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.
In 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.
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.