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In this week's issue... Cox/Fox swap gives WFXT new owner - Cumulus readies NYC's new FM - Sinclair sells in PA - New FM in southern Ontario

By SCOTT FYBUSH

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: It appears Clear Channel is busy cutting staff again, at least here in Rochester. Veteran WHAM (1180) morning man Chet Walker was off the air and off the WHAM website this morning, where "WHAM Morning News" is shown with no host on the schedule. Walker had been a WHAM fixture since 1985; his longtime morning co-host, Beth Adams, lost her spot at WHAM in 2011 and is now across town at WXXI (1370). And in Springfield, WRNX (Kix 100.9) has broken up its morning team of Mike, Kera and Shaggy; they stay on the schedule with individual shifts later in the day, while the syndicated Bobby Bones show takes over mornings.

*Less than a week after the big news of a TV sale in western MASSACHUSETTS, it was the Boston TV market's turn to be taken by surprise with the news that Fox Television Stations is exiting the region, swapping longtime O&O WFXT (Channel 25) and its Memphis station, WHBQ-TV (Channel 13) to Cox in exchange for San Francisco-market Fox affiliate KTVU (Channel 2) and independent KICU (Channel 36).

wfxt-coxAs valuable as an owned-and-operated station in market 7 might have been to Fox, Rupert Murdoch's company has long coveted KTVU in market 6, not because it's significantly larger but simply because of football. As an AFC market, the real football winner in Boston is CBS' WBZ-TV (Channel 4), which gets to televise all of the Patriots' Sunday afternoon road games and most of the home games as well. Only the handful of games against an NFC road team end up on Fox and WFXT - but in San Francisco, KTVU gets nearly the complete 49ers schedule, plus a couple of Raiders home games against NFC visitors.

So it's easy to see what's in this deal for Fox...but what about Cox? As NERW readers know, Cox has been strategically exiting most of the markets where it can't combine radio with its TV (and in some cases, legacy newspaper) holdings, which is why it recently sold off its stations in southern Connecticut to Connoisseur, for instance. With two TV stations in San Francisco, might Cox's radio options in the Bay Area have been too limited?

In any event, speculation is already swirling around Cox's options to grow its putative cluster in Boston once the ownership swap is official. Of the four big radio clusters in town, CBS Radio and Clear Channel are highly unlikely sellers, and Greater Media's five-FM cluster is effectively that company's flagship now that it makes its headquarters in the Boston area. That leaves the troubled Entercom cluster as a possible target for Cox - and a target with some history, at that. That's because Fox is exiting Boston and selling WFXT for the second time in the station's history, having owned it from 1987 until 1990 and then repurchased it in in 1995 after Murdoch sold his interest in the Boston Herald. In between Fox ownership, WFXT belonged to the Celtics, as a sister station to pioneering all-sports WEEI, then on 590. Both WEEI and WFXT grew substantially under their subsequent owners, but reuniting WEEI (now on 93.7) and Fox 25 under Cox ownership would still make for some very interesting synergies.

(You can see what Cox does with synergy in a market such as its onetime headquarters town, Dayton, Ohio, where WHIO television and radio share a newsroom with the Dayton Daily News and several nearby dailies. We visited the WHIO complex a few summers ago and recently featured it in Tower Site of the Week.)

*For now, at least, any talk of a larger Cox cluster is still speculative - so what do we know with certainty about what comes next? We know there will be a management change: WFXT VP/GM Gregg Kelley will stay with Fox, taking a cross-country transfer to hold the same post at KTVU/KICU. Cox inherits a vibrant local news operation at WFXT from Fox, something Kelley's credited with helping to build from the ground up; when Fox repurchased WFXT in 1995, the station's only local news was a single newscast outsourced to New England Cable News, and now WFXT produces more hours of local news than anyone else in town.

Will Cox maintain that level of news commitment? Out at KTVU, it was Cox that invented much of the news programming now seen on many Fox affiliates - long before Fox even existed, channel 2 was a leader in the Bay Area with its "Ten O'Clock News" and "Mornings on 2," though our friends out there say the sterling reputation KTVU's news operation once enjoyed has become tarnished by budget cuts in recent years.

One thing we can say with certainty: "Fox 25" will remain "Fox 25," since the Fox/Cox deal includes an extended affiliation contract between the network and WFXT's new owner.

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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: July 1, 2013

*What North American nation has the most consolidated mass media? There's now a very good case to be made for CANADA, where regulators on Thursday approved Bell's second attempt to swallow Astral Media, creating a media mammoth that includes the nation's largest satellite TV provider, the nation's largest English-language commercial TV network, one of the biggest radio groups in the nation, as well as a large roster of cable networks. (And, oh yeah, a phone company, too.)

astral-bellAs you'll recall, the CRTC turned down Bell's first attempt at the C$3.4 billion deal last fall, citing concerns about too much concentration, especially where pay TV is concerned. The revised version of the deal requires Bell to spin off several additional cable networks to bring it down to about 22 percent of the French TV market (still a huge increase from Bell's present status) and about 35 percent of the English TV market.

On the broadcast side, little has changed in the second version of the deal: Bell will still spin off ten radio stations, including CHBM (97.3 Boom FM) and CFXJ (93.5 Flow FM) in Toronto and CJOT (99.7 Boom FM) and CKQB (106.9 the Bear) in Ottawa. But the merged entity will still bring together a solid Toronto cluster with Astral's clusters in surrounding southern Ontario markets including Hamilton and St. Catharines, and it will bring Bell into the Maritime provinces in a bigger way.

Perhaps most significantly, the CRTC decided to allow Bell to keep CKGM (690 Montreal) alongside the three English-language stations (CJAD 800, CJFM 95.9 and CHOM 97.7) and two French-language stations (CKMF 94.3 and CITE 107.3) it's acquiring from Astral. Canadian market caps would have limited Bell to only three stations in a market the size of the Montreal Anglophone market, but Bell persuaded the CRTC that owning a fourth station would allow it to keep CKGM's specialty sports talk format alive. As a consequence, Bell must retain the current "TSN Radio 690" format on CKGM for the next seven years. (The only other independently-owned English commercial station in Montreal for now is Cogeco's CKBE 92.5, though it's expected to be joined by a new talk station on 600 owned by the TTP group later this year.)

*In MASSACHUSETTS - not to mention the proverbial "38 states and half of Canada" that can hear WBZ (1030 Boston) at night - it's been just over a year since Steve LeVeille departed the weekday overnight shift, leaving a slot that's been filled by a rotating cast of part-timers including former WRKO (680) host Jen Brien and WBZ'ers Bradley Jay and Morgan White Jr.

The slot once filled by Larry Glick, Dave Maynard, Bob Raleigh and LeVeille is officially vacant no more: as of last Thursday morning, it's now Jen Brien's full-time home from midnight until 5 AM. While Brien's being widely billed as the first woman to hold down a full-time talk shift in WBZ's history, that's not quite true: veteran Boston broadcaster Janet Jeghelian filled the overnight shift at one point as well, though she's much better remembered for her years at WRKO.

Brien's selection as the full-time host brought LeVeille back to the WBZ airwaves for the first time in a year, making a ten-minute appearance by phone to pass the crown, figuratively speaking, to his successor. (LeVeille insisted, however, that he and Brien are simply keeping the "Larry Glick Show" alive.) Don't expect him back as a fill-in, though: he tells NERW that his new life in Maine has him "happy as a clam, fried, steamed or otherwise," and that he's keeping himself very busy writing and enjoying the beach.

*A central NEW JERSEY FM station has once again changed frequencies. What's now WPDI (103.9 Hazlet) started out as noncommercial class D WVRM at 89.3, eventually becoming WCNJ and then Indian "Dhoom FM" WDDM before being displaced from 89.3 by newcomer WFJS in Freehold. That's when the station became WPDI and moved to 104.7, but that frequency conflicted with an Edison-based translator that also serves the South Asian community in the area. On Thursday, WPDI was granted a construction permit to slide down the dial to 103.9, still with 10 watts; interestingly, listeners in the area had already heard WPDI testing on that frequency several weeks earlier. (We've also heard reports of full-fledged commercials running on what should be a noncommercial facility.)

Five Years Ago: June 29 & July 6, 2009

Remember the days when radio was a vital part of the national conversation? When a station like WABC or WIBG or WRKO could cut across demographic boundaries to bring entire communities together with music and personality? The radio industry spends a lot of time wondering where those days went - but for a few days late last week, it regained a bit of that old relevance in the wake of the death of one of radio's biggest stars.

At the height of his own career in the eighties, of course, Michael Jackson transcended radio; it can even be argued that the boost his groundbreaking videos gave to MTV in its early years helped the TV network usurp the role that top-40 radio had long played in shaping America's musical tastes. None of that mattered, though, on Thursday evening. As word spread that Jackson had suffered a heart attack - and, not long afterward, of his death at the age of 50 - many radio stations all over the region, and the nation, quickly crossed format lines and dug out old CDs and even LPs as they launched into nonstop hours of Jackson's music.

"Many" stations, mind you, and not "all," because the timing of Jackson's death, especially here in the east, pointed up the new reality of radio, circa 2009: when the music and the voicetracks on a radio station were programmed by someone miles away and hours before, it's much harder for that station to rise to the occasion by providing listeners with the music and the information they didn't know they needed ahead of time. (Note the demand for Jackson music in record stores and at online sites - a demand that radio was uniquely positioned to meet, immediately and efficiently.) But our purpose here this week is not to call out the stations that found themselves ill-prepared to react to the breaking news from Los Angeles; instead, we note just some of the ones that rose to the occasion:

-In New York City, Jackson's music was all over the dial within minutes of his death. Urban stations, including WBLS (107.5) and WRKS (98.7), went wall-to-wall Jackson through the weekend; classic hits WCBS-FM (101.1) offered several all-Jackson hours on Thursday, followed by several songs an hour thereafter; we're told that even a few of the city's Spanish-language stations were playing Jackson's songs Thursday night.

-Boston's WXKS-FM (107.9) and WJMN (94.5) are the descendants of two of the stations that played Jackson's music most heavily in the "Thriller" era, and both were heavy on Jackson's music after his death. So was WODS (103.3), where Barry Scott devoted his weekend "Lost 45s" show entirely to Jackson.

-In Philadelphia, most of the FM dial was full of Jackson's music Thursday night, spanning the format spectrum from AC (WISX 106.1) to adult hits (WBEN-FM 95.7) to urban (WUSL 98.9, WDAS-FM 105.3, WRNB 107.9) to oldies (WOGL 98.1).

-In Pittsburgh, PBRTV.com's Jason Togyer reports that Jackson music also crossed format lines, though it was oddly absent at young-skewing top-40 competitors WKST-FM (96.1) and WBZW (93.7) and in short supply early on at several of the city's voicetracked FMs. (Little WKHB 620 was live-and-local with nonstop Jackson tunes starting at 7:15 Thursday night, reports PD Clarke Ingram...)

-Syracuse's WLTI (105.9) blew out the syndicated Delilah show to go wall-to-wall Jackson, reports CNYRadio.com, with PD Tom Mitchell and APD Brian Phillips rushing to get the songs loaded into the automation system at the last moment.

-Here in Rochester, stations were oddly slow to start playing Jackson's music as the news broke on Thursday, but the spotlight (and the local TV news) was soon firmly focused on locally-owned urban WDKX (103.9). There was no need to go scrambling for songs there; Jackson tunes have been a staple on WDKX from its earliest days 35 years ago, and the station's phone lines were ringing nonstop with remembrances and requests all weekend as WDKX went wall-to-wall Jackson. (Buffalo's WBLK was also wall-to-wall Jackson, at least on Friday.)

As your editor observed in a Boston Globe article Saturday, there aren't likely to be many other moments quite like this in radio's future, if only because it's hard to imagine any other artists who crossed rigid format boundaries to appeal to so many listeners for so many years. But for a few days, at least, it was refreshing to hear radio doing what it does best: being a true mass medium in a way that no MP3 player or webcast or cellphone can do. Is it too much to hope that some of that spark might last?

Ten Years Ago: June 28, 2004

In NEW JERSEY, the major breaking news this past week was something insiders had been expecting for a long while now: the sale of WCHR-FM (105.7 Manahawkin) from Nassau to Millennium. In addition to classic rock "Hawk," though, Millennium's getting another FM outlet for its $40 million, as Nassau throws in smooth jazz WOJZ (104.9 Egg Harbor City) to the deal.

In NEW YORK, we now know who'll replace the syndicated Doug Banks in mornings on WBLS (107.5 New York). Rick Party's coming up from Miami's WEDR (99.1) to take over the shift on July 6. He'll be joined by Sonia Colon, who's headed uptown from WQHT (97.1). And new in middays at WBLS is Adimu, who heads east from KKBT (100.3) in Los Angeles.

Up in Rochester, Clear Channel's getting ready to swap facilities at two of its FMs. On July 4, classic hits "Fox" WFXF (107.3 South Bristol) will take over the big 50 kW class B signal now occupied by WNVE (95.1 Honeoye Falls), while modern rock "Nerve" will relocate from the market-blanketing 95.1 to the rimshot-on-a-good-day class A 107.3 signal that emanates from 35 miles out of town.

Some back story here: A few years ago, Clear Channel moved 95.1 from the perch atop Bristol Mountain that it had occupied for half a century, changing its city of license from South Bristol to Honeoye Falls and co-locating it with WVOR 100.5 on Baker Hill in Perinton, much closer to the city. To make that improvement, though, the 107.3 signal was effectively sacrificed, leaving its Honeoye Falls city of license and Bloomfield tower site to go to the more distant Bristol site and become the replacement "sole local service" - cough, cough, hack - to the 1200 or so souls of South Bristol.

Amazingly, despite having no airstaff, not much signal and almost no promotion, 107.3 placed respectably in the ratings as "The Fox," enough so that Clear Channel's giving the format a shot at the big stick and a better chance to shave some numbers off Infinity's heritage classic rocker WCMF (96.5) and Entercom's classic hits WBZA (98.9).

As for the Nerve, we suspect its fate was sealed when Clear Channel took Howard Stern off its airwaves in February; will it be anything more than a placeholder on 107.3 in its new incarnation? (2009 update: No.)

Just after NERW went to press last Monday, Vox made some big changes at its remaining stations in western MASSACHUSETTS, killing off the very soft AC at WMNB (100.1 North Adams) and the AC at WUPE (95.9 Pittsfield) and replacing both with an oldies simulcast as "Whoopee."

"Whoopee" has a full airstaff: Joanne Billow moves to mornings there from the morning show at sister WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield). Alex Seseske, who was doing WUPE's morning show, moves to middays, followed by PD Dave Isby in the afternoon and A.J. Kelley at night. Over at Live 105.5, Billow's former co-host Steve Murray moves to afternoons and OM Mike Patrick takes over mornings.

One valley over, we hear Air America Radio is coming to Northampton and the Pioneer Valley next week. That's when Saga's WHMP (1400 Northampton)/WHNP (1600 East Longmeadow)/WHMQ (1240 Greenfield) will pick up some Air America programming. Still no sign of a Boston affiliate...

Fifteen Years Ago: July 2, 1999

We'll start this week with two station sales in MASSACHUSETTS. The big one is out west in the Berkshires, where Tele-Media is paying $4.65 million to buy Aritaur's three-station group, news-talk WBEC (1420 Pittsfield), CHR WBEC-FM (105.5 Pittsfield), and religious WZEC (97.5 Hoosick Falls NY, still running the format it had in its pre-Aritaur days as WNGN). The deal expands Tele-Media's reach eastward from its station group in Albany (WABY, WABY-FM, WKLI/WKBE) over the state line into the Pittsfield market, and leaves NERW wondering -- is an Albany-Pittsfield simulcast on the way?

We also have to wonder what will become of the other station owned by Aritaur's Joseph Gallagher, WBET (1460) in Brockton. Gallagher's KJI Broadcasting sold WBET's sister station, WCAV (97.7), to Radio One a few weeks back for a tidy profit.

Meantime, the other station in Brockton, WMSX (1410), is getting a new owner -- and it's a familiar buyer of late. Keating Willcox's Willow Farm Broadcasting is paying $674,000 to buy WMSX from Donald Sandler, the second deal in a year Sandler's Metro South Broadcasting has made to sell the station. The first, to Monte Bowen's Griot Communications, was never consummated.

The other big news from MASSACHUSETTS is the impending end of the six-year relationship between Don Imus and WEEI (850 Boston). WEEI's new Entercom owners aren't renewing their contract with Imus' syndicator, Infinity, which expires August 24. WEEI was reportedly paying well into seven figures annually for the rights to carry Imus, and ratings weren't reflecting it...so now Infinity begins the search for a new Boston Imus affiliate. Rumors are already flying about a new FM home for the I-man, but nothing's confirmed yet, so stay tuned...

Saratoga Springs' WKAJ (900) is getting new calls to go with its new owner. Ernie Anastos has applied for WUAM as the new calls for the little adult-standards outlet, marking the second time the station has dropped its original calls. Just north in Glens Falls, the FCC lists WCQL as the "new calls" for the station on 95.9, which is kind of silly since the license has been around for a couple of decades and the WCQL calls have been in use there for a few years now. Sounds like a database correction to us...

Heading towards Syracuse, we're told new WRVD (90.3) is on with just half power for now, but that should change soon.

Auburn's WHCD (106.9) is indeed being sold, as Butch Charles hands over the keys to the smooth-jazz outlet to "Mag Mile Media LLC." We're keeping an ear on this one, which comes in quite well under the flea-power signal of local WKGS (106.7 Irondequoit); updates to follow.

A well-known voice is returning to Rochester's WCMF (96.5) on the weekdays. Bill Moran ("The Moranimal") yielded the 3-7 PM slot on 'CMF to BJ Shea two years ago; now Shea is out the door and Moran returns to the slot after a couple of years in the advertising business (and doing weekends on WCMF to keep his pipes fresh).

And just over the state line in PENNSYLVANIA, there are a bunch of call and format changes to report in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market, most of them involving the Citadel mega-group: WKQV (1550 Pittston) and WEMR (1460 Tunkhannock) switch from One-on-One Sports to Music of Your Life; WCDL (1440 Carbondale) changes calls to WKJN but keeps its simulcast with news-talk WARM (590 Scranton); rock simulcast "The Bear" (WZMT 97.9 Hazleton/WKQV-FM 95.7 Olyphant) takes on new calls WXBE and WXAR, respectively (get it -- "BE" and "AR" = "BEAR"?); and over in Mount Pocono, WILT (960) is being sold to Nassau Broadcasting in nearby New Jersey, ending its LMA with and simulcast of WILK (980 Wilkes-Barre).

Twenty Years Ago - June 29, 1994

WBZ has introduced a new financial show on Saturdays from 3-5. "The Money Managers" is hosted by Dee Lee of the Herald and Dave Caruso of New England Cable News. It replaces "Learning Center Live."

And despite all the reports that Stern will be moving to AM drive on WBCN imminently, sorry, Charlie. WBCN morning institution Charles Laquidara has just signed a long-term contract with the Rock of Boston that will keep Laquidara on BCN mornings past the turn of the century. So much for retiring to Florida... (2009 update: Contracts are made to be bought out...and it turned out to be Hawaii in the end for Laquidara.)

7 COMMENTS

  1. May I offer a correction? WNEB is broadcasting in English these days — and so will WESO if the sale is approved and consummated.

  2. Any thoughts on the possibility of affiliation swaps between Sinclair and Media General (down the road) in Harrisburg ? Sinclair must see considerable upside to keep WHP-21 (distressed or underperforming assets with the multitude of owners since locally-owned?) “CBS 21” has not been a local news leader since the early 80s.

    If “Newschannel 8” gets rolled-out in some form nationally, perhaps WHP will get reworked too with a dedicated HD channel for NC8?

    Media General may find it easier to leverage CBS (via a WHTM affiliation). Your thoughts, Scott ?

    • I don’t see any affiliation changes. Sinclair’s big goal here is to clear the way for speedy FCC approval of the purchase of WJLA, which is really the only reason it wanted Allbritton. It’s not going to let the possibility of a slight upgrade in Harrisburg slow down the main event in DC. I’m sure the deal with Media General was a strictly “as-is” sale.

  3. WABY/Moon Radio now transmitting on 900 AM Watervliet.
    But the station’s studios are in Malta.
    It sounds like the studio can’t pick up their own signal.

  4. Would not the TV Radio cross ownership rule prevent Cox from having radio in the Boston market. The combinations they have in Dayton and Atlanta are grandfathered by the FCC.

    • The grandfathering in Dayton and Atlanta applies to broadcast/newspaper crossownership, which is not currently allowed (though it’s silly that it isn’t.) Radio-TV crossownership is permitted, though it means you can’t have quite as large a radio cluster as you’d otherwise have. Cox could buy up to 7 radio stations in the area WFXT serves.

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