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In this week's issue... Hartford radio upended again - Remembering Samantha Stevens - Fight brews over new NYC TV move-in - Pennsylvania LPTV brings big bucks

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*It's been a bad year for independent radio in CONNECTICUT's capital city. Hartford started 2014 with three vibrant independent competitors lined up against the big Clear Channel and CBS clusters: Buckley Broadcasting's WDRC-FM (102.9) and its AM talk quadcast sisters, Marlin's rocker WCCC-FM (106.9) and its classical "Beethoven" AM sister, WCCC (1290 West Hartford), and Red Wolf Broadcasting's modern rock WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury) and its Spanish-language translator/HD sister, "La Bomba."

wcccfmAs of Friday afternoon a little past 5, as Pantera's "Walk" faded out on WCCC-FM (hear it on our sister site FormatChange.com), the roster of independent commercial FM owners in Hartford is down to just John Fuller's Red Wolf group, thanks to the sales of WDRC to Connoisseur and now of WCCC-FM/WCCC(AM) to EMF Broadcasting, which has flipped both signals to its national "K-Love" contemporary Christian format.

To Marlin's credit, it gave fans and staffers of WCCC-FM a chance to say goodbye, devoting the station's last five hours on Friday afternoon to an emotional on-air reunion hosted by Mike Karolyi and featuring many years' worth of former WCCC'ers, including a call-in from one of the most famous, Howard Stern, who called the station home in the late 1970s.

The final hours of WCCC-FM included something else, too: plenty of ads from Connoisseur's new classic hits version of WDRC-FM, seeking to pick up listeners who'd been attached to the more classic direction in which WCCC's rock format had been trending over the past year or so. It's become somewhat traditional in situations like that for the surviving competitor to at least offer a salute to the departing rival, and so it felt a little raw to a lot of listeners that WDRC's ads instead appeared to be rubbing it in, especially after the very recent dismissal of most of WDRC's former airstaff, replaced by voices from New Haven sister station WPLR. (Did we mention it's been a weird year for Hartford radio?)

Connoisseur was reportedly a bidder for the WCCC stations as they were quietly shopped around over the last few months, and losing out to EMF leaves it in a challenging position: it's all alone with WDRC-FM now (and the weak AM quadcast) against the much bigger portfolios of its corporate competitors, three big FMs and powerhouse AM WTIC (1080) for CBS, and four FMs plus an AM for Clear Channel.

For K-Love, as we noted in our Thursday update, WCCC-FM fills the gap between its existing signals in the New York area (WKLV 96.7 Port Chester, formerly a Connecticut commercial license) and in southern Rhode Island (WKIV 88.1 Westerly), and it will mark the chain’s first big urban entry into New England, traditionally a tough region for religious broadcasters. Is Hartford a sign that K-Love's next move could be an even bigger market such as Boston? That seems unlikely, for now, because there's not a signal available for EMF to buy there, nor in other possible expansion territories such as Providence and Worcester. (It's not hard to imagine, though, that EMF would be right there in line with cash ready should independent outlets such as WPLM-FM or WXRV hit the market in the future.)

It's a good bet, too, that WCCC(AM) will be for sale pretty quickly. When EMF has to buy an AM as part of a package deal, it tends to spin the AM as fast as it can. With just 490 watts by day and flea power at night, 1290's not much of a signal, but it ought to be attractive to one of the market's existing ethnic broadcasters.

Beyond that, there's not much more to add to what's been a sad week for local radio. It's a cruel irony that as it spends hundreds of millions of dollars buying former commercial licenses, EMF can still claim financial difficulties as it asks for what will be an inevitable waiver allowing it to avoid even staffing up a main studio in Hartford. Before that can happen, Marlin and EMF have to convert what's now an LMA into a sale; as of yet, that paperwork hasn't been filed, and we don't know yet how much EMF is paying for what were Marlin's last properties.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE - The sale contract was in fact filed on Friday with the FCC, setting the sale price for WCCC and WCCC-FM at $9.5 million. EMF will also sell the 1039 Asylum Avenue studio building, with a guaranteed payout to Marlin of at least $250,000 for the property, and it will pay $86,000 a month (plus $12,000 in music licensing fees) to Marlin for carriage of K-Love programming until the sale closes.

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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: August 5, 2013

MANKATO, Minnesota - NERW is on the road this week, so if we're coming to you with a slightly abbreviated set of headlines on this summertime Monday morning, it's because your editorial staff of one is out on the byways of the upper Midwest, busily gathering interesting pictures and stories for all sorts of exciting Tower Site of the Week and calendar features yet to come.

We'll be back to something vaguely resembling normalcy next Monday, but in the meantime...

cind-indiecover*For lack of a huge lead story this week (other than the CBS-Time Warner Cable dispute, which pretty much follows the pattern of every such dispute in recent years and will be resolved sooner or later), we'll kick things off in CANADA, where days upon days of Rick Astley loops ended, mercifully, with Wednesday's noontime launch of CIND (Indie 88.1).

Owned by Barrie-based Rock 95 Broadcasting, CIND's launch from its new Liberty Village studios (31R Atlantic Avenue, to be precise) kicked off with the voice of "in-house music guidance counselor" and Toronto radio veteran Alan Cross introducing the station and leading into its first non-Astley song, from Canada's own Arcade Fire.

There's still some technical tweaking to be done as CIND works with Industry Canada to complete a power upgrade from 500 watts to 4 kW from the First Canadian Place tower, but the station already has a robust social media following and sounds like it's filling a serious void on the Toronto dial.

*As Cumulus continues to shuffle its operations in NEW YORK and CONNECTICUT, there's a big change on the morning airwaves in Fairfield County at AC WEBE (107.9 Westport). Veteran morning man Storm N Norman announced late last week that he was done at WEBE after nearly 40 years on the air, and Cumulus was ready with a replacement for the versatile Norman. The nod went to a former WEBE voice, Robby Bridges, who'd worked there from 2008-2011. Bridges later moved on to the PD chair at WFAS-FM (103.9 Bronxville), which is going through its own changes right now, and has most recently been doing weekends and fill-ins at WPLJ (95.5) in New York. As of today, he's back at WEBE filling Norman's big morning shoes and serving as PD, only the third in the three-plus decades WEBE has been on the air.

New York Public Radio wasted no time when it closed on its purchase of WDFH (90.3 Ossining) from Marc Sophos' Hudson Valley Community Radio. As soon as the ink had dried on the deal, Sophos' eclectic music programming on WDFH came to an abrupt end just after 4 PM on Monday, replaced soon afterward by a new simulcast of classical WQXR (105.9 Newark NJ). Under the new calls WQXW, the 90.3 signal is now working on building out its construction permit for 250 watts to better fill in WQXR's spotty coverage of northern Westchester County.

*There's word that WAVL (910 Apollo) is changing hands, passing from the Evangel Heights Assembly of God to Family Life Broadcasting, which will pair it with its WTYM (1380) in nearby Kittanning. WAVL's format shifted from talk to oldies last week, apparently in anticipation of the sale.

And we're very sorry to report the death of Terry Lee Trunzo, known to decades of Pittsburgh radio listeners simply as "Terry Lee." Lee's career started at WESA (940) in Charleroi in his late teens, but he made his mark at WMCK (1360 McKeesport), where he became a key part of the station's airstaff as it transitioned to top-40 WIXZ. Lee also did TV at several Pittsburgh stations, including KDKA-TV (Channel 2), WIIC (Channel 11, now WPXI) and WPGH (Channel 53). He left the market in 1988 to move to Phoenix, but had returned back east when he died July 30 in Ohio. Trunzo was 70.

*The last original member of a MAINE radio station's airstaff has signed off. Robin Ivy started on WCYY (94.3 Biddeford) back in 1995, and she's been holding down the morning slot at the Cumulus modern rocker since 2000, but on Friday she departed the station in preparation for a move to Florida, where she's reuniting with her ex-husband (and former WCYY jock) Jared Payton. Saying she "failed at divorce" after splitting from Payton last year, Ivy writes in a blog posting that she'll continue to do her astrology segment, "Robin's Zodiac Zone" from her new home base in Tampa, where she'll be working as a yoga instructor.

Five Years Ago: August 3 & 10, 2009

Even as CBS Radio puts 41 years of rock radio out to pasture (or at least out to an HD2 channel, which is pretty much the same thing), the station's not going quietly. Current and former staffers, including legendary WBCN names such as longtime PD Oedipus and long-ago jock Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band fame, gathered over the weekend for a farewell concert - and next weekend will mark the start of a series of on-air farewell events leading up to WBCN's final sign-off August 12.

Behind the scenes, the wheels are turning quickly on the transition, including a sequence of studio moves that took WBMX (98.5 Boston) from its 1200 Soldiers Field Road studios to a new studio on the top floor of CBS Radio's 83 Leo Birmingham Parkway facility over the weekend. But by the time "Mix 98.5" made it down the road to Birmingham Parkway (the old TV 38 building), it wasn't "WBMX" any longer. CBS quietly changed 98.5's calls from WBMX to WBMX-FM late last week, the first step in the series of call changes that will turn 98.5 into "Sports Hub" WBZ-FM.

Here's how it all plays out: when WBMX became WBMX-FM, CBS Radio also flipped WFNA (1660 Charlotte NC), one of its pair of sports stations in the Charlotte market, to "WBMX" - making it all but certain that the Charlotte 1660 signal will end up being the spot where CBS parks the WBCN calls for safekeeping come August 13, when WBMX-FM in Boston changes calls to WBZ-FM and WBMX Charlotte and WBCN Boston swap calls, putting WBMX on 104.1 (as "Mix 104") and creating the cognitive dissonance of "WBCN Charlotte" on the AM dial, for the tiny handful of people who notice such things.

Ten Years Ago: August 3 & 9, 2004

Commercial broadcasters who'd been eyeing the last big open FM channel in NEW YORK are now officially out of luck. The 92.1A allocation in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst was to have appeared in an upcoming FCC auction - with a starting price of $800,000, no less - but now it's joined a long list of open FM allocations that are reserved for "noncommercial educational" use.

Some background here: in order to clear up a long-running legal battle about whether or not noncommercial broadcasters (primarily the big religious chains that have been putting thousands of new satellite-fed signals on the air from coast to coast) would have priority in obtaining these new signals, the FCC opened up a petition process a few months back. If the noncomm petitioners could show that one of these signals would be the first or second noncomm facility for at least 10% of the audience it would serve, the channel would automatically be set aside for noncomm use. And because most of Buffalo's public radio operates on commercial licenses (WNED-FM 94.5 and WNED 970), that 92.1 allocation qualified, at the request of "Youngshine Media." The FCC still hasn't figured out when it'll open an application window for all these reserved noncommercial allocations. (2009 update: they still haven't!)

Fifteen Years Ago: August 7, 1999

Two regional radio groups changed hands this week, with one deal creating the largest radio group in VERMONT.

Bruce Danziger's Vox Media made its first appearance on the radio landscape in April, when it bought WKXL AM-FM in Concord, New Hampshire, then followed that with the purchase of WSNO-WORK in Barre. This week, Vox agreed to pay $5.5 million for Jeff Shapiro's Dynacom group, which includes:

* rocker WHDQ (106.1) Claremont NH (and translators in White River Junction and Keene and on-channel booster in Rutland)
* sports-talk WNHV (910) White River Junction and WTSV (1230) Claremont
* soft AC "Wish" trimulcast WSSH (101.5) Marlboro/WZSH (107.1) Bellows Falls/WWSH (95.3) White River Junction
* AAA "River" WRSI (95.3) Greenfield MA and WMTT (100.7) Wilmington (plus translator in Jamaica)
* eclectic oldies WGAM (1520) Greenfield MA (which we'd thought had been sold back to original owner Ed Skutnik, but that in fact seems to have been an LMA)

What changes might be in store? We'd guess not many, based on what Vox has (or rather, hasn't) changed at its first purchases.

The other big sale is in upstate NEW YORK, where Regent Communications is making its debut in the region with the $44 million (plus 100,000 shares of stock) purchase of Forever's clusters in Utica and Watertown. The big prizes here are the market-dominant country stations in each city, "Froggy 97" WFRY (97.5 Watertown) and "Big Frog 104," WFRG (104.3 Utica). In addition, Regent gets Watertown's news-talk WTNY (790), satellite oldies WUZZ (1410), and classic rock WCIZ (93.3), plus Utica's news-talk WIBX (950), oldies WODZ (96.1 Rome), AC WLZW (98.7), and WFRG simulcast WRUN (1150).

Elsewhere in the Empire State, the dial keeps changing south of Albany. Not only did WRIP (97.9 Windham) make its official debut with a mix of AC and oldies on Thursday morning, but a Poughkeepsie simulcast is in the process of changing. WTND (96.1) has been simulcasting the "Thunder Country" of sister stations WTHN (99.3 Ellenville) and WTHK (93.5 Hudson), but on Monday it will switch to a simulcast of the "Cat" AC format from nearby WCTW (98.5 Catskill). We also hear that the WCTW translator in Poughkeepsie, W292CM on 106.3, has been silent for a few days. Wonder if it'll switch primaries to WTHK to keep the country coming? Just to top things off, we hear Straus Media's new 92.9 in Saugerties, still without call letters (though we like to think of it as BMPH980827ID in intimate moments), will be on the air by October 1.

The move of WTIC (1080/96.5) took place this week, amidst much griping from the airstaff, who were the last to leave the 19th floor of the Gold Building in downtown Hartford, with nothing but the four walls left around them. They've now joined the rest of the station's operations at CBS's Farmington office-park facility. As noted earlier this year in NERW, WTIC had operated from downtown Hartford since 1925, in just three different studio locations. (And we're feeling especially sympathetic towards WTIC-FM promo guy Tristano Korlou, who just had to move a few months ago at his old job at WPXY, only to do the box-packing thing again in his new gig!)

The big question in MASSACHUSETTS is where Don Imus will make his home at month's end. We know Greater Media is taking over the I-Man affiliation from Entercom sports talker WEEI (850), but nobody's saying which of Greater's five stations will carry the show. Initial speculation focused on WBOS (92.9 Brookline), but after that station turned in a stronger-than-expected Spring book, the buzz shifted to smooth jazz WSJZ (96.9). We'll know for sure in a few weeks...

On the talk front, GOP consultant Jay Severin has parted ways with WRKO (680), where he held down the 11PM-1AM slot from his home outside New York City. Former WRKO "Chick" Leslie Gold is now trying the Web thing at an Internet-only talk station called, so help us, eYada. NERW tuned in for a few minutes and heard, um, one caller. Gotta start somewhere, we suppose.

Speaking of "past their glory days," the Boston Celtics will be absent from the broadcast airwaves this fall. Their entire schedule, home and away, will be seen on Fox Sports New England.

To CANADA, where longtime friend-of-NERW Wayne Harrett has finally achieved his dream of putting a community station on the air in Nova Scotia. CKEP (106.9) is running a whopping 25 watts in the Eastern Passage/Cow Bay area, but only as a limited-time special event station until August 8. Wayne's seeking community support to make "K106" a full-time reality; find out more at the comprehensive Web site he's put up.

Also on the 106 MHz part of the spectrum, the CBC has been testing in Toronto on 106.3. M Street reports it's a favor to Industry Canada, to determine whether that frequency might also be suitable for low-power use (in addition to the 93.5 and 740 AM spots for which applications are now being taken). NERW notes that it's a bit close to the 13kW CJBC-5-FM transmitter in Peterborough (and in fact the CBCP Peterborough transmitter, on the same tower as CJBC-5, had to change from 93.5 to 98.7 to accomodate the co-channel in Toronto!) -- but then, it's not like anyone's listening to the French-language CJBC signal in Peterborough, right? (This would be even less of an issue if the CBC itself, as surmised, ends up applying for 106.3 for its planned Radio 3 service.)

4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not seeing how LocusPoint expects to cash in on WLEP?

    According to CDBS it’s a LPTV, not a Class A. So it can’t participate in the spectrum auction.

    And because it’s a LPTV, it can be bumped from the channel without compensation, right? Which means it doesn’t stand in the way of LocusPoint using spectrum they bought from someone else in an adjacent area or channel?

    What am I missing here?

  2. Will Gois Broadcasting buy AM 1290 in West Hartford? Perhaps simulcast it with WKND 1480?

    I doubt DMG will buy it.

    Sell it to CT Public Radio and bring back the Classical Format.

  3. EMF is already in the Providence market with WTKL 91.1FM out of North Dartmouth. It doesn’t get into homes worth a damn, but it covers most of the urban areas while in the car. Especially during the summers when WDOM 91.3 Providence College is off the air.

  4. Aaron,
    WTKL’s makes up for that loss via the 100w translator on 104.7 W284BA in Cranston, which blankets Providence and the metro area very nicely.
    — Mike

Comments are closed.