In this week’s issue… First LPFM applicant hits air – WBUR adds new Cape signal – Whither Scott Shannon and WOR? – Classical stations cut back – NJ aux tower survives NIMBY onslaught – Veteran PA host dies
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*How fast can a low-power FM station hit the air after getting its construction permit granted? In MASSACHUSETTS, the answer appears to be “wicked fast,” at least if the station in question is WXBJ-LP (94.9 Salisbury). “Good Neighbor Station, Inc.” filed its application on November 12, 2013, had the application accepted for filing on November 25, was granted its CP on February 3, and on Saturday afternoon at 3 the new station hit the airwaves along the New Hampshire border.
WXBJ isn’t quite the first station to hit the air from the 2013 LPFM window – that honor appears to belong to a station in Utah – but it’s certainly the first in NERW-land to begin broadcasting. Its filing with the FCC says the new station will focus on issues affecting local senior citizens, and so far there’s only a makeshift website providing a live stream of the new station.
*While WXBJ-LP jumped from application to on-air license in just a few months, a full-power CP on Cape Cod is being sold with just a few weeks left before its permit expires. Home Improvement Ministries applied for 89.1 in Brewster in the 2007 window for non-commercial FM applicants and was granted its permit on April 14, 2011. If the station doesn’t get on the air by April 14, 2014, its permit will expire – and that’s why Home Improvement just sold the permit to Boston University’s WBUR (90.9 Boston) for just $7500.
WBUR has a project ahead of it: instead of the planned 23 kW/285′ signal (which would actually have been on the Outer Cape, on a new tower near the Eastham-Wellfleet line), it will soon be applying for a more minimal facility to get the signal on the air ahead of the deadline. If it can get its new station built, the new 89.1 will join WBUR’s existing relays on the Cape, WBUA (92.7 Tisbury) from Martha’s Vineyard, serving the lower Cape, and WCCT (90.3 Harwich), the Cape Cod Tech station that carries most of WBUR’s schedule to the mid-Cape.
While we’re out on the Cape, we note that CodComm has been doing some tweaking at its adult hits “Frank” (WFRQ 93.5 Dennis), adding a lineup of personalities to a station that’s been jockless since its debut back in 2006. Jenn Kennedy moves from weekends on sister station WPXC (102.9) to mornings on “93.5 Frank,” followed by the veteran talent Bumper Morgan in middays and Janet Birchfield in afternoons. Frank carries the syndicated John Tesh in evenings.
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: February 25, 2013
*Once you’ve launched the first country format on a full-market NEW YORK signal in almost two decades, how do you follow up your initial splash? If you’re Cumulus’ WNSH (94.7 Newark NJ), you give away enough tickets to pack the Roseland Ballroom for three nights of the “NASH Bash” with headliners including Kix Brooks, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton and Sara Evans – and then as soon as that’s over, you announce the first pieces of your inaugural airstaff.
As seems to be typical these days, “Nash” isn’t naming a morning show right away, instead launching with a midday and afternoon show, drawing from two very different sources of talent.
For middays, WNSH has picked a jock from outside the company with plenty of country experience. Kelly Ford signs on today in the 10 AM-3 PM slot, fresh from a speedy cross-country move that plucked her from Denver, where she’d spent 20 years in morning drive at Lincoln Financial Media country powerhouse KYGO-FM (98.5). Ford left KYGO last summer in what she described as a “mutual decision.”
She’ll be followed at 3 by Jesse Addy, who moves within Cumulus but outside the format where he’s been working: Addy comes to New York from hot AC WDVD (96.3) in Detroit, where he was doing afternoons.
*Around this time last year, we reported on the pending sale of a pair of MAINE TV stations for what appeared to be absurdly low prices. In the end, New Age Media was unable to close on its attempted sale of Portland’s CW affiliate, WPXT (Channel 51) and its MyNetworkTV sister station, Lewiston-licensed WPME (Channel 35), but now it’s back with a new deal for 2013. Last year, it looked as though New Age was selling WPXT to Tyche Broadcasting, while sister company MPS Media was selling WPME to Triumph Broadcasting, both for $75,000 each.
That seemed like quite the bargain price at the time, and the deals filed last week for WPXT and WPME tell a somewhat different tale: New Age now proposes to sell WPXT to Arizona-based Ironwood Communications for $1,525,000 – still a low price for a station that was once Portland’s Fox affiliate, but at least a reasonable figure – while WPME would go from MPS Media to Cottonwood Communications for just $75.000. That low price reflects what Cottonwood is really buying, which amounts to the WPME license and programming. Just as MPS has done, Cottonwood will enter into a deal with WPXT under which Ironwood will operate the My affiliate, selling air time and providing operational services for WPME for a fee of $30,000 a month. But wait, there’s more: the deal also includes a spinoff of WPXT’s real estate in Westbrook, for which Ironwood will assign purchase rights to Admiralty Properties, LLC for $1.3 million.
*We’ve seen a slew of small AM stations leave the air in recent years in southwest PENNSYLVANIA, and now another one is fighting for its life. WAVL (910 Apollo) has struggled to find a niche for itself in the shadow of bigger AM signals from nearby Pittsburgh. After failing to make a go of it with a religious format, owner Evangel Heights Church flipped WAVL to conservative talk, but church officials tell the Valley News Dispatch that the format isn’t paying its way and that they may take WAVL silent as early as the end of this week while they figure out what to do next.
That could take the form of an LMA, or it could mean the sale of the station. For now, at least, the church says it doesn’t plan give up the WAVL license completely, saving it from the fate of other regional AMs in Connellsville, Brownsville, Charleroi and Oil City that have given up the ghost in recent years.
CKOT in 1999
*It’s the end of an era in CANADA, even if nobody much noticed: last Sunday (February 17) was the end of the line for CKOT (1510 Tillsonburg ON). Tillsonburg Broadcasting put the station on the air in 1955 as a 250-watt daytimer, and it signed the station off 58 years later as a 10,000-watt daytimer, the very last daytime-only AM operation in all of Canada.
In 1965, CKOT spawned an FM sister, CKOT-FM (initially on 100.5 and later on 101.3), and the two simulcast for a few years before the FM went its own way in 1970. The AM side of CKOT tried several times to move to better AM frequencies (including 1600, which instead went to CHNR in nearby Simcoe, and later 1200) and to move to FM, but without success until 2007. That’s when Tillsonburg Broadcasting was finally granted a second FM signal, CJDL (107.3) – and since then, CKOT’s AM side has functioned only as a sunrise-to-sunset relay of “Country 107.3.”
CKOT/CJDL president John Lamers, a descendant of the station’s founder, told Milkman UnLimited that the AM signal was expensive to run and required pricey repairs – “and since it was being operated only as a repeater, generating no income, the decision was made to shut it down.”
Five Years Ago: February 23, 2009
Once again this week – and, we hope, for the last time until June – we lead off the column with a region-wide roundup of the latest on the digital TV transition, at the end of yet another tumultous week for the TV industry and the regulators who oversee it.
In much of the region, of course, the long-publicized February 17 transition date passed without any incident. For the most part, stations in the biggest markets – New York City, Boston and Philadelphia among them – followed the lead of the network owned-and-operated station groups, agreeing to postpone the shutoff of their analog signals until the new drop-dead date of June 12. In others – Providence, Scranton and Burlington, as well as Springfield, where most of the market had already transitioned – stations reached market-wide agreements to end digital service on the original date…or so they thought.
With just days to go, though, the government showed up, and it was most definitely “here to help.” Even as NERW was compiling our lists last week of which stations were going and which were staying put, the FCC was combing its own lists to make sure that even in the markets where everyone was pulling the plug on analog, at least one of the big four network affiliates would keep an analog signal on the air as an “enhanced nightlight,” carrying local newscasts along with DTV transition information and any emergency information that might need to be broadcast.
But from the way things played out in Scranton, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Commission had outsourced management of the project to Michael Scott over at Dunder-Mifflin Paper – and that he’d passed the buck over to Dwight Schrute to handle the details. As late as midday Tuesday, the FCC appeared to be prepared to allow every station except ion Media’s WQPX (Channel 64) in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton DMA to switch off its analog signal, and one of those stations – Local TV LLC’s ABC affiliate, WNEP (Channel 16) – wasted no time, pulling the plug at 12:30 PM at the conclusion of its noon newscast. In the meantime, though, FCC representatives had arrived in the market, and they quickly figured out what we’d already reported on Sunday night: that while Fox affiliate WOLF-TV (Channel 56) was shown in the FCC’s latest lists as retaining analog service until June, the station had actually ended its analog operations – with the Commission’s blessings – back in January.
Our MASSACHUSETTS news this week begins on Cape Cod, where the Boston-based WEEI sports network almost landed a full-time affiliate back in 2007, when Nassau’s WPXC (102.9 Hyannis) was poised to dump its rock format. But the Nassau/WEEI regional deal fell apart at the end of 2007, and since then Cape listeners (including the late “Butch from the Cape,” one of WEEI’s most legendary callers) have had to tune in to more distant signals – WEEI’s main AM home on 850 from Boston, or WEEI-FM on 103.7 from Rhode Island – to hear New England sports talk. That will change in April, when Qantum Communications flips WRZE (96.3 Dennis) from its longtime top-40 format (as “The Rose”) to a full-time WEEI simulcast, under new calls WEII. The move became possible last year, when WRZE relocated its transmitter from Nantucket to the Cape Cod mainland, downgrading from class B to class B1 (25 kW/297′), but improving its signal strength over most of the Cape’s population. And there’s no issue with Red Sox rights: they’ve been in Qantum’s hands on the Cape for many years anyway, on its news-talker WXTK (95.1 West Yarmouth).
Back in November, when Costa-Eagle paid $65,000 to buy translator W275BH (102.9 Newton, NEW HAMPSHIRE), we suspected that a move southward across the state line would be in the offing – and sure enough, it was. W275BH’s moves are a great case study in how the translator game is played these days, and here’s how they were carried out:
First, Costa-Eagle found a friendly station to agree to be the nominal primary for its translator, in the form of WXRV (92.5 Andover). Then it took advantage of a quirk in the FCC rules that allows translators to move to frequencies 10.6 or 10.8 MHz away from their current channels as “minor changes,” applying to move W275BH to 92.1, where it was granted (still licensed to Newton, NH) as W221CH. The next step was to move the new W221CH to a new location – in this case, one with at least minimal overlap to the initial Newton facility’s contours, and one that would meet the relatively loose criteria for second-adjacent interference to WXRV. What site met those criteria? None other than the tower on Chandler Road in Andover that happens to be home to Costa-Eagle’s own WNNW (800 Lawrence). With that construction permit granted (on Feb. 2), tower crews were on scene last week installing two Nicom antennas on the WNNW tower (in the aperture long occupied by the old WCGY 93.7), and the new W221CH was even heard testing, briefly.
But wait a second – what, exactly, does Costa-Eagle have to gain by putting a translator on the air for WXRV, well within that station’s local signal area? Nothing of course, and that’s the one shoe remaining to drop in this whole scenario: the other application Costa-Eagle filed on Feb. 2, for special temporary authority to relay WNNW (instead of licensed primary WXRV) over W221CH, thus overcoming AM 800’s long handicap of minimal night service to much of the Merrimack Valley.
Ten Years Ago: February 23, 2004
The sell-off of Vox’s properties around the Northeast continued last week, as Bruce Danziger and Jeff Shapiro’s group filed to sell most of its stations in Glens Falls, NEW YORK to Jim Morrell’s Pamal group. Even as Vox has been selling off many of its stations in the region (the Pioneer Valley to Saga, Concord to Nassau), Pamal has been busy expanding, adding stations in Springfield and Westchester – and now, for $2.5 million, Vox’s sports WMML (1230 Glens Falls), standards WENU (1410 South Glens Falls)/WENU-FM (101.7 Hudson Falls) and country WFFG (107.1 Corinth). Those are four of the six stations Vox bought when it created the cluster back in 2000 – WMML, WFFG (then WHTR) and WZZM (93.5 Corinth, now WEGQ 93.7 Scotia) from Starview Media and WENU (then WBZA), WENU-FM and WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) from Bradmark. Vox sold off WZZM to Galaxy once it had moved it south to the Albany market, and a move to Albany is also in store for the one remaining station in Vox’s Glens Falls arsenal. In fact, the application to move WNYQ south was also filed this week – it’ll be licensed to Malta, in southern Saratoga County, and will run 4800 watts at 112 meters from the same tower just north of Schenectady that’s already home to WDCD (96.7 Clifton Park), WKKF (102.3 Ballston Spa) and WABT (104.5 Mechanicville). (With a big cluster already in place in Albany, including the maximum of five FM signals and WROW 590, there’s no way Pamal could add the relocated WNYQ to its stable, which explains its absence from the deal.)
Meanwhile up in Glens Falls, Pamal will add its four new purchases to its existing station in the region, modern AC WKBE (100.3 Warrensburg) – and the whole market will be down to just two players, Pamal and Entertronics (WWSC 1450 Glens Falls, WCQL 95.9 Queensbury and WCKM 98.5 Lake George).
Things were hopping in central PENNSYLVANIA last week, at least, as Harrisburg listeners said goodbye to “Cat Country” WCAT-FM (106.7 Hershey) – and, after several long days of a loop of “Pop Goes the Weasel”, said hello to something called “Cool Pop” under the calls WCPP. What’s a “Cool Pop”? Like “Jack” up in Canada – or the late “Blink” in New York, for that matter – it’s hard to pin down to a traditional format label. We’ve heard it described as everything from hot AC to top 40/pop, and it sounds to us (based on the playlists we’ve seen) like a cross between the two, apparently with a healthy Blink-like dose of celebrity news and gossip to be mixed in. The only air talent on board so far are former Cat morning team Michelle Cruz and Dennis Mitchell (“Michelle and Mitchell”); at the helm of programming is Claudine DeLorenzo, who’s been promoted from PD of sister stations WQXA-FM and WRKZ to director of programming for the entire Citadel/Harrisburg cluster.
In NEW HAMPSHIRE, a legal LPFM is about to hit the airwaves. February 29 is the target sign-on date for WCNH-LP (94.7 Concord), which will program classical music for the Granite State’s capital city under the leadership of Harry Kozlowski, former PD at WJYY/WNHI across town. (Speaking of those stations, we can now put a price tag on Vox’s sale to Nassau – it’ll get $9 million for WJYY, WNHI and WOTX.)
It’s been a confusing week for staffers and viewers of Boston’s WCVB (Channel 5). Last Friday (Feb. 12), the station announced that longtime anchor/reporter Susan Wornick was out of her job, the result of an unresolved contract dispute. Station management didn’t anticipate the result — a series of articles in the local newspapers criticizing WCVB for letting Wornick go, a flood of phone calls, and pressure from upper management at Hearst-Argyle (according to the Herald) to get Wornick back on the air. The rest of the story? By midweek, Wornick had reached a contract settlement, as well as delivering herself of a news release saying the decision to leave — and to return — had been hers. NERW sees the times changing at channel 5, anyway; our trip to Western Massachusetts earlier this week (about which more later) gave us the chance to see WCVB on cable, and we were sorry to see the “mayhem and violence factor” in abundance on a station that once shunned such a focus for its newscasts. (Thanks, WHDH!)
In other MASSACHUSETTS news on this relatively quiet week, Southbridge’s 100.1 returned to the airwaves with a new format, ending its stunting by becoming “Worcester’s Classic Hits, 100.1 the Fox,” with new WWFX call letters reportedly being requested to replace WQVR. It’s Worcester’s second classic rocker, aimed straight at WORC-FM (98.9 Webster, to be Spencer, “The Bus”). While we’re in Worcester, we note that Greater Media is exiting the cable business there and in Springfield, selling its systems to Charter Communications.
One of CONNECTICUT’s minor-league baseball teams will be on the radio in 1999, after all. The future of New Britain Rock Cats broadcasts was a bit uncertain after flagship WNTY (990 Southington) was sold to ADD Media, but here comes WPRX (1120 Bristol) to the rescue, agreeing to carry all 142 games this year. And while WPRX is a Spanish-language station most of the day, the play-by-play will be in English — with broadcasters running English ads during the game and Spanish ads and promos before and after. Some games will also be heard on Hartford sat-caster WPOP (1410).
NEW YORK is about to get adult standards back in its biggest market. Arthur Liu’s WNJR (1430 Newark) has hired Russ Knight as PD and morning drive, and will begin running the format from 6AM until 7PM on April 1 (gee, we hope this isn’t an April Fools’ joke!), with plans in the works to run 24 hours eventually. Liu also reportedly hopes to move the transmitter from its current site along the Garden State Parkway in Union to the site of co-owned WPAT (930 Paterson) a bit further north, and to change the calls eventually (the first time since the current New Jersey-based 1430 replaced WBYN Brooklyn back in 1947!). Liu also owns Korean WZRC (1480) and Spanish WKDM (1380) in New York…and as long as we’re thinking of WKDM, we’ll note that the 1660 in Elizabeth NJ, which shares the WKDM towers along Paterson Plank Road by day, has changed calls from WBAH to WWRU.
No “Hockey Night in Canada”? And on the night the new arena in Toronto opens for the first time? Unthinkable (well, it is if you’re Canadian, trust us) — yet that’s just what’s happening as a result of the strike by CBC engineers across the country (except in Quebec and Moncton, New Brunswick). The strike has disrupted most of the programming on the English network, forcing most of its TV stations off the air at 11PM, when the late local news would normally be airing. Other news broadcasts have been replaced with repeats of entertainment shows or stripped-down newscasts produced by management staff. There’s no local or regional news on TV for the moment.
On the radio side, the Toronto Star reports that CBL/CBLA (740/99.1)’s “Metro Morning” had a substitute host Thursday after Andy Barrie refused to cross the engineers’ picket lines. Other CBC shows either offered repeat segments (“This Morning”) or were cancelled (“Richardson’s Roundup,” “Ontario Today.”) And the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto, normally accessible to the public, is off-limits for the moment; its atrium shops and studio windows are closed and even CBC staffers have to sign in at the door, according to the Star. The latest scheduled posted at the CBC Web site shows temporary national shows called “Canada Today” (noon-2PM) and “All in a Day” (4-6PM, and presumably a relay of the Montreal afternoon show on CBM) replacing the local/regional programs in those slots; we’ll tune in Monday and check things out…