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January 30, 2006

And now...The CW?

*What if you gave a network and nobody showed up?

OK, we'll acknowledge that in their 11 years of existence, UPN and The WB drew at least a few viewers. (If pressed, we'll even admit to watching "Charmed" on The WB - ah, that Alyssa Milano. But we digress.)

The point is, of course, that after losing money season after season, both networks will go out of business at the end of the summer, with owners CBS and Time Warner immediately launching a new, jointly-owned network (new, of course, so that all the existing UPN and WB affiliation and programming contracts can be cancelled when those networks "cease to exist") that will just happen to pick up most of the biggest shows from each of the "defunct" weblets. (But not, apparently, "Charmed"...sigh.)

No sooner was the bombshell announcement dropped on the media community late last week than the speculation began about who'd end up with the new network (tentatively dubbed "The CW," though that's likely to change) in each market.

Several NERW-land markets were covered in the initial announcement, since they're home to stations owned by either CBS or Tribune, which was a part-owner of The WB, trading its ownership stake for the guarantee of affiliating 16 of its stations with the new network. Here's how those markets break down:

  • New York - Tribune's WPIX-TV 11 (WB) will be The CW's biggest affiliate. That leaves Fox-owned WWOR-TV 9 (UPN) stranded without an affiliation (along with its sister stations in Chicago, Los Angeles and other big markets), and it's already prompting speculation about a possible "Fox 2" network to fill the prime-time hours on those stations, and on others left without affiliations. Fox wasted no time pulling the "UPN" identity from WWOR and its other stations, turning "UPN9" into simply "9," at least for now.
  • Boston - Tribune's WLVI 56 (WB) gets The CW nod, with CBS agreeing to let its WSBK 38 (UPN) go independent. WSBK will remain a strong contender, thanks to its wide cable carriage, its cost-effective duopoly with WBZ-TV ("CBS4") and the potential that it will return to its heritage as a home for plenty of Boston sports coverage.
  • Providence - A slam-dunk, since CBS's WLWC 28 was a primary UPN affiliate, also carrying WB programming later at night.
  • Hartford/New Haven - Tribune's WTXX 20 (WB) trumps LIN's WCTX 59 ("UPN 9"), leaving that station as an independent, in a duopoly with ABC affiliate WTNH-TV 8.
  • Albany - Tribune's WEWB 45 (WB) will take the CW affiliation, stranding newcomer WNYA 51 (UPN) without an affiliation. WNYA is managed by Freedom's CBS affiliate, WRGB 6, and will likely draw on that strong station for content.
  • Philadelphia - CBS's WPSG 57 (UPN) will be the CW affiliate here, with Tribune's WPHL-TV 17 (WB) becoming one of three Tribune stations to go independent. (KTWB Seattle and WATL Atlanta are the other two.) While WPHL has no duopoly partner, it does have a strong heritage in the market and cable carriage deep into central Pennsylvania, both of which should make it a competitive independent.
  • Pittsburgh - CBS's WNPA 19 (UPN) will be the CW affiliate here, leaving Sinclair's WCWB 22 (WB) as an independent. Both are duopoly partners to larger stations - KDKA-TV (CBS 2) and WPGH (Fox 53), respectively.

Outside the CBS- and Tribune-owned markets, the situation gets murkier. From one end of NERW-land to the other, here's how it shakes out:

  • Presque Isle - The WB is represented by "WB 100+" cable-only outlet "WBPQ." While no announcement has been made about the future of the "WB 100+" operation, it's reasonable to expect it will continue under The CW. There's no UPN affiliate in the market.
  • Bangor - "WB 100+" outlet "WBAN" competed with cable carriage of WSBK (UPN) here.
  • Portland - Pegasus owns both WPXT 51 (WB) and WPME 35 (UPN) in this market, so it will likely get to choose which station - probably stronger WPXT - will get The CW.
  • Burlington/Plattsburgh - Fox affiliate WFFF-TV 44 carries WB programming after 10 PM, with UPN on Equity's network of LPTVs based at WGMU-CA 39. NERW expects that WGMU, which has cable carriage through much of the market, would be a strong contender for The CW, especially with WFFF's plans to launch a 10 PM newscast soon.
  • Springfield - "WB100+" outlet "WBQT" competed with WSBK (UPN), via cable, here.
  • Utica - "WB100+" outlet "WBU" and a three-station LPTV network based at WPNY-LP 11 (UPN) were the contenders in this small market.
  • Watertown - Clear Channel's WWTI operates "WB100+" outlet "WBWT," while some - but not all - UPN programming airs in off-hours on Fox LPTV WNYF-CA 28.
  • Syracuse - Sinclair-operated WNYS-TV 43 was originally a UPN affiliate, but is now WB. UPN now airs on Raycom's WSTQ-LP 14 ("UPN6"), the duopoly partner of NBC affiliate WSTM-TV. The outcome here is likely to hinge on affiliation deals with Sinclair and/or Raycom in other, larger markets. (While Sinclair is also losing some key WB affiliations in markets such as Norfolk and Tampa, its stations will be essential to The CW in Milwaukee, Birmingham and several other markets where it carries both UPN and WB; Raycom's WUAB Cleveland, now UPN, is also likely to be a key CW affiliate.)
  • Binghamton - "WB100+" outlet "WBXI" is operated by CBS affiliate WBNG, while UPN airs on WBPN-LP, owned by Fox affiliate WICZ. It's anyone's guess who'll get CW here.
  • Elmira - Clear Channel's WTTX-CA 30 is "UPN Twin Tiers," a sister station to dominant NBC affiliate WETM-TV 18, while The WB is on "WB100+" outlet "WBE." Again, anyone's guess.
  • Rochester - Time Warner Cable operates cable-only "WRWB," "WB16," which competes fiercely with scrappy UPN affiliate WBGT-CA 40. We'd expect the corporate cross-ownership will keep The CW on cable, which has got to be bad news for WBGT.
  • Buffalo - Another market where group-wide affiliation deals will probably decide between Sinclair's WNYO-TV 49 (WB) and LIN's WNLO-TV 23 (UPN).
  • Erie - "WB100+" outlet "WBEP" has the WB affiliation here. CBS affiliate WSEE was planning to launch a UPN affiliate on its DTV subchannel this fall; until then, Cleveland's WUAB has carried UPN to Erie viewers.
  • Johnstown/Altoona - This market had neither a WB nor a UPN affiliate, with New York's WPIX being carried on cable for WB and Pittsburgh-market WNPA (which was once licensed to Johnstown, and has a strong over-the-air signal there) for UPN. We'd expect the WPIX cable carriage to continue.
  • Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York - Clear Channel's WLYH-TV 15 (UPN) expects to become the CW affiliate here. WB was represented by cable carriage of WPHL from Philadelphia. (NERW notes that Tribune owns a station in the market, but it's a Fox affiliate - WPMT 43.
  • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - No contest here; WSWB-TV 38 carries both WB in prime time and UPN later in the evening, and will no doubt become the CW affiliate this fall.

It's been a long time since there's been this much turmoil on the TV dial, and it promises to be an exciting few months as affiliation deals are hammered out and new networks emerge (perhaps) - and we'll be right there to cover it all. Stay tuned...

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*We'll start the rest of the week's news in MASSACHUSETTS, where EMF Broadcasting, the California-based religious broadcaster that's also one of the fastest-growing groups in the industry, is poised to buy WSMU (91.1 North Dartmouth) from UMass Dartmouth.

The $700,000 deal won't mean the end of WSMU, though. The university's been sitting on a construction permit for a more powerful signal on 89.3 from the same location. That signal (which now has the calls WUMD) will sign on with the WSMU calls when EMF takes over 91.1 for its satellite-delivered "K-Love" contemporary Christian format, already heard in the region on WKMY (91.1 Winchendon) and WKIV (88.1 Westerly RI).

(And we hope that whoever it was at UMass Dartmouth who came up with the idea to "recharacterize" WSMU's application to simply move from 91.1 to 89.3 as an application for a new station on 89.3, thus making 91.1 available for sale, gets a big bonus from this...)

In Boston, Eddie Andelman is coming back to the airwaves, three months after cutbacks at WWZN (1510) knocked him off the air there. He'll be heard Sunday evenings on WTKK (96.9) with a revived version of his "Sports Huddle" broadcast, last heard in 1997 on WEEI, and he'll continue his "Hot Dog Safari" charitable event this spring, as well.

Today's launch of Radio One's new urban talk network includes WILD (1090 Boston), which drops its short-lived "Praise" black gospel format (now relegated to weekends) to pick up a national program lineup that includes Al Sharpton and the "Two Live Stews" sports show from Atlanta's WQXI. WILD will eventually have a permanent local morning show; for now, various guest hosts will handle that shift.

Salem's WTTT (1150 Boston) is - as we'd reported a few weeks ago - adding Paul Harvey to its schedule beginning February 6, returning the dean of radio commentators to the Boston airwaves after WBZ (1030) pulled his show at the end of 2005. Harvey's "News and Comment" broadcasts will be heard at 9, 10 and 11:45 AM, with his "Rest of the Story" at 6 PM. WTTT is also picking up Sean Hannity for live carriage from 3-6 PM, displacing Michael Medved to 9 PM and knocking Laura Schlessinger to sister station WROL (950). (Hannity had been carried at midnight on WTKK.)

ESPN Radio affiliate WAMG (890 Dedham) is applying for more juice after dark. Right now, it drops from 25 kW to 3400 watts at sunset; it hopes to increase that to 6000 watts, though that will require a waiver of some minimal interference to WCBS (880 New York) along the coast.

On the FM dial, WCRB (102.5 Waltham) has turned on its HD Radio digital signal, with separate automated classical music on its HD-2 subchannel. (Meanwhile, Clear Channel launched its HD-2 channels in Boston on Friday, with WXKS-FM 107.9 offering "New CHR" and WJMN 94.5 offering "Old Skool Hip-Hop and R&B.")

Out on Cape Cod, the WUMB network has replaced a half-century-old transmitter at WFPB (1170 Orleans) with a new solid-state model, and the station threw a party over the weekend for listeners to celebrate.

You can have your ad here! Click here for information on the most economical way to reach tens of thousands of Northeast radio and TV people each week.

*The news from CONNECTICUT is all about TV this week. At NBC's WVIT (Channel 30), news director Sheila Trauernicht is departing after three years in the post. And down the road at Telemundo affiliate WRDM-LP, it's a new channel: the station has moved from channel 13 to channel 50, operating from the WCCC (106.9) site on the West Hartford/Avon line.

*The week's biggest news from NEW YORK doesn't involve a single radio station. It's about RCS, the White Plains-based software company whose "Selector" music scheduling software dominates the industry - and which last week announced that it was being sold to Clear Channel, whose holdings also include software maker Prophet Systems, whose automation products compete with RCS' "Master Control." No management or staff changes are expected at RCS, where president Philippe Generali will remain on board. Inside Radio reports Clear Channel may have paid more than $50 million for RCS, whose other product lines include the Media Monitors subsidiary that tracks radio and print ad placement around the country.

Out on Long Island, Austin Vali is departing the GM chair at Cox's WBAB (102.3 Babylon)/WBLI (106.1 Patchogue) - he's headed to Hawaii.

Former Albany PD Donnie Michaels is headed back to upstate New York after parting ways with Clear Channel's WHYI (100.7 Fort Lauderdale-Miami); no word yet on a new gig back home for him.

A Syracuse radio veteran is getting ready to retire at the end of March. After almost a decade at WTLA (1200 North Syracuse)/WSGO (1440 Oswego), Phil Markert will call it quits March 31, heading south to pursue his other passions, playing the piano and acting. Markert's piano playing was a regular feature of his morning show both on WTLA and before that for many years on WHEN (620).

In Rochester, WROC-TV (Channel 8) reporter/weekend anchor Rachel Barnhart has parted ways with the station, after failing to reach agreement on a contract renewal. NERW hears that the station wanted Barnhart to take a significant pay cut; the Rochester native, widely regarded as one of the most aggressive young reporters in town, is the second prominent reporter to leave WROC this year, following investigative reporter Steve Levine, who's now at Baltimore's WBFF. (Full disclosure: Barnhart and your editor were colleagues at cable news channel R News in the late nineties.)

Did you read about Barnhart in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle? Nope - and the paper's entire coverage of the WB-UPN merger was limited to a wire-service story that wasn't even localized with the barest mention of the local affiliates of each network. We've complained about the paper's pathetic media coverage before, of course, but it was truly shown up last week by the excellent, in-depth reporting offered in similar-sized upstate markets by Mark McGuire of the Albany Times-Union and Alan Pergament of the Buffalo News. The real shame, of course, is that Rochester readers don't even realize what they're missing, and they have no other local daily choice, anyway. (Oh, and speaking of the News, it's finally converting its home-delivery customers from afternoon to morning delivery, more than two decades after the erstwhile Buffalo Evening News became a full-day paper.)

*In western PENNSYLVANIA, Renda Broadcasting is adding a fourth station to its Pittsburgh cluster, which includes AC WSHH (99.7), standards WJAS (1320) and talk WPTT (1360 McKeesport.) It's picking up WJJJ (107.1 Greensburg) from Sheridan, for an as-yet-undisclosed price, and it will replace the station's Pittsburgh-focused "Majic" adult R&B format (simulcast on WAMO 860) with Westwood One's "Sam" adult hits format later this week. The station's calls will change to WGSM, and it will eventually reopen studios and sales offices in Westmoreland County.

WAMO, as historians will recall, began its life as Homestead-based WHOD, and in that incarnation gave birth to the career of Porky Chedwick, one of the Steel City's most beloved broadcasters. In subsequent years, Chedwick's R&B show was heard on WAMO, KQV, WEDO and south suburban WLSW (103.9 Scottdale) - and now he's holding down Saturday afternoons, noon to 3, on WKFB (770 Jeannette). Operations manager Clarke Ingram reports that Chedwick's first show this past weekend drew calls from as far away as northern Ohio - and that, even with his ninetieth birthday approaching next year, Chedwick's still going strong. (Learn all about his fascinating career from Ed Weigle's profile on the site.)

WKFB is also adding former WLSW jocks "Candy and Mike" for weekdays, 1-3 PM.

On the HD Radio front, public station WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh) launched not one but two HD subchannels last week. "WDUQ HD-2" will counterprogram the main channel's news and jazz offerings, carrying jazz while WDUQ has NPR news in mornings and afternoons, and bringing the market NPR's "Talk of the Nation," "On Point," "News and Notes with Ed Gordon," Diane Rehm and BBC World Service during the hours when WDUQ's playing jazz. And "WDUQ HD-3" will be a 24-hour blues channel. The new services will also be available as streams on WDUQ's website.

On TV, Sinclair's WPGH (Channel 53) did its last "News Central" newscast last night, with the first WPXI-produced 10 PM newscast to debut tonight. WPXI has hired WPGH sportscaster Alby Oxenreiter (who had been at WPGH since its newscast debuted in 1996); the remainder of the WPGH news staff is out of work, since existing WPXI staffers will handle the WPGH newscast as well, with David Johnson and Darieth Chisholm anchoring and Steve Teeling doing weather.

Speaking of WPXI, it will break ground in March on a new 66,000-square foot studio and office facility in the Summer Hill neighborhood (near WPGH and the KDKA-TV transmitter, alongside I-279 in the North Hills), replacing the cramped "Television Hill" facility on Rising Main Avenue that it's called home since 1957. WPXI had originally planned to move its transmitter from Television Hill as well, but neighborhood objections to the planned 800-foot tower mean the station will keep its existing tower site instead.

Over in Blairsville (outside Indiana), Renda's WLCY (106.3) has dropped its "Lucky FM" AC format and has flipped to country as "Cat Country." (This gets its format out of the way of the new "Sam" on 107.1, with overlapping coverage.)

Heading east, Nick Galli's 2510 group is selling two of its stations to EMF Broadcasting, which has been LMA'ing the stations for its "K-Love" contemporary Christian stations. EMF will pay $2.3 million for WKVB (107.9 Port Matilda-State College) and WLKJ (105.7 Portage-Johnstown). It appears that 2510 is keeping its third K-Love affiliate, WLKH (97.7 Somerset).

(2510 is also the leading bidder, after 49 rounds in the FCC's FM Auction 62, for the 98.5 CP in nearby Meyersdale. The bidding stood at $551,000 as of Sunday night, exceeded in the region only by the $1.255 million Fine Arts Broadcasting is bidding for 97.5 in Bristol, Vermont, and just ahead of the $545,000 bid from Equinox Broadcasting for 106.7 Windsor, New York, near Binghamton. We'll have much more on the FM auction in next week's NERW.)

And over on the other side of the state, our good friend Joe Reilly is adding to his burgeoning media empire in Bloomsburg. His "Columbia FM" will pay 4M Broadcasting $800,000 for WKAB (103.5 Berwick), whose classic hits format can be heard from Wilkes-Barre to the Susquehanna River. Reilly already owns WHLM (930) in Bloomsburg, and we suspect 103.5 will become WHLM-FM before long.

*In CANADA, Corus' CFEL (102.1 Montmagny QC) is asking the CRTC to allow it to boost its power to 100 kW (with a directional antenna) and to relocate its transmitter to better serve Quebec City's south-shore suburb of Levis - and to put a signal over Quebec City itself. The application will be heard at a CRTC hearing in Quebec City on March 20.

*Didn't find a Tower Site Calendar 2006 under the tree/menorah/Blaw-Knox diamond tower model of your choice over the holidays? Our supply is running low, but you've still got time to place your order - don't wait!

We've got to say, we're especially proud of the way this year's calendar 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!

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 2006 by Scott Fybush.