In this week’s issue… FCC shutdown imperils LPFM window, enforcement efforts – Boston talker ousted – Franken-FM launches in Syracuse – NY station owner sells – Maine tower down
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*In just a few short months, this column will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. A lot has changed in those twenty years: we’ve expanded our coverage beyond New England, we’re not distributed via Usenet anymore, your editor no longer has a full head of hair- but one thing has remained constant: 51 weeks a year, one of the first things we do when we sit down to assemble this report for you is to peruse the FCC’s Daily Digests (and more recently, its entire CDBS database system) to tease out the latest news of proposed station sales, technical upgrades, silent STAs and so much more.
In the short term, at least where the FCC is concerned, the shutdown is little more than a blip; after all, the reason we only hit the FCC filings 51 weeks each year is that on the 52nd week, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the FCC already shuts down.
But if the shutdown continues for more than a few days, as is seeming increasingly likely, the effects on the broadcast community could become very visible, very quickly. A few of the areas we’re keeping an eye on right now include:
The LPFM window: Every consulting engineer we know has been spending the last few months in a frenzy of preparation for the FCC’s next planned filing window. Tentatively set to open October 15, the FCC’s LPFM window is expected to fill almost every remaining niche on what’s already a jam-packed FM dial. That’s meant lots of work on behalf of potential LPFM applicants, many of whom have stretched their finances thin to pay for engineering and filing services, as well as even more work on behalf of commercial broadcasters to make sure pending translator applications are maximized before new LPFMs foreclose on any future upgrade opportunities. It’s now all but certain that the October 15th filing date will have to slide, perhaps considerably: even if the FCC were able to resume its work today, it’s still not done sorting out all of the remaining pending applications from the 2003 “Great Translator Invasion” window, and those have to be resolved before the LPFM window can open. Even granted that potential LPFM applicants have already had to be extraordinarily patient waiting for a window to open, how many will lack the resources to wait out an even longer delay now? How many paid premium prices for rush work as the filing window neared, only to be stalled out?
AM improvement: Just before the shutdown, commissioner Ajit Pai and acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn were making big noises (as discussed here not long ago) about making some big tweaks to AM engineering rules to improve the lot of station owners. Those initiatives are obviously on hold now, and the longer they stay on ice, the less momentum there will be to pursue any of them whenever the shutdown ends. This becomes even more true if the shutdown drags on at length, into the election year of 2014 when all initiatives tend to come to a halt. (Depending on your stance on the AM improvement proposals, this may actually be a good thing, of course.)
Stalled brokers: For a broadcast station to be sold, you need a willing buyer, a willing seller, a broker to bring them together – and regulators to grant approval to the deal. With no regulators at work, the review of pending sales has already ground to a halt. For sales that include an LMA-pending-sale, that’s no big deal in the short term; for deals in which the buyer doesn’t take over until FCC approval is granted and the sale is consummated, that means a stall. (Consider, for instance, Family Stations’ sale of WFRW 88.1 Webster/Rochester to EMF, which was likely to have closed any day now.)
Here, too, a longer shutdown will create some bigger problems for sellers, buyers and especially brokers. Just as the shutdown was starting, we got word of the impending announcement of a TV station sale in upstate New York – but without the ability to file that sale with the FCC, we’re still awaiting word that the deal is official. How many deals will go undone if the shutdown drags out, and how badly might brokers suffer in the meantime?
Enforcement: On the surface, this one looks like a temporary win for broadcasters. With most of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau staff idled, there won’t be any knocks on the door looking for public files or EAS compliance for the time being. No big deal? Maybe not on that end – but when some pirate in Brooklyn or Quincy or Camden fires up a kilowatt or three on 89.3 or 90.5, there’s nobody for licensed broadcasters to call to track down the pirates and get them off the air. We’re already hearing reports of increased pirate activity on the FM dial in New York City, and while a skeleton crew of Enforcement Bureau personnel are still on the job, their duties are tightly limited to protecting “safety of life or the protection of property,” which means they might respond if someone’s transmitting on the VOR frequency of a nearby airport, but otherwise broadcasters are on their own for now.
(Don’t look to this space for legal advice, but it doesn’t look to us as though there’s much the FCC can do right now, either, when it comes to licensed broadcasters operating at variance from legal parameters. There are conflicting opinions as to whether a post-shutdown FCC would even be able to write citations for violations occurring during the shutdown.)
Equipment vendors: It’s been a rough few years already for many of the companies that sell antennas and transmitters and towers. Now imagine what could happen with an extended shutdown: if stations can’t get FCC approval for power increases or site changes, they can’t buy the gear they’ll need to make those moves happen. Thinking of moving studios? Before you can start writing purchase orders for all that equipment, you’ll want to be sure you can get a clean STL shot licensed – and for the moment, that’s not possible, either. The potential pain goes beyond the sales end into the R&D labs: without FCC staffers on the job, no new equipment can be FCC certified or type accepted, creating a backlog that will only grow if the shutdown drags on. (It’s not just broadcast equipment, either: all those shiny new phones and tablets and other devices need FCC approval, too, and their manufacturers and importers can’t get those approvals and ID numbers.)
The lawyers: They’ll do fine in the long run, of course. They may even do well in the short run: if the shutdown extends into November, it will begin to bang up against filing deadlines for license renewals in the New England states, for instance, and it’s a good bet that broadcast lawyers will be racking up plenty of billable hours answering questions from station owners about how to deal with those deadlines in the absence of a functioning FCC. What does a station do right now if it needs an emergency STA? Will expiring CPs be automatically tolled if permittees can’t file for a covering license? There aren’t many good answers to those questions yet, but they’ll keep the lawyers busy in the meantime. (And they’ll be busier yet when the FCC reopens for business: according to the public notice issued on Tuesday, all filings that would be during the shutdown – all of them – will be due in one big lump the day after the shutdown ends.)
And then there’s your editor. Without FCC applications to write about, the columns may be a little slimmer from here on out, but as long as there’s still an industry to read what we’re writing, we’ll be here with all the news we can gather from this side of the border, and of course with our usual chunk of news from Canada, where the CRTC and Industry Canada are very much in operation still.
*Live, local overnight talk radio is a rarity in 2013. Away from the sports-talk arena, there’s nobody at all offering live talk overnight in New York City or Philadelphia, for instance. In MASSACHUSETTS, CBS Radio’s WBZ (1030 Boston) has long kept the all-night talk torch burning with the help of big talents such as Larry Glick, Bob Raleigh, Norm Nathan and Steve LeVeille. But the latest name to join that illustrious list didn’t last long: last week, WBZ fired Jen Brien after just three months on the job.
Brien had been a somewhat controversial choice from the beginning: she came to WBZ after a stretch as a more political talker across town at WRKO (680), and while she followed the unwritten WBZ dictate that the overnight shift isn’t a time for talking about hard topics, she drew an immediate and often negative reaction from listeners uncomfortable with the often very personal, confessional tone she took on her WBZ show.
Those early issues would likely have been worked out, we’re told, but there were more serious problems, too: on several occasions, Brien simply didn’t show up for her airshift, leaving other hosts to pull impossibly long shifts (seven hours of talk, in one case) or to be called in at very short notice. That, NERW hears, was the final straw that ended Brien’s career at WBZ. In her absence, “WBZ Overnight” goes back to where it had been before LeVeille’s retirement, with Bradley Jay and Morgan White Jr. rotating host duties while the station again looks for a permanent replacement. (The very good news here is that it appears the shift will stay local.)
*Across town at Entercom, there was a big management shift at the helm of the Boston cluster that includes WRKO, sports talker WEEI and rocker WAAF: Jeff Brown departed last week as VP/market manager after a two-year run, leaving Entercom for a new job as VP/market manager for Cumulus in Atlanta. Brown’s tenure at the cluster in Boston was controversial, to say the least, especially at WEEI’s end of the hall. Under Brown, longtime hosts such as Glenn Ordway and veteran PD Jason Wolfe were ousted in favor of a new crew of younger sports talkers and a new “brand manager” from Utah.
The big chair at Entercom Boston didn’t stay empty very long: in to replace Brown in Phil Zachary, who’s been serving as president/COO of Curtis Media Group’s stations in Raleigh, NC. Zachary has also run the CBS Radio cluster in Washington, and he has Boston roots way back: in 1979, he was a young operations manager at the old WITS (1510, now WUFC).
One voice who won’t have to worry about staying on WEEI is Joe Castiglione. The veteran Red Sox announcer (31 years on the job) just signed a two-year extension of his contract.
*Another former executive at Entercom Boston is returning to the radio ranks: Bev Tilden headed up marketing at WEEI and its sister stations in the 1990s, as well as at Clear Channel’s Kiss 108. She’s been doing marketing for the CSB School of Broadcasting in recent years, but now she’s joining Cape Cod Broadcasting as GM of its cluster, overseeing AC WQRC (99.9), country WKPE-FM (103.9), soft AC WOCN (104.7) and classical WFCC (107.5).
*The sands are shifting in CONNECTICUT, too: veteran jock Jerry Kristafer is off the air at Buckley classic hits WDRC-FM (102.9 Hartford), five years into his current stint there. Kristafer’s history with WDRC goes way back: he spent 15 years there earlier in his career, amidst gigs in New Jersey and at WELI (960 New Haven). Kristafer’s co-hosts Mike Stevens and Kim Zachary are doing mornings without him for now, while WDRC figures out a long-term plan for morning drive.
(And down in New Haven, why was WELI branding itself as “The Mighty 960” instead of using its calls for much of last week? It’s a mystery for now.)
*There’s a tower down in Portland, MAINE, where WLOB (1310) is operating at reduced power on just two of its towers after one of its three nighttime towers came down by accident. The station tells the FCC that a construction worker on the property next door snagged a guy wire with a piece of heavy equipment, bringing the tower down to the ground. Instead of its usual 5000 watts day and night, WLOB is operating with 3500 watts daytime and 1000 watts at night until a replacement tower can be erected.
*Our NEW YORK news begins with one of those station sales that may be delayed by the FCC’s shutdown: longtime Elmira owner Robert Pfuntner is exiting radio in the city he calls home. Pfuntner’s Pembrook Pines Mass Media N.A. Corp. has battled all kinds of financial problems these last few years, and now it’s selling its Elmira and Bath signals to Titan Radio, LLC. The deal is valued at $2.75 million, with $700,000 payable at closing and $1.9 million over the next eight years, and because it includes a time brokerage agreement ahead of the sale closing, the stations can go into the hands of Titan’s Jay Randall Reid even if the FCC isn’t able to approve it yet.
“Randy” Reid is a former general manager down the road at WETM (Channel 18), and he’s also been news director at WENY-TV (Channel 36). In Elmira, his new cluster includes top-40 WLVY (94.3 Elmira), country WOKN (99.5 Southport), sports WELM (1410 Elmira) and oldies WEHH (1600 Elmira Heights-Horseheads), along with an Elmira FM translator for WEHH, Corning translators for WLVY and WOKN and a Waverly translator for WLVY. In Bath, Reid gets AC WVIN-FM (98.3) and sports WABH (1380).
Back in Elmira, there’s an imaging change at WPGI (100.9 Horseheads), one of the former Backyard Broadcasting stations now in the hands of Community Broadcasters. It’s fried up the “Big Pig” identity it’s been using since 1995, replacing it with “Wolf Country 100.9.” After a few days of running jockless to promote the new format, WPGI will bring its jocks back today. As for new calls, we’ll have to wait until the FCC callsign desk is back in operation to let you know if anything’s pending.
*Just before the callsign system shut down, we caught a big swap in the Syracuse area that involves Craig Fox’s cluster of radio and TV licenses.
Last week, “Love Radio” told listeners it was moving down the dial to 87.7, the audio frequency of Fox’s channel 6 LPTV in Syracuse. That signal, originally licensed on channel 60, had been carrying NASA TV as WMBO-LP, maintaining Fox’s penchant for reusing historic central New York callsigns. Now it’s WVOA-LP, with a construction permit to go up to 3,000 watts – and until analog LPTV is silenced in 2015, it will be the “87.7” home for Love Radio.
So what’s up at 103.9 and its translators? A call change, for one thing, as Fox picks up the WNDR calls that were long associated with top-40 in Syracuse at 1260 on the dial (now sports WSKO). After a quick simulcast of Fox’s classic country WOSW (1300 Fulton), the new WNDR relaunched over the weekend as “Holly.FM,” grabbing attention as one of the country’s first flips to all-Christmas music.
That means a real format for the new WNDR-FM will likely have to wait until the start of 2014; meanwhile, the clock is ticking on Fox’s latest CP to boost 103.9’s power from the current 3 kW to 19 kW, which expires in June 2014.
In Ithaca, the folks at Ithaca Community Radio filed just before the FCC shutdown for a slight relocation of their translator, W201CD (88.1), noting that the translator’s current site has to be vacated because of an expiring lease. That’s all fairly straightforward, common stuff – except that ICR’s own Facebook page proudly carried photos way back in the summertime of volunteers moving W201CD to the new site for which it hadn’t yet applied. (And of course now there’s no FCC to approve the move, anyway.)
In Buffalo, WUFO (1080 Amherst) has another week or so at its current studio/transmitter site on LaSalle Avenue before it can complete its move to its first new locations in 52 years.
The new WUFO studio will be at 143 Broadway, much closer to downtown Buffalo, complete with a storefront museum of WUFO and Buffalo radio history; the transmitter, as noted last week, will diplex with WECK (1230 Cheektowaga) under STA. (And, yes, that STA was granted just before the shutdown, so there won’t be any delay in WUFO’s move.)
Up in Watertown, WWNY (Channel 7) converted its local news to HD last Monday night at 6, complete with a new set to replace the last bits of the old one that came, lightly used, from Boston’s WBZ-TV two decades ago. WWNY owner United Television also won a brief delay in its battle to stay on Dish Network; the extension keeps WWNY and sister Fox affiliate WNYF-CD on Dish through tomorrow while negotiations continue.
*A programming shift at New York City’s WBAI (99.5): a memo that went out to the Pacifica station’s programmers last week announced that beginning tonight, WBAI will carry the syndicated Thom Hartmann talk show Monday-Thursday nights from 9-10. That wouldn’t be a big deal anywhere but WBAI, which has long shunned syndicated programming, and it may be just the beginning: interim PD Andrew Phillips tells staffers that the shows that are checkerboarded in the 10-11 PM weeknight hour are also being cancelled, with programmers being invited to contribute to a new magazine-style show to air in that slot.
*Across the river in NEW JERSEY, Multicultural’s WNSW (1430 Newark) has dropped the leased-time Voice of Russia programming it had been carrying 24/7 and is now running Radio Cantico Nuevo Spanish-language religion instead.
*In PENNSYLVANIA, there are two obituaries from the Williamsport radio scene. Mike Sullivan started out at the old WMPT (1450) and went on to work at WMID (1340) in Atlantic City and then on Long Island at WGBB (1240 Freeport) and WGLI (1290 Babylon) before moving to Chicago in the late 1960s, where he worked at WGRT, WJJD, WJMK and WMAQ, among others. Sullivan was 76 when he died Sept. 20 in Huntley, Illinois. Frank Barber, born Frank Sbelgio, worked at WRAK (1400), WKSB (102.7) and WWPA (1340) before leaving Williamsport in the 1990s to go to Tiffin, Ohio and WTTF (1600). Barber died in Toledo on Sept. 22, at age 72.
*A couple of quick Hockey on the Radio notes: the New York Islanders have added a second signal this season, with their games airing on JVC Media’s WRCN (103.9 Riverhead) in Suffolk County in addition to flagship WRHU (88.7 Hempstead) in Nassau County. In the AHL, we note the Portland Pirates aren’t in Portland at all this year – they’re playing all their home games up the road in Lewiston in the very same arena that hosted the legendary Ali-Liston rematch in 1965. And before we forget to keep track of the other significant minor league operating in the region, the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals will once again be heard on WEHH (1600 Elmira Heights-Horseheads, plus a translator at 93.9), while in Pennsylvania the Reading Royals air on WIOV (1240) and its translator at 98.5, once the season starts late next week.
*In CANADA, the CRTC is still fully functional – and ready to consider a proposal from a Montreal ethnic station to add a second transmitter. CHOU (1450) broadcasts to the city’s Middle Eastern community with a 2000-watt signal that has trouble reaching the northeastern corner of Montreal. It’s asking the CRTC to be allowed to put a 50-watt signal on the air at 104.5 from a short antenna on a warehouse on 19th Avenue, shoehorned in against the CBC’s CBME-FM-1, another low-power relay signal on first-adjacent 104.7 on the west side of town. The CRTC is taking comments on CHOU’s application until October 30.
*As we noted, the CRTC is still very much in business, and it’s got a big lineup of broadcast applications on its plate for a December 5 hearing in Gatineau, Quebec.
In Moncton, New Brunswick, Rogers wants to sell another of the Maritimes all-news FMs it put on the air less than a decade ago. The Saint John piece of the operation, CHNI (News 88.9), is already on its way to Newcap, and now Rogers is applying to sell CKNI (News 91.9) in Moncton to Acadia Broadcasting for C$1.625 million.
Acadia wants CRTC permission to drop the specialty all-news format, which it says are “not economically viable,” and replace it with an AC format. CKNI would be Acadia’s first station in Moncton, joining existing stations in Saint John and St. Stephen. The sale will leave Rogers with just one remaining news FM in the Maritimes, CJNI (95.7 Halifax).
*In Saint John, James Houssen is applying to buy CJRP-FM (103.5) and its Rothesay relay, CJRP-FM-1 (95.1), from Pritchard Broadcasting for C$5 million. The 50-watt station has been silent since April, when Pritchard took its classic hits format silent, citing ongoing financial difficulties. Since its launch back in 2003 as all-comedy CFHA, the station has struggled to survive through four owners, especially as the CRTC has denied several applications for power increases. Houssen plans to flip CJRP to a religious format if this sale is granted.
In Dolbeau-Mistassini, Quebec, the Société d’information Lac St-Jean is applying for a French-language community station on 101.3, running 395 watts/28.2 meters.
And way up north in Cobalt, Ontario, near Timmins, Allan F. (Lee) Marshall is applying for an 8.7 kW/99.4 m signal on 107.9, running an adult variety format that will also include 3 1/2 hours of French-language programming each week.
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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: October 8, 2012
MONDAY UPDATE: Merlin Media is exiting New York City after a tumultuous yearlong run that included a failed attempt to challenge CBS Radio’s all-news domination – and it’s exiting by selling its WRXP (101.9) to CBS, for a reported $75 million.
Beginning next month, CBS will LMA 101.9 from Merlin and use it to simulcast sports WFAN (660) on the FM dial.
It’s still not clear how the deal will be structured to comply with the FCC’s ownership caps. CBS is at the limit right now with three FMs (top 40 “NOW” WXRK 92.3, classic hits WCBS-FM 101.1 and hot AC “Fresh” WWFS 102.7), three AMs (WFAN and all-news WCBS 880 and WINS 1010) and two TVs (WCBS-TV 2 and WLNY-TV 55).
TUESDAY UPDATE: Following up on yesterday’s big news about WRXP’s sale to CBS – and the inevitable question about how CBS stays under the ownership cap in New York City: the betting line right now seems to be that it’s CBS’ most recent acquisition, WLNY-TV, that goes away, sort of. Remember the FCC’s upcoming UHF DTV spectrum incentive auction? WLNY’s spectrum ought to be fairly valuable to buyers (and thus to CBS), and even if it’s sold, CBS would retain the cable/satellite must-carry rights for WLNY’s programming. And those rights are probably much more valuable than WLNY’s limited OTA signal, anyway.
*Out there in the Mohawk Valley of central NEW YORK, just off the side of Route 5 in a field next to an abandoned warehouse, there sits a four-tower array that’s never broadcast a watt of power.
As NERW readers well know from our previous coverage, this is – or at least was supposed to have been – WKAJ (1120 St. Johnsville). When we last revisited the WKAJ saga back in June, the FCC had tossed out a “Petition for Waiver and Reinstatement” that permittee Cranesville Block Company had filed in a last-ditch attempt to get the Commission to grant a license to the 10,000-watt day/400-watt night station – even though construction on the facility wasn’t completed (or even substantially started) until January 2012, a month after WKAJ’s construction permit had expired in December 2011.
Two area congressmen weighed in on behalf of Cranesville and its principal, Joe Tesiero, but to no avail: rules are rules, they were told, and if WKAJ wanted to make a case that catastrophic weather and the sudden disappearance of its contractor had delayed construction, the time to do that was before the CP expired, not long afterward. But having sunk more than $300,000 into construction (and who knows how much now on legal fees), Cranesville wasn’t giving up so easily. Over the summer, it prevailed on Senator Chuck Schumer to intervene with the FCC. In a July letter to chairman Julius Genachowski, Schumer said “it is difficult to see what harm would be caused by the waiver” WKAJ sought, and noted that the challenges the station faced during construction were “extremely unforeseeable.”
In late September, Genachowski responded, writing, “I appreciate your interest in this matter and have directed the Chief of the Media Bureau’s Office of Communications and Industry Information to respond.” A letter the same day from that official, Michael S. Perko, tells Schumer that “Commission staff will complete its review of the [WKAJ] Application for Review and prepare a recommendation for the full Commission as expeditiously as possible. Please be assured that in reaching a disposition, the Commission will give careful consideration to issues raised by [WKAJ] and the views discussed in your letter.”
Will the intervention of one of the Senate’s most powerful Democrats (in an election year, no less) be enough to get the FCC to overlook deadlines and rules that are usually among the agency’s most rigid? And if WKAJ is allowed to sign on despite having started construction after an expired CP, how will the FCC thread the needle to avoid creating a precedent for other would-be late builders? Stay tuned…we’ll continue to watch this one closely.
Meanwhile, Tesiero appears to have learned from the WKAJ debacle; construction is reportedly well underway up in the Adirondacks on WYVS (96.5 Speculator), his new FM construction permit that was just granted in July.
*One of the congressmen who intervened unsuccessfully on WKAJ’s behalf earlier in the year is now embroiled in another media controversy. Republican Richard Hanna was scheduled to take part in a televised debate that was to air on both ABC affiliates in the newly-redrawn 22nd district, WSYR-TV (Channel 9) in Syracuse and WUTR (Channel 20) in Utica. When Hanna dropped out of the debate, the stations planned to instead interview his Democratic challenger, Dan Lamb, for a half-hour. But Lamb says Hanna put pressure on the stations to cancel that broadcast, and he’s releasing e-mails from WUTR indicating that Hanna may have threatened to withdraw his advertising dollars and refuse to cooperate with the stations’ news departments if the Lamb interview proceeded.
Those e-mails, in which WUTR GM Stephen Merren says “we are going to have to back out of this taping…and deal with our relationship with Congressman Hanna on our own,” were apparently not intended for the Lamb campaign (or for public distribution), but were sent to Lamb’s campaign manager by accident. That’s causing some embarrassment for WUTR owner Nexstar, which is in the process of buying WSYR-TV from Newport Television; when contacted by rival Syracuse stations WSTM/WTVH, Merren told them he’d “been asked by my company to let this run its course” and offered no further comment. Hanna’s campaign has also declined to comment; Lamb’s campaign, meanwhile, is making political hay, saying Hanna “should be ashamed of himself for using his money to influence the journalistic decisions of a local news station.”
*In Elmira, they’re mourning the dean of the city’s TV news community. Carl Proper started working at what was then WSYE-TV (Channel 18) in 1957, just a year after the station signed on as a satellite of Syracuse’s WSYR-TV (now WSTM). After starting out as a typical jack-of-all-trades announcer, hosting “TV Clubhouse with Coach Carl” and other local fare, Proper settled in as the station’s newsman, and that’s where he stayed for a remarkable 49 years before his retirement in 2006 from what had become WETM-TV. Even after stepping away from the anchor desk, Proper remained involved with WETM as a “community ambassador” right up until his death Saturday morning at age 74.
*Two New York radio obituaries: Bob Vernon made a mark on the New York City AM dial in the mid-1970s as “Vernon with a V” in the afternoon hours on WNBC (660), where he was heard from 1974 until 1976. Vernon started his career at WIMA in Lima, Ohio and spent some time at WGAR in Cleveland before joining WNBC. He later ended up as a TV anchor in Minneapolis at KSTP-TV and in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was seen on WRAL-TV and WLFL-TV; he also had a TV voiceover career. Vernon, whose real name was Robert Vernon Cosart Jr., had retired to Colorado when he died Sept. 30, at age 70.
And Dr. Chuck Crane was a dentist in Florida when he died September 27, but long before he established a dental practice in Sarasota, he was one of the first jocks on the lineup at Z100 (WHTZ 100.3 Newark NJ) back in 1983, where he went by “Dr. Christopher Reed” on the air in the midday shift. Crane also served as operations director at Z100 in early 1984 before heading to Chicago to program WLS. Crane came back to New York in 1986 to program WYNY (97.1) in its last few years as an AC station. Crane was just 58.
So what becomes of 95.3? The “Net Gnomes” over at our partner site, RadioInsight, turned up a bunch of registrations for “95.3 the Coast,” which suggests pretty strongly to us that when WSKX relaunches on Tuesday at noon, it will be with some form of AC or perhaps adult hits, like Clear Channel’s recent launch of “101.7 the Harbor” down the coast in Boston. (This will thus mark the second time that Matty Siegel has lost an affiliate called “The Coast”; he’d also been heard on WSNE 93.3 in the Providence market for a time.)
*On the other side of the Granite State, we can fill in some of the gaps around last Monday’s flip of WKKN (101.9 Westminster VT/Keene NH) from rock to a simulcast of country “Kixx” WXXK (100.5 Lebanon NH). With one exception, the WKKN airstaff is gone after the flip; that includes Parker Springfield, who was the station’s operations manager and who now says he’s leaving broadcasting for a while after turning down a chance to relocate to Great Eastern’s Upper Valley cluster. The one exception is Elise Valentine, who’s staying on board to staff Great Eastern’s Keene studios, oversee WEEY (93.5 Swanzey)’s WEEI simulcast, and to do a “Kixx” airshift in the afternoons from Keene. And up in Lebanon, there’s another new addition to the Kixx airstaff: Jim Bosh, late of WWYZ (92.5) in Hartford, becomes the Kixx PD and morning co-host alongside Amy Beaulieu.
As we’d predicted, there’s been a bit of outcry from listeners in a few areas south and west of Boston where the 93.7 signal suffers interference. Entercom’s trying to rectify that by keeping WEEI audio in place on the HD2 signals of WAAF (107.3 Westborough) and WKAF (97.7 Brockton); there’s not much it can do, though, for WEEI’s AM fan base along the Atlantic coast all the way up to New Brunswick.
*North of Boston along the coast, WNBP (1450 Newburyport) officially unveiled its new addition on Wednesday at noon. NERW readers have known for months that W291CC (106.1) was moving from southern Maine to become WNBP’s FM simulcast, and now everyone’s in on the secret: it’s now “The Legends” on both AM and FM, playing “Legendary Songs and Legendary Singers of the ’50s and ’60s.”
Bob “Doc” Fuller, the legendary broadcast owner who started his radio career at his hometown WNBP as the station’s first jock and later owned the station, joined current owners Pete Falconi and Carl Strube on Wednesday to cut the ribbon, as it were, on the FM addition.
Friday was Chris Puorro’s last day with the Codcomm cluster on Cape Cod; after a busy few months getting “Frank FM” (WFRQ/WHYA) and WPXC (102.9) moved into their new Hyannis studios, Puorro is leaving his post as PD/ops manager and moving to Orlando, where he’s the new coordinator of broadcasting at the University of Central Florida, licensee of WUCF (89.9). No replacement has been named yet at Codcomm.
*In CONNECTICUT, WGCH (1490 Greenwich) is in new hands this week as parent company Business TalkRadio Network continues its journey through bankruptcy court. The court-appointed receiver handling the case has fired longtime BTRN CEO Michael Metter, and former COO Jeff Weber is back in place, running the network and its two remaining stations (WGCH and WLFP in the Pittsburgh market) until they can be sold.
*Four Rivers Community Broadcasting has two new “Word FM” religious signals on the air in PENNSYLVANIA. WZXB (90.5 Bechtelsville) and WZXN (90.1 Newburg) both applied for their licenses to cover last week. WZXB serves the Boyertown area in Berks County, east of Reading, while WZXN serves the Shippensburg area southwest of Harrisburg. The sign-ons bring “Word FM” (based at WBYO 88.9 in Sellersville) to an even dozen full-power stations in eastern and central Pennsylvania, plus seven translators.
And that’s not the only move Four Rivers is making to broaden its reach: it’s also buying translator W245AG (96.9 Gladwyne) from United Ministries for $124,000. Why so much for a 90-watt translator? Because it’s a 90-watt translator sitting on the WPVI (Channel 6) tower in the Roxborough antenna farm, serving a fairly substantial chunk of the Philadelphia market. The translator had been relaying another religious station, WBMR (91.7 Telford).
*More translator news: in Wilkes-Barre, Bold Gold is applying to relocate translator W265BM (100.9 Folstown) from its present site on a ridge south of Nanticoke to the tower of WYCK (1340 Plains), right off the 309/115/I-81 junction just east of downtown Wilkes-Barre. The translator would switch from relaying its former owner, WHLM-FM (103.5 Berwick), to relaying WYCK’s “Game” sports format, and it would boost power from its present 5 watts to 99 watts.
*And a Keystone State story that’s somewhat slipped through the cracks: Pat Cloonan’s McKeesport Daily News column recently reported that EMF Broadcasting had flipped its 98.5 in Confluence (near Uniontown, south of Pittsburgh) from the K-Love network to the harder-edged Air 1. That sent us looking for a call change, and it turns out we’d missed it back in March, when the former WKEL became WYRA. K-Love is still available in the Pittsburgh area on WPKV (98.3 Carnegie) and in Uniontown on translator W292DH (106.3), and it appears Air 1 via WYRA will also be available in Pittsburgh on translator W257CD (99.3).
Five Years Ago: October 6, 2008
*It was one tough week for the nation’s economy, and the effects of the sagging markets are being felt all over the radio dial – but nowhere more so, this week, than in eastern PENNSYLVANIA.
As we understand it, former WCOJ owner Lloyd Roach used the station as his investment when he formed the Route 81 group with two venture capital firms, only to end up losing that investment several years later during a complex legal dispute with his former partners. Then came a money crunch in July that found one of the venture capital firms, Waller Sutton, taking over operations of the Route 81 cluster after a foreclosure sale. (In the meantime, the company had downsized, selling off its stations in Utica, N.Y. and parts of its Scranton/Wilkes-Barre cluster.)
WCOJ’s new owner? Catholic broadcaster Holy Spirit Radio Foundation, which will return the station to the air Tuesday as a simulcast of its Bucks County signal, WISP (1570 Doylestown), with no local content.
*While the loss of WCOJ’s local programming is indeed unfortunate, it was far from a total surprise; Waller Sutton has made no secret of its intent to liquidate its Route 81 investment since foreclosing on the stations, and almost from the beginning, the Route 81 stations had been plagued with financial problems.
So it was somewhat more worrisome as news spread late last week about financial tremors at one of the region’s larger radio groups.
“Due to certain dislocations in the credit markets,” WFKB’s seller, Lancaster-based WDAC Radio Company told the Commission, Nassau has been unable to come up with financing to close the deal, and the purchase agreement between the two companies “has been terminated.”
For now, Nassau continues to LMA WFKB, which flipped from religious WBYN to classic hits “Frank” back in October 2005, when the LMA began. (The WBYN calls and format now reside on another Nassau signal, the former WYNS Lehighton on AM 1160.)
But the LMA ends November 30, and while WDAC Radio and Nassau have asked the FCC to extend its approval of the sale through December in case a new sale agreement can be struck, WDAC notes that it retains the right to assign the 107.5 license to “a third party” if it can strike a separate deal before the sale approval expires December 22.
And the potential loss of WFKB may not be the biggest worry at Nassau, we’re hearing. Will the credit crunch bring even bigger shakeups at the Princeton, N.J.-based group? Stay tuned…
Frattare moved up to the majors in 1976, replacing Milo Hamilton as lead radio broadcaster in 1980. In the last few seasons, the Pirates have been grooming Greg Brown to replace Frattare, and he’ll take over as lead play-by-play announcer on flagship WPGB (104.7) and the Bucs’ extensive network next season.
And we note the passing of a Keystone State broadcaster whose controversial actions provoked a lawsuit that will be studied by constitutional law scholars for many decades to come. The Rev. John Harden Norris owned a small empire of religious stations in Red Lion, near York – WGCB (1440), WGCB-FM (96.1), WGCB-TV (Channel 49) and shortwave station WINB.
At the time – the legal battle began in 1964 and the case wasn’t fully resolved until the early eighties – the FCC cited the scarcity of broadcast frequencies as the rationale for the Fairness Doctrine. As it turned out, Cook’s victory was something of a Pyrrhic one; the Fairness Doctrine was abolished in 1987.
Norris had founded WGCB(AM) with his father, the Rev. John M. Norris, in 1950, adding the FM signal in 1958, followed by WINB in 1962 and WGCB-TV in 1979. The radio stations were sold in the late nineties (they’re now in secular hands under Cumulus, as WGLD and WSOX-FM), but Norris remained president of WINB and WGCB-TV until his death last Sunday (Sept. 28). Norris was 88.
*The retransmission-consent fight between LIN Broadcasting and Time Warner Cable is taking place all over the country, but in our region the effects are being felt particularly strongly in western NEW YORK, where LIN’s CBS affiliate, WIVB (Channel 4) and its CW sister station, WNLO (Channel 23), disappeared from Time Warner’s systems last week, effectively taking the stations off the air for more than two-thirds of their potential viewers in the Buffalo TV market.
Did we mention CBS carried Sunday’s Bills game? While Time Warner was unable to bring the TV broadcast to its customers, it put the audio of the WGRF radio broadcast up on the channels where WIVB normally would appear – and had lines out the door at its West Seneca office for handouts of free antennas to pick up the WIVB signal over the air. (That stopgap solution would have worked just fine for the bulk of the market’s population, in Erie and Niagara counties, where WIVB’s analog and digital signals are strong – but the market extends far to the south, through the rugged terrain along the Pennsylvania border, where the over-the-air signals from Buffalo are nonexistent; another group of customers, in the counties east of Buffalo, still receive Rochester’s CBS affiliate, WROC, on their Time Warner systems.)
And there’s a new twist in what was otherwise becoming a familiar story – with the rapid rise of video streaming of network shows, Time Warner can now suggest to customers that they bypass the local affiliate entirely, watching CBS and CW programs at the networks’ websites. (Not to be outdone, WIVB and WNLO offered viewers special deals on Dish Network and DirecTV service, and noted that Verizon’s FiOS service is now available in parts of the Buffalo market as well.)
LIN’s other holdings in NERW-land were far less affected: there are no Time Warner systems in the coverage area of Providence’s WPRI/WNAC or New Haven’s WTNH/WCTX, while out in western Massachusetts, WWLP (Channel 22) from Springfield disappeared from the lineup of Time Warner systems at the fringe of its coverage area, in the Berkshires. Those customers still see NBC via Albany’s WNYT, and because Berkshire County belongs to the Albany market, WWLP wouldn’t be available via satellite, either.
*In Syracuse, Don Dolloff retires tomorrow from WCNY-FM (91.3), the public radio station where he’s worked since 1974. As program director, Dolloff oversaw the station’s 1979 shift from eclectic programming to all-classical, as well as the station’s expansion into Utica and Watertown. Dolloff was promoted to station manager in 2004 and to vice president of station operations in 2007. Dolloff has continued to host afternoon drive on WCNY-FM for all those years; now he’s heading to Pittsburgh, where his fiancee lives.
*A NEW JERSEY format change that we tipped you to first here in NERW back on Sept. has come to pass – WTAA (1490 Pleasantville) has dropped Air America talk in favor of the syndicated “Gran D” regional Mexican format from Bustos Media.
Up the shore, Chris Van Zandt and Jen Ursillo are the new morning team at WJRZ (100.1 Manahawkin), replacing Anita Bonita. Van Zandt moves to mornings from afternoons, with Spyder McGuire taking the 2-7 PM shift. Ursillo had been at WHTG-FM (106.3 Eatontown) until her morning show there was cancelled last year.
*A veteran New York talker is coming to the MASSACHUSETTS airwaves. Greater Media’s WTKK (96.9 Boston) has signed Curtis Sliwa to do a 10 PM-1 AM shift weeknights, starting last Wednesday. Sliwa was bumped from his longtime morning slot at New York’s WABC (770) when that station picked up Don Imus last year; he’s still heard on WABC from 5-6 AM and 10-11:45 AM, and he’s doing the Boston show via ISDN from a New York studio. At WTKK, Sliwa displaces Laura Ingraham, who’s now heard only in a weekend “best-of” slot.
*Regulators in CANADA have approved yet another AM-to-FM move – this time in Kitchener, Ontario. That’s where CTVglobemedia’s CKKW will give up its 10 kW fulltime signal on 1090 (and the huge piece of land that houses the nine-tower directional array) for a 5 kW directional signal on 99.5.
As we noted when the application was filed back in April, another broadcaster in the Kitchener-Waterloo market, CIKZ, already tried 99.5 a few years back, only to abandon the channel because of cross-border interference from co-channel WDCX in Buffalo. Will CKKW have any better luck? (And will its oldies format really survive the move to FM, as CTV claims in its application?)
This will be CKKW’s second frequency change in its half-century on the air, by the way – it moved from its original 1320 to 1090 in 1975.
In Quebec, Corus has been granted a move of its CFEL-FM (102.1 Montmagny) from its present site in L’Ange-Gardien to Quebec City, with a new studio location in Levis. The new 26.5 kW/157 m DA signal will be stronger over the provincial capital than CFEL’s current signal, which has already been through one upgrade to better target Quebec listeners.
It’s rare indeed to see a move-in like this north of the border, where the CRTC has traditionally barred broadcasters with what would be considered “rimshot” signals in the U.S. from moving closer to big markets.
And in New Brunswick, there’s a new signal on the air in Moncton: French-language CFBO (90.7) signed on as adult contemporary “BO-FM,” the first station based in the Dieppe area.
It’s a sister to Radio Beausejour’s other community station, CJSE (89.5) in nearby Shediac, which now plays a French-language country format.
Ten Years Ago: October 6, 2003
*Call it the “Lonsberry virus,” if you will – at least, that’s what one local radio wag of our acquaintance has dubbed the unfortunate propensity of late by talk-show hosts to make remarks with racial overtones in front of a live mike.
*The putative virus’ namesake, former WHAM (1180 Rochester) talk host Bob Lonsberry, is still awaiting word at press time about his future at his other job, morning host on KNRS (570) in Salt Lake City. (The latest update to KNRS’ Web site suggests that Lonsberry will be back on the air there soon; meanwhile, Lonsberry himself is telling visitors to his site that he expects to be back on the air in Rochester “after the first of the year.”)
*But even as the Lonsberry story continued to spark follow-up after follow-up in the Rochester media, WEEI (850 Boston) morning co-host John Dennis was trying to explain away a comment last Monday in which he joked that the gorilla who escaped from Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo was “a METCO gorilla waiting for the bus to take him to Lexington.” And since METCO is the urban-suburban school desegregation program, and the zoo is in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, the outcry was predictable. Dennis, a veteran Boston sportscaster who worked for 21 years at channel 7 before joining WEEI, apologized on the air Wednesday and was suspended for Friday’s and Monday’s show. WEEI says it will provide public service announcements for METCO and personally apologize to those who called and complained; several Boston city councilors and other political leaders are still calling on the station to fire Dennis.
*Univision Radio (the former Hispanic Broadcasting) is adding a third station to its NEW YORK lineup, paying The Morey Organization (aka Jarad Communications) $60 million for WLIR (92.7 Garden City). WLIR has long been the Morey group’s flagship, not to mention the only one of its four stations that can actually be heard at the group’s Nassau County studio location. With a transmitter site right on the Queens/Nassau line, WLIR has a following in the city as well as in Nassau, though its modern AC format no longer achieves anything like the ratings success or critical acclaim of WLIR’s long-gone New Wave days.
*The Morey folks say the WLIR calls and format will live on at another spot on the dial – but it’s not clear whether that means one of the group’s existing stations in the Hamptons (WDRE 98.5 Westhampton does active rock as “The Bone,” WXXP 105.3 Calverton-Roanoke is dance “Party 105.3” and WBON 107.1 Hampton Bays simulcasts WLIR) or a new acquisition. On the Univision side, it looks as though 92.7 may end up simulcasting Spanish hits “Latino Mix” WCAA (105.9 Newark NJ), whose signal into Nassau County and southern Connecticut is impaired by Long Island’s WBLI at 106.1. What becomes of WLIR’s proposed Manhattan booster on the Upper West Side? We don’t know yet…but we’ll keep you posted.
*In PENNSYLVANIA, Citadel is spinning off two more peripheral pieces of its Scranton/Wilkes-Barre cluster, selling WCWY (107.7 Tunkhannock) and WEMR (1460 Tunkhannock) to Ben Smith’s GEOS Communications for $515,000. The class A FM has been simulcasting soft AC WMGS (92.9 Scranton), while the 5000/1000 watt AM has been simulcasting country from WCWI (94.3 Carbondale), which Citadel is selling to the new Route 81 group. Smith and partner Kevin Fitzgerald have a growing cluster of stations in the Twin Tiers, including Binghamton’s oldies WCDW (100.5 Susquehanna PA), AC “Cozy” WQZI (103.9 Laporte PA), Elmira’s classic rock WMTT (94.7 Tioga PA) and new sign-on WPHD (96.1 South Waverly PA).
*Up in CANADA, the CRTC granted CHCD (106.7 Simcoe) a move to 98.9 and a power increase from 3.42 kW to 14.37 kW. The CRTC also granted CKWR (98.5 Waterloo) a power boost from 2.4 kW to 15.2 kW. Both moves are meant to alleviate interference from older FM allocations in Buffalo; CHCD has been plagued by adjacent-channel interference from WYRK (106.5 Buffalo) ever since it moved to FM from its old CHNR 1600 facility, while CKWR takes a beating from co-channel WKSE (98.5 Niagara Falls) as close in as Cambridge. (And does the CRTC learn? If it did, there wouldn’t be new stations in Kitchener-Waterloo primed to come on the air at 99.5, co-channel to 110 kW WDCX in Buffalo, and on 93.7, co-channel to WBLK in Depew.)
Fifteen Years Ago: October 9, 1998
*After months of rumors about a sale to CBS or Chancellor, Jacor was finally sold this week — to Clear Channel. The $4.4 billion dollar deal creates a broadcast giant with more than 450 radio stations around the country, plus television, billboards, and international operations. But for listeners and viewers in the NERW region, it’s likely to have little effect.
*Neither group has been a major player in most of NERW-land; Jacor’s only outlets in the area are its Rochester-area radio stations (news-talk WHAM 1180, talk-sports WHTK 1280, modern rock WNVE 95.1 S. Bristol/W238AB Rochester, hot AC WVOR 100.5, soft rock WISY 102.3 Canandaigua/WYSY 106.7 Irondequoit, and dance-CHR WMAX-FM 107.3 Honeoye Falls), while Clear Channel has TV in Albany (Fox WXXA 23) and radio in Springfield (news-talk WHYN 560, AC WHYN-FM 93.1, and newly-acquired talker WNNZ 640), New Haven (news-talk WELI 960, standards WAVZ 1300, and CHR WKCI 101.3 Hamden), and Providence (oldies WWBB 101.5 and classic rock WWRX 103.7 Westerly).
*Clear Channel says Jacor will continue to operate as a separate company under Randy Michaels, so little change is expected at the Rochester stations. (2008 note: What a change a decade can make!)
*On with the rest of this week’s news, beginning in MASSACHUSETTS, where one of the legends of Boston talk radio is going off the air. Jerry Williams helped create the genre in the sixties and seventies, rode it to unprecedented success at WRKO (680) in the eighties, and ended up relegated to weekend duty in the last few years. Entercom’s takeover of WRKO doesn’t come with Jerry — his contract is with prior owner ARS and didn’t get transferred with the station. Entercom’s now trying to find a way to get Williams back for a farewell show; it’s likely he’ll find another permanent home at a different station sometime soon.
*Two NEW HAMPSHIRE stations have new calls this week. 930 in Rochester and 1540 in Exeter have been simulcasting WGIR (610 Manchester) for a few weeks anyway, and now the former WZNN and WMYF have the new calls WGIN and WGIP, respectively, to match.
*There’s a format change underway in the Saratoga Springs, NEW YORK market. As we drove through on Monday, we heard the jocks on “The Jockey” (WJKE 101.3 Stillwater) saying their farewells. The station then went jockless, and is reappearing as “Star 101,” WQAR. PD Ken McGrail has found a new gig; he takes Don Matsen’s old job in the Portland market at oldies WYNZ (100.9 Westbrook ME). WQAR’s new owner is New York TV anchor Ernie Anastos.
*On the TV front, UPN added two low-power affiliates in upstate New York. WBGT-LP (Channel 40) brings the weblet to Rochester’s west side, while WVBG-LP (Channel 25) serves Albany, though we suspect most folks there will watch UPN on Boston’s WSBK via cable, if they watch it at all. Just across the border, Cornerstone’s Channel 36 is now serving Hamilton and Toronto with family-oriented programming; still no word on the actual call letters for the new UHF.
*And down in Pennsylvania, pioneering FM talker WWDB (96.5 Philadelphia) is finally adding AM; WWDB (860) is the former Spanish-language WTEL and will now be doing local talk to complement the national talkers (Dr. Laura, Rush, et al) on the FM side.