In this week’s issue… Illegal move for Western NY FM – Bittner adds Maine AM – New sports talker coming to NE PA? – Bill Kelly, RIP
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been almost a year since the August 13, 2012 edition of NERW carried this little item from western NEW YORK: “Northeast of Buffalo in Medina, WFWO (89.7) has applied for a license to cover, though our ears in Orleans County don’t report having heard the black gospel station (programmed from Buffalo, in the old WKBW-TV studios at 1420 Main Street) on the air at all yet.”
What’s happened behind the scenes in the eleven months since that brief item makes for a fascinating story in FCC enforcement and the lengths to which some broadcasters will go to get a signal to their target audience, license or not – and now we can finally tell the whole story.
The license that would become WFWO was applied for back in 2007 by the Maine-based Positive Radio Network. As the three-year expiration date on its construction permit ticked away in August 2010, Positive (which owns WMSJ 89.3 up in Freeport) sold the CP to Fellowship World, the church run by Rev. John Young from the old WKBW-TV (Channel 7) studios at 1420 Main Street in Buffalo. Fellowship World paid $10,000 for the CP, which Young said at the time would replace his leased-time programming on Citadel’s WHLD (1270 Niagara Falls).
What did Young want with a 2200-watt signal (later reduced to 400 watts to be more quickly buildable before CP expiration) way out in Medina? Not much, apparently; in 2011, he applied to move the WFWO CP to Newfane, in Niagara County, though the FCC rejected that application for failing to include a “gain/loss analysis.” (With the large number of signals that cover Niagara County and relatively few in Orleans, it’s not an analysis that would have favored the proposed move.)
What Young did want, though, was to serve Buffalo – and the FCC says he went about it in a highly improper way. Last week, Fellowship World was hit with an $8,000 Notice of Apparent Liability after the FCC determined that Young was illegally operating a one-watt transmitter from the roof of his studio building in Buffalo, more than 30 miles away from the licensed site in Orleans County. Young told the Commission that he had put that low-power signal on the air from Buffalo after being forced to turn off his Medina signal due to the need to trim trees around the antenna site – but after an initial FCC visit in which Young was advised to turn the Buffalo signal off, a repeat FCC visit found the Buffalo transmitter on the air again. At that point, Young told the inspector “one of his children” had apparently turned the transmitter on without his permission.
That much, you may have already read in other trades – but there’s actually much more to this little story, and here’s what we can tell you exclusively:
When WFWO filed for its license to cover last August, NERW took a little drive over to the supposed transmitter site in the hamlet of Knowlesville, along the Erie Canal east of Medina. Repeated drives along Presbyterian Road turned up no sign at all of the supposed 32-meter-tall antenna structure, nor was any signal audible on 89.7 – and what’s more, none of the neighbors we talked to had seen any sign of a radio station being built.
In fact, at no time since August 2012 have we ever heard or seen any sign that WFWO was ever operating legally from the Knowlesville site, casting doubt on Young’s assertion to the FCC about the reason why the station allegedly had to go off the air out there. (It wasn’t until April 2013 that WFWO finally filed for special temporary authority to go silent from the supposed Knowlesville location.)
What’s more, Young told the FCC that he’d turned the Knowlesville transmitter off on October 13, 2012 – but by then, NERW had already traveled to Buffalo to check out reports of an 89.7 signal being heard in the city. As early as October 6, NERW readers were telling us they were hearing 89.7 coming from somewhere around 1420 Main Street, and a few days after that (but before that October 13 date), we snapped these pictures of an FM antenna mounted on the chimney at 1420 Main and heard “Totally Gospel” programming loud and clear throughout a big chunk of the city. Subsequent direction-finding pegged the signal as almost certainly emanating from 1420 Main Street.
And that leads us to some interesting questions about what the FCC has done thus far and what it may yet do.
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It’s July – do you know where your Tower Site Calendar is? If you don’t, why not? If you haven’t bought it yet, what are you waiting for? They’re 50% off the regular price and will be for the rest of this year, so get yours today! The months may have passed, but the pictures are timeless! (They make great posters, too.)
And watch this space in the next few weeks as we begin pre-orders of the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2014, which is now in production!
Who’ll be featured in the next edition of the world’s most popular radio tower calendar? Stay tuned…
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: July 23, 2012
*In 18 years of writing this column, it”s hard to recall a summer week as jam-packed with news as these past seven days in NERW-land have been. Rock back in New York, modern rock gone in Boston, a big cluster of TV stations sold, a prominent radio cluster for sale…oh, and the very imminent end of most TV reception across big swaths of Canada, too.
We”ll get to all these stories, but for sentimental reasons we have to start in the Boston market, where 29 years of cutting-edge alternative rock came to an end just after 7 on Friday evening as WFNX (101.7 Lynn) ended its live broadcasting on FM. After bringing back “Morning Guy Tai” and Jim Ryan earlier in the day, it was veteran jock Neal Robert at the controls for the station”s last five hours before transitioning to a stripped-down, web-only operation.
After a day of reminiscing with just about everyone who passed through the doors of 25 Exchange Street since WFNX”s launch back in 1983, Robert closed out WFNX”s final hour with David Bowie”s “Changes” and then “Let”s Go to Bed” by the Cure, the song that marked the transition from WLYN-FM to WFNX way back when.
Since the announcement back in May that Boston Phoenix owner Steve Mindich was selling WFNX”s license (but not its intellectual property) to Clear Channel for $14.5 million, there”s been no shortage of eulogies for one of the last independent big-market alt-rockers left standing. (One of the best came from longtime WFNX news director Sharon Brody, who wrote “one final Brody Beat” for her current employer, WBUR; still more came in a special Phoenix section last week.)
What can we add? Not much that Neal Robert didn”t encapsulate in that last hour (which you can hear here, by the way):
“FNX has always been about the future and while the radi o station is migrating off the FM dial, the future of FNX will continue on our computers and mobile devices. In 1983 we found community on the radio and in 2012 we”re finding community online and that”s where you”ll find FNX after today. It”s been my honor and pleasure to be a part of this institution because, in the words of Nietzsche, without music life would be a mistake. And with that we end the long run of 101.7 WFNX.”
So what now?
After Robert”s farewell, 101.7 fell silent for a bit before returning with automation – and speculation resumed in earnest about Clear Channel”s plans for its new Boston frequency. Last week, we broke the news that the new calls on 101.7 would be “WHBA,” and on Friday night our colleague Lance Venta over at Radio Insight teased out the news that the new station would be called “the Harbor.”
And as we post this column late Sunday night, that”s still as much as we know for certain, thanks to the almost nuclear-level cordon of secrecy that Clear Channel has managed to maintain around its plans for 101.7. Soft AC? Oldies? Adult hits? The best bet is that we”ll know sometime today, when Clear Channel is expected to take over operation of the FM signal from Mindich. (The 101.7 signal and the WFNX stream both fell silent at 10:30 Sunday night, but returned to life at midnight with a Z-to-A music countdown from WFNX.com.)
*While alternative rock was dying in Boston, rock made a surprise return to the FM dial in NEW YORK City on Tuesday morning.
The signs had been building for a few days that Merlin Media was pulling the plug on the year-old “FM News 101.9″ experiment at WEMP, but the initial speculation focused on the possibility of a news-talk hybrid along the lines of Merlin”s WWIQ (106.9) in Philadelphia, which has an all-news morning block and syndicated talk the rest of the day.
What almost nobody saw coming, though, was the complete 180-degree turn Merlin made at 10:00 Tuesday morning: while WEMP staffers (and those at sister station WIQI in Chicago) were meeting with executives, a pre-recorded news segment abruptly gave way to “New Rock 101.9″ at WEMP and “i101″ in Chicago.
A post-mortem at this point seems almost redundant: however ambitious the plans were for “FM News 101.9,” the execution of the format never lived up to expectations, and everyone in (and out of ) the market knew it. In a city that”s still accustomed to turning to the AM dial for two established all-newsers (CBS Radio”s WCBS 880 and 1010 WINS) as well as sports and talk formats, just being on FM wasn”t enough to make listeners change their habits.
Without a strong launch in New York or Chicago, it appears Merlin pulled back from what was, we”re told, an ambitious plan to create a national all-news service that would have combined local content with national material fed from the New York newsroom. (The morning show at Philadelphia”s WWIQ was the only real test of the format, and it continues for now with a New York-based newscast.)
What now? For 101.9, it”s not only back to rock, it”s even back to the WRXP callsign the station used until Emmis sold it to Merlin last year. The new incarnation of WRXP features more active rock than Emmis” “New York Rock Experience” did, and for the moment it”s running jockless, programmed out of Chicago, though that will change.
Merlin”s exit from spoken-word programming in New York (assuming it”s permanent, and not just a stunt) changes the dynamic for some of the city”s other broadcasters, too. After Merlin picked up Rush Limbaugh and other Premiere Radio talk shows in Philadelphia, speculation ran rampant about whether WEMP might be planning to add Rush in New York when the existing contract between Premiere and longtime Rush flagship WABC (770) expires next year. Without WEMP as a backup option, will Premiere have as much leverage when it comes time to renew WABC and its sister Cumulus stations? It”s sure to be an interesting negotiation now.
WEMP”s demise also puts more than two dozen talented newspeople out of work, many of them having been lured away from WINS and WCBS (some even within the past few weeks) by the promise of higher salaries and more creative freedom. Here”s hoping they find work again, soon…
*Enough big news for one week? Not hardly, thanks to a very big TV station transaction that then prompted a radio cluster selloff.
The TV group is Newport Television, the private-equity-backed venture that acquired Clear Channel Television in 2007, and last week it announced plans to sell off most of the 27 stations it owns around the country.
Here”s how it shakes out in NERW-land:
Sinclair Broadcast Group, already a major player in upstate New York, Pittsburgh and Portland, Maine, is paying $412.5 million for six stations, including CBS affiliate WHP-TV (Channel 21) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. That deal also includes the rights to program WHP”s sister station WLYH (Channel 15), a CW outlet, and it makes for a nice northward extension to Sinclair”s home base in the Baltimore area.
Nexstar Broadcasting, which already operates in Rochester (WROC-TV) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (WBRE), will pay $285.5 million for a dozen mostly smaller Newport stations, including most of the central New York cluster that”s been held together under Ackerley, Clear Channel and Newport. Nexstar will add ABC affiliate WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse, NBC affiliate WETM (Channel 18) in Elmira, ABC affiliate WIVT (Channel 34) and low-power NBC affiliate WBGH (Channel 20) in Binghamton and ABC affiliate WWTI (Channel 50) in Watertown, as well as stations in Memphis and Salt Lake City. Newport”s remaining upstate stations, Rochester ABC affiliate WHAM-TV (Channel 13) and Albany Fox affiliate WXXA (Channel 23), weren”t included in the deal, which means WHAM will have to move forward with plans to rebuild its own local master control to replace the hub that”s been operating out of WSYR-TV for the last few years.
(One more Nexstar note: its stations remained on Time Warner Cable systems out of their home markets right up until the end of the Time Warner/Hearst carriage dispute Thursday night, despite Nexstar”s protestations that Time Warner had no legal right to carry WROC, WBRE or Utica”s WUTR into markets where it couldn”t carry local Hearst-owned CBS, NBC or ABC affiliates.)
The third Newport buyer, Cox Media Group, added only two of Newport”s bigger clusters in Jacksonville and Tulsa – but it did so as part of a consolidation strategy in which it”s focusing its efforts on markets in which it can assemble dominant TV/radio clusters. That, in turn, means Cox now plans to sell off some of its less-consolidated markets, which means the company is now seeking buyers for its radio stations in southern Connecticut and its smaller TV signals flanking Pittsburgh”s WPXI (Channel 11).
In Connecticut, Cox had already shed its AM signals and one smaller FM (the former WKHL 96.7 Stamford, now K-Love”s WKLV-FM), and now it”s hoping to unload rocker WPLR (99.1 New Haven), AC WEZN-FM (99.9 Bridgeport), classic rock WFOX-FM (95.9 Norwalk) and the sales rights to Yale”s WYBC-FM (94.3 New Haven). Who”d be in line to buy them? About the only names we can rule out might be the other two big commercial operators in the area, Clear Channel and Cumulus, which would both face market-concentration issues if they tried to add Cox”s big FMs.
In western Pennsylvania and vicinity, Cox wants to sell NBC affiliates WJAC-TV (Channel 6) in Johnstown and WTOV (Channel 9) in Steubenville, Ohio, apparently having concluded that even after centralizing many of those stations” operations at WPXI, they”re just not big enough by the standards of today”s Cox.
Once those stations are sold, Cox”s only remaining operations in the region will be its Long Island FMs (WBAB and WBLI) and WPXI in Pittsburgh.
Five Years Ago: July 21, 2008
**The lead financier behind Route 81, the radio group that made a big impact in central PENNSYLVANIA and upstate New York in recent years, has taken over operations of the company’s stations after a foreclosure sale last week.
WallerSutton owned 50% of Route 81′s clusters in Elmira (WENY AM-FM, WENI AM-FM, WCBA, WGMM), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (WNAK, WCDL, WAZL, WLNP), Carlisle (WHYL) and Coatesville (WCOJ); now its subsidiary WS2K Acquisition has taken control of those stations in the wake of last Monday’s foreclosure.
The stations remain on the air under their current management, though we hear there were some problems with last week’s paychecks clearing, leaving employees unpaid for several days; we’re also hearing there are new owners on the way to WHYL and WAZL. More next week…
(There’s a Massachusetts connection to WallerSutton as well; in addition to Route 81, its other radio investment is in J Sports LLC, owner of “ESPN Boston” WAMG 890/WLLH 1400.)
Forever is shuffling its simulcasts in Huntingdon, east of Altoona. It’s been a while since the AM/FM pair there has originated its own programming; in 2004, WHUN (1150 Huntingdon) began simulcasting news-talk WFBG (1290 Altoona), while the FM on 106.3, formerly WQHG, shuffled through callsigns as it flipped from a simulcast of oldies WALY (103.9 Bellwood) to “Froggy” country from WFGY (98.1 Altoona). The 106.3 signal changed city of license along the way, too; it’s now WFZY, licensed to Mount Union. As of last Monday, WHUN is relaying news-talk WRSC (1390 State College), while WFZY is relaying classic rock WBUS (93.7 Boalsburg), with new calls WBSS.
*WCBS-FM (101.1 NEW YORK) news director morning newsman Al Meredith retired last week, ending a 44-year career that started in Long Island at WGBB, WGSM, WGLI and WBLI. Meredith had been with WCBS-FM for 28 years, remaining as public service director during the “Jack FM” interregnum that ended a year ago last week and returning to the morning airwaves when “CBS-FM” relaunched.
*St. Lawrence University’s North Country Public Radio (based at WSLU 89.5 Canton NY) is jumping Lake Champlain to add a signal in VERMONT. It’s been granted a CP for 160 watts, directional, on 90.5 in Vergennes. Vermont Public Radio withdrew a rival application for the frequency, which will serve the central portion of Lake Champlain but will not put a signal into Burlington, already served by NCPR’s WXLU (88.1 Peru NY). North Country was granted another CP last week as well, on 88.1 in Cape Vincent, New York.
Ten Years Ago: July 23, 2007
*A short column this week (is everyone away on vacation?) – but some big news to tell you about in MASSACHUSETTS: Sporting News Radio laid off about 20 staffers at its struggling WWZN (1510 Boston) last week, axing its morning show and its ties to the Boston Globe in the process. Among the layoffs announced Friday were morning hosts Kevin Winter and Holden Kushner, who had been doing that shift with Ryen Russillo. Russillo stays with WWZN as part of an expanded “Die Hards” afternoon show (with current hosts Anthony Pepe and Mike Winn); Eddie Andelman and Dave Jageler stay on board as well with their noon-3 PM show, and the station still has the Celtics’ broadcast rights. Other than those shows, though, WWZN will now be a relay of Sporting News’ national network programming…and Boston has never been a kind market to nationally syndicated sports talk.
In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Barry Lunderville is about to add another station to his growing holdings, as he gets ready to take over operation of WMOU (1230 Berlin) from Steven Griffin’s Jericho Broadcasting. Lunderville, who owns WLTN (1400 Littleton), WLTN-FM (96.7 Lisbon) and WXXS (102.3 Lancaster), tells the Berlin Daily Sun that he had the chance to buy WMOU three years ago and regretted passing it up. He’ll take over with an LMA from Jericho on July 28, adding a simulcast of WLTN-FM’s morning show (with local inserts); it appears that WMOU’s long-running “Forum” talk show may be over, now that host Rod Ross has left the station and moved to Florida.
We’ll start our NEW YORK report way out on the East End of Long Island, where WWHL (92.9 Southampton) changed calls to WHBE last week. 92.9 is still carrying the AAA programming of “EHM,” while WEHM (96.7 East Hampton) itself has flipped to Bloomberg business news. A call swap is expected; meantime, the WEHM Web site is a confusing mess, with graphics that still proclaim “96-7 EHM” and text that reads “92-9″…
In CANADA, CIZN (92.9 Cambridge ON) quietly left the air on Sunday afternoon (7/20), making way for the Monday morning debut of its new incarnation as CJDV (107.5), with higher power and less interference from Buffalo’s WBUF – and a new format, too. “Dave 107.5 FM” is playing “80s, 90s and whatever,” the latest take on the Canadian trend towards classic hits/hot AC mixes, as seen in Ottawa, Toronto and elsewhere on similar stations branded as “Jack” and “Bob.” Will the trend head south of the border? We’ll be keeping an eye on it…
Up in Cottage Country, new CKHA (100.9 Halliburton) signed on over the weekend, playing a wide variety of music with a staff of community volunteers. It’s calling itself “Canoe FM,” we’re told.
Ten Years Ago: July 21, 2003
*Can you say “rat’s ass” on the radio in Boston? It’s a safe bet that the folks at CBS-owned WBCN (104.1) wouldn’t give a you-know-what if Howard Stern used the phrase in the morning — but it was enough to end Bob Lobel’s career on the radio side of (also CBS-owned) WBZ last Sunday. The WBZ-TV (Channel 4) sportscaster was hosting his weekly call-in show with Upton Bell when prolific caller “Butch from the Cape” dialed up to offer his comments about the World Cup, including the observation that most native-born Americans probably don’t give a — yes, that phrase — about the competition.
Within seconds, the “batphone” at 1170 Soldiers Field was ringing, as program director Peter Casey ordered “Butch” to be cut off the air. And that was all it took for Lobel to leave the show. In following days, both sides of the controversy took to the pages of Boston newspapers (and to the mailing list associated with NERW) to make their cases. Lobel says he was “censored,” while Casey argues that WBZ is a family radio station that shouldn’t tolerate the use of such language on the air.
In any event, Lobel and Bell have been replaced with Steve DeOssie and Dan Roche for the time being, and “Butch” says he’s taken WBZ off his speed-dial. As for us here at NERW, we’ll keep you updated if we decide we give a — oh, never mind!
Could Entercom become the new owner of WRKO, WEEI, WEGQ, and WAAF? The radio trades were abuzz this week with rumors that CBS may swap the stations to Entercom, which has no Boston presence right now. Meantime at WBMX (98.5), the only ARS station CBS is keeping in Boston, APD/MD Michelle Engel departs for a PD gig out West at CBS’s KBBT in Portland.
Lowell may soon be home to a 24-hour Portuguese station, albeit without a license. We’re hearing rumors that a “WKNM” will start broadcasting August 2 at 1570 kHz.
One big piece of news in MAINE this week, as Mariner Broadcasting completes its set of the Pine Tree State’s classical outlets, with the purchase of WAVX (106.9 Thomaston) from Jon LeVeen. Mariner put WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk) on the air a few years back, and just took over WPKM (106.3 Scarborough), flipping it to WBQW and a simulcast of “W-Bach.” LeVeen tells NERW he’s not sure whether Mariner will continue originating programming at WAVX, or whether it will become a third simulcast.
Bowing to what we’re sure was massive pressure to take its brokered-talk format nationwide, WALE (990) in Providence, RHODE ISLAND is now being heard in Arizona as well. Owner Francis Battaglia just bought KCCF (1100 Cave Creek), and as of this week, the Phoenix-market signal has flipped from adult standards (locally-programmed, no less) to WALE’s “Renaissance Radio” mixture of UFO talk, health nostrums, and offbeat politics. We hear much of the programming is coming to KCCF by ordinary phone lines.
Call letter changes: WMKB (96.9 Ridgebury PA) in the Elmira market will become WMTT under its new owner, WDBA (107.3 Du Bois). The WMTT calls were last heard in the region on 100.5 in Conklin NY, now WCDW, when it was simulcasting “The Met” classic rock format with WPHD (94.7 Tioga PA) in the Elmira market. And Lyle Robert Evans’ new 94.1 in Old Forge will be WDLS, calls last seen on 93.7 in Dallas PA.