In this week’s issue… Dissecting the FCC’s AM proposals – Vista launches Niagara simulcast – Nexstar builds Binghamton duopoly – PA college station in jeopardy – Bankruptcy ends 50-year radio career
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*AM broadcasters across the region – and across the country – are watching the FCC closely in the wake of last week’s Radio Show in Orlando. Two commissioners (out of just three on the Commission right now) have now signed on to what appears to be a fast-track agenda aimed at bringing some new life to the senior band, a move that’s raising more questions than answers right now. We’ll have more from Orlando and the Show a little later in this week’s column, but first we offer some informed opinion and speculation about just what’s happening with AM and the FCC:
It’s easy to point the finger of blame for AM’s troubles these last few decades on the FCC itself. There have certainly been some misguided policy moves that have ended up hurting AM more than they’ve helped. The complicated “ratchet rule” that took effect in the 1980s was designed to reduce overall AM interference, but in practice has served largely to prevent older AM stations from being able to move to new transmitter sites from which they might offer better service. The breakdown of the old clear channels and addition of minimal night power for hundreds of former daytimers raised the noise floor across the band dramatically. The failure to settle on an AM stereo standard in the 1980s effectively killed that technology, and whatever promise it brought of better AM audio quality was further quashed a decade later with the current NRSC audio standards that serve to significantly limit AM frequency response. Radio manufacturers (which, these days, pretty much means car radio makers) responded by even more tightly limiting AM bandwidth, furthering the present-day conventional wisdom that AM “just sounds bad.”
Those factors, while all supported by the FCC’s actions, originated not at the Portals (or at M Street before that), but with broadcasters themselves. In a sense, AM broadcasters have been their own worst enemies for the last few decades, in no small part because there are so many conflicting agendas at play among the 5,000 or so AM licensees across the breadth of the U.S.
To hear broadcasters tell it, every AM station in America is a picture-perfect community station, owned by a mom and pop who’ve been trying to provide local news and sports to their small town since 1947 or thereabouts. There are certainly some of those stations still out there, and we’ve tried diligently in this space to highlight their service – but for every WBTA or WINY or WDEV out there in smaller markets, or for every WBZ, WOR or KYW still providing solid big-signal service to a big city, there are probably a dozen other AMs that are less picture-perfect, at least where the FCC’s current endeavor is concerned. It’s not hard to find examples of other AMs that provide far less value to the listener these days: the forgotten stepsisters attached to larger, more profitable clusters of FMs; the well-intentioned stand-alone that just couldn’t quite pull the money together to remain functional; the rack of equipment plugged into a satellite feed from thousands of miles away.
Therein lies the problem: the way FCC policy has been constructed for the last few decades, the Commission effectively cannot distinguish between all those wildly divergent species of AM operations. Blame that, if you will, on the end of the comparative-hearing era and the rise of the postcard renewal. Since the 1980s, any AM station that’s met the minimal threshold of being on the air, running EAS tests and maintaining some vestige of a public file has been just as equally entitled to benefit from changes in the FCC rules as any other AM licensee. (The one major exception turned out to be a failure for other reasons – the AM band expansion to 1700 kHz in the 1990s was based entirely on interference reduction on the existing band, but in the end removed almost no existing signals from the dial.)
By way of comparison, consider the example from north of the border. It’s widely believed that Canada established a policy to migrate its entire AM band to the FM dial over the course of the last quarter-century. What’s really happened is a little more complex: after attempting a regulatory scheme to keep the AM band alive (with strict limits on hit music content on FM, for instance), Canadian regulators came to a conclusion the FCC has strenuously sought to avoid: what matters, they concluded, is not the platform but the service being provided. In most of Canada, the FM band had been kept clear enough to provide room for new frequencies to be used by former AM licensees – and as soon as those AM licensees could make the case that their service merited a new home on FM, their AM signals were deleted.
On this side of the border, by contrast, the FCC appears to be trying (at the behest of the industry) to have it both ways: it’s offering some proposals that would focus on the service being provided by current AM broadcasters, but at the same time it’s continuing to hold sacred the concept that each of the existing 5,000 or so AM licenses should somehow be able to continue on the AM dial. (Imagine, back in the 1980s, if AM broadcasters had been given first priority for the thousands of new FM frequencies opened by Docket 80-90, and if they’d been allowed to simply transfer their AM authorization to FM rather than continuing to operate both. Instead, many of those 80-90 FMs ended up competing with existing AMs or combining with them at great expense to owners.)
On the “service” side, the proposal outlined by interim FCC chair Mignon Clyburn last week in Orlando would expand the opportunities for AM stations to secure FM translators. There’s been talk in the industry of “5,000 new translators,” but that’s an exaggeration on several levels – first, because the FM spectrum space simply doesn’t exist to provide room for every broadcaster currently shoehorned into the AM dial, and second, because hundreds of forward-thinking AM broadcasters have already picked up translators.
On the “sacred license” side, meanwhile, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking now on circulation among the commissioners appears to buy into the sentiment expressed by some AM owners that more power is their ticket to renewed success. If you’ve been reading some of the national trades in recent months, you’ve read opinion pieces from the owners of several class D stations on regional channels explaining how full-power night authorization would make their stations viable. What about skywave interference, either to existing stations or from other new night signals? “You’re right, I don’t know anything about that,” was the actual quote from an actual class D station owner talking about his understanding of the laws of physics that govern medium-wave skywave propagation – even as he argued for his station’s desperate need to provide useful service after dark.
It is, in short, a giant mess – and it may well be that the mess dates all the way back to the 1940s, when the FCC began to allow relatively uncrowded regional channels to fill up as full as they could get. If it took a complex directional array to get the magic “5,000 watts full-time” into the promotional materials, that was OK. Can’t squeeze in a full-timer? A little pressure from a local would-be station owner on his congressman and the FCC cleared the way for a daytimer on a regional channel. By the dawn of the 1960s, those regional channels were packed so tightly that nobody had room to move, even as their markets began to grow far outside their 1940s-era signal patterns.
So it has gone now for seven decades: each time a creative station owner finds a way to start filling a corner of the dial, the FCC’s presumption is that every possible bit of that new space should be allowed to be filled, regardless of the long-term effects on the industry. The result, time and again, has been disastrous. Most of those AM “sacred licenses” struggling the hardest to survive came to life between the 1940s and the near-complete filling of the AM dial in the 1980s.
For most of that time, the FCC at least looked for some threshold showing from a proposed licensee that it could make an initial economic success of itself. By the time the 80-90 FMs had filled up in the 1990s, even that requirement was gone – and when the most recent FM translator window drew 12,000 applications in 2003, FCC policy dictated that even if it took more than a decade, pretty much every space on which a translator was technically grantable would be filled, never mind that many of those applications had become purely speculative in nature. That, in turn, has led to years of delays as the translator policy bangs up against a conflicting FCC priority to clear space for low-power FM.
And now comes the “service side” of Clyburn’s proposal: at some point in the fairly new future, the interim FCC chair says there will be a one-time-only filing window in which AM stations can apply for one translator each. In practice, this window is unlikely to yield more than a few hundred more translators; in urban areas, the dial simply doesn’t have room, and in outlying areas, many AMs already have obtained their translators. Nowhere in the proposal is any sort of provision, sought by at least some AM operators, to allow for a translator-style FM license to replace an existing AM, allowing the AM signal to go silent and to clear some congestion on the dial.
Instead, the rest of Clyburn’s plan would even further clog the noisy medium-wave spectrum. It would kill the despised ratchet rule, which is probably for the best, and would allow existing AMs still more flexibility to relocate by reducing city-of-license coverage requirements and by allowing shorter radiators that would throw up still more skywave at distant co-channel stations.
It’s likely to be a popular set of proposals for struggling AM station owners, and we have a lot of sympathy for many of them. But it’s no substitute for the sort of fully-thought-out plan for the band that’s been missing for many decades now. Does the FCC actually intend to promote greater listening to the AM band itself? If so, it doesn’t seem that moving “AM stations” to FM is the way to do it. Is the goal to throw a lifeline to AM station owners? If that’s the case, why force them to continue to operate on AM at all? (There are other broadcasters who’d argue, with some justification, that AM owners who sold their original FMs years ago shouldn’t get a “double dip” at the FM trough now.)
There is, in short, lots to digest here and every reason to believe that these moves, too, will yield all sorts of unexpected consequences. We’ll be watching closely as the FCC begins to turn commissioners’ speeches into policy reality. (And with our consulting hat on, Fybush Media is ready to provide assistance to station owners looking to navigate these new realities – contact us if you’d like a free initial consultation!)
What’s your take on the FCC’s AM proposals? Join us for the conversation in our comment section, below, and over at our content partners at the new RadioInsight Community. And please feel free to share our thoughts (and yours) widely – the more discussion, the better!
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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: September 24, 2012
*After nearly a year’s absence, Family Radio is returning to the radio dial in southeast PENNSYLVANIA and southern NEW JERSEY with the purchase of WPEN (950 Philadelphia) from Greater Media.
A year ago, it appeared the network’s parent company, Family Stations, Inc., was nearing its own end times. The California-based religious broadcaster, once among the nation’s biggest, had spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign pushing founder Harold Camping’s warning that the apocalypse would begin in May 2011 (“It Is Guaranteed!,” boasted the billboards) and the network had put two of its big commercially-licensed signals up for sale to try to make ends meet.
By late 2011, Family had exited the Philadelphia market with the $22.5 million sale of WKDN (106.9 Camden NJ), which flipped to commercial operation as Merlin Media’s WWIQ. It appeared at the time that the network had no intention of coming back; after all, in its previous sales of commercial FM facilities in San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, Family had remained on the air by purchasing or swapping for AM signals with reasonable coverage, but in Philadelphia it left the airwaves entirely. (Family’s other commercial sale in 2011 was Washington-Baltimore market WFSI-FM, which went to CBS Radio; Family already owned two Baltimore AM signals which retained the network’s programming in at least part of the former FM coverage area.)
And now that Family appears to have stabilized its finances under new management (Camping, now 91, is in poor health and largely removed from day-to-day operations there), it’s coming back to Philadelphia – and solving a bit of a quandary for Greater Media, too.
Earlier in the decade, Greater had invested millions of dollars in upgrading WPEN’s AM signal to become more competitive in the market, boosting daytime power at the station’s existing site in the Overbrook neighborhood and relocating 950′s nighttime service to the Germantown transmitter site of daytimer WWDB (860). While the technical improvements indeed made 950 available to more potential Philadelphia listeners, the future was clearly on the FM dial – and three years ago, that’s why Greater blew up top-40 “Now 97.5″ (WNUW Burlington NJ) and replaced it with a WPEN-FM sports simulcast. “97.5 the Fanatic” has never quite edged out CBS Radio’s WIP (even before WIP made its own AM-to-FM move) in the ratings, but it’s been a success for Greater nonetheless, recently landing rights to 76ers basketball and Flyers hockey, should that season actually take place.
So what to do with 950? The AM signal, though branded separately as “950 AM ESPN,” was nearly a total simulcast of 97.5 – and it wasn’t even serving much of a purpose as a home for programming overflow; the Flyers, for instance, had already negotiated to have their games bumped to Greater Media rocker WMMR (93.3) in the event of a conflict with the Sixers. (Villanova University sports were AM-only, and it’s not clear where they’ll go now.)
The sale of 950 leaves Greater Media as a four-FM cluster in Philadelphia: WMMR, WPEN-FM, adult hits WBEN-FM (95.7) and classic rock WMGK (102.9). The terms of the deal haven’t yet been announced, though it appears Family won’t take control of the AM signal until closing – and it raises a few more interesting questions:
*While Greater Media spins off its excess AM in Pennsylvania, Entercom is finding a new use for its extra AM signal in MASSACHUSETTS. It’s been just over a year since Entercom launched WEEI-FM (93.7 Lawrence) in the Boston market, and the rumors of a flip at WEEI (850 Boston) have been percolating almost from the moment the FM simulcast was first announced. Conventional wisdom suggested Entercom would flip 850 to a full-time ESPN Radio outlet, and conventional wisdom prevailed – once 850 was all done broadcasting the disaster that was this year’s Boston Red Sox, anyway.
The flip will happen on October 5, kicking off with a live broadcast of ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” morning show from Gillette Stadium. The WEEI-ESPN deal includes a link from ESPN’s own ESPNBoston.com site to WEEI’s live streaming and from WEEI.com to ESPN’s video streaming. Entercom says the Sox will be heard in 2013 only on 93.7 in the Boston market. That’s now a pretty decent FM signal in most of the market – but we suspect that the Sox fan base (if there are any left by then!) will be registering more than a few complaints about that FM signal in areas such as the Back Bay and Newton/Needham where 93.7 can be drowned out on cheap radios by the market’s big master FM facilities, but where the 50-kilowatt 850 signal booms in loud and clear.
One more big WEEI note: whichever band it’s on, the sports station can now boast a Marconi Award, winning the “Sports Station of the Year” award at last week’s Radio Show in Dallas. (Additional NERW-land Marconi winners include WFAN’s Mike Francesa, for Major Market Personality of the Year, New York’s WBLS, for Urban Station of the Year, and Philadelphia’s WOGL, Oldies Station of the Year.)
*A few days before WEEI launches ESPN on AM 850, another Boston broadcaster will be launching a new service on a secondary channel: October 1 is the official launch date for the “MeTV” retro channel on WCVB-TV’s 5.2 subchannel in the Boston market. The arrival of “MeTV” on 5.2 will also mean its departure from its current home on WMFP (Channel 62), where owner NRJ TV says it has replacement programming in the works, though it hasn’t said just what that programming will be.
NRJ TV, in turn, was itself in the news last week with the announcement of a $9 million deal to buy WGCB-TV (Channel 49/RF 30) in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, four years after the death of station founder John L. Norris. At one time, Norris presided over an empire of religious broadcasting based at Red Lion, near York, that included AM, FM, TV and shortwave signals. The AM/FM incarnations of WGCB are now in Cumulus hands (as WGLD 1440 and WSOX-FM 96.1), and the sale of the TV station leaves Norris’ heirs with only WINB shortwave, just down the road from the WGCB-TV studio/transmitter site southeast of York.
So what becomes of WGCB-TV now? In the long run, the common wisdom (which NRJ publicly denies) is that NRJ is buying up small UHF stations around the country in hopes of cashing in down the road when the FCC’s eventual spectrum auctions allow licensees to shut down their signals in exchange for revenue from the wireless broadband providers eager for more of the UHF spectrum. In the short term, it’s likely WGCB’s existing programming will continue. NRJ continues to have a relationship with MeTV (it owns Me’s New York City-market affiliate, WZME 43 Bridgeport CT), and MeTV makes up much of WGCB’s schedule on 49.1, as well as being seen fulltime on 49.2.
*Bouncing back to New England once more, October 1 is the date for big schedule changes at NEW HAMPSHIRE Public TV. Beset by budget difficulties after the state pulled its $2.7 million in annual funding, NHPTV is partnering up with Boston’s WGBH to manage many of its operations, including its programming – and WGBH plans to provide New Hampshire viewers with essentially the same schedule on NHPTV’s two channels that it already runs on its own WGBH 2 and WGBX 44 channels.
When those schedule changes take effect, NHPTV will be pulled from the Massachusetts cable systems that have long carried it, while WGBH will vanish from cable in New Hampshire, making room for additional feeds of WGBH’s World, Create and Kids multicast services.
WGBH will provide its nightly “Greater Boston” public affairs show to New Hampshire viewers over NHPTV, and yes, NHPTV will continue to carry the Lawrence Welk Show on weekends over its NHPTV Explore subchannel. (Welk fans in Massachusetts will be out of luck, at least for now, and we expect they’ll let WGBH hear about that…)
*The latest battle for space on the crowded FM dial is happening in Fairfield County, CONNECTICUT, where religious WIHS (104.9 Middletown) has long enjoyed fringe reception…at least until Red Wolf Broadcasting powered up W285DE (104.9 Bridgeport) as a relay of its Spanish-language “La Bomba” (WMRQ 104.1-HD2). WIHS submitted three interference complaints to the FCC over the summer (including one from a listener across Long Island Sound and one, apparently from the station’s own chief engineer, alleging interference to mobile reception), and now the Commission has directed Red Wolf to report back within 30 days on a resolution to those complaints.
There’s a change of radio news providers on the AM dial in Fairfield County: WICC (600 Bridgeport) has switched from IRN-USA News to ABC Entertainment (which only makes sense, considering that WICC owner Cumulus now distributes ABC Radio News as well); Cumulus has also replaced CBS Radio News with ABC on WKNY (1490 Kingston NY).
*Radio People on the Move in NEW YORK: Steve Giuttari departed Clear Channel Poughkeepsie over the summer to become operations manager at Townsquare Media in Albany – and now recently-departed Townsquare Albany PD Terry O’Donnell has reversed the trip, joining Clear Channel in Poughkeepsie as PD of WRNQ (92.1 Lite FM, where he’ll also do afternoons), WPKF (96.1 Kiss FM) and WKIP (1450)/WJIP (1370). What becomes of current PD Chris Marino? He gets promoted to Giuttari’s old job, becoming operations director for the entire cluster; he’ll also continue to program WRWD/WRWB and WBWZ and do afternoons on WPKF.
*WGBH and NHPTV aren’t the only public broadcasters shuffling their schedules in the region. In New York City, WNYC’s decision to move “The Takeaway” from morning production to middays was just the beginning of some bigger changes at AM 820 and FM 93.9. “Morning Edition” is now simulcast on both services beginning at 6:30 AM, with “Takeaway” moving from morning drive on AM 820 to 9 AM on 820 and 3 PM on 93.9. On weekday evenings, 93.9 has made its 9 PM carriage of the CBC’s “Q with Jian Ghomeshi” permanent after a summer tryout. And on weekends, the big (and so far, most controversial) change finds Jonathan Schwartz’s Saturday standards show moving from its longtime noon-4 PM slot on 93.9 to the 8 PM-midnight slot. (And WNYC evidently avoided some controversy by reversing plans to remove the late Danny Stiles from his Saturday night slot on AM 820; tracks from the “Vicar of Vintage Vinyl” continue to be heard from 8-10 PM on the AM station for the time being.)
*Love him or hate him, Bob Grant is one of the legendary voices of talk radio in New York City, so the reports that his health issues might be causing him to hang up the headphones at WABC (770) caused some excitement last week. As it turns out, the 83-year-old Grant isn’t retiring from his Sunday afternoon shift after all, though he’s reportedly planning to take a month or so off.
Grant, interestingly, isn’t in the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but when the Hall grows by six inductees next month, his former WOR colleague Joan Hamburg will be one of them. Hamburg, who’s still heard in middays on WOR, will be honored for her four decades on the air in New York City. Scott Shannon, morning man at WPLJ (and before that at Z100) will be inducted for his three decades shaking up New York radio. Len Berman gets in for his long career in sports, most recently as sports director at WNBC (Channel 4). Mike Wallace will be inducted posthumously for his even longer career, which included a long stint in local New York TV before he became an iconic face of “60 Minutes.” And two retiring upstate TV icons will be inducted as well at next month’s ceremony in New York City: Jackie Robinson just signed off at Syracuse’s WSTM (Channel 3) and Rich Funke calls it a career later this fall at Rochester’s WHEC (Channel 10).
Speaking of WSTM, it reworks its news schedule rather dramatically this week: starting this morning, “Today in CNY” will take the Channel 3 airwaves at 4 AM, an hour earlier than its previous 5 AM start time and a half-hour earlier than the 4:30 AM start time at WSYR-TV (Channel 9). The shift to an earlier start also means an earlier end to the morning crew’s day at CNY Central – which means no more noon newscast on WSTM or sister station WTVH (Channel 5).
*A little Buffalo radio history? The Buffalo Broadcasters Association inducted six more members of its Hall of Fame Thursday night at the usual gala ceremony at the WNED studios.
This year’s nominees included longtime Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret, veteran photojournalist Bill Cantwell, longtime WGR (550) talent Mike Roszman, MaryLynn Ryan, Tom Calderone, and newsman Lee Coppola, who became dean of the journalism school at St. Bonaventure University. The ceremony also marked the 50th anniversary of Buffalo’s 106.5 FM, now WYRK but for many years beautiful music WADV – and the WADV days at the Rand Building have now been chronicled in a wonderful history website at www.wadv-fm.org.
(Two of the state’s Channel 13s are also celebrating their 50th anniversaries this month: Rochester’s WHAM-TV, formerly WOKR, put on its “13 Stories in 50 Years” special last week, and New York public broadcaster WNET is doing a multi-part “Pioneers of THIRTEEN” series.)
Five Years Ago: September 22, 2008
*When former WBZ-TV sportscaster Bob Lobel and WODS (103.3 Boston) afternoon jock Karen Blake teamed up for a brief stint as guest hosts of WODS’ morning show a few months ago, it’s a good bet that nobody listening (and perhaps not even Lobel and Blake themselves) expected the pairing to become permanent.“Permanent” may still be a bit of a stretch – but starting today, Lobel and Blake will take over from Dale Dorman (now relegated to Saturday duty, beginning next weekend) as the new morning team on “Oldies 103.”
What’s going on over at 83 Leo Birmingham Parkway? The message boards and mailing lists were alight with speculation over the weekend, up to and including the idea (improbable, we’d think) that Lobel, along with the Patriots and Bruins rights that CBS holds on its other Boston stations, could be the building blocks of a new all-sports station on 103.3.
CBS itself isn’t saying much beyond the suggestion that the presence of Lobel, who’s been on the beach since being bought out of his WBZ-TV contract last year, may be only in a “guest host” role – which, of course, only fuels speculation about what PD Jay Beau Jones might have in mind over the long term.
Playing into that speculation are a few more moves: J.J. Wright appears to be Blake’s replacement in afternoons, and former evening jock Patrick Callahan just returned to the station last week, after budget cuts claimed his job back in February. (He’d been over at Greater Media’s WROR in the meantime.) Oh, and out in Worcester, morning co-host Chris Zito disappeared from Citadel’s WXLO (104.5 Fitchburg) late last week – and did we mention that Jay Beau Jones used to program WXLO before moving to WODS?
*In other news from eastern MASSACHUSETTS, budget cuts hit hard at Metro Networks’ Boston office early last week, claiming the jobs of about half a dozen staffers, including Joe Stapleton, who’d been with Metro for 23 years. Mauzy Stafford, who’d been heard in mornings on WODS, Chris Fama and news director Bob MacNeil lost their jobs as well.
Some good news? Sure – Entercom’s WEEI took home “Sports Station of the Year” in the NAB’s Marconi Radio Awards, handed out at last week’s NAB Radio Show down in Austin, Texas. Across the hall at the Radio and Records convention, CBS Radio’s WBMX won “best hot AC station,” while music director Mike Mullaney won the “music director of the year” honors. Congratulations, all around…
*A venerable VERMONT station brand is back on the air in the Burlington market, as Vox’s WXZO (96.7 Willsboro NY) flipped last Wednesday (Sep. 17) at 9 AM from talker “the Zone” to oldies as “True Oldies 96.7 DOT-FM.”
Credit Vox honcho Ken Barlow for this one – the original WDOT (then on 1400, now WCAT 1390) was one of his first stops in the business as a young DJ, and the new DOT-FM brings together several WDOT alumni: after Don Imus (who stays on from the old format), it’s Dave Hunter from 9 AM-noon, Barlow from noon-4 PM, Big John Hill from 4-7 PM, and then ABC’s True Oldies (last heard in the market on Vox’s WVTK 92.1) with Scott Shannon at night. Another WDOT veteran, R.J. Potter, is doing weekends.
The “Zone” talk format stays in place on the AM side of the former simulcast, WEAV (960 Plattsburgh NY) and WTSJ (1320 Randolph), and the WXZO calls will stay in place on 96.7. That’s because the WDOT calls are in use elsewhere in Vermont – on 95.7 in Danville, part of the “Point” AAA simulcast owned by one of Vox’s competitors, Steven Silberberg, who also owns DOT-FM’s oldies competition in the Burlington market, WXAL (93.7 Addison), as well as WCAT, the former WDOT itself.
And a correction – WJPK (100.3 Barton) is indeed on the air playing country, but it’s actually “Hot New Country,” as “Kix 100.3,” simulcasting sister station WKXH (105.5 St. Johnsbury).
*Another MAINE TV station has turned off its analog signal. WPME (Channel 35) pulled the plug on its analog transmitter on Wednesday (Sept. 17), running a slate directing viewers to WPME-DT.The callsigns are spinning at Atlantic Coast Broadcasting’s Portland-market stations as they settle in with their new formats: the former WLOB-FM (96.3 Gray) is now WJJB-FM, reflecting its mve from the WLOB talk format (still heard on WLOB 1310 Portland) to the “Big Jab” sports network. The former WJJB-FM (95.5 Topsham) took the calls WUEI on Sept. 5, then flipped again to WGEI on Sept. 12. It’s now part of the WEEI sports network, and it’s being simulcast on 95.9 in Saco, which inexplicably changed calls from WRED(FM) to WRED-FM on Sept. 9, and which has not yet legally changed to the WPEI calls it apparently intends to use.
And Nassau is putting the word out about its big format shuffle, set to happen October 2: classical “W-Bach” will move from WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk) and WBQW (106.3 Scarborough) to what’s now “Bone” rocker WHXQ (104.7 Kennebunkport); “Bone” will move to the 106.3 Scarborough facility (still simulcasting with WHXR 106.7 North Windham), while 99.3 will become a simulcast of Nassau’s “Wolf” country WTHT (99.9 Auburn).
*When the FCC sits down for an open commission meeting on Thursday, one of the topics on the agenda is the protest filed by some Ithaca radio listeners to what they see as excessive media consolidation in that small upstate NEW YORK city.As of this past Thursday (Sept. 18) at 5 PM, Ithaca’s dominant radio cluster, the 2 AM/3 FM Saga Communications group, has some new commercial competition – Finger Lakes Radio Group’s WFIZ (95.5 Odessa), playing top 40 as “Z-95.5, Ithaca’s Hit Music Channel.”
As NERW readers know, this is the former WFLR-FM (95.9 Dundee), now relocated to Connecticut Hill, overlooking Ithaca, with studios in the South Hill Business Campus on Danby Road. While WFIZ kicks off its debut with 10,000 songs in a row, sans commercials or jocks, WFLR-FM’s country format has completed its move to WFLR (1570 Dundee) and FM translator W245BL (96.9 Dundee), imaging as “Country 96.9 and 1570.”
The debut of WFIZ also means a venerable Ithaca translator has to move – W238AA (95.5), which now relays WHCU (870), slides up the dial to 95.9.
In Syracuse, Galaxy’s “K-Rock” (WKRL 100.9 North Syracuse/WKRH 106.5 Minetto and Utica-market WKLL 94.9 Frankfort) has found a replacement for departing PD Ty. While she heads down to the Baltimore market and WCHH (Channel 104.3), “Nixon” is heading in the other direction, moving from assistant PD/music director/afternoons at WQXA-FM (105.7 York PA) to the PD chair at K-Rock. (Useless trivia – reverse QXA’s call letters and you have K-Rock’s main Syracuse competition, WAQX…)
Galaxy is selling an Oswego translator: W291BU (106.1) has been relaying “TK105.5″ WTKV (105.5 Oswego), but now it’s being sold to M&D Translator for $5,000.
In Albany, Sherman Baldwin is the new PD at WROW (590), taking the role last filled on a full-time basis by Scott Allen Miller. After Miller’s departure in June, morning co-host Jackie Donovan was apparently handling programming duties at the station; now she’ll be focusing on the morning show she hosts with Steve Van Zandt; Baldwin will take the afternoon air shift that was home to Sacramento-based Mark Williams until last week. Baldwin comes to WROW from WUPE in the Berkshires, and he’s promising to bring a liberal perspective to the station, which has been sparring with upstart competitor WGDJ (1300 Rensselaer) and Clear Channel’s established WGY (810 Schenectady) for the talk audience.
As we’d predicted last week, the WZCC calls that temporarily resided on the new 1400 construction permit in Middletown are gone – Bud Williamson has moved those down to 1240 in Cross City, Florida, bringing the WMJQ calls from Cross City back up to the Empire State. (Those calls have heritage in both the Rochester and Buffalo markets, and had been on another unbuilt Williamson CP, for 1330 in Ontario, NY.)
And while this column has made no secret over the years of our baseball leanings (Go Sox!), we can’t let the week go by without a farewell to the spot where so much Red Sox history happened. The last game at Yankee Stadium Sunday night gave broadcasters a chance to shine – not only the WCBS (880) team of Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling, who got the chance for one last “Thuuuuuuuuh Yankees Win!” call from the old stadium, but also the YES Network’s Michael Kay. Even though the game coverage was on ESPN, that network graciously invited Kay to call the seventh inning from its booth, a classy note on a very classy night for a team that may not be heading to the postseason, but is certainly honoring its history with grace and style. (Now, about those Tampa Bay Rays…)
WROG signed off from Cumberland a month ago to make room for a signal upgrade at Stevens’ WANB-FM (103.1 Waynesburg), and Stevens now holds a construction permit to move the WROG license to Chambersburg, downgrading it to a class A signal which WITF will use as a news-talk station.
The move will displace W227BZ, a translator for low-power WRZO-LP (102.9) in Chambersburg – but the LPFM station says that’s not a problem, because the translator was there primarily to alleviate interference to WRZO from WROG, and with WROG gone from 102.9, that’s no longer an issue.
We’re sure WITF will find a welcoming audience in Chambersburg for its programming – but not, apparently, among the online readers of the local paper, the Public Opinion, who were weighing in with some nasty comments on the paper’s message board last week. (And you wonder why we don’t have a message board here at NERW?)
*In NEW JERSEY, last Monday (Sept. 15) brought Catholic programming to WBUD (1260 Trenton) – and new calls, as well: it’s now WFJS, honoring the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (who was, we’d note parochially, bishop of the Rochester diocese as well as the first prominent Catholic TV priest.)
Millennium kept the WBUD calls in house, however – they’ve migrated up the dial and over to the shore, replacing WADB on 1310 in Asbury Park, which continues as a Fox Sports outlet.
Down in Cape May County, WSJQ (106.7 North Cape May) changed calls to WKOE in August – and now it’s changed format as well, flipping on Friday to country as “Coast Country 106.7.” The syndicated “John Boy & Billy” show now occupies morning drive there.
*Radio People on the Move in southern New England: Chris Eagan moves from WPRO-FM (92.3) in Providence, RHODE ISLAND to WEZN-FM (Star 99.9) in Bridgeport, CONNECTICUT, becoming assistant PD and afternoon drive jock and replacing former New York talent Steven E. Roy on that airshift.
Ten Years Ago: September 22, 2003
*It was a bad week for modern rock fans in New England – and nowhere more so than in Hartford, CONNECTICUT, where Clear Channel abruptly pulled the plug on modern rock “Radio 104″ WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury) at 4 o’clock last Monday afternoon (Sept. 15), replacing it with urban “Power 104.1,” a clone of the successful WWPR (105.1 New York) that launched a year and a half ago down in the big city. The new “Power” is a direct competitor to Infinity’s WZMX (93.7 Hartford), which took the market by storm when it began playing hip-hop and R&B in the spring of 2001. WMRQ’s old format lives on for now as a Webcast (www.radio104.com), albeit without jocks or PD. One of WMRQ’s jocks, afternoon host/APD/MD Chaz Kelly, has already landed a new gig – she stays within the company and moves down I-91 to become PD of top 40 WKCI (101.3 Hamden) in the New Haven market.
*Hurricane Isabel whipped her way across the northeast last week, knocking many stations off the air for at least a few hours – and taking down one PENNSYLVANIA tower. Philadelphia’s WHAT (1340) lost its tower Thursday night at the height of the storm. The Inner City Broadcasting urban talker had a long history with this tower, located on Conshohocken Avenue not far from the big Bala Cynwyd studio cluster.
*An upstate NEW YORK talk show host is off the air this week after making allegedly racist comments about a candidate for Monroe County executive. Rochester mayor (and Democratic candidate) Bill Johnson is black – and it’s not hard to figure out why people took offense to comments WHAM (1180) midday host Bob Lonsberry reportedly made last week about an “orangutan” in the race. (Playing monkey sound effects didn’t help, either.)
The controversy hit the Democrat and Chronicle (one of several media outlets in town that’s a former Lonsberry employer) on Saturday, and today Lonsberry was off the air, with a substitute host at the mike. At the end of the show, WHAM played a taped message from a tired-sounding Lonsberry, in which he offered a lukewarm apology and suggested that “racism is in the eye of the beholder, not in the heart of the speaker.” (We’ll grant Lonsberry this much – in his statement, he pointed out that when he intends to offend someone, he does so without apology. True.) WHAM’s not saying yet whether or when Lonsberry will be back on the air.
*Another station sale in the region: George Kimble’s Radio Group is expanding to the southern Finger Lakes, buying WFLR (1570) and WFLR-FM (95.9) in Dundee from Lakes Country Communications. We’d be stunned if the AM, a 5000-watt daytimer, doesn’t join the Radio Group’s “Finger Lakes News Network” (WGVA 1240 Geneva, WSFW 1110 Seneca Falls, WAUB 1590 Auburn, WCGR 1550 Canandaigua); we’ll keep an ear on the FM as well, which is now running satellite AC as “Mix 96″ and will join the Radio Group’s AC WNYR (98.5 Waterloo) and rock WLLW (99.3 Seneca Falls.) No purchase price has been announced on this one yet.
Fifteen Years Ago: September 25, 1998
*Two of Boston’s AM stations are changing hands — one as part of a long-anticipated deal, the other out of the blue.
*The expected sale is that of CBS’ WNFT (1150), which was one of the American Radio Systems stations CBS was required to sell in order to satisfy government regulations. The others (WRKO, WEEI, WEGQ, and WBMX) are going to Entercom, and now WNFT is going to Mega Broadcasting for a reported $5 million. Mega’s only current assets in New England are WNEZ (910 New Britain) and WLAT (1230 Manchester) in the Hartford market, and while WLAT fits with Mega’s group profile as a Spanish broadcaster, WNEZ runs an urban format, which leads NERW to wonder whether WNFT will stick with its current ABC/SMN “Touch” R&B oldies format, or whether its future is as a Spanish outlet. In any event, it’s nice to see 1150 being put in the hands of an owner who’ll likely pay some attention to it. Over the last decade, it’s been WHUE, WMEX, WROR, and WNFT, with formats that included business news, oldies, leased-time Spanish, Kidstar children’s programming, simulcasts of several FMs, and a few days as a testbed for digital AM.
*Now for the surprise: “Mr. D” is selling WNTN (1550 Newton). Orestes Demetriades’ Newton Broadcasting Corporation was one of the last single-station owners in the Boston market, running the 10 kilowatt daytimer with a mix of leased-time programming (largely Spanish and Chinese) and AC music. Late word is that WNTN is being sold to Robert Rudnick’s Colt Communications for $602,800.
*A third station sale in MASSACHUSETTS this week is outside the Boston market. WKPE (1170 Orleans) is being donated by GramCam Communications to UMass Boston, which will likely make it the latest outlet in the folk-music network that includes 91.9s WUMB Boston, WFPB Falmouth, and WBPR Worcester. This is the final nail in the coffin of commercial AM on Cape Cod; the other one, WUOK (1240 W. Yarmouth) was donated to Boston University by Ernie Boch last year and became WBUR(AM). WKPE’s rock programming survives on 104.7 FM in Orleans.
*In NEW YORK, doors are spinning at several Rochester radio stations. At CBS, staffers said farewell on Monday to Harry Jacobs, operations manager of WCMF (96.5)/WRMM (101.3) and PD of WCMF. He’s leaving to go to the Burlington, Vermont market, but we’re not sure what he’ll be doing there yet. No replacement has been named. Across town at the Entercom stations, it’s the end of a morning era for country giant WBEE-FM (92.5), as Bill Coffey departs for a sales gig in Reading, PA after a decade on the air in Rochester. And a belated note about WRMM’s weekend schedule: Sundays from 10-3 are now the domain of Mike O’Brian, former PD of WBBF (950) towards the end of its top-40 era. Mike’s also a veteran of WVOR (100.5) and the “What’s On Cable” guy at Time Warner. It’s nice to hear him back on the air…