In this week’s issue… Boston’s dance FM evolves to country – New FM coming to RI? – AM talk ratings sink to all-time lows – Translators on the move near NYC – WBZ slaps down “WBZ” – PLUS: More Baseball on the Radio

By SCOTT FYBUSH

*When Clear Channel bought a third FM station in eastern MASSACHUSETTS a few years back, nobody quite understood why then-WFNX (101.7 Lynn) was worth $14 million to a company that had otherwise largely taken itself out of the acquisition game.

wedx-bullonlyThree years and three formats later, it’s increasingly clear that the station now known as WEDX can only be understood as a strategic game piece in today’s cluster landscape – especially after Friday afternoon’s flip from electronic dance music (“Evolution 101.7”) to country, as “The Bull.”

Yes, we could write a few pithy paragraphs about the way in which 101.7 has pinballed from variety hits “Harbor” WHBA to dance music to country in the space of just a few years, and follow that up with some even pithier thoughts about whether there’s any place for a full-fledged EDM format on terrestrial radio, especially as “mainstream” top-40 becomes increasingly EDM-inflected. And we could go on to ponder whether “Evolution” was, no matter how tiny its overall ratings, providing a useful service by giving younger listeners a reason to check out terrestrial radio instead of drifting away to Pandora or whatever’s next.

But realistically, 101.7 is nothing more than a pawn in a bigger game, and the queen Clear Channel is trying to protect with this latest flip is its much bigger top-40 outlet, WXKS-FM (Kiss 108). With Greater Media’s country WKLB-FM (102.5) nipping at its heels for the number-one position in the ratings (both stations were up in the April PPMs, 7.2 to 7.6 for Kiss, 6.4 to 6.8 for WKLB), the flip at 101.7 is a pretty transparent attempt to shave a few fractions of a point off WKLB by providing it with a little country competition.

And make no mistake – as “The Bull” (apparently with new calls WBWL-FM on the way, though no formal request has been filed), Clear Channel will offer WKLB only a little competition. Country listeners within range of 101.7’s limited class A signal who happen to hit the “down” button on their scan during a WKLB stopset this summer will find the Bull running commercial-free through Labor Day. It will also be jock-free for at least a little while, and there’s every reason to expect that when air talent does appear in the fall, it will be mostly Clear Channel syndicated offerings such as the Bobby Bones morning show.

Can we at least conclude, if nothing else, that this latest flip fully puts to rest the idea that Boston’s not a country radio market? After all, this is now the third time in a generation that multiple stations have competed for the country audience in town: in the late 1980s, WDLW (1330) battled it out with WBOS-FM (92.9) back when country was still a niche format in town; in the mid-1990s, WBCS (96.9) duked it out with the first incarnation of WKLB-FM before Greater Media merged the two – and now this…at least until Clear Channel has some other strategic move that requires the deployment of 101.7 in another new direction.

(As for Evolution fans? The dance beats continue on WXKS-FM’s 107.9-HD2, as well as streaming on Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio.)

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wwbz-wbz*Deep in north central MASSACHUSETTS, was Steve Silberberg looking for publicity (and just a little bit of a fight) when he relaunched the former WJOE (700 Orange-Athol) as “Legends 700 WBZ” last Monday morning at 7? If the goal was to draw a quick cease-and-desist from the lawyers at CBS Radio, it sure looks like the other “WBZ” succeeded: by Monday night, the “700WBZ.com” website was down, replaced by “Legends700.com,” and the “WBZ” jingles were gone from the station’s standards format, too.

The daytimer still has the calls WWBZ, but that’s apparently acceptable – and along the way, the stunt drew plenty of trade publication coverage (including, yeah, that logo to the left right here in NERW.) Meanwhile, sister station WFNX (99.9 Athol) is chugging along with its “Vote999.com” stunt, now asking listeners to “help” pick a name to go with its variety hits format.

It took only a couple of weeks for the final piece of the callsign swap to be completed to send the WMVY calls back home to Martha’s Vineyard: as of last Monday afternoon, 88.7 in Edgartown, formerly WMEX and then briefly WMVI, is officially identifying itself as “WMVY,” while the station on 104.3 in Hartford, VERMONT that had been parking the callsign for the past year has become WECM.

*It appears our speculation last week was right on the money about Radio Vermont’s plans for WCVT (101.7 Stowe): Ken Squier’s group announced officially last week that it’s relaunching both WCVT and Rutland-market WEXP (101.5 Brandon) on July 1 as “101 The One,” simulcasting to take advantage of the adjacent-channel signals that together serve a big chunk of central Vermont. The exact format isn’t being unveiled just yet, but it’s being described as “adult,” and given that country is already well represented in both markets, that would seem to suggest some sort of AC/oldies mix for “the One.”

Brian Collamore is taking a break from the morning show at WSYB (1380 Rutland) so he can run for the state senate. For now, at least, Collamore plans to continue as the station’s sales manager, since the FCC’s equal-time rules apply only to on-air staffers.

wwrx-jammin*We don’t often engage in unsupported speculation here at NERW, but it’s hard not to speculate about why John Fuller’s Red Wolf Broadcasting is making the move it’s making in RHODE ISLAND. Fuller just received a construction permit from the FCC to move WWRX (107.7) from Ledyard, CONNECTICUT to a new city of license of Bradford, R.I.

For now, the class A 107.7 signal stays put at its present site on Wintechog Hill Road near the Foxwoods casino on the Connecticut side of the state line, but city-of-license changes like this often presage site changes, and a new city of license of Bradford would allow 107.7 to edge its transmitter fairly deep into Rhode Island, possibly as far east as the tower in Exeter from which WVEI-FM (103.7 Westerly) now reaches Providence listeners. As a class A protecting first-adjacent WXKS-FM (107.9) in Boston, a Bradford-licensed 107.7 wouldn’t be more than a rimshot into Providence, but it might have a decent signal over Kent County and the southern Providence suburbs.

Here’s where we dip even deeper into open speculation: several NERW listeners have reported hearing promos on Fuller-owned WJJF (94.9 Montauk NY) for Cumulus’ “Nash FM” national brand. Cumulus, of course, has its own Montauk-licensed station serving the New London market across the sound: WELJ (104.7) went into the Joule spinoff trust while Cumulus seeks a buyer to take the class A signal off its hands. And unlike Fuller, who’d be a standalone owner if he indeed enters the edges of the Providence market with the 107.7 signal, Cumulus has a substantial cluster of its own in Providence that’s not quite maxed out.

So – could a relocated 107.7 go to Cumulus, perhaps to fly the Nash banner over at least part of the Providence market while filling out the cluster that already includes two AMs (WPRO 630/WPRV 790) and four FMs? And could Fuller end up in exchange with not only WELJ, but perhaps more of the Cumulus New London cluster (WXLM 980, WMOS 102.3, WQGN 105.5) to add to his existing WJJF and WBMW (106.5) there?

Again, this is far more speculative than we usually get in this space…but the pieces sure do fit, don’t they?

wabc770*On to NEW YORK we go, and we start with the shocker from the April PPM ratings: the latest numbers from Nielsen Audio show what appears to be the worst numbers WABC (770) has pulled in more than half a century, dipping from 2.2 in April all the way down to 1.6 in May.

Wherever those WABC talk listeners went over the last few months, it doesn’t appear that they followed Rush Limbaugh down the dial from 770 to Clear Channel’s WOR (710). Even with the start of the Mets season to at least theoretically pull some new ears over to the 710 spot on the dial, WOR has flatlined over the last few months, 1.5-1.5-1.7-1.6.

What can we read into those numbers? To some degree, certainly, they’re a sign that the talk format in general has calcified. Underlying those weak 12+ numbers are even more appallingly weak 18-34 and 25-54 numbers, indicating (to nobody’s surprise) that what remains of the talk audience, in New York and elsewhere, is rapidly aging and that younger listeners aren’t coming in to replace them.

These numbers also reinforce something we’ve long believed: to succeed, today’s political talk needs the framework of longstanding listener heritage, in what’s almost become a host-parasite relationship. Where there are still many years of full-service habit on which to draw, stations still do well – think of WGAN in Portland, or WPRO in Providence, or WGY in Albany or WBEN in Buffalo. Without that strong news and sports heritage to surround the talk, though, the format falls apart, just as it did at WWIQ in Philadelphia or WTKK in Boston. And with all the changes that Clear Channel has wrought at WOR, and the steady erosion of any sort of local presence around the syndicated hosts at WABC, these latest ratings may indicate that whatever heritage those stations once brought to the table may no longer be a ratings boost, either.

*Plummeting ratings or not, WABC is still making some attempt to rebuild its local presence: Jerry Barmash, like your editor a member of that small fraternity of trade journalists who also do on-air radio news, has joined the station as a street reporter. Barmash, who’s been heard freelancing for Wall Street Journal Radio News and WFUV, will continue to do some occasional Journal work, as well as on-air traffic reporting.

w236ch-smallOver at 4 Times Square, New Jersey-based religious broadcaster Bridgelight is getting ready to build new translator W236CH (95.1 Fort Greene), which will bring its programming (based at WRDR 89.7 Freehold Township NJ) into at least part of Manhattan. Bridgelight has launched a “NYC Bridge Builder” fundraising campaign to get the 10-watt signal on the air.

In Westchester County, the roof of the Trump apartment building next to the New Roc City development in New Rochelle is about to get more crowded. It became a broadcast facility a few years back when what’s now WKLV-FM (96.7 Port Chester) moved up there to broadcast EMF’s K-Love toward New York City. Now Dennis Jackson has applied to move his translator, W276BV (103.1), to that site from its current home across the CONNECTICUT state line in Greenwich. The translator is changing primary stations, too – it plans to become an 85-watt relay of WVOX (1460 New Rochelle). Will the translator change ownership at some point, too? Stay tuned…

There are translators on the move in upstate New York, too: as Lloyd Lane’s WCJW (1140) gets ready to start building out its AM daytime power increase from 2 kW to 8 kW, it’s also filing for a move on one of its five FM translators. W283AU (104.5 Eagle) would move to 104.9 in Arcade, running 90 watts to serve the southwestern corner of Wyoming County. Over in Hornell, W289AR (105.7) wants to relocate to 95.1, with 30 watts, still relaying WZHD (97.1 Canaseraga) for owner Europa Broadcasting.

Dave Radigan’s coverage of Tioga County is once again improving: in addition to the existing translators that bring WEBO (1330 Owego) to the FM dial in Owego (W300BV 107.9) and northern Tioga County (W267BV 101.3 Richford), he’s now received a license to cover for his new Waverly translator, W286CS (105.1). The new stick serves western Tioga County from a water tower northeast of the village.

In Binghamton, the translator swap between Family Life and Equinox has already shifted Family Life’s programming from W254BH (98.7) up the dial to W275BC (102.9). We noted that the 98.7 signal was silent when we were in the Triple Cities a week ago, and now we know why: instead of operating that translator from the site northeast of Binghamton it shared with 102.9, Equinox is applying to relocate 98.7 to a site on Robinson Hill Road in Endicott (not far from Clear Channel’s WBNW 105.7 tower). From there, the 98.7 signal would run 130 watts, down from its presently-licensed 250 watts but with line-of-sight coverage to much more of the population that stretches west from Binghamton. It’s just a guess – but could the relocated 98.7 end up becoming the west-side relay of modern rock “Drive” WDRE (100.5 Susquehanna PA), finally freeing up the original home of “Drive,” W283AG (104.5), to flip to the “Gold 104.5” format that’s been on Equinox advertising for several months now?

wroc-w239bf(And a correction from last week: the new 250-watt signal of Rochester translator W239BF on 95.7 comes from the American Tower site on Colfax Street serving Rochester’s west side. Now that the high-powered translator signal is on the air for new owner Entercom, “ESPN 95.7” has taken over as the primary branding on what had been “ESPN 950,” WROC, with the AM frequency now relegated to a little line under the FM frequency. With this translator on the air, there are only two Rochester AMs that haven’t at least experimented with some FM simulcasting recently – the big signal of Clear Channel’s WHAM 1180 and the less-big signal of Crawford’s religious WDCX 990.)

*Away from the world of translators, Marty Mitchell has been tapped as the new PD and morning man on Clear Channel’s WRWD country signals in the Hudson Valley (WRWD-FM 107.3 Highland, WRWB 99.3 Ellenville, WHUC 1230 Hudson). Mitchell moves north from WKMK (106.3 Eatontown NJ), where evening jock Brian Morelli will take over from him in morning drive, while programming VP AJ Colantoni handles interim PD duries. Mitchell’s arrival at WRWD appears to confirm what we’d suspected in the absence of any official announcement from the station: that veteran morning man Tommy Lee Walker, who’d been sidelined by health issues, is now gone from WRWD.

*One of western PENNSYLVANIA‘s longest-running ownership groups is expanding westward in a big way. Saul Frischling’s Steel City Media, which owns WLTJ (92.9) and WRRK (96.9) in the Pittsburgh market, was the surprise buyer in the surprise sale of Wilks Broadcasting’s four-FM cluster in Kansas City, for what’s being reported as the unexpectedly high price of $100 million. The Kansas City cluster was one of several that Wilks picked up in spinoffs from CBS Radio; back in 2006, Wilks paid $138 for Kansas City and Columbus, so mark this down as one of the few deals from the mid-2000s boom that didn’t end up losing much for the buyer in the long run.

Is there anything at all to read in here about Steel City’s larger plans? The Kansas City deal looks like a big one for the relatively small Frischling group, whose only other media interests right  now are Pittsburgh’s alt-weekly, CityPaper. Might Frischling and his sons be eyeing Renda’s WSHH (99.7), now a stand-alone with the impending sale of sister station WJAS (1320)?

whyl*Harold Swidler and his family already held a dominant position in Cumberland County radio with the combination of classic country WIOO (1000 Carlisle), its translator on 97.9 and the more recent addition of mainstream country Citadel spinoff WCAT-FM (102.3 Carlisle). Now Swidler is cementing that dominance by buying Carlisle’s other AM station out of bankruptcy. WHYL (960 Carlisle) was WIOO’s longtime local competitor, but it’s fallen on hard times recently. Despite a hard-fought attempt by Bruce Collier and Trustworthy Radio LLC to bring WHYL back to prominence with a local AC format, the station had fallen in to bankruptcy. Swidler’s $30,000 purchase of WHYL’s license from the bankruptcy trustee not only closes the books on the WHYL-WIOO competition – it also reunites 960 with its former FM sister at 102.3 on the dial. There’s no word yet on what Swidler (doing business as “WHYL, Inc.”) has planned for WHYL, or when the silent station might get back on the air.

Kevin Fitzgerald has big plans for a little translator high in the hills of north central Pennsylvania. What’s now W259AW (99.7 Mainesburg), running just 7 watts from a rural site east of Mansfield, is applying to move to 99.9 with 250 watts in Troy, to the east. The translator, which started out as a relay of Scranton’s WVIA (89.9), will become a rebroadcaster of Fitzgerald’s WZKN (96.9 Ridgebury), extending the reach of the “KZ” network that includes both WZKN amd sister station WNKZ (103.9 Dushore).

In Hazleton, Fitzgerald is applying to move translator W283BJ (104.5), also on the books as a WVIA relay, up the dial to 105.1. With 80 watts on its new channel, the 105.1 signal would become a rebroadcaster for WAZL (1490 Hazleton).

Mary Medicus is selling a translator in Jonestown, east of Lebanon, to Family Life Ministries. W284CF (104.7) currently relays K-Love outlet WLKA (88.3 Tafton). It’s selling to Family Life for $14,000.

Where Are They Now? Veteran Harrisburg jock Bruce Bond has returned to the airwaves, at least for one day a week. The longtime fixture on WNNK (104.1), sidelined for a while after a conviction on charges he forged a check, is now doing Saturday mornings, 9 AM until noon, on rocker WTPA (92.1 Palmyra).

*In NEW JERSEY, there’s a big name coming to the statewide public television network. Starting next month, former CNN anchor Mary Alice Williams will take over from Mike Schneider as the anchor of the nightly “NJTV News.” Schneider, who’s hosted the nightly newscast (originally “NJ Today”) since the former NJN was relaunched as NJTV in 2011, will remain with the network as a senior correspondent.

*It was a quiet week in CANADA, where the new CFL team in the nation’s capital launched its inaugural radio deal. A.J. Jakubec and Jeff Avery will be in the booth for the broadcasts on Rogers’ CFGO (TSN Radio 1200). Lee Versage and Ken Evraire will handle pre- and post-game duties.

Way up north in Timmins, Ontario, Eternacom wants to put a new Christian station on the air to fill the void left by defunct CHIM (103.5). The new Eternacom signal would run 800 watts/61 m on 105.5, mostly simulcasting “KFM” CJTK (95.5) from Sudbury, with some local inserts.

In eastern Quebec, the folks at CHNC in New Carlisle have been struggling to replicate the coverage they gave up when they moved their signals from AM to FM a few years back. The latest upgrade is to repeater CHGM (99.3 Gaspe), which just won a power increase from 257 watts average/458 watts max DA/73 m to 2.54 kW/76 m. CHNC will also add a relay on 106.7 in Riviere-au-Renard, with 325 watts average/520 watts max DA/195 m.

*We’re already within sight of the All-Star break in the majors, but our Baseball on the Radio coverage here in NERW traditionally goes all the way down the food chain to the short season single-A New York-Penn League, where play is just getting underway as many of the players wrap up their college seasons.

We’ll start this year with the Lowell Spinners in Massachusetts, back on WCAP (980) for a full season of home and away games. The Connecticut Tigers return to WICH (1310) for a fifth season, and the Vermont Lake Monsters are in their second season on WEAV (960), transmitting from across the lake in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

wsiaBroadcast coverage returns this year for the Staten Island Yankees, whose 38 home games will be heard on WSIA (88.9) with the help of student broadcasters from the College of Staten Island. It’s the first time the SI Yanks have had regular radio coverage since their previous stint on WSIA, which lasted from the team’s 1999 inaugural season until 2005.

The Hudson Valley Renegades appear to be back to webcast-only, unless their page on the website of last year’s flagship, WKIP (1450 Poughkeepsie), just hasn’t been updated. The Auburn Doubledays are back on WAUB (1590), for road games only, with Syracuse University senior Evan Weston in the booth. The Batavia Muckdogs continue their long relationship with WBTA (1490).

In Pennsylvania, it’s status quo: once again, WLYC (1050, plus a translator at 104.1) is home to the Williamsport Crosscutters and WZWW (95.3 Bellefonte) to the State College Spikes.

There’s no radio once again this year, as best we can tell, for the Jamestown Jammers (likely in their last season in the Southern Tier), the Tri-City Valley Cats of Troy or the Brooklyn Cyclones.

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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: June 17, 2013

*There’s a new AM signal coming to eastern MASSACHUSETTS, as owner Alexander Langer moves forward on a relocation of the former WMSX (1410 Brockton). When Langer announced his $100,000 purchase of the silent AM signal from Kingdom Church exactly a year ago, he told us he didn’t have a move immediately planned – WMSX “happened to be a good local signal at the right price,” he said then – but anyone familiar with his signal-upgrade work knew better, especially given WMSX’s lack of a viable Brockton transmitter site.

Working with consulting engineer Charles Hecht, Langer filed for his move on Monday. He’s proposing to transfer WMSX from Brockton to a new community of license of Dedham, abandoning the old Linwood Street site in Brockton in favor of a new 75-foot Valcom fiberglass whip antenna to be located in an industrial section of Readville, right at the southern tip of Boston’s city limits. (It will, in fact, become the only AM station transmitting from within the city of Boston.)

From that new site on Sprague Street, the new WMSX would run 610 watts by day and just 25 watts at night. At least on paper, that day facility will put about 600,000 people within its 2 mV/m contour, including most of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan as well as a ring of south suburban Boston including Dedham, Milton and parts of Quincy and Brookline.

Assuming the move is granted (and there’s no reason to expect it won’t), it’s likely the new WMSX will follow in the path of another Langer move-in. What’s now WSRO (650 Ashland) was moved into the Framingham area from southern New Hampshire, and Langer has slowly grown that small facility into an important voice for the fast-growing Portuguese-speaking community in MetroWest that had lacked its own radio outlet. Will the new WMSX find a similar ethnic niche in the diverse neighborhoods it will serve? There are certainly openings, as the slew of unlicensed Haitian Creole signals in the area attests every day.

*Where are they now? The Reverend Earl Jackson made a name for himself as the general manager of WLVG (740 Cambridge) during that station’s days as a black gospel/religious outlet in the 1980s, including several encounters with bankruptcy. After exiting WLVG (which eventually ended up in the hands of Bob Bittner as WWEA and then WJIB), Jackson decamped for Virginia – and it wasn’t until late last week (with an assist from Universal Hub, by way of the now-defunct Washington Examiner) that we made the connection between WLVG’s Earl Jackson and the Rev. E. W. Jackson who’s making headlines as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia.

(If you’re keeping score at home, Jackson is at least the second former Boston radio operator to make headlines at the rightward end of national politics: as we’ve noted here on several occasions, former WDLW 1330 owner Anthony Martin-Trigona has become a perennial candidate and political gadfly under the name “Andy Martin.”)

*A stealth format change in Binghamton: Equinox Broadcasting appears to have quietly killed off AC WRRQ (106.7 Port Dickinson), instead using that frequency to simulcast its oldies WCDW (100.5 Susquehanna PA). At least for now, that puts “Cool 100” on the Ingraham Hill 106.7 signal, the east-side rimshot 100.5 and a string of translators around the valley; will any of those translators instead end up with some of Equinox’s other HD-subchannel feeds? (The company also runs rock “Z93,” soft AC “Sunny 107” and AAA “104.5 the Drive” on translators fed by WRRQ’s HD subs.)

Five Years Ago: June 15, 2009

Whether you date its beginnings to the first experimental electronic broadcasts of the late twenties, the early scheduled broadcasts of the thirties, the start of commercial service in 1941 or the establishment of the 525-line NTSC standard soon afterward, there’s no disputing the longevity of analog broadcast television in the United States – nor the historical import of the switches being thrown and buttons being pressed in master controls and transmitter rooms from Presque Isle to Pittsburgh last Friday, as one by one the signals that had been so central to American life over the decades winked out for the last time. What was widely portrayed in the mass media as a one-day “switch to digital” was, of course, really the culmination of a long and complex transition that began back in the late nineties, when the first experimental digital TV transmitters began to appear on the airwaves. In most parts of NERW-land, that transition was far enough along that Friday’s “switch” was – just as broadcasters had hoped – a non-event for most viewers, who’d already traded over-the-air analog for cable, satellite, or over-the-air digital TV. Add in the last-minute stresses behind the scenes, as the FCC revised its transition guidelines and phones rang off the hook from the remaining few percent of viewers who’d yet to complete their conversion, and it’s not entirely unsurprising, if still somewhat disappointing, that by the time the end of analog rolled around on Friday, many broadcasters were ready to just pull the plug on their venerable analog signals without any notice or ceremony. (There were some notable exceptions, which we’ll mention later in this week’s issue.)

Whether accompanied by fanfare or just a fade to snow midway through Conan O’Brien’s monologue, the good news is that the last pieces of the complex puzzle that was the transition went largely without a hitch for most stations across NERW-land, even in the complicated situations where stations had to swap channels and even transmission facilities in the space of just a few hours.

The one notable exception was in Syracuse, NEW YORK, where viewers looking for NBC programming had to do some juggling to find WSTM-TV (Channel 3) over the weekend. WSTM had a difficult juggling act to pull off: it had to vacate both its longtime analog channel and its temporary digital channel, 54, by midnight Friday, but it couldn’t occupy its new digital channel, 24, until public station WCNY-TV signed off its analog operation early Friday morning, freeing up not only the channel but also the transmission line and antenna that WSTM-DT would use. But rather than buying WCNY’s transmitter, already tuned to channel 24, WSTM decided to retune its own digital transmitter from channel 54 to channel 24. It even signed off WSTM-DT on channel 54 early – on Monday – to provide plenty of time to get the retuning done. As it turned out, though, retuning the Thales transmitter was a more complex task than expected, so much so that when WSTM turned off its analog transmitter at a minute past midnight Friday (with a full-screen ID and a 50s-vintage national anthem clip), it was clear that it would still be a few days before the station could get the parts it needed to get WSTM-DT back on the air.

So WSTM turned to plan B – and plan C, too. By mid-morning Friday, analog channel 3 was back on the air, providing at least some signal for hockey fans to tune in for the final Stanley Cup game that night. Thanks to its new partnership with CBS affiliate WTVH (Channel 5), WSTM was able to put its programming on the 5.2 subchannel of WTVH-DT, maintaining some on-air presence after channel 3 had to sign off for good (with no fanfare this time) at 11:59 Friday night. (As always, most cable viewers were unaffected, since WSTM continued to provide its signal to Time Warner Cable via fiber.) By Sunday, WSTM-DT was back on the air on channel 24, with a significantly better signal than the old channel 54.

As best we can tell, only one other station – Erie NBC affiliate WICU (Channel 12) – was off the air as a result of the switchover, as its engineers worked to replace the old channel 12 analog signal (silenced last Tuesday) with a VHF digital signal on the same channel. There, too, a sister station saved the day, with WICU’s signal continuing to be available (as it has for some time now) on WSEE’s 35-3 subchannel.

Around the region, those VHF digital signals – many of them taking the air for the first time on Friday or early Saturday – proved a little more troublesome than expected, especially for viewers unfamiliar with the different antennas needed for VHF reception as opposed to the UHF band, where most existing DTV had been located. Even with those hiccups (which we’ll list in more detail in our market-by-market roundup below), the transition went about as smoothly as anyone could have anticipated; contrary to message-board fearmongering, there were no mad runs on stores selling converter boxes and antennas, no widespread shortages, and certainly no rioting in the streets in front of TV stations or transmitter sites. (Though just about every station we’ve talked to has received at least one frantic phone call starting out, “why didn’t anyone tell me this was going to be happening?!?,” proving that no public education campaign can ever reach absolutely everyone…)

Ten Years Ago: June 14, 2004

Vox is selling yet another radio station – this time, the last bit of its cluster in Concord, NEW HAMPSHIRE. WTPL (107.7 Hillsborough) was left behind when Vox sold sister stations WOTX (102.3 Concord) and WJYY (105.5 Concord) to Nassau; now it’s being transferred from Vox subsidiary Concord Broadcasting to Great Eastern Radio, owned by Vox principal Jeff Shapiro. Shapiro will pay his Vox partners $1.5 million for WTPL; we expect (though it’s not clearly stated in the filings with the FCC) that WTPL will continue to be LMA’d back to Concord’s WKXL (1450), which has been programming it for a while now.

Pamal Broadcasting has closed on its $2.5 million purchase of Vox’s cluster in Glens Falls, NEW YORK. Vox hands off WMML (1230 Glens Falls), WENU (1410 South Glens Falls), WENU-FM (101.7 Hudson Falls) and WFFG (107.1 Corinth) to Pamal; WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) is not part of the deal, though other trades have reported otherwise; Vox is still working on moving it south to the Albany market.

There’s a brand-new FM station in CANADA, as CIGR (104.5 Sherbrooke) signs on with French-language rock as “Generation Rock.” It’s running 1300 watts at 290 meters from the Radio-Canada tower at Fleurimonte, Quebec.

Fifteen Years Ago: June 18, 1999

We’re back — sort of! Actually, by the time you read this, the NERW-mobile (fresh from a car wash following our trip to New England last week) will be headed north to hear the last, dying gasps of CBL on 740 in Toronto. At this writing, the scheduled sign-off is midnight, Saturday, June 19, which probably means a loop announcing the move to 99.1 FM will begin running at midnight Friday night, with 740 being silenced for good 24 hours later. In any event, when the loop begins running, the NERW-mobile will be parked on the road outside the CBL transmitter plant at Hornby, Ontario, and if anyone wants to join in an impromptu wake, we’ll be happy to have you.

Listeners in New England should have no trouble hearing the end of CBL, thanks to the generosity of Bob Bittner, the owner of WJIB (740) in Cambridge. He won’t run his usual 5 watts Friday night, instead signing off at sunset and returning the next morning and allowing Boston listeners one last shot at hearing Toronto. Tune in around 8:11 to hear Bob’s eulogy to CBL, followed by the sign-off.

What next for 740? The CRTC has yet to ask for applications for reuse of the frequency (unlike in Montreal, where applications were being taken long before 690 and 940 went dark). It’s likely to be a while before 740 is reactivated; the CRTC has yet to choose winning applicants for the Montreal channels (despite an erroneous mention in one hobby publication that seemed to fall prey to the FCC database listing that claims CKVL will get the nod for 940).

But we’ll take a pause from mourning the loss (for listeners on this side of the lake) of Andy and Anubha, Michael and Avril, Dave Stephens, Bill Richardson, Joan Melanson, As It Happens, all those fine weekend shows (what will we listen to on Saturdays without DNTO?), and the simple pleasure of hearing how badly the 401 is jammed whilst crusing through the Can of Worms…and get on, sadly, with the rest of the week’s news:

We were in MASSACHUSETTS just in time to see the end of another, albeit much briefer, institution, as Boston University’s stewardship of WABU (Channel 68) and its New Hampshire and Cape Cod satellites came to a close Sunday night (June 13). Devon Paxson’s DP Media is LMA’ing the stations while it spins off existing Pax outlet WBPX (Channel 46) in Norwell. Here’s how things are shaking out: WABU is still carrying much of its previous syndicated programming while contracts run out, joining the Pax TV network only in middays and prime time for the moment.

WBPX remains a Pax outlet for now as well, but up in New Hampshire, WPXB (Channel 60) in Merrimack has dropped Pax for infomercials now that WNBU (Channel 21) in Concord is the Pax station in the Granite State. NERW expects the WBPX calls to move to channel 68 eventually, as well as an eventual sale of the 1660 Soldiers Field Road studios.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, Clark Smidt’s oldies station has applied for a big move. WNNH (99.1 Henniker) wants to move off the Pat’s Peak ski area where it currently operates (with 1250 watts and a directional antenna at 217 meters) to Gould Hill just off route 103 in Contoocook, much closer in to its target market of Concord. WNNH’s new facility would have 2800 watts at 146 meters, still with a DA to protect WPLM-FM down in Plymouth MA.

The top radio news from RHODE ISLAND was the Saturday NERW gathering that brought more than a dozen radio junkies together for lunch and a visit to the Rhode Island Historical Society’s broadcast-history exhibit. In between sharing radio stories, we also had a chance to visit the studios of Brown University’s WBRU (95.5) and head south to see what was happening down in South County, an area we hadn’t visited in a while. Our first stop was at WBLQ (88.1) in Westerly, a station which appears to be the 100-watt offspring of the TIS that used to operate as a community station down that way. What we heard, once we got within range of the telephone-pole-mounted antenna, was an automated format of mostly 70’s AC music, with some other oldies thrown in for good measure. We also heard “underwriting announcements” that skirted just safe of the line separating them from honest-to-Kennard advertising — and an announcement telling neighbors what to do if WBLQ was interfering with their radios, complete with a recording of the automated message they’d hear if they called the FCC. And by the time the NERW-mobile had seen the WXNI (1230) antenna at the water’s edge and headed downtown to the WERI-FM studios, the WBLQ signal was almost gone (although we did catch an unusual top-hour ID that contained bits of a classic JAM jingle package from the ’70s).

New to the air sometime Thursday (6/17) is Pax TV’s latest outlet, WPXJ (Channel 51) in Batavia. It’s putting a watchable, but far from city-grade, signal into Rochester; we’re guessing Buffalo’s getting a lot less. Both cities are mentioned in WPXJ’s hourly ID.

1 COMMENT

  1. inadvertently heard the last day of Evolution 101.7. Is there anything like it on the FM dial, commercially, anywhere else in the country?

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