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June 21, 2010

Death Knell for Canada's DAB

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*The future of digital radio in the United States remains a hot topic for debate whenever broadcast people get together. North of the border in CANADA, however, the debate is over: the L-band Eureka-147 DAB system that launched to extensive fanfare just over a decade ago is now dead.

Last week, the CBC notified Industry Canada that it's pulling the plug on its DAB transmitters, beginning with the multiplex in Montreal that carried two English and two French radio signals. While the CRTC has not yet given public notice of CBC shutdowns at its other digital transmitters, we checked with the lone Canadian DAB receiver owner we know - and he reports that as of Friday, the CBC multiplex on "channel LF" (1461 MHz) was indeed off the air. (Thanks to Bill Hepburn for his monitoring assistance with these!)

With the CBC signals gone, it's a pretty good bet that the remaining commercial DAB signals will soon disappear as well. In Toronto, Bill reports that many of the stations on the three remaining multiplexes had no audio on Friday; out of 15 stations that were supposed to be available, only nine had audio - and that audio, he reports, was "internet-quality."

The demise of the CBC DAB signals reflects a reality that the CBC has been quietly acknowledging for some years now; the promises made for DAB circa 1999, including bouquets of new services aimed at niche audiences, never came true - and with only "improved audio quality" (and barely even that) to sell the new radios, the radios largely failed to sell. As early as 2003, the engineers maintaining the DAB transmitters at the CN Tower were already complaining that the signals were unreliable at best; most of the commercial signals in Toronto were apparently off the air for much of 2009 without much, if any, complaint from listeners. That should be no surprise: one estimate we've seen suggests that no more than 1,000 DAB radios ever found their way into listeners' hands during the years the system was in operation.

*While digital radio fades away, the pressure for new analog signals continues unabated. This week marks the end of a frequency test aimed at squeezing yet another FM signal into the crowded Toronto dial. Since May 31, "CARN Radio" has been testing from the First Canadian Place transmitter site, reportedly with about 500 watts, as Fitzroy Gordon attempts to find a workable dial position for the Caribbean-focused station the CRTC licensed to him back in 2006. CBC, which operates Radio One outlet CBLA on 99.1 from First Canadian Place, objected to Gordon's proposed use of the second-adjacent 98.7 frequency, which would normally have been the end of that story - but Canada's heritage minster intervened to authorize the test on 98.7. It's not yet clear when a decision will be made about whether CARN can use 98.7 as a permanent frequency.

*Is one of Toronto's broadcast TV signals going away? That appears to be Quebecor's intent as it works out a plan that would replace the present "Sun TV" (CKXT Channel 52) with a new national cable news channel called "Sun News." The CRTC isn't presently issuing new "category one" cable network licenses, which mandate carriage (and payment) by cable companies across Canada, but Quebecor apparently intends to ask the CRTC to revoke its Toronto broadcast license (with relay transmitters in Ottawa and London) and to trade it for a "category one" cable license for Sun News.

Radio People on the Move around Toronto: The latest round of cuts at Astral's CFRB (1010) has claimed the job of weekend morning host John Donabie, a longtime Toronto radio veteran, as well as evening anchor Bob Komsic and several behind-the-scenes staffers. Down the hall at CKFM (Virgin Radio 99.9), three jocks are out - Chris Biggs, Taylor Kaye and Jimmy T - setting in motion a series of musical air-chairs that shifts Adam Wylde from CKIS (Kiss 92.5) up the dial to Virgin and moves JJ King from mornings on CFXJ (Flow 93.5) over to afternoons on Kiss, replacing Wylde.

Meanwhile in the world of talk radio, CFYI (640) is adjusting its schedule, pulling the plug (at least until fall) on "Leafs Lunch"; the sports show has been replaced by the syndicated Charles Adler show from 1-4 PM, with former Leafs Lunch host Bill Watters hosting a sports show from 4-7 PM in Adler's old slot.

*In the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area, community station CHES in Erin is changing frequencies. CHES had been operating on 101.5 with 50 watts, but it sought to better cover its listening area 50 miles northwest of Toronto, and a power increase on that frequency was impossible. So it applied for, and has now been granted, an increase to 250 watts/63 meters and the addition of a directional antenna - and a frequency change to 88.1, where it will bump up against Toronto community station CKLN, though CKLN and CHES have signed a letter of understanding agreeing on a directional pattern for CHES that will send its signal south into Mississauga and Brampton while avoiding CKLN's audience in the core of Toronto.

Beyond southern Ontario, there's community radio news from New Brunswick as well, where French community station CKMA (93.7 Miramichi) is applying to add a 250-watt relay transmitter at Neguac to bring "Radio MirAcadie" to Northumberland County's 8,000 Francophone listeners.

And just over the New Brunswick/Quebec line, CFVD (95.5 Degelis) is applying for a 5.75 kW/89.3m relay transmitter on 102.5 in the larger city of Riviere-du-Loup, "in order to address the competitive imbalance that has developed over time" and "to ensure the financial viability of its operations."


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*The week's big news from NEW YORK came from the Capital District, where veteran morning man Don Weeks announced that when his contract is up later this year, he's retiring from WGY (810 Schenectady) after 30 years on the job.

Weeks, who's 71, has been on the air in the Albany market since 1956, including a stint as a top-40 DJ at WTRY (980, now WOFX) and a long run doing weather and hosting the kiddie shows on WAST (Channel 13, now WNYT). Last year, he was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame (and indeed, that's where this picture of him was taken!)

"It has been a great run but I want time now to pursue some other interests," Weeks said in a statement; WGY says it will launch the proverbial national search to find a replacement for WGY's morning slot.

Meanwhile, the talk host who used to follow Weeks in WGY's mid-morning slot announced last week that he'll be back on the air at a competing station. The rumors had been swirling for a while, and today it becomes official: Al Roney has Dan Lynch's old 2-6 PM slot on WGDJ (1300 Rensselaer).

One other shift we've been meaning to mention on the Albany talk dial: Susan Arbetter's "Capitol Pressroom," the WCNY Syracuse-produced daily hour of statehouse news and talk formerly heard in Albany on WROW (590) before it dropped its talk format, has found a new Albany home: it's heard weekdays at 5 PM on Siena College's WVCR (88.3 Loudonville); Arbetter's show is also being heard in Rochester on WXXI (1370), nightly at 10 PM. (Usual disclaimers apply.)

In Syracuse, Candace Curby is the new night jock on "K-Rock" (WKRL 100.9 North Syracuse/WKRH 105.9 Minetto/WKLL 94.9 Frankfort-Utica). Curby comes to central New York from the Citadel cluster in Harrisburg, where she was promotions director; she replaces Tiff in the evening slot.

Rochester's Bob Lonsberry has lost one of his jobs: on Thursday, he was abruptly canned from his longtime morning gig on Clear Channel's KNRS (105.7) in Salt Lake City. For the better part of the last decade, Lonsberry had been doing the 6-9 AM show (8-11 Eastern Time) on KNRS, followed immediately by his 11 AM-2 PM talk show on sister station WHAM (1180 Rochester), usually from Rochester but sometimes from Utah. He told readers of his blog that it was the Salt Lake job that was providing him with most of his income, and he's blaming the arrival of PPM ratings in Salt Lake City for the weak numbers that led to his dismissal. Lonsberry also alleges that KNRS was uncomfortable with his endorsement in a recent Utah election campaign - but he says he's most upset that Clear Channel also fired his son, Lee Lonsberry, who had started out as a producer for other Clear Channel stations in Salt Lake before working on his father's talk show.

Another veteran Rochester air talent is out of work, and this time locally: Bill Pucko had been sports director at what's now YNN Rochester since the Time Warner local news channel launched back in 1990 as "WGRC-TV 5." (He'd joined from WHEC-TV.) Pucko was abruptly sent packing on Thursday, and nobody's discussing the reason. Pucko is still writing for the Messenger-Post newspapers and for his website. (More disclaimers: your editor worked for R News, predecessor to today's YNN, from 1997-2001.)

*In New York City, Frank Flores is out as market manager of SBS' New York stations, WPAT-FM (93.1 Paterson) and WSKQ (97.9 New York). Flores, who was also SBS' chief revenue officer, had been a prominent voice in the spat between SBS and Arbitron over the Portable People Meter; Mickie Reyes, SBS' local sales manager, is handling market manager duties for now.

What ever happened to Joey Reynolds' new TV talk show on WNBC-DT's 4.2 local channel? Reynolds' website reports that the show, which was to have launched this fall, "is now postponed due to negotiations."

Up the Hudson River, the FCC is finally ready to auction off one of the region's last open FM channels. The class A signal in Rosendale has been in dispute since the mid-90s, when several broadcasters applied for stations on 102.5. Subsequent modifications of the table of allocations shifted the open channel to 98.9, and now the five applicants who've been waiting for years to get their hands on the frequency will get to participate in a closed auction starting June 17. Opening bid on the facility, which will serve the Poughkeepsie area, will be $100,000.

The Auction 88 process has also weeded out several applicants for other facilities in the region, leaving only uncontested "singleton" applications for a new signal on 750 in Lansing, near Ithaca (Romar Communications) and a 102.5 translator in Manahawkin, New Jersey (Penn-Jersey Educational Radio, which owns WDVR in Delaware Township.)

*Central New York lost a well-loved broadcaster on Saturday. Don DeRosa was a familiar face and voice up and down the Thruway, from his early years in morning drive and the PD chair at Utica's WRUN to later stints at WTLB in Albany, WSNY in Schenectady, WPTR in Albany and then WOSC/WKFM in Fulton, where he was general manager in the 1980s.

More recently, DeRosa was a station owner, buying the former WOSC (by then WZZZ) in 2002 and flipping it to country music under new calls WAMF. That story didn't have a happy ending; a fire destroyed the station's studios and DeRosa eventually sold the license to Craig Fox, who now operates the signal as a relay of his Syracuse Radio Disney outlet, WOLF.

DeRosa had been ill in recent years, and his friends and admirers had gathered Saturday afternoon for a benefit to help him pay for his cancer treatments; sadly, DeRosa succumbed to the disease even as the benefit was underway in Syracuse.


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*There's a station sale in MAINE: Decelles-Smith Media, which has owned WEGP (1390 Presque Isle) since 2000, is selling the talk station to Northern Maine Broadcasting Inc., controlled by Gregory McNeil (and with a mailing address in Trinidad and Tobago!)

McNeil is putting down $70,000 upfront for the station, with the rest of the $220,000 purchase price to be paid in installments. Decelles-Smith still owns the WEGP studios, which McNeil has an option to acquire for $45,000 by the end of January 2011. And there's an interesting programming clause in the contract: if Premiere Radio Networks won't sign new contracts with McNeil to keep Rush Limbaugh and Coast to Coast AM on WEGP, he can back out of the purchase without any penalty. (Not that there's any danger of Clear Channel launching an Aroostook County "Rush Radio," a la Boston's WXKS; Clear Channel has been out of Maine entirely for several years, and never owned in Presque Isle.)

*In MASSACHUSETTS, the FCC has transformed a $10,000 Notice of Apparent Liability into a forfeiture order against the operators of "Hot 97," the pirate station that the FCC tracked to two locations in Hyde Park and Mattapan last year. Delroy Johnson, Paul Parara and Richard Parara never responded to the NAL, and it doesn't appear that they have any intention of paying up; "Hot 97" continues to operate quite openly, albeit now on 87.7.

*We've been remiss in not mentioning the NEW JERSEY Broadcasters Association's new Lifetime Achievement Award, launched earlier this month at its annual Mid-Atlantic Broadcasters Conference in Atlantic City. The first award went to Pinky Kravitz, who's been doing the "Pinky's Korner" show for an amazing 53 years, most recently on WOND (1400 Pleasantville). The new NJBA board was also installed at the conference, including chairman Bill Saurer, CEO of Millennium Radio New Jersey and vice chairs Scott Taylor (WAWZ) and Bob Dunphy (Clear Channel Northwest NJ).

And we've also been remiss in failing to congratulate veteran Garden State broadcaster Dick Taylor on his big move: the former Clear Channel GM (and past NJBA board member) is on his way to Kentucky to become an assistant professor at Western Kentucky University's school of broadcasting and journalism.

*In PENNSYLVANIA, they've turned up the power at WGAL-TV (Channel 8) in Lancaster. The station's DTV signal is now operating at 32.2 kW ERP, a big jump from the previous 14.2 kW. WGAL is hoping the power boost (and the UHF translators for which it's applied) will help resolve persistent reception problems that the station has been experiencing across the huge swath of south-central Pennsylvania that makes up the sprawling Harrisburg/Lancaster/York TV market.

On the Pittsburgh TV dial, Anne Linaberger can remove "interim" from her title at KDKA-TV (Channel 2): she's now the CBS station's news director, taking the slot Coleen Marren vacated when she moved back east to become ND at Hartford's WTIC-TV.

Up in Scranton, Michelle Taylor has departed the morning show on WBSX (97.9 Hazleton); Jim Bone is solo for now while 97.9X looks for a successor to Taylor.

And there's another call change at the fringes of the market: WFUZ (90.9 Laporte) becomes WCIS-FM.

There's a bit more Baseball on the Radio to report this week: with New York-Penn League action now underway, the Williamsport Crosscutters have added one more station to their already extensive network, as WJSA (1600 Jersey Shore) picks up the team's games.

And there's some rare radio coverage for a summer amateur baseball league. The Geneva Red Wings of the New York Collegiate Baseball League (NYCBL) are now being heard on Hobart and William Smith's WHWS-LP (105.7 Geneva), reports GM Aaron Read.

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. Thanks to for the idea - and thanks to you, our readers, for the support that's made all these years of NERW possible!)

June 22, 2009 -

  • Back in the age of analog TV, the conventional wisdom held that the low-band VHF spectrum - TV channels 2-6 - would become superfluous as soon as the digital transition was over. Electrical noise, propagation anomalies and the need for large, usually outdoor, receiving antennas would make those channels undesirable for digital TV, eventually freeing them up for other, non-TV, uses...or so the belief went. As we enter the second full week of the digital TV era in the U.S., that conventional wisdom is being confirmed by some established stations, as problems crop up with VHF digital TV not only on the low band but on the high-band channels (7-13) as well. But it's also being significantly challenged by some newcomers, including one broadcaster who's found a loophole that may put new full-power DTV stations on the air in the New York and Philadelphia markets at a bargain price.
  • The problems, first: No sooner had stations such as Boston's WHDH-TV (Channel 7), Philadelphia's WHYY-TV (Channel 12) and New York's WABC-TV (Channel 7), WPIX-TV (Channel 11) and WNET (Channel 13) made the move from their pre-transition digital channels to digital operation on their old analog channels than the complaints started pouring in: viewers who'd had no trouble with DTV on the UHF dial were finding it difficult or impossible to get a lock on the relatively low-powered VHF signals. While many were no doubt using the UHF-only compact antennas that dominated the marketplace of "digital antennas" in the first few years of the transition, problems were being reported even by technically-adept viewers using decent VHF antennas. And as bad as things were for those high-band VHF stations, they were even worse for the largest station in the nation to elect a spot on the low VHF band, ABC's WPVI (Channel 6) in Philadelphia, where phone lines and message boards were flooded with complaints from viewers who could see everything in town except ABC.
  • For some of the affected stations, solutions - temporary ones, at least - were as close as the next room in the transmitter building. On Tuesday, WHDH received special temporary authority from the FCC to reactivate its interim channel 42 digital signal, and there's word that the station is now trying to resolve some spacing issues in order to make its permanent home on UHF. (That's still not an inexpensive solution; WHDH spent considerable money and manpower to install the VHF digital rig that could end up being turned off after just a few weeks on the air.)
  • For other stations, such quick fixes weren't an easy option. WPVI, WHYY, WNET and other VHF digitals in the region (Rochester's WHEC-TV and WHAM-TV, Lancaster's WGAL, Manchester's WMUR) were using digital channels in the upper UHF band that's now outside the broadcast spectrum. WPIX's former channel 33 digital allocation is now home to another station, WCBS-TV. And WABC-TV's former channel 45 has spacing issues that would make it less than desirable for permanent use.
  • Fortunately, the FCC was quick to issue additional STAs for power increases. WPVI, for instance, was able to crank its power from 7.5 kW to 30 kW by the weekend, resulting in at least a moderate increase in its receivability. In the long run, though, it appears the FCC may be right back where it was in, say, 1950: coming to terms with the reality that the state of the art in receiver and antenna design probably requires significantly more power than was originally thought necessary. That, too, may be an expensive solution for some stations that had already built what were to be their "permanent" VHF digital facilities - though the good news is that most of the stations moving back to their VHF analog allocations have plenty of headroom in their antennas and transmission systems for more power, and often have extra transmitter power to spare, too, if they've converted recent analog transmitters to digital use.
  • In the meantime, though, those "vacated" channels at the bottom of the TV dial may fill up faster than expected in some big markets. We've already reported on the surge in demand from low-power TV stations for new berths on channel 6, where continued analog LPTV operation makes it possible to function as pseudo-FM stations on 87.7. In some cities, other newly-vacated low-VHF channels are being filled by LPTVs as well; for instance, WNYW's now-former channel 5 slot in New York already has a digital LP construction permit for a new occupant. Full-power use of those vacated channels, though, was supposed to be far in the future, if it happened at all, since the FCC is apparently in no hurry at all to thaw the long-frozen allocations table to allow for new digital-only allotments. But when there's a huge prize to be had - signals over two of the nation's largest TV markets - there's no underestimating how far the creativity of a good communications lawyer can go toward finding an unusual way to shoehorn new stations onto the dial.
  • That's the long way around to explaining why NEW JERSEY's Press Communications quietly bought two tiny TV stations out west - NBC affiliate KJWY (Channel 2) in Jackson, Wyoming and independent KVNV (Channel 3) in Ely, Nevada - and why it's apparently poised to move those stations right into the heart of the Philadelphia and New York TV markets, respectively.
  • The loophole that makes those moves possible dates back a quarter of a century, to the mid-80s controversy over the lack of local TV presence in both New Jersey and Delaware. An amendment to the Communications Act of 1933 established a way for states with no commercial VHF stations - a list that included only New Jersey and Delaware - to gain such operations: it provided that any licensee that notified the FCC that it was willing to accept reallocation to a VHF-less state would immediately be granted a license for the moved operation, bypassing just about every other provision of the Act except for spacing requirements.
  • The provision was very narrowly targeted, aimed entirely at moving New York's WOR-TV (Channel 9) to Secaucus, N.J., a move owner RKO accepted in order to be allowed to sell the station instead of losing the license as part of the investigation into RKO's billing practices. But long after channel 9 made the move - and long after it was clear that the "move" didn't prevent channel 9, now WWOR, from continuing to be a "New York" station, transmitting from Manhattan and serving the entire metro area - the rule stayed on the books, apparently never to be used again. With the DTV transition looming, though, the lawyers at Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth spotted an opportunity: since WWOR's digital signal is on channel 38, New Jersey would end up once again bereft of VHF stations. With the channel 2 stations in New York City and Baltimore vacating that spot, and channel 3 in Philadelphia and Hartford going empty as well, there was suddenly spectrum available for VHF allotments in both New Jersey and Delaware...and a law on the books that appeared to give that spectrum to any station willing to make the move, just for the asking. And so Press notified the FCC last Monday that it was "willing to accept" reallocations that would move KJWY's channel 2 from Jackson to Wilmington, Delaware, and KVNV's channel 3 from Ely to Middletown Township, New Jersey - with strongly-worded language making it clear that it believes the Commisson is compelled by the language of Section 331(a) of the Communications Act to immediately grant those moves.
  • It should come as no surprise, of course, that the new "Delaware" and "New Jersey" stations would have their sights set on the bigger markets next door: Channel 2 would transmit with 10 kW/845' from the Roxborough tower farm in Philadelphia, while Channel 3 would have 10 kW/860' from the Four Times Square tower in Manhattan, making both signals full-market (within the limitations of low-band VHF) in their respective markets.
  • What's in it for the people of Delaware and New Jersey? Probably not all that much: in a Delaware newspaper interview, Press CEO Bob McAllan (the managing member of "PMCM, LLC," the licensee of KJWY and KVNV) wouldn't even go so far as to commit to local studios in either state, promising only that the stations' programming, once moved, "might be something you haven't seen before." Given the FCC's current lax requirements for local news - and the lack of a requirement for a main studio in the city of license, a rule that at least obliged WWOR to move its studio from Times Square to Secaucus back in the day - it appears, to us at least, that there's little to stop the new channel 3 and channel 2 from setting up shop right in Manhattan and Philadelphia, respectively, yielding new stations in those cities at an amazing bargain price: PMCM paid just $1.2 million for those two licenses in Nevada and Wyoming, and surely far less than that for the legal work to get the stations moved.
  • The big question, then, is whether the FCC will indeed grant the moves. We're not lawyers here - but our reading of Section 331(a) suggests that the Commission would have a hard time saying no. Unless Delaware and New Jersey get VHF allocations some other way - say, by WPVI or WABC or WPIX trading their VHF allotments to commercial broadcasters on UHF in Delaware or New Jersey, a prospect that seems unlikely - the FCC appears to be required to do just what PMCM says it must, though of course there's nothing saying they have to hurry up about it. And while the FCC is loath to set precedents like this, it appears to us that there's no precedent to be set: once the KJWY and KVNV moves are granted, there would be no states without VHF commercial stations (meaningless though that distinction is in the channel-mapped DTV world), and thus no further application of Section 331(a) - so perhaps the FCC will be inclined to simply get these two moves over with. (2010 update: The FCC found its own loophole, instead allocating different VHF facilities to Delaware and New Jersey that would be more distant from Philadelphia and New York City; Press continues to appeal the ruling.)
  • The rest of our PENNSYLVANIA news this week starts on a sad note: five years into his fight with prostate cancer, WPVI (Channel 6) sports director Gary Papa, a beloved figure on the Philadelphia airwaves, died Friday at age 54. Papa was a native of Buffalo, where he grew up with his brother Greg, now the play-by-play man for the Oakland Raiders. He started his career at WSTV-TV (Channel 9, now WTOV) in Steubenville, Ohio, then returned to Buffalo to do sports at WGR-TV (Channel 2, now WGRZ) before joining the WPVI Action News team in 1981. He had been sports director there since 1990, though he'd been on the air only sporadically in recent months as his illness worsened. One of his last public appearances came on April 13, when he appeared in a wheelchair for the memorial service for longtime Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.
  • Our NEW YORK news starts in Utica, where just a month after Eric Thomas arrived as the highly-publicized new morning man at Roser's "Kiss FM" (WSKS 97.9 Whitesboro/WSKU 105.5 Little Falls), he's parted ways with the station. In an unusually outspoken blog posting, Thomas called his move from Michigan "one of the biggest mistakes of my life," and he says the format-flip stunt that heralded his arrival was not his idea. "Kenny the Promo Guy" is handling mornings on Kiss on a temporary basis while the station looks for a replacement, and while Thomas looks for new work.
  • Meanwhile, on a hill in the town of Floyd, north of Utica, there's a fight brewing between EMF Broadcasting's WOKR (93.5 Remsen) and a neighbor who claims that the station's new antenna location is putting so much RF over his nearby home that it's causing him and his family to break out in blisters and suffer other illnesses. Steve Lloyd told the Utica Observer-Dispatch last week that he was forced to move from his house adjacent to the tower not long after WOKR signed on there in mid-April, and to back up his claims he showed the newspaper a report from an engineering firm claiming that the 3-kW signal operating from a 2-bay antenna 85 feet above the ground was making it unsafe to be in his house for more than 30 minutes a day. But as the story drew national attention in the engineering community, some questions developed - especially after Utica's WKTV reported that the engineering company that allegedly prepared the report is denying having done so. (The newspaper had reported that Mid-State Communications prepared the report "at Lloyd's request"; Lloyd told WKTV "he was given the study.") Town officials have asked Congressman Michael Arcuri to look into the matter, and EMF says it's also trying to determine the source of Lloyd's problems.
  • CANADA's latest AM-to-FM move is now underway in Peterborough, Ontario, where CKRU (980) signed on CKRU-FM (100.5) last Monday. The new "Greatest Hits Kruz 100.5 FM" continues to simulcast on AM 980 for the next three months.

June 20, 2005 -

  • If you're looking to buy TV ad time on a full-power station in VERMONT, you're down to just three choices after the recent sale of ABC affiliate WVNY (Channel 22) in Burlington and a subsequent joint sales agreement with the owners of crosstown Fox affiliate WFFF (Channel 44).
  • Here's what's going on down by the shore of Lake Champlain: C-22 License Subsidiary, the owner of WVNY, recently won FCC permission to sell the station to a company called Lambert Broadcasting of Burlington, controlled by Michael Lambert of Beverly Hills, California. Under the terms of the $10.5 million deal, Lambert will then enter into the joint sales agreement with Smith Media, part of the Smith group that already owns WFFF. While the deal will keep Smith from having an attributable ownership interest in WVNY (which would be illegal in a market as small as Burlington, with just four commercial TV stations and thus no possibility of a legal TV duopoly), it will put Smith in charge of most of the operations of WVNY. Smith will handle WVNY's ad sales (though with a provision barring it from forcing ad buyers to buy WVNY and WFFF in combination), publicity, routine engineering functions and will provide no more than 15% of WVNY's programming.
  • That programming is expected to include at least some local news, which is one area in which the deal could benefit viewers in the Burlington market. WFFF has never offered local news, and WVNY's history with news has been a troubled one; the station cancelled its last (and most ambitious) attempt at local news last year after failing to make enough of a dent against market giants WCAX (Channel 3) and WPTZ (Channel 5). The hope, apparently, is that WVNY and WFFF together might be more of a contender than either station would have been alone. (The prospect of local news on WFFF raises questions, too: the station currently serves as both the Fox and WB outlet in the market, delaying WB's 8-10 PM primetime offerings to a "WB Time" block that runs from 10-midnight each night; would a 10 PM WFFF newscast get in the way of that?) Operations of both stations will apparently be consolidated at WFFF's facility in Colchester, sooner or later.
  • The FCC's had a busy week digging through the hundreds of applications for new AM stations and major changes to existing AM stations that were filed during last year's window - and now it's ready to begin dealing with many of those applications, including a whole bunch from NERW-land. The key word to keep in mind as we run through some of those applications this week is "mutually exclusive." That's the category into which the FCC has put many of those applications, and the burden is now on the applicants in each "MX group" to find a way to resolve that mutually-exclusive status. The FCC has opened a settlement window (through September 16) in which certain applicants - generally those proposing major changes to existing stations or new applicants MX'd to major changes - can legally attempt to buy out rivals (thus sparing the FCC the need to choose a winner in each group); it's also asking applicants to provide information on the communities they propose to cover in the event that settlements can't be reached.
  • The rumor mill keeps churning in MASSACHUSETTS over a new radio home for the Boston Celtics, whose deal with WWZN (1510 Boston) ended at the close of the season. Mark Shneyder's Boston Radio Watch (no relation) says the team is headed to Entercom's WRKO (680), but the station itself hasn't confirmed any deal, though it acknowledges that negotiations have taken place. (NERW's take: a Celts/WRKO deal would make sense, especially given the cross-promotion that Entercom could provide on sister station WEEI and on its network of stations in Worcester and Rhode Island. Some of the other possibilities mentioned - Infinity's WBZ or WBCN and Greater Media's WTKK - seem far less likely for a variety of reasons. Interesting that the new "ESPN 890/1400" - which had still yet to launch at press time Sunday night - hasn't been mentioned much as a contender.)
  • On the TV side, it marked the end of an era - not just in Boston, but in local TV everywhere - when WCVB (Channel 5) president/general manager Paul LaCamera announced last week that he's stepping down as general manager on August 1 and as president at year's end. LaCamera has been with WCVB since its 1972 sign-on, and he's managed the station since 1988. Under his leadership, the station won a well-deserved reputation as one of the best local TV outlets in the country, and it will be interesting indeed to see whether his successor, Bill Fine of Hearst-Argyle's WBAL-TV (Channel 11), will be able to maintain that reputation. (NERW wonders, in particular, whether WCVB icon Natalie Jacobson will be inclined to stick around for a new contract after the departure of LaCamera, to whom Jacobson and other station veterans are personally loyal.)
  • In any event, we join the rest of the industry in saluting LaCamera for his work over the decades at WCVB, and we wish him well on his retirement. (2010 update: Some retirement - LaCamera soon ended up being hired to run public station WBUR, where he can still be found today.)
  • Speaking of MAINE, veteran Portland morning man Mark Persky is returning to the airwaves next month, but not at his longtime home of WBLM (102.9 Portland), where he suddenly disappeared from the morning show in January. (The station formally announced his departure in April, leaving Herb Ivy, his co-host of 18 years, as the show's anchor.) When Persky signs back on (presumably after working out a non-compete deal with WBLM), it'll be at Nassau's WFNK (107.5 Lewiston), which has been making ratings waves with its "Frank" classic rock format. There's a nifty irony here - that 107.5 frequency is the same one on which Persky started all those years ago, when WBLM was broadcasting from the now-famous "little trailer in the woods in Litchfield."
  • In NEW YORK, the outcry over the abrupt format change at WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) continues, at least among the devoted fans of the oldies format that was replaced by "Jack FM" a couple of weeks back. This week's developments: CBS-FM fans are planning a rally on Tuesday (June 21) outside Viacom's corporate offices at 1515 Broadway (which is also home to the WCBS-FM studios). In the meantime, Big Apple oldies listeners are seeking out alternatives, and in the absence of a full-coverage New York signal picking up oldies, the suburban stations are stepping in. WMTR (1250 Morristown NJ) began streaming last week at, hoping to get some New York office listeners. Meanwhile out on Long Island, WBZO (103.1 Bay Shore) opened its morning show mikes to some of the displaced WCBS-FM jocks last week, giving them a chance to say the farewells that they never got to offer on 101.1.
  • In Ithaca, Saga took over operation of the former Eagle cluster last week, and wasted no time making a Monday-morning flip of oldies WTKO (1470 Ithaca) to progressive talk as WNYY.

June 23, 2000 -

  • We begin this week in CANADA, where precisely a year after CBL Toronto said its final "adieu" on 740 and moved to FM for good, the CRTC is announcing its successor on the 50 kilowatt blowtorch frequency. The nod goes to Michael Caine's CHWO (1250 Oakville), which will move its adult-standards format down the dial to 740 by next June under the moniker "PrimeTime Radio." Caine persuaded the CRTC that listeners over the age of 55 are underserved on the Toronto dial, and says his station will serve as an "oasis" in the midst of the rock that dominates Toronto FM. NERW expects the new 740 to use the existing CBC transmitter plant in Hornby, but we're keeping an eye out for construction at the CHWO site as well.
  • It turns out 1250 won't go silent as a result of the move; the CRTC says Caine can lease that facility out to the Christian broadcasters who now lease 50 hours a week on CHWO sister station CJMR (1320 Mississauga). When they take over as "Joy 1250," CJMR will become all-ethnic (largely Asian languages).
  • Over on the FM side, the CRTC handed out two more licences, expected to be the last available in Canada's largest city. B. Denham Jolly, who had applied unsuccessfully for the 92.5 channel (now CISS) and the 99.1 facility (now CBC's CBLA), finally gets his FM under the name "Milestone Radio." The urban-formatted station will be on 93.5 with 298 watts -- a perfect spot, really, to usurp the Toronto listeners who now hear the format on Buffalo's WBLK (93.7 Depew NY). (A minority interest in Jolly's station will be held by Standard, which already owns CFRB and CKFM in Toronto, but the CRTC says this will not constitute an illegal LMA).
  • The last licence goes to Gary Farmer's Aboriginal Voices Radio, whose station will be the first in Toronto aimed at a native audience. AVR asked for both 740 AM and 106.5 FM; they were granted only the FM, with 250 watts. NERW wonders what *that* channel will sound like in the summer when reception heats up over the water path across the lake to co-channel 50-kilowatt WYRK Buffalo, which can usually be heard in Toronto on a warm day. All three stations are expected on the air by June 2001.
  • The FCC has released the first batch of applications for LPFM, and in addition to a veritable slew of California apps, there are a surprising number to report in the two New England states where the window opened earlier this month.
  • We'll start in RHODE ISLAND, where the most popular frequency was 96.5 in the Providence area. Applicants there included Casa de Oracion Getsemani, Brown Student Radio, Providence Community Radio, Mision Cristiana Eliam, St. Francis Chapel, Ephese French SDA Church, Gregory S. Ferland, Christopher Young, Better Living Radio in Johnston (for Johnston), and House of Gold Foundation (for Cranston). Also applying for 96.5: Zion Bible Institute in Barrington.
  • Runner-up in the popularity contest: 94.9, with apps for Experience Evangelistic Ministry (Providence), Calvary Chapel Christian Fellowship (Warwick), Little Flower House (Warwick), Katherine Russo (Warwick), Better Living Radio in Wickford (Wickford), State of the State Communications (West Warwick), and Olney Street Baptist Church (Cranston).
  • A few more: Newport Musical Arts Association (105.9 Newport), Spirit Life Ministries (92.9 Westerly), Washington County Chamber of Commerce (107.1 Westerly; and isn't this the group that's involved in WBLQ Westerly and those pseudo-TISes down that way?), and Northern Rhode Island Public Radio Inc. (95.3 Providence).
  • On to MAINE, then, to see who's applying for LPFM in the Pine Tree State. Only one channel is seriously contested, and that's 105.1 in Portland, with applications from All Inclusive Inc., Calvary Chapel of Portland (in Westbrook), Voice of Freedom (Westbrook), and Standish Citizens Educational Organization (Standish). In Yarmouth, the Maine Science and Technical Museum wants 105.3; Growstown Radio Users seeks 97.3 in Brunswick; Penobscot School wants 93.3 in Rockland; and All That is Catholic Ministries wants 94.7 Augusta. Heading north, Inter-Faith Studies Institute wants 95.1 in Bangor, while Faith Community Fellowship wants the same frequency in Ellsworth. Bangor Fine Arts Radio wants 96.5 in Bangor, conflicting with Calvary Chapel of Bangor's 96.3 application there. And nobody -- nobody -- applied for LPFMs up north or Down East.

New England Radio Watch, June 17, 1995

  • From our Southern Rhode Island department: WUAE-FM 99.7 in Wakefield RI is on the air. The station is the latest project of Bear Broadcasting, which just last week closed its sale of WWRX-FM 103.7 Westerly-Providence to Radio Equity Partners. WUAE doesn't have WWRX's earth-shattering signal, but it seems to be getting out pretty well for a straight class A. (It shares WWRX's site in Exeter, RI). The format is modern rock (the second in Rhode Island, after Brown University-affiliated WBRU 95.5), and the non-ID is "The Edge." Bear still owns WHIM 1110 in East Providence and WERI 1230 in Westerly as well.

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