In this week”s issue… WBAI on its last legs? – Translator threatened with silencing – Mike Addams retires from WMJX – Sinclair buys Dielectric – New signals in Canada
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*For decades, one of the big “what-ifs” in NEW YORK radio was the future of two scarce full-market FM signals owned by noncommercial broadcasters serving extremely niche audiences. One of those two signals, the former Family Stations-owned WFME (94.7 Newark NJ), is out of the “what-if” game now, sold off to Cumulus and operating very, very commercially as “Nash FM” WNSH, complete with a new morning show that launched on Thursday.
But the other one, Pacifica”s WBAI (99.5 New York), is more than ably filling the “what-if” vacuum as it heads into yet another round of its ongoing financial crises. There”s plenty of misinformation floating around, and plenty of unanswered questions, but we”ll try to summarize what”s known so far – and what we don”t yet know about the future of this last stand-alone commercial channel on the dial.
- Unpaid bills: We”ve known for several years now that WBAI”s finances were severely damaged by the decision to rent studio space on Wall Street in lower Manhattan at a reported cost of $300,000 annually. After struggling to keep paying the rent there, WBAI reached a settlement with its landlord last fall to exit the space while making lower payments (reportedly $2,000 per month) to settle up its debt. Just as Hurricane Sandy was making the space inaccessible and powerless anyway, WBAI left Wall Street for temporary studios shared with WHCR (90.3) in Harlem and temporary office space at World Financial Center. WBAI has now secured new studio space on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn for what”s reported to be about $4,500 a month, a much more sustainable sum – but it lacks the cash to build out that space and make the move. And then there”s the transmitter rent at the Empire State Building, due monthly to the tune of some $50,000. Each month for the last few months, making that payment has been a minor WBAI soap opera, tied to…
- Struggling fund drives: Back in March, WBAI launched a $500,000 fundraising campaign to buy some much-needed time at Empire, where the rent had been in arrears earlier this year. Amidst the station”s growing disarray, though, that campaign appears to have stalled out short of the $400,000 mark. Meanwhile, that”s just one of several fundraising campaigns underway at WBAI: the station”s main May fundraising drive didn”t even get halfway to its $850,000 goal, forcing the drive to be extended and regular programming to be preempted. And WBAI”s fundraisers themselves are raising eyebrows, including at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting about the station”s failure to respond to queries about the length of the drives and some of the merchandise (including questionable medical products) being offered as premiums.
- Payroll: For what”s left of WBAI”s already diminished staff, there”s no guarantee that paychecks will come this month, or that they”ll continue to come in the future. WBAI managers issued layoff notices to the entire staff last week, to take effect in mid-July, but that”s partially a legal requirement to avoid issues with the station”s union; it”s not at all clear who, if anyone, will actually be laid off come next month. In the absence of any official statements from WBAI management or the local station board, a Pacifica national board member, Tracy Rosenberg, outlined the current situation in a posting on the RadioSurvivor blog over the weekend. saying it”s still possible for WBAI to stabilize itself on a slimmed-down basis once it gets resettled in Brooklyn.
So what happens now with this struggling station? As long as it can keep coming up with that monthly transmitter rent, it appears WBAI will stay on the air in some form (though we”re not sure we put much stock in some of the suggestions that it might dispense with a local staffed studio entirely, instead feeding independently-produced programs to Pacifica headquarters in Berkeley to be sent directly back to the transmitter.)
As has been constant in WBAI”s long, colorful history, there”s no shortage of conflicting personalities with diverging agendas and axes to grind, and we”d caution against reading too much into some of the WBAI-related forums predicting the imminent death of the station. At the same time, there does appear to be a bit more of a death spiral to WBAI”s current crises than in the past, and rather less support in the offing from the national Pacifica organization, which holds the license and is itself strapped for funding as it tries to help another Pacifica outlet, Washington”s WPFW (89.3), find its own new home.
It”s Pacifica national that would ultimately decide whether to cash in on the value of the New York FM frequency to help the rest of its outlets survive – and that value is significant indeed, somewhere between the $40 million Cumulus paid for the former WFME (which transmits from New Jersey) and the $75 million CBS paid for what”s now WFAN-FM (101.9) from Empire.
Who”d be buying? Clear Channel is already at the market cap, and CBS would have to spin off an AM and overcome some market-concentration issues to add a fourth FM. Among the remaining commercial operators in town, that leaves Emmis (which has been doing more selling than buying lately) and Cumulus in English (as well as YMF Broadcasting, which itself appears to be in selling mode) and Spanish Broadcasting System and Univision Radio in Spanish. On the noncommercial side, there”s WNYC, which has two commercial-band FMs in town and has been seeking ways to improve the signal of its classical WQXR, now on a class B1 signal at 105.9. With any other broadcaster, it would be a slam-dunk move to swap the big 99.5 signal for the somewhat smaller 105.9 and a cash infusion that could keep WBAI alive for years to come…but this is, after all, WBAI. Stay tuned…
*Speaking of station sales, New York low-power signal WKOB-LD (Channel 42) is part of a $46.5 million deal that sends 52 low-power signals owned by Mako Communications and related companies to a wireless provider called Landover 5 LLC. In NERW-land, the deal also includes WZPA-LD (Channel 33) and WNAI-LP (Channel 41) in the Philadelphia market. The deal will likely result in WKOB and its sister stations exiting the broadcast business and freeing up their spectrum for wireless data services.
*It was Armstrong time in Yonkers on Monday, as admirers of the FM inventor (present company included) joined city officials and historians for the dedication of a long-overdue plaque honoring the great man.
Under a blazing sun, and broadcast live from across the river on WA2XMN, the Armstrong memorial station at 42.8 megacycles on your vintage FM dial, Yonkers mayor Mike Spano joined city councilors and Armstrong relatives to tell the Major”s story. Several family members spoke of the Major”s days living just across Warburton Avenue from the site at Hudson-Fulton Park where the plaque now sits, made possible by donations of more than $4,000. The money was raised by Steve Klose, a New Jersey man who knew of Armstrong first as a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, only later learning of his important place in the radio pantheon.
(More in a Radio World story from Tuesday…)
*In the Finger Lakes, the sparring between Saga Communications and the Finger Lakes Radio Group has been an ongoing story in this space: the Geneva-based Radio Group has fought fiercely against Saga”s use of multiple translators fed by HD subchannels to build its Ithaca cluster into a two-AM/seven-FM (soon to be eight-FM) operation, and Saga has fought back, trying to prevent the Radio Group from competing directly against it in Ithaca with WFIZ (95.5 Odessa).
WFIZ is the license formerly known as WFLR-FM, having moved a few years back from its longtime home at 95.9 in Dundee, 30 miles or so to the west – and that move was made possible in part by an FM translator that moved into Dundee to replace WFLR-FM”s service to Yates and Schuyler counties. But that translator, W245BL (96.9), ended up in Saga”s sights – and last week, the FCC rescinded its grant of a construction permit to move it from Branchport to Dundee. Why? Because Saga had made the case that the Radio Group (doing business in Dundee as Lake Country Broadcasting) had erred in claiming that the move of 96.9 to the WFLR (1570) tower wouldn”t cause any interference to Saga”s second-adjacent WYXL (97.3 Ithaca).
What happens now? It appears the 96.9 signal is still on the air for the moment, and we expect WFLR to file an amended application for the move pretty quickly – but in the meantime, it appears Saga has won this round.
*Back to Family Stations, mentioned earlier for its sell-off of WFME last year: we told you exclusively in our May 27 issue that the California-based chain of religious stations was about to get smaller, and now the deal with that “very large national religious broadcaster” has become reality. On Wednesday, Family filed to sell three of its signals, including Rochester rimshot WFRW (88.1 Webster), to EMF Broadcasting for $655,000.
The WFRW calls will stay with Family, as will the callsign of KIFR (88.3 Alice TX); the third signal in the deal is northern California”s KXBC (89.1 Garberville). In an unusual move for EMF, this is an all-cash deal. The WFRW sale will make the 88.1 signal a link in the “K-Love” contemporary Christian chain, filling a gap between WKDL (104.9 Brockport) to the west of Rochester and WGKV (101.7 Pulaski) to the north of Syracuse.
Bath-based Family Life Ministries (no relation to Family Stations) continues to shuffle its Rochester-area translators. In addition to an application earlier this month to boost Pinnacle Hill translator W234AZ (94.7) from 10 watts to 250 watts, Family Life has now applied to upgrade its west-side translator. W239BF (95.7) would relocate about 10 miles east to the WBEE (92.5) tower in Penfield, jumping its power up to the maximum of 250 watts and changing its input source to an HD subchannel of Entercom”s WBEE. NERW hears the 95.7 signal will end up in Entercom”s hands as part of a deal that will allow Family Life to use an HD subchannel of Entercom”s WBZA (98.9) to feed W234AZ and other translators.
*In Oswego, they”re mourning John Krauss, a longtime fixture at public radio WRVO (89.9). Krauss was the first voice heard on the station when it signed on as a 10-watter back in 1969, and he worked his way up through the ranks as morning host and news director before becoming general manager in the nineties. Krauss oversaw a huge regional expansion and a major studio move for the station before retiring in 2010. Krauss was just 64 when he died last Monday; funeral services were held on Saturday.
Down the road in Syracuse, Harvey Kojan is the new brand manager at Galaxy”s WTKW (99.5 Bridgeport)/WTKV (105.5 Oswego). Kojan is a former Radio and Records editor and has worked at WGRQ (97 Rock) in Buffalo and at Albany”s WQBK-FM (103.9) and WPYX (106.5) as well as at stations in Norfolk, Virginia and Baltimore.
North of Albany, Capital Media has taken WHAZ-FM (97.5 Hoosick Falls) silent while it works on a site move. WHAZ-FM tells the FCC that “in an otherwise amicable renegotiation of our transmitter site lease,” things broke down and the station was told to immediately vacate its location on Mount Anthony in Bennington, VERMONT. The 97.5 signal will relocate to its former home in Grafton, New York, first via STA and then with a licensed move later on.
Up in the Adirondacks, the Smith and Fitzgerald Partnership (that would be Ben and Kevin, from northeast Pennsylvania) is coming up hard against the July 2 expiration of the CP for WNAK-FM (105.9 Indian Lake), which explains why they”ve filed to downgrade the CP from class C3 (8 kW/-96″) to class A (590 watts/-202″).
In the Southern Tier, we”d reported a couple of months ago on the demise of local news at WVTT-CA (Channel 25) in Olean – and now the class A TV station has been sold. Colonial Media had been operating the news operation on WVTT-CA, which was tied in with its own WVTT (96.7 Portville), but it didn”t own the station. The owner was Charles Bordonaro”s Choice Tower Rental, which is selling WVTT-CA and sister station W20AB (Channel 20) to Bill and Paige Christian”s Malachi Media. They”re paying $125,000 for the station, which will join Christian”s existing TV and radio interests including Fox affiliate WYDC in Corning and MyNetwork affiliate WBGT-CA in Rochester.
It”s the end of the line for WUOW (88.5 Milford). After taking the station silent in May, owner SUNY Oneonta apparently decided not to try to sell that license, or its associated translator W217BY (91.3 Oneonta); instead, the stations have now returned their licenses to the FCC for cancellation, despite interest from several neighboring public broadcasters in purchasing those licenses.
Along the Delaware River, there”s a new noncommercial station reportedly on the air. WUUA (89.5 Glen Spey) just beat the June 16 expiration of its construction permit when its owner, the B. Stephen Demchuk Foundation, filed for a license to cover. (Had we known, we”d have checked the channel on our way downstate last week; there”s nothing we can find about any programming plans for the station.)
*In southeast PENNSYLVANIA, Hall Communications is getting ready to flip providers at WLPA (1490 Lancaster), which will drop Fox Sports on August 1 in favor of ESPN Radio. WLPA has been a Fox Sports outlet since 2005, when it dropped Sporting News Radio.
In Bloomsburg, Joe Reilly”s Columbia Broadcasting is seeking a power increase for its FM translator relaying WHLM (930). W282AP (104.3) presently runs 175 watts, but Joe”s applying to crank that up to a full 250 watts from the WHLM tower just south of I-80.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, Mike Addams has been waking up the Boston market for almost twenty years, but this week will be his last in the morning chair at Greater Media”s WMJX (106.7 Boston). The AC station announced last week that Addams will retire after Friday”s show. Addams” retirement wraps up a long career that”s included stints at WRKO (680), WHDH (850), the old WROR (98.5), WZOU (94.5) and WODS (103.3). There”s no word yet on who”ll replace Addams on “Magic.”
Speaking of WRKO, it”s losing a midday voice: Boston radio veteran June Knight, who”s been co-hosting “The Financial Exchange” with Barry Armstrong, is headed south to take over middays at CBS country outlet WQYK-FM (99.5) in the Tampa market – where she”ll work just down the hall from another Boston vet, former WODS (103.3) middayer Paula Street, who”s now heard on classic hits WRBQ-FM (104.7 Tampa).
*One of MAINE“s big antenna makers has been saved from closing. The 57 employees at Raymond-based Dielectric were just days away from joblessness when Sinclair Broadcast Group stepped in with $5 million to buy the company from parent firm SPX Corp.
“The cost of Dielectric is insignificant. It’s a rounding error,” said Sinclair CEO David Smith in a, explaining that most of Sinclair”s TV stations use Dielectric antennas, including a station in Richmond, Virginia that suffered a lightning hit just as Dielectric was shutting down.
“This was an insurance policy for us,” Smith said. “I now know if I get hit under any circumstance, I own all the intellectual property involved in creating any replacement parts for anything I own.”
This is Sinclair”s second big venture into the equipment business: in 2009, it shut down manufacturing at transmitter maker Acrodyne, though Sinclair continues to run an Acrodyne support operation for the large installed base of transmitters at Sinclair stations.
*In Augusta, Blueberry Broadcasting is taking WFAU (1280 Gardiner) silent on July 1, at least temporarily. The sports station has been stuck in nighttime directional mode since last October, and Blueberry tells the FCC the estimates it”s received to fix the switching system and return the station to normal operation have been “prohibitive” and that “alternative measures are being explored.”
Meanwhile, Blueberry signed a deal last week to move University of Maine hockey and football to two of its biggest signals, WVOM-FM 103.9 Howland/WVQM 101.3 Augusta, as well as WVOM 1450 in Rockland. The games had aired on Blueberry”s WAEI 97.1 in Bangor and WKSQ 94.5 in Ellsworth last year. Learfield, which holds rights to Black Bear sports, also placed UMaine basketball and baseball on Dan Priestly”s WGUY 1230 and its FM translator at 94.1 in the Bangor market.
*Another AM signal is coming to CANADA“s largest Francophone market. The CRTC has granted the Tietolman-Tetreault-Pancholy application for a new French-language sports station to operate at 850 on the dial, the frequency pioneered by Paul Tietolman”s father Jack in the old CKVL days. The new 850 will operate from a site on Ile-Perrot, west of Montreal, running 50 kW by day and 22 kW at night. The new 850 will join two more as-yet-unbuilt TTP stations, an English-language news-talker at 600 and a French-language news-talker at 940 on the dial.
It”s the end of a long morning run at Radio-Canada (or is that “Ici”?)”s Montreal outlet, CBF (95.1), where René Homier-Roy signed off last week after 15 years as host of the local morning show, C”est bien meilleur le matin. Marie-France Bazzo succeeds Homier-Roy as host.
In New Brunswick, Newcap debuts its new CIHI (93.1 Fredericton) this morning, launching at 7 AM with adult contemporary as “Up! 93.1,” a sister to top-40 “Hot 92.3” (CFRK).
*In NERW-land at least, summer weather is taking its time getting here. At least we can all comfort ourselves by looking at the sunny pictures in the summer months of our 2013 calendar — and the sunny months from spring, too.
Aren”t you glad you have your calendar to look at? What? You haven”t ordered it yet? What are you waiting for? Even if June isn”t bustin” out all over outside, it is in our Tower Site Calendar 2013, now on sale at half price! The 12-month wall calendar boasts a full-color photo each month of a well-known broadcast transmitter site. This edition includes sites in Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Las Vegas, Colorado, Boston, Cleveland, Albuquerque, upstate New York and western Massachusetts.
We”ve redesigned the calendar to add more color (don”t worry; the pictures are still pristine) and made the spiral binding standard — it hangs even better on your wall now!