today. (In the meantime, WTBM is directing listeners to its simulcast signal, WOXO 92.7 Norway.)
Speaking of “inconvenience,” that’s what some York County listeners might be experiencing if they’re looking for the talk programming that used to be heard on WVAE (1400 Biddeford). That Saga-owned station switched simulcasts last week, dropping the advice-oriented format originating at WBAE (1490 Portland) in favor of the full-service/political talk from big sister station WGAN (560 Portland). WGAN’s 5000-watt signal has a directional notch up the coast toward York County to protect co-channel neighbor WHYN in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the WVAE simulcast should help to fill that hole a bit, especially for commuters heading up and down I-95 to Portland.
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*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 13, 2012 -
*Over nearly two decades of writing this column, we’ve become pretty good at figuring out when a new format is really a stunt. Not only have we avoided taking the bait on numerous occasions, we’ve even (inadvertently) spoiled the days of a few promotions directors when their carefully-crafted cunning stunting has been exposed by a mainstream media report quoting NERW. (Sorry about that!)
So we can give the folks at Townsquare Media in Albany the satisfaction of knowing that this time, they got us.
Our midweek update on Wednesday obligingly reported the imminent launch of soft AC “Sunny 99.1″ on W256BU, the translator Townsquare recently bought (for nearly a quarter-million dollars) and had been using to relay WQSH (105.7 Malta). It made sense, really – there’s a “Sunny” doing soft AC on a similar translator just down I-88 in Binghamton, there’s the AC format on WYJB (95.5) over at the rival Pamal/Albany Broadcasting cluster, and there was a pretty convincing website and Facebook page for the new format, too.
Townsquare put some serious effort into the stunt on the air: there was a day of protest music (“Occupy 99.1″) and a day of songs with “Sun” or “Sunny” in the title, and then on Friday afternoon at 3, Townsquare launched…a new urban station, “Hot 99.1,” fed from the HD2 channel of WQSH.
Assuming this one’s for real (and we think it is), the new “Hot” also goes up against a Pamal property, “Jamz 96.3″ (WAJZ Voorheesville) – and it does so with the help of the former WAJZ program director, Tanch, who just made the shift from WAJZ to Townsquare. Tanch will be doing afternoons on “Hot” once the new signal debuts air personalities.
With 250 watts from the same Bald Mountain transmitter site north of Troy used by WQSH, “Hot” enjoys a decent signal in Troy and an adequate signal in Albany, with fringe coverage at best to Schenectady – but it’s up against a WAJZ signal that’s barely stronger. “Jamz” runs 470 watts from the Helderbergs, southwest of Albany, and as we noted in our midweek update, it has a new face in the general manager’s chair: after retiring as general manager of the Townsquare cluster just a few months ago, Bob Ausfeld has “un-retired,” becoming GM at Albany Broadcasting.
*Once upon a time, there was no bigger radio station in Albany than WPTR. Despite a dial location somewhere “up near the police calls,” its 50,000 watt signal on 1540 blasted out top-40 music to a huge audience in the market. So it’s somewhat disconcerting to see how badly the station is struggling in its current incarnation as religious WDCD. Last week, it filed for special temporary authority to go silent, with owner Donald Crawford Jr. telling the FCC that “WDCD will suspend operations for a period during which it will develop and prepare to deploy a new program format and reposition its voice and identity in the community.” Since last November, WDCD has been simulcasting on sister station WDCD-FM (96.7 Clifton Park) after the FM station dropped a low-rated oldies format in favor of the Christian talk that had been heard only on the AM station.
*In the sideshow that was last week’s Rush Limbaugh media feeding frenzy, western MASSACHUSETTS played a sizable supporting role when WBEC (1420 Pittsfield) became one of two stations to drop Limbaugh’s show.
“The nature of Rush’s programming has always presented challenges for us and he’s always pushed the envelope. But this time he’s taken it too far,” said WBEC general manager Peter Barry to public broadcaster WFCR Monday afternoon. WBEC temporarily replaced Limbaugh with Fox Sports Radio during the noon-3 timeslot, leaving listeners in the Berkshires to search out Limbaugh on Albany-market WGY or Springfield’s WHYN.
Reaction to Limbaugh across the rest of the region was mixed: in Portland, WGAN (560) received a petition with more than 5,000 signatures demanding Limbaugh be removed from the schedule, while at Cape Cod’s WXTK (95.1), vice president Alison Makkay told the Boston Globe the station was taking a “wait-and-see approach” before deciding how to proceed. CNYRadio’s Peter Naughton surveyed the scene in his markets and found Townsquare’s WIBX (950 Utica) and Clear Channel’s WSYR (570/106.9) in Syracuse standing by their longtime midday talent, while Saga’s WHCU (87o Ithaca) declined to comment. (At WIBX, PD Jeff Monaski speculates that at least some of the anti-Rush comments coming in are “astroturf” from outside the market.)
WVOX (1460 New Rochelle) isn’t a Limbaugh affiliate, but owner William O’Shaughnessy weighed in nonetheless, deploring Limbaugh’s choice of language but standing up for Rush to stay on the air in the face of what he calls “censorship from corporate timidity in the face of economic boycotts.” (One wonders: would a local host who used Limbaugh’s language be allowed to remain on WVOX’s airwaves?)
And perhaps you’ve heard that Limbaugh’s nominal flagship station, WABC (770 New York), lost so much advertising that it was running dead air for minutes at a time Thursday? That story made the rounds of the blogs and the Twitterverse and quickly showed up not only on MSNBC’s Ed Schultz show but even in some radio industry trade publications that really should have known better – because it turns out that all of those reports trace back to a single deeply flawed source, a Thursday blog posting by Media Matters.
While that group has been keeping an eye on Limbaugh’s content for years now, it appears not to have picked up much understanding along the way of how radio advertising works. All those PSAs and all that dead air on WABC? It was real…but only on WABC’s streaming audio, which is apparently what Media Matters was logging, and which always contains plenty of PSAs and dead air just like most every other radio stream out there. NERW, meanwhile, has confirmed that WABC’s broadcast of the Rush Limbaugh show contained no dead air and only a handful of PSAs and promos amidst a typically full spot load.
So why did the “dead air on WABC” story gain such quick traction? No doubt for the same reason that within hours of Limbaugh’s initial attacks on Sandra Fluke, comment sections and message boards and Facebook posts were flooded with dead-certain assertions that the Georgetown law student was a “professional political agitator” who had testified before Congress about wanting to get “government money to have…” well, you get the point: when there’s a deep human desire to want to believe something, the desire to dig deeper for actual facts tends to be lost pretty quickly.
Steve Rivers was one of the most colorful personalities ever to program top-40 radio in Boston, and even though it had been more than a decade since he moved on from the Hub, Rivers was still vividly remembered as news spread last week of his death. Rivers’ first programming gig in the region was at WGNG in Pawtucket (550, now WBZS) back in 1976, but he soon move on to program bigger stations such as KOPA in Phoenix, WAPE in Jacksonville, KMEL in San Francisco and KIIS in Los Angeles before returning to New England to program Boston’s WZOU (94.5, now WJMN) in 1989. Less than two years later, Rivers jumped to then-competitor WXKS-FM (Kiss 108), riding that station back to the top of the ratings and parlaying that success into a series of corporate programming roles. Rivers (real name: Carl Douglas) had most recently been working in Seattle as PD of KBKS (Kiss 106.1) before his health forced him to step down in 2008. He died Tuesday of cardiac arrest after several years of health problems.
*There’s a new top-40 outlet in northwest PENNSYLVANIA, thanks to another one of those HD-subchannel/translator combinations. The new “i104.3″ is W282BR, the translator Citadel bought from Bill Shannon last year. Back then, it was W285AI (104.9), but it’s being displaced by the upcoming move of WRKT from 100.9 to 104.9. And after Citadel had announced plans to use the translator to relay sports outlet WRIE (1260), the new Cumulus management is going in a different direction, using 104.3 to relay the HD2 channel from WXKC (99.9).
Conveniently, the translator’s new frequency parks it just up the dial from Erie’s heritage top-40 signal, Connoisseur’s WRTS (Star 103.7). With 173 watts from the tower behind the WICU/WSEE studios on State Street, i104.3 won’t have Star’s big reach, but it should do a decent job of covering the city of Erie and nearby areas.
*At the other end of the state, Merlin Media’s now the official owner of Philadelphia-market WKDN (106.9 Camden NJ), having closed on the $22.5 million deal last week. Unlike its “FM New” stunts in Chicago and New York, Merlin is taking its time before assuming operation of the station; it’s LMA’ing the signal back to Family Stations until new studios and a new format are ready.
The Citadel budget cutbacks have claimed local sports radio in RHODE ISLAND. The struggling broadcast company pulled the plug this morning on “The Score” (WSKO 790 Providence/WSKO-FM 99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale), replacing it with satellite-fed True Oldies Channel on the AM side and with an FM simulcast of news-talk WPRO (630).Since there’s already a WPRO-FM (Citadel’s top 40 station on 92.3), the move presents a bit of a branding issue, being resolved for now by calling the news-talk simulcast simply “630 WPRO & 99.7.” Don Imus’ morning show remains in place on the 790 AM signal, and we’re hearing the venerable WEAN calls may be resurrected there. (Right now, 790 is using new calls WPRV; we suspect those calls may actually be destined for 99.7 when the changeover is complete.)
Fans of Opie & Anthony, who had been heard on 99.7, will have to try to pick them up from Boston’s WBCN; fans of the Jim Rome show are out of luck for now – and as for the Yankees, who’d been a WSKO staple, we don’t know yet.
*It’s rare that we start the column with an obituary, but in his 56 years, Fred Horton touched so many radio people in his native upstate NEW YORK and beyond that it seems only fitting he lead off this week’s issue.
Horton grew up in Syracuse and began his radio career there, as one of the many jocks to pass through the doors of WOLF, then across town at WNDR. After that, his travels took him all across upstate New York, including stints at WAAL in Binghamton, WRUN/WKGW in Utica, WGNA/WPYX/WTRY in Albany (where he’s credited with making WGNA’s country format into a major player), WSEN and WYYY back in Syracuse, WCMF in Rochester, and some time as a record promoter in Buffalo.
In 1993, Horton became PD of New York’s country WYNY (103.5), scoring the station its highest ratings in that format before its flip to WKTU.
Horton also worked in Connecticut, as PD/station manager at WDRC, in Grand Rapids at WGRD, and in Memphis at WGKX.
More recently, he worked in Rochester as morning man and PD at WBEE-FM (92.5) in the late nineties, moving to Erie, PA in 2001 to be morning man (and eventually operations manager) at WXTA (97.9 Edinboro), a job he held until just last year.
“Uncle” Fred was a radio guy to the core, as his colleague Cary Pall fondly remembers in a posting on his blog, and remained passionate about the medium even in the last days of his fight against cancer, which claimed his life last Tuesday (March 4).
*New York’s mayor is looking for a new radio home. Michael Bloomberg had a regular weekly appointment with John R. Gambling at WABC (770), but with Gambling’s recent departure from the station in a flurry of budget cuts, the mayor is looking around for another slot. Will Gambling’s WABC replacement, Curtis Sliwa, get the nod? Or will the mayor look to rival talk stations, perhaps WOR or WNYC? (One unlikely possibility is Bloomberg Radio’s WBBR 1130; the mayor has maintained a hands-off stance toward his own media properties since taking office.)
Upstate, Ticonderoga’s WIPS (1250) went silent at noon on Feb. 29, and it won’t be returning to the air, at least not under current owner BisiBlue LLC. The company, a division of Crown Point Network Technologies, tells the Plattsburgh Press Republican that ad revenue never developed in the seven years it owned the station, and that it was sustaining losses of $3,000 a month at the end to keep the 1 kW daytimer on the air.
*There’s a frequency flip coming in southeastern CONNECTICUT, though one of the stations involved actually transmits from RHODE ISLAND and the other from Long Island.
On March 18, Citadel will swap facilities between talker WXLM (102.3 Stonington CT) and classic rock “Wolf” WMOS (104.7 Montauk NY). The idea is to improve the reach of the Wolf, which broadcasts from studios at the Mohegan Sun casino but has trouble being heard in much of the region because of a signal that sometimes doesn’t make it across Long Island Sound very well. Moving the Wolf to 102.3, with a transmitter site just north of Westerly, will solve that problem; the talk format on WXLM, meanwhile, will run in mono when in moves to 104.7, which should make the weaker signal more tolerable.
There’s a format change in southwestern Ontario: CFCO (630 Chatham-Kent) dropped its longtime oldies format last Monday, becoming “Country 92.9,” branding itself with the frequency of its low-power FM relay instead of its wide-coverage AM outlet. Sister station CKSY (94.3) has rebranded as “Lite Hits 94.3.”
It’s not the only country station in the neighborhood, either: in Leamington, CJSP (92.7) signed on Monday with country.
Ten Years Ago: March 10, 2003 -
What a busy week it’s been in NEW YORK! We’ll start with two station sales, one expected, the other a surprise: Disney won approval this week to convert its LMA of WEVD (1050 New York) into a $78 million purchase from the Forward Association. Since Disney took over in September 2001, WEVD’s been the New York flagship for ESPN radio — and even made a slight showing in the latest Trends there. We hear that sale will close on or about May 1.
The surprise sale was Mega’s announcement that it will sell WLXE (1380 New York) back to Arthur Liu’s Multicultural Broadcasting, which sold the station to Mega three years ago for $33 million ($24 million in cash and two Washington, D.C. AM outlets). 1380 was leased-time WKDM then; Mega spent quite a bit of cash relaunching the facility as Spanish all-news WNNY. That didn’t last, and most recently 1380′s been doing regional Mexican as WLXE, “La X 1380.” With this sale, we expect the regional Mexican to end and leased time to return to 1380, for which Liu is paying $37 million.
The deal gives Multicultural four leased-time AM outlets in New York: WPAT (930 Paterson NJ), WNSW (1430 Newark NJ), WZRC (1480 New York) and WLXE, along with religious WNYG (1440 Babylon) out on Long Island.
Liu still doesn’t have a monopoly on leased-time AM in New York, though; Sporting News Radio has pulled still more of its own programming off “flagship” WSNR (620 Jersey City NJ), which is now leased to ethnic programmers from 6 AM all the way to 2 AM. (Sporting News Radio’s overnight show is the last remnant of the network to be heard weekdays on WSNR.)
On the FM side, it was another strange week in the long bizarre saga that is Viacom’s WNEW (102.7), now in its second month of stunting with a short playlist of top 40 tunes. After weeks of leaks about an ambitious entertainment-talk format with plenty of synergy from Viacom’s MTV and VH1 divisions, New York’s tabloids lit up this week with talk that Viacom suddenly had cold feet about the whole idea. Steve Kingston, program director of Viacom rocker WXRK (92.3 New York) was reportedly seen making the rounds of the (nearly empty) WNEW offices — but then came word that he won’t be the operations manager there after all. What in the world is going on there? Nobody knows — and those promises of a “spring” relaunch at 102.7 are looking as remote as spring itself here in the frigid Northeast.
And down in Binghamton, Citadel’s WHWK (98.1) wants to move away from the WBNG-TV (Channel 12) transmitter site on Ingraham Hill that it’s called home since it signed on all those decades ago (when it was WNBF-FM and channel 12 was WNBF-TV.) The station has applied to move to a directional antenna on the new tower nearby on Ingraham Hill that will be home to WSKG-TV/DT and WSKG-FM (89.3); from there, it will run 6500 watts at 401 meters above average terrain, with a sharp null to the south.
Why a directional antenna in Binghamton? For that, we look across the state line to PENNSYLVANIA, where Citadel also owns WBSX (97.9 Hazleton), which has long been short-spaced to Binghamton (as well as to WOGL 98.1 in Philadelphia, WSKQ 97.9 in New York and WIYY 97.9 in Baltimore!) WBSX currently transmits from a tower about halfway between Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre, but now Citadel wants to move it north about six miles, which would land the station on the tower of WMGS (92.9 Scranton) at “Electronic Heights,” aka Penobscot Mountain, the primary TV/FM site for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. WBSX’s new facilities would be 6300 watts at 407 meters, with a null to the north protecting WHWK.
Just as NERW was going to press last week, a southeastern CONNECTICUT station was changing calls and format — again. Stonington’s 102.3 has been through many calls and formats in its quarter-century or so of life — WFAN, oldies WVVE, rocker WAXK and classic rock WUXL. As of last Monday, it’s on to yet another phase, as the classic rock and Bob & Tom morning show give way to AC as “Mix 102″ WXLM(FM). Can “Mix” compete against the bigger signal and established presence of WBMW on 106.5? We’ll see….
Fifteen Years Ago: March 12, 1998 -
The heads are beginning to roll at the former Knight Quality stations in New England. Here’s what we’ve heard so far from our sources around the region: Six staffers were dismissed from WTAG (580) and WSRS (96.1) in Worcester early this week, including WTAG program director Skot Pare, morning host Tom Gorham (a 26 year veteran of the station), and evening news anchor Ann Kenda. George Brown, who was recently moved from afternoons to pair with Gorham, stays on morning drive, while talk hosts Upton Bell and Jordan Levy keep their jobs as well.
Up north in New Hampshire, all three staff members at WXHT (95.3 York Center ME) are being dismissed, as “Heat 95.3″ cools down and picks up a satellite modern AC format. In the same building, WHEB (100.3 Portsmouth) PD/OM Glenn Stewart has been named PD of sister station WGIR-FM (101.1 Manchester) as well. WHEB’s new GM is Kim Jones, husband of WGIR PD Ruth Jones. WHEB sales manager Shari Soffen has been dismissed as well. At WGIR, news director Bill Rossi, production manager/talk host Terry Benz, and FM program director Tim Sheehan are all reportedly out, along with sales manager Cathy Cram, who has resigned. Get ready for a simulcast between WGIR-FM and WHEB as well; word has it there’s a 15k stereo line being installed to allow the two stations to share late-night and weekend programming.
The number-one radio station on Cape Cod, MASSACHUSETTS is buying another station. Gregory Bone’s Sandab Communications already owns WQRC (99.9 Barnstable); now it’s paying $1.7 million for WOCN (103.9 South Yarmouth). Ironically, WOCN seller Donald Moore was himself a former owner of WQRC. ‘QRC programs an adult contemporary format, while WOCN is adult standards.
Carter Alan is the latest veteran of WBCN (104.1) to move across town to co-owned classic rocker WZLX (100.7). Alan leaves his music director duties at WBCN to take that role, plus assistant PD and midday jock, at ‘ZLX. Current WZLX middayer George Taylor Morris will leave the station in April. In addition to his radio career, Alan is one of the pre-eminent experts on the band U2. Over at Greater Media, Shirley Maldonado is the new PD at WSJZ (96.9). Her smooth jazz experience includes stints at WQCD (101.9) in New York and WLVE (93.9) in Miami Beach.
In MAINE, this week’s top story is Fuller-Jeffrey’s reported $3.4 million purchase of WCLZ (98.9/900) in Brunswick. If consummated, the deal would give J.J. Jeffrey his hometown station — he grew up just down the road from what was then WKXA. The AAA FM and home-shopping AM would join F-J’s huge Portland-market group that includes rocker WBLM (102.9), CHR WJBQ (97.9), AC WHOM (94.9 Mount Washington NH), modern rockers WCYY (94.3 Biddeford) and WCYI (93.9 Lewiston), country WPKQ (103.7 Berlin NH), and sports WJAE (1440 Westbrook).
A NERW reader in Portland is hearing an unusual signal on 97.3 — nonstop 80s hits with no legal IDs, just a jingle that goes “Wavin’ every hour, wavin’ at our tower, Wave radio.” Unlicensed? We think so…