In this week’s issue, from NAB in Las Vegas: Merlin readies 106.9 launch in Philadelphia – Boston TVs regroup after antenna failure – Top-40 war brews in Binghamton – Steve Fredericks, RIP
by SCOTT FYBUSH
(This week’s NERW comes to you, for the twelfth year running, from the floor of the NAB Show in Las Vegas. We’re eager to see NERW-land broadcasters who’ll be at the show – especially if Fybush Media’s consulting services can be of service to you as you look to expand your signal reach or make strategic acquisitions. Drop us a line if you’d like a free initial consultation…or if you’re here in Las Vegas and would just like to say hello.
Stay tuned right here at fybush.com for ongoing coverage, live from the show floor…and you can hear more from Las Vegas when I join Bob Smith on Rochester’s “1370 Connection,” at noon ET Tuesday on WXXI 1370 and wxxi.org.
*The week’s biggest story back east is just developing this morning in eastern PENNSYLVANIA: after more than four decades under Family Radio ownership, WKDN (106.9 Camden) is re-emerging under Merlin Media.
Early this morning, WKDN dropped Family programming and began running a loop of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” a not-so-subtle nod to the botched prediction of apocalypse that eventually led Family to sell WKDN and other signals.
As we told you in our mid-week update, WKDN won’t follow the same “FM News” pattern that’s vexed Merlin at its other recent launches, WEMP (101.9 New York) and WIQI (101.1 Chicago). Instead, the new 106.9 will include talk, starting off later today with a nonstop loop of Sean Hannity’s show, which has been off the air in Philadelphia since WPHT dropped him in November 2010.
And as we also explored in that mid-week update, WPHT will soon stop carrying the Rush Limbaugh show. Will that be showing up on 106.9? A well-placed Marlin source tells NERW they’re in “no Rush to reveal anything else” about future program plans on the station, which requested new calls WWIQ in late March. (The “Net Gnomes” over at RadioInsight.com have picked up on domain registrations for “IQ106.com” and “IQ1069.com,” giving a pretty good idea of what the new station’s branding will be.)
Please log in (at the bottom of the page) to view the rest of this column.
If you are logged in already and you can't read the rest of the column, don't panic! All this means is that your subscription has expired. We apologize if you didn't receive an expiration notice. Our subscribers are supposed to receive them automatically, but sometimes the software on our website defies us.
If you're not yet a member, click here to join; your membership gives you full access to current NERW and Tower Site of the Week columns and more than a decade of searchable archives, and it costs as little as a quarter per day. Why are we now subscriber-based? Click here to read more about the reasons behind our decision.
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: April 18, 2011 -
FARMINGTON, N.M. – We’re somewhere between the big NAB Show in Las Vegas last week and home base back east, and so this week’s edition is once again a bit abbreviated…but we’ll be back to whatever passes for “normal” next week, we promise!
A few quick thoughts about the show, first, before we move on to the week’s NERW-land headlines: for a few years now, we’ve been making the observation that radio is an increasingly small part of a show that’s increasingly devoted to film and video production.
That continued to be true this year, especially where the FCC was concerned. The talk of the convention – including at a private meeting between FCC commissioners and state broadcast association leaders – was not about radio broadcasting but about television, specifically the FCC’s strong desire to relocate still more UHF spectrum from broadcast TV to broadband.
That’s a move TV broadcasters continue to fight, but it’s not a significant threat to radio, which occupies a smaller swath of less-desirable spectrum (at least for broadband operators) lower on the dial.
So what were radio broadcasters talking about? There’s the new FCC policy requiring licensees to certify, come renewal time, that they and their advertisers aren’t discriminating against minority or Hispanic audiences when they buy and sell time. (Can such a policy ever really be enforced? Most of the broadcasters we heard from doubt it, citing the impossibility of “knowing the minds” of their advertisers and agencies.) There’s the continuing move of talk and sports formats from AM to FM – and significant concern among some broadcasters that even analog FM is on the road to obsolescence. But despite a big display from HD Radio developer Ibiquity, and a big push from NAB leadership to make FM radio reception (preferably with HD capability) a standard feature on wireless handsets, the future probably lies elsewhere, as broadcasters pursue the real-world audience of millions of existing broadband users with streaming capability.
So what was happening back home while we’ve been away? Here are the headlines…
*The week’s biggest story by far came out of CANADA, where CKLN (88.1 Toronto) was abruptly silenced after a federal appeals court ruled that the station could not move forward with its appeal of the CRTC’s January decision to revoke its license.
CKLN had hoped to remain on the air while pursuing the case in court, arguing that its new leadership was cleaning up a messy dispute that led to the community station being locked out of its Ryerson University studios for seven months. Without that appeal, the CRTC’s revocation order took immediate effect, and CKLN was gone from the 88.1 spot on the dial at 6:45 PM on Friday. It continues to broadcast online, and station officials say they’ll consider reapplying for the 88.1 signal as they try to move forward.
A correction from last week’s whirlwind roundup of the changes in Toronto sports radio: Gord Stellick’s move from CJCL (FAN 590) is actually to XM Canada, where he’s now hosting a midday hockey show called “Breakaway.”
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: “Sun TV” is no more in Toronto. Quebecor pulled the plug on the struggling independent overnight, and a countdown clock is now running toward a 5 PM launch of a broadcast/cable simulcast with Quebecor’s new Sun News Network, which was originally planned as cable-only but has been having difficulty winning carriage.
*One of NEW YORK‘s longest-running radio newsmen is retiring. Charles McCord is best known, of course, for his many decades alongside Don Imus on WNBC/WFAN (660) and more recently on WABC (770) – but he was already a veteran anchor with Washington, D.C. experience before joining WNBC in the early 1970s prior to Imus’ arrival there. McCord, 68, will retire after the May 6 show, and so far no replacement has been named. (Imus, in usual sarcastic mode, declared that he’ll retire in 2017, “and hand off the show to Conan O’Brien.”)
Joe Reilly leaves behind some very big shoes as he departs the New York State Broadcasters Association after 31 years at its helm – but NYSBA has found a well-qualified replacement. He’s David Donovan, who worked at the FCC from 1983-1989 and has since had a distinguished career leading industry trade associations including the Association of Local Television Stations and, since 2001, serving as president of the Association for Maximum Service Television.
*A small NEW JERSEY FM signal is now history: WDDM (89.3 Hazlet) and its translator on 100.7 both went silent last week, with the 89.3 signal giving way to a new higher-powered religious station coming to that frequency.
*VERMONT Public Radio is getting another signal in Middlebury. Competing applicants for 89.1 there had protested the FCC’s initial tentative grant of the frequency to VPR, complaining that VPR’s winning proposal was based on new noncommercial service to an unserved area – an area that’s no longer unserved now that VPR’s been granted another signal there, WOXM (90.1 Middlebury). But the FCC upheld the grant, noting that its decisions are based on a snapshot of the dial as it exists at the start of the application window, at which point WOXM didn’t exist yet.MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: Some sad news from Brattleboro – an overnight fire at the historic Brooks House gutted the downtown landmark, destroying the studio and transmitter of community station WVEW-LP (107.7). At last word, WVEW was off the air and prospects for its return remained uncertain. We’ll keep you posted…
Five Years Ago: April 16, 2007 -
*LAS VEGAS – As this year’s NAB convention gets underway, there’s one topic dominating conversation across the radio industry: the maelstrom of controversy, media self-absorption and deep-seated American cultural issues that all came together last week in a perfect storm that ended – at least for now – the long career of Don Imus.When we sat down to write last week’s column, we didn’t even mention the remarks Imus had made the previous Thursday. At that point, it didn’t look like a regional media story to us – just another set of media watchdogs trying to make political hay over what appeared then to be just another in Imus’ long history of incendiary remarks.
So what happened? Television, for one thing: Imus’ MSNBC simulcast provided video of the remark, which helped turn it into the lead story across the cable news channels (especially, interestingly enough, MSNBC itself) for several days running. It also provided a pressure point for the groups that quickly allied to try to get Imus off the air. By Monday night, MSNBC announced it would suspend Imus for two weeks, and his radio flagship WFAN (660) quickly followed suit. But the suspension wasn’t slated to take effect until today, to allow Imus to take part in WFAN’s annual radiothon on Thursday and Friday.
In a long list of bad decisions (beginning, of course, with Imus’ initial remarks), that one may prove to have been the worst, since it kept Imus in the public eye just as the storm was building to its crescendo – the Tuesday news conference with the members of the Rutgers basketball team that put human faces and voices to the caricatures Imus had tried to draw with that “nappy-headed hoes” remark, making him look (if possible) even worse than he already did.
Imus’ appearance on the radio show of Al Sharpton, one of his loudest (and most powerful) critics, proved to be another bad move, yielding more questionable remarks (most notably Imus attacking “you people”) and still more video to fuel the cable-news inferno through another news cycle.
Another source of fuel for that fire turned out to be the considerable tension between Imus and the rest of the staff at MSNBC, which had been simulcasting Imus’ radio show for a decade. In 2005, Imus began originating the show at MSNBC’s Secaucus studios rather than in the cramped, TV-unfriendly basement studios of WFAN in Astoria, Queens, and the marriage was never a comfortable one, with reports of questionable behavior by Imus toward some MSNBC staffers and long-running animosity between several MSNBC hosts (most notably Keith Olbermann) and Imus.
On Wednesday afternoon, MSNBC announced that it was cancelling Imus’ TV simulcast, effective immediately, with NBC News president Steve Capus blaming the action not only on Imus’ comments the previous week but on concerns expressed by many of the network’s employees about Imus’ history of behavior there.
With a full slate of guests scheduled to travel to the Secaucus studios Thursday morning for the start of the radiothon, there was no way to move the show, which set the stage for an uncomfortable morning: Imus, off the TV airwaves, still broadcasting from the studio of the network that had just fired him – and that network devoting most of its airtime to the story, complete with live reports from outside its own building.
Strange as that was, it was about to get stranger: on Thursday afternoon, word began circulating that Imus would lose his radio gig after the Friday show. In fact, he didn’t even get to do a last show, as CBS bowed to the pressure and pulled him off the air immediately, prompting an on-air protest from WFAN’s afternoon hosts, Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, attacking their bosses for what they called an over-reaction. (Behind the scenes, we hear the staff at WFAN was stunned at how quickly matters were going downhill; Imus’ show was responsible for something in the neighborhood of $15 million of the station’s $60 million or so in annual revenue, and until the final moments, few inside WFAN thought CBS would pull the plug on that income stream.)
That evening, Imus met with the Rutgers team at the New Jersey governor’s mansion, though without Governor Jon Corzine, whose vehicle was in an accident on the way to the meeting, leaving him hospitalized.
On Friday morning, the radiothon was once again broadcast from Secaucus, this time with Deirdre Imus at the helm, in what we hear was an even stranger atmosphere than Thursday’s show.
*If not for Don Imus’ misadventures, our lead story this week would have been across the Hudson, out at the East Rutherford, NEW JERSEY transmitter site of WEPN (1050 New York).
With the huge new Xanadu retail-entertainment-hotel complex rising right next to the WEPN site, it’s been no secret for a while now that the days were numbered for the 67-year-old transmitter building and towers, which we profiled on Tower Site of the Week in 2005 and featured just last month in the Tower Site Calendar.
A few years back, WEPN built an auxiliary transmitter facility at the Lodi, N.J. site of soon-to-be-ex-sister station WABC (770) to allow it to stay on the air during Xanadu construction. And now that all of Xanadu’s steel is in the air just a few hundred yards from WEPN’s northernmost tower, Disney is throwing in the towel and applying to the FCC to move the ESPN Radio flagship to a new tower site.
The application filed last week calls for three new 484-foot self-supporting towers to be built in what’s now swampland just south of Routes 3/495 and east of the New Jersey Turnpike’s exit 16E/18 toll plaza in Secaucus, a mile or so to the southeast of WEPN’s existing site. With the same 50,000 watts day and night, and a nearly identical pattern to its current facility, there shouldn’t be much change in WEPN’s signal reach when the new site is built. (And we’ll do our best to chronicle the construction of the new site as it gets underway, too.)
*Our MASSACHUSETTS news this week starts out on Cape Cod, where Sandab Communications is swapping calls and formats at two of the stations in its newly-expanded cluster.
On Tuesday, soft AC WOCN-FM (103.9 South Yarmouth) will move from its class A signal to the much more powerful class B signal of WKPE-FM (104.7 Orleans), with the “Rocket” classic rock format from 104.7 moving down to 103.9. Sandab already owns WQRC (99.9 Barnstable), and it’s acquiring both WKPE-FM and WFCC (107.5 Chatham) from Charles River Broadcasting. (No changes to WFCC’s classical format are expected.)
Meanwhile, the dormant WCDJ (102.3 Truro) is getting new calls – WGTX – as it changes hands from Karl Nurse to “Dunes 102 FM,” a partnership that includes former Boston jock Ron Robin, who plans to launch an oldies format on the small Outer Cape signal.
*In NEW HAMPSHIRE and VERMONT, Imus’ affiliates (Clear Channel’s WQSO 96.7 Rochester NH and WXZO 96.7 Willsboro NY/WEAV 960 Plattsburgh NY) and Nassau’s WHDQ 106.1 Claremont NH, WNHW 93.3 Belmonth NH, WEXP 101.5 Brandon VT/WTHK 100.7 Wilmington VT, WSNO 1450 Barre) had initially planned to stick with the show – Clear Channel was even planning to bring Imus to Portsmouth for a live show sponsored by WQSO later in the spring – but the stance didn’t last. After CBS pulled the plug on the radio show, Nassau issued a press release announcing that it, too, had “cancelled” the show; we’ll keep you posted as we find out what’s replacing Imus at each of these affiliates in what had been one of the strongest regions for his show.
*In MAINE, Cumulus’ Bangor-market WWMJ (95.7 Ellsworth) was one of the first stations to announce it was dropping the Imus show as the furor grew, while Saga’s WZAN (970 Portland) was planning to stick with the show. (Before the show was completely cancelled, we hear WZAN was getting calls from the Bangor area asking if it could increase its power to serve listeners up there who still wanted Imus…)
Ten Years Ago: April 15, 2002 -
We’ll kick things off in NEW HAMPSHIRE, where Saga consolidated its grwoing hold on the southwestern corner of the Granite State by announcing a $2,625,000 purchase of WKBK (1220 Keene) and WXOD (98.7 Winchester) from Scott Roberts. The purchase comes in the same week as FCC approval for Saga’s previous purchase in the region, as the company adds Telemedia’s WKNE (1290 Keene) and WKNE-FM (103.7 Keene), not to mention WKVT AM-FM across the river in Brattleboro, Vermont, to a group that already includes a cluster to the south in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley (WHAI/WHMQ Greenfield, WLZX/WHMP Northampton and WAQY/WHNP Springfield) and one to the east in Manchester (WZID/WFEA). Expect WKBK, which runs talk, and WXOD, which does oldies, to leave their second-floor digs in downtown Keene and move in to an expanded WKNE complex. Saga’s saying there won’t be staffing or format changes, but anyone who’s worked in radio for more than a day or two knows how commonly that promise is made…
Plenty of radio and TV people on the move in MASSACHUSETTS, as well, and we’ll start on the TV side, where Jack Hynes announced he’ll step down from the weekend anchor seat at WLVI (Channel 56) after 18 years at the station and 47 years on Boston television. Hynes, 73, made the classy gesture to create a job for WLVI anchor Frank Mallicoat, who’s losing his own anchor seat with the cancellation of WLVI’s morning newscast. Hynes, whose resume includes 26 years at both of Boston’s channel 5s (WHDH-TV and WCVB) and a couple of years at WBZ-TV, will stay with channel 56 as a commentator and special-events anchor.
Meanwhile, the current WHDH-TV (Channel 7) is losing its last on-air link to its old days as WNAC-TV and WNEV with the departure of meteorologist Harvey Leonard. He’s headed out to Needham for weather duties at WCVB (Channel 5) sometime later in the year.
The residents in one of CONNECTICUT’s toniest towns are proving they’ll try to fight even the most inoffensive of tower proposals. WGCH (1490 Greenwich) is fighting to stay on the air in the wake of an eviction notice at its current tower site; the little community station has proposed putting up a 74-foot (!) fiberglass mast on town-owned land next to the North Street School, but it’s facing knee-jerk opposition from neighbors who say they’re concerned about electromagnetic radiation from the station. The good news in this fight is that it doesn’t appear there’s much the school can do to stop the project, other than holding noisy public hearings, so there’s reason to hope WGCH will continue to be able to provide public service to its ungrateful community for years to come.
Fifteen Years Ago: April 17, 1997 -
After nearly four decades of family ownership, Knight Quality Broadcasting is being sold to Capstar for $70 million. Capstar enters New England radio in a big way — it gets WTAG (580) and WSRS (96.1) in Worcester MA, WGIR AM/FM (610/101.1) in Manchester NH, WHEB (100.3), WXHT (95.3 York Center ME), and WTMN (1380) in Portsmouth NH, and WEZF (92.9) in Burlington VT. Patriarch Norman Knight had transferred the stations to his children last year; Inside Radio reports they’ll join Capstar’s management team once the deal closes. Capstar is already saying it will be making more acquisitions in New England in the near future. We’ll keep you posted.
There’s a brand-new station, right here in NERW’s new home town of Brighton NY. After six months of nonstop rock instrumentals, WAQB (94.1) got down to business last Friday afternoon with an Alanis Morrissette tune. The station’s new modern AC format is going by the “Zone” nickname, and for now it’s running jockless as it plays the first 10,000 songs commercial-free. Rick MacKenzie is the PD, and Bill Moran of sister station WCMF-FM (96.5) will move downstairs to do mornings on the Zone, which is expected to get new calls any day now. The Zone is aimed squarely at Rochester’s other giant radio operator, Jacor, which plays most of the same music on modern rock WNVE (95.1 South Bristol, “The Nerve”) and newly-purchased AAA WMAX-FM (106.7 Irondeqoit-Rochester and WMHX 102.3 Canandaigua). WAQB is the latest acquisition of American Radio Systems, which also owns WCMF-FM, CHR WPXY-FM (97.9), AC WRMM-FM (101.3), and is selling WCMF (990).
Another new sign-on is the long-awaited WLWC-TV (Channel 28) New Bedford-Providence RI. After several months of delays, WLWC signed on this past weekend, with a signal covering most of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. WLWC is operated by NBC’s WJAR (Channel 10) Providence, and is a WB affiliate. WJAR programs a 10pm newscast weeknights on channel 28.
Hartford’s WTIC AM/FM (1080/96.5) was the target of a bomb threat Wednesday afternoon. The station’s downtown studios were evacuated after a caller to nearby WFSB-TV (Channel 3) claimed there was a bomb in the building’s garage. WTIC staffers put hour-long tapes of Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the AM and generic music on the FM before evacuating. The FM tape repeated, but WTIC(AM) went into dead air for an hour before staffers were able to return to the studios. Transmitters for both stations are in Avon CT, and were not affected by the threat — so NERW wonders whether there’s any provision for WTIC programming to originate from the transmitter site in such instances. By the way, WTIC ended its 23-year career as the Hartford Whalers’ flagship station this week. WTIC broadcast the very first Whalers game in 1974, and now it’s also broadcast the last, as the team prepares to move for next season.