In this week"s issue: Bell swallows Astral Media - "Rock 93" launches in Poughkeepsie - Fire disrupts Boston"s Pru FMs - Maine"s WPME sold - WCVB turns 40 - Exclusive: A look at the never-licensed WKAJ tower site
by SCOTT FYBUSH
*For all of the consolidation that"s changed the U.S. media landscape in the last two decades, it doesn"t even begin to compare with what"s taken place fairly quietly in CANADA over that same period. Not only have independent station owners like Allan Waters" CHUM Group and Gary Slaight"s Standard Broadcasting been swallowed up by larger corporate players, those big corporate players have (unlike most of their counterparts south of the border) combined big radio clusters with equally massive holdings in broadcast. cable and satellite TV, newspapers and wireless service.
The biggest of them all is Bell Media, which includes pieces of the Bell Canada telephone group, the former ExpressVu satellite TV service, CTV television, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail national newspaper and Waters" old CHUM Group radio stations - and on Friday morning, Bell dropped a bombshell, announcing plans to acquire Quebec-based Astral Media for C$2.8 billion (plus the assumption of another C$380 million in debt and C$200 million in special Astral shares, for a total price of C$3.38 billion.)
From Bell"s vantage point, bringing Astral into the fold is primarily about television, and more specifically about French-language television in Quebec. That"s been a weak spot in Bell"s portfolio, and the company"s continued growth into pay television service has meant that it"s been paying lots of money to Astral to carry Astral-owned channels such as Super Écran, The Movie Network and HBO Canada.
But along with the Astral TV networks, the deal also brings 84 radio stations to Bell, joining the 35 stations the company already owns - and that means the CRTC will have some interesting decisions to make on the way to what"s probably the inevitable approval of this latest mega-deal.
As the indispensable Steve Faguy notes in his of the Bell/Astral fallout, Bell already controls 31% of radio listening across Canada. That number would climb to 45% of listenership and nearly a third of all Canadian radio revenue if Bell were allowed to keep all of Astral"s stations. It won"t be, of course - but it could end up retaining a surprisingly large chunk of Astral once the dust settles.
Here"s how it plays out, market by market:
In Toronto, the combined companies would have four FMs and two AMs: Bell"s top-40 CHUM-FM (104.5) and sports CHUM (TSN Radio 1050) and its newer acquisition, urban CFXJ (Flow 93.5), plus the former Standard stations now in Astral"s hands, top-40 "Virgin" CKFM (99.9), classic hits "Boom" (CHBM 97.3) and news-talk CFRB (1010). The CRTC will mandate that at least two FMs get spun off, and that"s almost sure to mean Flow and either Virgin or Boom. Expect some cross-ownership scrutiny here, too, thanks to the Globe and Mail"s base in the market.
The CRTC tends to treat the English-language Ottawa market separately from the Francophones across the river in Gatineau/Hull: on the English side, Astral"s rock CKQB (106.9 the Bear) and AC CJOT (EZ Rock 99.7) would join Bell"s already-maxed cluster of news-talk CFRA (580), sports CFGO (1200 the Team), adult hits CKKL (93.9 Bob FM) and AC CJMJ (Majic 100.3), but market caps would likely result in both Astral stations being spun off. What Bell would keep is the French-language station portfolio: "Rouge FM" CIMF (94.9) and "NRJ" CKTF (104.1).
There is, remarkably, no other overlap between the two companies anywhere in Ontario: Bell already has the former CHUM clusters in Brockville, Kingston, Peterborough/Kawartha Lakes, Kitchener/Waterloo and Windsor, while Astral adds the former Standard stations in Pembroke (CHVR), Hamilton (country CHAM 820, oldies CKOC 1150 and AC CKLH 102.9), St. Catharines (news-talk CKTB 610, rock CHTZ 97.7 and AC CHRE 105.7) and London (news-talk CJBK 1290, comedy CKSL 1410, country CJBX 92.7 and AC CIQM 97.5).
In London, the Bell/Astral combination would create a new radio-TV cross-ownership between Bell"s CTV Two affiliate, CFPL-TV (Channel 10) and the four-station Astral radio cluster. (There"s an interesting historical note here: CFPL-TV used to be tied to what are now the competing Corus Radio stations, CFPL (980) and CFPL-FM (95.9), and later on it had a CHUM Group sister station, CHST 102.3, that"s now owned by another competitor, Rogers.)
On the English side of the Montreal market, Bell"s "TSN Radio" sports talker CKGM (990, with a pending move to 690) would rejoin its former sister rocker CHOM (97.7) and the former Standard stations, news-talk CJAD (800) and top-40 "Virgin Radio" CJFM (95.9), all currently flying the Astral banner. As Steve Faguy notes, that would put Bell over the three-station ownership cap for a market with only five English-language commercial stations (the odd station out is Corus" CKBE 92.5), requiring at least one signal to be sold. Given the strong ties between CKGM and its TSN Radio sister stations (and the station"s impending frequency change), it"s not a given that Bell would sell off CKGM, despite its spot at the bottom of the Montreal Anglo ratings. Could CHOM end off being spun instead?
On the French side, Bell has had no radio presence in Quebec, but this deal changes that in a big way. Astral"s "NRJ" (CKMF 94.3) and "Rouge FM" (CITE 107.3) are the flagships of province-wide networks that carry those two formats to most Quebec markets of any substantial size; in addition to those 17 outlying signals, Astral also has two "Boom FM" French oldies stations (CFZZ 104.1 St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu and CFEI 106.5 Ste.-Hyacinthe) on the outskirts of Montreal.
The Astral purchase also gives Bell a bigger radio footprint in the Maritimes: Astral"s clusters in New Brunswick (CKHJ, CIBX-FM and CFXY-FM in Fredericton, CJCJ in Woodstock, CIKX in Grand Falls, CKBC Bathurst) and Nova Scotia (CKTO/CKTY Truro) will join Bell"s Halifax cluster, CJCH (Bounce 101.3) and CIOO (C-100).
*Will the CRTC sign off on putting all this radio into the same hands that also own the phone company, the wireless company, the biggest commercial TV network and one of the biggest cable/satellite providers? There"s no good reason to think it won"t. In recent years, the big guns of Canadian media - Bell, Rogers, Corus, Cogeco and Quebecor - have enjoyed what amounts to regulatory free rein as they"ve continued to gobble up smaller players, and it will be interesting to watch what happens as this massive deal works its way through the regulatory process.
*As long as we have Montreal in our sights, we note that the CRTC is exerting its regulatory authority against a much smaller player. When ethnic broadcaster Radio Humsafar bought CJLV (1570 Laval) for C$200,000 last year, it was widely expected that the station"s French oldies format would be changed, and that"s just what the new owners wanted to do. But in Canada, that requires CRTC permission, and the commission isn"t granting its blessing. Other ethnic stations in town intervened against the application, saying CJLV"s flip would hurt their own finances, and the CRTC agreed. It"s not clear now what will become of CJLV; Humsafar had suggested that if it didn"t get permission to change the station"s format, it might have to shut the station down. (That would be the second 1570 station to fail in Montreal, following the old CKLM; meanwhile, Humsafar still has another pending CRTC application for a new ethnic station to operate on either 14o0 or 1610.)
*In Toronto, Zack Cooper has departed Rogers" CJCL (Sportsnet 590 the Fan); instead of hosting the Sunday morning "Got Game" show about video gaming, he"s going to work full-time in the gaming business.
Chris Evans is the new afternoon host at CHAY (93.1 Barrie), reports Milkman UnLimited; he"d been at Toronto"s Z103.5 (CIDC) and was more recently doing fill-in work at CIMJ (106.1) in Guelph.
In Ottawa, JD Desrosiers is the new brand manager at CKQB (106.9 the Bear), moving west from Halifax and the PD chair at Evanov"s CKHZ/CKHY there. Desrosiers is an Ottawa native who started in radio at the old CJSB (540), the station that evolved into today"s Bear.
Also in Ottawa, they"re mourning Jack Derouin, who started out as a newsman at CFRA (580) and eventually moved into sales, becoming general sales manager before retiring in 2010. Derouin died last Saturday (March 10) of lung cancer. He was 65.
*It was a busy week for Radio People on the Move in upstate NEW YORK, especially at Clear Channel"s clusters.
We"ll start with Binghamton, where Doug Mosher recently departed Clear Channel (as PD of WMXW "Mix 103.3," WBBI "Big 107.5" and WINR 680) and is now working across town at Equinox Broadcasting"s cluster, where he"s PD and promotions director - and pulling some of the airshifts formerly held by Heather Black, who"s gone from the group.
Over at Clear Channel, Gary Nolan is the new PD. He starts work today, and will soon debut on "Mix" alongside current WMRV morning host Lori Martin, which opens the way for a yet-to-be-announced new morning show on Star. (Dave Lozzi is covering mornings on WMXW in the interim.)
On the other side of the Catskills, it was a whirlwind week at Clear Channel"s Poughkeepsie cluster, most notably at WBWZ (93.3 New Paltz). As of Wednesday afternoon at 4, hot AC "Star 93.3" is history there, replaced, as expected, by "Rock 93.3." PD/morning man Chris Marino is out, saying on his Facebook page that "The next chapter will begin soon."
Down the hall, there"s also a morning vacancy at country WRWD-FM (107.3 Highland)/WRWB (99.3 Ellenville), where morning man CJ McIntyre is gone, with no replacement named so far.
In Albany, Clear Channel"s WPYX (106.5) has picked a replacement for the now-ended "Wolf in the Morning" show. NERW readers know all about "Quinn and Cantara" from their travels around New England radio over the last decade or so, starting at WLZX in Northampton and then moving on to WHJY in Providence and WHEB-FM and WGIR-FM in New Hampshire. Chris "Quinn" Laursen headed west for a while after that, working in film production in Colorado while Steve Cantara did mornings at WRNX (100.9) in Amherst, but they"ve now reunited as the WPYX morning team.
Up the Northway in Glens Falls, Pamal"s WMML (1230) and WENU (1410 South Glens Falls) expected to be off the air for only two weeks when they dismantled their old tower back in January. The project to replace that tower with a new one shared with Verizon Wireless ended up taking much longer than planned, and in the end both stations were off the air for a month and a half before returning Thursday afternoon. WMML returns with some new programming: the sports station will be carrying the New York Mets this summer, part of an expanded Mets network that also includes a new Syracuse affiliate. (We"ll have the full Baseball on the Radio lineup for the major leagues next week, followed by the upper minors in our April 2 issue.)
*In Utica, WRCK (100.7) spent a few days silent last week as the station was transferred from EMF Broadcasting to Roser Communications Network, and if you had the class A signal pegged as the new FM home of Roser"s WUTQ, you guessed right. WUTQ (1550) made its initial FM move a couple of years ago, simulcasting on W238CA (95.5) from Ingraham Hill, initially as AC "B95.5" and more recently with talk; now 100.7, under new calls WUTQ-FM, picks up that format and we don"t know yet what will become of the fairly potent translator. (Roser also simulcasts WUTQ on WADR 1480 up in Remsen.)
Over at Galaxy"s Utica cluster, WUMX (102.5 Rome) has picked up the syndicated Elvis Duran morning show, replacing the simulcast of "Big Mike" Fiss that had been coming from sister station WZUN (102.1) over in Syracuse.
Public broadcaster WRVO (89.9 Oswego) is extending its northward reach all the way to the Thousand Islands Bridge: it signed on WRVH (89.3 Clayton) last week just as that construction permit was about to expire. The 7.9 kW/86" DA signal will serve an area that includes Alexandria Bay and Gananoque, Ontario, just beyond where the signal of WRVO"s Watertown relay, WRVJ (91.7), peters out.
And before we leave central New York behind, how about the first photographic evidence that the ill-fated WKAJ (1120 St. Johnsville) really did exist? A NERW reader in the area drove by the transmitter site on Route 5 and sent us some images of the four-tower array that was apparently built only after the Cranesville Block Company"s construction permit for the new 10 kW facility had already expired last December. As we reported last month, the FCC denied Cranesville"s petition for reconsideration of the expired CP, leaving what appears to be a pretty hefty investment in a brand-new broadcast facility in limbo.
*Radio Managers on the Move: Chet Osadchey quietly exited the big chair at the Cumulus (ex-Citadel) cluster in Buffalo after seven years in the VP/GM position there - and perhaps it says something about the appeal of a well-run smaller group that Osadchey"s next stop is in the rather smaller Ithaca market. That"s where Susan Johnston is retiring as GM of Saga Communications" Cayuga Radio Group, and as her replacement, Osadchey knows the market well, being a Cornell alumnus and all.
*In the Southern Tier, Robert Pfuntner"s Pembrook Pines Mass Media NA, Inc. has lost control of three stations in a bankruptcy proceeding. A filing with the FCC late last week transfers WVIN-FM (98.3) and WABH (1380) in Bath and WQRW (93.5) in Wellsville to receiver Richard Foreman; as best we can tell, Pfuntner"s other stations in Salamanca, Olean, Elmira and Newark aren"t affected by this proceeding.
In another bankruptcy case, George Kimble"s 67% interest in the Finger Lakes Radio Group stations in Canandaigua, Geneva, Auburn and Dundee is being transferred to receiver Gayle Eskay Mills as part of his personal Chapter 7 proceedings; normal operations continue at the stations under Alan Bishop, who retains his 33% interest in the group.
One more station sale downstate (unless you"re reading this south of the Tappan Zee, in which case it"s "one more station sale upstate"): Bud Williamson"s Digital Radio Broadcasting is converting its LMA of WDLC (1490 Port Jervis) and WTSX (96.7 Lehman Township PA) into a purchase from Neversink Broadcasting Company, LLC, for $300,000.
At the other end of I-84, Albany"s ever-growing WAMC Northeast Public Radio is adding yet another signal: it"s been granted a construction permit for 88.5 in Brewster. The 235-watt/144" DA signal will actually transmit from just across the CONNECTICUT state line, where it will serve the Danbury area.
*TV news that"s unequivocally "downstate": as CBS gets ready to take over Long Island"s WLNY-TV (Channel 55), the local news operation out at the independent station"s Melville studios is winding down. The last 11 PM newscast from there will air March 29, and when news returns to the station later on this year it will come from the WCBS-TV (Channel 2) newsroom in Manhattan. The Melville office will continue as WCBS-TV"s Long Island bureau, but apparently without most of WLNY"s existing staff (though we hear anchor Richard Rose will stay on.)
*One of the most prominent pirate stations in eastern MASSACHUSETTS is silent, apparently the result of a raid by FCC enforcement agents late last week. "Hot 97" has had run-ins with the Commission before, having been shut down in 2009 when the station was operating on 97.1 from the One Westinghouse Plaza building in Hyde Park, but it had been operating out in the open for the last few years at 87.7, with a professional-looking website and a signal covering much of metro Boston.
*Over in the Back Bay, all of the FM stations that call the Prudential Tower home are back at their usual transmitter locations after the transformer fire Tuesday night that knocked out power to the entire neighborhood and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and hotel guests.
The Pru, of course, is normally home to seven FM signals: Greater Media’s WBOS (92.9 Brookline), WTKK (96.9), WROR-FM (105.7 Framingham) and WMJX (106.7); CBS Radio’s WZLX (100.7) and WBMX (104.1) and Clear Channel’s WXKS-FM (107.9 Medford). Only the four Greater Media stations had backup generators at the tower, so they stayed on the air with only a brief blip as the generators came up to speed.
CBS recently built a new FM auxiliary site at the “candelabra” tower in Needham (in the old WSBK-TV 38 analog transmitter space), and its two stations jumped over to that site. And “Kiss” has a backup transmitter at the “FM-128″ tower in Newton, sharing space with sister station WJMN (94.5); that backup remained in use until the power finally came back at the Pru on Friday. (The WXKS-FM backup in Newton is only a low-power facility, and we hear not only that Clear Channel received complaints from Kiss listeners in outlying areas, but that there were even a few calls from listeners wondering what had happened to the WXKS "Talk 1200" AM relay on 107.9-HD2, since the backup site is analog-only.)
While this was the first extended power outage at the Pru since the 1970s, it"s still a testament to the importance of backup sites in a big market – you just never know when something like this will happen, and the price of preparedness is relatively low compared to the cost of lost revenue from being off the air. (That"s especially true for CBS, which didn"t have a backup for the Pru FMs until the Needham facility was completed just a few months ago.)
*A Monday morning update from Springfield: Clear Channel"s WHYN-FM (93.1) relaunched this morning with a slightly hotter music mix and a new morning show. "The Morning MIX with Zito and Karen" features Chris Zito, who was last paired up with a different Karen - Karen Blake - at Boston"s WODS; this time, he"s paired with Karen Boyd in the slot last occupied by Dan Williams and Kim Zachary.
*If you"re reading this column at the exact moment it"s posted at 3 AM (hi there, Mike Fitzpatrick!), you"re doing so at precisely the moment that Boston"s WCVB-TV (Channel 5) turns 40. It was early on the morning of March 19, 1972 that the drama over the Channel 5 license in Boston culminated with the last sign-off of CBS affiliate WHDH-TV and the debut just a few hours later of the new WCVB as an ABC affiliate from a completely separate technical plant.
As Boston broadcast historians know, WHDH-TV spent much of its 15-year history fighting to retain its license amidst charges of excessive ownership consolidation - and whether or not those charges were trumped up by the Kennedy family"s dispute with WHDH"s owner, the Boston Herald-Traveler, it"s all in the history books now: the newspaper folded not long afterward, swallowed up by the Record-American, while Boston Broadcasters Inc. went on to make the new WCVB one of the nation"s most impressive local stations, a record it"s maintained through subsequent Metromedia and Hearst ownership.
Boston"s low-power Telemundo outlet is making a temporary digital move. WTMU-LP started out on channel 32 in analog, then found itself displaced to channel 67 when Pax/ion full-power station WBPX (Channel 68) signed on its digital signal on channel 32. Then WTMU-LP had to vacate channel 67 when the FCC cleared out the top of the UHF dial to be auctioned off - and since mid-2010, it"s been mostly off the air, returning just long enough to hold the license. Now the station has been granted Special Temporary Authority to put a low-power digital operation on the air on channel 46 from the same facilities it used on channel 67, up at the old WFNX site above Malden Hospital. WTMU"s long-term plan is to move to the WBZ-TV tower in Needham, but this STA will at least allow for a temporary return to the air while that permanent facility gets built. (And in the meantime, of course, Boston has been getting Telemundo by cable from the network"s full-power outlet up in New Hampshire, WNEU-TV.)
WXRV (92.5 Andover) is keeping its Sunday morning "Brunch by the River" show going without Lisa Garvey, who was abruptly fired from the station last week. The latest spin of the talent door at WXRV"s Haverhill studios brings former "River" PD Dana Marshall, the Sunday show"s creator, back to the station for weekends; there doesn"t appear to be a permanent weekday replacement for Garvey yet.
And while "Woody Tarlow" is far from a household name in Boston radio, it"s a name that should be remembered this week, as we receive delayed news of his death February 26 in Palm Desert, California at age 87.
Judge Sherwood Tarlow (to give him his full due) served as a probate court judge in Dukes County (Martha"s Vineyard) from 1964 until 1974, but we remember him here for something else he did during his days as a lawyer: in January 1952, he put a new radio station on the air in Medford. WHIL began as a daytimer on 1540, but it soon relocated to 1430 on the dial, spawning an FM sister station, WHIL-FM 107.9, six years later.
The Tarlow Association continued to own the stations for two more decades, flipping them to easy listening as WWEL/WWEL-FM before selling them in 1979 to Cecil Heftel, who of course famously flipped WWEL-FM to disco as "Kiss 108."
In addition to the Medford stations, Tarlow also owned WARE (1250 Ware), WLOB (1310 Portland ME) and several southern stations before selling his radio interests and pursuing another career in banking. Tarlow was also very active in charities for the blind and vision-impaired, having lost much of his own eyesight in the years after his World War II service.
*Displaced from its former home on 94.9 by new full-power outlet WJJF and temporarily silent, where is Montville, Connecticut translator W235AJ headed? The relay of Calvary Chapel"s WCSE-LP (100.1 Ledyard) now has a construction permit to move to 103.3.
*In RHODE ISLAND, the new calls on Pawtucket"s AM 550 are WSJW ("St. Joseph the Worker"). The former WBZS changed hands from Salem to Starboard Media Foundation over the weekend, flipping from business talk to Catholic "Relevant Radio" at 12:01 AM on St. Patrick"s Day.
*There"s a follow-up to last week"s news of a TV station sale in MAINE, but still no clear explanation for what appears to be a rock-bottom price for the transaction. When we told you last week that Pennsylvania-based New Age Media is selling Portland CW affiliate WPXT (Channel 51) to Tyche Broadcasting for just $75,000, we noted that the WPXT sale was contingent on another deal yet to be filed with the FCC to sell WPXT"s sister station, Lewiston-licensed My Network affiliate WPME (Channel 35).
So how much is WPME selling for? Once again - just $75,000, according to the sale contract filed last week by MPS Media, the station"s nominal licensee. (It"s operated by New Age under a shared-services agreement.) WPME"s buyer is Triumph Broadcasting, LLC, controlled by Robert McCullough and Jesse Froslie of Portland.
Over at NBC affiliate WCSH (Channel 6), veteran sports director Bruce Glasier is retiring. While Glasier isn"t leaving the Gannett-owned station until sometime next month, he"s already begun saying his goodbyes; you can see a pair of interviews and some archival footage from Glasier"s long career at the WCSH website.
*There"s once again a local radio voice in Sanford. Port Broadcasting, the Carl Strube-Pete Falconi partnership that owns WNBP (1450) down the coast in Newburyport, Mass., has closed on its purchase of the former WPHX (1220 Sanford) from the Boston Phoenix - and they"ve already changed the calls to WWSF and flipped the format from sports (when it was on the air at all) to the same "Legendary Songs and Legendary Singers" standards/AC mix they"re running on WNBP. It"s something of a homecoming for Strube, who began his radio career in his native Portland.
*And our one bit of news from PENNSYLVANIA is a sad "Where are they now?" update: John Garabo went from Hartford"s WWYZ (92.5) to Pittsburgh"s WDSY (107.9) as morning man around 1997, and was still fondly remembered in the Steel City even though his tenure there was over by early 2000. Garabo moved on to the West Coast, working at KSKS in Fresno and then spending a little time in the Cayman Islands programming ZFKY. In recent months, he"d returned to California and was battling diabetes, a fight he lost on Friday when he died peacefully in his sleep.