In this week’s issue… Station clusters expand in Elmira, Olean, Ithaca – Power boost for Pittsburgh’s jazz FM – “Lite” replaces rock in SW Ontario – AM frequency change in Rochester? – Public radio changes on Cape Cod
By SCOTT FYBUSH
A program note: while “Mrs. NERW” continues to recuperate from her surgery, we’re still a little short-handed in the administrative department. Thanks again for your patience with subscription inquiries and Fybush.com Store orders; we’re hoping to have her home from the hospital and once again ready to answer your queries in a few days. In the meantime, please contact me by e-mail if you’re having login problems, and I’ll do my best to help!
We’re also a little behind in newsgathering as a result; check back later this week, either Tuesday or Wednesday depending on circumstances, for a NERW Extra catching up on the most recent LPFM grants across the region.
*The big news on an otherwise slow week comes from the southern tier of upstate NEW YORK, where bankruptcies are yielding new owners – and new ownership consolidation – for stations in Elmira, Olean and Ithaca.
We’ll start with the Elmira and Olean stations, where Robert Pfuntner’s Pembrook Pines group has been in bankruptcy proceedings for a while now. Last October, NERW brought you news of a proposed sale of Pembrook’s stations in Bath (WVIN 98.3 and WABH 1380) and Elmira (WELM 1410, WEHH 1600, WLVY 94.3, WOKN 99.5) to Titan Radio, operated by former Elmira TV manager Randy Reid. But that $2.75 million deal never closed, and broker/bankruptcy trustee Dick Foreman had the stations back on the market in January.
Now there’s a new sale announced, though not yet filed with the FCC: the Elmira stations are now set to go to Great Radio LLC, while Pfuntner’s WOEN (1360) and WMXO (101.5) in Olean and WGGO (1590) and WQRS (98.3) in Salamanca will go to Sound Communications.
Great Radio is owned by Elmira-area broadcaster Bill Christian, whose holdings include Fox affiliate WYDC (Channel 48) and MyNetwork affiliate WMYH (Channel 6), Olean’s WVTT-CA (Channel 25), as well as WBGT-CA and WGCE-CA in Rochester; Sound Communications is owned by a trust controlled by Bettina Finn of Long Island. And here’s where it gets interesting: because Sound and Great Radio work closely together, the Elmira side of the deal appears to create quite a radio/TV cluster, at least in practice if not on FCC paperwork. (Bettina Finn’s husband, Brian, holds the debt for Bill Christian’s Vision group, while Christian’s wife, Paige, is Sound’s vice president.)
In addition to Christian’s WYDC/WMYH combo (held as “Vision Communications”), Sound Communications is just down the street in downtown Corning, where it already operates news-talk WENY (1230 Elmira)/WENI (1450 Corning), AC “Magic” WENY-FM (92.7 Elmira)/WENI-FM (97.7 Big Flats), classic hits WGMM (98.7 Corning) and country WKPQ (105.3 Hornell). (What’s more, Sound operates sports-talk WCBA 1350 Corning under an LMA from Vision.)
How closely will that big Sound cluster work with the soon-to-be Great Radio cluster, where WOKN competes against WKPQ in the country format (though their signals serve different parts of the sprawling Elmira-Corning market) and where WLVY’s top-40 format complements the softer AC sounds on “Magic” and “Gem”? We’ll be watching closely – and we’re sure they’ll be paying attention as well over at the competing clusters in town. The largest competitor is also under new ownership: Bruce Mittman and Jim Leven are just settling in over at Community Broadcasters, which picked up the two AMs and three FMs that had belonged to Backyard Broadcasters last fall. (That group includes some very direct competitors to the Pfuntner stations – Community’s country “Wolf” WPGI 100.9 and top-40 “Wink” WNKI 106.1; it also includes the direct competitors to WOEN/WMXO over in Olean.) In a market of fewer than 200,000 people, there’s also competition from Equinox Broadcasting’s WMTT/WPHD, as well as from smaller stations in Hornell and in Bath, where Pfuntner himself continues to control WABH and WVIN.
*Just up Route 13 in Ithaca, Saga Communications (doing business locally as Cayuga Radio Group) has been one of the region’s most aggressive buyers when it comes to consolidating in small local markets. Over the last decade or so, Saga has rolled up a cluster that includes nearly all the commercial outlets in Ithaca: news-talk WHCU (870), progressive talk WNYY (1470), AC WYXL (97.3), classic rock WIII (99.9 Cortland) and country WQNY (103.7), plus five translators in Ithaca carrying both AM formats, plus HD-fed top-40 and AAA formats. And as of Friday, Saga’s now added yet another full-power signal to the mix, as it closes on its purchase of top-40 WFIZ (95.5 Odessa) from ROI Broadcasting.
“Z95.5” was caught up in the bankruptcy of ROI principal George Kimble, who held 49% of WFIZ before a court ordered him to liquidate his interest in the station. Saga’s $715,000 stalking-horse bid won the auction – and a cunning piece of legal work won the company the ability to add a sixth full-power station and eighth program stream to its cluster. Because Ithaca isn’t rated by Nielsen Audio (which stopped rating the market after Saga stopped buying the book), the FCC applies its contour-overlap rules – and because a huge number of signals from outlying markets such as Elmira, Binghamton and Syracuse reach Ithaca, at least on paper, Saga was able to run up its ownership count in Ithaca, where the only commercial competition now comes from Todd Mallinson’s WPIE (1160 Trumansburg) and from WVBR (93.5), which is run by Cornell students.
And say this about Saga: it’s relentless in going after the competition. As our colleague Lance Venta revealed late last week on our sister site RadioInsight, Saga has registered a few new domains for Ithaca. While the “Z95.5” top-40 format will continue and the current airstaff will stay on with Saga, it appears that the classic hits format ROI has been running on translator W299BI (107.7), fed by WFIZ’s HD2, will be rebranded from “Classic Hits 107.7” to “Rewind 107.7.” Along with that registration comes another for “Buzzer 98.7,” which sure looks to us like a future all-sports transition for Saga’s translator W254BF (98.7), which has been between formats for a few months now. Will the “Buzzer” be aimed straight at Mallinson’s WPIE, which just recently added its own Ithaca FM translator to enhance its ESPN Radio coverage?
There are more translator shoes yet to drop, too: “Hits 103.3” (W277BS) was the HD-on-translator that Saga launched in 2008 as an attack on the then-new WFIZ. Now that WFIZ is friend rather than foe, 103.3 will get a new format to replace the satellite-fed top-40. And the ROI purchase comes with two more translators, W242AB (96.3 Ithaca), which had been simulcasting sister station WNYR (98.5 Waterloo) at the other end of Cayuga Lake but now becomes a WYXL translator under Saga, and W235BR (94.9), which fills in the 95.5 signal down into the city of Ithaca.
So that’s 14 signals in all that Saga will control (870, 1470, 94.9, 95.5, 95.9, 96.3, 96.7, 97.3, 97.7, 98.7, 99.9, 100.3, 103.7, 107.7) in a market that didn’t even have that many stations on the air just a decade ago. Nimble work by a broadcaster pushing the envelope of the ownership rules, or a monopoly that takes advantage of FCC regulations? That’s for the Commission, and the marketplace, to decide…
*Radio People on the Move: Entercom’s recently-launched “Alternative Buffalo” (WLKK 107.7 Wethersfield Township) adds its first air personality today with the arrival of Tiffany Bentley. Known just as “Bentley” on the air, the new 107.7 morning host comes aboard after spending some time out of radio writing for “Metal Insider”and HNGN.com and for the Express Times in Easton, PA. Her career has also included stops at “K-Rock” WKRL/WKRH in Syracuse and WDIY (88.1 Allentown) in Pennsylvania.
Here in Rochester, Alicia Pecorino moves down the hall at Stephens Media Group, shifting from middays at adult hits WFKL (Fickle 93.3) to PD of alt-rock WZNE (94.1 the Zone). She’s filling the position last occupied by Nik Rivers, who’s now the PD over at Alternative Buffalo, and she’ll also be doing middays on the Zone.
Brian McGlynn’s Genesee Media has some upgrade plans in the works for WASB (1590 Brockport), half of the pair of AM signals bracketing Rochester that Genesee bought last year for $450,000. Back in the early 1980s, WASB (then known as WJBT) traded its daytime-only signal on 1560 for a full-time slot on 1590, but with some big compromises: to squeeze a full-time kilowatt on to a crowded dial, the new 1590 had to add two more towers to its existing three-tower array, all to end up with a highly directional signal aimed westward away from Rochester out into sparsely-populated Orleans County and into Lake Ontario.
McGlynn hopes to fix that, at least a little, by sliding WASB one more notch up the dial to 1600, removing those two newer towers and rebuilding the rest of the decrepit array to put out 2300 watts by day, 11oo watts at night with a modified pattern that will cover a little more of Rochester’s western suburbs. To make it work, WASB tells the FCC that it would essentially swap out the co-channel interference WASB now delivers to WGGO in Salamanca for new co-channel interference to Elmira’s WEHH (which, ironically, itself moved from 1590 to 1600 a few years back).
*While we reported last week on McGlynn’s addition of Boston Red Sox games to WASB and sister station WRSB (1310 Canandaigua), there’s a new upstate addition to the Yankees’ network as well. Colonial’s WVTT (96.7 Portville) has picked up Yankees coverage for the Olean market for the 2014 season, and for 2015 and 2016 as well.
While Syracuse Community Radio awaits word on the status of its application for a new LPFM signal, it’s also pushing ahead on plans for a high-powered translator to better serve the city. W228CS (93.5 Hinsdale) holds a CP to operate with 250 watts from a site in Baldwinsville, northwest of Syracuse, but it’s now applying to go to a rooftop antenna atop a five-story building at Fayette and Geddes Streets on the west side of downtown Syracuse. The translator would relay WXXE (90.5 Fenner), the far-east-of-town rimshot that’s been serving as SCR’s makeshift primary signal while the group waited for the LPFM window and for processing of its decade-old translator application; if the LPFM does get granted and SCR surrenders the WXXE lcense, the translator would either relay the LPFM or be sold.
*Radio people on the move in NEW JERSEY: Corinne Kimball is inbound to WPST (94.5 Trenton) from WKHT in Knoxville to handle middays. She replaces Toni Ryan, who becomes “Digital Design Manager” for Connoisseur’s stations in Trenton and Allentown-Easton and will continue to do weekends and some fill-in shifts on WPST. Down the road at Burlington County College, Brett Holcomb is departing WBZC (88.9 Pemberton) after eight years as PD/operations manager. He’s heading to Florida and is looking for new work there now that his wife has taken a job with the University of Florida.
While some trade publications were making a big deal out of the “news” last week that KJWP (Channel 2) in the Philadelphia market had signed on with MeTV as an affiliate, NERW readers have known for weeks that the Chicago-based retro network’s programming was already up and running on channel 2. What was actually news last week, sort of, was the official announcement of MeTV affiliation for KJWP’s yet-to-debut sister station, KVNV (Channel 3), which will sign on sometime this spring after completing its “move” from Ely, Nevada to Middletown Township, NJ. (With, of course, a transmitter site on Four Times Square in Manhattan.)
KJWP’s official launch, meanwhile, will take place March 1, and we expect some news before then about subchannels on channel 2 – and possibly channel 3 as well.
*We’ve been a little dubious of some of Best Media’s translator plans since they were first filed more than a decade ago, claiming “over-the-air” reception of distant signals from Georgia and then Texas. The FCC granted two Best translators last week, now proposing more reasonable primaries: W264CW (100.7 Roosevelt NJ) will relay Bridgelight’s WRDR (89.7 Freehold Township), while W271CH (102.1) in Bridgeport, CONNECTICUT will relay WMRQ (104.1 Waterbury), which we suspect actually means the Spanish-language “La Bomba” HD subchannel heard all over the state on translators.
*Our big PENNSYLVANIA story for the week actually comes from just over the state line in West Virginia, where Pittsburgh Public Media has taken the first step in growing its new WYZR (88.1 Bethany) into a bigger voice to reach more of the area that PPM’s principals used to serve when they worked for the former WDUQ (90.5 Pittsburgh, now WESA). When PPM took over the former WVBC on 88.1, it ran 1100 watts/410′, non-directional, but it’s now filed to go to 10 kW/410′ from a directional antenna aimed northeast, strengthening the WYZR signal into Pittsburgh’s western suburbs.
At the other end of the state, Havertown High School’s venerable student-run station, WHHS (99.9), is showing off its new studio digs. Thanks to a $10,000 donation from Kal and Lucille Rudman, WHHS now has renovated studios, a pair of new consoles and automation to keep the class D signal on the air 24 hours a day.
New translators: in Laureldale, Clear Channel has been granted W222BY (92.3), relaying WLAN-FM (96.9 Lancaster) into Reading.
*In MASSACHUSETTS, WGBH-owned public station WCAI (90.1 Woods Hole) is celebrating the completion of its power increase. It’s powered up from 1300 watts (vertical-only) to 12.5 kW from the WBUA (92.7) tower in Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, improving its coverage of the lower Cape.
Meanwhile, WBUA’s former sister station on the mid-Cape, WBUR (1240 West Yarmouth), has exited its longtime simulcast with WBUR-FM (90.9) in Boston. The 1000-watt AM signal has changed hands to Alex Langer and changed calls to WBAS, and it’s now running the temporary jazz format that Langer and engineer Rob Landry were running on another recent Langer acquisition. WZBR (1410 Dedham) is now simulcasting Portuguese-language programming from WSRO (650 Ashland).
Out in western Massachusetts, Rob Poulin is out and Bryan Slater is in as morning host on WBEC-FM (95.9 Pittsfield); Slater, PD at “Live 95.9,” had been doing afternoons before joining Megan Duley in mornings.
*In RHODE ISLAND, Chris Tyler is out as VP/programming at Clear Channel Providence, where he was also PD of rocker WHJY (94.1). Tyler is off to Clear Channel in Cleveland to become PD of three stations there, including legendary rocker WMMS (100.7). Once Tyler starts in Cleveland in two weeks, he’ll replace Bo Matthews, who took a transfer down I-71 to Clear Channel in Cincinnati.
*Congratulations (and a heck of a moving truck) are in order for VERMONT Public Radio’s Rich Parker, who’s pulling up stakes after a long run as the network’s director of engineering. Seventeen years after arriving in Colchester from his previous gig in Philadelphia, Parker is getting ready to move all the way to Juneau, Alaska, where he’ll take a similar position with the “CoastAlaska” public broadcasting group. Rich oversaw a big expansion of VPR’s services, taking the network from a single stream of programming on half a dozen transmitters to three program streams over dozens of full-power stations and translators in Vermont and adjacent parts of northern New York (and by way of disclaimer, Fybush Media was proud to have assisted in some of that expansion.)
*In southwest ONTARIO, Blackburn Radio made a surprise format change on Thursday at CKUE (95.1 Chatham-Kent) and CKUE-FM-1 (100.7 Windsor), dumping “Rock 95.1 and 100.7” in favor of soft AC as “Lite FM.” Gary Evans, formerly of sister station CJWF (95.9 Windsor), takes over as PD and morning man, with George Brooks of sister station CKSY (94.3 Chatham-Kent) handling afternoons.
North of Toronto, ethnic CJVF in Scarborough can get back on the air: the CRTC has approved its urgent request for temporary authority to resume broadcasting with 6.5 watts at 102.7 on the dial after its former spot at 105.9 was taken by higher-powered CFMS late last year. CJVF’s request for permanent authority at higher power on 102.7 remains pending.
New callsigns for two new 99.3 signals in Ontario: up in Meaford, Evanov’s new “Apple” will be CJGB, while the new community station in Prince Edward County will be CJPE.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick, the CRTC has approved a power increase for religious CIXN (96.5), bumping “Joy 96.5” up from 27 to 250 watts and changing its status from unprotected low-power to protected Class A1. Another local low-power FM, Ross Ingram’s CJRI (104.5), wasn’t so lucky: the gospel station was again denied a move to 95.1 and an increase to 1500 watts from its present 50 watts. In addition to being out of compliance with annual reporting requirements, the CRTC says CJRI didn’t make a compelling business case to justify the power boost.
Over in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, CJFX (98.9 XFM) is on the move. Atlantic Broadcasters says it’s getting ready to leave the old house on Kirk Street where the station has been located for decades, moving to a newer commercial property on Lochaber Road.
And in Ottawa, the Senators have signed a 12-year deal with Bell Media that will keep the hockey team’s TV games on TSN and RDS and radio broadcasts on CFGO (TSN Radio 1200) through the 2025-2026 season.
The 2014 Tower Site Calendar is ready to send for YOU (or someone else), spiral bound, shrink wrapped and best of all, with a convenient hole for hanging!
This year’s pinups include the iconic towers of Catalina Island, a combiner system in St. Louis, the twin towers of KNRS in Salt Lake City, a historic rooftop site in Jamestown, New York and many more!
Click here to order your 2014 calendar! We’re still shipping several times weekly, so you can have your calendar before much of January has gone by…