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In this week's issue: Emmis, ESPN spin the New York FM dial - Remembering Pete Fornatale - Cumulus, Townsquare swap signals - Sixers switch radio homes - New owner for Ontario's Haliburton Broadcasting

by SCOTT FYBUSH

*Few days in NEW YORK City radio history have produced so many surprises  as this past Thursday.

We knew, of course, that ESPN had long coveted an FM outlet to overcome the signal deficiencies of its New York flagship WEPN (1050), a perpetual laggard in the ratings battle against CBS Radio's behemoth WFAN (660). But of all the possibilities floated for a new WEPN-FM, the news on Thursday came as a nearly complete surprise: a complex deal involving ESPN, Emmis Communications' WRKS (98.7) and YMF, which recently took over Inner City Broadcasting's WBLS (107.5) and WLIB (1190).

Now that the dust has settled, here's how it all plays out - and what we think it all means:

For listeners, the effects of the deal began to appear on the FM dial almost as soon as the ESPN press conference was underway Thursday morning: WRKS began simulcasting with WBLS in what was billed as a "celebration" of 30 years of urban radio on "Kiss 98.7."

That simulcast, which ended Friday night as the stations went into their separate weekend programming, was the result of a $10 million deal under which YMF is acquiring the intellectual property of WRKS: the "Kiss" nickname, the station's playlist and some of its airstaff. Starting today, YMF begins the challenging task of merging the "Kiss" DNA with its own WBLS, bringing together two stations that have been competitors for more than a generation.

Here's what we know so far about that piece of the puzzle: WBLS will keep its own Steve Harvey morning show instead of taking WRKS' Tom Joyner. In middays, it's WRKS' Shaila (who displaces WBLS' own Deja Vu.) Jeff Foxx remains in afternoons on WBLS (leaving the syndicated Michael Baisden without a New York home), and at night Lenny Green comes over from WRKS, replacing Keith Sweat on WBLS. We'll know more this weekend about what moves where, but we'd expect WBLS staples such as Hal Jackson, Imhotep Gary Byrd and the Sunday gospel and Caribbean blocks to remain in place.

At least one longtime WRKS weekend staple, DJ Red Alert, made an emotional signoff Saturday night and apparently won't be making the move to WBLS. Nor, apparently, will be Felix Hernandez and the Sunday edition of his "Rhythm Review," though he'll continue to be heard Saturdays on WBGO (88.3).

And as for the branding? All signs of "Kiss" disappeared from the WBLS website right at midnight - so in effect, it appears YMF may have paid more for the privilege of eliminating WBLS' biggest competition than for much of the branding that went with WRKS.

(If you're keeping track of these things at home, WRKS went out with a tw0-hour live edition of its "Week in Review" talk show, hosted by veteran newsman Bob Slade, whose time at 98.7 goes back to the days before "Kiss"; he was accompanied by a studio full of WRKS jocks to say goodbye. The last song heard on Kiss was "Brothers Gonna Work it Out" by Willie Hutch, followed a moment later on WBLS by Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel.")

*Over at 98.7, it's ESPN Radio as of 12:01 this morning, simulcasting WEPN (1050) - but what's on the air is less complex than the tangled financial web behind the scenes. Emmis has been one of the more debt-heavy big broadcasters out there (notwithstanding that it bought WRKS itself for a very reasonable $68 million back in 1994) and its arrangement with ESPN will help to pay off some of the $240 million Emmis now owes creditors.

Here's how Emmis plans to make all this pay: on the content side, Emmis is getting $10 million from YMF for the WRKS intellectual property, plus additional quarterly payouts of 15% of any revenue increase WBLS shows as it adds WRKS content. On the signal side, the Emmis lease of 98.7 to ESPN is a twelve-year deal starts out at $8.435 million for the first year and increases by 3.5% each year through 2024.

But wait - there's more! That money won't flow directly to Emmis as it comes in. Instead, Emmis is structuring a new subsidiary that will hold the 98.7 license and its lease proceeds as collateral for a new $75 million loan from Wells Fargo and TIAA, the national teachers' insurance company. It's the proceeds from that loan that Emmis will use to pay down some of its more immediate debt.

In effect (at least if we understand this all clearly), what Emmis is doing here is extracting pretty much every bit of value it can from the 98.7 license without actually selling it outright. Emmis says the entire deal - intellectual property, signal lease, additional payments from YMF and all - will bring in $96 million, and that's probably more at this point than the 98.7 signal would fetch on an open market in an outright sale.

*This deal, of course, raises a whole slew of new questions and changes in the competitive dynamic in New York. A few bullet points:

  • Is this the first shot in an FM sports war? CBS Radio is no stranger to FM sports, and it knows from its Boston experience that an aggressive new FM sports player (its own WBZ-FM, three summers ago) can make a major dent in an established AM sports veteran (Entercom's WEEI, which eventually had to make an FM move of its own.) In Philadelphia, CBS recently made a defensive move to FM at WIP, which had been fending off Greater Media's WPEN-FM but was feeling pressure from sports rights-holders who wanted their games on FM. In New York, it's been a very tilted playing field, with CBS Radio's dominant WFAN (660) holding pretty much all the cards - better signal, better play-by-play rights, much bigger ratings and revenue - against ESPN on 1050. But 98.7's full-market class B FM signal from the Empire State building will be a game-changer, and it arrives just as several big radio rights deals are up for renewal. ESPN has already signaled that it will be a deep-pocketed contender for the Yankees rights now held by CBS Radio's WCBS (880), and if the Yankees believe FM will bring their games a younger audience, there's every reason to believe CBS won't hesitate to pull the trigger on a new WFAN-FM if that's what it needs to retain those rights. The Mets, now heard on WFAN, are also in play for next season, and while they lack the cachet of the Yankees, they'd still be a big consolation prize for "ESPN 98.7" if CBS hangs on to the Yanks. ESPN will bring the Jets, Knicks and Rangers to FM on 98.7, and at some point the Giants, Nets and Devils, all heard on WFAN, will surely want their own FM exposure. Bottom line: WFAN-FM may not happen right away, but it's only a matter of time. (And when it does, the betting line is that it will replace top-40 "Now" on WXRK 92.3, the lowest-rated and lowest-billing of CBS' three New York FMs.) One more bit of irony here: it was Emmis that took the big risk to create WFAN as the nation's first all-sports station 26 years ago - on 1050.
  • How will ESPN program 98.7 to compete with WFAN's talk lineup? The "Worldwide Leader" has been smart enough in recent years to know it can't compete against local-local-local WFAN with the national program lineup that comes from its studios in Bristol, Connecticut. On 1050, it's already been programming more than half its weekday hours locally, and that will continue on 98.7, albeit with some schedule shuffles. Stephen A. Smith moves from evenings to middays, taking a new 1-3 PM slot alongside Ryan Ruocco, and he was also on hand to kick off the new FM signal at 12:01 this morning. Mike Lupica's now being heard at noon for an hour, and Dave Rothenberg now hosts the 6-9 PM slot. If you're counting at home, that's 14 hours of local programming a day (Jared Max's 4-6 AM local shift, plus nonstop local from noon- midnight) alongside ESPN's flagship morning shows, Mike & Mike at 6 and Colin Cowherd at 10.
  • What's the future for urban radio in New York, especially at Emmis' remaining signal, WQHT? The numbers Emmis set out for WRKS' declining revenue are daunting: "Kiss" took in $16 million three years ago, slumping to just $11 million in revenue last year. (If you're following along at home, yes, that means that within a few years Emmis will take in more in lease revenue from ESPN than it was making in total revenue as "Kiss," without any of the associated expenses.) For fans of urban radio, there's reason to be concerned about the future. With Magic Johnson as a partner, YMF appears to be committed to keeping WBLS alive over the long term, but it's hard to forget that the reason Johnson and his YMF partners ended up with the station in the first place was the bankruptcy of longtime owner Inner City. With WRKS gone and former sister station WEMP (101.9) now in the hands of Merlin Media (with Emmis as a minority partner), the only station remaining directly in Emmis control in New York is WQHT (97.1). Can "Hot 97" succeed as a standalone in a heavily-clustered market? It's not the only market where Emmis is trying to make a go of a standalone hip-hop station, and it's working pretty well in Los Angeles at KPWR (105.9). But unlike LA, there's a strong competitor in the hip-hop arena in New York, Clear Channel's "Power 105.1" WWPR. Will WWPR stick with hip-hop, or might it try to fill the more adult R&B vacancy now being created by WRKS? Expect some turbulence in New York's FM music landscape in the months to come.
  • 1050 goes Spanish. After a few months of simulcasting with 98.7, ESPN will flip its AM 1050 signal in September, using it to give Spanish-language ESPN Deportes Radio a full-time New York clearance. While the 1050 signal isn't full-market, it's still a 50 kW AM with a good reach over the five boroughs. ESPN Deportes tends to focus heavily on soccer (er, "futbol"), which is a big winner among Mexican-American audiences in the southwest but may not play as well among New York's huge Puerto Rican and Dominican communities, but the key here is simply a presence for the network in the nation's number-one market. Deportes on 1050 may also make for a nice bargaining chip for Yankees or Mets rights; in Spanish, those teams are both heard on Univision Radio's New York cluster right now. It's also not clear what becomes of the 1050 simulcast on WNJE (1040) in Flemington, New Jersey, which ESPN has been leasing from Nassau to augment the 1050 signal to the west; that area doesn't have much of a Hispanic population, though the 1040 day signal does reach some Spanish-speaking audiences in the Lehigh Valley.
  • What about those HD subchannels? Emmis has been leasing 98.7-HD2 to "Hum Desi Radio," which programs to New York's Indian community, but over the weekend Hum Desi shifted to WQHT's 97.1-HD2, displacing "MyRXP," the rock stream that was the last surviving bit of the old WRXP (101.9) in its pre-Merlin days. As of Sunday, 98.7-HD2 was carrying dead air, as was a new 98.7-HD3; at midnight, they lit up under ESPN control with ESPN Deportes on HD2 and the national ESPN News feed on HD3.
  • Will there be new callsigns? As of late Sunday, no requests had been filed for call changes at any of the affected stations, so for now it's still WRKS on 98.7, WBLS on 107.5, and WEPN on 1050. We'd expect 98.7 to become WEPN-FM at some point soon.
  • And what about WFME? There are plenty of apparent winners in this complex deal - Emmis gets much-needed cash, ESPN gets its FM outlet and a place to park ESPN Deportes, YMF gets rid of the biggest competition to WBLS. But then there's Family Stations, which is trying to sell its WFME (94.7 Newark NJ). Until Thursday morning, there was every reason to believe ESPN was a prime contender for that New Jersey-based class B signal; despite its limited signal compared to the full class Bs on Empire, it was still the biggest FM on the market - or so it seemed. And if you're the broker who ends up with the WFME listing, you're probably wondering, "what now?" There are sure to be other prospective buyers - it's still one of the largest FMs in the country by population reach, after all - but taking ESPN's Disney cash out of the picture seems likely to reduce the price Family will get for 94.7 when it finally sells.

*If not for the WRKS upheaval, we'd have led this week's column with another huge story from New York: the death of one of the city's best-loved rock DJs.

Pete Fornatale

In a 48-year career spent entirely in the city, Pete Fornatale lived the dream, starting in 1964 as an exceptionally talented student DJ on WFUV (90.7), the radio station at his alma mater, Fordham University. At WFUV, Fornatale pioneered free-form rock programming on what had been a staid "educational" FM station, and he quickly parlayed that skill into paying work at WNEW-FM (102.7), one of the city's first commercial free-form rockers. Fornatale was on WNEW-FM from 1969 until 1989, fighting to keep the free-form torch burning in an increasingly structured world of commercial radio formats. In 1982, he launched "Mixed Bag," a Sunday bastion of themed free-form programming that came along with Fornatale when he moved down the dial to WXRK (92.3) in 1989 to do middays.

In 1997, Fornatale returned to WNEW-FM for what turned out to be that station's last gasp as a classic rocker, but that lasted only a year, and by 2001 he was back where he'd started at WFUV, where "Mixed Bag" settled in nicely to what had by then become a professionally-run AAA format, a successor in a way to the free-form radio Fornatale had started there back in the sixties.

Fornatale also became a successful author, writing books that included an early history of music radio ("Radio in the Television Age," co-written with Josh Mills in 1983) and his story of the Woodstock festival.

Fornatale died Thursday, several days after suffering a stroke. He was just 66. WFUV will remember him with a special broadcast next Saturday (May 5) in his old "Mixed Bag" timeslot, from 4-8 PM.

*Up the dial at Clear Channel's WLTW (106.7 New York), Jillian Kempton is the new assistant PD, coming to "Lite FM" from Philadelphia's WBEB (B101).

And there's yet another move on the way for W292DV (106.3), the translator that had big dreams of serving midtown Manhattan but couldn't overcome interference issues. Even at its newly-reduced 25-watt status from a site in Long Island City, Queens, the translator has been facing interference complaints from Press Broadcasting's WKMK (106.3 Eatontown NJ), which has been actively soliciting listener reports at its website. Now owner Michael Celenza has applied to downgrade W292DV once again, this time shifting it to just 10 watts from the North Shore Towers apartment complex on the Queens/Nassau line, the same location where WQBU (92.7 Garden City) has long had its transmitter. From there, the 10-watt W292DV would serve only a small chunk of eastern Queens and adjoining Nassau County. For now, at least, the translator is still shown as relaying WVIP (93.5) from New Rochelle, and it's recently been heard with the country programming from WVIP's HD3 subchannel.

MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: There's still more deal-making percolating out there, and it finds Cumulus exiting several of its smaller markets in the region in a swap with Townsquare. Townsquare is adding the Cumulus (ex-Citadel) clusters in Binghamton, New Bedford, Augusta-Waterville and Bangor (along with six other markets outside the region) to its lineup, while Cumulus takes former Townsquare properties in central Illinois and $116 million in cash. The deal reinforces Townsquare's lineup in upstate New York (where it's already in Buffalo, Utica, Albany and very close to Binghamton in the Oneonta area) and gives the company its first foothold in New England. Much more in next week's NERW...

*In Binghamton, Sonny King is out as morning man at classic hits WBBI (107.5 Endwell); Clear Channel's "Big 107.5" is now running an all-Premium Choice lineup that features Washington-based Loo Katz tracking morning drive.

In Syracuse, CNYRadio.com reports WOLF-FM (105.1 DeRuyter)/WWLF-FM (96.7 Oswego) has named Syracuse native (and Emerson College graduate) Taylor Smith as its new midday jock; she's been working as the stations' promotions director for several months now.

CNYRadio also reports Roser Communications is trying to sell the WRCK callsign that came along with its purchase of Utica's 100.7 FM. That signal is now WUTQ-FM, and Roser has parked the venerable WRCK calls (which spent almost 30 years at 107.3 on the dial, now EMF's WKVU) on what had long been WADR 1480 up in Remsen.

SUNY Oneonta has swapped the callsigns between its full-power and LPFM licenses: WUOW-LP (104.7 Oneonta) is now WUWO-LP, while WUWO (88.5 Milford) is now WUOW. It's that 88.5 facility (augmented by a 91.3 translator in Oneonta) that will be the new permanent home of WUOW's public radio format, while the LPFM license will be transferred to a new licensee.

*PENNSYLVANIA's only NBA team is changing radio homes, and it's not waiting until the start of the next season to do it. The Philadelphia 76ers were once a cornerstone of the all-sports format on CBS Radio's WIP (610), but as WIP and CBS kept adding more play-by-play rights, the Sixers found themselves at the bottom of the priority list, often being shuffled to talker WPHT (1210) now that the Phillies have become WIP's star attraction, followed by the Flyers.

Instead of being the number-four team at WIP (which also has the Eagles), the 76ers are becoming the star attraction at Greater Media's "Fanatic," WPEN-FM (97.5 Burlington NJ). It's being described as a "multi-year deal" that starts at the beginning of the NBA playoffs, and it will also put most Sixers games on WPEN (950).

*Where are they now? Former KDKA (1020 Pittsburgh) PD Marshall Adams has landed a new job that takes him south again. Adams was programming WBT (1110) in Charlotte, N.C. before coming home to Pittsburgh and KDKA, and now he'll be programming a new Cumulus-owned all-news outlet in Atlanta. The new format will launch next month on what's  now oldies WYAY (106.7), challenging established talkers WSB (Cox) and WGST (Clear Channel) for the spoken-word audience in Atlanta.

In Allentown, "Mackenzie" is the new middayer at WZZO (95.1), where she replaces veteran PD/middayer Tori Thomas. (Operations manager Craig Stevens has taken on Thomas' PD responsibilities at 'ZZO.) Mackenzie comes to the Lehigh Valley from WZRX (107.5) in the Lima, Ohio market; coincidentally, a tower you can see in this week's Tower Site of the Week.

*It didn't take long for that silent NEW JERSEY class D signal to return to the airwaves. WPDI (104.7 Hazlet) is the reincarnation of the former WDDM (89.3), which was forced from its old frequency by the arrival of Catholic WFJS-FM (89.3 Freehold) last year. It's carrying the "Radio Asia" programming from WPRB (103.3 Princeton)'s HD2 channel, which is a continuation of the former "Dhoom FM" Indian format that had been heard on WDDM.

Paul Hunsberger

We're sorry to report the death of veteran WSNJ (1240 Bridgeton) announcer Paul Hunsberger, whose career at the station began way back in the early 1940s. After serving with the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II, Hunsberger returned to south Jersey and WSNJ in 1948, working first as an account executive and eventually as the host of "Off the Cuff," a daily conversation program that ran for nearly half a century.

During that time, Hunsberger interviewed more than 10,000 people and boasted of never having repeated a guest. Hunsberger officially retired in 2011, but WSNJ president Jim Quinn says he was still selling advertising for the station as recently as early April. Hunsberger died Monday at age 93.

*The news in MASSACHUSETTS is all about small new signals at the bottom of the dial.

In Middleborough Center, the Talking Information Center has applied for a license to cover for WRRS (88.5), a new 400-watt signal that will carry TIC's radio reading service. WRRS is actually the second station in Middleborough carrying TIC programming, alongside Steve Callahan's WVBF (1530), which runs TIC when it's not carrying other local shows. TIC had owned a low-power FM in the Berkshires, WRRS-LP (104.3 Pittsfield), which it recently transferred to the Berkshire Benevolent Association for the Blind.

While we're out west, we note that WJNF (91.7 Dalton), an as-yet-unbuilt CP, is being transferred (for no cash) from Calvary Chapel of the Berkshires to Fitchburg-based Horizon Christian Fellowship, which runs WJWT (91.7 Fitchburg) and six satellites around southern New England.

Another growing regional Christian network, the Augusta, Maine-based Light of Life, is hoping to get its new signal on Cape Ann built before the construction permit expires June 12. Light of Life has applied to modify the CP for WWRN (91.5 Rockport) to decrease the power and antenna height, going from 800 watts/285' DA down to 530 watts/187', non-directional, from a rooftop about a quarter-mile away from the original CP site in Gloucester.

*Speaking of MAINE, the big story up there this week was the retirement of Bruce Glasier, veteran sports director at Portland's WCSH (Channel 6). Glasier was the original weekend sportscaster at WCSH when it began doing weekend newscasts in 1977, and by 1979 he was the lead sportscaster there on weekdays. The station marked Glasier's last broadcast Friday with plenty of tributes, including a nice photo gallery on its website.

*In RHODE ISLAND, Cox Cable is replacing the "RI News Channel" (cable channels 5/1005) with a new brand, "OSN-Ocean State Networks." The news channel had been programmed by ABC affiliate WLNE (Channel 6) until the beginning of January, when NBC affiliate WJAR (Channel 10) took over that role. OSN will make its official debut on Wednesday, but it's already carrying loops of WJAR news programming.

The new OSN will also include the Cox-produced local sports programming that has been airing on cable channel 3; it's not clear what becomes of the channel 3 relay of the 10 PM newscast from Boston's WLVI (Channel 56), the last relic of Boston TV news on the Cox Rhode Island system.

*There's a new broadcaster coming to eastern CANADA, as British Columbia-based Vista Broadcast Group picks up the 24 Ontario stations of Haliburton Broadcasting. The move is being orchestrated by Westerkirk Capital, which is taking Vista and its 38 B.C., Alberta and Northwest Territories stations private, buying all the outstanding shares not controlled by Vista's management group. Haliburton has been one of the fastest-growing small-market broadcasters, spreading its "Moose FM" brand from its original base in "cottage country" north of Toronto across much of small-town Ontario. There's no announced price tag yet for this deal.

In the Ottawa/Gatineau market, there's testing underway again on CIRA-5 (1350), the new relay of Montreal's "Radio Ville-Marie" (CIRA 91.3) - but another broadcaster hoping for a new AM signal has been turned down. Papoo Holdings wanted a 1000-watt signal on 1630, broadcasting in Arabic and mainly relaying its CHOU (1450) from Montreal. Another ethnic broadcaster already operating in Ottawa, CHIN Radio's CJLL (97.9), objected to the proposal, arguing that the Papoo proposal would have a negative impact on its own business. The CRTC agreed, saying Papoo's proposal was at odds with its own multilingual broadcasting policy, which favors stations such as CJLL that serve multiple ethnic groups and provide considerable local content.

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: May 2, 2011 -

*Does broadcast radio still matter? It certainly did last week in the tornado-ravaged south, where good old-fashioned radio (and over-the-air TV) kept going strong with emergency information even as wireless networks and cable were collapsing under heavy winds, overloaded systems and power outages.And it apparently still matters in Erie, PENNSYLVANIA, to the tune of at least $1.4 million. That's where the bidding for a new FM channel stands as round 13 of the FCC's FM Auction 91 opens this morning. The class A facility on 92.7 is by far the priciest construction permit among the 144 signals up for bid in this auction, and the bidding war between Rick Rambaldo's First Channel Communications and Jeff Warshaw's Mini-Me group has been getting national attention, not to mention a front-page article in the Erie Times-News.

Rambaldo, of course, is the broadcast entrepreneur who entered the Erie market in 1989 by flipping sleepy little North East-based WHYP-FM (100.9) to market-leading rocker "Rocket 101" (WRKT), eventually building up to a six-station cluster that's now in the hands of Connoisseur Communications - which is the same ownership group behind Mini-Me.

Whichever group ends up with 92.7 will have plenty of challenges beyond the obvious one of building a profitable radio station after paying well into seven figures for the CP, plus the considerable build-out cost of the station itself. It's certainly not impossible for a class A station to succeed in the relatively compact Erie market (that's how WRKT started, and existing As on 94.7 and 102.3 are competitive as well), but the new 92.7 won't even be a full non-directional A. The new signal will be licensed to Lawrence Park, to the east of Erie, and it's limited by international agreement to no more than 225 watts in the direction of co-channel CJBX in London, Ontario, which blasts a strong signal across Lake Erie that will wreak havoc with the new Erie-market station in summer months.

And because it has to both put a city-grade signal over Lawrence Park and minimize its signal to the north, the new 92.7 probably won't be able to join most of Erie's FM stations along the ridge that rises to the south of I-90.

So why spend millions of dollars to do it? Here's Rambaldo's explanation to the Times-News: "The thought of creating yet another new radio station within the Erie market was a challenge I couldn't resist."

How high will the bidding get? We'll keep you posted here - and on our Twitter and Facebook feeds as well.

*At the other end of the Keystone State, they're mourning one of the longest-serving voices of the all-news era at Philadelphia's KYW (1060). Don Lancer died last Monday (April 25) after a battle with lung cancer. Born Donald Kelsh Jr. in Auburn, N.Y., Lancer started his career in nearby Syracuse at WOLF, later moving to the legendary WKBW in Buffalo, where his work included a role in that station's famed 1968 take on "War of the Worlds," and then to WIFE in Indianapolis before arriving in Philadelphia in 1970.

At KYW, Lancer spent many years as a business anchor, leaving briefly in 1996 for a stint as a talk host at sister station WPHT (1210), then for good in 2008 when he took voluntary retirement to spare the station from cutting the jobs of younger co-workers.

Don Lancer was 68.

*NEW YORK City's newest radio station is getting closer to its debut. Cox has applied for a license to cover for its move of WCTZ (96.7 Port Chester) from its longtime transmitter site in Stamford, CONNECTICUT to the top of the Trump Plaza building in New Rochelle - and once that New Rochelle signal is on the air, Cox can complete the transfer of the 96.7 license to California-based EMF Broadcasting, which will flip the signal to a relay of its "K-Love" contemporary Christian format under new calls WKLV-FM.

There's one more piece to the chess game that has to happen, and it will take place early this week: WTSX, also on 96.7, will move from Port Jervis, New York to Lehman Township, Pennsylvania, clearing the way for WCTZ/WKLV-FM's move closer to the Big Apple.

Meanwhile in Manhattan, we're hearing that May 12 will be the official debut of whatever new format - strongly rumored to be smooth jazz - is coming to the combination of translator W292DV (106.3) and the HD2 subchannel of WLTW (106.7). For now, the simulcast is carrying a "format-of-the-day" melange of programming from Clear Channel's various Premium Choice and iheartradio.com services, we're told.

Five Years Ago: April 30, 2007 -

*An unusual radio fundraising campaign in MASSACHUSETTS has wrapped up with an early declaration of success.As we've amply chronicled over the years, WJIB (740 Cambridge) is a most unusual commercial station, operated as a one-man venture by owner Bob Bittner, who's run the station for the last decade and a half with no commercial spots at all, just some leased-time programming and a lot of standards, soft AC, oldies and good old-fashioned "beautiful music."

Two financial blows to WJIB almost put that operation in jeopardy this spring: first, the loss of Radio France International's contract to lease two hours of morning drive, and second, WJIB's ratings spike that put it in danger of owing a much larger ASCAP/BMI bill than it's enjoyed over the years with ratings below 1.0.

So Bob decided to ask his audience for their support. Six weeks ago, he began airing occasional messages gently asking for voluntary donations to keep WJIB going past his self-imposed June 30 deadline.

It turns out, as Bob put it in his on-air announcements last Wednesday, that June 30th came early - and that he's already made his $88,000 goal after just six weeks of occasional on-air fundraising announcements.

"I am impressed with your generosity, and your deep commitment to keep WJIB playing this great music that we're known for," Bittner said in his announcement. "And I feel really good too; that all of my work over the years selecting and putting this music together has been validated."

Bittner says the over 2,400 contributions he received - not tax-deductible, by the way - ranged from $5 to two $1,000 checks, and that not a single check bounced. (Two, however, sent in checks made out to "WGBH"!)

And he says his experience proves that "a smaller commercially-licensed station has another alternative than to scratch for limited advertising dollars," providing another possible path for niche music formats like his to succeed.

*A VERMONT commercial station is helping Plattsburgh's WCFE-TV (Channel 57) get a signal back on the air after the collapse of its tower on Lyon Mountain April 18. WCAX-TV (Channel 3) in Burlington announced Tuesday that it's allowing "Mountain Lake PBS" to broadcast over one of the subchannels of WCAX-DT (Channel 53) until WCFE can rebuild its own tower later this summer. The WCFE subchannel will apparently appear as "57.1" on DTV tuners, and more importantly, will resume the feed of WCFE's signal to cable companies in Vermont, Quebec and northeastern New York. WCAX quickly rounded up some loaned microwave equipment to get the WCFE signal across the lake to its transmitter on Mount Mansfield. (And when you look up the definition of "broadcasting in the public interest," that should be a WCAX logo you see...)WCFE is also getting some help from its Plattsburgh neighbor, Hearst-Argyle's WPTZ (Channel 5), which donated video streaming to help WCFE get its big "Arts Auction" out to as many viewers as possible.

*This week's NEW YORK entry in the "Don Imus Replacement" contest? It's NFL star Boomer Esiason, who'll fill morning drive on WFAN (660 New York) all week this week, allowing Mike and the Mad Dog to begin to go back to focusing on their regular afternoon slot. (Though not entirely - Chris "Mad Dog" Russo will be co-hosting mornings with Esiason for at least today, as well as afternoons with Mike Francesa.)

Meanwhile, sister station WFNY-FM (92.3 Free FM) is dealing with a controversy of its own: mid-morning jocks JV and Elvis are suspended after the Organization of Chinese Americans took offense to a segment in which they called Chinese restaurants and...well, suffice it to say the Organization of Chinese Americans took offense, and there's no word yet on when JV and Elvis will be back on the air. The OCA also had words last week with Clear Channel's WWPR (Power 105.1) over a contest called "Are You Smarter Than An Asian?"

*In CANADA, the CRTC has granted another new ethnic expanded-band AM in the Toronto market. Neeti P. Ray gets 1000 watts on 1650 in Mississauga, for a station aimed at audiences from the Indian subcontinent, with programming primarily in the Urdu and Hindustani languages. A competing application from S.S. TV Inc. was denied.

On the TV side of things, CanWest Global is getting ready once again to rebrand its "CH" network of local stations - and it's picking up a brand from a US-based cable network. Starting September 1, those stations, including CHCH (Channel 11) in Hamilton and CJNT (Channel 62) in Montreal, will be rebranded as "E!"

The stations will keep their current prime-time lineups of (mostly US) network programming, adding E! content during the day and later at night, and they'll go back to using their call letters for local news, except for CJNT, which doesn't do news.

Ten Years Ago: April 29, 2002 -

A posting on Allan Sniffen's NY Radio Message Board reports WVIP (1310 Mount Kisco) has begun simulcasting the Spanish-language religion of WWRV (1330 New York); we've also heard that WVIP sister station WGCH (1490 Greenwich CT) has been off the air, but it's not clear whether that's related to WGCH's tower dispute (NERW, 4/17).

Heading up towards Albany, the state capital's newest radio station made its debut late last week in stunt mode. Newly moved up the dial (from 93.5) and down I-87 (from Corinth/Glens Falls), WHTR (93.7 Scotia) started out with a loop of "Anarchy in the U.K.," followed by a weekend of simulcasting owner Ed Levine's "K-Rock" (WKLL 94.9 Frankfort-Utica), before launching into a hot talk format Monday afternoon. As rumored, former WPYX (106.5) morning guy Bob Mulrooney is doing mornings on 93.7; other additions to the schedule include Opie and Anthony in afternoons, Tom Leykis in the evening and Lovelines at night. Much more on this new signal when we return in mid-May...

PENNSYLVANIA has a new radio station this week; WVIA (89.9 Scranton) applied for a license to cover for its new relay in Williamsport. WVYA (89.7) replaces the old WVIA translator there, which had been on 89.3.

Harrisburg's "Cat" finally has calls to match; WRKZ (106.7 Hershey) changed its calls to WCAT-FM late last week (though simulcast WHYL-FM 102.3 in Carlisle stays the same). The calls, helpfully enough, already belonged to owner Citadel; they'd been on 99.9 FM in Athol, Mass. for more than a decade. That station, which runs oldies, became WAHL(FM).

Fifteen Years Ago: May 1, 1997 -

We'll begin in NEW HAMPSHIRE this time around, where there's much more to report about religious broadcaster Brian Dodge and his media empire of sorts. Last week we told you that his WWNH (1340 Madbury NH) is operating without benefit of valid FCC license, and now it seems New Hampshire's Attorney General's office is looking into the finances of his "We Trust in Jesus Broadcasting." State officials tell the Nashua Telegraph that the charity made a loan to Dodge last year, in violation of a new state law which bars charities from making loans to their directors or officers. Dodge has also reportedly failed to file annual reports for 1995 or 1996, and he's due to appear at a closed-door hearing of the Division of Charitable Trusts on May 20. Dodge is claiming his charity is actually a church, which would exempt it from the reporting requirements. State officials disagree. Stay tuned...

More from VERMONT: The rumors are flying around WVMX (101.7 Stowe) this week. Late word is that the classic rocker may soon be reborn as a classical music outlet under the calls WCVT. The 101.7 signal comes from the top of Mount Mansfield, overlooking the Burlington area as well as the Stowe area.

A minor format change to tell you about in MASSACHUSETTS this week, as American Radio Systems tweaks the format on WEGQ (93.7 Lawrence-Boston), the former 70s rocker. The "Eagle" is adding music of the early 1980s, and touting itself as the "Greatest Hits of the 70s and 80s." Sister station WZMX (93.7) Hartford is still playing 70s rock, but now calling itself "Classic Hits 93.7".

There's a new signal on the air in upstate NEW YORK. Just hours after the last NERW went online, WCGR in Canandaigua turned on its new 1310 kHz fulltime signal. The directional signal blasts in towards Rochester, especially by day. WCGR is still simulcasting on the old daytime-only 1550 facility, but that's expected to be turned off shortly. Just down the road in Geneva, WEOS (89.7) has turned on its new transmitter, providing much-improved coverage to the areas east of Geneva.

Downstate, the FCC is cracking down on WJUX (99.7 Monticello), which has spent its entire broadcast career as the nominal primary for translator W276AQ Fort Lee NJ. The FCC has ordered a hearing into whether W276AQ's owner, Gerry Turro, also exercised control over WJUX and whether the licenses of WJUX, W276AQ, and Turro's translator W232AL Pomona NY (the relay point between WJUX and W276AQ) should be pulled. In listening to WJUX over the last few years, it's quite obvious that the programming is targeted to W276AQ's Bergen County NJ listeners and not to WJUX's audience in the Catskills. This should be another good one to watch.