In this week’s issue… Urban radio battle in NYC heats up – Mass. TV station sold – Eviction notice for WBAI? – Binghamton translator launches – NHPR makes a buy

By SCOTT FYBUSH

(A quick programming update: after coming home for a week, “Mrs. NERW” bounced back in to the hospital for a few days last week, but she’s once again back home, and we hope this time it’s for good. She’s ready to answer your subscription questions – and as we try to put all the pieces back together after her long health battles, we’re also especially eager to talk to advertisers interested in space in Tower Site Calendar 2015, which is finally in production. There’s no better way to stay in front of an engaged broadcast engineering audience all year long – talk to Lisa for all the details! And if you’re a talented salesperson familiar with the world of broadcast engineering and looking to work for a very healthy commission, talk to me about some opportunities to help us sell space on the growing Fybush.com/RadioInsight family of sites! On with the week’s big news…)

*Way back in February 2007, NERW readers were the first to know that Cumulus was laying plans to move longtime suburban NEW YORK radio staple WFAS-FM (103.9) from Westchester County into the Bronx. But even as we were correctly predicting that a city-of-license change from White Plains to Bronxville would be followed by an application to move its transmitter from Greenburgh to the top of the Montefiore Medical Center, we couldn’t have anticipated that it would take more than seven years to consummate the relocation.

wfasfmIn fact, while the new facility was built and tested fairly quickly, the CP to move to the Bronx with 980 watts/532′ expired in 2011 without being licensed, only to be refiled and once again to near expiration this July 27. But this time, the new 103.9 signal will be licensed, and by Independence Day it will be on the air as New York City’s newest FM signal.

Cumulus will make the official announcement about its fourth outlet in its cluster at a media/sponsor event to be held Wednesday night at Sylvia’s soul food restaurant in Harlem, but if the venue isn’t enough of a clue, the signal should be: if you’ve got a minimal class A facility that will be strong mostly in the Bronx and upper Manhattan, and if you’re the one big cluster in the city that’s not yet vying for an urban audience, R&B is the way to go, apparently with an adult flavor.

The Cumulus approach, unsurprisingly, involves leaning heavily on syndication, and the rumor mill points to Tom Joyner for mornings, DL Hughley (late of the defunct WRKS “Kiss 98.7”) in afternoons, Keith Sweat at night and Ken Johnson, most recently with Cumulus in Birmingham, as PD.

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*For just a moment late last week, it looked as though a fairly big name in New York urban radio was going to be joining the 103.9 team, too. But while Angie Martinez is indeed leaving her longtime home at Emmis’ WQHT (Hot 97.1), her signoff on Wednesday wasn’t followed by a cab ride uptown to Cumulus’ studios at 2 Penn Plaza. Instead, she’s making the much shorter move just a few blocks to Canal Street and Clear Channel’s WWPR (Power 105.1), where she’ll handle afternoon drive beginning next month, displacing DJ Prostyle to middays. Clear Channel could offer Angie something Emmis couldn’t: the chance to also do radio in Miami, where she’ll be the midday voice on WMIB (103.5 The Beat).

What’s next for Hot 97? We’re guessing there won’t be a second season to the “This is Hot 97” reality TV show that prominently featured Martinez as part of the cast – and for now, there’s no permanent afternoon host on the schedule there.

*Back to Cumulus and WFAS: the launch of 103.9 as a New York City signal means the end of Cumulus’ big FM coverage of Westchester. That’s good news for Pamal’s rival Westchester AC station, WHUD (100.7 Peekskill), especially because none of the potential replacements for the WFAS-FM signal have come to fruition. We’ve spent a fair amount of space in the column speculating about how Cumulus’ partnership with Bridgelight might steer translator W232AL (94.3) across the Hudson to serve as a new WFAS-FM. For now, anyway, the 94.3 translator remains in Rockland County with Bridgelight programming – and that leaves Cumulus with only WFAS (1230 White Plains) still standing from its Westchester operations. Can the talk/soft AC hybrid survive there as a standalone? We’ll be watching.

wbai-move*A year ago tomorrow, we devoted a big chunk of this column to exploring the checkered past and mottled future of WBAI (99.5), New York’s troubled Pacifica outlet. While not much has changed in a year – the station’s pledge drives remain interminable, its management remains in turmoil and the programming schedule remains unpredictable as a result – there finally appears to be some closure to one of those open questions from a year ago.

“As long as it can keep coming up with that monthly transmitter rent,” we noted, “it appears likely that WBAI will stay on the air in some form.” But after several years spent constantly in arrears to the Empire State Building on its $50,000 monthly rent bill, it appears the end of WBAI’s 48-year run at Empire may be at hand. Pacifica’s national board has been informed that while WBAI made payments for May and June, those checks were returned by Empire’s management, “indicating an imminent eviction.”

What next? The report to the board says plans are in the works to move WBAI “to Time Square (sic) with a resultant cost saving of almost two third.” That would be 4 Times Square, whose master antenna is already home to WKCR (89.9) and auxiliary facilities for nine FM stations.

No application has been filed for such a move, but here’s how it would play out if it happens: at least initially, WBAI would likely move under special temporary authority. Four Times Square is only a few hundred meters north and west from Empire, and the master antenna is about 134 meters lower (at 281 meters) than the 415-meter ESB master. Since a WBAI STA would require the station to stay within its existing contour, that would mean a very slight reduction in overall coverage to avoid picking up any new coverage from the northwestward site change.

At 4.3 kW from Empire, WBAI is already somewhat less than a full class B signal (6 kW from Empire), thanks to longstanding short-spacings to several co- and adjacent-channel stations, most notably WRVE (99.5) in Schenectady and WJBR-FM (99.5 in Wilmington, Delaware). At 4 Times Square, a full class B would run 14.5 kW/281 meters, but the need to stay within Empire’s contours limits most of the full class B auxiliary signals to 13 kW or slightly less. WBAI, if it makes the move, will get to run about 9.3 kW/281 meters. Within the city, that might actually mean a marginally better signal in the urban canyons, where the higher power from a lower antenna will mean better building penetration. It’s at the edges of the current WBAI signal, where the height of Empire helps to lift the signal above the mountains of western New Jersey and upstate New York, that the change might be a bit more noticeable – but those are areas where the short-spacings to WRVE, WRWB (99.3 Ellenville) and WUSR (99.5 Scranton PA) already make WBAI reception iffy anyway.

But that’s assuming WBAI can get back on the air quickly from 4 Times Square, and there are some other unanswered questions there. While the master antenna is already in place high above the 4 Times Square rooftop, and a broadband port on the combiner would allow a WBAI signal to be injected into the antenna fairly easily and quickly, it’s less clear that WBAI has the rest of the financial resources needed to make the move. Even if Pacifica can satisfy 4 Times Square’s landlord, the Durst Organization, that it’s good for the rent, there’s some doubt about whether WBAI’s aging transmitter is physically able to be moved, and whether it can make full power if it does relocate. Adding in a new transmitter to the other fixed costs of a move – electrical, studio-transmitter link relocation, and a new module for the 4 Times Square combiner – would likely wipe out at least a year’s worth of cost savings. (And did we mention that WBAI still doesn’t have a permanent studio?)

Given WBAI’s tenacity so far, there’s no reason to believe that it will fall silent immediately from Empire, especially if legal action against Empire kicks in. There’s also no reason to think that 99.5 would go dark for more than a few days if a move does become necessary; Pacifica national is likely to find some way to get equipment to New York to get a makeshift signal on the air from 4 Times Square.

With all those woes, is Pacifica any closer to actually selling WBAI, leasing it out, or swapping its big signal for something smaller but more affordable? To that, we can once again say with certainty, no. For all the dissension that exists among Pacifica national, the local station board and whatever local management is in place, there has always been an unspoken consensus that it’s better to run 99.5 into the ground than to carry on at another spot on the dial.

*There’s a new morning show at Cumulus’ 95X (WAQX 95.7 Manlius) in the Syracuse market. Brian Robinson’s “The Robinson Show” disappeared abruptly a week or so ago, ending a nearly two-year run on the station, and in his place are the former WWHT (Hot 107.9) morning team of Marty and Shannon, hosting the “Morning Mess.” Marty (“the One Man Party”) had been down the hall at Cumulus’ 93Q, as well as a recent stint on nights at Craig Fox’s WOLF-FM (105.1); Shannon Wells stuck around at Clear Channel as a jock on WYYY (Y94) before rejoining Marty at 95X.

As for Robinson? Several alert radio folks in the region have noted that there’s a rather prominent morning opening just down the Thruway in Rochester at one of his former radio homes, Entercom’s WBZA (98.9 the Buzz), where no replacement has been named yet more than a month after Kimberly and Beck flamed out there…

waer-newlogo*The natural direction of most public radio broadcasters these days seems to be toward more news and talk, and Syracuse University’s WAER (88.3) is no exception. The station that once branded itself as “Jazz 88” is calling itself “Syracuse Public Media” these days, and next Monday it will replace its 9-noon “Morning Jazz” and noon-4 “Afternoon Jazz” blocks with a new lineup of news and talk. The new schedule, unintentionally heavy on Boston-based programming, will include BBC Newshour at 9, On Point at 10, Here and Now at noon (both from WBUR), The Takeaway (from WNYC) at 2 and The World (from WGBH) at 3. WAER will continue to program jazz between 8 PM and 5 AM, and its drive-time lineup of Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace and Fresh Air will remain in place as well.

The new WAER schedule adds slightly to the overlap between the Syracuse-based 88.3 signal and its regional competitor, Oswego-based WRVO (89.9, also heard on WRVD 90.3 in Syracuse). In addition to duplicating the morning and afternoon newsmagazines and Fresh Air (at noon on WRVO and 7 PM on WAER), both stations will now carry Here and Now, which has been heard at 2 PM on WRVO since the demise last year of NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

*It was just last week that we noted that Equinox Broadcasting had yet to launch the new translator/HD format it had been quietly promoting on banner ads around Binghamton-area sports venues for a few months – and lo and behold, no sooner did we head home from Binghamton than “SolidGold 104.5” launched. The new format, heard on W283AG (104.5) and one of the HD subchannels of WCDW (106.7 Port Dickinson), picks up where the old WCDW on 100.5 left off, focusing on 50s and 60s oldies while the current “Cool 106.7” heads deeper into 70s and 80s hits. The 104.5 translator from Ingraham Hill had been where Equinox originated its “Drive” modern rock format before shifting that over to the full-power rimshot at 100.5, now WDRE; “Drive” continues to be heard from Ingraham Hill on W236AP (95.1).

One of the lowest antennas (in terms of ground level) of any broadcaster in the region belongs to Catholic station WHVM (91.9 Owego), but now licensee Mt. St. Francis Hermitage wants to raise its antenna a little. WHVM now operates with 275 watts at 314 feet above average terrain, but the hills of the Southern Tier mean the antenna’s center of radiation is just 52 feet above the ground. WHVM had a CP that expired unbuilt earlier this year to significantly boost power to 4.9 kW/449′ DA, and now it’s back in front of the FCC with a more modest proposal to go to 160 watts at 420 feet, raising its antenna about 100 feet at its existing site up in the hills north of Owego.

*Is Community Broadcasters planning an expansion in the Elmira/Corning market? After the Jim Leven/Bruce Mittman group helped file the FCC intervention that scratched Bill Christian’s attempted acquisition of the Pembrook Pines cluster, sending the stations back to the sale block under a bankruptcy trustee, there’s some (highly speculative) evidence that the next buyer in line for at least some of Pembrook Pines may be none other than Community itself.

Our sister site, RadioInsight.com, has turned up recent domain registrations by Community for “99.5 the Wolf” and “94.3 Mike FM,” frequencies that match Pembrook Pines’ WOKN and WLVY, respectively – and, perhaps, hint at a shift of Community’s “Wolf” country brand from WPGI (100.9 Horseheads). A Community purchase of the entire Pembrook Pines cluster would create a group with five FMs (WOKN, WLVY, WPGI, plus top-40 WNKI “Wink 106” and classic rock WNGZ “Wingz 104.9”) and four AMs (Community’s talk WWLZ 820 and sports WRCE 1490, plus Pembrook Pines’ sports WELM 1410 and standards WEHH 1600) – and even when you consider that WNGZ and WRCE are licensed to communities in Schuyler County, outside the official boundaries of the Elmira-Corning market, that’s still one signal above the six-station limit in the Elmira-Corning market.

*A small update to our “Baseball on the Radio” listings: Clear Channel has quietly been building a more extensive radio network than the Mets have enjoyed upstate in quite some time. In addition to the new Binghamton coverage we noted in our first “Baseball on the Radio” installment back in March (on WENE 1430, displacing the Yankees to WINR 680/96.9), the Mets also quietly picked up Clear Channel Rochester rimshotter WVOR (102.3 Canandaigua) this season, allowing Mets radio voice Josh Lewin to be heard in his hometown for the first time since joining the team. There’s also Mets coverage this year in the Mohawk Valley on WKAJ (1120 St. Johnsville) along with sister station WCSS (1490 Amsterdam), as well as in Syracuse on Galaxy’s ESPN stations (WTLA 1200/WSGO 1440 and translators) and in Utica on WUSP (1550/95.5, plus WRCK 1480 Remsen).

wggb-fox6*There’s a big change coming to the TV market in western MASSACHUSETTS with the surprise exit of a local owner. John Gormally. In 2007, Gormally made a splash by paying Sinclair $21.2 million for WGGB (Channel 40), which was something of an anomaly as a standalone ABC affiliate in a company that was already big into duopolies and even larger clusters. Gormally invested in upgrading WGGB’s local news presence, long a second-place contender against the market’s perennially dominant NBC affiliate, LIN’s WWLP (Channel 22), and he added a second network with the launch of “Fox 6” on a WGGB subchannel.

But even the benefits of local ownership (not to mention synergy with Gormally’s Business West newspaper) couldn’t pull WGGB ahead of WWLP, and now Gormally is selling WGGB/Fox 6 to the other operator in town who’s challenging LIN and WWLP. Meredith Broadcasting has been a fixture for decades in the Hartford market, just to the south, where it owns CBS affiliate WFSB (Channel 3). Back in 2003, WFSB spun off a satellite operation in Springfield, putting WSHM-LP (Channel 67, later DTV 21) on the air as “CBS 3 Springfield,” with separate local news and ad sales for the Massachusetts communities that used to get CBS from WFSB.

And now Meredith is paying Gormally $53.8 million for WGGB, more than doubling what Gormally paid for the station seven years ago. How can one company own the ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates in a single small market, especially at a time when the FCC is cracking down on such consolidations? Blame (or credit, if you prefer) the way in which regulation hasn’t quite kept pace with market realities in the last few years. The ownership cap system still in use at the FCC is based on the idea that a “station” and a “license” are the same thing, an assumption that no longer works in our new era of DTV multicast channels like “Fox 6.” What’s more, because “CBS 3” is a low-power license, it doesn’t count against ownership caps at all – so as far as the FCC is concerned, Meredith is actually a new entrant into the Springfield full-power market, where its purchase of WGGB will make it only a one-station owner under the rules.

Over here in reality-land, meanwhile, the sale will likely bring some big changes, likely shutting down either the existing WGGB newsroom or the existing “CBS 3” newsroom and combining both operations at a single location once the deal closes later this year. It’s likely, too, that WGGB and “Fox 6” will move their master control from their longtime home on Liberty Street to the WFSB facility in Connecticut where WSHM’s master control is already located.

Will CBS, ABC and Fox all under one roof finally unseat WWLP as the market’s revenue leader? And even if they do, is that the real game – or is there more money to be made these days in the lucrative retransmission-consent deals that Meredith might be able to get from cable and satellite providers now that it can threaten to pull three network affiliations off their systems at once? Stay tuned…

wnck*This has already been a boom year for public radio on Cape Cod and the islands, and the scene there is about to get even more crowded. WNCK (89.5 Nantucket) has been on the air for a decade now out there off the coast, but it’s flown largely below the radar because owner Nantucket Public Radio hasn’t been originating its own programming. Instead, WNCK relayed first Boston’s WGBH (89.7) and then, once WGBH took over WCRB (99.5), the classical programming from WCRB has been relayed over WNCK’s airwaves.

That changes this summer, as Nantucket Public Radio launches local programming in place of the WCRB simulcast. Why now? In part, it’s because “Nantucket Public Radio” is actually veteran broadcaster Jeff Shapiro, who’s also up and running with a commercial station on the island, WAZK (97.7 ACK-FM). With WAZK’s studio and local sales and news staff in place, they’ll be able to provide support to WNCK, too, supplying newscasts that will air during Morning Edition and All Things Considered (airing 6-10 AM and 4-6 PM weekdays, respectively) and presumably selling underwriting on WNCK alongside ads on WAZK.

“We will continue to add more and more locally originating talk programming to key weekend periods. We are looking for local residents and visitors who might want to contribute audio/talk content to make Nantucket’s NPR station a special and unique place for Nantucket listeners,” Shapiro says.

The new WNCK joins a crowded field of contenders that includes WGBH’s own “Cape and Islands Public Radio,” heard right there on Nantucket over WNAN (91.1), complete with its own ME and ATC feed, as well as WBUR’s relays over WBUH (89.1 Brewster) and WBUA (92.7 Tisbury). And the classical music that will fill the rest of WNCK’s broadcast day competes with commercial WFCC (107.5 Chatham), too.

*Is Greater Media’s top-rated Boston country station, WKLB (102.5 Waltham), paying attention to its new Clear Channel competition, “The Bull” (WEDX 101.7 Lynn)? Indeed it is, at least on the weekends, where WKLB pulled the plug on its “Sunday Morning Country Oldies,” telling listeners it was trying to maintain a more consistent hit country format to better compete with the commercial-free country hits the Bull is spinning all summer.

WMSX's new antenna
WZBR’s troubled antenna

*The handful of Boston-area listeners who knew that the former WMSX (1410 Brockton) was relocating to a new transmitter site within Boston city limits have been wondering for a while now why the new signal of what’s now Dedham-licensed WZBR has been nearly unlistenable.

Bad ground conductivity at its Readville transmitter site? Nope – the problem turned out to lie within the Valcom fiberglass whip antenna that owner Alex Langer had pulled out of storage after a previous use at the former WSRO (1470 Marlborough). In an FCC filing last week, WZBR reported that its antenna can’t handle the full 610 licensed watts; in fact, it can only run 25 watts, and it will be using that power level under special temporary authority until a new antenna can be installed at the Readville tower site.

Beyond its licensed 610 watts by day, WZBR has a pending application to upgrade to 2300 watts, remaining at 25 watts after dark.

(Another Bay State station is also running at reduced power under STA: out on the lower Cape, WGTX 102.3 in Truro says its transmitter suffered serious damage in May, leaving it running at about half its licensed 2150 watts until repairs can be completed.)

*Are the cease-and-desist letters still arriving at WWBZ (700) out in Orange? After one day as “700 WBZ,” quickly thwarted by the real WBZ down the road in Boston, and a week or so as “Legends 700, WWBZ,” the standards/AC outlet is now on its third web address and on-air identity, now billing itself simply as “AM 700, the Greatest Music of All Time.” The issue this time appeared to be the “Legends” trademark, which is held in Massachusetts by Carl Strube and Pete Falconi over at WNBP (1450 Newburyport).

In a very detailed (and well worth reading) explanation on its website, the station says “we’re not actually out to compromise or infringe on the success of a long time Boston area radio station. Quite the opposite, our original intention was to pay a sort of tribute to what that station was in the 50’s and 60’s.” But it says the lawyers for that “Certain Broadcasting Station” stepped in to object to even the hourly use of the “WWBZ” calls, so it’s in search for a new set of calls, too.

(And which NERW reader wrote in to them to say that using the WBZ identity was “INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH STUPID”? Your secret is safe with us…)

*We’re sorry to report the deaths of two WGBH executives: Valerie Gunderson, who’d been with the public broadcaster for more than 25 years, ever since writing her MBA thesis about the station, was WGBH’s budget director when she died June 14 at age 59. And Mike Foti served as WGBH engineering director for 13 years, supervising the move to its shiny new digs on Market Street and the integration of New Hampshire Public TV into the WGBH master control before moving to Oregon Public Broadcasting as VP of engineering in 2013. He died June 12, at age 63.

And there’s very late word, as we wrap up NERW early Monday morning, of the death of Alexander “Al” Tanger, the veteran broadcaster who was a top executive at WHDH in the 1950s and 1960s, then ran General Cinema’s broadcasting operations from 1967 until 1984. When GCC exited broadcasting, Tanger purchased WHUE (1150/100.7) in Boston, then founded Marlin Broadcasting, which owns WCCC (1290/106.9) in Hartford. Tanger also had interests in the “W-Bach” stations in Maine. Tanger had also owned WLKW (990/101.5) in Providence. Tanger, a 2009 inductee into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame, was 94 years old.

wcnh-classicalnh*NEW HAMPSHIRE Public Radio is buying a second signal in its home base of Concord. For the last few years, Highland Community Broadcasting has housed classical WCNH in the NHPR studios, broadcasting “Classical NH” not only over its own signal (first low-power WCNH-LP 94.7 and then full-power WCNH 91.5, licensed to Bow) but also over the HD2 of NHPR flagship WEVO (89.1 Concord). Now NHPR is paying $75,000 to buy the 91.5 license from Harry Kozlowski’s Highland group, ending more than a decade of independent classical operation in the Granite State. (We fondly remember visiting the original WCNH facility, which was playing out local voicetracks and network automation from a tiny closet on the second floor of a stonecutter’s workshop on the edge of Concord.

*The end of Scott Shannon’s Cumulus-distributed True Oldies Channel is just days away, but it won’t be heard on longtime TOC outlet WARM (590) in Scranton, PENNSYLVANIA. WARM has become one of the first affiliates of Cumulus’ replacement service, “Good Time Oldies,” joined to the south by WCHA (800 Chambersburg), which has also made the flip. We’re still waiting for word on the fate of some of TOC’s other outlets in the region, including WALL (1340 Middletown)/WEOK (1390 Poughkeepsie) and WNRS (1420 Herkimer) in New York and Binnie’s WLVP (870 Gorham)/WLAM (1470 Lewiston) in MAINE.

*There’s a new PD at one of NEW JERSEY‘s biggest Christian stations. WAWZ-FM (99.1 Zarephath) has named Rick Hall to replace Therese Romano, who left in late April to join the national Way-FM network. Hall’s best known for his time in Chicago, where he was part of CBS Radio’s inaugural airstaff at the former “Fresh” WCFS (105.9), as well as sister country station WUSN (99.5).

*A quiet week in CANADA brought just one new license, resurrecting a native station that’s been off the air for a decade. Just west of Montreal, the Kanesatake First Nation was one of several tribal entities that had operated without a license, running CKHQ (101.7) outside the bounds of CRTC regulation. The government began cracking down on those signals a few years back, but the CRTC began working with the First Nations groups to grant them licenses – and now that includes CKHQ, which will return to the air under a license allowing it to run 11 watts average/27 watts max DA at 30 meters.

Chris Ebbott is making a big move: the PD at Bell’s CKFM (Virgin 99.9) is departing Toronto for a major new gig programming CBS Radio’s classic hits monster, KRTH (K-Earth 101) in Los Angeles. We’re pleased to note that this means the entire programming team at K-Earth has roots on the shores of Lake Ontario, since Ebbott’s assistant PD is Rochester native Dave Mason. Ebbott (who’d previously been operations manager at KRTH’s sister station KCBS-FM) replaces Rick Thomas, now at CBS in New York; no replacement has been named yet in Virgin’s brand-new Toronto digs.

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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 24, 2013

*For decades, one of the big “what-ifs” in NEW YORK radio was the future of two scarce full-market FM signals owned by noncommercial broadcasters serving extremely niche audiences. One of those two signals, the former Family Stations-owned WFME (94.7 Newark NJ), is out of the “what-if” game now, sold off to Cumulus and operating very, very commercially as “Nash FM” WNSH, complete with a new morning show that launched on Thursday.

But the other one, Pacifica”s WBAI (99.5 New York), is more than ably filling the “what-if” vacuum as it heads into yet another round of its ongoing financial crises. There”s plenty of misinformation floating around, and plenty of unanswered questions, but we”ll try to summarize what”s known so far – and what we don”t yet know about the future of this last stand-alone commercial channel on the dial.

(And we did, and not a bit of it has changed in a year, save for the rent issue at Empire…go read the column here if you’d like to see what’s otherwise as true now as it was then.)

*It was Armstrong time in Yonkers on Monday, as admirers of the FM inventor (present company included) joined city officials and historians for the dedication of a long-overdue plaque honoring the great man.

Under a blazing sun, and broadcast live from across the river on WA2XMN, the Armstrong memorial station at 42.8 megacycles on your vintage FM dial, Yonkers mayor Mike Spano joined city councilors and Armstrong relatives to tell the Major”s story. Several family members spoke of the Major”s days living just across Warburton Avenue from the site at Hudson-Fulton Park where the plaque now sits, made possible by donations of more than $4,000. The money was raised by Steve Klose, a New Jersey man who knew of Armstrong first as a fellow motorcycle enthusiast, only later learning of his important place in the radio pantheon.

*Back to Family Stations, mentioned earlier for its sell-off of WFME last year: we told you exclusively in our May 27 issue that the California-based chain of religious stations was about to get smaller, and now the deal with that “very large national religious broadcaster” has become reality. On Wednesday, Family filed to sell three of its signals, including Rochester rimshot WFRW (88.1 Webster), to EMF Broadcasting for $655,000.

The WFRW calls will stay with Family, as will the callsign of KIFR (88.3 Alice TX); the third signal in the deal is northern California”s KXBC (89.1 Garberville). In an unusual move for EMF, this is an all-cash deal. The WFRW sale will make the 88.1 signal a link in the “K-Love” contemporary Christian chain, filling a gap between WKDL (104.9 Brockport) to the west of Rochester and WGKV (101.7 Pulaski) to the north of Syracuse.

Five Years Ago: June 22, 2009

Back in the age of analog TV, the conventional wisdom held that the low-band VHF spectrum – TV channels 2-6 – would become superfluous as soon as the digital transition was over. Electrical noise, propagation anomalies and the need for large, usually outdoor, receiving antennas would make those channels undesirable for digital TV, eventually freeing them up for other, non-TV, uses…or so the belief went. As we enter the second full week of the digital TV era in the U.S., that conventional wisdom is being confirmed by some established stations, as problems crop up with VHF digital TV not only on the low band but on the high-band channels (7-13) as well. But it’s also being significantly challenged by some newcomers, including one broadcaster who’s found a loophole that may put new full-power DTV stations on the air in the New York and Philadelphia markets at a bargain price.

The problems, first: No sooner had stations such as Boston’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7), Philadelphia’s WHYY-TV (Channel 12) and New York’s WABC-TV (Channel 7), WPIX-TV (Channel 11) and WNET (Channel 13) made the move from their pre-transition digital channels to digital operation on their old analog channels than the complaints started pouring in: viewers who’d had no trouble with DTV on the UHF dial were finding it difficult or impossible to get a lock on the relatively low-powered VHF signals. While many were no doubt using the UHF-only compact antennas that dominated the marketplace of “digital antennas” in the first few years of the transition, problems were being reported even by technically-adept viewers using decent VHF antennas. And as bad as things were for those high-band VHF stations, they were even worse for the largest station in the nation to elect a spot on the low VHF band, ABC’s WPVI (Channel 6) in Philadelphia, where phone lines and message boards were flooded with complaints from viewers who could see everything in town except ABC.

For some of the affected stations, solutions – temporary ones, at least – were as close as the next room in the transmitter building. On Tuesday, WHDH received special temporary authority from the FCC to reactivate its interim channel 42 digital signal, and there’s word that the station is now trying to resolve some spacing issues in order to make its permanent home on UHF. (That’s still not an inexpensive solution; WHDH spent considerable money and manpower to install the VHF digital rig that could end up being turned off after just a few weeks on the air.)

For other stations, such quick fixes weren’t an easy option. WPVI, WHYY, WNET and other VHF digitals in the region (Rochester’s WHEC-TV and WHAM-TV, Lancaster’s WGAL, Manchester’s WMUR) were using digital channels in the upper UHF band that’s now outside the broadcast spectrum. WPIX’s former channel 33 digital allocation is now home to another station, WCBS-TV. And WABC-TV’s former channel 45 has spacing issues that would make it less than desirable for permanent use.

Fortunately, the FCC was quick to issue additional STAs for power increases. WPVI, for instance, was able to crank its power from 7.5 kW to 30 kW by the weekend, resulting in at least a moderate increase in its receivability. In the long run, though, it appears the FCC may be right back where it was in, say, 1950: coming to terms with the reality that the state of the art in receiver and antenna design probably requires significantly more power than was originally thought necessary. That, too, may be an expensive solution for some stations that had already built what were to be their “permanent” VHF digital facilities – though the good news is that most of the stations moving back to their VHF analog allocations have plenty of headroom in their antennas and transmission systems for more power, and often have extra transmitter power to spare, too, if they’ve converted recent analog transmitters to digital use.

In the meantime, though, those “vacated” channels at the bottom of the TV dial may fill up faster than expected in some big markets. We’ve already reported on the surge in demand from low-power TV stations for new berths on channel 6, where continued analog LPTV operation makes it possible to function as pseudo-FM stations on 87.7. In some cities, other newly-vacated low-VHF channels are being filled by LPTVs as well; for instance, WNYW’s now-former channel 5 slot in New York already has a digital LP construction permit for a new occupant. Full-power use of those vacated channels, though, was supposed to be far in the future, if it happened at all, since the FCC is apparently in no hurry at all to thaw the long-frozen allocations table to allow for new digital-only allotments. But when there’s a huge prize to be had – signals over two of the nation’s largest TV markets – there’s no underestimating how far the creativity of a good communications lawyer can go toward finding an unusual way to shoehorn new stations onto the dial.

That’s the long way around to explaining why NEW JERSEY’s Press Communications quietly bought two tiny TV stations out west – NBC affiliate KJWY (Channel 2) in Jackson, Wyoming and independent KVNV (Channel 3) in Ely, Nevada – and why it’s apparently poised to move those stations right into the heart of the Philadelphia and New York TV markets, respectively.

The loophole that makes those moves possible dates back a quarter of a century, to the mid-80s controversy over the lack of local TV presence in both New Jersey and Delaware. An amendment to the Communications Act of 1933 established a way for states with no commercial VHF stations – a list that included only New Jersey and Delaware – to gain such operations: it provided that any licensee that notified the FCC that it was willing to accept reallocation to a VHF-less state would immediately be granted a license for the moved operation, bypassing just about every other provision of the Act except for spacing requirements.

The provision was very narrowly targeted, aimed entirely at moving New York’s WOR-TV (Channel 9) to Secaucus, N.J., a move owner RKO accepted in order to be allowed to sell the station instead of losing the license as part of the investigation into RKO’s billing practices. But long after channel 9 made the move – and long after it was clear that the “move” didn’t prevent channel 9, now WWOR, from continuing to be a “New York” station, transmitting from Manhattan and serving the entire metro area – the rule stayed on the books, apparently never to be used again. With the DTV transition looming, though, the lawyers at Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth spotted an opportunity: since WWOR’s digital signal is on channel 38, New Jersey would end up once again bereft of VHF stations. With the channel 2 stations in New York City and Baltimore vacating that spot, and channel 3 in Philadelphia and Hartford going empty as well, there was suddenly spectrum available for VHF allotments in both New Jersey and Delaware…and a law on the books that appeared to give that spectrum to any station willing to make the move, just for the asking. And so Press notified the FCC last Monday that it was “willing to accept” reallocations that would move KJWY’s channel 2 from Jackson to Wilmington, Delaware, and KVNV’s channel 3 from Ely to Middletown Township, New Jersey – with strongly-worded language making it clear that it believes the Commisson is compelled by the language of Section 331(a) of the Communications Act to immediately grant those moves.

It should come as no surprise, of course, that the new “Delaware” and “New Jersey” stations would have their sights set on the bigger markets next door: Channel 2 would transmit with 10 kW/845′ from the Roxborough tower farm in Philadelphia, while Channel 3 would have 10 kW/860′ from the Four Times Square tower in Manhattan, making both signals full-market (within the limitations of low-band VHF) in their respective markets.

What’s in it for the people of Delaware and New Jersey? Probably not all that much: in a Delaware newspaper interview, Press CEO Bob McAllan (the managing member of “PMCM, LLC,” the licensee of KJWY and KVNV) wouldn’t even go so far as to commit to local studios in either state, promising only that the stations’ programming, once moved, “might be something you haven’t seen before.”

Given the FCC’s current lax requirements for local news – and the lack of a requirement for a main studio in the city of license, a rule that at least obliged WWOR to move its studio from Times Square to Secaucus back in the day – it appears, to us at least, that there’s little to stop the new channel 3 and channel 2 from setting up shop right in Manhattan and Philadelphia, respectively, yielding new stations in those cities at an amazing bargain price: PMCM paid just $1.2 million for those two licenses in Nevada and Wyoming, and surely far less than that for the legal work to get the stations moved.

Ten Years Ago: June 21, 2004

The move of WSNJ-FM (107.7 Bridgeton NJ) to 107.9 in Pennsauken, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, was supposed to have silenced one of PENNSYLVANIA’s oldest noncommercial stations – but there’s still life in high school station WHHS (107.9 Havertown) after all, it seems. With some help from well-known Florida-based engineering consultants DuTreil, Lundin and Rackley, WHHS applied last week to move down the dial to 99.9, lowering its power to 9.5 watts from 14 watts and lowering its antenna from 113 meters to 49 meters. The station tells the FCC that 99.9 is the last possible spot it can call home on the crowded Delaware Valley FM dial – and in its new home it would still need waivers from WJBR-FM (99.5 Wilmington DE) and WPLY (100.3 Media PA) for the tiny amounts of interference it would cause in a block or two around the school. Both stations have already given WHHS letters in support of those waivers (and we note that WPLY is owned by Radio One, which is buying WSNJ-FM once it’s moved in to the Philadelphia market.) WHHS traces its history back to 1948; it lived most of its life on 89.3 before moving to 107.9 in the great displacement of the Class D non-comm stations a couple of decades ago (passing up, in the process, the chance to increase power to 100 watts and gain protection from encroachment by new stations.)

In other Keystone State news, Alex Langer’s getting very close to the expiration date of his construction permit to move WVFC (1530 McConnellsburg) all the way east to King of Prussia, near Philadelphia, and down the dial to 1180. With the CP to diplex on the WWDB (860 Philadelphia) towers due to expire in August, Langer says he can’t get the complicated filtering and phasing systems finished in time – so he’s now asking the FCC to instead let him use a Valcom fiberglass whip antenna at a new site on Swedeland Road in Upper Merion Township, with just 510 watts instead of the 2300 watts he would have used at the WWDB site.

We’ll start our NEW YORK report with yet another installment in the long, slow return to normalcy for New York City’s TV stations in the wake of 9/11. Two and a half years after losing its licensed site at the World Trade Center, WNBC (Channel 4) has applied for a license to broadcast from the Empire State Building, where it’s been operating under Special Temporary Authority since shortly after the attacks. WNBC’s new permanent (as long as analog TV lasts, anyway) facility will be 30 kW visual ERP at 439 meters above average terrain.

WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) is searching for a new program director for the first time in 23 years, now that Joe McCoy is out of that job. McCoy, who guided CBS-FM through its high points as an oldies station in the eighties and early nineties and through its struggles of the last few years as it’s tried to freshen up its sound, will stick around with Infinity as VP/special programming, at least for a while.

Fifteen Years Ago: June 25, 1999

After 62 years of broadcasts from Hornby, Ontario, CBL (740) left the air on schedule at midnight last Saturday (June 19).

The CRTC has chosen the new occupants of the 690 and 940 frequencies in Montreal vacated earlier this year by the CBC’s move to FM. The winner is the Metromedia group, which owns French-language CKVL (850 Verdun), English-language CIQC (600), and FMers CKOI and CFQR. The CRTC’s decision this week allows CKVL and CIQC to move to 690 and 940, respectively, each with 50 kilowatts non-directional. Metromedia’s plan calls for both stations to become news-talkers, with all-news programming from expanded newsrooms by day and talk at night. The losing applicants included Radio Nord, which wanted to start new French and English country stations on the two frequencies (or, failing that, English-only on one of the two) and, embarrassingly enough, the CBC itself, which hoped to use either 690 or 940 as the backbone of a new French-language all-news service province-wide.

As many questions as this decision answers, it leaves many more still open. Once CKVL and CIQC have made their moves, will anyone apply for their frequencies? We could easily imagine a station like CJMS (the new French-language country station on 1040 in nearby St. Constant) applying for higher power on a much better frequency. Will Radio Nord or the CBC reapply for 600 or 850? Will the new 690 and 940 use the old CBM/CBF transmitter site at Brossard, which has been sitting silent (but maintained) since CBM’s sign-off a few weeks back? And without CKVL on 850, how many more listeners in areas west and north of Boston will have an easier time hearing WEEI, which frequently experiences interference from CKVL?

On we press, crossing the border into NEW YORK (with, we hope, a frendlier border guard than the one who, er, “welcomed” us back into the USA after the CBL sign-off). Our first stop? Buffalo, where the modern AC sounds of “Alice at 92.9” gave way to this year’s fad format this week.

Rumors of a format change to rhythmic oldies came true Wednesday (6/23) at noon, when Infinity’s WLCE (92.9) became “B-92.9, Buffalo’s Dancin’ Oldies.” If the moniker sounds familiar, it should — “Dancin’ Oldies” is the same name Infinity’s using at WZMX (93.7 Hartford) to steer clear of AMFM’s “Jammin’ Oldies” trademark. Alice PD Jay Nachlis stays on, at least on an interim basis. No word yet on what the new station will do for airstaff; Alice had been using the Craig & Co. morning show from sister station WTIC-FM (96.5 Hartford) and local jocks, live and voice-tracked, in other dayparts.

The folks at B-92.9 say they’re targeting the younger end of WHTT (104.1)’s listenership, since Oldies 104 is still heavy on the ’50s and early ’60s oldies that 92.9 won’t touch. But NERW has to think that B-92.9 will also draw away some of the urban audience that now listens to Infinity sister station WBLK (93.7 Depew), which tries to be all things to all urban audiences with a mix of R&B classics all the way to hip-hop. We’d also be worried if we were daytimer WUFO (1080 Amherst), whose urban format is heavy on R&B oldies.

There’s a new station in Syracuse: WRVD (90.3) signed on this week after years and years of thwarted attempts by Oswego-based public broadcaster WRVO (89.9) to put a Salt City transmitter on the air. While WRVD will fix the intermod problems between WAER (88.3) and WJPZ (89.1) that make WRVO inaudible near Syracuse University, it won’t help matters any for Syracuse Community Radio, despite a power increase this week for their WXXE (90.5 Fenner) from 7 to 49 watts.

4 COMMENTS

  1. “And which NERW reader wrote in to them to say that using the WBZ identity was “INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH STUPID”? Your secret is safe with us…)”

    As much as it seems like I may have done that, because it’s likely something I would’ve done a few years ago…. I promise it wasn’t me LOL.

    Although, it did make me chuckle a bit!!

    Paul Walker

    • They really should fire whoever thought it was a good idea to use that name and request those call letters. Paying tribute to long gone stations is okay and something that happens a lot, but when the station they are trying to pay tribute to is still using that name in their branding, especially when said station is in your area, you don’t even need a legal degree to know that’s asking for trouble.

  2. On Meredith buying WGGB-TV, I predict the CBS 3 Springfield newsroom will close or be merged into Channel 40’s newsroom, since Channel 40 is more established and its newsroom appears to be larger than CBS 3 (based on the staff lists on their websites).

  3. I’m sure WRVO is less than thrilled about WAER’s move, but I wonder if this’ll be another WBUR/WGBH situation, where even though the newcomer has a technically better signal…there’s a long-established player in town already that listeners are less than likely to just walk away from come pledge time.

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