In this week’s issue… Translator seeks big leap into Boston – Feds bust Brockton pirate – Gardner out, Morris in on Philly talk radio – Remembering Jim Kingsland – “Now” it’s CHR in Binghamton – CRTC quashes Montreal format change
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*When Stephen Mindich sold off the license to his last remaining radio property, WFNX (101.7 Lynn), nearly a year ago, the expectation was that he’d use the $14 million proceeds to bolster the rest of his alternative-media empire in and around eastern MASSACHUSETTS. That included Mindich’s flagship, the Boston Phoenix, as well as a new streaming incarnation of WFNX that relaunched last October.
But that cash infusion apparently went only so far: on Thursday afternoon, the Boston media scene was rocked by the very sudden news that Mindich was pulling the plug on the Phoenix, effective immediately. Like its radio/webcast sister, the print weekly had been through a big year of transition, merging last summer with sister publication Stuff and swapping newsprint for a glossier look. That wasn’t enough to keep it from continuing to lose money in an environment where so many of the functions it once provided, from entertainment listings to political commentary to personal ads, had been usurped by the internet – and so Mindich shut down the Boston paper (but not its surviving Phoenix sisters in Providence and Portland) in the most abrupt way possible, sending its staff packing without severance and without the chance to put out a farewell issue.
While the social media universe was aflutter over the end of the Phoenix itself, the demise of the paper also meant the demise of WFNX.com’s latest incarnation. Much of its thunder was stolen by the Boston Globe‘s Boston.com, which signed on its RadioBDC.com last August, just a few weeks after the end of WFNX on 101.7 and two months before the new WFNX.com. And while RadioBDC boasts a lineup of longtime WFNX veterans, the revived WFNX.com was staffed mostly by younger newcomers working alongside one WFNX vet, Kurt St. Thomas.
And what happens when a bunch of young newcomers pour their hearts into creating an underdog of a station, only to find out on a Thursday afternoon that it’s all over? It’s a good thing WFNX.com is a webcast and not an FCC-licensed broadcast, because things got pretty FCC-unfriendly for a little while during what amounted to an on-air wake for WFNX around 4:00 on Thursday. It’s not often that you hear DJs openly admitting they’re not only getting drunk but also stoned in the studio (which led one local wag to quip that WFNX.com was “going out with a bong”), but it’s also hard to fault the FNX crew for their on-air disappointment at the end of what had been sounding like a pretty promising new venture. (It’s hard, too, to fault management for apparently cutting off the live jocks not long afterward.)
For now, WFNX.com is “alive,” sort of, continuing to stream automated music. It’s not yet clear how long that will continue; it is clear, though, that the legacy of the original WFNX has now come to a close after an even thirty years.
(Another streaming survivor of a defunct FM station is having a bit more success: Sam Kopper’s revival of WBCN spent the weekend celebrating the 45th anniversary of the 1968 debut of WBCN as a full-fledged freeform rocker.)
*Meanwhile, back on today’s FM dial, there’s a new signal coming to a prominent downtown Boston perch where the old WFNX once had a translator.
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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 20, 2012 -
*For all of the consolidation that’s changed the U.S. media landscape in the last two decades, it doesn’t even begin to compare with what’s taken place fairly quietly in CANADA over that same period. Not only have independent station owners like Allan Waters’ CHUM Group and Gary Slaight’s Standard Broadcasting been swallowed up by larger corporate players, those big corporate players have (unlike most of their counterparts south of the border) combined big radio clusters with equally massive holdings in broadcast. cable and satellite TV, newspapers and wireless service.
The biggest of them all is Bell Media, which includes pieces of the Bell Canada telephone group, the former ExpressVu satellite TV service, CTV television, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail national newspaper and Waters’ old CHUM Group radio stations – and on Friday morning, Bell dropped a bombshell, announcing plans to acquire Quebec-based Astral Media for C$2.8 billion (plus the assumption of another C$380 million in debt and C$200 million in special Astral shares, for a total price of C$3.38 billion.)
From Bell’s vantage point, bringing Astral into the fold is primarily about television, and more specifically about French-language television in Quebec. That’s been a weak spot in Bell’s portfolio, and the company’s continued growth into pay television service has meant that it’s been paying lots of money to Astral to carry Astral-owned channels such as Super Écran, The Movie Network and HBO Canada.
But along with the Astral TV networks, the deal also brings 84 radio stations to Bell, joining the 35 stations the company already owns – and that means the CRTC will have some interesting decisions to make on the way to what’s probably the inevitable approval of this latest mega-deal.
As the indispensable Steve Faguy notes in his cogent analysis of the Bell/Astral fallout, Bell already controls 31% of radio listening across Canada. That number would climb to 45% of listenership and nearly a third of all Canadian radio revenue if Bell were allowed to keep all of Astral’s stations. It won’t be, of course – but it could end up retaining a surprisingly large chunk of Astral once the dust settles.
*As long as we have Montreal in our sights, we note that the CRTC is exerting its regulatory authority against a much smaller player. When ethnic broadcaster Radio Humsafar bought CJLV (1570 Laval) for C$200,000 last year, it was widely expected that the station’s French oldies format would be changed, and that’s just what the new owners wanted to do. But in Canada, that requires CRTC permission, and the commission isn’t granting its blessing. Other ethnic stations in town intervened against the application, saying CJLV’s flip would hurt their own finances, and the CRTC agreed. It’s not clear now what will become of CJLV; Humsafar had suggested that if it didn’t get permission to change the station’s format, it might have to shut the station down. (That would be the second 1570 station to fail in Montreal, following the old CKLM; meanwhile, Humsafar still has another pending CRTC application for a new ethnic station to operate on either 1400 or 1610.)
*One of the most prominent pirate stations in eastern MASSACHUSETTS is silent, apparently the result of a raid by FCC enforcement agents late last week. “Hot 97″ has had run-ins with the Commission before, having been shut down in 2009 when the station was operating on 97.1 from the One Westinghouse Plaza building in Hyde Park, but it had been operating out in the open for the last few years at 87.7, with a professional-looking website and a signal covering much of metro Boston.
*Over in the Back Bay, all of the FM stations that call the Prudential Tower home are back at their usual transmitter locations after the transformer fire Tuesday night that knocked out power to the entire neighborhood and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and hotel guests.
The Pru, of course, is normally home to seven FM signals: Greater Media’s WBOS (92.9 Brookline), WTKK (96.9), WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham) and WMJX (106.7); CBS Radio’s WZLX (100.7) and WBMX (104.1) and Clear Channel’s WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford). Only the four Greater Media stations had backup generators at the tower, so they stayed on the air with only a brief blip as the generators came up to speed.
CBS recently built a new FM auxiliary site at the “candelabra” tower in Needham (in the old WSBK-TV 38 analog transmitter space), and its two stations jumped over to that site. And “Kiss” has a backup transmitter at the “FM-128″ tower in Newton, sharing space with sister station WJMN (94.5); that backup remained in use until the power finally came back at the Pru on Friday. (The WXKS-FM backup in Newton is only a low-power facility, and we hear not only that Clear Channel received complaints from Kiss listeners in outlying areas, but that there were even a few calls from listeners wondering what had happened to the WXKS “Talk 1200″ AM relay on 107.9-HD2, since the backup site is analog-only.)
While this was the first extended power outage at the Pru since the 1970s, it’s still a testament to the importance of backup sites in a big market – you just never know when something like this will happen, and the price of preparedness is relatively low compared to the cost of lost revenue from being off the air. (That’s especially true for CBS, which didn’t have a backup for the Pru FMs until the Needham facility was completed just a few months ago.)
And while “Woody Tarlow” is far from a household name in Boston radio, it’s a name that should be remembered this week, as we receive delayed news of his death February 26 in Palm Desert, California at age 87.
Judge Sherwood Tarlow (to give him his full due) served as a probate court judge in Dukes County (Martha’s Vineyard) from 1964 until 1974, but we remember him here for something else he did during his days as a lawyer: in January 1952, he put a new radio station on the air in Medford. WHIL began as a daytimer on 1540, but it soon relocated to 1430 on the dial, spawning an FM sister station, WHIL-FM 107.9, six years later.
The Tarlow Association continued to own the stations for two more decades, flipping them to easy listening as WWEL/WWEL-FM before selling them in 1979 to Cecil Heftel, who of course famously flipped WWEL-FM to disco as “Kiss 108.”
In addition to the Medford stations, Tarlow also owned WARE (1250 Ware), WLOB (1310 Portland ME) and several southern stations before selling his radio interests and pursuing another career in banking. Tarlow was also very active in charities for the blind and vision-impaired, having lost much of his own eyesight in the years after his World War II service.
Five Years Ago: March 17, 2008 -
*Sports radio fans in RHODE ISLAND have one fewer choice this week. Last Monday, Citadel abruptly pulled the plug on its “Score” sports simulcast at WSKO (790 Providence)/WSKO-FM (99.7 Wakefield-Peace Dale), ending just over a decade of sports on the AM frequency and nearly six years of the FM simulcast.
The Score format had been hit hard by competition in recent years from Entercom’s WEEI-FM (103.7 Westerly), which came into the market four years ago with a simulcast of Boston’s WEEI (850); its demise puts seven people out of work, including local Score talk hosts Andy Gresh, Scott Zolak and Scott Cordischi.
In the place of sports, Citadel has flipped 99.7 to a simulcast of its news-talk WPRO (630), while 790 spent last week running the ESPN Radio network feed before flipping this morning to Citadel’s satellite “True Oldies Channel,” with Don Imus continuing in morning drive. (The stations had split their morning feeds, with 99.7 carrying Opie & Anthony, now heard in Rhode Island only via Boston’s WBCN.)
For now, 99.7 is using the WEAN calls that spent so many years on 790, while 790 is using the calls WPRV. We’re not sure that will turn out to be permanent – will Citadel move the WPRO-FM calls from their longtime home on “92 Pro FM” at 92.3 over to the AM simulcast at 99.7, and could WEAN end up back on 790?
There’s no word yet, either, on where – or if – the New York Yankees will be heard in Rhode Island this season; they’d been heard on WSKO in recent years, providing something of a lifeline to Yankees fans not only in Providence but well into Massachusetts. (Yes, they exist.)
*We’ve known for more than a year now that Cox Radio is moving its WCTZ (96.7) from Stamford, CONNECTICUT into NEW YORK – but it was only last week that we learned where the station hopes to move its transmitter now that it’s changed city of license from Stamford to Port Chester, New York.
Unlike Cumulus, which is moving WFAS-FM (103.9) from Westchester County into the Bronx, it appears that Cox isn’t directly targeting New York City with its move. Instead, WCTZ will become a new Long Island station, joining Cox’s cluster that already includes WBLI (106.1 Patchogue), WBAB (102.3 Babylon) and WHFM (95.3 Southampton).
Cox’s application calls for a new transmitter site on a cell tower in Roslyn, on Long Island’s North Shore. With 4100 watts/361′, the class A signal will cover most of Nassau County and Queens, with a decent signal over much of the Bronx and eastern Westchester as well.
What format does Cox have in mind for its new Long Island addition? We probably won’t know for a while – it will take several months, at least, for the FCC to grant the transmitter move and for WCTZ to relocate from its present transmitter site in Stamford.
(2013 update: Cox revised its plans not long afterward, instead moving 96.7 to a transmitter site in New Rochelle, from which it now serves New York City as K-Love’s WKLV-FM.)
*One of upstate New York’s biggest TV groups has a new owner. Late on Friday, Clear Channel quietly resolved its disagreement with Providence Capital Partners over the value of its 56 TV stations, allowing the sale to go forward at a revised price of $1.1 billion, $200 million less than the companies had originally agreed on last April. Providence will sell several of Clear Channel’s West Coast stations, operating the rest of the group under the Newport Television name.
In our region, Newport picks up these stations: WHAM-TV (Channel 13 Rochester/ABC-CW), WSYR-TV (Channel 9 Syracuse/ABC), WWTI (Channel 50 Watertown/ABC), WIVT (Channel 34 Binghamton/ABC), WBGH-LP (Channel 20 Binghamton/NBC), WETM (Channel 18 Elmira/NBC), WXXA-TV (Channel 23 Albany/Fox), as well as WHP-TV (Channel 21 Harrisburg/CBS) and WLYH (Channel 15 Lebanon/CW) in central Pennsylvania.
The sale to Newport separates the Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany and Harrisburg stations from Clear Channel radio clusters in those markets, and that could lead to a bit of disruption for some of the joint operations there. (That said, Clear Channel never built up the promised synergies it hoped to achieve between radio and TV; there had been talk of building a common studio facility for radio and TV in Rochester, for instance.)
*Another one of the veteran jocks ousted in the rocky transition from CBS Radio to Entercom in Rochester last fall has landed a new gig – right down the hall from his old station. Pete Kennedy, whose 27-year career at WPXY (97.9 Rochester) ended when Entercom declined to hire him upon purchasing the station, has signed on with Entercom to be the new midday jock at classic hits “Buzz” WBZA (98.9 Rochester).
In fairness, the Buzz is probably a better fit for Kennedy these days than top-40 98PXY was – and it has an opening now that afternoon guy Brian Robinson has moved around the corner to the same shift classic rock WCMF (96.5 Rochester). Dem Jones will move from middays to afternoons at Buzz to make room for “The Mayor,” who returns to the air on Wednesday.
*It’s been a quiet week in MASSACHUSETTS - except where the region’s numerous pirate stations are concerned. The FCC’s been issuing a flurry (relatively speaking) of violation notices and forfeiture orders, including a big one against a prominent pirate.
“Touch 106.1″ was very visible in the Boston media last year, and it’s paying for its visibility now. The FCC visited the station’s Dorchester studios in January 2007, only to be denied entry for an inspection of the station. That may have been an expensive mistake for Charles Clemons, who was operating “Touch” – he also failed to respond to the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability, and he’s now on the hook for a $17,000 forfeiture. (That’s $10,000 for unlicensed operation, and another $7,000 for refusing the inspection.)
(2013 update: Clemons is now a candidate for mayor of Boston.)
*In CANADA, there’s some bad news for a Saint John, New Brunswick station that’s been hoping to make a format change.
CJEF (103.5 the Pirate) signed on in 2003 as CHHA, an all-comedy station, and by 2006 it was asking the CRTC for permission to drop its “specialty” license category (which forces the station to run at least 50% spoken-word programming) so it could flip to a hip-hop/modern rock hybrid. The CRTC denied that change in 2006, and did so again last week; several other broadcasters in the market filed oppositions in the case. “The Pirate” is still running the hip-hop/modern rock mix, but it’s playing long blocks of comedy, too, to meet its conditions of license.
Ten Years Ago: March 17, 2003 -
Forty-four years after his NEW YORK radio career began, legendary morning man Harry Harrison will make his last broadcast on WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) this Wednesday morning, in what’s being seen as another sign of big changes coming on the Big Apple’s longtime oldies outlet. Harrison has been a New York fixture since his days as midday man on WMCA (570), where he was a “Good Guy” from 1959 until 1968. That year, Harrison replaced Herb Oscar Anderson in morning drive on WABC (770), where he would remain until 1979. In 1980, Harrison began 24 years in morning drive on WCBS-FM, where he’d eventually be joined by other WABC legends including Dan Ingram and Ron Lundy.
Longtime WCBS-FM listeners have already heard some changes in the last year or so: the disappearance of most of the pre-Beatles music from the playlist, the dismissal of morning sports guy Phil Pepe, and the recent departure of another WABC veteran, Dan Daniel, from middays — so it’s no wonder that the abruptness of Harrison’s departure (he announced for the first time on Friday’s show that this Wednesday’s would be his last) is sparking plenty of discussion on the message boards and beyond.
Harrison says the decision to leave WCBS-FM right now is all his — and he’s not “retiring,” leaving the door open to a return to the dials at some point. WCBS-FM hasn’t named a replacement; Dan Taylor will be doing the shift on an interim basis after Harrison’s final show, which he’ll broadcast in front of a live audience at Manhattan’s Museum of Television and Radio.
Only Harry Harrison is big enough to keep this next item from being our lead story this week: more than a year after it launched, the YES network has finally won carriage on the Cablevision systems serving Long Island, northern New Jersey, southern Connecticut, the Bronx, Westchester and Rockland. A deal reached between Cablevision and YES last week provides at least a little something to make both sides happy: Cablevision won’t have to make YES available on its basic tier (thus increasing cable rates for all its subscribers), instead offering it a la carte for $1.95 or as part of a sports tier with MSG and Fox Sports NY for $4.95 a month; YES gets the same $2.12 per subscriber per month from Cablevision that it’s been charging other cable operators. It’s a mixed bag for Yankees fans: some of them had been getting MSG and Fox Sports without an extra fee (they’ll now have to pay for that $4.95 package, though their basic cable rate will decrease somewhat), and anyone who wants YES will need a set-top box to descramble the channel.
A station sale in MASSACHUSETTS is all in the family: Marlin Broadcasting is selling WBOQ (104.9 Gloucester) to Westport Broadcasting for $5.8 million, but the sale really just shifts the station from Woody Tanger to his son Doug. WBOQ started out in the late eighties as classical “W-Bach,” the successor to Simon Geller’s legendary one-man WVCA operation, but in recent years it’s become a swinging standards station.
Fifteen Years Ago: March 19, 1998 -
Once again, NEW HAMPSHIRE tops this week’s news — and again, it’s because of job cuts in Granite State radio. Capstar continued to make staff cuts at Manchester’s WGIR (610/101.1) this week, starting with the entire morning show on the FM side. Alan Baxter (known on air by last name only, Elle B., “Silent Steve” Gamelin, and “Jeff the Intern” were notified after Monday’s show that they’re out of work. Afternoon host Fil Robert Kaye is handling morning duties temporarily, but NERW hears that the long-term plan is to simulcast the Greg Kretschmer and Jeanmarie morning show from sister station WHEB (100.3) in Portsmouth. On the AM side at WGIR, sports director Rich Levine is the latest to be fired. Former news director Bill Rossi, meantime, has taken a job with Metro Networks in Boston.
It’s not just Capstar, though; down the Everett Turnpike in Nashua, five staffers at WSMN (1590) are out of work, including longtime WSMN personalities John Halbert and Nick Diamond. New PD Ned Crecilius (of WADN Concord MA) is installing a local talk format at WSMN, with hosts including Woody Woodland, a former sportscaster and salesman at the late WOTW-FM (106.3). WSMN is playing adult contemporary music in middays and evenings for now.
Up north, we hear WQTH (720) in Hanover is going back to the drawing boards to build its four-tower array, after a local zoning board gave a thumbs-down to the 266-foot towers. Will Bob Vinikoor’s new 50-kilowatter make its fall target date? We’ll keep you posted… (2013 update: WQTH never ended up being built.)
In CONNECTICUT, the unlicensed Nueva Radio Musical (104.5) in New Haven remains off the air for now, while trying to fix some problems that were causing interference to licensed WYBC (94.3) in the city’s Hill neighborhood. The station’s operators have gathered 2,000 signatures on a petition calling on the FCC to grant them a waiver to return to the air without a license and below the usual 100 watt minimum.
Up the road in Hamden, the town zoning board is considering an application by WKCI (101.3) to build a new 625-foot tower on Gaylord Mountain Road, just down the hill from WKCI’s current site on the tower of WTNH (Channel 8). WTNH isn’t renewing WKCI’s lease for tower space — so WKCI needs the new stick to stay on the air from its current site. Neighbors are expressing the usual concerns about a “tower farm” in their backyards…
The founder of what was once one of MASSACHUSETTS’ largest radio/TV groups has died. Thomas O’Neill was working in the Boston office of his family’s tire business in the late 1940s when he paid a visit to the Yankee Network, the radio broadcaster that General Tire had recently purchased. He’s said to have returned from the visit and told his family that he was more interested in radio than tires — a decision that led to the formation of General Teleradio in 1948. General Teleradio put WNAC-TV (Channel 7) on the air that June, and grew over the next decade to include stations in New York (WOR) and Los Angeles (KHJ) as well. In 1954, O’Neil bought RKO Radio Pictures from Howard Hughes and General became RKO General.
O’Neil remained chairman of RKO General until his retirement in 1985, as the company was forced to sell many of its licenses (including WRKO radio and WNAC-TV) following accusations of billing irregularities. O’Neil died Saturday of heart failure at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 82.
In other Bay State news, WCCM (800) in Lawrence has been granted FCC approval of its sale from Curt Gowdy to Costa-Eagle — but “with conditions,” according to the FCC database. We’ll let you know more as we learn it.