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September 19, 2005

Morey FMs Flip to "Channelcasting"

*It's far too early to say whether it's a brilliant move or just an interesting dead-end, but the outcome of last week's speculation about the future of The Morey Organization's three NEW YORK FM stations on Long Island's East End is certainly stirring debate within the broadcasting community.

The new formats on the three stations are collectively known as "FM ChannelCasting," and the idea - according to TMO - is to bring listeners the same benefits that they'd get from satellite radio, without the expense of buying new equipment or paying a subscription fee.

Late last week, active rock WBON (98.5 Westhampton) became rock "FM Channel 98: Long Island Rock", dance/top 40 WDRE (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) became top 40 "FM Channel 105: Party Hits" and modern rock WLIR (107.1 Hampton Bays) became "FM Channel 107: Neo-Breeze," an unusual (and interesting-sounding) melange of standards, soft AC and smooth jazz. What's new about the stations, though, isn't the music; it's the programming concept: Morey says "FM ChannelCasting" aims to bring listeners the same benefits they get from satellite radio - long sets of music uninterrupted by DJs or commercial breaks - without the costs.

In practice, what it amounts to are jockless 15-minute music sweeps, with just one sponsor for an entire hour of programming and very brief sponsor announcements (15 to 30 seconds) four times an hour. Morey says it hopes to lure nontraditional sponsors, even individuals wishing to honor anniversaries and birthdays and such.

NERW's take: It's certainly a bold move, if nothing else, but mark us down as more than a bit skeptical about the long-term future of this "ChannelCasting" business. There is, for one thing, an intrinsic conflict between the prime need of any commercial broadcaster - to draw as large a mass audience as possible, thus ensuring ratings and, hopefully, revenue - and the appeal of the niche formats that are some of the biggest draws for satellite radio.

One has to wonder, too, whether 60 seconds of commercials an hour will really produce anything even close to the revenue levels needed to sustain an FM station in a market the size of the East End. It's true, as some have pointed out in various forums, that the "ChannelCasting" formats are somewhat reminiscent of the early, automated days of FM radio, but back then the costs were much lower, too - licenses were available pretty much for the asking, instead of for tens of millions of dollars in debt load, and most of those automated FM stations were carried by the much larger cash flow of their thriving AM sister stations. Morey does have its Long Island Press newspaper and concert-hall business to help pay the bills, but it's not evident to us that there will be much cross-promotion among them, as there was when the FM stations were doing more traditional formats. (Several alert listeners on the East End noticed infomercials running Sunday morning, so perhaps that's the short-term "solution" in the works.)

In any event, it's hard for us not to see "ChannelCasting" as a low-cost solution to keep the stations on the air and garner some publicity (including big press in both New York tabloids last week) while the stations are put up for eventual sale. We'll be interested to see if we're wrong about this one...

*Meanwhile in Manhattan, it's sounding an awful lot like 1990 at WPLJ (95.5), which announced last week that Rocky Allen and Blain Ensley will return to the air there on Tuesday to resume the afternoon-drive "Showgram" that they did so successfully at 'PLJ more than a decade ago. The move shifts afternooner Race Taylor to middays, displacing Rich Kaminski to weekends.

Also on the move in New York City is "Sunny," who's off middays at WQHT (97.1); no replacement has been named yet.

Moving upstate, Double O Radio hopes to add to its dominance in the triangle between Binghamton, Utica and Albany with its $3.8 million deal to buy WDOS (730 Oneonta) and WSRK (103.9 Oneonta) from Ultimate Communications. Double O already owns Oneonta's only other commercial station, WZOZ (103.1), as well as the stations in nearby Norwich, so this move creates quite the cluster along I-88.

Moving way upstate, WKPQ (105.3 Hornell) has reimaged as "Freedom 105," as the station plays up its local ownership.

And we can't neglect to mention the impending Binghamton Radio Reunion, now less than a week away. We're planning to be there, and we hope to see a lot of familiar faces. (More info at

*From NEW JERSEY - or is it PENNSYLVANIA - comes word that Nassau has now taken the inevitable next step in the move of WTHK (97.5) into the Philadelphia market. The former WPST changed city of license from Trenton to Burlington a few weeks back, and now it's applied to move its transmitter from the downtown Trenton site it's called home since the sixties, all the way into Philadelphia.

The move comes with some very tight spacing requirements, though: while there's no restriction on spacing to third-adjacent WOGL (98.1), thanks to pre-1964 grandfathering, the relocated WTHK can't increase interference to WIXM (97.3 Millville NJ) or WALK-FM (97.5 Patchogue NY), with which it's also grandfathered, nor can it move much closer to WRVV (97.3 Harrisburg).

The result? As we'd sort of expected, WTHK is applying to move its transmitter to the Wyndmoor section of northern Philadelphia, adjacent to the Mermaid Lane site of WJJZ (106.1). From there, WTHK will be a full class B signal, 43 kW at 525 feet above average terrain, but with a deep directional null to the northwest to protect WRVV and a shallower null to the south and east to protect WIXM.

What's next? Expect the CP to be granted fairly quickly - and then the speculation will build about a sale of the station. Nassau isn't a big-market player, especially not with a single FM signal, and a full-market FM like this would certainly bring big bucks. Stay tuned...

We don't often have much to say about DELAWARE, but there are some interesting moves going on just across the state line, as veteran WILM (1450) newsman Allan Loudell takes a new job with his longtime rival, Delmarva Broadcasting's WDEL (1150). Loudell was the star voice at WILM during its many years of local ownership, but with the station's recent sale to Clear Channel, the roles are reversing in Wilmington. Now it's WDEL that's mostly local, and WILM that's increasingly leaning on satellite talk (including the Rush Limbaugh show, which moved over from WDEL with the change of ownership)...and interesting times on the way in a market where AM radio really still matters.

We can't leave Philadelphia without mentioning that the NAB Radio Show gets underway Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center; we'll be there, and we'll have a full report next week.

Further afield in the Keystone State (and upstate New York, for that matter), the management structure's changing at the Route 81 Radio group. Founder Lloyd Roach has been replaced by former Tele-Media honcho Ira Rosenblatt as the group's CEO. Roach remains on Route 81's board, but it sounds like changes may be afoot; we're already hearing that some of the stations in markets where the company doesn't have large clusters are for sale.

Speaking of sales, WBLF (970 Bellefonte) has been doing some interesting things as it transitions from 2510 Broadcasting to Magnum Broadcasting. (We're hearing something about a nonstop loop of "Yellow Submarine.") It looks as though WBLF will end up with a fairly substantial news presence; help-wanted ads the station has been placing put State College market veteran Tor Michaels in the news director's chair.

And WHLM (930 Bloomsburg) is occupying new digs, having moved from an upper floor of the historic "WHLM Building" down the street to new storefront studios on East Main Street, where Bobby Joe Reilly and the gang can look right out at their listeners. (Community connection and AM radio? Yup, it still exists.)

*In MASSACHUSETTS - well, OK, on Long Island, where he actually does the show most of the time, "Jay Severin Has Issues." That's the name of the syndicated afternoon show that the WTKK (96.9 Boston) talker will be doing for Infinity beginning in January, but it's also a pretty good description of what the last week was like for him. It seems Severin told a caller that he'd won a Pulitzer Prize for online journalism, which raised some questions a few doors down at the Boston Globe. Columnist Scot Lehigh investigated, and found that, for which Severin used to write, had won a couple of Online Journalism Awards, which were awarded by Columbia University, which also awards the Pulitzers...and there's now some frantic "what I meant to say was" backtracking going on.

(We're also waiting to hear what WTKK will do when Severin's show goes syndicated; we'd expect it to stay in place on 96.9, where it's become a fixture in the lineup.)

Radio People on the Move: Now that former WQSX (93.7 Lawrence, now WMKK) PD Jerry McKenna is getting settled in at WBMX (98.5 Boston), he's starting to bring some "Star" talent with him. "Lady D," who also worked at WXKS-FM and WJMN before Star, comes on board to do nights at "Mix 98.5." Over at Greater Media's WBOS (92.9 Brookline), John Laurenti is the new afternoon jock, moving up I-95 from WHJY in Providence.

*All-news radio, in English anyway, is now history in one of CANADA's biggest markets, as Corus quietly pulled the plug on "940 News" at CINW, replacing it with a news-talk hybrid branded as "AM 940, Montreal Radio." The new AM 940 retains a news-heavy presence in morning and afternoon drive and during the noon hour, but it adds more talk elements outside of drive time, including the syndicated Charles Adler show from 3-5 PM. (Adler also joins the lineup at sister station CFMJ, "AM 640 Toronto," where he's heard from 2-4 PM weekdays.)

To the east of Toronto, CKDO (1350 Oshawa) is asking the CRTC for permission to move up the dial to 1580, where it would run 10 kW fulltime (up from the current 10 kW day/5 kW night). The 1580 frequency was where CHUC (1450 Cobourg) was going to move, but now CHUC is headed to the FM dial instead.

In Perth, Ontario, Norm Wright and Brian Perkins apply for a new soft AC outlet on 88.1, where they'd run 1.35 kW/91.5 meters with a directional antenna.

But the big news at the CRTC is a whole sheaf of applications for new stations in Montreal and Quebec, which will be discussed at a public hearing November 14 in Quebec.

In Montreal, there are four applications for new AM signals: Radio Moyen Orient du Canada for 1 kW on 1450, Radio Chalom for 1 kW on 1650, Concordia Student Broadcasting Corp. for 1 kW on 1690, and, most curiously, Andre Joly for 5800 watts, daytime-only, on 650. (NERW wonders how that will play against a pending application at the FCC for 50 kW on 650 in Mooers, New York, just across the border.)

On the FM side, la Radio Communautaire de la Salle applies for 250 watts on 100.1, while International Harvesters for Christ and Rene Ferron both apply for 106.3, with 1.2 kW DA/209 m and 1.9 kW DA/186m, respectively. Those applications compete with one from CFEI (106.5 St. Hyacinthe) to up its power from 3 kW to 48 kW DA/99.6 m, which would cover much of Montreal.

The really big news is in Quebec, though, where a dozen applications will compete for space on the dial.

There's one AM - an application from Communications Medialex for 50 kW on 980, for a country station that will be a partial relay of CJMS (1040 St.-Constant) from Montreal.

On FM, there are three applicants competing for 92.5/92.7 - Corus, for a French FM talker on 92.5 (10 kW DA/373.4 m), Communications Levis 2001, for a French rocker on 92.7 (250 W DA/177 m) and J.P. Coallier, for a French classical station on 92.7 (5 kW DA/373.5 m).

Two applicants want 105.7 - Standard, for an English rocker (10 kW DA/373.4 m) and Yves Sauve, for French country (800 W/120.6 m).

Three applicants want 106.9 - Radio Couleur Jazz, for a French jazz station (6.9 kW DA/410.1 m) and Genex, for French top 40 (1410 W/429 m), plus an application from community station CIMI (103.7) to move to 106.9 and boost power to 6.55 kW DA/192 m.

There are apps for French religion on 96.9 (13 watts) and for French and English travel information (90.3 and 89.7, with 13 watts each).

And CKNU (100.9 Donnacona) wants to boost its power to 3.1 kW/429 m, relocating to Mont Belair to serve much of Montreal. Stay tuned...

*Tower Site Calendar 2006 is just back from the printer, and we've got to say, we're especially proud of the way this one turned out.

Once again, we bring you more than a dozen images from the collection that have never seen print before, including that nifty nighttime view of New York's WMCA that graces the cover. You also get to see WSB, KTAR, Mount Wilson, CBV and many, many more, plus all those fun dates in radio and TV history, civil and religious holidays, a handy full-page 2007 calendar, and the always-popular hole for hanging.

And we do it all with no increase in price, for the fourth year running!

The calendars are shipping now, so there's no need to wait until the holidays to enjoy all that tall steel and all that broadcast history. Order now and beat the rush!

You can get one free with your 2006 subscription to NERW at the $60 level, or order the calendar (plus other goodies) at our brand new Store! We think you'll like this one - and as always, we thank you for your support.

NorthEast Radio Watch is made possible by the generous contributions of our regular readers. If you enjoy NERW, please click here to learn how you can help make continued publication possible. NERW is copyright 2005 by Scott Fybush.