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 21, 2011 -
*There’s a new twist in the saga of RHODE ISLAND‘s beleaguered ABC affiliate: ABC now says it may not want to keep WLNE (Channel 6) as an affiliate at all. Competitor WPRI (Channel 12) reports that ABC filed paperwork with the court handling WLNE’s bankruptcy sale earlier this month, making clear that the station’s affiliation will only be renewed when it expires on March 31 if ABC approves of the station’s new ownership. (Also at stake are WLNE’s “ABC6″ branding and “abc6.com” website.)
The news – along with WLNE’s budget-driven decision to replace its 7 PM newscast with an infomercial one night last week – prompted the usual spasm of over-the-top message-board speculation about where an ABC affiliation might go and even whether ABC itself might be coveting the “ABC6″ branding for its own WPVI (“6ABC”) in Philadelphia. In reality, though, it’s unlikely to amount to much: the existing major-network players in Providence, LIN’s WPRI (CBS) and WNAC (Fox) and Media General’s WJAR (NBC) aren’t going to ditch their existing affiliations for ABC, and as weak an affiliate as WLNE has been, it still brings more to the table for ABC than any smaller player (CW affiliate WLWC, for instance) could likely provide.
The final decision, of course, will hinge on WLNE’s new ownership, and that’s still far from certain. WPRI reports that WLNE’s bankrupt ownership group, Global Broadcasting, filed its own court paperwork complaining that the $4 million offer from Citadel Communications is far too low, especially when compared to the $14 million Global had paid for the station and the more than $8 million in gross sales Global says WLNE brought in last year.
Global owner Kevin O’Brien says ABC’s threat to pull the affiliation is having a “chilling” effect on the sale price, and he says the court-ordered receiver should sell the former channel 6 analog transmitter site in Tiverton separately from the rest of the station’s assets, claiming he’s received offers of nearly $2 million for the Tiverton land and tower.
*Meanwhile on the AM dial, Salem finally returned Pawtucket’s WBZS (550, ex-WDDZ) to the air last week. The station’s new business-talk format debuted last Monday night (March 14); there’s no sign yet of a website for the station, and it’s not yet listed on Salem’s corporate website.
*The former Radio Disney outlet in CONNECTICUT returned to the air as well: what was WDZK (1550 Bloomfield) is now WSDK, the latest link in Blount Communications’ chain of religious AM stations that stretches from WBCI (105.9 Bath, Maine) through Worcester (WVNE 760 Leicester) and Providence (WARV 1590 Warwick) to New Haven (WFIF 1500 Milford).
WSDK made its on-air debut at 8:30 Saturday morning (March 19); a ribbon-cutting is set for later today at its new studios across the hall from the former WDZK studios in Manchester. There’s also a website and live streaming at 1550wsdk.com.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, an ailing transmitter has sidelined UMass-Lowell’s WUML (91.5). The station had been having trouble with the transmitter for a while, and it died completely over the weekend. A temporary backup transmitter is being shipped to Lowell in hopes of returning WUML to the air as soon as tomorrow; within a couple of months, a permanent replacement transmitter will be in place.
Five Years Ago: March 19, 2007 -
*When one of your town’s most famous citizens is Stephen King, you probably don’t want to get him publicly riled up – especially if you’re the University of MAINE, and it’s King’s radio stations that have been the flagship carriers for your sports coverage for many years.
And in fairness, it’s not the university itself that made the decision last week to move its sports rights from King’s WZON (620 Bangor) over to Clear Channel’s WVOM (103.9 Howland) and WGUY (102.1 Dexter) – that call came from Learfield Sports, to which the University sold its sports rights, under the name “Black Bear Sports.” It’s Black Bear that did the deal with Clear Channel, placing UMaine football and hockey on WVOM, men’s and women’s basketball and some baseball and softball games on WGUY, and creating a network that will carry the games to other parts of the state as well.
Promoting the move on WVOM’s morning show Thursday, station officials said it would give the broadcasts a wider reach across Maine, as well as restoring former Maine sports play-by-play voice George Hale to a role in the broadcasts. (While semi-retired, Hale still does some work with WVOM, a sister station to his longtime broadcast home, WABI 910.)
King and his wife Tabitha have been frequent donors to the university, and he fired back on the station’s website Thursday:
“Tabby and I are very disappointed with the University’s decision to move its sports broadcasting rights to Clear Channel, a company which is based far from the college it will be serving. We understand that monetary considerations were a prime consideration, but feel the Athletic Department in particular and the University in general may not understand that making money the prime consideration in any dealing is usually short-sighted. My wife and I feel that may prove to be the case here; we feel that what UM Athletics has gained for their programs may be offset by a loss in the area of community relations.”
As with any good Stephen King yarn, there’s another twist to the story: the Bangor stations are among the more than 400 nationwide that Clear Channel is trying to sell. Bids for the cluster were due a few weeks ago, and Clear Channel is expected to announce a buyer for the Bangor group any day now. Executives there say the sale won’t affect the UMaine deal, whatever happens.
Comments from listeners on the Bangor Daily News website over the weekend were strongly on the side of the Kings and WZON, and it will be interesting to watch this dispute play out. We’ll be following it here on NERW.
*In other news from New England, there’s yet another TV station sale to report in RHODE ISLAND (though technically, this one’s a MASSACHUSETTS station), as Freedom Communications has reached a deal to sell ABC affiliate WLNE (Channel 6) to Global Broadcasting LLC for an as-yet-undisclosed price.
Global is headed by Kevin O’Brien, who’s spent time at the helm of the Cox and Meredith TV station groups, departing the latter in 2004 after what Broadcasting & Cable describes as a “stormy tenure” in which most of the company’s stations changed general managers and news directors, not to mention an investigation of EEO violations.
Will the arrival of O’Brien and partner Robinson Ewert be less tumultuous at WLNE, which is sitting firmly in third place in the Providence market under Freedom? If nothing else, Global enters at a time when the rest of the market’s unsettled, too – Media General just recently took over WJAR (Channel 10) from NBC, while CBS is in the process of spinning off CW affiliate WLWC (Channel 28) to new owners, leaving only the LIN duopoly of WPRI (Channel 12) and WNAC (Channel 64) under stable ownership at the moment.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, Bob Bittner is trying something new at his standalone AM station, WJIB (740 Cambridge). We’ve reported in recent months on Bob’s struggle with music rights fees, which have skyrocketed now that WJIB has begun to make regular appearances to the left of the decimal point in the ratings. WJIB also lost the income it was receiving from leasing two morning weekday hours to Radio France International, and now Bob says he needs to raise $88,000 this year just to keep the lights on.
The result: an announcement last week that WJIB will experiment with listener support. If Bob can raise the needed money by June 30, he’ll keep his standards format on the air at WJIB with no commercials and only a few interruptions (mostly for the Sunday church services that help keep the station afloat.) If he doesn’t get enough money by June 30, Bob says he’ll return whatever donations have come in by then – and he’ll have some tough decisions to make. He doesn’t want to air commercials, so one possibility is that WJIB may go up for sale. Whaever happens, Bob says his other station, WJTO (730) in Bath, Maine, is safe, since it’s not under the royalty-fee pressure that WJIB faces.
*It’s either the worst-kept secret in western PENNSYLVANIA radio or some really clever stunting, but we’re betting that the impending format change at CBS Radio’s WRKZ (93.7 Pittsburgh) is for real. If blog postings from former WDVE stalwart Scott Paulsen and former KDKA talk host John McIntire are to be believed, “K-Rock” will relaunch April 2 as “The Zone,” with FM talk and a lineup that will include Paulsen in afternoon drive. WRKZ already airs Opie & Anthony’s syndicated morning show, which will stay, and the rumor mill suggests some of CBS’ “Free FM” offerings from elsewhere in the country will fill some of the less-prime slots in the “Zone” schedule.
Ten Years Ago: March 25, 2002 -
Over the last few years, we’ve seen Clear Channel enter plenty of markets in NERW-land (and beyond) with “Kiss”-branded CHR stations, often challenging entrenched CHR competitors. But it’s rare to see one of those competitors change course as quickly as in Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA, where Cumulus pulled the plug on CHR at “Wink 104″ (WNNK 104.1) last week after more than a decade and a half in the format. The move comes less than a year after Clear Channel flipped oldies WWKL-FM (99.3) to “Kiss” as WHKF; despite a much smaller signal, WHKF had pulled even with WNNK in the 12+ numbers by the most recent book. It didn’t help, either, that WNNK parted ways with afternoon host Bruce Bond, one of the market’s best-known personalities, last winter. (We hear Bond just might resurface in the market as an AM talker once his non-compete expires, by the way…) WNNK is still “Wink 104,” but it’s competing in the hot AC arena now, offering up “The Best Music of the 80s, 90s and Today” and adding older tracks by Celine Dion and the like to the playlist.
A bit of radio history died last week with the passing, at age 95, of the Rev. Dr. Carl McIntire. He was best known, perhaps, as the rabidly right-wing preacher whose “Reformation Hour” was heard on the radio from the 1960s until his recent retirement, but in radio circles he’ll be forever known for the license revocation of WXUR and WXUR-FM in Media, near Philadelphia, in 1973. The FCC revoked the stations’ licenses after finding they had violated the (now-defunct) Fairness Doctrine by refusing to present the views of those opposed to McIntire’s fiery anti-Communist, anti-modernist editorials. After the stations were silenced (the AM frequency, 690, reappeared later in the seventies as WPHE Phoenixville, while the FM side remained dark until 1983 when it reappeared as WKSZ, now WPLY), McIntire moved his operation to a ship anchored off the New Jersey shore, from which he operated on 1160 kHz for a few days until a fire broke out and destroyed much of the equipment. McIntire never attempted to return to radio ownership after that, but his commentaries continued to air (most recently on WTMR in Camden) until he ceased producing them three years ago. He died Tuesday (March 19) in Voorhees, N.J.
Moving across to NEW JERSEY, the FCC has approved one of the longest-delayed transactions on the table: the sale of WNJO (94.5 Trenton) and WCHR (920 Trenton) from Great Scott Broadcasting to Nassau. The approval came as part of the Commission’s attempt to clear a backlog of transactions that had been flagged for market-concentration issues; while WNJO-WCHR and four other old transactions were greenlighted, the FCC told Clear Channel it could not acquire WUMX in Charlottesville, Virginia, setting up a potential new round of challenges to the Commission’s still-vague concentration guidelines. As for WNJO and WCHR, Nassau has been operating them under an LMA for so long that most people in the market probably thought the deal had long since gone through.
WBZ-TV (Channel 4) is pulling the plug on its 7 PM newscast on sister station WSBK (Channel 38). It’ll be replaced next month with a 10 PM show on WSBK, the second time in a decade that WBZ has produced a 10 o’clock newscast for WSBK.
A pioneer in CANADA’s multilingual broadcasting scene has died. Johnny Lombardi had to fight hard to get the CRTC to approve a station in a language other than English or French, but he won the license for CHIN in Toronto in 1966, eventually expanding to two full-time services on AM and FM, a new construction permit in Ottawa and a weekend schedule of TV (via CITY-TV Toronto), in a total of more than 30 languages. Lombardi, who remained a vibrant presence at CHIN and in Toronto’s Italian community well into his eighties, died Monday (March 18) at 86. His family continues to own the CHIN stations.
Fifteen Years Ago: March 28, 1997 -
Live, local, and late-breaking: There’s another urban station in Hartford. Mega Broadcasting has flipped WNEZ (910 New Britain) from Spanish romance music to urban as “910 Jamz.” There’s no urban FM in Hartford; the competition is Windsor’s WKND (1480).
Boston’s WCVB-TV (Channel 5) is getting a new owner. Hearst Broadcasting is merging with Argyle Broadcasting, and that means you can now list WCVB as a Hearst-Argyle station. The merger means the company will have to sell WNAC-TV (Channel 64) in Providence, a Fox affiliate operated under LMA by Clear Channel’s WPRI-TV (Channel 12), because of the signal overlap between WCVB and WNAC. Late word is that Hearst is selling its radio properties in Milwaukee (WISN/WLTQ) and Pittsburgh (WTAE/WVTY) to SFX to help pay for the Argyle deal. The Providence market will have another LMA’d TV outlet by next week. WLWC-TV (Channel 28) New Bedford-Providence is due to sign on March 31, operated as a WB affiliate by NBC’s WJAR-TV (Channel 10) Providence. Channel 28 will have a 10pm newscast produced by WJAR-TV.
Call letter news: Boston University’s FM station is no longer WBUR(FM). It’s changed calls to WBUR-FM, allowing the former WUOK(AM) in West Yarmouth to become WBUR(AM). WBUR(AM) simulcasts the NPR news and talk programming from WBUR-FM for Cape Cod listeners on 1240.
Another historic Boston call has returned to the airwaves. WVBF, the calls associated with 105.7 in Framingham from 1970 until 1993, now can be heard each hour on AM 1530 in Middleborough. The new WVBF(AM) is the former WCEG(AM), and broadcasts programming for the blind from the Talking Information Center in Marshfield. The new public radio station on 91.1 from Nantucket will be WNAN(FM), and Sound of Life’s new religious outlet in Glens Falls NY will be WARD(FM). The WARD calls were last seen on what’s now WKQV(AM) 1550 in Pittston PA. 96.1 in Poughkeepsie NY is no longer WNSX; the new calls there are WTND, reflecting its “Thunder Country” simulcast with WTHN (99.3) Ellenville NY.
In business news: Congratulations to Bob Bittner, whose purchase of WJTO (730) Bath ME was approved earlier this month. Bob’s now sorting his way through all the old stuff he’s finding buried deep in the WJTO studio/transmitter facility. WMDI (107.7) Bar Harbor ME has been sold by MDI Communications to Bridge Broadcast Corp. Pilot Communications has sold its radio properties in the Northeast to Broadcasting Partners Holdings LP. The stations include WTVL/WEBB (1490/98.5) Waterville ME; WEZW/WMME (1400/92.3) Augusta ME; and WLTI (105.9), WNSS (1260), WNTQ (93.1) and WAQX (95.7 Manlius) in the Syracuse NY market. WLTI has just been granted a power increase to 4 kW.