In this week”s issue… Sinclair adds NE PA combo – Entercom goes “alt” in Buffalo – Pioneering all-news voice dies – Celts, Nets strike new radio deals – Hockey on the Radio, 2013-14 Edition
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*In an era of aggressive consolidation by TV station owners, no company has been more aggressive than Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group and its affiliated companies. Over the last few decades, Sinclair has built multi-station clusters all over the region, starting from one of its original holdings in Pittsburgh and growing with acquisitions that included the former Act III Fox affiliates in upstate New York, the Guy Gannett stations in Springfield and Portland, Freedom”s WRGB in Albany, Newport”s WHAM-TV in Rochester and most recently Barrington”s Syracuse cluster.
Now Sinclair is shoring up its position in PENNSYLVANIA with the $90 million acquisition of New Age Media”s stations in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, along with signals in Tallahassee and Gainesville, Florida.
New Age has been operating three stations in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: it owns Fox affiliate WOLF-TV (Channel 56/RF 45, licensed to Hazleton) outright, operates CW affiliate WSWB (Channel 38/RF 31, licensed to Scranton) under a shared-services agreement with licensee MPS Media of Scranton, and also owns MyNetwork affiliate WQMY (Channel 53/RF 29, licensed to Williamsport) by licensing that station as a satellite of WOLF-TV. (WQMY”s programming also airs on a DTV subchannel of WOLF-TV, while WOLF-TV and WSWB are seen on subchannels of WQMY for Williamsport OTA viewers, in the unlikely event there are any.) As part of the New Age deal, WSWB”s license will be transferred to Sinclair”s partner company, Cunningham Broadcasting, but Sinclair will operate the station.
Sinclair”s acquisition of the WOLF-TV/WSWB/WQMY cluster puts all three of the station groups in the market in the hands of big group owners: Nexstar has been in the market since the 1990s at NBC/CBS combo WBRE (Channel 28)/WYOU-TV (Channel 22), while dominant ABC affiliate WNEP (Channel 16) is part of the pending deal to transfer Local TV LLC”s stations to the reworked Tribune TV group. (It will be in the hands of a shell company, Dreamcatcher Broadcasting, until Tribune can fully separate its TV holdings from the newspapers it”s spinning off, including the Allentown Morning Call at the edge of the market.)
It”s actually possible that Sinclair”s arrival in the market will be a good thing, and here”s why: under New Age and its predecessors Max Media and Pegasus, WOLF-TV has been a relatively low-budget operation. It”s never produced its own news, contracting out first with WNEP and later with WBRE/WYOU to produce a 10 PM newscast. Will Sinclair invest in bringing a third local newsroom to the market? If so, it will have plenty of regional resources to draw on: in addition to its longtime holdings at WPGH/WPMY in Pittsburgh, Sinclair in recent years has acquired NBC outlet WJAC in Johnstown (pairing it more recently with the Fox/ABC duopoly in the market, WWCP/WATM) – and just down the road from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton stations, Sinclair is buying Harrisburg ABC affiliate WHTM (Channel 27) as part of its big-ticket acquisition of Allbritton”s TV stations.
What does all that critical mass add up to? It”s hard to say, especially as Sinclair is still in the midst of digesting everything else it”s been buying, including bigger-market operations such as Allbritton”s WJLA/News Channel 8 in Washington and Fisher”s KOMO-TV in Seattle. But Sinclair dropped a big clue when it bought WJLA: top executives said they see News Channel 8, the cable channel associated with the ABC affiliate, as a model for future growth. Could Sinclair”s sudden big Keystone State presence (it will be in every market except Philadelphia and Erie) lead to some sort of statewide cable operation? Stay tuned…
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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: October 1, 2012
*The last time we wrote about the Plum TV network in this column was back in February, when we noted that “(u)nless you vacation in a high-end hotspot such as Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket or the Hamptons, you’ve probably never heard of” the network aimed at upper-crusters. At the time, Plum’s future looked a little shaky; the network was in the midst of a bankruptcy sale that put it in the hands of a new group called PMG Media, headed by the team that had created the “LX.TV” lifestyle network and sold it to NBC Universal.
This week, Plum gets to play on a bigger stage: effective today, Plum programming moves beyond its traditional home on leased cable channels in ritzy resort areas into full-market coverage in Boston, replacing MeTV’s retro programming on the 62.1 main channel of WMFP-TV. While it’s licensed, ironically enough, to the very un-glitzy, un-resort city of Lawrence, WMFP’s over-the-air signal comes from the centrally-located Needham/Newton tower farm, and the station has cable and satellite coverage across most of eastern MASSACHUSETTS and NEW HAMPSHIRE.
As we’ve noted before, WMFP isn’t really a “TV station” as we’ve come to understand the concept over the last seven decades. In this brave new world of “incentive auctions” and a seemingly insatiable appetite for wireless spectrum, a third-tier operation like WMFP is probably worth more these days for the six megahertz of UHF spectrum it controls than for whatever sort of broadcast revenue it can bring in, which is why it’s widely expected that new owner NRJ TV will seek to cash in on the value of WMFP’s spectrum now that the FCC is ready to move forward with those auctions. In the meantime, though, WMFP still has to be programmed and the power bill on the transmitter has to be paid – so now that MeTV has moved over to WCVB (Channel 5)’s new 5.2 subchannel, it’s Plum’s programming that will be filling WMFP’s 62.1 channel from 7 AM-11 PM daily.
(The RTV retro channel stays put on WMFP’s 62.2, and at least for now, NRJ continues to run MeTV on several of its other stations, including WZME in Bridgeport, CONNECTICUT, serving portions of the New York City market. Might Plum show up there, too, eventually?)
*In Bay State radio news, there’s a cast member missing from Greg Hill’s long-running WAAF (107.3 Westborough)/WKAF (97.7 Brockton) morning show. In his 20 years with WAAF, Kevin Barbare provided many of the show’s comic impressions, parody songs and other funny bits. He’d been working without a contract since August, and Entercom apparently chose not to offer him a new one, instead sending him packing – and spawning a rather large Twitter and Facebook outcry from his fans.
*Jeff Santos is once again looking for a new home for his progressive talk programming, which has now vanished from the schedule at WWZN (1510 Boston), which is rapidly moving to full-time sports talk with a mix of NBC Sports Network and Yahoo! Sports Radio. For now, an hour of his afternoon show is airing on delay from 6-7 AM on leased-time WRCA (1330 Watertown).
*On the North Shore, Costa-Eagle’s WNSH (1570 Beverly) is applying for a power increase, jumping from 30 kW daytime to 50 kW daytime at its existing short tower near the Endicott College baseball field. WNSH will remain at just 85 watts after sunset, and the power boost won’t change the bizarre nature of the 1570 signal: perched on rocky ground near the coast, WNSH blankets the coastline from Cape Cod’s north shore clear up to southern Maine, but its signal dies remarkably quickly as it heads inland.
*VERMONT Public Radio’s expansion continued in late September with the official debut of two new signals. WVBA (88.9 Brattleboro) signed on last Monday (Sept. 24), bringing VPR’s main network to a full-power facility in the state’s southeastern corner for the first time. WVBA replaces VPR’s current Brattleboro translator at 94.5. which will slide over to VPR’s classical network once the transition is complete; it also comes with a new Brattleboro studio at the Marlboro College Graduate Center. Over the weekend, VPR held its annual listener picnic in Brattleboro, featuring an appearance from “Splendid Table” host Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
VPR Classical also arrived in the Rutland area earlier in the month, as the network moved translator W223AV (92.5) from the Manchester area over to its Grandpa’s Knob transmitter site, where its 114-watt signal brings classical programming to Rutland and vicinity for the first time.
(It’s less a disclaimer at this point and more a point of pride: your editor served as a consultant to VPR as it plotted its expansion into two statewide networks, and is immensely proud to see those plans become reality. And in addition to writing the column, I’m always available to help your station or network wade through the morass of FCC regulations and navigate a signal expansion or acquisition.)
*As Clear Channel gets closer to taking control at NEW YORK‘s WOR (710), it will have a new hole on the schedule to fill – and so will dozens of other stations, from Boston’s WRKO (680) to Philadelphia’s WWIQ (106.9) to Pittsburgh’s WPGB (104.7), that have carried all or part of the nightly three-hour talk show hosted by the New York-radical-turned-California-conservative. On Friday, Savage won his lawsuit seeking his freedom from syndicator Talk Radio Network, but at a price: his show was immediately cancelled from the TRN schedule, and Savage will apparently have to stay off the air for a while.
The news broke so suddenly on Friday that most Savage affiliates weren’t prepared with a replacement. In the short term, most of them are expected to stick with TRN, which will be offering replacement hosts in the Savage timeslot; in the longer run, the early evening could offer an opportunity for other players such as Cumulus’ Mark Levin, who’s also live in the same 6-9 PM timeslot Savage used to occupy.
*Up in the Hudson Valley, Savage was heard on delay (9 PM-midnight) after Levin on Clear Channel’s WKIP (1450 Poughkeepsie)/WJIP (1370 Ellenville). That talk simulcast made another schedule change this week: it’s replacing Don Imus in morning drive with a local show, “Hudson Valley Focus Live with Tom Sipos.” Sipos has been hosting a Sunday version of “Hudson Valley Focus” on WKIP/WJIP, and today he takes over the 6-9 AM weekday slot there.
*Imus and Savage and Levin and pretty much anyone else doing telephone talk owe a lot of their success to one man. Steve Church, who died Friday morning at just 57 years old, was a talk show host himself when he became fed up with the lousy quality of the phone company’s interfaces that allowed callers to be heard on the air. But being more than just your average talk host (he was also the chief engineer at the station, Indianapolis’ WFBQ-FM), Church set out to do something about it: he invented the box that became the Telos phone interface, and before long he’d gone from Indianapolis to Cleveland as the chief engineer of WMMS. It was there that he’d meet another engineer named Frank Foti who had a passion for audio processing, and in time Foti’s Omnia processors and Church’s Telos phone systems and Zephyr ISDN codecs would join forces as part of today’s Telos Alliance.
There are two NERW connections here: Foti, of course, went from WMMS to then-sister station WHTZ in the New York market, where he set the world of audio processing on fire. And before Church came to WFBQ, he had a history in Western New York: in the late seventies, he was chief engineer at WBUF (92.9 Buffalo), where he also began his talk career with a weekend late-night talk show.
During his time at Telos, Church’s innovations received just about every honor the industry can bestow. (I interviewed him in 2010 when he received NAB’s Radio Engineering Achievement Award.) In recent years, he’d moved from Cleveland to Latvia to tap into the innovations from Telos’ research center there, though he returned to Cleveland for treatment after being diagnosed with the brain cancer that claimed his life last week.
Syracuse’s channel 9 celebrated its 50th anniversary in style on Thursday with a big party on the campus of Onondaga Community College. The station (originally WNYS-TV, then WIXT and now WSYR-TV) brought back alumni from its history for the event, which was open to the public. The ceremonies were taped for later broadcast on channel 9, which is stretching out its celebration in style – the actual 50th anniversary was back on September 9th (9/9- get it?) and the show will air sometime later this fall.
(Peter Naughton, himself a channel 9 veteran, has many more pictures from the big night posted over on CNYTVNews.com!)
Five Years Ago: September 29, 2008
*One of the legendary voices of northeastern PENNSYLVANIA radio has died. Ron Allen joined Scranton”s dominant top-40 station, WARM (590), back in 1958 as a member of the “Sensational 7″ team of DJs, spending more than a decade doing afternoons and the Saturday countdown.But Allen long outlasted the top-40 heyday of WARM. He transitioned into WARM”s sports director in the late sixties, starting the “Ron Allen Sportsline” show that continued into the early nineties, with a short hiatus in the 70s when he took a PR job at Pocono Downs.
Allen made WARM the voice of high school sports in the region, and he was a major booster of the Red Barons minor-league baseball team when it came to town in 1989.
Allen had been off the air since suffering a stroke in 2000, ending his broadcast career, but he remained in close contact with many of his former colleagues. After his death last Tuesday, some of them traveled from around the country for a Friday wake. Allen”s former colleague Dave Yonki, now proprietor of the “590 Forever” tribute site, reports that attendees included John Hancock, who was PD at WARM in the mid-eighties and now hosts a nighttime talk show on WBT in Charlotte, N.C.
Ron Allen was 71.
*In other Keystone State news, the Scranton morning team of Jay Daniels and John Webster will mark their 5,000th show on WEZX (106.9) on Friday. The Scranton Times-Tribune (which shares ownership and a building with the station) reports that as far as it can tell, that makes the pair the longest-running duo still on the air at the same station where they began. That was back in 1985, and here at NERW we can think of at least one pair that might have Daniels and Webster beat – Indianapolis” Bob and Tom started on WFBQ (94.7) back in 1983, and they”re still there, albeit with national syndication added to their portfolio now. (Any other nominees?)
*There”s some closure to report in the case of Bruce Bond, whose fall from grace was pretty swift after his days in Harrisburg radio (largely at WNNK, with a later comeback at WRKZ) came to an end a few years ago. We last saw Bond in May, when he was arrested in New York City on charges of using stolen bank account information as part of a scheme to forge checks. Last week, Bond pleaded guilty to the charges; he”ll be sentenced (to up to seven years) next month.
*In Philadelphia, WOGL (98.1) has named a permanent replacement for the late Ron O”Brien in afternoon drive: Cadillac Jack Seville, whose Philly radio career stretches back to the old WEGX (Eagle 106), had been doing the shift on an interim basis and now gets to remove “interim” from his title.
*Pittsburgh”s controversial sports talker, Mark Madden, is returning to the airwaves, possibly as early as next Monday. Madden was pulled from the airwaves at WEAE (1250) after some uncomplimentary comments about Ted Kennedy, and now ESPN has released him from his contract (which reportedly had another year left on it) so he can go across town to Clear Channel”s WXDX (105.9 the X). He”ll take over afternoon drive at the station, which is nominally a modern rocker but has always had a strong talk component, going back to its days as Howard Stern”s Steel City outlet. (And as our friends over at PBRTV.com point out, the last hour of Madden”s 3-7 PM shift will find three sports talk shows emanating from Clear Channel”s studios in the “Giant Flash Cube” in Green Tree – Madden on WXDX, Joe Bendel on WBGG 970, and Ellis Cannon on WPGB 104.7.)
*In Erie, WQLN-TV (Channel 54) has disappeared from the analog TV dial. The station”s main antenna failed back on September 15, taking the station off the air completely, and a temporary antenna that was installed last week couldn”t handle both the analog and digital (channel 50) signals. With the end of analog TV fast approaching, and with cable systems on the Canadian side of the border already equipped to receive WQLN-DT for their customers, the public broadcaster decided to restore the digital signal at full power from the auxiliary antenna, leaving the analog off the air until the main antenna can be replaced. That could happen as late as December, giving WQLN”s analog signal just a few more months of life before the plug is pulled for good next February.
*A NEW HAMPSHIRE low-power FM station is getting a new full-power lease on life. The FCC has granted Highland Community Broadcasting, owner of classical WCNH-LP (94.7 Concord), a construction permit for a full-power signal on 91.5 in suburban Bow. Running 100 watts/439″ from Wood Hill, south of Concord, the signal should be an improvement over WCNH”s present 34-watt signal from just west of town. Most critically, the FCC has granted a waiver to allow Highland to continue to operate the LPFM signal while it builds the full-power signal, assuring a smooth transition from 94.7 to 91.5 when the time comes.
*Concord”s WKXL (1450) is returning to the FM dial – but not, as had been suspected, with the purchase of the former WKXL-FM, now silent WWHK (102.3). Instead, Gordon Humphrey”s New Hampshire Family Broadcasting is buying translator W282AF (104.3) from Concord Bible Fellowship; the translator will move to the WKXL tower on Redington Road and has already applied for Special Temporary Authority to relay the AM signal.
*In Keene, Saga”s getting ready to flip programming on its WZBK (1220), replacing the “Unrock” standards format with a simulcast of the progressive talk from sister station WKVT (1490) across the Connecticut River in Brattleboro, VERMONT. WZBK simulcasts on translator W276CB (103.1).
*And here”s a DTV application we”ve been meaning to mention for a while now: if New Hampshire Public Television gets its way, TV broadcasting could return to the highest point in New England for the first time since the 2003 fire that destroyed the Mount Washington transmitter facility of WMTW-TV (Channel 8).
*WLED-DT (Channel 48) currently operates from the same Mann Hill tower that”s home to WLED”s analog signal on channel 49, but NHPTV has a pending application to relocate the DTV signal to WMTW”s former tower on Mount Washington, running 105 kW average power. If granted, the move would give WLED-DT primary coverage over an area extending north almost to Sherbrooke, Quebec, west over Vermont”s Northeast Kingdom, south almost to Concord and east almost to Augusta, MAINE.
*The MASSACHUSETTS Broadcasters Hall of Fame held its induction ceremonies Wednesday afternoon at the Dedham Hilton, and what a class of inductees it was!
The roster included reporter/media critic Bill Buchanan, legendary DJ Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg, WBZ”s Larry Glick, Bob Lobel, Sarah-Ann Shaw and Shelby Scott, veteran TV news anchor Jack Hynes, station owners Norman Knight (Knight Quality Stations) and Donald Thurston (Berkshire Broadcasting) – and that was just the living inductees.
Honored in memoriam were WBZ hosts Carl DeSuze and David Brudnoy, WHDH”s Bob Clayton, TV talk host Louise Morgan, DJs Norm Prescott and Sunny Joe White, and the dean of Boston talk radio, Jerry Williams.
Ten Years Ago: September 29, 2003
*Just as NERW was going to “press” late Sunday night, embattled WHAM talk show host Bob Lonsberry was updating his own Web site with a blistering screed against the community leaders calling for his dismissal. If Lonsberry”s goal was to get himself fired, he succeeded; just after his regular shift had ended Monday afternoon (with transit chief Bill Nojay again on fill-in duty), WHAM issued a statement that Lonsberry had been fired “for inappropriate behavior.”
*The final blow, NERW suspects, was a passage in Lonsberry”s column clearly aimed at Rochester”s Catholic bishop, Matthew Clark, in which Lonsberry called the bishop “nothing more than a funny collar and a title, a self-important relic out of touch with the leadership above and the worshippers below.” For someone supposedly about to attend diversity training (see below), such comments clearly were out of keeping, as WHAM acknowledged in saying “it became obvious to us that (Lonsberry) is not embracing diversity or the beliefs of the station.”
*Lonsberry had been off the air for more than a week, ever since the Democrat and Chronicle got wind of a pair of off-the-cuff comments made during two of his shows in late August and early September. In the first, responding to a news item about an orangutan escaping from the Rochester zoo, Lonsberry headed into a commercial break by saying, “Headline – orangutan escapes from zoo, runs for county executive. Fascinating stuff.” In the second, on September 18, Lonsberry wrapped up his show with his usual “Listeners on the Loose” segment, in which callers have 15 seconds to make a comment or, often, play a sound effect down the line. In response to a caller who played monkey noises, Lonsberry said, “Freakin” monkey”s loose up at the zoo again…and he”s running for county executive. What”s with that?”
*Lonsberry is a frequent and outspoken critic of Democratic county executive candidate and Rochester mayor Bill Johnson, who happens to be black, and the remarks were taken by many as a racist comment on Johnson, whose supporters immediately began circulating tapes of the comments in local media circles. That turned out to be enough to get the D&C to mention the comments on its editorial page – which in turn set off a week of protests against Lonsberry and the station from the local NAACP, a group of religious leaders and the heads of both the local Democratic and Republican parties.
*Lonsberry was absent from the airwaves all week, appearing only in a short and reluctant-sounding recorded apology at the start and finish of Monday”s show. Attorney Frank Cegelski and transit agency chairman Bill Nojay served as guest hosts for the week. And after first announcing that Lonsberry would be back last Wednesday, then today, WHAM and Lonsberry sent out faxes Thursday night announcing that Lonsberry will stay off the air “indefinitely” while he undergoes diversity training. At press time, the NAACP was still demanding Lonsberry”s dismissal and threatening a boycott of the station.
*Some sad news from MASSACHUSETTS: WBZ (1030 Boston) evening talk host David Brudnoy told listeners last week that in addition to fighting AIDS, he”s also suffering from a rare skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma. Brudnoy says he”s already had several lesions removed from his face, and he”ll undergo both chemotherapy and radiation treatment in the weeks to come, which may cause him to miss some of his shifts on WBZ, in addition to his extensive additional work as a WSBK (Channel 38) commentator, newspaper movie critic and Boston University journalism professor.
*A format change in VERMONT: Bob Vinikoor”s WNBX (1480 Springfield) has dropped its simulcast of talker WNTK-FM (99.7 New London NH) to become “Real Oldies 1480,” with market veteran Ray LaMire (late of WMXR in Woodstock) doing mornings and a talented lineup of voices tracking the rest of the day (you should hear the overnight guy!)
*In MAINE, Bob Duchesne signed off last week from Bangor”s WQCB (106.5 Brewer), where he was the first voice heard on the station way back in 1986. Duchesne had been Q106.5″s morning man for all of those 17 years, and his honors included being named the Country Music Association”s small market personality of the year in 1994.
Fifteen Years Ago: October 1, 1998
*Another station sale in MASSACHUSETTS: This time out, it”s Clear Channel taking possession of the major competitor to its news-talk WHYN (560) in Springfield. Eleven years after signing the station on, Curt and Cele Hahn are selling their WNNZ (640 Westfield) to Lowry Mays” big group, which also owns WHYN-FM (93.1) in Springfield. No word yet on potential changes to the 50-kilowatt (by day, anyway) talker, which was the last major locally-owned radio station in Hampden County. WNNZ is the descendant of the old 1570 in Westfield, which was WDEW and WLDM at various times. Hahn bought out two competing applicants for the 640 channel before signing it on in July 1987. He points out that it”s only appropriate that a company called “Clear Channel” should have a station on one of the two CONELRAD clear channels – 640 and 1240.
*In Boston, the big news is on the TV side, as Stu Tauber resigns after a two-decade stint as general manager of WSBK (Channel 38), effective January 1, 1999. Tauber”s departure is just one of the changes at UPN38 — it”s also cancelling its 10PM newscast that”s produced by New England Cable News, effective October 4. The stated reason is a change of focus, with sports and entertainment taking precedence over news. NECN will continue to produce news inserts to run during Bruins games. (NERW notes that the channel 38 newscast has never been a serious ratings threat to WLVI or WFXT). WLVI, meanwhile, has expanded its Saturday newscast to a full hour.
*WBUR (90.9) will increase its local news commitment in a big way on Monday, with the debut of the hour-long “Hear and Now” at noon. The weekday show will be hosted by Tovia Smith and Bruce Gellerman, with a full-time staff of six. And which Boston newspaper called WBUR “99.9″ this time? Believe it or not, it wasn”t the big broadsheet…
*Greater Media”s making some changes, too. WROR (105.7 Framingham) will be the first GM station to operate from the new facility on Morrissey Boulevard, starting this weekend. WBOS, WSJZ, WMJX, and WKLB-FM will move later on. The WROR move was the most critical, because Friday is the last day of WROR”s lease on its 13th floor space in the Prudential Tower. Early word from GM folks who”ve seen the new studios is that they”re very impressive; we”re hoping to visit early next year ourselves. Former WBOS/WSJZ general manager John Laton is serving as a group-wide consultant in the move after being ousted from his GM position; that job will not be filled, we hear.