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In this week"s issue: WFNX rocks to the end - FM News returns to rock in NYC - Newport TV sells its stations - Cox to exit CT - CRTC OKs end of CBC analog TV - WUMB seeks move - WSRO powers up

by SCOTT FYBUSH

*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.)

A few more loose ends: the WFNX simulcast in Peterborough, NEW HAMPSHIRE, WFEX (92.1), is reportedly silent for now while the sale to Bill Blount"s WDER (1320 Derry NH) closes. Once the sale is complete, 92.1 will become WDER-FM, initially simulcasting the religious programming from its AM sister.

Over at the Globe"s Boston.com, the new "Radio BDC" modern-rock streaming replacement for WFNX (featuring former "FNX talents such as Julie Kramer) isn"t quite ready yet - it"s still building out studios and preparing to launch later this summer.

*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.

*There"s big TV news from CANADA this week, especially for viewers outside the biggest cities. The CRTC approved the CBC"s request to shut down all of its remaining analog transmitters effective August 1, a move that will leave over-the-air viewers in many places with no service from CBC or Radio-Canada, and in some cases with no Canadian TV service at all. CBC officials cited budget issues and the widespread use of satellite and cable TV when they decided to implement digital TV service only in "mandatory markets" - provincial capitals and other very large cities with multiple local stations.

Among the cities that don"t meet those criteria for CBC English TV are Sydney, Nova Scotia, Moncton, N.B., Quebec City (and the rest of Quebec outside Montreal), London, Kitchener and Sudbury, Ontario - and Sudbury"s doubly hit, since its large Francophone population will lose Radio-Canada service, as will Halifax, Charlottetown, Windsor, and a whole swath of rural eastern and northern Quebec. (You can read the entire list of deleted transmitters here.)

*The rest of the week"s Canadian news all came from the Maritime Broadcasting System (MBS): in Charlottetown, PEI, CHLQ (93.1) has flipped from classic hits/oldies "Magic 93" to classic rock "Q93." Dan Sys at Canadian Radio News says the move is meant to close a gap created when rival Newcap flipped CKQK (K-Rock 105.5) to top-40 "Hot 105.5" earlier this year. And in Saint John, New Brunswick, seven unionized workers at the three-station MBS cluster are now in the second month of their strike - and while MBS is using replacement personnel to keep its stations on the air, the striking employees are launching their own online station this week at radiofreesaintjohn.fm.

*There was much more news this week from MASSACHUSETTS, too: in Quincy, WUMB-FM (91.9 Boston) is soon to be evicted from its transmitter site. The site WUMB has used for decades is an historic stone water tower, and WUMB tells the FCC that tower "will soon be restored to its original state," which didn"t include an FM antenna up top.

After surveying other possible sites, WUMB"s technical consultant, Dave Doherty, tells the FCC the least short-spaced new site that"s available is the Industrial Communications tower near the Quincy/Milton line. That tower, a fairly prominent landmark along I-93, has never had a broadcast tenant; if WUMB gets FCC permission to move there, it would mean lower power but a much higher antenna, going from its present 660 watts/206" to 160 watts/620".

To make WUMB-FM"s move possible, two co-owned, co-channel simulcast stations will have to power down slightly: WBPR-FM (91.9 Worcester) will drop from 370 to 270 watts and WFPB-FM (91.9 Falmouth) will drop from 6 kW to 5.2 kW.

The WUMB-FM move would bring 91.9 a little closer to second-adjacent WMLN (91.5 Milton), but there"s an existing interference agreement between the stations dating back to 1983 - and Doherty says moving 91.9 to the Industrial tower in Quincy will shift any potential WUMB/WMLN interference from the more densely-populated suburban area around the water tower to a less-populated industrial area west of I-93.

*It was delayed a bit by national politics, but WSRO (650 Ashland) finally had its official power-increase ceremony last Tuesday, complete with Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick (who"d been busy on the original ceremony date, in Washington for the Supreme Court health care ruling).

Bostonradio.org"s Garrett Wollman was on hand for the big ceremony to mark the boost from 250 to 1500 watts by day, and he reports that Patrick"s ceremonial button-pushing "was followed by speeches from station staffers and local politicians, and a birthday celebration for Pearl Oliva, the 92-year-old host of the station"s Italian show, which she has been doing for 62 years."

Oliva started the show at the old WKOX (1190, later 1200), which occupied the same Framingham studio and tower site that"s now used by WSRO.

(Garrett has many more pictures, and a fairly comprehensive explanation of how the former WSCV 1050 from Peterborough, New Hampshire became 650 in MetroWest, over at The Archives.)

Power...up!

Governor Patrick

Oliva and Langer

*Radio Talkers on the Move: after seven years as a weekend staple on WRKO (680 Boston), Kevin Whalen"s "Pundit Review" made its last Sunday-evening appearance last weekend; there"s now more paid programming filling the 6-8 PM slot on WRKO"s Sunday schedule. And over at WTKK (96.9 Boston), it appears the "Phantom Gourmet" radio show will be adding a three-hour slot on Fridays, from 10 AM-1 PM, to its existing weekend airings.

Out on Cape Cod, Steve Solomon (known on-air as "Steve McVie") is switching teams. After nearly two decades with what"s now Qantum Communications, most recently as operations manager and PD of WCIB (101.9 Falmouth), Steve is joining John Garabedian"s new Codcomm cluster as VP and station manager. The Codcomm stations are the former Nassau signals - WPXC (102.9 Hyannis), WFQR (93.5 Harwich Port) and WFRQ (101.1 Mashpee), and Steve"s overseeing the almost complete transformation of the cluster. We already knew that Codcomm was planning to move the 101.1 signal to the mid-Cape, eliminating the need for the 93.5/101.1 "Frank FM" simulcast, and we knew that new calls WHYA had been requested for 93.5. Now we know that Codcomm has also applied for signal improvements on 93.5 and 102.9: Garabedian wants to move the 93.5 transmitter west from its present site in Brewster to Dennis, increasing power from its present 3 kW/328" to 6 kW/254", and it"s applying to increase WPXC"s power from 3.1 kW/462" to 6.8 kW/472". Oh, and Codcomm is building new studios in Hyannis, too...

*There"s a new PD inbound to RHODE ISLAND to replace the departed Paul Giammarco at Cumulus" WPRO (630)/WEAN (99.7) and WPRV (790). Craig Schwalb comes to the cluster from Sirius/XM, where he"d served as senior director of talk programming.

*Broadcast Managers on the Move in NEW YORK:  Kevin LeGrett, who moved from Citadel to become Clear Channel"s Rochester-based regional VP two years ago, is now one of the company"s three senior VP/Operations for regional markets. As best we can figure it, he remains based in Rochester, but with a much-expanded portfolio. Over at Cumulus, northeast regional VP Chuck Bortnick is leaving his base in Poughkeepsie to become the company"s Houston-based regional VP;  no replacement has been named yet at the Hudson Valley cluster. Down the road at Cumulus" WPLJ (95.5 New York), PD John Foxx is swapping airshifts with Race Taylor, sending Taylor to middays and putting Foxx in afternoon drive. In Utica, Steve McMurray has been promoted from news director to station manager at NBC affiliate WKTV (Channel 2); he"ll continue to serve as news director and co-anchor of the station"s 5 PM newscast. And in Plattsburgh, Kyle Grimes is the new president/GM of Hearst"s WPTZ (Channel 5) and sister station WNNE (Channel 31) over in White River Junction, VERMONT. A former WPTZ/WNNE news director, Grimes returns north from Hearst"s WPBF in West Palm Beach, Florida to replace Paul Sands, who"s retiring after a long career at WPTZ.

There"s a format change coming this week in Utica, where Roser Communications Group has now fully transitioned its soft AC/talk hybrid WUTQ to its new home on the 100.7 FM signal that Roser recently bought from EMF. Over the weekend, Roser began stunting on WUTQ (1550 Utica), WRCK (1480 Remsen) and W238CA (95.5 Utica), playing the theme music from The Jeffersons to promote that WUTQ was "moving on up" to 100.7. WUTQ"s existing weekend specialty programming will stay put on the two AMs and the translator - and it appears there will be an LMA"d sports format the rest of the week on those three signals, with 1550 taking new calls WUSP.

More Football on the Radio: add WMML (1230 Glens Falls) to the Buffalo Bills" radio network for this fall.

And here in the Rochester market, Family Life Ministries is selling translator W283BB (104.5 Fairport) to Russ Kimble"s MB Communications for $75,000.

*The rest of our PENNSYLVANIA news this week begins with two obituaries:

They called Ted Atkins "Captain Showbiz," and he earned that title for his top-notch management of Pittsburgh"s WTAE (1250) and WTAE-FM/WXKX/WHTX (96.1) from 1973 to 1985. Atkins had already worked at some very big stations - first in Denver, later at CKLW, Los Angeles" KHJ and KIIS, San Francisco"s KFRC and Pittsburgh"s WWSW - but he made WTAE the final stop on his career, riding the stations to the top of the ratings before retiring in the Steel City. Myron Cope"s "Terrible Towel"? That was an Atkins idea, and so was the long-lasting morning pairing of John Garry and Larry O"Brien.

Atkins died Thursday at age 79 after a two-year fight with pancreatic cancer; Pittsburgh radio historian Jeff Roteman has a fine tribute to Atkins at his WTAE Radio page.

And Steve Carlesi died July 11, just shy of his 38th birthday. He was most recently production director at WEZX (Rock 107) in Scranton, but he was best known for his dozen years working for talk hosts Opie & Anthony, including several years as their PD and executive producer.

Also in Scranton, Bill Palmeri is apparently out as market manager of the Cumulus cluster; he"s best known in the region for many years at Poughkeepsie"s WPDH before moving to Scranton.

*EMF Broadcasting"s purchase of a new Nashville "K-Love" outlet means a call change in northeastern Pennsylvania - the WLVU calls formerly on 88.5 in Halifax have been moved down to 97.1 in Nashville, which means the Halifax "K-Love" signal now bears the WRQQ calls that used to be in Nashville.

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 25, 2011 -

*One of NEW JERSEY"s largest broadcast groups has a new name and new management this week. Ever since Oaktree Capital, parent company of Townsquare Media (the former Regent Broadcasting), took Millennium Radio New Jersey under its wing, rumors had been flying about the New Jersey stations becoming part of the Townsquare umbrella.

Those rumors became reality last week, placing the 11 Millennium signals in Trenton and on the shore under the Townsquare banner, where they join other NERW-land Townsquare clusters in Buffalo, Utica and Albany, as well as a slew of small-market Townsquare outlets elsewhere in the country.

The move to Townsquare pushes Millennium president/CEO Bill Sauer out of that post and into an "interim" consulting role; replacing him at the helm of the New Jersey stations (WKXW "New Jersey 101.5" in Trenton; WOBM/WADB, WOBM-FM, WJLK and WCHR in Monmouth-Ocean and WENJ/WENJ-FM, WFPG, WSJO and WPUR in Atlantic City) is Zoe Burdine-Fly, who"d been GM of the Regent/Townsquare stations in Flint, Michigan.

*Radio People on the Move: Scott Taylor has returned to WAWZ (Star 99.1) in Zarephath as station manager, just two months after exiting the Pillar of Fire Christian AC outlet. Downstate, Paul Hunsberger is ending a remarkable 63-year career at WSNJ (1240 Bridgeton), where he"s been serving as an account executive and as host of the "Off the Cuff" show. Hunsberger is now 93, and he says he"s retiring at year"s end because of health concerns.

*The top story in NEW YORK this week, once again, is at 101.9 on the dial, where NERW was first to tell you that the new calls on the former WRXP would be WEMP. Those calls showed up on the air at 5 PM on Thursday (July 21), a full six days after NERW followers on Facebook and Twitter first heard about them.

But the new calls, so far, haven"t brought with them the full-fledged new format that"s been rumored for Merlin Media"s signal. Instead, the week brought more of the "FM New" AC programming that"s been occupying 101.9 (and 101.1 in Chicago, newly renamed WWWN) since Merlin took over from Emmis, killing off WRXP"s alternative format. (There"s alternative rock back on the New York airwaves now, at least for HD Radio owners; Clear Channel quietly flipped its HD2 channel on WAXQ 104.3 to its "Alt Project" national format last week.)

What"s next for 101.9? Merlin"s certainly still not saying - there"s still no website or stream for "FM New," though very basic Facebook pages for the New York and Chicago outlets quietly appeared over the weekend.

*Once upon a time in an earlier incarnation as WPIX-FM, 101.9 was among the first FM stations to move its transmitter to the World Trade Center - and later, as WQCD, 101.9 became the first FM to return from the Trade Center to the Empire State Building to escape some of the multipath problems that existed with FM from Manhattan"s southern tip.

It has, of course, been almost a decade since the remaining FMs at the Trade Center were so abruptly and tragically forced to move their sites elsewhere, but now one of those FMs is at least talking about coming back. In a New York Times article last week, managers at Columbia University"s WKCR (89.9) raised the possibility that they might look at moving their transmitter from its current home at Four Times Square down to the new 1 World Trade Center skyscraper when it"s completed soon.

We hadn"t heard much talk about broadcast operations from the new 1WTC since the early stages of planning, when it appeared that the city"s TV stations (working under the Metropolitan Television Alliance banner) were planning to build a new master DTV site there to replace the somewhat makeshift DTV facilities that were built at the Empire State Building in the years after 9/11. But the MTVA"s plans had become hazy in more recent years; building a new master DTV site is an expensive proposition, after all, in an era when most New Yorkers get local TV from cable or satellite and when the Empire facilities, if not perfect, seemed to be functioning well enough.

There had been little talk at all about a new master FM operation at 1WTC. Commercial broadcasters were well aware that the signals that had been at WTC before 9/11 had experienced reception problems in parts of midtown Manhattan, and the cost of building a new master FM facility to replace or supplement the excellent facilities at Empire (and backups at Four Times Square) would have been prohibitive.

The cost of a new standalone FM facility for WKCR would surely be quite high, too, and WKCR"s managers tell the Times they still haven"t done all the research to determine whether the move would be financially possible. And so for now, we"ll file away WKCR"s talk of a move as an interesting possibility that appears to be a long way from reality...

*Out on Long Island, WNYG (1440) has become The Station That Will Not Die. Widely given up for dead after Multicultural Broadcasting bought it and took it silent to improve sister signal WNSW (1430 Newark), the little AM signal at 1440 returned to the airwaves last week after a year of silence. WNYG"s old Babylon site is gone now, and instead the station is licensed to Medford, out to the east. The new WNYG is a 1000-watt daytimer diplexed off one tower of WLIM (1580 Patchogue), and it"s running Spanish-language religious programming from new owner Radio Cantico Nuevo.

*We"re sorry to report the passing of Sidney Sanft, former owner of WOKW (now WMSX 1410) in Brockton. Sanft got his start in broadcasting with Armed Forces Radio in World War II (as shown), and went on to a career with the federal government developing electronic processing of tax returns. He moved to Massachusetts in 1962, working on television productions and serving as a founding board member of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell as well as owning WOKW. That"s where his son, Marshall, got his start in radio - and today the younger Sanft, aka "Bruce Marshall," owns his own station, WARE (1250 Ware). Sidney Sanft died July 8; he was 86.

*There"s HD local TV news in the news at both ends of New England this week: in Bangor, MAINE, ABC affiliate WVII (Channel 7) is trying to emerge from its perpetual third-place rut with a staff expansion, HD conversion and the addition of some new broadcasts. In September, WVII will launch a new 6:30 AM newscast,hosted by Clay Gordon and Nicole Gerber, followed at 7 by a local hour on sister station WFVX (Fox 22); the 10 PM show on WFVX, which drew attention when WVII began recording it right after its live 6 PM newscast, will also go back to being live this fall. The conversion to HD at WVII/WFVX will leave only one Bangor newscast in SD: NBC affiliate WLBZ (Channel 2), which originates much of its news from sister station WCSH in Portland.

In Providence, RHODE ISLAND, the race for full local HD is about to hit the tipping point: keen-eyed observers have noticed that CBS affiliate WPRI (Channel 12) and Fox sister station WNAC (Channel 64) are originating their newscasts from a temporary set this week. Once they"re done with their HD conversion, only ABC affiliate WLNE (Channel 6) will be in SD, and its new owners have also promised to convert to HD soon.

*There"s a format change in London: Corus" CKDK (103.9), licensed to Woodstock, ditched its classic hits format ("Greatest Hits 103.9") on Friday morning at 10:39, replacing it with a somewhat more recent gold-based format as "More 103.9," promising "More 70s, More 80s and More 90s."

*Two new signals are on the air in the Maritimes: Tantramar Community Radio"s CFTA (107.9) in Amherst, Nova Scotia hit the air at 1:07 PM on Thursday from its new tower (a monopole of the kind you"d normally see cellphone antennas mounted on) and Nautel transmitter. "So far today, we have had good signal reports from Northern Nova Scotia, Southeast New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island," says CFTA operations manager Ron Bickle, who"s been working for years to get the community station on the air. And no sooner was CFTA on the air than its commercial competitor in town, CKDH, signed on its new FM signal on 101.7. Once CKDH-FM completes its testing, the clock will start ticking on CKDH"s AM signal at 900, which will have 90 days to sign off.

Five Years Ago: July 23, 2007 -

*The upstate NEW YORK market of Utica/Rome has been a problem for Clear Channel ever since the company announced it was shedding most of its smaller-market stations. With a cluster that exceeds current market caps, in an over-radioed market that"s at best stagnant, the group of four AMs and five FMs wasn"t included in the list of stations Clear Channel is selling to the Goodradio.TV group (which isn"t "Goodradio.TV" anymore, but we"ll get to that later in this week"s issue), and for a while it looked as though the company simply wasn"t finding a willing buyer for the stations.

That changed on Thursday, when Ed Levine"s Galaxy Communications announced a deal under which it will buy the Clear Channel cluster, spinning off four of the CC stations to another local broadcaster, Ken Roser, and one of the CC stations and one of Galaxy"s existing Utica stations to EMF Broadcasting.

Here"s the way the market looks now:

 Clear Channel
Galaxy
Roser
 EMF
Regent
 WIXT 1230/WRNY 1350/WADR 1480/WUTQ 1550 (sports)
WOKR 93.5 (cl hits)
WOUR 96.9 (rock)
WSKS 97.9/WSKU 105.5 (top 40)
WUMX 102.5 (hot AC)
 WTLB 1310 (standards)
WKLL 94.9 (modern rock)
WRCK 107.3 (classic rock)
 WBGK 99.7 (country)
 WKVU 100.7 (K-Love)
 WIBX 950 (news-talk)
WODZ 96.1 (oldies)
WLZW 98.7 (ac)
WFRG 104.3 (country)

And here"s how it will look when all the deals close:

 EMF
Galaxy
Roser
Regent
 
WOKR 93.5
WKVU 100.7
WRCK 107.3
 WTLB 1310/WRNY 1350/WIXT 1230 (sports)
WKLL 94.9 (modern rock)
WOUR 96.9 (rock)
WUMX 102.5 (hot AC)
 WSKS 97.9/WSKU 105.5 (top 40)
WBGK 99.7 (country)
 WIBX 950 (news-talk)
WODZ 96.1 (oldies)
WLZW 98.7 (ac)
WFRG 104.3 (country)

So what does it all mean? For Levine, who just exited the Albany market with a sale of two stations (plus a Syracuse rimshot FM) to EMF, it means a much stronger position in a Utica/Rome market that"s suddenly far less crowded. Galaxy"s two rock FMs, modern rock "K-Rock" WKLL and classic rock-leaning WRCK, had been locked in a tight battle with Clear Channel"s rock WOUR and classic hits "River" WOKR. Levine tells NERW that WOUR"s strong brand and long rock history in the market persuaded him to keep the competitor he"s acquiring, while shutting down his own WRCK (and taking it out of commercial competition by selling it to EMF.)

Levine says he"ll combine the existing "Sports Stars" programming from the two AMs he"s acquiring (WIXT 1230 Little Falls and WRNY 1350 Rome) with the Syracuse University sports package Galaxy recently landed and with the strong signal of his existing WTLB 1310 Utica to create a new three-station sports network with a much more potent reach than the existing "Sports Starts" quad-cast, and he says no changes are planned right now for "Mix" WUMX.

For Ken Roser, the deal represents a homecoming: he"d owned 97.9 and 105.5, then "Wow FM" WOWZ/WOWB, before selling them to Clear Channel in 2002. Back then, Clear Channel paid $2.15 million for the two FMs and the Little Falls AM on 1230 (then WLFH). While prices aren"t being announced yet for the latest deal, it"s a pretty solid bet that Roser is paying far less than that to buy back his old FMs, as well as daytimer WUTQ (1550 Utica) and WADR (1480 Remsen). We"re hearing that Roser will keep the "Kiss" branding and top-40 format on the FMs, with no word on what becomes of the AMs. We also don"t know yet whether Roser will end up with the Genesee Street studios downtown that Clear Channel has been using; (Those studios came along with Clear Channel"s 1998 acquisition of WOUR and the rest of the then-Dame group; Galaxy will be moving WOUR out to its WTLB studio/transmitter facility in Washington Mills.)

For EMF, which has been growing with impressive speed across upstate New York, the deal will likely mean a move of its flagship "K-Love" contemporary Christian format from class A drop-in WKVU (100.7 Utica) to the massive class B WRCK signal on 107.3, transmitting from the market"s main Smith Hill tower farm. (Only the true Utica radio geeks will recall that 107.3"s origins, way back in 1962, were as standalone FM"er WUFM - and that WOUR, for that matter, began as a relay of Syracuse standalone classical station WONO.) That, in turn, means 100.7 will probably flip to EMF"s second network, Christian rock "Air One." What about WOKR, the 93.5 rimshot signal from Remsen, north of Utica? It"s never reached Utica well, and would probably end up as another Air One relay if EMF keeps it at all.

Over at WFNX (101.7 Lynn), production director Jim Murray is taking an on-air role. Starting today, he"ll take over afternoon drive from PD Keith Dakin. (Keith"s a busy guy today, what with the launch of FNX"s new "Sandbox" morning show and all...)

Just a week after announcing her departure from WCVB (Channel 5), Natalie Jacobson said her goodbyes last week, first in a special "Chronicle" on Tuesday night and then at the end of her final newscast Wednesday. "It is not easy to walk away from this," Jacobson said in her closing remarks. "But life moves on and I, like many of you, am ready for a new challenge."

That Jacobson is still saying little about what that new challenge might be (some sort of multimedia venture aimed at retirement-age baby boomers, apparently) reinforces our sense that the abrupt departure isn"t as voluntary as Jacobson and the station are saying - especially when we look back at Jacobson comments in which she said she planned to be at WCVB for a while - "I do see myself staying here and yes I am happy here," was the exact quote to the Herald as recently as late March.

In any event, WCVB rounded up all the usual tributes - Red Sox management, Ted Kennedy, rival WBZ anchor Liz Walker - as well as a smallish batch of old clips for the "Chronicle" tribute, which had the feel of something hastily assembled, short of the tribute properly due to Jacobson, who truly paved the way for women in Boston television. After a remarkable 35-year run at one station, it"s not hard to think that Jacobson deserved a bigger send-off.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, the "Free Beer and Hot Wings" morning show disappeared from the airwaves for listeners around Philadelphia when WTHK (97.5 the Hawk) gave way to smooth jazz WJJZ (97.5 Burlington NJ) earlier this year. Now Greater Media is putting the Michigan-based show (also heard in the region on WWZZ 107.1 in the Easton area and WCHR-FM 105.7 at the Jersey Shore) back on the air in Philly, albeit at night. They"ll be heard on tape delay from 10 PM until 1 AM Monday-Thursday on WMGK (102.9 Philadelphia) beginning July 30.

Back up in the Lehigh Valley, the morning team of "Ken and Kitty" (Ken Anderson and Kitty McVay) are coming home. They left WCTO (96.1 Easton) for Cincinnati in the fall of 2004, but now they"re returning - this time to the morning slot on "Hawk" WODE (99.9 Easton).

*In CANADA, another AM station is heading for the FM dial, but not completely. The CRTC has granted Blackburn Radio"s CHOK (1070 Sarnia ON) permission to add an FM relay, but not at the frequency it requested. CHOK wanted to put the 615-watt FM booster on 100.9 to alleviate what it says are reception problems in Sarnia caused by the area"s petrochemical plants. The CRTC ruled that the CHOK booster wouldn"t "utilize the full potential" of that class A channel, and ordered Blackburn to find a different frequency for the booster within 90 days.

Ten Years Ago: July 22, 2002 -

Pittsburgh"s public television station is about to get at least $20 million richer - but PENNSYLVANIA will lose its last public TV duopoly, thanks to an FCC decision last week that will allow channel 16 in the Steel City to be used for commercial broadcasting.

WQED (Channel 13) was among the first public television stations in the country when it signed on in the spring of 1954 (KUHT in Houston beat it on the air by more than a year, but WQED claims to be the first community-owned station, while KUHT was and is owned by the University of Houston); five years later, the station took an old black-and-white transmitter and added WQEX (Channel 16) to its lineup. Initially intended to provide in-school educational programming, WQEX eventually became an "alternative" public TV outlet. After going color in the eighties, WQEX operated for a time under completely separate program management from WQED, with a schedule that included classic TV reruns and PBS programs that weren"t cleared on channel 13. By the late nineties, though, WQED became determined to sell WQEX, to help meet what the station said was a serious financial shortfall. In 1997, WQEX began simulcasting WQED - something WQED hoped would be a brief temporary move before selling the station completely.

One plan involved the fledgling Pax network, which lacked a Pittsburgh outlet. Pax planned to buy commercially-licensed WPCB (Channel 40) in Greensburg from religious broadcaster Cornerstone TeleVision, which would then purchase channel 16 from WQED and move the WPCB programming there. A brief gasp of courage from several FCC commissioners, questioning whether Cornerstone"s programming met the qualifications for a noncommercial channel, quashed that deal (although the FCC later backtracked on the new rules that were briefly put forth), and WQED then asked the FCC to "de-reserve" channel 16, allowing it to be sold for full commercial use. That prompted a community outpouring of opposition, with several groups asking the FCC not to allow the de-reservation, under which WQED proposed to sell WQEX to ShootingStar, Inc., a new company formed by Diane Sutter, former general manager of WWSW (970/94.5) in Pittsburgh, for $20 million.

Last October, the FCC denied the request, but opened a Notice of Proposed Rule Making on the case. That NPRM was closed this week when the FCC ruled that the de-reservation can proceed. Most of the commissioners agreed with WQED"s argument that it needs the money from the sale for DTV conversion (something the station hasn"t done yet, while working its way through the WQEX sale) and an upgrade of the WQED facility in Pittsburgh"s Oakland district. The ruling also acknowleged that Pittsburgh is under-served by television, with just seven commercial stations in the market (Viacom"s KDKA and WNPA, Hearst-Argyle"s WTAE, Cox"s WPXI, Sinclair"s WCWB and WPGH and Cornerstone"s WPCB).

Commissioner Michael Copps dissented, calling public television stations the "gems" of the television system, and noting that once a station is de-reserved, it"s gone for good. No word yet on when WQEX"s simulcast of WQED might be replaced by commercial programming (from Pax, perhaps?) - stay tuned!

We"ll start our NEW YORK report right here in Rochester, where WBBF (950 Rochester) broke out of its simulcast with oldies WBBF-FM (93.3 Fairport) Friday evening just after 6, switching to a short playlist of songs drawn from WBBF-FM and its Entercom sister stations, classic hits WBZA (98.9) and country WBEE-FM (92.5) - with announcements proclaiming the station to be "News Talk 950." (All of the music in the rotation, by the way, had either "News," "Talk," "Sports," "Business" or "Weather" in the title or the name of the artist...) The 1000-watt signal on 950 covers Monroe County quite well (in its heritage top-40 days, it was regularly the number-one station in town by wide margins), but it"s a far cry from the market"s dominant news-talker, Clear Channel"s clear channel WHAM (1180). Expect to hear Bill O"Reilly on 950 - and we hear rumors about Dr. Joy Browne, Sean Hannity, Tom Leykis, some sports coverage and perhaps a local morning show.

Down in New York City, WOR (710) has signed on to test Ibiquity"s "in-band, on-channel" (IBOC) digital system. While WOR is making the right noises publicly about staying in the forefront of broadcast technology, behind the scenes it"s clear that this will be a critical test of the controversial IBOC system - largely because "IBOC" is a misnomer. Ibiquity"s system sends considerable signal out on the adjacent AM channels as well, and we expect WOR"s neighbors WLW (700 Cincinnati) and WGN (720 Chicago) to be watching this test very closely to see what the system really does at night when the skywave kicks up. (It"s yet to be approved for nighttime use, and many engineers are skeptical, at least in private, that it will really work in the after-dark RF environment.)

Fifteen Years Ago: July 24, 1997 -

We begin this week"s edition with some sad news from CONNECTICUT. Veteran newsman Walt Dibble died on Monday at age 67. Dibble had worked in Connecicut radio for 49 years, the last 20 of them at WTIC in Hartford. Dibble"s career began in 1948 at Stamford"s WSTC (1400), and included stints at WICC (600) in Bridgeport and WAVZ (1300) in New Haven, as well as a lengthy stay at Hartford"s WDRC (1360/102.9). Dibble came to WTIC as news director in 1977, replacing NBC"s hourly news with local news at the top and bottom of the hour. Dibble won a national award from the RTNDA for his investigative reporting, as well as awards from Ohio State University in 1981 and from the Connecticut AP Broadcasters Association (the Abrams award for excellence in radio journalism) in 1995.

Radio reporters all over New England knew Dibble as someone who was always willing to provide news sound out of Hartford, and to lend advice and job tips to those new to the business. In addition to his work at WTIC, Dibble was also an instructor at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and at Southern Connecticut State University. Dibble had been battling leukemia for some time before his death, and had just returned to work at WTIC (although not yet to the air) when he died. He"s survived by three sons (including Fox sportscaster and former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Rob Dibble) and three daughters, and by his wife, Barbara. In this era of shuttered radio newsrooms, Walt Dibble was one of the few remaining giants in the business. He will be sorely missed.

Plenty of news in MASSACHUSETTS this week, beginning with the sale of Webster"s WGFP (940; talk) and WXXW (98.9; oldies and talk). Owner Alan Okun died earlier this year, and his estate has now sold the station to Bengal Atlantic Communications LLC. No word on how much they"re paying for the southern Worcester county outlets.

We know more this week about the fate of Salem"s WPZE (1260) in Boston. Contrary to the initial reports, it seems WPZE will go to a company called Craven and Thompson Communications out of Philadelphia. We don"t know much about them, and there"s no evidence (at least in the FCC FM database) of any other station ownership by them.

Up in the Haverhill area, there"s a pirate on 88.7 that"s causing trouble for some listeners to WFCR (88.5) Amherst"s new improved signal.

And our best wishes go out to Kirby Perkins, veteran political reporter at Boston"s WCVB-TV (Channel 5), who suffered a massive heart attack while playing tennis on Monday and is now in a coma. Perkins is married to Emily Rooney, the WGBH-TV "Greater Boston" anchor/producer who"s also a former WCVB news director and ABC "World News Tonight" executive producer. (Editor"s note: We are saddened to learn that Kirby Perkins died late Thursday night after three days in coma. He is survived by his wife and only daughter.)

4 COMMENTS

  1. Any update on the changing ownership of Brockton, MA radio WXBR-AM 1460 and WMSX-AM 1410? Looking forward to the new sound on Cape Cod, too. Stevie will, for sure, continue his radio programming magic. Living in Dennis, MA, I am picking up the new 97.7 FM, ACK True Island Radio. Quite a mix of programming with “The Retro Boom-Box With Rocky Fox” to Local Nantucket bands finally having a radio station that will play their music. These bands were born on Nantucket..and so were we. We have to hang together! Music from the 228″ Any more info on this new station?

  2. WFEX Peterborough NH is indeed off the air this morning. On 92.1 in Nashua, I heard mostly WXEX Sanford ME, sometimes battling with a talk station I could not identify.

  3. Just wondering….

    Wouldn’t 101.7 WHBA be the “Haab’a'” (taking into account its Massachusetts accent) — instead of “Harbor”?

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