In this week’s issue… Cornell’s WVBR dedicates new studios – Salk out at WEEI – Noncomm group challenges MA station to share time – New Upper Valley AAA – Frequency change in NYC?
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s easy to be down on radio these days. Voicetracking here, layoffs there, competition from streaming audio all over the place. There are entire trade newsletters, it seems, devoting themselves to doom-and-gloom pronouncements about the death of the medium we all love (or at least once loved.)
This week, at least, this trade publication isn’t one of those. It’s not just that a story about a radio station is the top trending item on all of Facebook as we write this on Sunday night. (That would be Univision’s KVVF/KVVZ in San Jose, where a simple stunt that’s looping Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” has the whole Bay Area chattering; more on that over at RadioInsight if you’re interested.)
What has us especially excited at the moment, though, is the time we spent over the weekend at WVBR (93.5), the commercial rock station in Ithaca, NEW YORK that’s run by Cornell University students and owned by the nonprofit Cornell Media Guild.
For 14 years now, ever since its longtime home on Linden Avenue in the Collegetown neighborhood was condemned by the city, WVBR has been squatting in “temporary” quarters lovingly known as the “Cow Palace,” sharing a cramped office building with the New York Holstein Association. Not only were those Mitchell Street digs too small and poorly laid out (business office and air studio upstairs, production room and record library down a steep flight of stairs in the basement), they were also in a semi-rural area a couple of miles away from a campus where few students own a car. Ever-creative, the WVBR business office worked out a trade with a local taxi company to haul student DJs back and forth from campus, but the Cow Palace just wasn’t a space amenable to the usual camaraderie of college radio, even so.
But here’s the thing about the Cornell Radio Guild: its board is made up of alumni, and because Cornell’s not really a broadcasting school (that would be crosstown Ithaca College), many of its alumni have a way of going into better-paying fields than radio. (Many of WVBR’s alumni do make it into broadcasting, too, in fairness, with a particular geographic clustering in and around New York City.) So when some of those alumni started working with WVBR’s current students on a capital campaign to move the station back to Collegetown, the results were little short of spectacular.
Some of the credit, of course, belongs to one particular WVBR alumnus who both went into radio (and then TV) and actually made it big. That would be Keith Olbermann ’79, who came through with the big check that bought a former campus ministry building, an old house at the edge of Collegetown that was formally dedicated Saturday as the “Olbermann-Corneliess Studio.”
We’ll feature the entire facility soon in a Site of the Week segment, but suffice it to say it’s a mammoth improvement over the old Cow Palace. Six studios, including a big new air studio and several production rooms, are outfitted with state-of-the-art Axia digital consoles and networking. There’s a big lounge area upstairs, doubling as a record library and newsroom, and it connects to a new studio for the “CornellRadio.com” freeform stream on one side and a production area on the other. Back downstairs, the huge two-story room that might once have been a chapel is now “Studio A,” lined with WVBR’s vinyl collection on two sides and a production area on the third that can control live performances or meetings in this space.
On Friday, WVBR’s engineering team (including student chief engineer Kevin Boyle and contract engineer Mark Humphrey) worked up to the last minute to get the new studio ready for the handoff from Mitchell Street. It was a group of alumni who got the honor of playing the first song from the new digs, and their pick was perfect: CSNY’s “Our House,” followed by a student selection, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” picked by incoming WVBR GM Matt Harkins)
Saturday morning brought the start of WVBR’s annual symposium, connecting current students with alumni who can talk about the state of the industry today. (How many college stations do something like that – and how many of them should?) And then, at noontime, everyone gathered at the new building for the big event. Studio A was lined wall-to-wall with alumni, current students and Cornell VIPs, while an even bigger crowd listened from adjoining rooms and just outside on the pleasant shaded porch that looks out on Collegetown’s brick-paved streets. Amidst a group that included such well-known WVBR alumni as CNBC radio anchor Peter Schacknow (the chair of the capital campaign) and his wife Peri, as well as Coleman Insights head Warren Kurtzman and other alumni going right back to the start of WVBR on FM in 1958, about the only prominent name missing was Olbermann himself. A bad case of shingles forced him to stay home in New York and appear by telephone at the opening ceremony for the new studios. (“All these years later and I’m still doing phoners for ‘VBR,” Olbermann cracked as Schacknow put his phone call on the speakers in the room.)
It was an emotional ceremony, in no small part because the new building’s namesakes weren’t able to be there. The “Olbermann” in the name isn’t Keith but his father, Ted, who died in 2010; the “Corneliess” is Keith’s classmate Glenn Corneliess, who was WVBR’s program director in the late 1970s when it rounded the corner from progressive freeform to album rock and who died in 1996 at age 39, leaving three young children. Two of them were on hand for the ceremony, as was Corneliess’ widow, Kathy, who spoke of her husband’s passionate love of radio from childhood. By phone, Olbermann shared more stories of Corneliess and of his father; he also explained that the order of the names has less to do with ego and more to do with his desire to ensure “that nobody ever thinks there was once a man named Corneliess Olbermann.”
(Watch a video of Olbermann’s address to the crowd, below)
As of Sunday, the capital campaign still had some work to do: of a $935,000 goal, it’s raised just under $687,000 from 273 donors. But the takeaway here is less about money than about enthusiasm: for all the passion WVBR’s alumni brought to bear on the project (including many who returned to do “alumni takeover” shows on the 93.5 airwaves while in town), the people who made all the work happen locally were current WVBR students.
It’s a pleasure, then, to be able to report that today’s WVBR student staff and management, led by president Drew Endick ’14, is every bit as enthusiastic about good old college radio as so many of us were decades ago. True, the former “Cornell Radio Guild” has morphed into today’s “Cornell Media Guild,” charged not only with broadcasting but with streaming, podcasting and producing video – but the impressive crew of neatly-dressed students who guided visitors around their new digs at 604 East Buffalo Street had no lack of enthusiasm for the continued potential of the radio medium.
Here’s hoping they’re not alone, and that they have many good years ahead in their new digs. (And, perhaps, that you can now start your week just a little more upbeat about the future of radio!)
*Back to the world of big-ticket radio: In New York City, Ebro Darden is just two weeks away from reality-TV stardom, with the debut of VH1’s new show about his station, WQHT (Hot 97). But with all his responsibilities as morning host at the Emmis station, Darden is giving up his duties as PD. That means a search is underway for that prominent post. Whoever gets the job will be working with Hot’s new management team, led by former YMF market chief Deon Levingston, who’s now overseeing the merged Emmis/YMF cluster in New York.
Who’s overseeing WBAI (99.5) parent Pacifica? Not Summer Reese – after five troubled months at the helm of the national Pacifica Foundation, Reese was ousted last week by board members amidst the usual internal squabbles that have become, sadly, entirely par for the course at Pacifica. Reese’s dismissal as executive director came in a conference call, with no indication of what will become of the three-year contract she signed in November or the more than $300,000 she’s apparently still owed. Locally in New York, WBAI says it’s now fulfilled its commitment to make severance payments to the 19 employees who were let go as the station tried to balance its books last year.
Reese’s ouster isn’t going to help Pacifica make its case for the kind of funding it needs (from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and elsewhere) to stabilize not only WBAI but also Washington’s WPFW and Los Angeles’ KPFK. Reese, for her part, tells the Times, “A unique, progressive and radical outlet for information is being undermined and damaged by people who are making decisions for its destruction without any legitimate reason or stated purpose,” which sounds like a decent one-sentence summary of the last couple of decades at WBAI and Pacifica at this point.
*After vacating its expensive rented studio space on Wall Street last year, WBAI took up temporary residence way uptown at City College of New York in Harlem, borrowing studios from WHCR (90.3). That little station may soon be on the move itself, if it gets its way – not physically, but a few notches up the dial. After squeezing its way on to the dial in the early 1980s as one of the last new class D signals ever licensed, WHCR has been beset by incoming interference from other co-channel stations, most notably WHPC (90.3 Garden City) from Nassau Community College.
Now the 8-watt signal is applying to move to [private]91.9, making the case to the FCC that it can operate there without any interference to second-adjacent neighbors WNYE (91.5) and WNOW-FM (92.3), transmitting from downtown at 4 Times Square and the Empire State Building, respectively. The minor-change application, prepared by consultant Charlie Hecht, says WHCR has suffered from interference as close as 1 kilometer to its tower (on the City College campus east of Amsterdam Avenue and north of 135th Street); moving to the less-congested 91.9 channel will, he says, provide a quieter environment in which WHCR can better serve its Harlem community.
*Mike Francesa’s new TV simulcast home is no big surprise – we’d known for a while that after his WFAN radio show was dropped from the YES Network, it would be headed to Fox Sports – but the exact configuration of the simulcast is a bit unusual. Starting next Monday, Francesa’s show will air on Fox Sports 1 from 1-4 PM, but at 4 it will move to the smaller footprint of Fox Sports 2 for its final two hours. In his years on YES, Francesa picked up a cult following of displaced New Yorkers and other sports fans far outside the reach of WFAN’s terrestrial signal, and the expanded national reach of Fox Sports should enhance that aspect of the show, though he says the local radio audience is still his first priority.
There’s a new national morning show on WADO (1280 New York) and its sister Univision America Spanish-language talk outlets around the country. WADO host Ricardo Espinoza and Ricky Lopez from sister station WQBU (92.7 Garden City) are part of the lineup on the new “Univision America de Costa a Costa,” which also includes Tsi Tsi Ki Felix from WRTO (1200 Chicago).
On Long Island, Don Harrison is the new PD/brand manager at Connoisseur’s WWSK (94.3 Smithtown), filling the shoes (fins?) left behind at “94.3 the Shark” when Lenny Diana hopped the ferry northward to take the PD chair at Saga’s WAQY/WLZX in Springfield, Mass. Harrison comes to Long Island from Grindstone Entertainment in LA, where he was music supervisor, but his radio resume also includes stints at Boston’s WBCN and Hartford’s WHCN over the years, as well as riding out Hurricane Katrina at WKBU in New Orleans.
*In the Hudson Valley, there’s a realignment of formats and personalities at Sunrise Broadcasting’s Newburgh-based “Fox” stations today. After just under a year as an ESPN Radio affiliate, WGNY (1220 Newburgh) will drop sports talk and pick up a simulcast of “Fox Oldies” WGNY-FM (98.9 Rosendale), with the oldies simulcast picking up morning hosts Bob and Lori from their present home on AC “Fox 103.1” WJGK (103.1 Newburgh). Van Ritshie, who’s been doing mornings on 98.9, shifts to middays there, and 103.1’s new morning hosts will be “D-Rock and Kelly G,” simulcast with their current home on “Drive FX 94.1/95.7,” the HD-fed translators that carry a dance format.
We’re just over a year away from the FCC’s 2015 deadline for low-power TV stations to cease analog operation, and the FCC tends to grant applications for digital cutovers in chunks. One of those big batches of grants came out last week, providing digital CPs for four signals in western and central New York. In Olean, WVTT-LP (Channel 25) will go digital on channel 34. Syracuse’s WBLZ-LP (Channel 13), part of Craig Fox’s big group of LPTV holdings, will move to channel 39 and relocate northward to Mexico, in Oswego County. In Sylvan Beach, WTKO-LP (Channel 15) goes to channel 36. And in Oneida, just down the road, WCUL-LP (Channel 13) goes to channel 36 as WCUL-LD.
LPFM action: in Stamford, Upper Room Ministries Of Richmondville now has calls WJIJ-LP for its 105.9. In Poughkeepsie, the FCC has dismissed New York Catholic Radio’s 94.7 application, citing potential interference to second-adjacent WKXP (94.3 Kingston).
*Here in Rochester, we’re mourning the death of Mordecai Lipshutz, who became one of the city’s best-loved cultural icons during three decades at WXXI-FM (91.5). Lipshutz gave up a career in print management when he joined the station as a part-time announcer in 1976, as the fledgling FM was turning the corner from a block-formatted variety outlet toward an all-classical format. By 1979, he’d become a full-time announcer, and when WXXI(AM) split off in 1984 with news and talk, Lipshutz took over afternoon drive, keeping Rochesterians company on the drive home until his retirement in 2008. While he battled a series of health problems, Lipshutz remained a vibrant part of the arts scene in town, becoming a fixture at jam sessions during the Rochester International Jazz Festival and returning to WXXI for guest appearances, including his customary Christmas Eve live show. Lipshutz died March 9, at age 64; a memorial gathering was held yesterday, packed with friends and former colleagues (present company included) telling stories about Mordecai’s love for every aspect of music and culture, not to mention his passion for big cars and good food and drink. He was as big a character as they came in the old days of public radio, and he’s dearly missed.
We also note the passing of a former Westchester County radio owner: Joe Zingale was one of the partners in the Westchester Corp. when it bought WFAS (1230)/WFAS-FM (103.9) in White Plains from the founding Seitz family in 1964. Based in Cleveland, where he’d been in sales at WHK, Zingale and partners Norman Wain and Bob Weiss later owned WDOK/WIXY (1260) in Cleveland. Zingale died March 10, at age 80.
*How do you find room for yet another new license on the noncommercial FM band in eastern MASSACHUSETTS? It’s still possible, but only with some tricky application of an obscure FCC rule. Section 73.561(b) provides that any noncommercial station that operates for less than 12 hours daily is subject to having a challenge filed against it by another broadcaster seeking to share time on the frequency. And with a broadcast schedule that runs just 4-9 PM on weekdays, and sometimes less if student DJs aren’t available, WBMT (88.3 Boxford) at Masconomet Regional High School turned out to be vulnerable to just such a time-share proposal.
It comes from “New England Broadcasting Educational Group, Inc.,” which wants to put a 500-watt/33′ DA signal on the air at 88.3, licensed to Newbury and transmitting from a house at the corner of Boston Street and Newburyport Turnpike, aiming its signal north into Newburyport and Salisbury. In addition to veteran Boston broadcast engineer Mike Hemeon, the applicant’s principals include Mirella and Joseph McDonough, who used to live at the Salisbury address that just became home to new WXBJ-LP (94.9 Salisbury). Like WXBJ, the proposed 88.3 says its mission would include training area senior citizens in the art of doing radio. (Both applications also came from innovative consultant Dave Doherty at Skywaves Consulting.)
What happens next? WBMT is in an unusual position at the FCC: its 2006 license renewal application was never granted because of issues with missing paperwork in its public files, and so it’s been operating on Special Temporary Authority through its entire most recent license term. It filed for another renewal in the most recent cycle, and it’s against that renewal that this new group has filed its Newbury challenge.
These challenges aren’t uncommon, though they’re seen more frequently in the midwest, where many high school and college stations in Indiana and neighboring states faced them a few years back. Most of those stations installed automation and began broadcasting 24 hours a day, a move that can successfully blunt such a share-time challenge. In New England, the record is more mixed: Coventry High School in RHODE ISLAND was forced into a share-time by a religious broadcaster that subsequently failed, leaving WCVY (91.5) back on its own. It has since protected itself from any future challenges by partnering with Rhode Island Public Radio to program the station when students aren’t on. In Maynard, WAVM (91.7) had a somewhat different situation: it was a class D station that sought a power increase, only to be challenged by three other broadcasters. It reached a settlement in 2006 that gave it a protected class A facility sharing time with a relay of Boston’s WUMB-FM.
If it chose to do so, WBMT could probably find a larger partner to help it fill out its programming day (though maybe not WUMB, which already has its own relay in the area in the form of WNEF 91.7 Newburyport). It could also automate – or it could agree to share time with the McDonough group. We’ll be following closely to see what happens as this makes its way through the FCC’s renewal process.
*Just as former WEEI afternoon host Glenn Ordway is readying his return to (streaming) radio, his former timeslot is once again open. Mike Salk, who replaced Ordway a year ago alongside Michael Holley, is making an abrupt departure from the station and from Boston. Salk announced on Wednesday’s “Salk and Holley” show that he’s done at WEEI, and in the days that followed we learned he’s heading back to Seattle, where he’d been at Bonneville’s KIRO (710) as a host, and where he’ll reportedly be taking over as PD.
Dale Arnold handled fill-in duties for Salk for the remainder of the week, but it’s anybody’s guess who’ll get the nod for the permanent job. The sudden nature of Salk’s departure from what he’d described last year as a dream job in his home town (he’s a native of Sudbury) has to raise more questions about what’s happening behind the scenes on Guest Street, where the programming and management team that hired Salk a year ago is already gone. There’s a fairly obvious play here for WEEI: mending the fences with Ordway and returning him to his familiar afternoon role. It’s hard to see that happening, though, in part because Ordway seems serious about his intention to strike out on his own, and in part because restoring a 27-year veteran to the slot runs against the idea that WEEI needs new blood to counter the strong competition from CBS Radio’s “Sports Hub” WBZ-FM (98.5).
*On the music side of the Boston dial, Greater Media’s WBQT (Hot 96.9) has poached yet another air talent from Clear Channel’s WJMN (Jam’n 94.5). This time it’s Bobby Blaze, who started at the station on Saturday afternoon. Is he also Hot’s answer for its yet-to-be-filled night slot? Stay tuned…
*Don Moore was one of Cape Cod’s radio pioneers, becoming the first standalone FM operator in the market when he put WQRC (99.9 Hyannis) on the air in 1970, just days before he turned 34. Building on experience he’d gained in Boston at WORL and WHDH, Moore grew WQRC into one of the Cape’s biggest stations before selling it in 1985. Moore moved into TV, putting WCVX (Channel 58) on the air as the Cape’s first TV station, then sold it and went back into radio with the launch of WOCN (103.9 South Yarmouth) in 1994. (Moore’s business partner, Gregory Bone, continues to own WOCN and its sister Cape Cod Broadcasting stations.)
Moore died March 7 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He’ll be remembered at a memorial service April 5 in Hyannis.
*Great Eastern Radio made some big news late last week on the NEW HAMPSHIRE-VERMONT border, launching one new translator-based station and relaunching another one with a bigger signal and new branding.
The one that’s completely new is W294AB (106.7 Hanover NH), which has coasted along until now as a low-profile translator of rocker WHDQ (106.1 Claremont). With a power boost to 100 watts from up on the Crafts Hill tower farm east of Lebanon, the signal provides decent coverage of the Lebanon-Hanover-White River Junction area, and as of Friday it’s now broken away from the main “Q106” feed to carry AAA as “106.7 the River,” fed by WHDQ’s HD2.
Crafts Hill is also home to Great Eastern translator W232AP (94.3 White River Junction), which just completed an upgrade that moves it to 94.5, boosting power from 7.5 watts to 53 watts. While it continues to translate WTSL (1400 Hanover), the FM power boost led Great Eastern to flip the branding on its ESPN sports simulcast in the region: WTSL, WTSV (1230 Claremont) and the translator are now known as “94.5 ESPN Radio.”
In Burlington, Dennis Jackson has a new translator CP: the FCC granted his application for W221CZ (92.1 South Burlington), which will relay WCLX (102.9 Westport NY).
There’s a second new LPFM on the air in NERW-land (at least) from the 2013 filing window: WZNC-LP (99.9 Bethlehem NH) applied for its license to cover last week. It belongs to “Friends of the Colonial,” and LPFMDatabase.com reports it’s running an “eclectic alternative” format.
*We now know what Connoisseur Media will pay to take over Buckley’s cluster of four AMs and one big FM (WDRC-FM 102.9) in Hartford, CONNECTICUT: roughly $7.9 million, once various concessions are made at closing later this spring.
There’s some LPFM news from the Nutmeg State, too: in New London, HP-NL Communications takes calls WDUP-LP for its new signal on 92.9, while the Simsbury Fire District has received a CP for its new signal on 107.5.
*It’s dead, Jim: in northeast PENNSYLVANIA, the FCC has cancelled the license of WPLY (960 Mount Pocono), the former Nassau AM that’s been silent since February 2012. When it was last on the air from its four-tower array near the junction of I-80 and I-380, 960 was simulcasting WVPO (840 Stroudsburg), but it didn’t come along with WVPO’s sale to Connoisseur in late 2012.
Rick Vaughn didn’t stay long at Beasley’s WRDW (Wired 96.5); less than a month after returning to Philadelphia from Atlanta, he’s out of the PD chair and Beasley is once again looking for a new programmer.
LPFM news from around the state: in York, First St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church has been granted 106.1, while in Erie, the “Lake Erie Community Radio Station” on 96.7 takes calls WCAG-LP.
*In NEW JERSEY, Jason Allentoff has left WOBM-FM (92.7 Toms River) after eight years in the newsroom. No replacement has been named yet at the Townsquare station.
In New Brunswick, “The Wire NJ, Inc.” was granted a CP for a new LPFM on 103.9. It will share the same tower on Van Dyke Avenue used by translator W284BW (104.7).
*The news from CANADA this week is Rogers’ exit from its ill-fated “News FM” ventures in New Brunswick. The CRTC has approved the sales of CHNI (88.9 Saint John) and CKNI (91.9 Moncton), to Newcap and Acadia Broadcasting, respectively. Each station will be the first in the market for its new owners; in Saint John, CHNI will compete with Acadia’s CHSJ (94.1) and CHWV (97.3), while in Moncton CKNI will compete with Newcap’s CJMO (103.1).
Both new owners received CRTC permission to change formats, dropping the spoken-word requirement under which Rogers operated; the Saint John station will go to an AC format, while the Moncton station will go for a somewhat older-leaning “light rock or easy listening” format.
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