NERW 3/10/2014: Six Decades Later, Buckley Departs

In this week’s issue… Buckley exits Hartford – Ottawa’s “Bear” hibernates – Vermont FM seeks state-line hop – Mets add LI signals – Hot 97 on TV?

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*When Richard D. Buckley joined with John Jaeger in late June 1957 to pay $830,000 for WHIM (1110) in Providence, who could have imagined that it would inaugurate more than half a century of continuous family ownership in New England – or that by the time that family tradition came to an end, the Buckleys would be the last ones standing out of all of the family owners who built and grew the region’s broadcasting industry?

buckleyTwo years after buying WHIM, Buckley-Jaeger Broadcasting paid $815,000 for WDRC (1360 Hartford), and by October 1959 it had built out the FM construction permit that came with the AM station – and for 55 years since then, the Buckley family has owned WDRC-FM (102.9) and WDRC(AM), along with three more simulcast AM stations that joined the cluster later on. Now that amazing stretch of family ownership is coming to an end with the announcement that Buckley Radio is selling the WDRC stations to Connoisseur Media for an as-yet-undisclosed price.

It’s no surprise that Buckley is winding down its ownership: after Richard D. Buckley’s death in 1972, his son, Richard D. Buckley, Jr. (“Rick”) took over the reins of the company, which had by then expanded to include stations in Seattle (KOL), San Francisco (KKHI), Los Angeles (KGIL), Philadelphia (WIBG) and Minneapolis (WWTC). Rick Buckley sold some of those stations and added a big one, New York City’s WOR (710). But with Rick Buckley’s death in 2011, the company’s growth years drew to a close. WOR, of course, was sold to Clear Channel at the end of 2012, and Buckley later sold one of its FM signals in Monterey, California.

That left a company stretched thinly across the country: CEO Joe Bilotta, who’s been with Buckley since the early 1970s, is based out in California, where he oversees Buckley Radio clusters in Bakersfield, Merced and Monterey/Salinas, while the Hartford stations became Buckley’s lone remaining East Coast outpost, overseen by Rick Buckley’s nephew, Eric Fahnoe.

connoisseur-logo-lg“All businesses have lifecycles, and the radio industry certainly has seen its share of change in recent years,” Bilotta said in the announcement of the sale. That’s an understatement, really: when the senior Buckley bought WDRC 55 years ago, radio was a family business even in markets as large as Hartford. In the decades that followed, Buckley’s competitors transitioned from individuals like T. Mitchell Hastings and Scott Killgore (and the local behemoth, Travelers Insurance) to giant corporations such as Clear Channel and CBS Radio. But while those companies moved staff and changed formats with abandon, WDRC remained a stable, almost family atmosphere, retaining executives for decades at a stretch and staying put at the same Blue Hill Avenue address for the last four decades.

Since there’s no LMA before the sale (brokered by Richard Foreman), nothing will change until the deal closes, which is expected to happen in June. After that, we’d be surprised if Connoisseur makes many changes at WDRC-FM. “The Big D” has made a smooth transition in recent years from oldies to classic hits (with oldies surviving on HD2), carving out a comfortable slice of the market against CBS Radio’s AC WRCH (100.5) and Clear Channel’s classic hits WHCN (105.9).

Connoisseur, for its part, tends not to be overly quick about changing formats when it takes over. WDRC is right in the backyard of Connecticut-based CEO Jeff Warshaw, whose first purchase in his home state came a year ago when he acquired Cox’s WPLR (99.1 New Haven), WEZN (99.9 Bridgeport), WFOX-FM (95.9 Norwalk) and the LMA of Yale’s WYBC-FM (94.3 New Haven). Connoisseur hasn’t touched the formats at any of those stations since taking over, and the addition of WDRC-FM will mesh nicely with that Milford-based cluster, making Connoisseur the only owner that can offer advertisers anything close to full statewide reach in Connecticut, give or take the New London/Norwich market in the state’s southeastern corner and the Danbury market at the western edge.

wdrcamWhat’s less clear is the future of WDRC’s AM stations. When Connoisseur bought the Cox cluster, Cox had already spun off WSTC (1400 Stamford) and WNLK (1350 Norwalk) to Sacred Heart University’s WSHU public radio operation. The Buckley AMs – WDRC (1360) in Hartford, WMMW (1470 Meriden) to the southeast, WWCO (1240 Waterbury) to the southwest and WSNG (610 Torrington) to the northwest – take up a lot of resources for little return. Three of the four stations have big directional arrays, none runs more than 5,000 watts, and their “Talk of Connecticut” simulcast has drawn combined ratings as low as a 0.1 in recent books. While Connoisseur has maintained legacy AMs at some of its clusters, including WHLI (1100) on Long Island and WJET (1400)/WFNN (1330) in Erie, Warshaw has been much more enthusiastic about building on the FM side. Will he want to keep WDRC’s network of small AMs, or might they be spun off?

If Warshaw seeks expansion in the Hartford market, he may have opportunities. CBS Radio has long been said to be interested in spinning off its cluster, which includes four FMs and the market’s big AM gun, WTIC (1080). Clear Channel is less likely to be a seller of its four FM/one AM cluster. And there are two independent operators still making a go of it with big FMs: John Fuller’s Red Wolf (WMRQ 104.1) and Marlin (WCCC-FM 106.9, as well as WCCC 1290).

We’ll be watching closely as Connoisseur takes over, and we’re sorry to see the end of the Buckley family’s long run as the last of the old-school ownership groups in the region. (Buckley senior’s ownership history actually went back even earlier than WHIM in 1957; the money for that purchase came from the profit he and Jaeger made from their brief ownership of New York’s WNEW in 1954-55 and its sale to what became Metromedia; Buckley was a top executive at WNEW and its sister TV station, WABD/WNEW-TV 5, even as he was building his station cluster.)

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2014calendarSure, we’re halfway through the year – but you can still get one of a few remaining copies of the 2014 Tower Site Calendar for the bargain price of $9.25.

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You don't have to stop reading here! Each week's NorthEast Radio Watch is packed full of exclusive, in-depth reporting and analysis from across the nine states and five provinces we've been serving since 1994. You won't find anything like it on any free site - and you can read the rest of this week's column for just $2.99 by clicking on the "Purchase Only" link below. 

Or click here to subscribe and enjoy full access to current NERW and Tower Site of the Week columns and two decades of searchable archives -- for as little as 25 cents per day.

If you are already a member, please login to view the rest of this column. (If the site does not recognize your username, don't panic! Either your subscription has expired and we need to reactivate your account, or your username and email do not match our payment records and we need to link them. Please email Lisa,  or call her at 585-442-5411, for instructions.)

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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: March 11, 2013

astral-bell*CANADA‘s biggest media deal in recent years isn’t going away easily. In October, after the CRTC denied Bell’s application to swallow Astral Media for C$3.38 billion, both companies promised they’d be back at the table with a new proposal.

As of last week, they’re now halfway back to the finish line after Canada’s Competition Bureau signed off on the revised plan, which is now in front of the CRTC for reconsideration. This time around, Bell and Astral have identified a buyer for at least some of the expanded list of stations they’re planning to spin off in order to stay under CRTC ownership caps.

The plan puts Corus in the buyer’s seat in Ottawa, where it will enter radio ownership with the purchase of CKQB (106.9 the Bear) and CJOT (99.7 EZ Rock), currently owned by Astral. The radio sales are part of a C$400 million spinoff to Corus that also includes several Canadian cable networks.

Bell and Astral also plan to put stations in four other big markets up for sale, including CHBM (Boom 97.3) and CFXJ (93.5 Flow FM) in Toronto. Boom is currently an Astral property, while Flow comes from the Bell portfolio.

And then there’s Montreal, where the original deal hit a bit of unwelcome PR when word got out that Bell proposed to convert its CKGM (690) from English-language sports to French-language sports. The CRTC denied that application, and Bell’s not going to try going down that road again; instead, it’s now promising to keep CKGM doing sports in English, provided that the merged company gets a waiver allowing it to hold four English-language signals in Montreal, where it would ordinarily be capped at three. If the CRTC doesn’t go along this time, Bell says it will close down CKGM and keep Astral’s three existing stations, CJAD (800), CJFM (Virgin 95.9) and CHOM (97.7).

*In Fredericton, New Brunswick, Newcap has pulled the plug on “Fred FM” at CFRK (92.3), replacing the classic hits with top-40 as “Hot 92.3″ as of noon on March 2. Joe, Benny and Jay lead off the new “Hot” lineup with the “Morning Hot Tub,” with additional airstaff yet to be named. (Also still forthcoming is the format and staffing for CFRK’s soon-to-debut sister station, CIHI 93.1.)

*Much of our NEW YORK news this week centers around the state capital, starting with the price tag we can now put on Hubbard’s purchase of WNYA (Channel 51) from Venture Technologies Group. Hubbard will pay $2.3 million to pair the MyNetworkTV affiliate with its NBC station in the market, WNYT (Channel 13), a move that will require an FCC “failing station” waiver to get around the duopoly rules. Venture tells the Commission that WNYA has been consistently losing money, and its documentation shows annual losses in the half-million dollar range in recent years. Hubbard says it will add local news content if it’s allowed to acquire WNYA; Venture, for its part, says it’s tried to shop the station to buyers outside the market for several years now without any takers.

wjkeJust up the Thruway in Saratoga Springs, we’d told you a few months back that WQAR (101.3 Stillwater) had requested a return to its previous calls WJKE – and just as predicted, that also meant a return at the beginning of March to its old identity, “101.3 the Jockey.” The move away from “Star 101” to a more locally-focused sound (would “The Jockey” make sense anywhere other than the horse-racing mecca that is Saratoga?) is the first big move for WJKE’s new owner, Empire Broadcasting, which bought it and three AM signals from Ernie Anastos last fall. We don’t expect it to be the last big move for Empire, which is helmed by longtime state broadcasters’ association chairman Joe Reilly.

Five Years Ago: March 9, 2009

It looks like when it comes to the end of New York’s “K-Rock” (WXRK 92.3), “sometime soon” will be Wednesday afternoon at 5. Opie & Anthony apparently did their last show on the station Monday morning, and the 92.3now.com website is now up and running with a countdown clock. Stay tuned…

The sudden closure of the CONNECTICUT School of Broadcasting’s 26 campuses nationwide came as a shock to many in the broadcasting industry on Wednesday – and as even more of a shock to the students, just days from graduation, who’d paid $12,000 in hopes that the school, more recently known as the “CSB School of Broadcasting,” would launch them into – as CSB’s website offered – “a great career in broadcasting.” That might be a pipe dream for anyone in our industry these days, but it’s now especially bad news for CSB students and alumni, who’d been promised lifetime access to the school’s studios (including locations in Needham, Mass.; Hasbrouck Heights and Cherry Hill, NJ; Westbury, NY; Pittsburgh; Stratford, Connecticut and the original location in Farmington, Connecticut) and its alumni network.

CSB’s locations were shuttered before classes started Thursday morning, after the school’s bank accounts were seized by lender PNC Financial, leaving the school with no choice – it said – but to close down and file for bankruptcy. And without an active school enrolling them, many former CSB students are apparently finding that they’re no longer eligible for the internships they were doing at radio and TV stations across the region, adding insult to injury. Dick Robinson, the veteran Hartford broadcaster who founded CSB back in 1964 and sold the business to Credit Suisse three years ago, tells WVIT-TV that he hopes to buy the Farmington location back from CSB’s owners and reopen it under a new name. (That Farmington site, by the way, is the old studio location of WRCH, and still home to the transmitter of WLAT 910.)

We start our NEW YORK report with an “ending” – two weeks after Sinclair’s upstate stations (Fox affiliates WUTV 29 Buffalo, WUHF 31 Rochester and WSYT 68 Syracuse and My affiliate WNYS 43 Syracuse, as well as Pittsburgh’s WPMY 22 and WPGH 53) ended regular programming on their analog signals, those stations pulled the plug on the “nightlight” loop and silenced their analog transmitters for good at 11:59:59 PM on Tuesday (March 3). Having been parked in front of the old 25″ Zenith when WUHF signed on for the first time back in January 1980, NERW couldn’t resist the opportunity to be there at WUHF’s Pinnacle Hill transmitter site when the station left the airwaves.
It was rather unceremonious – viewers at home, if there were any left, simply saw the nightlight loop cut to static – but it’s another step into the digital future, and we’ll be back up on Pinnacle Hill in June when the market’s other stations shut down their analog signals.

It’s more than just the analog signal going away at Syracuse’s CBS affiliate; as we reported in an update to last week’s NERW, Granite Broadcasting cut the jobs of some 40 staffers at WTVH (Channel 5) after Monday morning’s newscast, as WTVH entered into an LMA with Barrington Broadcasting’s NBC affiliate, WSTM (Channel 3), under which WSTM will handle most aspects of WTVH’s operations.

Here’s how it played out in the short term: WTVH’s noon newscast on Monday was replaced by an infomercial, but at 5 PM, “CBS 5 News” was back on the air, after a fashion, with anchor Michael Benny, among the few remaining WTVH staffers, looking rather uncomfortable as he read the press-release verbiage about the merger, with only a token mention at the very end about the job cuts involved. (The job cuts, unsurprisingly, were the lead story and then some on competitor WSYR-TV and in the Syracuse paper, which put WTVH’s news shutdown at the center of the front page the next day.)

What followed – and what’s been airing on WTVH at 5, 6 and 11 all week long – was essentially a rewritten version of the same newscast being seen on WSTM in the same slots, with WSTM’s weather and sports anchors and field reports from WSTM staffers. During the morning and noon slots, WTVH has simply been simulcasting WSTM’s newscasts, albeit with WTVH graphics.

That’s a temporary situation, it appears; Granite has entered into similar LMAs in other markets (most notably Fort Wayne and Duluth, but also Peoria, where Granite’s WEEK took over operations last week at Barrington’s WHOI), and we’d expect the WSTM/WTVH joint operation to follow that pattern: a common brand (a la “Indiana’s News Center”) for both stations, with some newscasts in alternating timeslots – say, 5 and 6 PM on one station, 5:30 and 7 PM on the other.

Ten Years Ago: March 8, 2004

Country fans in Kingston, Ontario, CANADA have been without a local source for their favorite music for a few weeks, ever since Corus flipped CFMK (96.3 Kingston) from “Country 96″ to “Joe FM.” That will change this morning, though, when Clancy-Mance Communications drops WBDR (102.7 Cape Vincent NY) from the three-station top-40 simulcast (“The Border”) that also includes WBDI (106.7 Copenhagen/Watertown NY) and WBDB (92.7 Ogdensburg NY). In place of “The Border,” 102.7 will become “Kix 102.7,” playing country music programmed to the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River. Kix will compete for Kingston ears with Regent’s “Froggy,” WFRG (97.5 Watertown), which puts a huge signal over Kingston but hasn’t had an active sales force there for a while. Clancy-Mance, by contrast, has been a player in the Kingston ad market with the Border, which was splitting its ad load and running Canadian ads on 102.7 while targeting U.S. listeners with separate ads on 106.7 and 92.7.

The Mohawk Valley of upstate NEW YORK gets a new standards station this morning, thanks to Lloyd Roach’s Route 81 group. After several days of simulcasting classic rocker WRCK (107.3 Utica), WKLL (94.9 Frankfort) will launch today as WTLB-FM, running in tandem with standards WTLB (1310 Utica). Down the Thruway a bit, the former WBUG (1570 Amsterdam) turns out to have flipped to talk – those new WVTL calls stand for “Valley’s Talk Leader.”

In the Finger Lakes, we hear George Kimble’s Radio Group closed Friday on its purchase of WFLR (1570 Dundee) and WFLR-FM (95.9 Dundee); more on this one next week.

The new left-leaning “Air America” talk network landed a home in market #1 this week. It’ll be carried on Inner City Broadcasting’s WLIB (1190 New York), displacing the station’s current talk programming aimed at the city’s black community. Air America’s studios are located on the same floor of the same building as WLIB, and it appears that Inner City may lease or sell other stations it owns (including, perhaps, WHAT 1340 in Philadelphia and KVTO 1400 Berkeley CA?) to Air America as the network finds its legs. (NERW wonders: will Air America keep the “LIB”eral calls on 1190, or will it realize that those calls carry a very different heritage in New York from the image it’s seeking?)

One CONNECTICUT note: Hartford’s WKSS (95.7) is trying to fill a bit of the void left behind when sister station WMRQ (104.1) flipped from modern rock to R&B WPHH (Power 104) last year. It’s now breaking from its usual top 40 each weeknight from 10 PM until 2 AM to play modern rock as “Channel 957.”

Smooth jazz came to central PENNSYLVANIA last week, as Hall Communications pulled the plug on the oldies at “Big 92.7″ WHBO (92.7 Starview PA) last Monday, replacing it with “Smooth Jazz 92.7″ under new calls WSJW. And WHBO wasn’t the only oldies station to disappear from the dials around Harrisburg – over in Carlisle, Route 81 dropped the 50s and 60s oldies it inherited from Citadel at WHYL (960), replacing them with a locally-programmed standards format starting Saturday morning (March 6). Route 81 also launched a morning show at WNAK (730 Nanticoke) and WNAK-FM (94.3 Carbondale), putting market veteran Terry McNulty back on the air.

Some call and format shuffling out in Johnstown: Forever moves the news-talk format of WNTJ (1490) down the dial to replace classic country at WLYE (850 Johnstown) and WVSC (990 Somerset), changing WLYE’s call to WNTJ and WVSC to WNTW. 1490 goes sports as WSPO, a callsign previously heard on 850 (which most old-timers in the market probably still think of as WJAC…)

Fifteen Years Ago: March 10, 1999

What could we have been thinking when we laughed at Boston’s little nor’easter last week? How soon we forget that winter’s far from finished up here in Rochester in March, as we dig out from more than two feet of snow that fell in just a few hours Thursday morning. Few broadcast effects to report from this one; a quick scan of the dial Thursday afternoon found nobody off the air, WHAM (1180) dumping out of the satellite (Laura Schlesinger and Rush) to offer cancellations, storm news, and local talk, and WRSB (1310 Canandaigua) simulcasting former sister station WCGR (1550) instead of new sister station WASB (1590 Brockport). Was WASB(AM) on the air? Beats us; we were out at the eastern edge of the county, where WAUB in Auburn dominates the channel. WASB-FM (105.5) was indeed on the air, with the usual unlistenable whistles and hum on the audio. More snow’s expected this weekend…we can hardly wait.

We’ll kick off the rest of the week’s news in central MAINE, where the country format from WKCG (101.3 Augusta) moved on schedule Monday morning (3/1) to WCTB (93.5 Fairfield) and WCME (96.7 Boothbay Harbor) as “Kicks Country.” That much we expected…but check this out: This one’s a physical move as well, with WKCG’s jocks moving from the WABK/WFAU studio on Northern Ave. in Gardiner to the old WCTB digs (and WTOS/WSKW/WHQO’s) on Middle Rd. in Skowhegan. As for WCTB’s old AC “River” format, Cumulus has moved it — and its staff — down to Gardiner and the 101.3 signal, where it debuted Monday morning as “Star 101.” Morning guy Mike Violette tells the Waterville Central Maine Morning Sentinel that he found out about the change with just a day’s notice, when he returned from vacation. He says co-host Eric Leimbach will join him on 101.3 when he returns from sick leave.

But wait…there’s more! Cumulus says it plans to sell WHQO (107.9 Skowhegan), which simulcasts the sports format of WSKW (1160 Skowhegan), by year’s end. The “Score” may not vanish from FM, though; market manager Tim Gatz says Cumulus has another FM in the works to carry the format. NERW suspects WIGY (97.5 Madison) is the likely candidate.

Moving towards Portland, we hear WCLZ-FM (98.9 Brunswick) is mainstreaming its format as Fuller-Jeffrey moves it into new Portland studios, taking on more of a modern AC sound — and maybe “modern” is the wrong word, since we hear ‘CLZ listeners now get Eagles tunes, among others, on what used to be a AAA outlet. The most recent playlist on the WCLZ Web site doesn’t look to have been updated since December.

In MASSACHUSETTS, there’s a new talk lineup at WRKO (680 Boston) following the departure of the Two Chicks (with Chick Leslie Gold saying that she chose to leave because she was doing “all the work”): Tai moves from his old 10-1 spot to a four hour gig from 7-11 PM nightly. Filling that 11-1 spot have been substitute hosts, with Andy Moes rumored to be getting the nod for the permanent job.

Out in Worcester, Heirwaves is selling WNEB (1230) to Great Commission Broadcasting, the company that leases time on WJLT (1060 Natick) from Alex Langer for its Christian contemporary “J-Light” format. Heirwaves bought WNEB from Bob Bittner in late 1997 and has been running its own CC format as “Solid Rock 1230″ since then. NERW will be unsurprised to see J-Light move completely to 1230 from 1060 before long, based on what we’ve been hearing about things in Langer’s studios.

New calls for a southern VERMONT radio station this week, as WVAY (100.7 Wilmington) drops the calls it’s had since it signed on in the late eighties to become WMTT (we’re guessing “The Mountain” to go along with sister station WRSI Greenfield MA, “The River.”) The FCC is also listing an ownership change for WMTT and W284AB in nearby Jamaica, from Dynacom to Border Broadcasting — but that’s all within Jeff Shapiro’s corporate family, if we’re not mistaken, and the WRSI/WVAY website shows no changes for now. A quick check of the station’s RealAudio feed (gotta love it…) has us listening to an ID that plays up “18 years of musical diversity” on WRSI and then mumbles “WMTT Wilmington” at the end…

Up north at Capstar’s Burlington group, three staffers said goodbye this week. Operations manager Ken MacKenzie leaves WEZF, WCPV, and WXPS/WEAV to become a consultant, WEZF morning man Jon Brooks goes across town to Hall’s oldies WKOL (105.1 Plattsburgh-Burlington), and station manager Ken Barlow is heading down I-89 to Barre, to become GM at WSNO (1450) and WORK (107.1).

A CONNECTICUT TV station is still getting a new owner, just not the one originally announced. Paxson will now sell WBPT (Channel 43) in Bridgeport to Shop at Home, the original sale to Cuchifritos Communications having fallen through. NERW is registering editorial disappointment on this one; it’s not that we were that excited about the plans for Spanish-language home shopping, but we were hoping to have the chance to use the words “Cuchifritos Communications” more often in print…