In this week”s issue… Renda unloads Pittsburgh AM – Local talk out at Philly”s IQ – NJ lawmakers protest WWOR news cancellation – WCFE struggles back to air – WKAJ gets its license – Galaxy rearranges FM lineup – PLUS: Our new cartoon feature!
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*There was a time when AM 1360 in western PENNSYLVANIA was one of the hottest spots on the dial. As WIXZ, the McKeesport-licensed signal provided Pittsburgh-area listeners with some of the hottest top-40 music on the dial between 1969 and 1974 and a jock lineup that included Terry Lee and a young morning guy who went by “Jeff Christie” on the air but answered to “Rusty Limbaugh” when the mic was off.
Within that empire, little AM 1360 eventually became a money-losing afterthought, recently switching back to talk from business news to no particular ratings effect. As WPTT in 2005, Renda almost had a deal in place to make the station more of a player in Pittsburgh by completely abandoning McKeesport: the 1360 frequency would have moved northeast of Pittsburgh to Apollo as the new home of religious WAVL, while WPTT would get WAVL”s 910 frequency and use it to build a new high-powered signal licensed to Mount Lebanon. But that plan proved not to be cost-effective and was eventually dropped, and in the meantime Renda had to spend money to fix 1360″s decaying four-tower nighttime array near McKeesport. (In its waning years as WIXZ, 1360 had moved its 5,000-watt non-directional daytime facility to Pittsburgh, giving it a respectable daytime reach but still fading away for most Allegheny County listeners at sunset.)
After nearly four decades in the Renda Broadcasting family (give or take a few years when WIXZ was sold to a Renda business associate to stay under the ownership cap after Renda”s acquisition of WJAS 1320 and WSHH 99.7), AM 1360 is about to change hands again. Last week, Renda announced it would donate the AM 1360 facility to Rev. Loran Mann”s Pentecostal Temple Development Corp.
Rev. Mann is no stranger to broadcasting; before being ordained, he was a reporter at WPXI (Channel 11), and his church now operates WGBN (1150 New Kensington), which was itself donated by another Pittsburgh broadcaster, Salem, that found the rimshot signal superfluous. Pentecostal Temple hasn”t been happy with the reach of WGBN”s signal from its site northeast of Pittsburgh, and had been trying to raise money to upgrade the 1150 facility into the void left by the deletion of WASP (1130 Brownsville) to the south.
Now Pentecostal Temple will instead have a signal (at least by day) that”s centrally located over Pittsburgh. Will it keep WGBN, with its 1000-watt day/70-watt night signal, or will it attempt to sell that signal or take it dark? For now, Mann tells Pat Cloonan in the Tribune-Review that he”ll keep both AMs, and may even program them separately.
If Mann ever does try to sell the 1150 signal to focus on 1360, it will face a crowded market: down the road in Apollo, the current owners of WAVL are also trying to sell that facility after the swap with Renda fell through. And if WGBN were to go dark, it would join a parade of Pittsburgh-area AM signals that have left the air in recent years. The thinning of the AM herd in the region has included the recent demise of WKZV (1110) in Washington, as well as WZUM (1590 Carnegie, a callsign just resurrected on another AM signal in town), WASP, and smaller AMs in Charleroi and Connellsville.
For Renda, the donation of 1360 presumably brings a tax deduction, not to mention the cost reduction from shedding those two AM transmitter sites and the end of the frustration of trying to operate a fading AM. (Renda VP Alan Serena, who was himself the owner of WIXZ for a few years, tells Cloonan that it was easier “to sell advertisers a $10,000 ad schedule on (WSHH) than it is a $300 schedule on (AM) 1360.”) Coupled with Renda”s recent sales of its stations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, it leaves the company with the much bigger signals of WSHH (99.7) and WJAS (1320) in Pittsburgh and WHJB (107.1 Greensburg) in Westmoreland County, as well as Pennsylvania clusters in Indiana and Punxsutawney and clusters in Jacksonville and Fort Myers, Florida.
Even as those AM signals fade away, a new FM is about to join the fray at the edges of the Pittsburgh market. Our friends at Pittsburgh Public Media were testing their signal over the weekend on WYZR (88.1 Bethany WV). That”s the former WVBC of Bethany College, now in the hands of many of the former staffers of WDUQ (90.5, now WESA) and soon to return as an all-jazz outlet reaching an area west of Pittsburgh.
Among the formats Merlin launched to big publicity back in 2011-2012, WWIQ”s syndicated talk has been arguably the most successful, outlasting the high-cost, high-risk news formats on WEMP in New York and WIQI in Chicago, and its new morning lineup continues the existing low-risk, low-reward model by installing Cumulus” Don Imus from 6-9 AM. Imus is already available to Philadelphia listeners via his New York flagship, WABC (which also duplicates much of the rest of WWIQ”s daytime lineup), and he”s been heard locally in Philadelphia in the past on WWDB (860) and briefly on WPHT (1210).
Is this a long-term plan for success or a short-term move while Merlin seeks a buyer for its remaining properties in Philadelphia and Chicago? Instinct suggests the latter…but we”ll be following this story closely either way.
*A bit more silent AM news from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market: Cumulus continues to have trouble with the technical plant at WARM (590). Once the most dominant signal in the market, years of neglect at the five-tower AM site in Falls, west of Scranton, has left WARM with a weaker voice and, occasionally, off the air entirely. In a STA filing with the FCC last week, Cumulus told the Commission that lightning strikes at the site have damaged WARM”s lighting controllers and its antenna monitoring system, which will be repaired this summer.
Up the road in Carbondale, Bold Gold”s WCDL (1440), silent since May 17, is now planning to return to the air from a new site. WCDL officially filed for silent status with the FCC in late June, saying it “is now planning the construction of an alternate transmitter site,” which it expects to have on the air this fall, though it hasn”t yet filed an application for such a move.
*This week, we”re proud to introduce a new feature to NERW. Editorial cartooning has a long, proud history in journalism, and to names such as Nast and Herblock and Toles, we”re pleased to add “Togyer.”
Jason Togyer”s cartoons have appeared in Popular Communications for years now, as well as on his own site, based along the mighty Youghiogheny River, just down the road from “Picksberg “n” at,” and he”s a radio guy through and through. His cartoons will appear here on a semi-regular basis (and we”ll drop the “semi-” part if you like them!), and his opinions are, of course, his own:
*When upstate NEW YORK“s Galaxy Communications filed to reorganize its operations in late June, NERW was the first to note the potential that the deal offered for a realignment of several Galaxy signals. By spinning off WZUN (102.1 Phoenix) to get the reorganized Galaxy under the Syracuse-market ownership cap, the deal removed the restriction that kept Galaxy from changing the city of license on one of its Oswego County signals. (WTKV 105.5, which relays classic rock “TK 99” WTKW from Syracuse, was blocked from moving from Oswego to Granby by an obscure FCC rule that forbids COL changes for clusters grandfathered over the ownership limit.)
And sure enough, it took only a week or so for Galaxy to file for changes to its Oswego FM lineup – but not the ones we”d initially expected. Instead of refiling to move WTKV closer to Syracuse, the latest Galaxy applications keep the class A FM signal at its existing site south of Oswego, changing WTKV”s city of license from Oswego to Minetto. That move in turn frees up Galaxy to move WKRH (106.5 Minetto), its Oswego-area relay of “K-Rock” WKRL (100.9), westward to a new city of license of Fair Haven and a new transmitter site at the WRVO (89.9) tower on Cemetery Road, southwest of Oswego.
Galaxy”s Ed Levine is one of the most astute operators out there, and here”s what he”s figured out: WKRH”s new home of Fair Haven is just over the line in northern Cayuga County, and Cayuga County, unlike Oswego County, is outside the Syracuse Arbitron market. So by moving WKRH over to Fair Haven, Galaxy will end up with only three AMs (Oswego”s WSGO 1440, plus WTLA 1200 North Syracuse and WSCP 1070 Sandy Creek) and three FMs (WKRL, WTKW and WTKV) in the Syracuse market – one fewer station than it”s allowed to own under current rules. That clears the way for “Galaxy II,” the reorganized version of the company, to buy back WZUN from the “independent party” that”s acquiring it as part of the reorganization.
(And, we”d note, it doesn”t even rule out the possibility that Galaxy II, at but not over the Syracuse ownership cap, could yet file to “move” WSGO to Minetto and still end up relocating WTKV to Granby sometime down the road, too.)
*Down the Thruway to the east, what may be the final chapter in the long, tangled history of WKAJ (1120 St. Johnsville) is now playing out. After delaying construction of the new station until after its construction permit had expired in 2011, then fighting a long political battle to get the CP reinstated, WKAJ is now a fully-licensed signal. Owner Cranesville Block Company received WKAJ”s license to cover on July 2, and the station is now working on building out local studios and adding a local morning show.
Oswego-based WRVO is also extending its coverage: it”s now been granted a license to cover for its new Ithaca translator, W283BQ (104.5), running 19 watts from the WVBR (93.5) tower on Hungerford Hill, east of town.
Meanwhile, WRVO”s Syracuse competitor, WAER (88.3), is struggling with signal problems. The Syracuse University-based station suffered transmitter problems that have limited it to about 6.5 kW instead of its usual 50 kW ERP; it tells the FCC it”s enlisting outside help to try to get everything back to full power as soon as possible.
*Tioga County”s lone local commercial station is about to get better coverage of its home turf. WEBO (1330 Owego) wasn”t even in Dave Radigan”s hands yet when the last window for new FM translators opened up back in 2003, but two of the applications filed by other parties back then appear likely to end up relaying WEBO when and if they finally get on the air.
Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes had applied back in 2003 to put a relay of its WZXV (99.7 Palmyra) on 101.1 in Richford, east of Ithaca in northern Tioga County. That application ended up being mutually exclusive to two others, a WRVO relay in Marathon, Cortland County and another 101.1 in Ithaca that would relay WXHC (101.5 Homer). Now Calvary is proposing to untangle that conflict by moving its proposed Richford translator to 101.3 from a site in Candor, north of Owego. At that site, the translator would instead relay WEBO, solving what one wag of our acquaintance calls a “lack of Candor” in the AM station”s current signal.
And in Waverly, on the western end of the county, Daniel Peltz had originally proposed to relay Elmira”s WENY-FM (92.7) when he applied for a new translator at 104.9; that application has now been amended to specify 105.1 as the frequency and WEBO as the parent station, and if it”s granted it will give WEBO a much stronger reach in a part of the county where its signal also isn”t great right now, especially at night.
(WEBO already has one FM translator, a powerful signal on 107.9 that goes eastward from Owego toward Binghamton.)
*In Dundee, we”ve been telling you about the unusual case of W245BL (96.9), the translator of WFLR (1570) that the FCC first granted and then rescinded after a rival broadcaster, Saga”s WYXL (97.3 Ithaca), raised the possibility of a small patch of interference near the WFLR tower on Pre-Emption Road north of Dundee. That 96.9 signal had replaced the former WFLR-FM on 95.9 (which moved to Ithaca as WFIZ 95.5, creating unwelcome competition for Saga”s near-monopoly there and explaining the rivalry), and it has remained on the air while WFLR prepared a revised version of its application to move W245BL from its previously-licensed home in Branchport over to Dundee. The revised application calls for a new four-bay antenna for W245BL, lifting just enough signal off the ground in the near vicinity of the tower to remove that theoretical interference.
East of Rochester, EMF Broadcasting has requested the new calls WKEL for what”s now WFRW (88.1 Webster), one of the three Family Stations signals it”s buying for $655,000. The new WKEL will be a K-Love outlet, filling a gap between the existing WKDL (104.9 Brockport) west of Rochester and WGKV (101.7 Pulaski) north of Syracuse.
*In Buffalo, Pete Gallivan couldn”t stay away from the news business very long. The veteran WGRZ (Channel 2) reporter/anchor made headlines in March when he left the station after 17 years to become a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Gallivan was refreshingly forthright in acknowledging that the career change turned out not to suit him, and unusually for the business, WGRZ was happy to have him return to the fold. Gallivan won”t be able to do much involving politics, to avoid a conflict of interest, but he”ll add some sports reporting and anchoring to his portfolio when he returns today.
Here in Rochester, Scott Kilbury starts work today at WHEC (Channel 10), where he”ll take over as lead anchor Don Hudson transitions his way out of town. Hudson”s returning home to Utah to deal with some family issues; Kilbury”s inbound from KOLD (Channel 13) in Tucson.
Up north, it”s been one rough decade for public station WCFE (Channel 57) in Plattsburgh, better known to viewers in the region as “Mountain Lake Public TV”. An April 2007 ice storm took down the station”s 445-foot tower on Lyon Mountain, 10 miles north of Plattsburgh, just months after the station had turned on its DTV signal on RF channel 38. WCFE rebuilt the tower by the fall of 2007 and had been humming along nicely for a while, but bad weather struck again in late June. Back on June 26, a lightning strike at the site set the power transformers ablaze, cutting off power to the remote mountaintop. In addition to replacing the destroyed transformers, which the station says are in short supply, there”s a logistical issue in getting them to the site. There”s no road up the mountain, and WCFE says Hurricane Irene a few years back washed out the trail that led up to the site.
WCFE remained on cable in northern New York and nearby parts of VERMONT, where its signal is fed by microwave. Much of the station”s audience is across the border in Quebec, where Videotron Cable gets the over-the-air signal. Customers there received Vermont Public TV in place of WCFE for several days before service could be restored. For over-the-air viewers in Plattsburgh, there”s now a low-power temporary transmitter on the air from WCFE”s studio building. Full service, says WCFE, should be restored by July 26. (You can see more pictures of the fire”s aftermath, and the almost unpassable path up the mountain, at WCFE”s website.)
Across the lake, there”s a news director opening at Burlington”s Fox and ABC affiliates, WFFF (Channel 44) and WVNY (Channel 22), where Tracy Davis is moving on after not quite two years. She”s headed to Milwaukee to be assistant news director at WDJT (Channel 58), the CBS affiliate there.
On Long Island, Murph Dawg comes back home to WPTY (105.3 Calverton-Roanoke) to become assistant PD/music director and handle the night shift. After his first stint at “Party 105,” he went south and worked at stations in Virginia, South Carolina and most recently in Atlanta at the former WBTS (95.5) and at CBS sports talker WZGC (92.9).
*In New York City, there”s a new entrant in what seems like the never-ending saga of Yankees radio rights. In addition to CBS Radio, which has been renewing its short-term deal with the team year by year for the last few seasons to keep the Yanks on WCBS (880), and ESPN Radio, which would love to have the team as the centerpiece of WEPN-FM (98.7), Clear Channel stepped forward last week with what the New York Post“s Phil Mushnick reports as a bid “in excess” of the $14 million CBS paid for the 2013 rights. The bid would put the Yankees on WOR (710), a comparable 50,000-watt signal to the big reach of WCBS. It”s less clear whether the bid would also include FM carriage on one of Clear Channel”s five FM signals in the city, or even how important an FM signal is to the Yankees. As has been the case every time the Yankees have come up for renewal in recent years, the Mets are in play as well; for now, they do have an FM signal in the form of WFAN-FM (101.9), the simulcast of longtime flagship WFAN (660), and we still don”t know whether CBS would split that simulcast to give both the Yankees and the Mets a home as part of the WFAN family.
For Clear Channel, landing the Yankees on WOR would bring some much-needed visibility to the talk station, which was struggling to bring younger listeners on board even before Clear Channel paid $30 million to acquire the signal from Buckley Broadcasting. Would listeners who tune in for the team stick around for the talk?
*When Cumulus launched “America”s Morning Show” on New York”s “Nash 94.7” (WNSH Newark NJ) last month, the countdown began for the next shoe to drop in the career of the new show”s host, Blair Garner. How long could he continue to host the overnight “After MidNite” for Premiere Radio Networks while becoming the star personality for Premiere”s archrival Cumulus? The answer turns out to be “just a few weeks”: in announcing its celebration of After MidNite”s 20th anniversary last week, Premiere also announced Garner”s departure from that show. It”s very widely expected that Cumulus will now take Garner”s morning show national, starting with at least some of the country stations it”s been rebranding as “Nash FM” around the country.
It was Senator Frank Lautenberg who fought hard for decades to keep channel 9″s various owners focused on continuing to do a newscast aimed at the state in which it”s licensed, but with Lautenberg”s death earlier this year, the mantle passed to the state”s new senior senator, Robert Menendez, and his Democratic colleague in the House, Frank Pallone, who both weighed in last week with strongly-worded statements of concern about Fox”s shift to an outsourced show that”s more “TMZ” than Murrow.
For what it”s worth, “Chasing” has its defenders, too: veteran trade journalist Harry Jessell writes in TV NewsCheck that the new show is “the freshest, most provocative approach to local TV news I have seen since I started watching TV news with a critical eye in the 1990s,” though he also finds much to criticize in the flash and glitz of its presentation.
*The opposite of “flash and glitz” in New Jersey broadcasting is Jack Ellery, and after last week”s report that he was exiting the morning shift at WCTC (1450 New Brunswick), we can update you this week: instead of taking a midday shift on WCTC from a home studio, as Ellery had initially announced, he”s now saying he”s retired completely from radio thanks to a bad back that”s making it hard to continue.
*A second eastern MASSACHUSETTS newspaper is looking to get into the radio business. The Boston Globe”s Boston.comlaunched RadioBDC.com to compete with the old WFNX (101.7) and ended up with the alternative rock audience to itself after the demise of WFNX in both its on-air and online incarnations. Now the Boston Herald is joining the radio fray, but on the talk side: it”s reportedly planning to launch a streaming station before the summer is out, mixing talk with sports as it seeks to play off the strengths of its print product. Among the names rumored to be part of the new Herald offering are WEEI weekend sports talker Jen Royle and her former colleague Jon Meterparel.
*There”s an AM-on-FM translator coming to southern MAINE: W277AM (103.3 Biddeford) is currently Bible Broadcasting Network”s relay of WSEW (88.7 Sanford), reaching an area around Old Orchard Beach and Saco – but it”s applying to make a big jump north into the heart of the Portland market. The translator”s application for a new 99-watt signal would put it right on the tower of Saga”s WYNZ (100.9 South Portland) at the site it shares on Lane Avenue with sister station WGAN (560 Portland).
From there, Bible proposes to relay yet another Saga station, WBAE (1490 Portland) – and from that, one may well infer that Saga will not only end up buying the translator, but will end up doing what it”s done so well in other markets, using the translator to provide an additional format to augment its existing cluster, which already includes four FMs (classic rock WMGX 93.1, AAA WCLZ 98.9, classic hits “Rewind” WYNZ, country WPOR 101.9) and two more AMs (talkers WGAN and WZAN 970) in addition to WBAE.
(Bible Broadcasting is on track for a replacement translator in the Saco area; it”s amended its 2003 application for 105.5 over there to now specify 105.1 instead, relaying WYFP 91.9 from Harpswell. That eliminates a mutual exclusivity to an Edgewater Broadcasting proposal for 105.5 in Lewiston, now specifying a relay of WEZR 1240 there.)
Over at Maine Public Broadcasting, Suzanne Nance is departing next month, trading her position as “Morning Classical” host for a new job at one of the nation”s premier classical outlets, WFMT (98.7) in her hometown of Chicago. Nance has been with MPBN since 2007, balancing her on-air duties with a second career as a soprano who”s performed internationally. No replacement has been named yet.
And a big upward career move for meteorologist Keith Carson: he”ll leave WCSH (Channel 6) in Portland in two weeks to start a new gig at the Weather Channel in Atlanta. Carson has been at WCSH for three years, and had worked at WPTZ (Channel 5) in Plattsburgh, N.Y. before that.
*When we initially reported last week that “The Cool TV” was gone from CONNECTICUT TV screens, we were mistaken – or so we thought. But while the struggling music video network was still on LIN”s WCTX 59.2 in New Haven a week ago, it is indeed gone now. Other LIN stations have replaced Cool with Bounce TV, but that network is already seen in the Nutmeg State on sister station WTNH”s 8.2 subchannel; for now, there”s just a slate where The Cool TV used to be seen.
In the New London market, Red Wolf Broadcasting”s WBMW (106.5) completed its upgrade from class A to B1 over the weekend. The WBMW move takes the station from 3.1 kW/459″ to 12.5 kW/462″ DA from a new site near Colonel Ledyard Park; it also changes WBMW”s city of license from Ledyard to Pawcatuck, swapping cities of license with sister station WWRX (107.7), now licensed to Ledyard.
*In CANADA, regulators have long resisted attempts to move stations from suburban locations or outlying towns into nearby big cities…with a few exceptions. Notable among them is the station in St. Thomas, Ontario, south of London, which has consistently targeted London listeners since its days as CHLO on 680 back in the 1960s. An upgrade to Rogers” CHFI (later CFTR) in Toronto forced CHLO from 680 to 1570, and the migration of Canadian stations from AM to FM took CHLO to the FM dial in 1994 as CFHK. and for nearly two decades now under a variety of formats, 103.1 has continued to aim at London listeners from a transmitter site to the south.
*There could be more changes coming for some of Rogers” smaller-market stations in the months to come: our content partner, RadioInsight.com, reports the “EZ Rock” branding, now the property of Bell, is on the way out at CHUR (100.5 North Bay), CJMX (105.3 Sudbury), CKGB (99.3 Timmins) and CHAS (100.5 Sault Ste. Marie). The stations have been “surveying” the audience with five proposed names, including “Hello” and “Flare” (also the names of Rogers magazine properties), “Sonic,” “Hits” and “Kiss” – and RadioInsight says it”s a set of new “Kiss” domain names that have been registered for all four stations.
*Waking up from its Canada Day holiday slumber, things are getting a little busier at the CRTC, which on Friday announced a September hearing to consider several new applications for stations in Ontario and Quebec.
We”ll start in Montreal, where the relocation of Haitian-formatted CHWI (“CPAM Radio Union”) from 1610 to 1410 is now complete, leaving 1610 open for another ethnic broadcaster, Radio Humsafar, to pursue its plans for a new ethnic outlet. Humsafar had applied for 1400 before CHWI made its move, and now it”s proposing a 1 kW signal on 1610, programming in at least eight languages to at least ten ethnic groups each week. (Radio Humsafar also owns higher-powered CFAV 1570 in Laval, where it”s been unsuccessful in persuading the CRTC to allow it to drop French oldies for ethnic programming.)
The September hearing will also include an application originally filed in March (and then withdrawn) to put a new ethnic signal on the air at 102.9 in Montreal. AGNI Communication Inc. wants 50 watts max DA/31 watts average/44.4 m for a small signal that would serve at least nine ethnic groups in six languages each week.
In Prince Edward County, Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Ontario, Prince Edward County Radio Corp. has revived the application it originally filed in March. It wants to put a new 99.3 on the air there, running 3 kW max DA/1.69 kW average/71 m.
That 99.3 frequency is also the subject of an application in Meaford, up north on the shore of Georgian Bay, where Evanov (Dufferin Communications) wants to put a 100-watt/177 m signal on the air with an AC format, playing AC music as “Apple FM.”
The CRTC will hear all those applications at a hearing September 12 at its Gatineau, Quebec headquarters.
In Nova Scotia, Wayne Harrett”s Seaside Broadcasting is looking for another big power boost for CFEP (105.9 Eastern Passage). From its start as a tiny signal on 94.7, CFEP has grown to its present 1680 watts/37.6 m, and now it wants to cover more of Metro Halifax by moving to the CBC”s site on Geizer Hill, where it would run 2500 watts/157 m, still non-directional.
And watch this space in the next few weeks as we begin pre-orders of the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2014, which is now in production!
Who”ll be featured in the next edition of the world”s most popular radio tower calendar? Stay tuned…
From the NERW Archives
Yup, we”ve been doing this a long time now, and so we”re digging back into the vaults for a look at what NERW was covering one, five, ten and – where available – fifteen years ago this week, or thereabouts.
Note that the column appeared on an erratic schedule in its earliest years as “New England Radio Watch,” and didn”t go to a regular weekly schedule until 1997.
One Year Ago: July 16, 2012
*Even as regulators in CANADA have been relaxing many of the onerous rules that have long governed broadcasting north of the border, one policy has held fast: stations licensed in English have to keep broadcasting in English, and stations licensed in French have to keep broadcasting in French. But with the AM dial in Montreal already poised for some very big changes in the next few months, media giant Bell Canada is asking the CRTC to allow it to flip one of its AMs, CKGM, from English to French – at the same time a rival broadcaster is asking the CRTC for permission to start a new English-language signal.
When Bell announced its acquisition of Astral Media earlier this year, there was an obvious problem: adding Astral’s CJAD (800), CJFM (95.9) and CHOM (97.7) to Bell’s existing CKGM (990) would have put the company over the three-station cap for English-language ownership in the market. (French-language Montreal is considered a separate market with a separate ownership cap.)
What to do? CKGM’s “TSN Radio” sports format is the lowest-rated English signal in the market, and it was widely expected that Bell would put it up for sale. Instead, Bell shocked the market last week by telling the CRTC it plans to shift CKGM to a French-language sports format under the “RDS” branding (“Reseau de sports” is the Bell-0wned, French-language cable sports network that’s a sister to TSN), possibly as early as January 2013 if the agency gives its approval.
Bell’s plan looks like this:
The cornerstone of the TSN Radio programming, English-language Canadiens hockey broadcasts, will move to market-dominant CJAD, further solidifying its hold on the English talk landscape (at least for now – but we’ll get to the Tietolman group in a moment!) In French, meanwhile, Bell sees a hole for French-language sports talk after Cogeco flipped CKAC (730) from sports to all-traffic last year. At least for now, CKAC’s valuable sports rights – yes, the Canadiens – have moved over to Cogeco’s’ French talker, CHMP (98.5), in an odd preview of the move Bell wants to make with CJAD, but since the Habs are already on RDS for most of their TV games, it’s not hard to imagine that Bell will make a play to move the team to RDS Radio as well.
And there’s another (quite literally) moving piece to all this: by the time “RDS Radio” launches, if it gets the green light to launch, CKGM won’t be on 990 anymore. Before the Bell/Astral deal went down, CKGM won CRTC approval to move down the dial to 690, the channel that was long home to Radio-Canada flagship CBF and then to French all-news CINF, which was closed down by Corus in 2010 shortly before the company sold its Quebec radio operations to Cogeco.
Here’s where it gets really interesting: at last year’s hearings for the frequency, the specific rationale Bell cited for needing to move CKGM from 990 to 690 was the restrictive directional pattern on 990…which excluded much of the area west of Montreal where the English-speaking audience lives. Had 690 in fact gone English, it would have been the first time the frequency (the only former I-A clear channel in Montreal) had spoken anything but French in its long history.
(Another little bit of irony in a story that’s full of it: in CKGM’s glory days as a music station in the 1970s, back when it was at its original 980 spot on the dial, jocks such as Marc “Mais Oui” Denis shot the station to the top of the ratings by speaking both English and French on the air. The polarized language politics of the day eventually forced the CRTC to outlaw bilingual operation, and so CKGM stopped speaking French on January 1, 1980.)
*Bell’s CKGM application drew the biggest headlines, but it’s not the only Montreal AM proceeding that will be in front of the CRTC on September 10. There’s also an application from the Tietolman-Tétrault-Pancholy (TTP) group to license a new English-language news-talk station on 600 kHz. That frequency hasn’t been in use since 2001, when the former CIQC (descendant of Montreal’s first station, CFCF) migrated up the dial to 940 as all-news CINW. Corus took CINW silent in 2010 at the same time it silenced CINF on 690, and the 940 frequency was awarded to TTP last year for a French-language news-talker.
At the time, TTP had applied for 690 as well, telling the CRTC that it needed to operate both in English and French to be profitable, but its bid for that frequency was trumped by CKGM’s move. TTP had told the CRTC that it wouldn’t consider any facility other than the 50,000-watt signals on 690 and 940, but it’s now prepared to move forward with a 10 kW day/5 kW night signal on 600 and expecting speedy CRTC approval of the plan. If it’s granted, TTP will operate both 600 and 940 from the Cogeco-owned Kahnawake transmitter site that was the historic CFCF/CIQC facility and was later home to CINW/CINF.
*Perhaps the biggest story stateside this week is the dispute between Time Warner Cable and Hearst Television that took Hearst-owned TV stations dark on many cable screens across the region.
The largest Hearst station in NERW-land, Boston’s WCVB (Channel 5), is also one of those least affected by the fight: most cable systems in the Boston market these days are Comcast, and for now it’s in good standing with WCVB, leaving only some systems in western Massachusetts that normally pick up WCVB but have the channel blacked out for now.
In northern NEW HAMPSHIRE and southern MAINE, it’s viewers of two other Hearst-owned ABC affiliates, WMUR (Channel 9) from Manchester and WMTW (Channel 8) from Poland Spring, that are affected. Unlike the Berkshires system, which gets Albany’s WTEN (Channel 10) as an ABC alternative to WCVB, the Time Warner systems in places such as York County, Maine have no alternate local ABC station available, so some viewers are left with the Hallmark Music Channel in place of WMUR or WMTW for the moment. In other areas, though, Time Warner is piping in out-of-market signals owned by Nexstar Broadcasting, which explains why viewers up in Berlin, N.H. are seeing WUTR (Channel 20) from Utica, New York where they’d normally see WMTW.
Time Warner customers in northern New York who normally get Plattsburgh’s WPTZ (Channel 5) are instead seeing Nexstar-owned NBC affiliate WBRE (Channel 28) from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – and they’re in very good company: WBRE is also being distributed in place of local Hearst NBC affiliates as far afield as Orlando, Florida!
In Louisville, the replacement of WLKY by WROC prompted an unusual reaction: a bunch of particularly snarky residents of the newly-redubbed “Rochestucky” started their own Facebook group, “Louisville Loves WROC-8,” complete with nightly live-blogging of WROC’s newscasts. Officially, Nexstar says Time Warner doesn’t have permission to import its signals (though this isn’t the first time Time Warner has used Nexstar out-of-market signals during retransmission disputes), but it’s surely not just a coincidence that the group’s founder, Louisville writer/editor Shannon Ragland, was the WROC “Fan of the Day” during Friday’s newscasts…
In Buffalo, Dick Greene’s Culver Communications is buying translator W275BB (102.9), which it’s been using to relay WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) for the last few months. The translator recently moved up to the HSBC Building, Buffalo’s tallest skyscraper, and Greene will pay Calvary Chapel of the Finger Lakes $90,000 for the license.
Five Years Ago: July 14, 2008
*Central NEW JERSEY is a tough place to operate a local AM station these days, up against a dial full of FM signals from within the state and neighboring New York and Philadelphia, not to mention a plethora of other entertainment and information choices.
At WCTC, the format flip kept veteran jock Jack Ellery in the morning chair, once again playing the music that was a station trademark before it switched to talk, but it ousted afternoon talker Alan David Stein, middayer Lauren Pressley and a mid-morning block of financial and food talk.
At WMTR, the move to satellite oldies knocked out local jocks MK Dombrowski and the “Golden Gup,” Robert Gascoigne, who minced no words when he told the Star-Ledger, “Radio has become a waste of electricity.” WMTR”s local voice-tracked part-timers, including Mark Mitchell and Pete Tauriello, are also out, but at least they”re able to keep their day jobs – Tauriello, for instance, is the morning traffic voice on WINS (1010 New York). Chris Edwards stays on board doing mornings at WMTR.
*There”s a new signal on the air in the Garden State, but it won”t do much for the cause of local radio, either: WNJY (89.3 Netcong) signed on July 8, bringing NJN Radio”s mix of NPR news/talk and jazz to the I-80 corridor through Morris County and parts of neighboring Sussex County.
*The biggest news out of PENNSYLVANIA over the last couple of weeks came from the State College area, where veteran station owner Cary Simpson handed over the keys to WGMR (101.1 Tyrone) to Forever on July 7, bringing an end to the station”s many decades under those call letters, most recently with top 40 as “G101.”
To nobody”s surprise (but lots of chatter on the message boards), Forever promptly flipped the station to country as “Froggy,” using its big class B signal to give that regional brand new reach in the areas north and east of Forever”s other Froggy stations in the area, WFGY (98.1 Altoona) and WFGI-FM (95.5 Johnstown). The WGMR calls are gone from 101.1, too, replaced at week”s end by WFGE.
Froggy”s former home in State College, WSGY (98.7 Pleasant Gap), was silent for a few days as its ownership transferred from Forever to 2510 Licenses, but it returned July 9 with adult contemporary music as “Wish,” with new calls WWSH.
While we”re up in this corner of north central Pennsylvania, there”s a station sale to report in St. Mary”s, as Dennis and Rose Heindl”s Laurel Media buys back WDDH (97.5) from Intrepid Broadcasting for $1.23 million, four years after Laurel had sold the signal. Intrepid just bought a start-up FM in the Watertown, N.Y. market, and its president, Michael Stapleford, is also president of Magnum Broadcasting, which owns WPHB/WJOW in Phillipsburg, WBLF in Bellefonte and WZYY in Renovo.
*One of the true veterans of NEW HAMPSHIRE radio has retired. Paul Leblanc spent a remarkable 44 years at WTSN (1270 Dover), pretty much all that time as morning man. (His arrival at the station came right on the heels of the departure of a talented young newsman named Gary LaPierre; there must have been something in the water up there in the early sixties.)
*The big news from MASSACHUSETTS is on the engineering side, and specifically from 750 Saw Mill Brook Parkway in the Oak Hill section of Newton. That”s the WUNR (1600 Brookline) transmitter site, and it moved much closer to its final configuration just before the holiday.
The first big transition came on June 18 at 3 AM, reports chief engineer Grady Moates, when WUNR switched from its old two-tower array to the new five-tower array that was built right around the old sticks last year. For now, WUNR is running reduced power under Special Temporary Authority – but as of 1 AM on July 4, it”s doing so from its new Broadcast Electronics 4MX25 transmitter in the renovated transmitter building, replacing the old AM5E that had been moved to a trailer out back during the construction.
Meanwhile, on June 28th at 5 AM, WRCA (1330 Waltham) signed off for good from the South Street site in Waltham that it”s called home for six decades. It”s running at 5 kW under STA from the new site, and with a new city of license of Watertown. The lease on the old Waltham site, behind the studios of former sister station WCRB-FM, ran out July 1, and the towers will soon be demolished, we”re told.
The next steps will involve proofing out the patterns from the new array so that WUNR and WRCA can go to full power (20 kW day and night for WUNR, 25 kW day/17 kW night for WRCA) – and the move of WKOX (1200 Framingham) to the Oak Hill site. Stay tuned…
*In Buffalo, former staffers and listeners of WKBW (1520) held a small gathering outside the station”s old 1430 Main Street studio building July 3 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the historic 1958 flip to “Futuresonic” top-40 radio.
KB veterans Stan Roberts and Tom Donahue were on hand when we pulled up, and Danny Neaverth showed up in a zippy little convertible not long afterward. (We”re told that later in the evening, Neaverth even took the stage to perform the only-on-KB classic “Rats In My Room,” and we”re sorry we missed it!)
The oldies that have long since disappeared from WKBW and its successor WWKB have resurfaced an hour to the south in Jamestown, where WKSN (1340) has flipped from talk to ABC”s True Oldies Channel, returning to its former branding of “Kissin” Oldies.” (And yes, the sister FM station is “Huggin” Country,” WHUG.)
In Glens Falls, Eric Straus is exiting the radio scene with a $2.75 million sale of the three radio stations his RegionalHelpWanted.com (Regional Radio Group) owns there. The new owner at WWSC (1450 Glens Falls), WCKM (98.5 Lake George) and WCQL (95.9 Queensbury) is Clayton Ashworth, who”s acquiring the stations under the “Northway Broadcasting” name. Sound familiar? That”s the same operating name Ashworth used more than a decade ago when he owned crosstown WBZA and WMJR.
And in Rochester, it looks like the end of the line for progressive talk at Entercom”s WROC (950). Saddled with a poor signal and distinct also-ran status in a cluster full of big and very profitable FMs, the little AM station has been running essentially without local programming for several years now, and it appears that the current format will disappear after August 1. (At least, that”s what the station reportedly told representatives of the syndicated Bill Press morning show when they called to inquire about promoting an appearance Press recently made here.)
What”s next for 950? We”re hearing ESPN sports, which would pull some programming away from Clear Channel”s WHTK (1280 Rochester) and Pembrook Pines” WACK (1420 Newark) – and much as we”d like to see Entercom extend its Red Sox network this far west, that doesn”t appear to be in the cards.
Ten Years Ago: July 9, 2007
Thirty-five years after NEW YORK”s WCBS-FM (101.1) flipped to oldies, and two years after the station rocked the Big Apple radio world with a flip away from oldies to adult hits “Jack FM,” the message boards once again began buzzing last Thursday afternoon with word that the new management at CBS Radio was about to reverse course and restore oldies to 101.1.
Whether or not the news was an intentional leak, it came at a perfectly slow moment in the larger news cycle, and by Friday it had moved beyond the radio message boards and e-mail lists and out to the TV newscasts and the headlines on WINS. By Saturday morning, it was even the front-page story in the Daily News, even though CBS had yet to confirm that the move was happening.
As we head for our Sunday night NERW deadline, there”s still been no confirmation from within CBS, but all the signs we”re hearing tell us that the rumors are true, and that at some point between today and Thursday, WCBS-FM will indeed return to some version of the oldies format it was using until that dark day in June 2005.
That”s good news for New York oldies fans, but perhaps not quite as much good news as some of them were hoping for. Despite the Daily News” claim that the station will be bringing back “real DJs,” our sources tell us that at least at first, the new CBS-FM will sound very much like the HD2/webstream version of CBS-FM that”s been serving as a stopgap replacement for the original station – no DJs, and a music mix that leans more heavily on the 70s and early 80s than the old CBS-FM did.
Elsewhere in the Empire State over the long holiday week: In the Albany market, public broadcaster WMHT pulled the plug on one of its two classical music services on Saturday, replacing “cool, comfortable, classical” WBKK (97.7 Amsterdam) with “Exit 97.7,” a new AAA format with new calls WEXT. WMHT says the two-year experiment with WBKK, which had been a commercial classical station before WMHT bought it, found that there was a tremendous amount of listener duplication between 97.7 and the more established WMHT-FM (89.1 Schenectady), producing little in the way of new listeners or members to the station. The new “Exit 97.7” will feature local jocks Dave Michaels in morning drive and Eileen Roarke in middays, with station manager Chris Wienk handling afternoons.
Boston”s channel 2 just moved, and now CONNECTICUT”s channel 3 has started to load up the moving vans. WFSB (Channel 3) has finished construction of its new studio complex in Rocky Hill, and station staffers began moving in last week. Newscast production from the new studios won”t start for a few more weeks, so the news department remains at the old Broadcast House in downtown Hartford for a little while longer.
Ten Years Ago: July 7 & 14, 2003
*Clear Channel flipped two of its VERMONT properties last week, just in time for Independence Day. In Rutland, WZRT (97.1) kept its top 40 format under a new name, taking on Clear Channel”s national “Kiss” branding (and the blue ball logo that”s already been phased out in some other Kiss markets); up US 7 in Burlington, the arrival of “Kiss” was a bit more of a surprise, with the 4 PM change last Thursday (7/3) installing “Kiss 92.1″ on WJVT (92.1 Port Henry NY), the rimshotter that had been doing smooth jazz for the last year and change. Under its (pending) new calls of WVTK, Kiss will pose at least something of a threat to established top 40 WXXX (95.5 South Burlington), though the two stations” signals have little overlap except over Burlington itself. Through the miracle of voicetracking, the stations share an airstaff that consists of Dave Ryerson, Judy Anderson, AJ and Mike Cruz, though we hear the programming is separate at each frequency. (And wouldn”t it figure that the switch would come not 48 hours after we drove out of the market…)
*Just in to NERW at press time is word that one of the best-known voices in MASSACHUSETTS has been silenced. Ernie Boch never had an airshift, but his trademark “Come on DOWN!” beckoned listeners to his auto dealerships over decades of high-intensity radio and TV advertising. In 1991, Boch became a broadcast owner with the $825,000 purchase of WOCB (1240/94.9 West Yarmouth), and in the years that followed he expanded his Cape Cod holdings into one of the market”s most important clusters. With his 1996 purchase of three more FMs and his 2001 donation of the former WOCB(AM) to Boston University, Boch”s cluster now consists of news-talk WXTK (95.1 West Yarmouth), AC WCOD (106.1 Hyannis) and oldies simulcast WDVT (93.5 Harwich Port) and WTWV (101.1 Mashpee) – and with Boch”s death Sunday at age 77, the rumors are already flying about potential purchasers interested in the stations.
*Up in CANADA, CHUM officially launched its new FM signal in Brockville, Ontario, transforming CFJR (830) into CFJR-FM (104.9), aka “JRfm.” The FM signal has been on the air testing for several weeks, but the official launch today sets the clock running to the signoff later this year of the AM signal. (Oddly, CFJR”s website makes no mention of the FM yet!) But in the midst of launching “JRfm,” CHUM also flipped its older Brockville FM signal. CJPT (103.7) has been doing top 40 as “the Point,” but as of today it”s a clone of CHUM”s CKKL (93.9 Ottawa), running classic hits and hot AC currents as “103.7 Bob FM.”
Fifteen Years Ago: July 18, 1998
*Can you say “rat”s ass” on the radio in Boston? It”s a safe bet that the folks at CBS-owned WBCN (104.1) wouldn”t give a you-know-what if Howard Stern used the phrase in the morning — but it was enough to end Bob Lobel”s career on the radio side of (also CBS-owned) WBZ last Sunday.
The WBZ-TV (Channel 4) sportscaster was hosting his weekly call-in show with Upton Bell when prolific caller “Butch from the Cape” dialed up to offer his comments about the World Cup, including the observation that most native-born Americans probably don”t give a — yes, that phrase — about the competition.
Within seconds, the “batphone” at 1170 Soldiers Field was ringing, as program director Peter Casey ordered “Butch” to be cut off the air. And that was all it took for Lobel to leave the show.
In following days, both sides of the controversy took to the pages of Boston newspapers (and to the mailing list associated with NERW) to make their cases. Lobel says he was “censored,” while Casey argues that WBZ is a family radio station that shouldn”t tolerate the use of such language on the air.
In any event, Lobel and Bell have been replaced with Steve DeOssie and Dan Roche for the time being, and “Butch” says he”s taken WBZ off his speed-dial. As for us here at NERW, we”ll keep you updated if we decide we give a — oh, never mind!
In other news from around MASSACHUSETTS, Lobel won”t have new boss on the TV side of WBZ after all. Former WHDH-TV (Channel 7) head honcho Joel Cheatwood tells the Boston Herald that talks to bring him to WBZ have broken off. Cheatwood will remain in Chicago for now, working in a corporate capacity for NBC. Another Cheatwood protege, Peggy Phillip, also won”t be moving in at WBZ. Phillip had accepted a job as assistant news director, but changed her mind last week to take a news director job down South instead.
Could Entercom become the new owner of WRKO, WEEI, WEGQ, and WAAF? The radio trades were abuzz this week with rumors that CBS may swap the stations to Entercom, which has no Boston presence right now. Meantime at WBMX (98.5), the only ARS station CBS is keeping in Boston, APD/MD Michelle Engel departs for a PD gig out West at CBS”s KBBT in Portland.
Lowell may soon be home to a 24-hour Portuguese station, albeit without a license. We”re hearing rumors that a “WKNM” will start broadcasting August 2 at 1570 kHz.
One big piece of news in MAINE this week, as Mariner Broadcasting completes its set of the Pine Tree State”s classical outlets, with the purchase of WAVX (106.9 Thomaston) from Jon LeVeen. Mariner put WBQQ (99.3 Kennebunk) on the air a few years back, and just took over WPKM (106.3 Scarborough), flipping it to WBQW and a simulcast of “W-Bach.” LeVeen tells NERW he”s not sure whether Mariner will continue originating programming at WAVX, or whether it will become a third simulcast.
A tall bit of CONNECTICUT news: The Zoning Board of Appeals in Hamden approved WKCI (101.3)”s application for a new tower by a 4-1 vote. WKCI is being kicked off the Gaylord Mountain tower of WTNH (Channel 8), and wants to build a 625-foot tower of its own just down the road. The application must still be approved by the town”s Planning and Zoning Commission later this fall.A pair of Albany, NEW YORK morning jocks are back on the air at WFLY (92.3 Troy) after apologizing for a stunt they pulled Wednesday morning. When First Lady Hillary Clinton was touring the area, she was greeted by a plane flying a WFLY banner with the message, “Who”s Watching Bill?” PD Rob Dawes suspended the morning team of Wood and Jim for a day until they apologized.Rochester”s CBS stations, WCMF (96.5), WPXY (97.9), WRMM (101.3), and WZNE (94.1 Brighton), will move out of their current home next year. The stations are in rented space in the suburb of Henrietta, awkwardly split between two floors of a facility originally designed for just two stations. They”ll move into the Marine Midland Center downtown, in a space about twice the size of the current one. For those keeping score: this will be the fifth WPXY studio location in a decade. (2013 update: WPXY managed to spend nearly a decade in the Marine Midland – later HSBC – Building before moving yet again after Entercom”s 2007 purchase of the CBS cluster.)